Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Women's World Cup 2019 Review by a Fan of No Importance Part 3

Here comes what the title says...

Gabby Logan

It's probably right that I should recall a day back in 1999 when Gabby Logan was presenting a football related item (that being her job) on ITV and I made a remark that my then girlfriend, now partner, showed up as evidence of a "male chauvinist" side to my character. She ventured the observation light-heartedly, but I was mortally offended, outraged and left wondering whether this silly mare knew me at all.

I sulked terribly, but I'm glad now that my partner said it, as it provided, if not evidently straightaway, a small step along the slow ponderous path to self-improvement. Maybe I'd actually been right in questioning the validity of whatever Logan said that day, but clearly I could have said whatever I said without such a pointed subtext.

Although equally at home with Champions League coverage and Match of the Day fill-ins, this tournament seemed to be Logan's moment, and in spite of whatever I said in 99, her knowledge of the game is unquestionable, and I like her all the more for her dislike of half and half scarves (which she tried to consign to Room 101 a couple of years back) and her wariness of VAR.

Like Mark Chapman and Gary Lineker and Mark pougatch, Logan asks good questions of her pundits, although occasionally some of the questions did outstay their welcome this summer, inviting unwanted comparisons with Garth Crooks.

But I liked her being host, she seemed deserving of this moment in time, and I hope to see her filling in for Lineker next season when he can't be bothered to make the midweek ones.  

Alex Scott 

Similarly with Logan, I'd never been the biggest fan of Scotty (as a pundit), but given a regular spot in France, she mixed passion and insight with her recollections of player experience. She was angry after Cameroon, although I was disappointed that her fury was with the Indomitable Lionesses and not VAR!

Hope Solo 

The American goalie for their World Cup 2015 triumph was working with the Beeb even for her homeland's semi final with England. Did the US coverage have grander figures to call on, or did Hope's outspoken views preclude her? Whatever the truth, she filled the customary role of international voice of wisdom for our summer tournaments following in the footsteps of Klinsmann, Vialli and Martinez. Solo started the tournament strongly with an attack on FIFA, and proved an authoritative pundit throughout. She didn't overtly champion the US team, rather spoke of hope (no pun intended, although I could delete it) for other nations. Love that she spoke of VAR being "against the spirit of the game" on the subject of Ellen White's disallowed goal against USA, so therefore I forgive her bemusement at a Swedish player "not selling it" when roughed up in the penalty area, but not even appealing for a spot kick (though maybe she thought VAR might step in on her behalf).

Dion Dublin        

We must end, of course with DD (Dion has written to the BBC asking that on-air colleagues only address him by his initials, and has included a thorough business case to support this proposal, which includes the words "profile" and "branding"). Dion promised us he'd done "loads of re-search" and "watched loads of videos", but in the end couldn't help reverting to type, staying well within the confines of his comfort zone to play the familiar role of jokey, affable but resented stepdad.

Dion no doubt was the first to suggest the WhatsApp group for his fellow pundits, and more than happy to set it up, eventually claiming the first joiner halfway through the second week. It is an unconfirmed rumour that Hope Solo later organised a breakaway WhatsApp group precluding Dion that was instantly more successful.  But what you can't fault Dion for is persistence, and his increasingly desperate efforts to lure any one of Logan, Scott, Jordan Nobbs, Solo or  Rachel White into his bantz lair appeared to know no end.

Perversely, you cannot criticise Dion for playing to the crowd, either. What you see is what you get, and what you get is the word "comms" instead of "commentary".

There are some things you just cannot unhear.        

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Women's World Cup 2019 Review by a Fan of No Importance Part 2

True to the title of this post, here come some more observations on the Women's World Cup 2019 by a Fan of No Importance:

ENGLAND  

Semi-final failure in France was far more deserving of the 'Heroes' headline that the men got last summer after defeat at the same stage. 

In truth, the path to the last four was similarly kind, including a win over a Scandinavian nation in the quarter final, but there were periods of defensive struggle against Cameroon in the last 16 tie (until VAR and a collective meltdown came to their aid) and an inability to kill off the Argentine amateurs in the group stage that left them hanging on to their one goal lead. Although already through by the time of the Japan game, their resolve to finish top was boosted by their opponents' compelling inability to convert a series of second half chances.

Although Jodie Taylor finished off Beth Mead's piercing cross for the goal against Argentina, her overall rusty performance was possibly the catalyst for Phil Neville to confirm the binoculars-promoting Ellen White as the player responsible for deciding games against technically superior but toothless opposition - as Taylor was in the Euros in Holland in 2017.

White's six goals vindicated her selection, and unlike Harry Kane, didn't require any penalties to reach that haul - although her contribution in that respect might have been handy as it turned out. Cruelly, it was the leader and Milly Bright's carer, Steph Houghton ("Horton"), who stepped up to take the penalty against USA, putting to one side her main duty of bailing her team out when the going got sloppy.

Defensive improvements will be required for the next international competition. The midfield is a good mix of guile and spirit whoever plays in there, and we clearly breed goalscorers, so England must stand a great chance of at least repeating their achievement in 2023. Fran Kirby was a slight disappointment, although showed her usual deft touches (particularly in scoring against Sweden in the 3rd/4th play-off) at times, and use of her footballer's bum to spin off defenders. I thought Beth Mead, solid down the left and a devilish crosser, was unlucky to start so few games.

Phil Neville

Barely managed to shift any waistcoats, although at least didn't burst out off his natty attire in vanity anger unlike his rather horrible predecessor liked to in Euro 2017. For all his hypocrisy and whining, at least Phil isn't Mark Sampson. He'll always have that.

Megan Rapinoe   

Love her activism, love her calling out of Trump, loved her sense of destiny, didn't love so much her refusal to track back. Yes, maybe at 34, US coach Jill Ellis asked her to reserve energy, and yes, the Golden Boot perhaps backed up that approach, but it would have been fascinating to see how she would have coped with Lucy Bronze in the semi final. Would Crystal Dunn have been left to fend for herself? Would Christen Press have played anyway, even if Rapinoe was fit? I just like attacking left sided players to help out going the other way, to be more Ryan Giggs than Gareth Bale. Overall, though, an important, positive role model in the emerging force of women's football.

Jonathan Pearce      

So often strayed into Richard Madeley territory with co-commentator Sue Smith that I could almost see him there in the commentary box in full Ali G get-up and blacked-up face, throwing poorly executed hand gestures and inferring discrimination.  Steve Wilson, out in France for a couple of games, would have been a better fit, of course, but I suspect "JP" wanted it more.

Sue Smith

Like Steph Houghton with Millie Bright, played the carer role with professional empathy. Didn't fall for any of the provocation coming her way, rising above the patronising and the taunting to deliver insights and observations in a calm and authorative manner.   

More on the  BBC team in Part 3!  



          

Monday, 15 July 2019

Women's World Cup 2019 Review by A Fan of No Importance Part 1

Reports of the record-breaking viewing figures for this Women's World Cup have happily been well reported, and while it's fair to say that never before has a television channel in this country devoted so much of it's coverage to it, the volume of interest vindicated that commitment. Personally, as a father of three with a football World Cup happening, I was just happy to see a bit of it. And luckily, I didn't need to see every minute of every game to store up a sizeable collection of comments (of no importance) detailed below, starting with a dislike... 

VAR

Just as in the men's Final last summer, VAR had a major say in the climax to the tournament. You could say this year's intervention for Stefanie Van der Gragt's unseen high-foot challenge on USA's Alex Morgan was more satisfying because the offence was clear and obvious. You could also argue, though, that it wasn't all that clear and obvious as no one in the American team protested, but yes, I do get that that isn't the point, and I also understand that an 'injustice' was avoided thanks to modern technology. 

My next argument then, is that VAR's concentration on incidents inside and just outside the penalty area suggests that how the ball arrives at that point of debate is irrelevant. What if a US player, or a Dutch player for that matter, had committed a sly foul in the minutes, or in fact in any part of the game beforehand, that wasn't picked up  by VAR because it was outside of their supposed remit of the clear and obvious? Every action determines the pattern and flow of the game, and though VAR may boast that it takes care of the big moments, the small unnoticed moments are just as important, joining up the dots, as are the early group games and the knockout matches leading to the Final. There is a meaning and a consequence in everything on the pitch, and to just focus on the eye-catching makes for a shallow and illogical system. Unless VAR is on alert for every single incident, it cannot be credible, and even if it is ruling over every single incident, it wouldn't be worth it. 

Without VAR would USA still be world champions? Very likely. With VAR, would Man City still have won the Premier league last season? Very likely. Without VAR would France have still won the World Cup last summer? Very likely. With VAR would Huddersfield have been relegated? Yes, of course. In short, players and teams respond to the behaviour of other players and teams, and also things like pressure and adversity and will to succeed. Their destiny isn't determined by VAR. I say introduce a ref in each half instead, and a linesman in each half. It still wouldn't be perfect, but it would be cheaper and human. A Guardian sports columnist referred to anti-VAR's as "luddites", last summer during the World Cup, but me, I'm happy to use this computerised platform instead of my old pen and diary to record my World Cup memoirs of previous years, it's just that I don't like VAR in football. 

CAMEROON

Talking of reacting to adversity, let's bring in the Indomitable Lionesses.

My sarcasm is not entirely fair. Ajara Nchout scored a brilliantly composed stoppage time goal, defying the situation at hand, to go through to the knockout rounds following her team's 80th minute own goal that threatened to put New Zealand through instead. And against England in that knockout last 16 tie, they roused themselves at 2-0 down to finish a sustained passage of power play to give England a fright for the last half an hour.

Except that they didn't get to keep the goal, or the viewers the suspense, as Mr VAR pulled out a parking ticket for the offence of going half a second over the permitted time clearly displayed on the meter. If you show any objection to this crime, you will be lectured by Phil Neville.

Talking of Phil Neville, I cannot ignore Cameroon's foul play, which wasn't even "good foul" play, just cold, calculated and vicious on an England team who coped well with it. They did embarrass themselves with their dissent over England's opening VAR-attended goal by Ellen White, giving the impression, probably "worldwide"  that the only offside rule book in their possession was up to and including 1993. 

Hopefully Cameroon will show less Song/Massing assault play and more professionalism if they qualify in 2023, which is probable as most of the world will be allowed to qualify for it.

USA     

Now the defending champions, which you might reasonably expect from a nation that is "the richest and most powerful nation on earth", according to one widely ridiculed observer. If the men's game over there gets the same attention, then both teams could rule soccer. Even with the women's game, though, it's only the national team that is queen, with less emphasis on the domestic league, so if England and Holland and Sweden and others carry on "growing the game", they may well catch up.

For now, there is little dispute that USA are worthy of the crown. Flanked by the Kanchelskis-like Tobin Heath and the attacking efficiency of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan led the line without equal, backed up by the pitch-burning Rose Lavelle, and behind them, their tight defence was epitomised by the dogged resilience of Crystal Dunn. They all know their jobs in this team, as Martin Keown would have said. 

Yet, their tendency to drop deep in the latter stages gave hope to opposition who should have been seen off long before. Their technical edge mattered little when England were awarded the penalty in the 80th minute of the semi final. That they were not pegged back was  less to do with the stern-faced goalie Alyssa Naeher than another wretched example of an England penalty-taker's ruthlessness.    

So USA rule the women's football world...for now. 

         





   

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A Marshian future comes to pass as "women's football' becomes football

On Monday 16th September 1995, ten years before being sacked as a Sky Sports pundit for making a joke about the Thailand tsunami, Manchester City and England footballer of the seventies, Rodney Marsh, appeared on Robert Kilroy Silk's daytime discussion show, The Time The Place, to talk about the subject of women in football.

"Football", said Marsh, "is the one avenue women haven't invaded yet. We [men}don't interfere with sewing or cooking".

Even as a dozy 20 year old back then, I considered this comment worthy of a diary entry headline, typed out on my word processor and now sitting in my loft with all the other volumes of melancholy and denial from the 20th century.

Marsh has always considered himself a maverick, and the entertaining skills he showed on the pitch were fuelled by the same brimming confidence that gave the world his humour once his legs had gone. So perhaps Marshy was just pulling our chain that early afternoon in 1995, indulging in a bit of sexist horseplay to get the conversation going, even, maybe, playing the fall guy to make everyone else the Don Warrington hero, while he took the hit as Leonard Rossiter. An odd tactic perhaps, but one must stay open minded.

Then, in 2007, Marshy entered the only place where disgraced celebrities can check into - the ITV jungle - where he sulked, post-task, about "being beaten by a woman", in amongst a tirade of  misogyny throughout his run on the show .
So to today and 24, 14 and 12 years after making a prat of himself on BBC, Sky and ITV respectively, Marsh will be furious that the 2019 Women's World Cup in France attracted nearly 30million viewers in this country alone. Almost half the population watched England's semi-final defeat to USA, which peaked at a share of over 50% of the audience. The Final in Paris was attended by 57,000.

Next season, we now learn, women's Super League games will be played in Premier League stadiums.

The 'invasion' is well and truly with us.

Perhaps a few of the players might appear on Matt Tebbutt's BBC Saturday Kitchen show, formerly presented by James Martin. Whether they end up with Food Heaven or Hell, for at least one viewer it will be a dish served cold. Especially as it should be the woman doing the cooking and the man sitting down.

I did look online to study the contestants of all three series' of The Celebrity Great Sewing Bee, hoping against hope that a nice ending might come to this post, finding that Rodney had appeared, all coy and restyled, a man embracing change, the resurrection of a dinosaur. Sadly, against type, he made no appearances in this reality tv platform, but it's never too late, Rod, tomorrow is another day, another opportunity. But don't delay too long, Man City play at Manchester United in the opening round of WSL fixtures in under two months and tickets will go fast.      


Friday, 5 July 2019

What's in a name? Why log on? Did he really say that? Engalnd semi Final heartbreak sparks internal investigation

With the pain of defeat easing since England's 2-1 defeat to USA in the semi finals of the 2019 Women's World Cup in Lyon last Tuesday, the spotlight has begun to glare an unforgiving light on individuals within the England camp.

Unsurprisingly coming under the most scrutiny is captain Steph Houghton, as the English public demand an answer to that burning question: 

How come her surname is pronounced "Horton"?

Over 11 million watched the semi final, and while the demand for an answer was put on the back burner as England looked to progress, the interrogation can now respectfully begin. Former men footballers Ray Houghton and Scotty Houghton were famously known for upholding the traditional "Howton" sound, while the Bedfordshire town of Houghton Regis has likewise stuck to it's roots.

So why the deviation for Steph? Well, an early indication suggests that the Manchester City captain has been a lifelong idol of former Maine Road manager Brian Horton who became such a hit with fans during his spell in charge between 1993 and 1995, successfully avoiding relegation twice. Ultimately Horton was unable to engineer a survival drama such as the one he was involved in as a player for Luton Town in 1982-83, when he captained them to an 86th minute 1-0 win at Maine Road, which relegated City instead (ironically, the outcome of a foreign substitute instigating a pitch invasion by a spectacularly uncoordinated manager was just the kind of spectacle Sky Sports had begun to demand in their post 90's era) and City owner Francis Lee looked to former England team mate, Alan Ball to deliver a sexier style of last gasp salvation.  

But Houghton has clearly channelled Horton with last-gasp tackles and clearances in this World Cup as a metaphor to that 82-83 escape, while her saved penalty against the US may have served as a tribute to her probable idol, showing him just what glorious failure looked like. 

So with that mystery maybe cleared up, the public can now move on to  Dion Dublin. The former stand-side opinion-spewer found himself pitch-side during the semi-final, having himself gallantly failed throughout the tournament to get any of his fellow pundits to take his bantz-bait. Now tasked with reeling in Eilidh Barbour with his misplaced jocularity, Dublin, or "Dubbers" as he would like to be known, boldly referred to a point that "JP" (Jonathan Pearce) made "in comms" (commentary). 

With bemused viewers already constantly nudged by "JP" towards the "player rater on the BBC sport website and app" (like he's Theresa May flogging her dead Brexit deal) the invitation to decode Dublin's Bletchley Circle challenges seems to be one initiative too far, according to online feedback.    

JP himself unwittingly generated further social media interaction by, first, revealing the official "audience" figure in the stadium, before showing a regard for his co-commentator, Sue Smith that, in keeping with his tournament performance, produced echoes of Richard Madeley and BBC 2's Fast Show. Wondering aloud what positional shuffle Fran Kirby's introduction to the action would bring, he presumably heard Smith suggest that "Parris might go out wide". Kirby, a central creator by trade, then entered the pitch, while JP continued the discussion with himself: "So will she go into a central position or wide?" With Kirby then taking up her customary position in the middle, JP was able to confidently reveal who was going wide. "Parris".

3rd/4th place play-offs often bring in a change of players, though for England v Holland on Saturday, the BBC Sport team just need to make a couple of tweaks, or perhaps do without a couple of numbers altogether.  
                       

Monday, 1 July 2019

Women's World Cup France 2019: Come on Feel the (natural) Noise

France v USA in Friday's Women's World Cup quarter final, and the relentless, pulsating and natural noise of mostly French people is only interrupted by the customary, maxed-out-on-e numbers stadium announcer screaming out how many out of them were making it.

Yes, of course, a 45,000 crowd for a women's match is a fantastic development, but it's a shame that the usual jumped up little squirt with the power of the mic try gets to barge in on the moment. Can the news not be delivered sanely, so that the storm of joy can come out of the calm, instead of invite the people making history to jump on your back in celebration?

The curse of the juvenile stadium announcer, that is clearly infecting the women's game now that proper people have made it popular, is a prominent feature of the modern trend for  'customers' to be entertained at all times. During half time on Friday night, The Birdy Song was played on repeat, interspersed with that stadium announcer screaming at intervals. I couldn't understand the significance because my French is barely better than my English, but even if I had understood, I still wouldn't have understood.

What should be obvious is that people have come to watch a football match, and not Ant & Dec's Saturday Night TakeAway. We don't need to be hyped up, and appeased with fireworks and X Factor-type music to get us in the mood. People are paying good money and travelling far and wide (even 'world wide') FOR THE FOOTBALL. Please let go of the dominating music that exists right up until kick off, and kicks in as soon as the half time whistle is blown. As the French showed, the people can make the noise sufficiently well. We don't need the intrusion of morons. It's bad enough having to put up with VAR.

At Arsenal there are two stadium announcers, both with DJ voices from the eighties, one of whom has his name come up on the big screens when he's yapping on about some rubbish that only matters to him because it means we all have to hear his voice. This Ant & Dec combination has one of them bellowing out the player's names as if they are the heroes of the pantomime and the other asking the crowd "Are you ready!" before commanding "Enjoy the game!"

Not everyone has come to 'enjoy the game'. When I was five, and my dad first started taking me to Highbury, there was only a brass band before kick off and a rational human being reading the teams out. Both fitted in nicely with all the knee-knocking anxiety I used to feel as soon as Arsenal's opponents' entered our half. Within a couple of years I learned that some of Arsenal's players were booed when their names were read out, which was kind of fascinating in a macabre way.  

When I was at primary school, a new boy became my best friend and even started supporting Arsenal because I did (doubling the number in the school). The playtime matches on the field sometimes disillusioned him when he struggled to get involved, so I used to play the ball to him as much as I could to keep him interested, but often I would see him drifting off to another part of the field or playground to enter into something more engaging. My role there is now being played by misguided Matchday operations people, or whatever they call themselves, trying to stop us leaving the ground and never coming back.

What I've achieved here of course, is to allow some damaged people to take all the headlines/blog headline instead of talk about the enthralling, tense and, yes, exciting, France-USA game. But USA-England in a semi final is to come tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to the match up of USA's left sided pair of Crystal Dunn and top scorer, Megan Rapinoe come up against the right sided English equivalent, Lucy Bronze and Nikita Parris.

And I don't need The Birdy Song or pyrotechnics or an insane DJ barking at me to maintain my interest.

                         

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