Sunday, 15 August 2010

You, me and Rothmans

This week, it was with no small amount of delight that I took delivery of this season's Sky Sports Football Yearbook  (or 'Rothmans' as all football fans still refer to it). I haven't had one for a long time - not since my teens - and had forgotten what a pleasure it is to leaf through its thin, cheap pages.

Reassuringly still edited by father and daughter team Jack and Glenda Rollin, it does a brilliant job of reminding you all the stuff from previous seasons that you'd forgotten about - particularly the most recent season.

But what it's even better at is alerting you to interesting (depending on your definition of 'interesting') facts and stats that you'd completely missed.

In an attempt to prove how gloriously nerdy, fascinating and useful this book is, I am setting myself the challenge of finding one interesting nugget of information every three minutes, for thirty minutes, and then I'll report back on what I discover. Ok here goes...

As Fist of Fun's Simon Quinlank used to say in the 1990s, "You may drink your weak lemon drink now."

  1. I had no idea that the following four individuals had all managed Doncaster Rovers: Lawrie McMenemy (68-71), Billy Bremner (78-85 and 89-91), Dave Mackay (87-89), Kerry Dixon (96-97).
  2. The 1950 FA Charity Shield was contested between, bizarrely, the "World Cup Team" versus "Canadian Touring Team". What the heck? Anyway, the Canadians went down 4-2. 
  3. Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario scored two goals in one season, playing for Academica in the Portuguese league.
  4. Celtic once lost 8-0 to Motherwell.
  5. Sir Alf Ramsey managed Birmingham from 1977-78 - how did I not know this? (Incidentally, Birmingham's managerial history features some cracking names including: Billy Beer, Bob Brocklebank and Roberts McRoberts.
  6. On 17 December 2009, Lazio hosted Levski in Europa League Group G. The score was a shock 0-1 victory for Levski. More surprising is the recorded attendance in Rome that night: 3,000. Youtube footage suggests most of these were Levski fans. Anyone know where the Lazio fans were that night?
  7. Milton Keynes Dons, a team formed as recently as 2004, mysteriously has a managerial history dating back to 1955 including Dave Bassett, Bobby Gould and Joe Kinnear. I assume this is a mis-print, right? 
  8. In a nod to the modern world, crusty old Rothmans now lists on each club's entry the official email address you should use if you want to contact the club. Most, rather boringly, have "info@clubname" style corporate email address. Not Swindon though. If you want to get in touch with Swindon, you have to email "Brian P". Rothmans says so.
  9. Wing-half George Farrow completed five years in all four Football League divisions in 1936 after a spell at Second Division Blackpool followed spells at Wolves (Div 1), Bournemouth (Div 3 South) and Stockport (Div 3 North).
  10. Since WWII, total attendance figures for England's top division have always been above 10 million, with the exception of the period 1982-1993, when they were consistenly below this number, dropping as low as 7.8 million. In fairness, football was quite rubbish during this period.
So there's 10 quickfire reasons why Rothmans is a geeky delight. This genuinely was researched under timed conditions - this stuff is everywhere once you start flicking through. I'll find a thousand more little nuggets like this over the course of the season no doubt, with Rothmans always in easy grabbing distance from the sofa.

If anyone's interested, here's a gallery of the first 30 years of Rothmans covers. 1986/87 is a belter. 

Go on, admit it, your inner nerd is itching to head over to a famous rivery-sounding online bookshop isn't it? If it's not, then I'm sorry I've wasted your time and I'll let you get back to listening to Talksport.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

This afternoon with Richard and Jamie

Messyrs Keys and Redknapp can flag-wave for the “best league in the world” and the latter’s own father all they like. We just wish they’d wave a white one.

Sunday's Community Shield wasn't a bad game; I rather enjoyed spells of it. There were goals, the better footballing side won, we were treated to a new goalscoring face in Javier Hernandez and enjoyed the funniest goal we'll see all year. So why was I left feeling deflated? Two reasons, one greater than the other: Richard Keys and Jamie Redknapp.

The lesser of my gripes first. Redknapp has long been derided for the level of his analysis. Women like him apparently, so that’s ok. I liked him a lot as a player. I was lucky enough to watch him as a 16-year-old for Bournemouth before Graeme Souness snaffled him away to Anfield. But his punditry is a bit like watching Chas cook a fried breakfast, while Dave talks you through it. He tells idiots what they ought to have already spotted, just in case they haven't.

"He's opened the beans, Richard. Now look at the way Chas pours the baked beans into the saucepan there, while keeping his eye on the bacon. He’s using all his experience there, Richard. I believe that, I really do."

For his first season or two in the job, Redknapp was a harmless, earnest presence in the Sky studio. He brought a bit of enthusiasm; he knew a lot of the players so he could offer some personal insight – all told, he was mildly irksome at worst.

These days there’s a bitter edge to him that borders on the teenage. He gets irrationally worked up about things, as if some producer’s told him to get more irate. You got the impression today – during the rather off-topic World Cup post-mortem prior to kick off – that not only did he want to throttle Fabio Capello, but that Capello’s lack of Englishness was his main reason for wanting to. He was really going for it; the phrase “he’s lost the plot” cropping up at least once. It’s as if he has become cheerleader-in-chief for his dad’s quest to land the top job at Soho Square. And Keys was only to happy to egg him on.

Now on to Keys. I’ve recently got Sky Sports again, after a hiatus of several years watching it in the pub and not having to listen to him very often. I was quite shocked by the man today. Whereas he used to have the awkward-but-affable keenness of a man that’s only discovered football recently, he’s now morphed into an unpleasant and slippery Murdoch propaganda merchant, cunningly disguised as a Lego man in a cheap suit.

Here’s just one of his endless plugging attempts from today, paraphrased reasonably accurately: “If you haven’t watched a Sky game in 3D yet: it’s sensational. Trust me”. You work for the goddamn channel Richard – don’t insist that we trust you. Just tell us what you’ve got.

Why the ruddy heck would we trust you, when you seem to spend dedicate the majority of your time on air to trumpeting on about the “best league in the world” and how we must make sure we don’t miss the “big game on Monday night” – even if said fixture is Big Team A inevitably trampling on Relegation Fodder Team B.

Today he kept on informing us that, after the disappointment of the World Cup (a tournament entirely broadcast on terrestrial television, let’s not forget), it was great to be looking forward to the big crunch games between the Manchester Uniteds and the Chelseas again. Well, no Richard, it’s not really. Some of us would rather watch Chile v Honduras or Schalke v Stuttgart at the moment. The Premier League is losing its lustre and, judging by Keys’ and Sky’s tub-thumping party line, Sky more than a little worried.

In the wake of BT Vision being allowed to offer Sky Sports 1 and 2 to its customers, Sky’s response is to move Sky Sports News off Freeview (taking Jeff and the boys with it) and, going by this month’s listings, shunt rather more live games to Sky Sports 3 than it usually does. You imagine the folk that flog Sky Sports’ advertising space are finding it a slightly harder sell this summer.

There are so many reasons why the Premier League is not what it was. But one of the biggest reasons is that it's getting a bit repetitive. And yet another season of Richard Keys telling us that the latest drab derby game "could turn into a classic in the second half" is distinctly unpalatable. Richard and Jamie may think Capello should have gone this summer. Well, there's plenty of us who think they should have been given their P45s by Sky too.


At the end of the Sky broadcast today – during that tediously jokey, show’s-winding-down-so-we-can-all-talk-over-the-top-of-each-other bit – Redknapp and Andy Gray were mocking Keys’ bright orange tie. Somehow Hernandez’s name cropped up, and Jamie Redknapp dimly wondered aloud: “What’s ‘orange tie’ in Mexican?”

“Stylish,” was Keys’ response. Goons, the pair of them.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Into the archives: Pathé football films, 1931-67

I was recently introduced to the archive of old football films on the British Pathé website. I tweeted a couple of things at the time, more or less while still laughing at them. But I've now been back to revisit, and they're all just as good on second viewing. 

Here's a few highlights of what I found while hunting around the site. No doubt if you search for your team you might unearth further gems. Feel free to post links to them in the comments at the bottom of this post.

This is an absolute belter, as Southampton are put through their paces in front of the cameras. Look at the state of the crummy medal their manager wears (to training, no less) commemorating his FA Cup Final appearance with West Ham in 1923. Left winger Laurence Fishlock looks a bit handy, and we're even treated to a surprisingly slick slow-motion replay of his wing wizardry. (Fishlock, if you're interested, was also a fine cricketer for Surrey). The high point of this clip though is surely the defensive clearance from Bill Adams - agricultural, I think they call that.

Arsenal's management team introduce their 'happy family' team at Highbury ahead of their 1932 FA Cup Final with Newcastle. Herbert Chapman's a little husky so he passes duties on to his assistant who introduces the boys to us, one of whom is 'Little Charlie Jones', whose slight air of shiftiness suggests he's either just killed a man or perhaps really needs a wee. Another cricketer lurks within Arsenal's ranks you'll notice. Goalkeeper Frank Moss pulls no punches on how little he's enjoying his experience in front of camera. Edris Hapgood, who went on to captain England and was one of those who had to give the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler, is not trusted with talking to camera here and instead just glowers. Great hair, even better collars and a nice little sing-song at the end. 

Scenes from Tottenham overpowering OFK Belgrade in a fixture played on somebody's allotment. This is worth a look for some great shots of the stadium including a gorgeous wide angle shot of White Hart Lane at half-time. The commentator's early prediction that "there may be some needle in this game" almost comes true, but just handbags sadly.

"His timing to meet the ball is really wonderful". More shots from training, this time Newcastle perform a few perfunctory actions like kicking and throwing as the narrator assures us we're watching some sort of master-class. The keeper can apparently "punch 'em, catch 'em and put 'em out of harm's way". All the more impressive if performed in a natty roll-neck jumper.

A silent one this, but no less enjoyable. For reasons unknown, the referee tosses the coin for the two captains and what appears to be a jockey. There then follows some eccentric fans, some shaky camerawork, a view-obstructing post and some glimpses of what looks to have been an awful FA Cup Fourth Round tie.

Dubbed the "Cockney Cup Final", this film shows the footage Pathé got at Wembley as Spurs took on Chelsea. Stick with this one through the so-so first-half highlights as there's a real treat after the teams walk off. The narrator enthuses: "Let's relive that first half through some of the faces in the crowd - the faces of Wembley". Great, a chance to revel in the fever of Cup Final day. Oh. Most of them look like they're witnessing some sort of horrific emergency dentistry.

No messing about, straight into the action as Wycombe Wanderers take on Bishop Auckland in the Amateur Cup Final. Impressively, Bishop Auckland are going for the hat-trick of wins. An early sign that they may indeed achieve this comes early as Wanderers winger Len Worley fluffs an easy ball. Lovely understatement from the commentator who notes that he "makes a bad pass". Watch it for yourself. That's not a bad pass. That's the worst connection anybody ever made with a football until this. Anyway, the Bishops run up the other end and score. They look pretty nifty even now. Wycombe are powerless to stop them clinching the hat-trick. One final point: look at the size of the bloody crowd! Packed.

Hooray! It's the annual boxers versus jockeys charity football match at West Ham, everyone's favourite thing that ever happens ever. We're introduced to the two teams and their magnificent shorts, and as the caption points out in stern brackets: "(One of the team is black)". Cor blimey guv'nor, etc. A mysterious celebrity chap kicks the game off - and wellies it straight up someone's backside. What larks. The boxers then unveil their clever tactical ploy: dainty little lobs over the heads of the puny jockeys, over and over again. The clip ends with the jockeys coming back strongly. A decision goes against the boxers and a burly midfielder is so livid he picks up the ball and hurls it at his own goal. Howard Webb would card you for that these days, of course.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

It's the hope that thrills you...

Pre-season: you could argue a case for this being the best time of year to be a football fan. Optimism peaks as a new season begins, last term’s failings a distant memory. And this pre-season it’s worse than ever...

If you had to say something nice about the 2010 World Cup, you'd say that there were some intriguing tactical battles between some highly organised and efficient teams. But that's not exactly a gushing compliment. To liken most of the teams at this World Cup to poker players, a lot of sides were essentially sitting back, folding everything and waiting for aces. Netherlands, Paraguay, Denmark, take your pick. There were plenty of teams waiting for someone else to make a mistake rather than risk making one themselves.

I'd put myself towards the nerdier end of football fans, and found the tactical musings of Zonal Marking and Jonathan Wilson fascinating reading during the tournament, but we were all craving so much more than just great tactics. Few of the flair players delivered in South Africa, be it through tiredness or effective opposition tactics negating their influence. The ones that could have made games exciting failed to do so, for a multitude of reasons. It wasn't an abysmal World Cup but, if you're like me, you were sneakily quite relieved when it was over.

It was time to start looking forward to the new domestic season. And how. I’ve thrown myself into pre-season with never-seen-before enthusiasm. Where previously I viewed pre-season friendlies as a way of passing the time on a sunny day, they now became enticing prospects.

Having recently moved to southwest London, I’ve decided to take the plunge and accompany an AFC Wimbledon-supporting mate in getting season tickets at Kingsmeadow this season. I’m not a Wimbledon supporter, but have tracked their progress with interest as they gradually return to prominence. It promises to be an intriguing campaign, with the Dons having turned professional over the close season, assembling a young, hungry squad all desperate for a crack at a successful career in the professional game.

Arriving late at their first pre-season friendly against Charlton Athletic, I was immediately struck by the appetite and determination of these young men on a baking hot day. A team loaded with trialists and new signings were covering every inch of the pitch. You could smell the optimism on the terraces as fans – who’d sensibly assumed that turning pro on the same budget would be a initial step backwards, in the hope of several steps forward later – began to reassess.

Dons’ manager Terry Brown has taken his time with his signings, but the majority look worth the wait. Talented left-back Andre Blackman looks like he’ll be the standout player for many reasons. He’s clearly a gifted and athletic footballer, but has an air of nuttiness about him that makes me think there will be a couple of dramatic red cards during the campaign too. He comes with a reputation for off-the-field trouble, with Brown hoping to tame him. He’s clearly a gamble, but if it comes off he should be one of the best players in the Blue Square Bet Premier. He’s had chances elsewhere and blown it – he needs to take this one. It may all end horribly, but right now just the prospect of seeing him play in a competitive game has me like a kid at Christmas.

And it’s not just at Wimbledon that the optimism flows. I’ve made trips to other non-league clubs in my area for friendlies – Tooting & Mitcham and legendary amateur side Corinthian Casuals. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing your local non-league team in action, make sure you give it a go on 4 September in support of Non League Day, a campaign that’s being well backed on Twitter at the moment. There's no top flight or Championship games that day and you’ll be surprised what a thoroughly excellent antidote it is to the slightly saccharine and stinkingly rich Premier League. This special Google Map indicates clearly where your nearest game is on 4 September.

As Tooting destroyed their youthful opposition that day, with brilliant goals from new signings Lino Goncalves and Karl Beckford, you could see Tooting’s fans start to dream that this year will be different – and I hope for them that it will be. There was a nice moment late on, when some kids aged about eleven asked German wunderkind Monty Gimpel for his autograph, perhaps not aware that the leggy teen was young enough to attend the same school as them. Tooting’s management team were in fits of giggles as Gimpel bashfully scribbled away.

This warm feeling of bonhomie I was seeing (and no doubt you’ve experienced it at other grounds if you’ve been to pre-season friendlies this summer) was undoubtedly linked to the good weather and – more crucially – the fact that Tooting haven’t lost any proper games yet. Nobody has. Everyone’s on nought points – we’re all joint top. Your team could win the league. They really could. So could mine.

Ah yes, my team. My lot are AFC Bournemouth, led by the second-youngest manager in the league, 32-year-old Eddie Howe. The man can do no wrong in our eyes. Just look at his chipper little face. How could you not want him to do well? To lead a young group of players to promotion was remarkable. To do it while under a transfer embargo from the Football League that often left us with only two or three substitutes – which at times included the GCSE-bothering Jayden Stockley – was as close to a miracle as I’ve seen in football.

So, exciting times at Bournemouth, and plenty of reasons to be cheerful at Wimbledon, where I’ll be every other Saturday. You can see why I’m energised as the new season approaches. The teams that mean a lot to me look in pretty good nick. But I bet you’re excited too – whoever you support.

I hope you’ll enjoy this blog over the course of the season. The idea is not to hone in on one or two particular teams or themes, but to write about whatever is interesting to me in the football world – and hopefully to you too. There may occasionally be a bit of focus on Bournemouth or Wimbledon (they say you should blog about what you know), but I’ll aim to keep it interesting for the generalist.

I’ll leave you with some quotes coming out of various clubs that typify the wave of optimism currently doing its annual sweep of the football pyramid (you’ll notice I’ve saved the best ‘til last).

"I will work 24 hours a day to help with my knowledge, ideas, leadership and in my way to achieve promotion. We can do it and we go to work this season to achieve that but in two years I don't have doubts, we will be there."
Leicester’s new boss Paulo Sousa believes the Foxes are Premier League bound

“With the season just around the corner, usual subject but are we not coming together well? Team seems to be gelling, good friendly results, luckily so far no injuries (fingers crossed) and what I’m more impressed with is the clean sheets. Didn’t have many of them last year. Definitely think Artell could be a good signing. Feeling a bit optimistic. Let’s hope we can start it off well against Hereford.”
Crewe fan on BBC 606 website. How many of us are saying things like this at the moment?

“There's a really good team spirit, the gaffer knows that. Team spirit is the biggest thing in the world - you can't win anything without team spirit. We've all got to love each other basically, we have, we've all got to love each other, on the pitch we've got to fight for the club, and that's how you win leagues, if everyone loves each other that's how you win leagues. Everyone is very confident, and I wouldn't swap anyone for anyone else in the league. We've got a really good bunch of mixed lads, we've got players with good experience in the Football League and at this level as well, but as I said, team spirit is massive."
New Wrexham striker Andy Mangan plays it cool

You’ve got to love their optimism. When you saw the headline of this blog, maybe you thought I would eventually descend into pessimism and cold, hard reality. But I love this time of year. Who cares if it’ll probably all end in tears/apathy/ripped-up season tickets. The point is: it might not. When our teams run out onto the pitch for their first game of season, let’s hope they’re all wide-eyed optimists like Andy Mangan and cross our fingers that by mid-October they’re not a demoralised shambles resembling the French national side at the World Cup.

Oh yeah, the World Cup. I haven’t thought about it for a while. Must be time for the football season. Can’t wait.