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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Hola José!

Robbing Pavón of the ball, his wallet, his watch and any last shred of dignity, before twisting the bewildered Madridista round so his backside was facing the same way as his knees, Reyes rolled across the box for Francisco Casquero to finish.

As the fans chanted their idol’s name (well, Reyes isn’t just a great footballer, he’s a Sevillista with Sevilla curtains in his house) the press rummaged round down the back of the sofa, searching for new accolades. “Simply magisterial”, “a phenomenon”, “immense”, “the devil himself” and an “angel”. He was bloody brilliant, ridiculing Madrid and twice making Luis Figo look very stupid indeed. No wonder the olés rang out in the rain.

— Sid Lowe, The Guardian

Arsenal fans can look forward to a very bright talent gracing Highbury, and in the very near future, Ashburton Grove. The signing of Sevilla forward José Antonio Reyes for £8m (plus performance related extras up to £20m)* marks not only Arsène Wenger’s desire to build an even more formidable team, but the club’s ability to spend the cash implies that the finances are almost certainly in place for Ashburton Grove.

* All figures here, and any you may read elsewhere are nothing more than guestimates. Sevilla and Arsenal agreed a confidentiality pact, so neither club will reveal the fee.

Coming to England after three seasons in one of (if not the) the best leagues in the World, and performing against the best team in the World, suggets that Reyes will be something very special. Like Robert Pires, I expect that he will need some time to get used to the physical aspect of the Premiership (though being officially the most fouled player in Spain I expect he’s used to it to some degree), and he’ll certainly need time to get used to the weather. He’s spent his life so far living in Spains’ steamy, southern, Andalucía; as he arrived at Arsenal for his medical today, the snow on the roads is a nice immediate warning that he’s no longer going to be off to the beach on his day off.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Have I told you I love the FA Cup?

Gutted for Scarborough, a truly heroic performance against a near full strength Chelsea side and they only lost out on a replay through some very dubious refereeing. You won’t see many more blatent handballs than William Gallas’ in that game, and you won’t see many more teams in this competition who can hold their heads as high as the players of Scarborough Town FC.

One team who can though are Swansea City, and more specifically, the mercurial Lee Trundle. If you know anything about football outside of the Premiership then you must know of Trundle—a legend in Rhyl, Wrexham and Swansea; and about a stone short of being a Premiership player. He has the same awkward style of running and effortless control of Robert Pires, the way he opens his body up and moves with the ball at his feet is fantastic. He’s that rare breed of footballer, like Jay Jay Okotcha, that’s both an entertainer and an effective player on the pitch. The only thing holding Trundle back is his fitness and his age. To play at a higher level in modern football, particularly in the Premiership, you have to be in top physical condition. He’s got everything you can’t learn, so it’s a crying shame that he’ll never play at the highest level (never say never and all that, but I’m just being realistic).

United and Arsenal cruised through to the next round against vastly inferior opposition. If I was surprised by the scrappiness of all United’s goals, I was just as surprised to see young Arsneal forward David Bentley try that audacious chip from the edge of the box, let alone pull it off. It’s difficult not to draw comparison’s with Bentley’s two idols, Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp (he was a United fan as a boy), but we all know the damage of expecting too much, too soon. He’s still just 19 years old (though I remember when he started his Icons weblog at 16), and there will be a few years of development to come before he can begin to realise his full potential. It’s an exciting thought though, for Arsenal and England.

The only goal that could contest Bentley’s for goal of the round is Laurent Robert’s thunderous free kick against Liverpool. It wasn’t enough to see his side through, with two Bruno Chey-who? goals giving Liverpool the edge in the game. I watched some of it actually (though I managed to miss all three goals first time round), and I was surprised at how sharp Owen looked. He executed one beautiful slight of foot, dropping his shoulder, turning away from goal from a cut-back and swivelling to get a shot away—all with two defenders around him—probably the neatest trick I’ve seen Owen pull off since he was 18.

West Ham did well against a buoyant Wolves, and you have to give credit to Telford for holding off Milwall. Sunderland did well to progress, as did Burnley, who’s disappointing position in the first division table belies the quality they have in the team. I suppose credit must go to Birmingham for dealing with Wimbledon, and I find it difficult to have any sympathy for the club, but I thought that the players deserved more than a defeat.

Surprisingly there are only three all premiership ties for the fifth round draw, and it’s clear which one draws the eye first. This time last year, Arsenal drew Manchester United at Old Trafford, and once that match was out of the way, Chelsea at Highbury. The repeat of this quarter final is undoubtably the highlight of an otherwise rather dull fifth round draw:

Man Utd v Man City/Tottenham
Tranmere v Swansea
Telford/Millwall v Burnley
Sunderland v Birmingham
Sheff Utd v Coventry/Colchester
Arsenal v Chelsea
Liverpool v Portsmouth
Everton/Fulham v West Ham

If Telford get through, they’re ‘rewarded’ with another first division (or should I say, Football League Championship) side; Lee Trundle and Swansea are handed an away trip to Tranmere and—with the exception of a possible Manchester Derby (though I have a feeling Spurs ill beat City in the replay)—the rest are, on paper, a dull bunch at best. On the positive side, there’s a real possibility of seeing Swansea in the next round.

I can’t sign off without saying something about the war of words between Sir Alex Ferguson and his ‘frined’ John Magnier. The bottom line is that Magnier is using his 25% stake in Manchester United to put pressure on Ferguson regarding disputed ownership of the race-horse Rock of Gibraltar. The retired horse is worth a fortune (up to £200m) in Stud fees, and Ferguson wants slightly more than he’s owed for it, 50%. Even to a man like Magnier this is a lot of money, and the Irishman has the power and the resources to take Ferguson to the cleaners if he has to. Make no mistake, if this goes the whole ugly way to court, the United manager will lose.

In order to keep it out of the courts (but not the back, and front for that matter, pages of the daily rags), Magnier is threatening to expose some of the dodgy transfer deals that United, and more specifically Ferguson and his son Jason, have been involved in over the last few years. The price that United have paid for many players recently have been astronomical, when compared to their value. Just ask yourselves how Arsenal had agreed a £5m deal for Ronaldo last summer before Ferguson exercised a special ‘first-refusal’ clause with Lisbon to take the Portuguese forward to old trafford—only for £7.2m more. Bear in mind that in the signings of David Bellion, Kleberson and Eric Djemba Djemba, payments of over half a million pounds (or one Kolo Toure) were made to non FIFA sanctioned ‘agents’, most of whom know Jason Ferguson.

Louis Saha would have done anything to get a move to United, he said it himself, so why did it take a payment of £750,000 to an agent to ‘persuade’ him to move?

These kind of dodgy deals and payments happen at every club, and practically every transfer, but most people privy to the information know that it is in their best interests to keep schtum. Revealing all clubs’ indiscretions would embarass the business’ and the managers, not to mention bringing to light what filthy, bloodsucking, parasites on the game your average football agent is. In Magnier’s case, his best interests are served by making sure Ferguson gives up on Gibraltar and gets on with managing Man Utd, and many Utd fans may agree.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

All things footie would like to present a special edition. Matchday reporter Tom Green gives his diligently impartial analysis of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ victory over Manchester United on Saturday.

Football Whores & Cricket Scores

Bobby Charlton, Alex Ferguson, Mick Hucknall, Terry Christian, Mark Chapman, Matty Kitching… your boys took one hell of a beating!

You surely didn’t think I wasn’t going to contribute to atf at all this week did you?

Yeah, maybe I could’ve just gone to ‘have your say’, but Mr atf has always said he welcomes pieces from external parties, and I’m quite sure this piece will be well received by ‘most’ footballing quarters.

I like to consider myself as a very levelheaded Wolves supporter who speaks a lot of sense about his team & others. I like to think that when we are all down the pub others respect my opinion on the game & I am quite sure that they do. I may be outspoken at times, but I’d rather be outspoken than conform to general opinion—‘Band Wagon’ football supporters are the worst kind in my view. But at 4.53 on Saturday afternoon, a very buoyant band waggon pulled up alongside me outside the Billy Wright Stand.

‘Go on, ride me!’ the driver said. ‘No, no. It’s just a well deserved 3 points gained from a fellow Premiership side. I’m happy with that thank you.’ I replied. ‘But you’ve just beat top of league. The whole country has been laughing at you for months. How many times have you let their ‘supporters’ belittle you just because your football club isn’t a multi-million pound corporation? How many Man U infested editions of ‘The Premiership’ have you sat through just to see 20 seconds of your team in action? YOU’VE JUST DESERVEDLY BEATEN THEM! GO ON, RIDE ME!’

‘OK driver, 1 ticket please.’

Ha! Ha! Ha! He! He! He!

Can we play you every week? Can we play you every week? No, seriously, can we?

I think alot of other teams could gain from watching our now famous victory. Especially now that Mr Rio Ferdinand is staring down the barrel of an 8-month suspension, as he is indeed the only Man United defender who can in my opinion, well, defend. This was the first time I’d watched my beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers take on the alleged Premiership ‘heavyweight’ that is United, and I can honestly say, I wasn’t that impressed. Go on, shoot me down; they haven’t been Premiership champions nine times out of twelve for nothing. That said, it seems to me that if a team doesn’t give them too much respect, if someone keeps check on Scholes and if just one of your centre-halves is given the job of man-marking Van Nisterooij (which he does for 90 minutes), they are very ordinary. As Ronaldo lofted in his 100th aimless cross when United were chasing the game, I couldn’t help but think how much they miss their old number 7. Can any United fan seriously claim that the sale of Beckham and the acquisitions of Kleberson, Ronaldo, Bellion and err… Djemba Djemba has improved their squad? I doubt it.

For years now, Alex Ferguson has always had the last laugh. ‘Cantona’s a bit of a gamble’, ‘Jaap Stam? £10 million for that donkey!’, ‘Who’s this Sølskjær lad?’, ‘Will Dwight Yorke be able to make the step up to a club like Man United?’ Each and every time, know-nothing pundits would then come out and smugly claim they knew all along that the great Scot was right all along. The same know-nothing pundits who before Saturday were claiming we were dead and buried. The same know-nothing pundits who came to Molineux on Saturday expecting a cricket score.

I think I can safely say he was wrong about this one though. The decision to sell Beckham is going to bite the red-nosed git on the arse big time. And I get the feeling it’s nibbling already.

Anyway, its now Tuesday and I really should get off this wagon now. Tomorrow night the boys in old gold take on Liverpool, who will provide a totally different kind of challenge. And with the likes of Owen and Gerrard returning from injury, one might even say it’s an even tougher challenge.

Ooops, have I gone too far?

Ah well.

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Monday, January 19, 2004

humble pie anyone?

“If anyone’s going to drop points, it’ll be Arsenal”

And to think, there I was, in William Hill 5 minutes before kick-off, thinking how insulting it was to put a home side 7-1 to win; and how 7-1 in a two horse race was actually worth a flutter no matter how unlikely. The most satisfying thing about the result is that Wolves deserved it. Sure, United looked very dangerous when they picked up the ball in the middle of the park, and they broke quickly and directly, but Wolves defended their defensive third with all the dedication and determination of a team fighting for their lives. Wolves created the best two or three opportunities of the game, and Miller scored with a delightfully cool finish after Wes Brown underlining just why Rio Ferdinand’s impending suspension is going to hit United hard. Talking of that saga, this made me laugh.

I’ve made no secret of my desire to see Wolves stay up this season—I like the team’s attitude, I like Dave Jones, and I respect the club—I don’t think this magnificent win is necessarily going to be enough of a catalyst to give the team the belief to string a few good results together, but if they can, going down will not seem so much of a foregone conclusion.

If there were ever a foregone conclusion it’s the demise of Leeds United as a ‘Big Club’, when the administrators come knocking tomorrow morning it’ll all be over for the Leeds we know and hate. I would be very surpirsed if the club is granted a stay of execution, as the administrators iwll want to get in early to help strip arguably their most valuable assets, the players, before the transfer window closes. I would assume that the only reason the club would be allowed extra time is if a concrete, but not finalised, rescue package has already been sorted out. There will be lots of sympathy for a club with such a history going down the pan (well, into the first division), but you won’t find any here. It’s entirely their own fault—they’ve had champions league revenue, top four finishing revenue, and the constant stream of cash from Sky TV and the league’s sponsors; there can be no excuses.

Unfortunately I had to miss the televised matches on Sunday as I was at the Cinema for my Grandad’s birthday, but I did manage to catch 606 last night, and I’ve not laughed at moaning Villa fans so much for some time. I saw the free-kick last night, and it’s one of those ones that’s gutting if it happens against you, but in all honesty, you really don’t have any cause for complaint. If the goalkeeper’s tying his shoelaces, then he shouldn’t be, if defenders are chatting and trying to get organised then they shouldn’t be, it’s not like serving in Tennis, you don’t have to ask your opponents permission to strike the ball. Well done to Mark Halsey for not buckling under the pressure, applying the rules of the game, and most importantly—trying to keep the game flowing by allowing things like quick free kicks.

After getting call after call of miserable Brummies moaning about ‘Arsenal’s twelfth man’ and ‘the worst referee in the league’, as well as host (and Man Utd fan) Mark Chapman insisting that the penalty given should have been an indirect free-kick as it was an obstruction and no more, Halsey called the show to inform its presenter that there is no such thing as obstruction anymore, just ‘impeding’ which is punishable by a direct free-kick.

On to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, missing Mutu and Crespo there were many excuses, though as Birmingham were actually away from home, and missing eight first team players, they really can’t complain that much can they? Claudio Ranieri is right, all you irritating, arrogant, and plain stupid Chelsea fans yapping about winning this and dominating that are wrong. Simple as.

Finally, I mentioned Louis Saha’s transfer last time around, and now it seems signed, sealed and deliverd, I’ll mention it again. Alan Mullery was on Sky Spors last night claiming that Saha only plays well when he’s up front alone. Naturally, this begs the question about how he’ll play with Van Nistelrooij, at which point Mullery tells us that Saha is one for the future United, and not Van Nistelrooij’s regular partner. Now how does that work? What’s the point in spending £10m on a 25 year old ‘for the future’? He has to play up front with Van Nistelrooij! Doesn’t he?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Better late than never

So Louis Saha seems to have decided he’s going to United, and if you ask me it’s a rather peculiar transfer. I don’t see Saha in the same light everyone else seems to see him, I see the washed up Newcastle reject forging himself a decent living in a mid-table side, good, but not good enough to be a top Premiership player. I could be wrong, and Fulham are the real winners from this £9.8m deal, though I’ll be interested to see how he settles in at United; it’s been a while since they had a pacey front man with a bit of skill, I wonder how Van Nistelrooy will react? I actually think he quite likes being United’s sole goal getter, it makes him feel good. The question I’d ask if I were on the board of United is; if they needed to spend £10m on a new forward, why was so much money spent of Bellion, Ronaldo and Forlan? If I were Mr Ferguson, I would have thrown Ronaldo up-front (where he has played all his career so far) and tried to buy Steed Malbranque from Fulham—he’s their real star.

For every one in, there’s one out, and Nicky Butt—a man whom Ferguson himself said was the most promising of the Giggs / Beckham / Scholes / Neville generation—has handed in a transfer request, presumably tired of being second choice to Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson. If it were Arsenal, they’d be blamed for killing English football by choosing foreigners over home grown talent (and key England Internationals), but it’s not, so it’s just ‘time to move on’ for Butt. I’ve never been his greatest fan, but I’d pick him over Djemba-Djemba or Kleberson any day; just as I’d pick Ray Parlour over Gilberto and Edu—there’s something about having a club in your veins that makes an average footballer a great player.

If I can just skirt around last weekend, the best thing was undoubtably that bald, irksome thug Danny Mills getting his comeuppance at the hands (well, the twinkle toes) of Thierry Henry, not the best man to wind up in a game he may otherwise have strolled through. The nutmeg as Mills tried to shield the ball at the corner flag was a sublime example of justified arrogance. If I were Steve Mclaren I’d be very worried about facing this side three more times—even if two of them sees a shadow XI. As it happens, I think Arsenal’s strength through these potential bore-a-thons will be their ability to freshen the starting line up; keeping the side hungry and more determined to do well. Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehigou for England? Don’t make me laugh (an opinion far from solely based on their performance at Highbuiry by-the-way). Changing the subject, I think Youri Djorkaeff’s sublime chip from an acute angle in Bolton’s fantastic 4-3 win at Ewood park, was one of the best goals I’ve seen this season. Great game too.

Last night’s FA Cup replays were a bit of a let down, Kidderminster, Accrington, all let-downs, but well done Tranmere—you couldn’t have beaten a nicer team. Talking of Bolton, and more specifically Sam Allardyce, I wholeheartedly agree with him regarding his opinions of Trever Brooking’s appointment as FA Technical Director. I never thought I’d say that, but for once, Allardyce has hit the nail on the head. Firstly, as Sam says, Brooking is wholly unqualified, and I don’t care is he’s taking his UEFA badge now—there are enough men who know the game far better than Brooking who already have it. Secondly, he’s far too closely associated with certain football clubs, and certain current and ex-professionals to be impartial. Thirdly, his view of the game is simplistic in the extreme. Finally, he talks complete and utter nonsense 99% of the time. I gave up trying to reason with the FA a long time ago, we must just sit back and accept that it’s up to the clubs and the players to keep the game great.

A final word for Mr David Seaman, who announced his retirement yesterday after a series of shouolder injuries. Second only to Gordon Banks in England’s goalkeeping history (don’t anyone even mention the curly-permed tit Shilton), the country—as well as Arsenal fans—owe a debt to the giant Yorkshireman. It’s a terrible shame that his swansong has been an ignominious half-season in a Kevin Keegan side and a series of ill-advised appearances as a captain on They Think It’s All Over. Almost exactly a year ago, Nigel Winterburn hung his boots up, leaving Seaman as the only remaining member of the best back-five in the history of football still playing, I will maintain for the rest of my days that Spunky should have bowed out of football at the Millenium Stadium last year, but he’s a stubborn and ambitious man; and you can’t fault him for that.

One of the reasons I turned against England (apart from the way that the national side is run) is not wanting to be associated with the kind of arsehole that booed Seaman when Paul Scholes ducked Artim Sakiri’s corner at St Mary’s 18 months ago. Shame on all that booed, and shame on anyone that fails to applaud Seaman for giving football so much. Those penalty saves against Scotland and Spain at Euro ‘96 to the save against Sheffield United in the FA Cup last year … good luck David, and thanks for the memories.

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Monday, January 05, 2004

Two updates in one day!

Oh yes readers, I’m in the midst of writing fever.

So the FA Cup fourth round draw has been made, and there are some really mouth-watering games in prospect,

The first of these gives us Pleat’s old club vs. Pleats new club (if Leicester can beat Man City), a game I know a certain East Midlander will relish given his (lack of) love for the kerb-crawling know-nothing. United are likely to face local (ish) rivals Rotherham at Millmoor, which could certainly be an interesting game; I heard United fans moaning about never drawing ‘small teams’ in the Cup, so they always had to work for victories. It’ll be nice to see either Northampton or Rotherham show the Premiership Champions that playing lower league sides is no pushover.

Arsenal face the team they knocked out of the FA Cup a couple of seasons ago thanks to an own goal by Branca—plenty Boro’ fans thought they were hard done by there and will want to get their own back on the Gunners, who face yet another Premiership opponent. Coventry may host Accrington (if the Lacastrians make it past Colchester)—giving Stanley a potentially big gate along with a glimmer of hope that they could make the next round.
Liverpool v Newcastle is clearly the glamour tie of the round, and should be a big test for Gerard Houllier and Sir Bobby Robson. Both managers can realistically see this as a chance to turn the season around, though Newcastle may already have found that moment thanks to their excellent 3-0 win at St Marys over the weekend (a result I forgot to mention in my post earlier today). Needless to say, I fancy Newcastle to end Liverpool’s rather short cup run, and Kieran Dyer to be everything that Harry Kewell should be.

Everton v Fulham is the third and final all-premiership pairing, and while I doubt it’ll be overflowing with technical brilliance, I’d expect it to be a match worth watching. It’s a shame that Telford didn’t draw anyone bigger, no offence to Millwall, but at least it’s a home draw for the Bucks. There’s something inexplicably poetic about the prospect of Southend v Chelsea.

It’s a good draw, but we’ll know better once the replays have been decided and the true nature of he matchups are decided. I expect sky to get Arsenal v Middlesbrough and Liverpool v Newcastle, with Everton v Fulham and the Chelsea (assuming they beat Watford) tie being shown on the BBC.

Ahh, the BBC. Neatly on to the second reason for this post. I was reminded today of an article I read in The Daily Telegraph just before Christmas by Sarah Edworthy. The article consisted of an interview with ex-Man City / Brighton / Liverpool / QPR / Osasuna forward Michael Robinson, who is a bit of a pundit on Spanish TV and hosts his own Monday night Baddiel and Skinner style show El Dia Despues (The Day After). The man talks sense, a lot of it, and chips away at one my most consistent gripes with the BBC’s football coverage.

‘Football in England has been kidnapped by its ex-players who don’t love what football really means … The BBC spoilt the World Cup. I respect ex-footballers but I think it extremely important to stick a journalist between Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson to say: “Why have you just said that? Explain yourself to normal human beings who haven’t been professionals.”

‘None of the panel knew that Ronaldinho had scored free-kicks for Paris St-Germain like that all season. They don’t see any further than Southend, and who gives a monkeys anyway. “We were robbed, we invented football.” And England have gone home thinking we got kicked out of the World Cup because Ronaldinho hit a bad cross … well, b******s. I’ve never listened to so many cliches in my life. Football kidnapped by ex-players with no whys or wherefores or information, just the same putrid status quo. Football doesn’t exist beyond those frontiers? Of course it does.’ — Michael Robinson

Read the whole wonderful interview Here (free registration required, trust me, it’s worth the effort).

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Monday, January 05, 2004

I’m back

Greetings one and all! All things footie would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a happy and prosperous New Year, and hopes that your Christmas break was as lazy and self indulgent as ours.

The one truly great thing about Christmas is that while much of the country gets an extended break from work, footballers are still asked to keep us entertained regardless. They may be overpaid, spoilt and get more time off than a train driver, but can they get rat-arsed on the 25th and sleep in on Boxing Day? Actually, I couldn’t do that either, stupid 12 o’clock kick-offs.

Since my last post, so much has happened it would be hard work to try and summarise it all—and I’m not one for hard work—but I will say this: The Pattern seems to be continuing. Each week, two out of the top three do well, while the other side … not so well. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s some kind of conspiracy going on to ensure a grandstand finish to the season. Imagine it; three games to go, Arsenal, United and Chelsea all on equal points; then they’re set loose on the Premiership. The only thing about that theory, is that it’s clearly rubbish. That said, it does suggest that perhaps the Premiership is stronger than we give it credit for—a team is taking points of one of the top three sides practically every week—this of course flies in the face of the fact that the top three have more points so far this season than in any of the Premiership’s previous years. One word. Odd.

I watched most of the Old Firm game on Saturday morning—loving the live domestic football on terrestrial TV, even if it is the loosest definition of ‘the beautiful game’, Scottish football—and I have to say I wasn’t impressed. I’m constantly told not to judge Scottish football on Old Firm clashes, ‘they’re too heated’, ‘too competitive’, well damn me for wanting to see a game that isn’t a processional drubbing of a team supposedly in competition with the big two. The fact that they play each other about fourteen times a season now must surely dampen the fire a little. I was impressed with the touch and vision of Peter Lovenkrands and the sterling defensive work of Craig Moore and Stefan Klos, but I’d be lying if I said that I was impressed by anyone of Celtic’s but Alan Thompson. For all the hype, I just don’t see Henrik Larsson as a top Premiership quality player—I’ve seen him play a few times and he’s never impressed me. The fact that John Hartson and Chris Sutton look like prolific goalscoreres says all that needs to be said about the qualities needed (or not, as the case may be) to score goals in the SPL. So don’t give me this fifty goals in a season crap. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, both Rangers and Celtic would struggle to finish mid-table if they were moved into the Premiership—they’re Leicester with a dash of flair.

Enough moaning, this has been a great weekend. I have a huge soft spot for the FA Cup. Aside from some of the fabulously memorable moments the competition has given me personally over the last few years, it’s a truly wonderful, unique and a very, very British Institution. This weekend saw Watford holding the (relatively) mighty Chelsea, Telford beating Crewe, Accrington earning a third-round replay and Yeovil … Yeovil. Knowing that the managers of the big teams take it just as seriously as the smaller ones makes these results even more special—with some notable, walrus-faced exceptions. I was listening to Radio Five’s 606 football phone in yesterday, and a caller made an interesting point regarding the polices of Sam Allardyce. In these days of foreign managers being criticised for devaluing anything but the Champions League and the Premiership, how come it takes an English manager to build a side full of foreign players and field his reserves in the World’s oldest knock-out competition?

I heard a Leeds fan call in as well and start bemoaning Vieira, Cole, Edu and just about any Arsenal player who’s name he could think of. Disgrace! Cheats! If I were to offer any advice to the supporters of Leeds United, it would be to familiarise yourself with some first division stadia, because with a defence like yours—and when you rely on a fat, grumpy windbag like Mark Viduka—you’re going down, down, down, down.

One more thing; Harry Kewell, shame on you. And shame on you Houllier, you boggly-eyed git, for calling it a ‘professional performance’, when the rest of the country, with their eyes stapled shut and cotton wool in their ears could see it was anything but. Why is cheating a third division side worse than cheating Chelsea or Southampton? To a third division side, the fourth round of the FA Cup means more than not being moaned at by your supporters.

I’m looking forward to the fourth round draw this afternoon, and hoping for Arsenal vs Telford.

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