All Things Footie

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All Things Footie | Monday, April 25 | Jordan

It's gonna be a blue day

I meant to write following the FA Cup Semis the other weekend, but I realised that it’d only degenerate into a diatribe about how awful Blackburn are, and how hilarious it is watching Newcastle trying to defend. Thankfully, it’s set up the cup final that I, and just about every other fan, wanted. A big showpiece game at the end of the season, it makes a difference from Arsenal v Southampton or Manchester United v Milwall. Bring it on.

Midweek saw Arsenal fail to beat a dogged Chelsea team playing for a draw like any sensible team should have done. Which is one of Chelsea’s prime strengths, the ability to not get as bored with their own football as the rest of us. There’s no doubt at all that they’re capable of playing some beautiful football, last wednesday’s game was as high-quality a game I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s nice to see two top teams trying to (and who are good enough to try to) out-think and out-play each other, unlike a certain other top side whose sole tactic revolves around kicking, pushing, moaning and praying that a 19-year old girlfriend-slapping, student-punching, mirror-breaking, pisshead bulldog creates something magical for them.

I genuinely think that if Arsenal hadn’t lost Gilberto, Vieira and Sol Campbell for such large swathes of the season that these final three games could have been the greatest climax to a league season in a decade, but it wasn’t to be, and we all have to resign ourselves to seeing the Blue Red-Army crossing the finishing post in first place a good length clear of the pack. It’s good for football that the United-Arsenal duopoly has been broken, it’s a crying shame that it’s only been done because of the irresponsible investment of a dubious Russian Steel/Oil Baron, but it’s done now so there’s no sense in complaining.

Last Wednesday saw a much more encouraging phenomenan of the 2004/05 Premiership season though, the rise-and-rise of Everton Football Club. Beating Manchester United last week saw the Toffees pull clear of Liverpool (and this weekend’s fixtures saw them pull a further point away as Liverpool surrendered to Crystal Palace) to secure fourth place in the Premiership almost certainly. If David Moyes’ side manage to hold on—which I think they will—then it will quite frankly be one of the most incredibly turnarounds, certainly in the history of the Premiership, and maybe going further back than that. I wasn’t the only pundit who thought Everton were heading for the drop nine months ago, they were plenty of people’s shoe-ins for relegation. Now I’m confident Moyes is a ‘shoe-in’ for manager of the year. Fabuslous effort and a huge encouragement to all teams who don’t regularly finish in the top five or six.

Moving all the way to the present, tonight sees Arsenal up against Spurs, with the Gunners trying to hold off Chelsea’s title party for another week and the scummy team in white warming up for the Inter-Toto Cup. I’ve been in a bit of a dilemma this season, as I really like Martin Jol, he seems like a good laugh, and a nice, honest bloke who enjoys the game and wants his teams to play footbell. Which all makes me wonder what he’s doing at Spurs. The last time these two met there were fireworks, though not of the usual, err, firey, kind that we’re used to, but in the form of a nine-goal thriller. With Arsenal’s defence shored up since then and Spurs’ attacking threat seemingly dimmed a little, I don’t expect anything quite so spectaular, though I do expect the game to be more open than usual.

With midweek comes ‘the big one’, last year it was Arsenal v Chelsea in Quarter Finals, this year it’s Liverpool v Chelsea in the Semis. One has to fancy Chelsea, they’re a better team, they’re more consistent, more solid (though their last couple of leaky Champions League performances belies their usual solidarity) and they’ve got answers to any questions Liverpool can ask. That said, Liverpool have really turned on the magic in the CL this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong performance from them providing they keep it together psychologically. That’s all Liverpool’s poor performances can be put down to this year, their players are hugely affected by their own confidence (or lack of it) and it’s fair to paraphrase an old nursery rhyme: when they’re up they’re up, and when they’re down, they’re down.

As the season closes, expect the ATF Awards and a season roundup looking at the highs and lows for each side in the Premiership, what to look forward to and what it’s probably best to forget. Before I sign off, congratulations to Sunderland, and boo-hiss to any Makems who took it easy on Saturday night—shame on you!

(12) Comment(s) | Permanent link to this article

All Things Footie | Wednesday, April 13 | Jordan

The beautiful game?

Not in the beautiful country. Italy has long been a place that teams and supporters have feared to travel to—the might of Milan, Lazio, Juventus and the other great Italian teams has promised nought but humiliation and a slow, meticulous destruction of visiting sides by the kind of tactical, counter-attacking football that football-Italia is famous for. In recent years it’s more in fear of racist chanting, pitch invasions, crowd trouble, over-enthusiastic carabinieri and violence towards players and match-officials.

Last night’s ridiculous antics at the San-Siro were the latest in a long line of embarassing and high-profile incidents to marr the beaufitul game in Italy; from the racist, fascist nutters at Lazio to the psychotic Ultras of Inter, issues and parties with little to no interest in the actual game have tarnished the image of football in a only country with almost as rich a heritage as England (when it comes to football anyway). It’s no coincidence I’m sure that both of these countries are those with the worst reputations for troublesome fans. And it’s not undeserved in either case, however I can’t help but feel that one of the two countries gets a far worse press, and far more severe chastisement for fan behaviour, and I can’t work out why.

England isn’t entirely free of this kind of disruption, this season alone there have been several incidents—Roy Carroll getting struck by a bottle at Everton, the odd punch up at Birmingham City, one incident of a particularly bright Manchester United fan ceremonially hurling a flare onto the pitch at Southampton that was more comedy than dangerous—but with club support; strong, tight and fair policing (on the whole) and harsh punishments for offenders; nothing on the scale of Serie A. Last weekend alone there was serious trouble at five Italian games, with a total of 85 policemen injured. According to my favourite football pundit/presenter James Richardson:

“The hard-core support are very adept at getting flares and offensive banners into stadiums.

“Once they are in, the ‘curvas’—the ends of the stadium where the hard-core support go—are pretty much no-go areas.

“There is no real police presence; they don’t really want to go into these areas. They fear that going in will be seen as invading their territory and provoke further trouble.

“It has been a problem for so long now that people in the ‘curvas’ do largely what they want and get away with it.”

When these incidents start effecting pan-European rather than domestic games, ie now, I suspect they’ll be forced to do something about it by UEFA, with heavier and heavier sanctions applied to the offending clubs. Which is all very well and good, but it stands in a distinct contrast to UEFAs attitude to the other great crowd problem of our times. And here’s where you roll your eyes and tell me to stop banging on about it. Again.

The most worrying thing as far as I’m concerned is that in the year 2005 we seem to be witnessing a rebirth of almost fashionable racism at Spanish, Dutch and Italian clubs. I can honestly say that in God-knows how many years of watching English football (though mostly in the 90s, and I’m well aware there was a larger problem before that) I’ve only ever heard racist chants on a handful of occasions, and they didn’t catch on. I was convinced we were all past this stage (meaning both football fans and Europeans in general), but the upsurge of race related incidents across the continent has been extremely worrying. I see it as a far bigger problem in terms of moving the game forwards than the behaviour of some nutters at a derby match, however we all know how lightly the subject is treated by UEFA. It’s given plenty of lip-service, lots of talk about anti-racism campaigns, but what punishment do we see clubs get for racist behavior? Fines equivalent to a couple of goal-bonuses, or slaps on the wrist so meek they barely redden the skin.

Which all goes to show that our European governing body is just as useless, misguided and prejudiced as we all knew they were.

(10) Comment(s) | Permanent link to this article

  1. Punishment should fit the crime
  2. Ouch
  3. Tevez and Mascherano madness
  4. Predictions
  5. Warming up
  6. The World Cup II
  7. The World Cup
  8. Thought for the day
  9. Ready children? Then let's begin
  10. Don't say I never give you anything