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All Things Footie | Monday, September 20 | Jordan

RIP Big ’Ead

I’d written a big piece about how Jose Mourinho’s moaning is ridiculous given his multi-million pound side’s dour performances this season, followed by what an idiot Andy Cole is, followed by how worrying it is that referees seem more comfortable giving red cards for pushing, shoving, shirt removing and clipped ‘last-man’ challenges than for knee high, studs up leg-breakers (that rarely get more than a yellow) when I heard the news.

Of all the managers I’ve ever seen and heard, not one comes close to Cloughie for being everything I love in a manager. Speaking his mind, making the big decisions without flinching, dedication, honesty. People bandy the word ‘legend’ about a lot, but the true test is time, and I’d bet everything I have that in 40 years time people will still be talking about Ol’ Big ‘Ead. On the surface he’s one of the least likeable personalities of 70s/80s football, yet I’ve never heard anyone say a genuinely meant bad word about him. You can disagree with him, but you can’t dislike him. Dammit, I need to start using the past tense. It’s going to be difficult for the passing of such a ubiquitous personality to sink in—even though he reached his managerial peak the year I was born, his impact on my footballing memories is still improbably huge. I can tell you that this weekend will see the best observed minute silences in the history of the league.

It almost contradicts his whole managerial career, but I find it wonderful that in his last interview (that I can remember) he was the most positive I’ve ever heard him. I think he was genuinely warmed to see a team beat his Nottingham Forest team’s record, and just as pleased to see it done in the style it was. The fact that his last public thoughts were not a bitter rant lambasting some johnny foreigner or playboy teenager is a fitting way for someone—who underneath his outer persona was a humble, funny and genuinely great bloke—to sign off.

It’s often forgotten what a contribution Cloughie made as a player. On the day he was forced to retire through injury in December 1962 at just 27 years old, he’d scored 204 goals in 222 appearances for Middlesbrough and 63 in 74 appearances for Sunderland. Lets just go over that again. In 296 appearances as a professional footballer in the top league he scored a whopping 267 goals. That’s over a 0.9 goal a game average. Phenomenal.

Only then did he go on to management; as a 30 year-old becoming the League’s youngest ever manager at Hartlepool, then winning promotion to the first division in his second season at Derby County (finishing fourth in the first division in his first season there). Two seasons later and he’s won the league with the Rams, three seasons and he’s taken what is effectively a second division team to the European Cup Semi Final.

After some fun and games at Brighton and Leeds United, where his reputation as someone who’s not afraid to speak his mind (to put it politely) is sealed, he joins second division Nottingham Forest in 1975. At the end of his second year in charge, they finish third in the second division and win promotion. Then, with a vitually unchanged playing staff, Forest win the first division title in their first season in the top division and the League Cup. The next season, 1978/79, Forest finish second in the league, but as a consolation, take home the European Cup and League Cup. The next season proves dissapointing in the league once more, but again, consolation somes in the form of being the only team to ever win the European Cup in successive seasons (as well as the European Super Cup). On top of all this silverware, between November 1977 and December 1978, Clough took Forest on the longest unbeaten league run by a club side in the history of English football (until Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal beat it this year).

It would be an achievement had Clough achieved these feats with Liverpool, Manchester United, Leeds or Arsenal, but to do it with a middling second division side requires a very special, very unique talent. I recall an interview with Clough once when he was asked about his tactics for making such average players into such a dangerous unit, his reply?

“Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.”

Got to love the man. When horrible, dour, whinging, annoying Scotsmen like Mr Alex Ferguson get themselves knighted for jammy last minute goals in ONE European Cup final, it makes you wonder who Clough rubbed up the wrong way to avoid getting his own title—actually, he rubbed so many people up the wrong way it’s surprising they didn’t bring back the stocks for him. Even if he had been honoured as he should have been, you get the impression that if anyone did call him Sir Brian he’d sooner slap them than say hello, such was his genuinely down to earth persona.

I’m welling up now, so I’ll sign off and leave petty moans about football for another day. Rest In Peace, Sir.

P.S. To remember him as I’m sure he’d laugh at being remembered, leave your favourite Cloughie quotes in the comments below. One each, lets not get greedy now.

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All Things Footie | Tuesday, September 14 | Jordan

Reactions

With Arsenal winning again, and both United and Chelsea slipping up, all the talk last weekend was about the actions of a couple of referees. For a change.

Mark Halsey had an eventful afternoon at Craven Cottage, first awarding Fulham a penalty, then changing his mind, denying Fulham’s backwards monikered striker Collins John a goal and denying Arsenal’s Thierry Henry a penalty. Lets look at these incidents one-by-one:

Fulham ‘penalty’: Most pundits and commentators (including myself) are in agreement that it’s irrelevant whether it should have been a penalty or not (incidentally, I think replays show it wasn’t), the controversy comes over Halsey’s decision to change his mind—something referees are not known for doing (much to the criticism of most spectators). Let us be 100% clear from the start that according to the laws of the game, the referee is perfectly entitled to change his decision. Halsey admitted in a post match interview that as well as his initial doubts following the decision, the reaction of both Arsenal and Fulham players affected his change of mind—the question-mark hangs over whether this is right or wrong.

In every single game, players try and influence every official’s decisions, from awards of throw ins and corners to penalty claims and offsides (surely the most pointless); but does it ever work? No. Why? Because every referee is so conditioned against it that it falls on the most unattentive ears imaginable. So what was different on Saturday? Well, just like when making any other decision on a football pitch, the referee read the unintentional gestures and body language of the players—the look of calm on the faces of Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole and Kolo Touré and the lack of even a half-hearted appeal by Andy Cole—and then thought it prudent to reassess his decision by consulting his linesman. Simple! And as far as I’m concerned it will have next to no bearing on future decisions made by referees in similar situations. Furthermore, it’s an encouraging sign that referees are starting to realise that they’re human, and can make mistakes.

Fulham ‘goal’: I didn’t see anything wrong with it myself, it looked perfectly legitimate, and once more, the players’ body language told the story. While Collins John celebrated, Touré and his defensive collegues trapsed away looking disappointed at conceding the goal. No appeals, no moaning. It should have stood, but I really don’t think you can accuse the referee of any kind of bias—he just got a decision wrong. I was disappointed to hear a manager I’ve got a lot of time for blaming anything other than the performance of his players, but I think everyone can muster some sympathy for how it must have felt to have both these decisions go against you at 0-0.

Arsenal ‘penalty’: A stone-waller if ever I saw one. Thierry Henry breaks into the box, Moritz Volz stamps on his achilles, Henry goes down. Penalty!

To be fair to Halsey, he didn’t have a good view of the incident, and there was no way he could tell how obvious a foul it was. That said, if he didn’t think it was a foul, then Henry’s theatrical (for it would have been had no contact been made) descent should probably have earned him a yellow card for diving. Perhaps Halsey was just being pragmatic, and acknowledged that because of his lack of a good view he could neither punish Henry or Volz and had to let the entire incident go. Again, good refereeing as far as I’m concerned.

People reacting to incidents will always happen, but it’s part of a referee’s job to use his or her judgement to filter out the phoney reactions from the true ones. It’s not always possible to see all that goes on and the pressure is always on to make an instant decision. David Elleray wrote in his Times column yesterday that he once blew for a foul before it happened—and the challenge ended up being a marvellous tackle. He reversed his decision and gave a drop ball, the best thing he could do. I’ve seen plenty of refs over the last couple of years blow their whistles or make a decision only to visibly regret it a second or two later, if Mark Halsey’s actions have made it easier for refs to admit their mistakes and give us a fairer game then I’m all for it.

It’d be easy to lay into Steve Bennett for sending off Tim Cahill for his celebration against Everton. The idea of sending someone off for simply being happy and getting a bit carried away seems unbelievably harsh. He’s not hurting anyone, and it’s an absurd FIFA ruling that despite what the senile old fool Sepp Blatter has had to say was applied correctly by the referee. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that it IS against FIFA rules to show your torso like that, and it’s a directive that every player IS aware of (or if they’re not it’s their own lookout). Cahill simply paid a (fairly heavy) price for doing something that he should have known he wasn’t allowed to do. Let’s not forget that it would have only been a yellow card if he hadn’t already gotten himself booked.

I’ll stop short of saying he deserves what he gets, but ultimately it’s his own fault he walked. Referees don’t always do a good job, they need to become more accountable, less rigid, and more involved in the game; but last weekend they didn’t do half as much wrong as most ‘papers will have you think they did.

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All Things Footie | Monday, September 6 | Jordan

Hiatus

Please excuse the brief (or not so brief) interruption to our service: moving house + no phone at the new place + wedding(s) (congratulations Richard and Gemma/Emily and Steph) + International football break = no update. Sorry.

I had a piece written for last week, but had no time to post it. In summary:

I’ll write something more complete soon, unless you appreciate the bullet point format stopping me waffling on for 500 words.

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