Thursday 24 October 2019

Four football things that aren't racist but are still bad (though not as bad obvs)

So, after the tedium and depressing events of the international break, we return to our beloved domestic bliss, only to get out into the light and remember that things are terrible here too, just not as racist (but give us time).


I won't bang on again about the latest comical examples this weekend (and Monday). My feelings on this one are clear, and though anyone who is against VAR runs the risk of being labelled a dinosaur, is technological inconsistency actually preferable to human inconsistency?

Robbie Savage

During 5 Live commentary of Manchester United v Liverpool (Sunday, 1-1), out-of-his-depth-but affordable co-commentator Savage tuned on commentator John Murray who'd dared to ponder whether, ahem, VAR, should have picked up on Liverpool's Divock Origi being fouled en route to United's opening goal.

"Was it clear and obvious?! Was it clear and obvious?! What is clear and obvious?!" Savage fired at Murray, like Alan Partridge speaking over his PA Lynn as she tries to talk him into buying a Mini Metro.

The normally mild-mannered Murray was clearly rattled, tersely stating "No, I understand that" in a restrained manner reminiscent of Guy Mowbray having his ear flicked metaphorically by Mark Lawrenson during 2010 World Cup and Ally McCoist being blatantly ignored by John Champion at Russia 2018.

Savage's return to BBC match punditry (telly excluded) suggests BBC's philosophy to copy ITV's provocation approach is still alive and kicking, although that still doesn't explain the re-emergence of Dion Dublin.

Unreasonable (and unseasonable) kick off times

Hardly a new topic this, but notable for Amazon becoming the new player in mistreating match-going football fans. They have announced themselves on stage with a ground-breaking, train-station closing 8pm Boxing Day kick off for Liverpool fans to return home from after playing at Leicester. Fan group "Spirit of Shankly" say it's not too late to redeem the situation and return the kick off to the largely forgotten 3 o'clock slot.

My question is, do the TV companies and the Premier League even discuss the impact on supporters when negotiating these kick off times, or do they just assume they'll eventually swallow it and turn up to make all the atmosphere anyway? It's rarely said but the fans actually hold the power, it's just that they seem incapable of unleashing it in mass numbers. You will hear Alan Shearer often say that an effective "press" (the closing down of opponents, rather than the state of journalistic standards) means that the whole team "has to go" and hunt the ball back. This tactic applied to fans, in harnessing their power and being respected, means they need to "all not go" to these matches.

Conor McNamara

Just when it seemed, fingers crossed, don't speak too soon, Norm was out of my life forever - as if the BBC Sport commissioner had finally caught up with the uncomfortable jolly Irishman's past commentaries including the massive fuss he made about "Son" scoring "on Mothers Day" (Bournemouth vs Spurs, March 2018), I go and click on Potters Bar v Barnet on iPlayer (FA Cup final qualifying round) and find his inimitable, overactive, intruding tone of voice setting both the scene and my temperature soaring.

If this match was a first step back to some kind of regretful Dublin-like redemption, then the venue was sadly overlooked by the Beeb execs.

"Potters Bar!Potters Bar!..talking of a bar, there was this time me and Claridge..."                     

Friday 18 October 2019

Football returns after two-week layoff

For someone like me who complains that the football season comes around too early, and gripes on and on that we don't get a chance to miss it, to appreciate it, to feel proper anticipation - that one season merely blurs into the next - the international break, when there is no football of any interest over the course of a week, might seem welcome. 

But no, we have just had our second one of these, before even two months' domestic play of 2019-20, and this one was just as tedious as the last, depriving me of my right to catch the latest Premier League score on my phone (Prem, because that's where my teams plays) or hear a bit on the radio in between all the squabbling in my house, or at a wood. Not even England's defeat in the Czech Republic on Friday 11th could satisfy the yearning - although it did console me for a while.

Because England lost, I watched the highlights of the game in Prague, and learned that the 2-1 defeat was England's last qualifying reverse for either of the major tournaments in exactly ten years. I should countenance this with the fact that Clive "Anybody Arguing?" Tyldesley was delivering this information, and he has a history of inaccuracies, most famously from the Nou Camp in 1999 when he claimed that nobody cared where the Germans were when the Tyldesley-level popular Manchester United scored the last second winning goal in the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich.

The Czech game didn't matter, of course, because England could have lost to Bulgaria on Tuesday as well, and Kosovo in the match after, and still qualified for, er, everywhere, easily. We all know it is now harder not to qualify for the Euros or the World Cup than qualify. That a country who has only reached one Final in the history of the two big tournaments they can play are so unbeatable in qualifiers shows how meaningless the whole thing is.

Euro 2008 qualifying was much more like it (although I would say that, wouldn't I?). England, Russia and Croatia all in the same group, trying to get to a tournament holding 16 teams (one of those, or  sometimes two, being the hosts). England ultimately failed to qualify for Euro 2008 in 1973-like fashion against the Croats at Wembley (although similarities edge towards the home goalkeeping error rather than any frantic onslaught on the opposition goalmouth) but shouldn't have been embarrassed. Yes, there were memorable losses of dignity along the way, including another goalie blooper against Croatia in Zagreb, this time Paul Robinson miskicking a Gary Neville back pass to seal defeat. Some say Mclaren's Rihanna moment at Wembley was Brent-worthy cringe, though he cleverly overshadowed it a a couple of months later with a public crack at contemporary Dutch. Ah, he’s going through a breakdown, poor lamb. Let’s not mention again. 

The point is, that while both Croatia and Russia went through to Switzerland and Austia at England's expense,  those two nations progressed to the quarter-final and semi-final respectively, so there was no shame in England's 3rd place, and while the disappointment and scapegoating was plentiful, the competitive aspect was never in doubt. 

Both UEFA and FIFA have now ensured that this unsatisfactory state of affairs won't ever happen again.         

End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...