Saturday, July 10, 2010

Paul Gascoigne

Not sure I have the words to describe Paul Gascoigne's cameo on the Raoul Moat story last night.

Whatever he's done in his life, whatever mistakes he's made, I just wish somebody could help him sort his life out.

Friday, July 09, 2010

SPL 2010/11: TV Times



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If you've spent the last few weeks filling in your diary with your team's fixtures for next season then more fool you.

The inevitable changes have now been announced to accomadate Sky and ESPN.

Noon on a Saturday is a crap time for a football game. So is 12.15. So is noon on a Sunday. So is 12.15 on a Sunday. So is 2.15 on a Sunday.

But I will not rant. Because I was given a stress ball today and I'm squeezing it furiously while remaining calm.

The full list of SPL 2010/2011 TV fixtures from the SPL site.

Football On Film

Watching Robert Duvall's Scottish football "epic" A Shot At Glory the other night had me mulling over the problem of football and the movies.

Escape To Victory is often held up as the nadir of football films but it's really not. Apart from anything else the coming together of Bobby Moore, Michael Caine, Pele, Sylvester Stallone and director John Huston gives it value as a footballing and cinematic curiosity of some worth.

In many ways Escape To Victory has to be considered a classic of the genre. That alone is a measure of how the cinema has failed the world's favourite sport.

Maybe football is just too dramatic in its own right. Perhaps films are just unable to add any more depth to a game that already demands our emotional involvement.

And, as Barney Ronay argues in The Guardian, football is so aware of its role as a television spectacular that the world's greatest team is now subconsciously cinematic in its approach to the game.

That might explain why feature length documentaries fare better than fiction on the big screen. Last year The Mirror picked the top five football films and found space for three documentaries in the list.

So am I missing something? Or is football really without a classic feature film?

Tell me your favourites and your least favourite of all time.

The worst ever in my opinion stars Pele and is called Hotshot. IMDB's synopsis is brief:

The story of an American soccer player trying to make it big who turns to Pele, the greatest soccer player of all time, for guidance.

I went through a period of insisting that we hired this from the video shop. Even then I realised how bad it was but repeated watching was yet another way to torture my long suffering older brother. A pursuit I'm still enjoying today.

I think you would have needed to watch Hotshot on video. I have serious doubts that it was ever given a cinematic release.

> A Shot At Glory incidentally is a must see for any Scottish football fan of a certain vintage. You will never again see a film that stars John Martin, Hugh Dallas, Eddie May and many, many more Scottish football stalwarts. And Ally McCoist is just about lucky enough to pull off his central role.

> Spoiler Alert. I've got to say that, even though I sincerely hope you never watch Hotshot. Here's the emotional final scenes. Has football ever looked better on film. Aye. Probably.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Howard's Way

Finally a bit of good news for English football as Howard Webb is announced as referee for the 2010 World Cup final on Sunday.

We can only guess how Clive Tyldesley feels right now. Orgasmic probably.

Well done to Howard though who has inverted the normal English route by arriving at the World Cup a joke and ending it as a hero.

It also looks like he'll be the last referee not to be able to call on either additional assistants or technology in a bit of FIFA climbdown on the issue.

Bad news for the Netherlands though. The last Englishman to referee the final was Jack Taylor in 1974 when the Dutch lost to the Germans. Although I suppose Spain's ability to keep the ball for pretty much 90 minutes of football might be considered worse news in the team hotel.

I'll be most depressed if the BBC don't mark Howard's achievement with a blast of this in their build up on Sunday:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Boyd Signs For Parmo

The Celtic fans and the Scottish media must really have upset Gordon Strachan. How else to explain his transformation into the Pied Piper, leading every Old Firm player into a cave that they can never escape from?

Or, as we know it today, Middlesbrough.

Of course in Hamelin the lame, blind and deaf children were left behind. Gordon's left us with Kirk Broadfoot. Sweet.

Like waiting for a Melanie Phillips appearance on Question Time it's always a treat to hear Kris Boyd speak.

Unveiled by Middlesbrough yesterday at the end of a protracted and ridiculously dull transfer saga, he opined:

"In Scotland you're playing the same teams three or four times a season and that gets boring after a while.

"The majority of people in Scotland want to play in England as it is chance to enjoy the best possible facilities and I had made up my mind that I was coming to Middlesbrough once I came back from holiday."

To which the only possible reply is: "Where the hell did you go on holiday? Kabul?"

He does have a point though. I suppose Rangers players might get a frisson of excitement from playing in Europe or facing up against Celtic. But Kris was normally completely marginalised or benched in those games so it's little wonder that the poor boy got a bit frustrated.

Still. Middlesbrough. Was he not being courted by Premiership clubs? Did Kayserispor not offer him mega bucks to join former Ranger Shoto Arveladze in Turkey?

Yes they did. But the chance to link up with Willo Flood doesn't come round all that often.

And nor does the chance to enjoy Teeside's most magnificent creation.

Is it a coincidence that so many SPL players are ending up in a city where the late night snacks are even more unhealthy than our own?

It can't be:

I recently found myself ravenous in Middlesbrough town centre on a Saturday night after a work assignment, and was directed by a zealous local friend towards what is by far Teesside's most popular fast food – a 'parmesan' (from 'chicken parmesan'), shortened to 'parmo' in general parlance.

The 'Meat Feast Parmo' I ordered for £6.50 consisted of a chicken escalope marginally smaller than a satellite dish, deep fried in breadcrumbs, covered in b├ęchamel sauce and melted cheddar cheese, and then topped with pepperoni, bacon, more cheese, and ladles of creamy garlic sauce. The one bit of protein the parmo does not seem to contain is parmesan.

This extraordinary beast of a late-night 'snack' is served with a mountain of chips and the most sarcastic portion of salad you've ever seen in your life. As you can see, it filled the 12" pizza box it was served in. I ate a third of it with gusto, paused, came up for air, and suddenly felt quite ill. But I'd buy one again in a shot, however many placards my colon might wave in protest at this idea.

How could anyone resist that?

Gordon Strachan: The Parmo Piper of Riverside.

> Money: By hanging around at Ibrox for so long Boyd has made himself a pretty penny. But he's deprived both Rangers and Kilmarnock of transfer fees and add ons that they could both do with. How much sympathy you have for them will depend on your allegiances. But when you consider that Boyd could have set his sights higher than Middlesbrough had he left in January it might leave a bit of a sour taste in Govan and Ayrshire.

> I have tried a Parmo. Beyond words. Not a regular thing but there's something about it. I'd be happy to fall behind Chris Killen in the striking pecking order for the chance to have a Parmo forever to hand.

Germany v Spain At The World Cup

The obligatory YouTube round up.

The big game was the final of Euro 2008 when Spain took the trophy but will restrict ourselves to the World Cup.

We begin with the glamour of Birmingham in 1966. And a German win:

1982 and the hosts are on the losing side as Germany repeat their 2-1 win from 1966:

And 1994. 1-1 all this one meaning Germany hold the World Cup advantage going into tonight:


Well, friends, brace yourselves for a few more days of cliched musical montages and mindless platitudes as such cultural experts as Alan Shearer and Andy Townsend tell us what the World Cup has meant to Africa.

Don't let FIFA off the hook though.

Stefan Szymanski writes in the New Statesman about how Blatter and Co ensure they are always the World Cup's biggest winners:

There is no doubt that the World Cup has been a joyous party for those lucky enough to attend. There is also no doubt that it has been a bon­anza for Fifa, football's governing body. The commercial income accruing to Fifa will come to about £2.2bn for TV rights, sponsorship and merchandising, while an estimated £800m has been spent on organising the tournament and £700m on local development projects.

Fifa, therefore, generates a tidy profit of £700m, which it either retains to promote its own pet projects or disburses to national football associations: a significant bargaining chip in the hands of its 24-man executive committee. In 2004, the projected cost to the South African taxpayer for hosting the finals was R2.3bn, or £200m (the bid book was lost for years until the Mail and Guardian posted it online in June); the current figure is said to be R33bn (£3bn). Fifa does not pay for the stadiums, but gets to put its brand all over development projects in the host country. And what does South Africa get in return for its investment?

The organisers claim that the event will produce an economic stimulus of R55bn (£4.8bn), generating in excess of 300,000 additional foreign tourists and promoting growth across the economy. Similar claims have been made for previous World Cups and other major sporting events, especially the summer Olympic Games. Politicians seem especially fond of claiming that major events bring significant economic benefits. This case rests on two foundations: first, that the building of stadiums and related infrastructure will boost the construction industry, with knock-on effects into the wider economy; second, that there will be a large influx of foreign visitors. (More)

> As we're in a Fick FUFA frame of mind please also have a look at Pitch Invasion's tale of the lost official film of the 1938 World Cup. FIFA don't seem to acknowledge that the film even exists. Do the Nazi salutes embarrass them?

Farewell Fergie

BARRY FERGUSON’S decision to quit international football is one that may have some apologists within the media ready to finally write his Scotland obituary. For me, it’s no big loss.

The former Rangers captain has finally decided to called time on his international career and has reportedly informed coach Craig Levein, presumably sitting by his phone in eager anticipation at what Baz was going to do.

Ferguson has given nothing but lip service to Scotland in the last decade or so and the fact that he’s decided to walk away after being given an olive branch by Levein should be treated with the sort of contempt Ferguson showed the national team.

Craig Anderson's certainly not sorry to see Barry Ferguson pull the plug on his international career.

Difficult not to disagree. Ferguson was a player who was rarely as bad for Scotland as his critics made out. But nor did he ever play as well as you suspected he could have.

However well he has been playing for Birmingham City, and I saw some excellent performances last season, there was never a guarantee with Ferguson that he could carry that into an international week.

Like many things with Barry Ferguson I suspect this had a lot to with his state of mind.

His 45 caps from a decade or so of being considered for the team is a fairly mediocre return compared to his career at club level and raises questions over his commitment to the cause.

That statistic, just as much as "Boozegate," means yesterday announcement should come as no surprise.

Leaving aside my thoughts on Barry as an individual I've got to say I welcome the news for the team.

Craig Levein was keen to be able to choose from all his available talents. But at least Ferguson's official retirement means the manager has to move forward.

Scottish football is in a hole. We're looking for a brave new world. Ferguson has just ensured that Craig Levein will need to be that little bit braver in taking us there.

> Stephen Naismith has been touting Kevin Thomson as a ready made Ferguson replacement. With only two caps at the age of 25 and a number of calls offs from the squad, my big fear would be it being a like for like replacement both on and off the field.

2010 World Cup: Germany v Spain

Some weeks ago I wrote this:

The World Cup will not be won by England, Spain, Argentina or North Korea. Fact.

Well, three out of four ain't bad.

More recently I pointed out that, after losing to Switzerland, Spain had a mountain to climb if they were to deliver on their destiny as pre tournament favourites. The old theory of winning teams starting slowly is wrong. The eventual champions have never lost their opening game.

So here we are with a Spain v Germany semi final. Will my tongue in cheek prediction be proved right? Will Spain actually be felled the weight of World Cup history?

They've not done much to persuade me otherwise so far.

You'd need to study the 2010 World Cup long and hard to find something approaching a sustained period of form. At times they've seemed lacklustre as a team while Fernando Torres has provided a hugely underwhelming contribution to the tournament.

So the Spanish have no chance against a German team that have swept aside England and Argentina in the knockout games?

Well, nah. Nothing's as simple as that.

Spain haven't become a team of carthorses in the past month. And, thrilling as they've been at times, Germany aren't the complete team.

Against a poor England side and an Argentina team with not much more than a novelty manager, Germany went through periods of looking shaky. Yes they overcame them and the final results were crushing.

But might a Spanish side, even if they can only click briefly into their fluent best, not worry Germany? And in David Villa Spain have a player who looks to be in the sort of goalscoring form that could inflict damage on any team.

So this is far from a foregone conclusion. We now know what to expect from Germany and at times it has been stunning to watch. I'm sure nobody will ask me to vote but, if they do, Bastian Schweinsteiger is my player of the tournament.

I expect - and hope for - a better Spanish performance tonight. Germany will be hampered by the loss of Thomas Muller but there remains goals in the team and I don't think Spain will be able to keep them out.

Germany to win then. But I've got a feeling it could be a close one.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Quick Poll

That the Netherlands made the World Cup final tonight in a display that never entirely convinced has perhaps been in keeping with their campaign.

The purists might not like some of their play, Mark van Bommel seems to be growing as a hate figure with every challenge, and at times tonight there seemed to be a nerviness to their play.

Funny thing though, they were favourites in a World Cup semi final trying to work out how to react to getting an early-ish goal. I'd be nervous.

But they got the job done. They've won six games on the bounce in the tournament, just as they won Scotland's qualifying group with a 100% record.

They're doing something right. Not total football perhaps, but totally effective so far.

And it wouldn't have been a 2010 World Cup game without a touch of controversy.

The second Dutch goal carried the whiff of offside. Wesley Sneijder hit the goal bound shot and Robin van Persie, looking a touch offside, stepped over the ball as it travelled in off the far post.

Should it have been allowed?

It's unusual that I let anything by the way of expertise get in the way of this blog. And in a concerted effort to continue that policy the best I can offer in the way of analysis is Graham Poll.

Writing on Twitter he proclaimed the goal should have been disallowed. Here's a selection of his tweets:

Back to offside. "daylight" never been req'd. That was Philip Don error 10 years ago. Slo-mo showed Van Persie foot just ahead of defender.

So RvP in offside position not interferring with play as no contact with ball. Not gaining an adv as ball didn't rebound to him. But...

RvP definately interferring with opponent as he steps over ball putting keeper off. Tough call for officials.

So he was offside. But I thought the crucial point was the "slo-mo" showed comment. The linesman's not got the advantage of sitting watching the game on the TV while getting paid by the Daily Mail (no links on a point of taste).

I put this to Mr Poll who was kind enough to reply:

Great point and doubt existed so favour the attacker. Understandable but factually incorrect.

I like to think that this proves my initial feeling that the linesman had never considered Robin van Persie to be offside so any discussion of interfering with play is redundant.

Not a perfect decision. But an understandable one. Hopefully the linesman will not be vilified for it. Just one of those football things really.

In fact the more controversial decision may have come earlier when play was allowed to continue despite a needless van Bommel foul in the lead up to Giovanni van Bronckhorst's magnificent first goal.

And, of course, if only Mr Poll had access to me on Twitter all those years ago we'd never have seen that third yellow card.

> Good goals tonight. Diego Forlan's was a stunning strike but van Bronckhorst's edges it because the Dutch keeper got himself tied up in knots with bad positioning. The final Dutch goal, finished with a fine Robben header, wasn't half bad either.

> By my reckoning van Bronckhorst becomes the second World Cup semi final scorer to have played in Scotland at some point. Am I missing any?

Monday, July 05, 2010

2010 World Cup: Uruguay v Netherlands

Semi final number one. A very quick overview.

Maybe not quite the match we expected.

But here we are.

A couple of wishes for today:

The Netherlands are as entitled as anyone else to play whatever style of football suits them. Stop bleating about the death of Total Football. A style, incidentally, that won Holland a grand total of no World Cups. (Raphael Honigstein destructs this myth here.)

And, please, can pundits stop being surprised about the quality of Diego Forlan. He has dropped a couple of fairly big hints since leaving Old Trafford that he would be able to perfom on this stage. Get over it.

That aside the first semi final is a clash between the only two undefeated sides left in the tournament.

The Dutch looked rocked by Brazil in the first half of their quarter final but recovered their composure to punish their opponents as the South Americans imploded after the break.

If they could revel in the status of underdogs against the giants of South America, Holland know that this evening they have the responsibility of favourites.

That will suit a Uruguay side enjoying being the surprise package sixty years on from their second World Cup triumph.

It would be nice if we could enjoy a game that isn't dominated by a handball furore, red cards, accusations of diving or defensive mistakes.

But that might not be in keeping with the themes of the 2010 World Cup.

I think the Dutch will do enough tonight. Scotland might yet have been vanquished by the eventual World Cup winners.

> I wouldn't have predicted a Netherlands v Germany final. But it's an attractive prospect now. Not that we should get ahead of ourselves.

> Quick guide to the semi finals here.

Hand of Sod

Luis Suarez and the handball shame. Another controversial talking point in a World Cup that's been full of them.

Saint or sinner?

Truthfully who wouldn't have done the same thing? It's cheating. Of course it is. But it also saved his team. He broke the rules in the knowledge that to do so would give his team hope. The ends justified the means.

That's unfortunate but it is fact. One man's saint is another man's sinner.

I've always been in favour of a penalty goal in such situations. The referee is allowed to award the goal and punish the player as he sees fit.

It might be nice if Suarez could at least show a bit of sympathy for Ghana. Although his lack of contrition did at least inspire Richard Williams to this whopping display of double standards:

A little sympathy for the losers might have been appropriate at that point, but he then started talking about "the real hand of God". He is a good footballer but he is not Diego Maradona, or entitled to claim the same moral exemptions.

You see, it's alright for a genius to cheat. A defence that I'm inclined to think probably doesn't stand up in many courts.

> Pained as I am to admit it my support for the penalty goal means I'm in agreement with Graham Poll:

"The clause in the law under which Suarez was dismissed was the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The problem is that Ghana were denied a goal, not just the opportunity to score one. A penalty-goal in these circumstances would be appropriate."

While some argued Suarez acted instinctively, Poll said that should not affect the punishment against his team. "If that is true then awarding a penalty-goal and a yellow card seems more appropriate. Then the wronged team would not be denied a goal and the instinctive act less harshly punished.