Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bournemouth's 21st century stars so far...

This guest blog looks at the five players to have stood out most for AFC Bournemouth so far in the 21st century. Plenty of possible candidates to choose from, although no great surprise as to the identity of the man at the top of the list. And (surprisingly, you may think) not a Fletcher in sight...

Wade Elliott (left): wing wizard
Read the piece at The Seventy Two, a site dedicated to Football League clubs.

Monday, 21 March 2011

An ode to Garth Crooks

What path
Did you take
When on hanging up your boots
You decided
To forsake
Your Staffy twang
And instead
To speak
Like a man
Whose only trait
Is to just
Every single
In the manner
Of a man
In an exam
For a job
At Buckingham
Palace, mate?

The trouble with World Poetry Day and its subsequent #WPDfootballpoems hashtag is that it leads to simpletons like me – who have never written a poem in their life for a very good reason – to think "Hey, I'll have a bash at that." Apologies to anyone who actually can write poetry. Or likes poetry. Or happens to be Garth Crooks. I will stick to glib remarks about uneventful football matches in future.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The England captaincy debate over John Terry is missing the point

So it's confirmed. John Terry is to return to the England captaincy after "one year of punishment" for his alleged indiscretions with the former partner of an international teammate.

Over the past week, as the media speculated that Fabio Capello might be about to do this, a lot of people have been coming out in support of the idea. Some said that Terry has paid his dues and duly noted that most other England footballers aren't exactly angels either. This is a fair point. Others have expressed frustration at the way the armband has been handed around almost randomly during Terry's captaincy hiatus, particularly in the friendly against Denmark last month, when the armband changed hands (or should that be 'arms'?) three times during the match. And then there are those who have put forward the argument that the armband doesn't matter and that this whole debate is pointless anyway. 

It is not. An England captaincy is still a position of great import - regardless of the sport. Andrew Strauss in cricket, Mike Tindall in rugby; these guys represent more than an on-pitch hollerer-in-chief. They are by a distance the most important ambassador in the squad; they embody the values of their sport. By having John Terry as England captain we send out a message that a guy who is entering the twilight of his career, who has already been part of several failed England sides of the past and who evidently endorses hounding referees as exactly the sort of man we want in charge of our national team. Gee, that's some progressive thinking.

But even more importantly - and the reason the Terry decision depresses me more than any other that Capello has made - is that we should be looking to the future now, especially after such an abject World Cup when we realised that the 'Golden Generation' was actually a damp squib. Reinstating Terry smacks of desperate short-termism. The fact that most of you are reading this paragraph and shouting "I don't need you tell me this!" just illustrates how blatantly obvious it is - England must do this. 

I think we can all agree that the best two teams at the World Cup were Spain and Germany - two countries that have clearly set out to nurture young players and help them grow. Spain are obviously far further into this development process and it has already borne fruit with two trophies in succession. Germany's time will come again soon and few people will be surprised.

Barring some sort of Greece-like, backs-to-the-wall, anti-football miracle England are not going to win the 2012 European Championships. We should just accept this now. Capello should be ordered to face up to this by the FA, rather than be allowed to make decisions for the now, decisions that are designed to protect his own position. After all, he won't be around for the World Cup in 2014. 

People will argue the very reasonable point that if Rio Ferdinand is too injury prone, who else but Terry? Sadly we are still a couple of years away from the answer to this question (the answer being Jack Wilshere, of course), but for the next two years I would give the armband to a player that conducts himself in the right way on the pitch (that rules out Wayne Rooney) and who will almost certainly still be in the first team for the duration of the next two years. This leaves us with one realistic option: Joe Hart. I'd give it to Hart - a steady, calm presence and one who looks set to play a big part in England's future. Make Hart captain from now until Euro 2012, involve our most crucial young players in the squad regardless of whether they will play or not (so Josh McEachran, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker and the such like), and rather than be distraught by a quarter-final outclassing from a Germany or Spain, instead revel in watching our young charges grow in maturity. They might just become men a little ahead of schedule.

In England today, youth lasts longer than it did for our parents' generation. In the sixties and seventies, if you were in your early twenties, you were a 'man'. These days it seems manhood doesn't even begin until you're at least 25. But this slow maturation process is depressingly out of kilter with the mechanics of the human body. If we cannot consider players as 'men' until their mid-twenties, then we only get a few short years of them at their mature peak. We still mollycoddle Theo Walcott like a shy 16-year-old. He's 22 - one year older than Tony Adams was when he became Arsenal captain in 1988 - and should be capable of looking after himself now. Bobby Moore was England captain at 22.

Two more years of John Terry at the helm. Fabio really had better hope he delivers now.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

As soulless as football can be

A trip to Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and a free seat in the corporate tier for their FA Cup replay with Leyton Orient turned out – perhaps unsurprisingly – to be one of this writer's least enjoyable evenings at the football

First, let's get one thing clear. I am not anti-Arsenal. I have no agenda against the club, manager or most of the playing staff. In fact, I probably like Arsenal more now than I have ever done. As a child I found them dull as dishwater and, as a result, vaguely disliked them in much the same way that I now vaguely dislike Stoke. You know that joke about children snapping one arm off each of the back four of their Arsenal Subbuteo team and gluing the arms back on the other way up – as if claiming an offside decision? That was my favourite joke as an 11-year-old. These days, they play admirably beautiful football, and while they have obvious flaws, I can at least gain plenty of pleasure from watching Arsenal. This is something my childhood self would never have thought possible.

But yesterday evening I had perhaps the dullest, most lifeless, anodyne football experience of my life. I'm struggling to think of a worse one. I guess the only consolation was that I did not pay for it. But, in a way, my free ticket did not help.

I was sat with the prawn sandwich brigade in the middle tier. And it wasn't even my employer that was paying for it. Another company with an interest in maintaining a good relationship with ours was footing the bill. In short, you could argue that I was one of the most freeloading corporate tossers in the whole stadium. But the difference was, the other freeloading corporate tossers were all there to watch Arsenal turn on the style; to see a Nasri or a Wilshere massacre a lowly Football League minnow and toy with its carcass. I was there in the hope of seeing something special, namely Leyton Orient making a fight of it and giving Arsenal a fright. The others got what they were baying for. Arsenal scored early and quickly killed the game as a contest. I got precious little, bar enormous respect for the Orient fans who were sat directly below me in my legroom-tastic middle tier.

As the second half started with the score at 3-0, the Orient fans were still in very fine voice. A boy sat near me, who looked for all the world like a younger Jack Wilshere, couldn't get his head around this. Surely these silly fans of such a comparably terrible team should be slumped in their seats? "Oi! Shut up Orient, you're crap! We're smashing you three-nil!" His parents seemed to think this was fair comment and continued to gaze gormlessly ahead.

As the strange mix of genuine fans and freeloaders around me lapsed into chatting about work, Barcelona and last night's telly, Arsenal won a penalty. I knew this because I'd heard the whistle and seen the referee point to the spot. But the fans didn't react to winning it. There was no cheer at my end of the stadium at all. They either didn't realise or didn't care sufficiently to emit any sort of noise. Yes, they cheered as the delightful Nicklas Bendtner duly completed his hat-trick, but it was more of brief "wa-heey" than anything else.

Bendtner had previously scored two first-half goals down in front of us. If I was in any doubt as to his character, his pointless goading of the Orient fans on netting his second did little to improve my mood. Classy behaviour from a man who ranks himself among the world's best. Having been in celebratory mood to this point, the Orient faithful suddenly had their backs up. A boo for Bendtner preceded a hearty and very salient burst of: "Four-nil and you still don't sing!". This chant echoed around an increasingly listless stadium.

"Stand up for the Orient," they sang, as eight or nine thousand away fans got to their feet and applauded. With the game now put to bed, surely this was the Arsenal fans' chance to acknowledge the efforts of Orient who'd played so brilliantly to force a replay in the first leg? Nope. I scoured the stands looking for Arsenal fans showing any sort of appreciation. I spotted one solitary fellow stand up and offer a clap in their direction. That was it. One guy.

Bemused and perhaps a little hurt, the Orient fans had had enough. They knew they deserved better than this. It was time to give the Gooners a quick jab in a painful and tender place. "Two-one to the Birmingham!" came the chant.

Clichy thumped in a decent fifth to complete what should have been a confidence-boosting rout for Arsenal. But surely a big part of rebuilding the side's confidence would be a standing ovation at full-time, in the hope of giving the team a lift before they head off to Barcelona? Instead, three quarters of the Arsenal fans had left by the 88th minute. The final few minutes were played out largely bereft of home fans, while the Orient contingent continued to sing.

I realise this was probably quite a different sort of home crowd to a regular league game. Some Arsenal die-hards might have given this fixture a miss for financial reasons, and that is more than fair enough. But Arsenal still had 50,000-plus in attendance last night, and only a fraction of those were freeloaders like me. Surely the lion share were Arsenal supporters of some description? Those in the regular seats did not seem to be enjoying it very much, nor did they seem interested in playing their part in rebuilding their side's dented confidence.

As the final whistle sounded and the players left the pitch, my fellow prawn-munchers and I filed out through our executive lounge area towards the stairs. At this point, I spotted a series of paintings depicting Arsenal legends. I couldn't resist taking a snap of the painting of Tony Adams. I've seen lamp-posts that look more like Tony Adams than this.

Bottom left: Tony Adams (apparently)

While I'm fully aware that I was on a hiding to nothing in hoping to see Orient pull off a shock in this game, once Arsenal took control it turned into a football experience that summed up much of what seems to be wrong with the game at the moment. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know of course – just providing a little snapshot of the game's ills in microcosm.