Friday, 20 December 2013

Narrow The Angle's Football Quiz, No. 2

So, 2013 is pretty much done, and some footballing year it's been. Two German heavyweights battled it out in the Champions League Final; Wigan won the FA Cup and got relegated; messrs Van Persie, Carrick and De Gea won the Premier League by themselves; QPR imploded and not even 'Arry could save them; and England made it to the World Cup... but then got a stinky draw and found out their first game would be played just under a mile from the sun. Ultimately though, who cares, at least we're going.

But what you really need to round off your footballing year is a well-hard football general knowledge quiz. Right? Right.

Get your colleagues and/or Twitter people involved with this if you like.

Here goes then...


Q1: Which TWO players did Tottenham Hotspur sign from Hertha Berlin during the 2007/8 season?

Q2: Who is the only Scotsman with multiple Premier League hat-tricks?

Q3: Whose career progression is this: Odd Grenland, Stabaek, RB Salzburg, West Brom, Augsburg.

Q4: Who was Everton's caretaker manager for several weeks when Joe Royle departed in 1997?

Q5: What was the original inspiration behind Lazio's decision to play in a blue-and-white strip?

Q6: Which footballing statue does this arm belong to?

Q7: Who succeeded Tony Barton as Aston Villa manager in July 1984?

Q8: Which football moment of 2013 was responsible for the biggest spike in UK Twitter activity?

Q9: What is the main link between Bobby Gould, Ian Holloway and Gerry Francis?

Q10: What is the main link between Chris Kamara, Brian Little and Alan Ball?

Q11: Who is Manchester City's all-time record player sale?

Q12: In June this year Ronaldinho launched a new product called 'Sex Free'. What was he selling?

Q13: Who or what are the following: Domagnano, Faetano, Murata, La Fiorita, Tre Penne. 

Q14: Who scored a hat-trick for Bayern Munich in a 2010 Champions League Semi-Final?

Q15: Name either of the finalists in the 1996 Cup Winners Cup Final.

Q16: In which city did Liverpool beat Alaves in the 2001 Uefa Cup Final?

Q17: Whose career progression is this: Farnborough, Barnet, Southampton, Fulham, Birmingham, Leeds, Millwall.

Q18: Which ex-footballer is being described in this sentence: "He had a Welsh mother and a Belgian father. On 19 June 1993 he married model Mandy Smith, the former wife of Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, but they separated two years later and divorced in 1997."

Q19: Who is this former Premier League player, pictured after scoring against Arsenal in 2009?

Q20: Which Paris Saint-Germain player started the 2010 World Cup Final?



I know it may look like there's no answers here but... I've put the answers below this paragraph, in white text. This is to make it easier to resist the temptation to cheat. If you drag your cursor you should be able to select the text and the see the answers. It's like a sort of low-rent 'Reveal' button on Ceefax...

Q1: Kevin-Prince Boateng; Gilberto
Q2: Kevin Gallagher
Q3: Somen Tchoyi
Q4: Dave Watson
Q5: The Greek flag and also the Olympic movement that came out of Greece, due to Lazio being a mixed sport club
Q6: Thierry Henry, Emirates Stadium
Q7: Graham Turner (current Shrewsbury manager)
Q8: Real Madrid knocking Man Utd out of the Champions League
Q9: They have all managed Bristol Rovers
Q10: They have all managed Stoke City
Q11: Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea for £21m
Q12: Condoms
Q13: Teams from the San Marino Championship (Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio)
Q14: Ivica Olic
Q15: Paris Saint-Germain, Rapid Vienna
Q16: Dortmund
Q17: Maik Taylor
Q18: Pat Van Den Hauwe
Q19: Vladimir Weiss (then of Manchester City)
Q20: Gregory van der Wiel

Thanks for playing - Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Gibraltar v Slovakia. A rare chance to witness the competitive debut of a national side

Tonight sees the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar make its debut in competitive international football with a friendly against Slovakia.
And, gloriously, it'll be live on the internet

While not yet a full member of Fifa, Gibraltar were accepted into Uefa in May this year, and will subsequently be attempting to qualify for the 2016 European Championships. Their name will be one to watch out for when the draw is made on 23 February 2014. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to want them to be drawn in your country's group. Regardless of whether it may or may not prove to be an straightforward six points, the chance to hone in on their early fixtures as they try and get some sort of respectable side together should be a real pleasure.

Gibraltar's national stadium is not considered suitable for Uefa fixtures, so they are having to play their games at Estádio Algarve in Portugal for the time being. The game with Slovakia tonight kicks off at 6.30pm UK time (7.30pm local time) and will be broadcast live online by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). GBC are a public service broadcaster, so hopefully that'll mean no advertising or spammy pop-ups to interrupt our viewing. Here's a link.

This means that any England fans planning to watch the friendly with Germany (or, for that matter, France v Ukraine or Sweden v Portugal) could tune in for an enjoyable first half of Gibraltar v Slovakia online before settling down in front of the TV.

I for one am planning on tuning in (provided public transport delivers me home from work in a timely manner). How often do you get to witness live the first tentative steps of a new international team? And, who knows, if the Gibraltar game is exciting then England v Germany might just have to be watched on catch-up a little later in the evening?

Gibraltar fans celebrate their acceptance into Uefa.
Of course, a Slovakia win is extraordinarily likely, but anything could happen. The Faroe Islands beat Canada in their second ever competitive match in April 1989. Actually beat them! SÍF Sandavágur midfielder Torkil Nielsen (also a fine chess player, according to Wikipedia) scored his country's first ever competitive goal as the Faroes gained their maiden victory against the unfortunate Canadians.

And lowly Tajikistan, in their first ever World Cup qualifying campaign in 1996-97, lost just once in qualifying (to China), and twice handed out 4-0 gubbings to Vietnam. They really weren't a million miles away from qualifying for France 1998 – glorious stuff.

Could Gibraltar get a result against Slovakia tonight? Their opponents have some eye-catching names in their squad, including Martin Škrtel, Marek Hamšík and Vladimír Weiss, so ultimately it's hugely unlikely. One bookmaker will even give you enormous 50/1 odds on a Gibraltar win. But just the chance to see it all get underway is a treat.

The Guardian have previewed the game here.

And, for good measure, here's Metro's "Six things you didn't know about Gibraltar’s national football team".

Tune in here from the wonderfully obscure programme start time of 6.22pm (UK time). It should be fun.

Apologies for originally listing the kick-off time here as 7pm. The BBC (among others) listed the wrong kick-off time.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Taking my eye off the ball.

I haven't watched a football match for two months and good grief I needed that.

I'd slipped into the habit of watching summer football in the last two or three years – like some of you crazy cats do – and I've realised it was a major contributory factor to my vague, uneasy feeling of jadedness towards football last season.

It wasn't that I'd fallen out of love with football, I'd just had too much of it. You can definitely have too much of a good thing. I mean, if I ate eat peanut butter every day for a year I'd certainly get utterly sick of it, but if I then didn't eat it at all for a couple of months it would no doubt taste delicious again. Same with football, I reckon.

In the internet age it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep tabs on every tiny happening in football over the summer. Well here's the thing: if Chelsea sign someone for a few million, or Ipswich lose one of their most promising youngsters, or Barcelona sign a new reserve keeper – it doesn't actually matter if you find this out in May, June, July or even early August. In fact, by avoiding this news over the early part of the summer you allow yourself one of football's great pleasures, that of devouring a pre-season preview when you don't know who's signed who.

In the 1980s and 1990s, before we found out everything instantly on Twitter and the internet, I'd often only discover who Newcastle had spaffed a few million on by reading a new season pullout from my nan's Daily Mirror, or in FourFourTwo's always-eagerly-anticipated "The Season Starts Here"/"Big Kick-Off" issue. Sure, occasionally I'd flick on Ceefax and have a brief browse, but often those printed column inches of "Ins" and "Outs"  with player names tantalisingly highlighted in bold  were the first I'd heard of these deals. You'd start reading with an idea in your head of where teams were last season, and by the time you'd read to the end your brain would be racing with possibilities for the new season.

And so, as July nears an end, it's time to dive in. For the first time in ages I get to enjoy some of these rather retro sensations again. Batteries recharged, now comes the rush. That glorious clamour for every fixture grid, pre-season preview, squad number list (have you seen Villa's? What a thrill), third kit unveiling, transfer announcement (though I draw the line at rumours), and prediction article (ranging from the play-safe to the downright nuts) that I can get my hands on. I can't get enough of it now, because I've reached the point of genuinely missing football. If you'd asked me a week ago, I still wasn't there. It's only arrived the last couple of days. But, if I'm honest, perhaps I've been suppressing it for slightly longer. You can't start too early though, otherwise it's not as good, not as gleefully satisfying. It lacks a certain giddy fizz.

I'm back in the game. Football, you're welcome back in my life. But one thing I won't be doing is watching any televised friendlies. I avoid them at all costs. Managers are still experimenting, nobody is taking anything too seriously, and exotic new signings are still shaking off jet lag and learning what "nobody told me my squad number would be 38" is in English.

But if you really must watch a friendly on television  if that really is the best thing you've got to do with your time  for goodness sake don't read too much into it. Otherwise you'll be going around saying things like: "Mark my words, Bentley's going to be a brilliant signing for Spurs, he's been on fire in pre-season"  Me, Summer 2008.

It's just pre-season. It means next to nothing. Shouldn't you be in a beer garden somewhere? Still no Match Of The Day for another four weekends. And that's actually a good thing. Let the anticipation build. Go and buy World Soccer and read it in the park with a Calippo lolly.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Getting Wimbledon fit for the Football League

Here's an article by me for the ever-excellent Two Unfortunates, a website devoted exclusively to the Football League.

After Wimbledon's final day survival act in League Two, this piece assesses the mess that Neal Ardley inherited when taking on the job in late 2012, while also looking forwards and wondering whether Wimbledon can avoid another struggle in 2013/14.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Everything in its right place.

Are most teams currently in the 'right' division? And is that healthy? 

Over the course of this season I've increasingly been struck by the idea that almost every team in English football's top four divisions is currently competing in its rightful division.

What do I mean by 'rightful'? I guess I mean a blend of club stature, history and resources, while taking into account mistakes in its recent past that may have led to a downturn in fortunes. For instance, most people would argue that Leeds United are a Premier League team in terms of stature, but few would say they are currently playing in the wrong division thanks to the mismanagement of the club in the past decade or so. The Championship is almost certainly the 'right' division for them at the moment.

In seasons gone by you'd look down the table and think "Cripes! Sheffield Wednesday/Manchester City/Southampton - what are they doing in League One?" There'd perhaps be a few in every division that you'd think this about. Take the Premier League in 1999/00, for instance.

This season, which teams are not in their rightful division? Here's the meagre list I came up with, and their 'right' division in brackets:

  • Reading (playing in Premier League, 'right' division would be Championship)
  • Sheffield United (playing in League One, 'right' division would be Championship)
  • Crawley Town (playing in League One, 'right' division would be League Two)
  • Bradford City (playing in League Two, 'right' division would be League One)
  • Dagenham (playing in League Two, 'right' division would be Conference)
  • Accrington Stanley (playing in League Two, 'right' division would be Conference)

Of course, this is all incredibly subjective and there's no need to write to me in an indignant huff. I realise I've probably just offended about three-quarters of supporters reading this blog who think their team belong a division higher, and perhaps flattered the other quarter who can't believe their luck that they're even clinging on at their current level. This is just my opinion - I'm not stating it as fact. If you like, make your own list and see how many teams you think are in the 'wrong' division. I doubt it will be significantly longer than mine. The only one that narrowly missed my list were Rotherham who, with their new stadium, bigger crowds and resources are arguably a League One team in stature now.

So what's my point here? I guess I'm intrigued by this levelling out that we've seen in recent seasons. Perhaps it's to do with traditionally bigger clubs attracting investment in recent seasons, enabling them to realise their potential and haul themselves out of stagnation? Perhaps the increasing importance of fitness, diet and tactics in the game means that the teams that can afford the best training facilities, sports scientists, scouting networks, etc are increasingly showing up their more old-school, disorganised counterparts on the pitch?

But is this a good thing or a bad thing? At the start of the season I worried it would definitely be a bad thing. I even wrote a piece honing in on League One, stating that it looked to be the worst League One on paper in recent memory and that it would just be a bunch of ordinary teams scrapping it out for the right to be relegation certainties a level higher the following season.

But it's turned out to be the two divisions either side of League One that are astonishingly even across the board.

In the Championship, everybody from 24th to 8th (EIGHTH!) still needs to worry to differing degrees about relegation. Derby, Bolton and Middlesbrough are all on 54 points in 8th, 9th and 10th. They are seven points clear of relegation with all teams having between six and eight games left to play (so 18-24 points available for all). Obviously it's unlikely any of those three would go down, they just can't rule it out yet. Plenty to play for still.

While in League Two, even in seasons without a couple of administration-riddled basketcases adrift at the bottom, 50 points is usually ample for survival. Bottom club Aldershot are already on 44 points with another 15 to play for. And they're only four points off Dagenham in 17th. It's incredibly competitive at the bottom. Two from eight will go down and not one of those sides is completely rotten.

Has such a level playing field made for an exciting, nerve-jangling season for Football League supporters? Most would probably say it has. There's a cluster of around five teams safely ensconced in the middle of Leagues One and League Two with not much left to play for, but everyone else is still fighting for something. And everybody in the Championship still has plenty of reasons to see their next three points as potentially season-defining.

So while a small number of teams might put this season down as quite a boring one (Notts County, Oxford, Chesterfield) most will feel they've given fans plenty to be excited/petrified about. As a fan of two teams (Bournemouth and Wimbledon) I've had plenty to keep me on my toes at opposite ends of the divisions they play in. Come the end of the season I could yet be celebrating a promotion for one while still distraught at the relegation of the other. Or it could be another season of both in the same divisions next year. And I won't know either way for a while yet.

Next season could see a few more teams in the 'wrong' division. Sunderland perhaps? Yeovil? But it won't be many. And hopefully that continues to be as good/bad for excitement/utter terror as it has been this term. The football may not always be beautiful but the bigger picture is rarely dull.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A new lease of life for Kevin Sainte-Luce

As AFC Wimbledon gamble on another so-called 'bad boy', will it pay off better than the last time they took a punt on a potentially troublesome player?

Kevin Sainte-Luce in action for Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow

Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley brought in Cardiff City's Kevin Sainte-Luce in the January transfer window, the winger leaving the Bluebirds (or whatever they're calling themselves these days) under a cloud after a judge spared him a prison sentence for assaulting two women in a nightclub.

Ardley knows 19-year-old Sainte-Luce well from his time as Cardiff's academy manager and, while acknowledging that the nightclub incident was "really bad", believed it to be wholly out of character for his former young charge and felt he deserved a second chance. “I do not condone what he did, but he is genuinely remorseful over what happened," said Ardley.

How glad Ardley must be today that he did offer such a lifeline after Sainte-Luce scored the only goal of the game as Wimbledon picked up a precious three points at Dagenham & Redbridge this weekend, hauling themselves off the bottom of the table and - for now at least - out of the League Two relegation places. With the game drifting towards a nervy 0-0 draw, a ball was cleared to the edge of the box where Sainte-Luce caught it sweetly, sending the ball swerving past a number of bodies, flush into the back of the net. The winger's spectacular cartwheeling celebration a sign of the relief both he and the Dons' large travelling support were feeling. Not to mention Ardley. Wimbledon clung on to grab a desperately needed win and Ardley admitted that he'd fancied his team to win as he'd seen the belief in their eyes before the game.

“It was a fantastic strike," said Ardley of the goal, "and Kevin has been brilliant since he came in – he deserved that. I have told people that he will frustrate the life out of you, but he has unbelievable ability."

Born in Guadeloupe but raised in Paris, Sainte-Luce arrived in South Wales as a teenager and worked his way through Cardiff's youth system under Ardley. Though he never appeared for Cardiff's first team, fans were sad to lose a player with such raw potential, although they sympathised with and fully endorsed the club's decision to firmly show him the door.

The incident which led to his release took place at Cardiff's Glam nightclub, and involved Sainte-Luce punching one girl and assaulting her friend. Judge Bodfan Jenkins spared Sainte-Luce a jail term of up to six months, instead telling him: “Because your promising career could be compromised by prison time, I want to avoid taking such action." Instead he ordered the player to pay £1,250 compensation to the two girls, gave him a 180-hour community service order and a ten-week 8pm-6am curfew.

Just as well for Wimbledon's survival chances that the judge took a lenient view; Sainte-Luce's weekend winner earned the Dons just their second win in eight games and a huge boost in their battle to earn a third season in the Football League.

Hopefully Sainte-Luce will continue to repay the considerable faith shown in him by Ardley - not just in his ability but also his character. With tricky winger Toby Ajala recently departed back to parent club Bristol City, there is a vacancy for some pace and trickery on Wimbledon's flanks and Sainte-Luce looks like he might be one player to offer those traits. 

Searingly quick and with a deceptively long stride for a small man, he's capable of giving weary full-backs all sorts of nightmares when brought on late in games; though if he's able to do for ninety minutes too, that would be a bonus. If Wimbledon stay up by a point or two, then perhaps history will remember Ardley's gamble on bringing the player to the club as one that paid off big time. 

But Wimbledon haven't always been rewarded for their altruistic tendencies when it comes to giving apparently difficult characters a chance to show they've changed their ways. Long-time readers of this site may recall a piece I wrote about wonderfully gifted but hugely frustrating left-back Andre Blackman. Blackman looked like a world-beater in his sole pre-season with the Dons during summer 2010, but a terrible attitude put paid to his chances of making it at the club. Somehow, Blackman ended up at Celtic, where he was loaned out, sent back and, subsequently, quietly let go by the Glasgow club. We weren't the only club that thought we could tame him, but none have managed it thus far.

Released for assorted negative reasons at a string of clubs, the fear is that Blackman may never learn and will only look back on his career with regret.

Thankfully, in the case of Kevin Sainte-Luce, the early signs are that he is focused on rebuilding his career and that the nightclub incident was out of character; a momentary teenage lapse. Let us hope that he continues to make headlines for all the right reasons at Wimbledon.

Neal Ardley hopes Kevin Sainte-Luce will repay the faith shown in him after
giving the winger a second chance to prove himself in the Football League

Thursday, 24 January 2013

When the others score

It happens at nearly every game we go to, yet it's barely ever spoken of.
An attempt to sum up that anomalous feeling when your team lets one in

The pesky away team nick one. Fans try their utmost not to look.
The balls nestles into the back of the net with an audible swish of synthetic leather on polyethylene. There are thousands of people here and yet, daft as it seems, you actually hear it.

Not ten seconds earlier this throng of people around you were making a terrific din, willing their lot – your lot – to score a goal of their own. Instead, possession given away cheaply (is it ever not?), in a flash there's a counter-attack. Quick pass, even quicker pass, shimmy, shot, goal.

Silence. A brief moment of almost total quiet, which despite lasting less than three seconds is somehow sufficient time for you to assess all the myriad ways in which your life is a steaming pile of horse excrement before the centre forward is even midway through his clichéd knee-slide-and-fist-pump combo. This momentary lull feels almost perverse.

Sure, a few people instantly swear, but you're often suspicious of them. The people who swear or shout immediately when a goal goes in always have an air of "I've paid £30 for this and I'm not even going to see a win" about them. There's always one and their squawks are annoying, yet irrelevant. The ones hurting most of all are keeping schtum. They know the drill. Suck it up, exchange a glance with your mate, get home, sulk, have another go in a fortnight or so.

Somehow you don't really get to appreciate this oddity in all its dismal glory on the telly. Those chaps who set up their furry boom mics at pitchside know what they're doing. When an away team scores on TV, unless their support amounts to less than fifty souls, you'd think the din of their celebrating was reverberating around the whole stadium, deafening home fans with its maddening blare. Actually it tends to be more of an annoying hum in the distance. Just don't look directly at them – the bastards – with their happy flailing limbs and their hope. Don't look, don't look – oh, too late – you looked. That could've been you.

The aforementioned skill of the TV sound guys means it's not as easy as you'd think to find truly delicious examples of the phenomenon online. Here's one from France though, Ajaccio scoring at Nice. Listen out for token sweary man in the crowd, but aside from him just take a moment to enjoy the almost total silence before a few whistles start. That's the sound of thousands of people indulging in a bout of self-loathing right there.

A couple more. You'll rarely hear the Bernabéu as quiet as when Galastaray take the lead here. Ditto Ibrox, back in 1992, as Gary McAllister scores in the first minute to immediately muzzle 43,000 Glaswegians baying for English blood. Rangers went on to win the tie, but it's the moment in isolation we're interested in here.

As the uncomfortable silence slips away, blame is usually apportioned in the direction of whichever talentless so-called midfield dynamo gave the ball away. But it's that awful instant as ball hits net that remains one of the eeriest moments you can experience at football.
If you've got any more macabre clips of goals that silence the home fans – and the TV footage actually does it justice – you're very welcome to leave them below the line