Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Tottenham Way

Let me set the scene here, Wankdorf Stadium, Bern, a relatively mild evening, the pitch is short and slick, 31,275 fans, eagerly anticipating their teams arrival. The two teams arrive on to the pitch, Tottenham Hotspur dressed in all white and Young Boys FC in yellow and black.

Supposedly, men against young boys, a game that Tottenham were expected to win comfortably. One minute in, Lulic for Young Boys on the left of the area shoots with his right foot and the ball rebounds off Gomes’ right post. An anxious moment for Tottenham fans across the world watching on. Was this a sign of things to come or just Spurs starting slow? Unfortunately, it was a sign of things to come as Young Boys received a free kick on the edge of the area, Doubai’s shot rebounded off the back of a team-mate and fell fortunately to the unmarked Lulic took full advantage.

Young Boys 1 – 0 Tottenham

After 13 minutes, things went from bad to worse, and it started with a poor cross-field pass in the Young Boys half. The ball was sent down into Tottenham’s territory and Dawson was too easily turned and beaten for pace by Bienvenu, who fired home for a welcome goal for the Swiss.

Young Boys 2 – 0 Tottenham

Spurs were in disaster mode before the half-hour mark had been reached when Costanzo passed inside Bassong to the grateful Hochstrasser, whose goal had those home fans bouncing.

Young Boys 3 – 0 Tottenham

With Tottenham’s hopes and dreams looking well and truly over, Harry Redknapp’s infamous twitch started to appear, the twitch you get when you’re up shit creek with out a paddle. All Tottenham’s hard work in the premier league the season before dashed in the space of 30 minutes in Bern.

With Tottenham looking down and out, just before the stroke of half time, a corner from Bale was swung in and the villain from the 3rd goal, Bassong, rises above everyone else to crash a header in to the back of the net!

Young Boys 3 – 1 Tottenham

Now all Tottenham needed was another goal to salvage the unsalvageable, but it didn’t come until the 83rd minute, Robbie Keane sharply fed a ball from the right at an angle for Pavlyuchenko who fired a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net with his weaker right foot!

Young Boys 3 – 2 Tottenham

Then came the full time whistle. It was a match of many emotions, with more ups and downs than a ride on Blackpool rollercoaster. With two away goals, all Tottenham need to do is to win 1 – 0 in the 2nd leg at White Hart Lane, but is that the Tottenham way? Not a chance.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Premiership Predictions!

This week is the big one - the start of the Premiership season, and while I cannot pretend to be as excited about it as I am about watching Norwich City in the Championship, it's nice for us sport-lovers to be able to reclaim Saturdays for what they were first invented for.

I've been reading through a couple of the media predictions about the supposed big four and the end to their domination, but the Premiership is far from being an open contest this year. I may have the advantage of writing this with the first ninety minutes of the season already out of the way and two of the key contenders to break into that big four already having played, but here goes anyway...

Firstly, the big four had long since ceased to be a big four. There are a big two, Manchester United and Chelsea, and then there are some others. Simplistic, and I am sure that my blogging colleagues may disagree with this analysis, but for the last three years, pursuit of the title has only been a realistic likelihood for the Blues or the Red Devils. Lampard and Rooney may both have failed to light up the world cup this year, but I fully expect them to both be back on form within a few weeks of the world's premier league competition kicking off.

It will undoubtedly be a close run thing, but I am tipping Carlo Ancelotti's boys to pip United to the title by a point, and here is why...

GK - Edwin Van Der Sar is a couple of years past his prime but still an adequate Premiership keeper. Thomas Kuszczak will have to step up the plate and show some of his early promise, or Alex Ferguson will quickly show him the door. At Chelsea, Petr Cech offers more than either of the United keepers, but has not been the same player since his career-threatening head injury in 2006.

Marks out of Ten: Man Utd 7, Chelsea 8

DEFENCE - Rio Ferdinand's return from injury will be very welcome for United, as will the end of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Nemanja Vidic. These two will carry the bulk of the work for United this year, with help from the versatile John O'Shea and unheralded Wes Brown, whose international retirement may take the title for most unintersting news item of the season so far. Ashley Cole remains the world's best club left-back, and Chelsea will have adequate cover for the failing legs of John Terry and Paulo Ferreira in youngsters Mancienne and van Aanholt.

Marks out of Ten: Man Utd 7, Chelsea 7

MIDFIELD - The mercurial Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will both be eager to play a part in what must surely be their respective final seasons in the top flight. For United to be successful, the likes of Nani, Anderson and Valencia will need to fire alongside the reliable figures of Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung. The return to fitness of Owen Hargreaves and return to form of Michael Carrick would be big boosts for the Reds. Chelsea are arguably weaker for the loss of Joe Cole, but Frank Lampard and Michael Essien will be huge and they will be supported by John Obi Mikel and Florent Malouda.

Marks out of Ten: Man Utd 8, Chelsea 8

ATTACK - With Dimitar Berbatov blowing hot and cold, Michael Owen looking as far from match fitness as ever and Federico Macheda needing to make the step up quickly, United will be heavily reliant on Wayne Rooney for goals in what is likely to be a midfield-heavy formation. The signing of Javier Hernandez promises for me to be one of the most exciting signings of the season and I am eager to see him unleashed on tired Premiership defenders. In Drogba and Anelka, Chelsea have the Premiership's most potent front two and provided they both stay fit, you can expect them to top the scoring charts again. Chelsea may lack a little in depth going forward, but Salomon Kalou can cover in the short term and I would expect Ancelotti to strengthen here if required in the January transfer window.

Marks out of Ten: Man Utd 8, Chelsea 9

Overall: Man Utd 30, Chelsea 32.

As for the others - Tottenham seem eager to carry on excellent form from the end of last season into this and should get a Champions League spot next year. Man City will undoubtedly run around for a few weeks like the world's most expensive headless chickens, before finally realising some promise as a unit. Arsenal will be punished, as ever, by more physical sides who won't care to watch their slick passing game. Aston Villa, weakened by the loss of inspirational manager Martin O'Neill, will struggle to recreate last season's points tally. Everton will push bravely for a Europa League place. What do you mean, I've forgotten someone? Oh...Liverpool. They'll finish 9th.

So is it that easy to predict who will win? Is the writing on the wall already this season, or will there be a surprise package in the midst? Hang on, I see Blackpool are leading 3 - 0 at Wigan...

- J

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, 1949 - 2010

It's perhaps ironic that as our guest writer chronicles the story of one fallen hero below, it falls to me to add the obituary of another to the Jimbo Finbow blog.

Alexander Higgins was born in Belfast in 1949 and initially moved to England with the intention of becoming a jockey. When his plans did not come to fruition, he switched to snooker, which he had begun playing in his local town club at the age of 11. Higgins won the first of his two world titles at 22, setting a record for the youngest ever victor that would remain intact until the appearance of Stephen Hendry in 1990. Higgins quickly earned his nickname 'Hurricane' for his speed of play and tendency towards erratic behaviour.

Despite two other appearances in the world final, it would be ten years later in 1982 that Higgins overcame his old sparring partner Ray Reardon, and the pictures of him reclaiming the world title while emotionally hugging his wife and baby daughter will perhaps be the most iconic images captured of him during his sporting career.

He was denied the world number one spot as a result of points deducted for disciplinary offences in 1983, and would go on to be charged with assault for allegedly headbutting a tournament director and punching a press officer at separate events. In 1997, he was stabbed three times by his then-girlfriend, Holly Haise.

In 1998, Higgins was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent surgery. He blamed the cigarette companies who sponsored the events at that time for the worst of his vices - in addition to cigarettes, he would frequently drink heavily and gamble five figure sums on horse racing. He also freely admitted to the use of marijuana and cocaine. It has been estimated since his death that he made and spent as much as £5 million from snooker during his lifetime.

Higgins made several attempts at comebacks but never threatened to recapture his previous glories. Much of his later life was spent attending charity matches and hustling in pubs across Ireland and northern England.

Divorced from his second wife and clearly in failing health despite the ten-year remission he had experienced from throat cancer, he had suffered from pneumonia in the spring of 2010 and his teeth had fallen out as a result of intensive radiotherapy. Well-meaning friends raised several thousand pounds so that he could have teeth implant surgery in Spain, but the operation did not take place as Higgins was judged to be too weak. He was found dead in his bed on 24 July 2010.

Despite his obvious psychological frailties, Higgins defined his sport for me in a way that only John McEnroe did in the same era. He was partly responsible for snooker's growing popularity in the early 80s and was once described by Steve Davis as 'the one true genius that snooker has produced'. It is not a bad way to be remembered.

- J

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Fallen Hero

Definition of a Hero: a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength.

It’s not often that a man stands head and shoulders above the rest, but when they do, they have the power to inspire the common man. This inspiration drives us towards our own goals and dreams, if these select men can do it, why cant I? But sometimes, this very courage, will and determination to be best, drives them too far..

Lance Armstrong, surviving testicular cancer against all odds, this man achieved the unachievable, for in July 2005, Lance won his 7th Tour de France, the world’s toughest cycling race and arguably, the world’s toughest sporting competition, becoming the first man in the history of cycling ever to do so. He then retires from the sport he loves, reputation, almost god like to cycling fans, still in tact. Legend status well and truly secured.

With the desire and hunger that burns within, its hard to give up the only thing you know. This is what you were built for, born to do. But when you have achieved all there is to achieve, why come back? Well that’s exactly what Lance Armstrong did in January 2009, 3 and a half years since his last competitive road race. After finishing a very respectable 3rd place in the 2009 Tour de France, a magnificent feat, Lance vowed to win next year. Fast forward to the Tour de France July 2010, Lance has fallen from grace, no longer Mr. Indestructable, Lance was distinctly..human. Finishing in 23rd place, no stage wins, just another rider amongst the 170 who started the race, being beaten by riders who would normally not even get near him.

The decision to come back has not proved a good one, Lances stock has fallen, the ingredients that have made him a true great, the blind optimism, determination and stubbornness have lead to his downfall. But he will still be my hero.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Soldiers of Fortune

In 2010, a crack football unit was sent to prison by a FIFA for a crime against football. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Premier League underground. Today, still wanted by the FA, they survive as soldiers of fortune.
If you have a shit team and lots of cash, and if you can find them in their mansions, maybe you can hire... The $-Team.

The Premier League, a haven for today’s soldiers of fortune, they no longer carry guns but kick a football for 90 minutes. Emanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry, David Silva, Joe Cole would all struggle to fit in the faithful GMC A-Team van, not just because the size of their egos, but for the size of their wallets.

Joe Cole is a prime example of player who chooses cash over trophies, if he had stayed at Chelsea he would have been almost guaranteed silverware, Arsenal, Champions league football, Spurs, Champions league football, yet he chose to play for Liverpool. They have had a shocking season, turmoil at every level, their best players wanting to jump ship and more than enough average players to shake a stick at. Why bother flippin’ burgers at Mcdonalds when you can create masterpieces at Claridges, right? Not for Joe, he likes a Big Mac.

Joe Cole would rather line up with David N’gog in the Europa League facing the likes of SC Tavriya Simferopol than play alongside Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas, Luka Modric with the chance to face Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, all for a few more quid.

David Silva is another player who’s choice baffles me, World Cup winner, extremely talented, could go to pretty much any club of his choice, but decides that the Europa League would be the best place to test his talents.

Not all footballers are money grabbers, some still play for the love of the game. A rare breed, these men have values and morals, traits that your average working man respects. Oguchi Onyewu from AC Milan, missed all but one match last season with a knee injury, decides that he didn’t earn his money, so offers to play for free for a season.

Gary Cook said that Kaka ‘bottled it’ when he chose not to come to Manchester City, I don’t think so. Kaka chose his club for football reasons (I’m sure he doesn’t earn peanuts at Madrid) because he knew he stood a great chance of winning trophies, creating history, playing alongside the best players in the world, not chasing miss placed passes from Shaun Wright-Phillips. That’s a real footballer who plays for the love of the game and not for the size of his wallet. Stick that up your arse Gary.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

June 27th 2010 England 1 – 4 Germany.

The above Catastrophe in South Africa goes beyond one group of players, radical change is needed, as such I present………



The FA should invite the likes of Gareth Southgate, Tony Adams, Stan Collymore, Chris Waddle and Gazza to work with young players and teach them key skills like running with the ball, keeping possession and the craft of wing play. This will allow them to develop their technique and encourage them to think more, making them better at decision making and responsibility taking. (okay maybe not Tony Adams and Gazza)


For the £50 million-plus that the Football Association has spent on England managers in compensation, wages and pay-offs since 2000, a National Football Centre could have been up and running by now, nurturing home-grown managers, ensuring the FA did not automatically have to look overseas. A national Football Centre would allow England to adopt a more intelligent approach to developing players and coaches, and focusing on conditioning, preventing injuries and sports science. It could be the home of all the national age-group teams, fostering more of a Team England philosophy and continuity between sides.


Fabio Capello, Sir Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini and Wayne Rooney can't all be wrong. Uefa research shows that Premier League players are four times more vulnerable to stress fractures in March than those in countries with a winter break. I would suggest a two week break in January and the abolishment of FA Cup replays, this would lose some exciting games but our progress in major tournaments is more important.


Germany promoted Mesut Ozil, an emerging star at the European Under-21s last summer and now a real star of the 2010 World Cup. Ozil's skilful spin and acceleration away from Gareth Barry summed up the contrast between German vibrancy and English yeomanry. England has always been suspicious of flair players (Matt Le Tissier, Stan Collymore, Andy Hughes) but its to our detriment, give the likes of Joe Cole and Theo Walcott a chance and see what they can do.


Get in touch with the real world. Don't isolate England players at tournaments. Fabio Capello was warned his players would get bored and only belatedly did he loosen the shackles. England's most famous win of the past decade came against Germany, 5-1, when they stayed in Munich city centre next to a busy bierkeller. Also allow the WAG’s get involved, they take media attention away from the players and they brighten the camp up.


Shortly after Fernando Hierro retired as a player in 2005 he was made technical director of the Spanish FA, effectively in charge of hiring and firing the national coach, and nurturing the next generations of Xavi, Iniesta, David Villa. The FA needs more leaders like Sir Trevor Brooking and fewer bean counters like Sir Dave Richards.


Government must invest more in PE at school. The motor skills are not there in many youngsters when joining professional clubs at eight. Ask Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal manager increasingly looks at youngsters with African backgrounds because of their athleticism (and desire). Obesity levels are a national disgrace and football is paying the price for damaging state policies.


Fabio Capello is right: too many foreign players in the Premier League reduces the playing time of English youngsters and diminishes the player pool available for the England manager. The Premier League loves to present itself as the world's league but it must acknowledge its roots and duty to England. I suggest a limit of six foreign players in each starting 11.


Sir Dave Richards should travel to Wolfsburg and get on bended knee and beg Steve Mclaren to re join the FA and become the Director of Football. The man is an intellectual coach of outstanding pedigree who was disgracefully let down by the JT / Stevie G/ et al. With his outstanding record of nurturing young talent at Middelsborough he should be left to oversee the transition and promotion of England players at u21 level and ensure there is the correct support and guidance available to them. Out with the old and in with the new, kind of.


The FA should make the best of a bad building lot and find a new owner. They should then hire the stadium for England internationals and also take team around the country. The national team belongs to the children of Birkenhead as well as those of Brent. As it currently stands, Wembley is a financial drain on the FA, restricting investment on vital grass-roots initiatives. Sell the white elephant before it kills the Three Lions


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Why a victory for Spain is NOT a victory for football

It bugs me. I'm sorry, but it does. It took 0.03 seconds from the final whistle at Soccer City on Sunday night for Alan Shearer to jump on football's laziest, most cliche-driven bandwagon when he said, 'it was a victory for football'.

Before you castigate me for getting a little off-topic, I know we said we'd talk about British sport. And the closest that Spain gets to being British is when half the population of our country invades it for the summer, grazing on semi-cooked hamburgers, drinking too much, tanning till we go lobster-pink and pissing all over somebody else's beach. But a World Cup only comes but once every four years, and for an England fan it only lasts a few short on-field hours (I have every sympathy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland fans, who must surely watch England and come to the inescapable conclusion that they could hardly do worse.)

Spain. In Iker Casillas, they have the best goalkeeper in the world. Barcelona-bound David Villa is a lethal goalscorer proven at the top level. In Xavi and Andres Iniesta, they have two ball-playing midfielders with a knack for scoring vital goals. In Pique and Puyol, they have defenders who are solid, unspectacular and good in the air, but lacking in speed and with a tendency towards occasional silly mistakes. Sound like any team you know?

Spain. European and now world champions, wizards who turn pomp and flair into searing performances and bagfuls of goals, wowing fans everywhere with their skill and temerity.

Er, no.

World Cup finals are by precedent, unholy travesties of the game for which they are supposed to represent a sacred pinnacle. Victory over a Dutch side who had apparently turned up for a karate tournament rather than a football match was certainly a victory for skill over conduct little short of thuggery, but it was hardly a spectacle worthy of the beautiful game. The winner, a spitting half-volley bludgeoned home despite a suspicion of offside from the first ball forward, was an apt winner in a thoroughly torrid affair.

Spain keep possession. That much is true. They play with grace and patience, and they grind out results, with no less than 50 of their last 55 results being wins. For this, perhaps they are worthy of the title of best of a lacklustre bunch. But this Spain team are not entertainers.

As France, England and Italy self-destructed around them, Spain threatened to do likewise by fudging through the group stage. After defeat by a spirited Swiss side, they would surely not even have qualified for the second round had they faced another group opponent with slightly more verve than either Honduras or Chile, the former of which surely dispel the notion that there are no easy international matches.

Then to the second round, where they edged a second-rate Portugese side by a goal, and Paraguay, where they nearly came undone after their opponents missed a penalty. Having meandered this far, they encountered free-scoring Germany in a tie that could have defined everything that was special about the tournament. The result? A tetchy, scrappy affair decided by a header from a corner. 1 - 0 again.

This post is not an effort to deny Spain their perch at the top of world football. However, I am suggesting that the style of their play and the reason for their success owes more to Catennacio than Catalonia. There are precious few truly top-class sides out there at the moment and the seeming worldwide trend for the 4-5-1 formation (with obligatory world-class playmaker at the apex of the 5) is threatening to turn world football into a game of counter-attack without attackers. But for all those who would instantly salute Spain's triumph as a victory for football, I suspect that the true fan would still rather watch Germany, Argentina or Uruguay.