All entries for July 2009

July 28, 2009

Steven Gerrard: A Whole Lot of Mither

Writing about web page

I have taken some interest in the Steven Gerrard trial. There has been little option, but I have been really wishing for the real football to start. Apart from Fernando Torres signing a new contract during the early months of the summer, I have struggled to think of much that has been positive for Liverpool since that closing game against Tottenham. I am wishing that the opening game of this season at White Hart Lane could be brought forward by a couple of weeks.

July 17, 2009

Michael Owen and THAT Transfer

Michael Owen and THAT Transfer

I have always felt a mixture of gentle envy and sorrow for Michael Owen. The gentle envy is based on the fact that I am the same age as him, and looked a bit like him if I decided to smother my hair with wet hair gel. I also talked a bit like him, seemed to think like him, and I wish that I had played football like him for the top teams in the UK and Europe. My sadness is based on recognising that it did not seem that long ago that he was being lauded as the next great thing in British football.

In true British style, we dumped our expectations on his young shoulders and expected that his eye-catching goals would take Liverpool back to their domineering best in English football, and guarantee a trophy to the national team that would end that wait since 1966. Michael Owen was the next big thing in English football in 1999

We are now in 2009, and it seems that Owen is regarded as damaged goods. It is as if Newcastle were flogging a 1998 TV in the football marketplace, with the promise that this chunky TV had ‘ground breaking’ ‘Nicam Digital Stereo’ whilst the rest of us were caring about today’s ‘High Definition’ screens.

The great footballing public seems to be divided in their predictions that Michael Owen will have an Indian summer or a bleak winter at Old Trafford. Having become a Manchester United player, Owen would be back in the eye of a daily media storm that swirls around Old Trafford. If there ever could be a hint that Owen was back into his injury nightmare, the knives would be sharpened for Owen, Alex Ferguson, as well as the whole Old Trafford dynasty.

It was also interesting to read that Michael Owen would be playing at a club, whose manager apparently admitted that he was a second choice in the transfer market bartering. It is difficult to tell whether this remark was another example of Ferguson’s mind games and deft knack at reverse psychology. However the whole story could be easily turned into a 9pm drama on ITV1 because it contains everything including happiness, rejection as well as the possibility of ultimate redemption against all odds. A lot of viewers would be crying in their armchairs at ‘The Owen Story,’ or would they?

From my perspective, there has not been much a reaction. There has been some anger amongst the fans on Merseyside that one of their former stars has landed with their hated rivals at the other end of the East Lancs Road. Owen allegedly did not know what the fuss was about in the red half of Liverpool, which is always a good line to stir up the message boards but some fans seemed nonplussed. They wondered whether Owen had ever actually been a Liverpool fan, and previous speculation has linked Owen’s football interest at a variety of clubs around the north west of England including Everton, Tranmere and Chester City.

Following Newcastle’s relegation in May, the Michael Owen package came with a lot of baggage that we mostly linked to the decline of one of the most iconic clubs that used to grace the Premier League. His bemused expression at Villa Park on the last day of last season demonstrated that relegation was a new emotion for him. As of mid July, the transfer of Owen to Manchester United ranks as the most surprising of the summer. For most of the summer, Michael Owen was being marketed like a club 18-30 holiday with Hull and Stoke lined up to be his next destination, before punditry, management or ultimate obscurity.

Regardless whether he has an executive pad in Cheshire, knew how to drive a helicopter, appeared in a brochure for executive penthouses in Dubai and liked a flutter on the horses, you sensed that Owen still had to have his daily football fix. Why else would he still want to play, despite having amassed a small financial fortune? Having gained a transfer to one of the world’s biggest football clubs, my reaction was supportive. From the jaws of oblivion, Michael Owen has snatched a potentially career-saving victory. I would never want to see a footballing professional (or any other worker) end his career in a miserable decline and frequent hospital treatment.

This transfer is a gamble for Manchester United, but despite assurances from Old Trafford, more questions are proposed than are answered. This situation will be welcoming for the newspaper column writers, the phoneins and the pub bores, but where does the transfer leave Manchester United and Michael Owen? How is the front line going to line up? Should we expect a United side to line up with Rooney in a slightly withdrawn role in front of Berbatov and Owen?

The questions do not end there. Will Manchester United play with two strikers who have shown to be generally anonymous if they do not get the pinpointed service from the midfield? Will Owen slip back into a never-ending injury nightmare? Will Michael Owen ever play for England again? Will Manchester United be pilloried for gambling on this former England great? Will earnest discussions be undertaken about whether Ferguson has ‘lost it’ and the great days at Old Trafford are coming to an end?

For the sake of a football professional, who would have played in my school football team, if he had grown up in deepest Essex, I wish the best of luck for Michael Owen at Manchester United. I hope that his career gets the jump-start that it needs, but a lot of questions will need to be answered during the season.

July 12, 2009

A Question of Loyalty

A Question of Loyalty

While most of you were getting stuck into your Sunday roast last weekend, I found myself in a national sport store within Leeds city centre. A Liverpool-supporting friend wanted to buy the new Liverpool away shirt for the coming season, complete with his name and number. I had seen this shirt on other friends and my pre-shopping hype had convinced him that this shirt was a must-want purchase. We flew up the escalator, and passed the endless carousels of reduced clothing that remained unwanted from the previous seasons. We bore down on the shirts that hung from the wall like suits of armour for medieval knights.

The wanted shirt was grabbed from the hanger, and my friend rushed to the MDF-lined box which was called the changing room. Within about thirty-seconds, Asif made his mind up that this was the shirt for him, and made a direct line to the checkouts for the all-important additions. While the shop assistant was carefully placing the required letters and numbers on the back of the shirt like a doctor about to perform open heart surgery, my friend set about trying to persuade me to part with thirty quid for the Liverpool home shirt.

It is well known amongst my social circle that I have a soft spot for the reds, and Asif tried his best to convince me that this shirt was essential for my wardrobe. We had a passionate conversation about the pros and cons of buying this shirt beside a series of suggestive mannequins showcasing this season’s tennis kit. You could never believe that two educated blokes could be found in the middle of Leeds arguing over a 100% polyester shirt. I even went into the changing room to try on the shirt. Asif must have felt that he had achieved his wish but I could not quite bring myself to buy the garment.

I know that my loyalty is in Suffolk, at Ipswich Town Football Club, and at Portman Road, and I felt disloyal if I started wearing a shirt for a team that had no genetic link to my background. However, I felt immediately guilty for my failure to buy this shirt. The guilt turned into a full blown migraine whilst stuck in the never-ending M1 roadworks near Nottingham. I knew that I should have brought that shirt. Most friends were surprised that I did not buy this shirt, because they have always believed that I am a ‘closet’ red, but I felt that it was a question of loyalty.

Most of us know that loyalty makes a football fan. Life as a fan cannot be an effortless series of European nights, cup wins, comprehensive demolitions of the hated local rivals, and the crème de la crème of British and European talent playing in the club shirt. There are the 0-0 bore draws on a wet Tuesday night in February, the questionable talent that has failed to produce anything other than a few dodgy tackles on the pitch, as well as those managerial press conferences when it is obviously that the manger has lost the dressing room as well as his senses.

We can buy the shirts, and the plastic merchandise, but being a fan demands something more. Most non-football fans think that the loyalty is dangerously delusional and something close to one of those religious cults in mid-America, but loyal support makes football what it is.

Most of us know that loyalty left player’s minds somewhere around the birth of ITV during 1955. There are a few Steve Bulls and Steven Gerrards left in the game, but money talks at ever increasing volumes. We have become too used to players wheeling away from the goal with exuberant kissing of badges and pledges of total loyalty to the cause. We lap it up from the stands, and feel totally cheated when the same player has signed for another club within weeks for another multi-million pound fee. .

In this era when Manchester City are desperately trying to suggest that they can eat at world football’s top table with the signing of Gareth Barry (sic,) and multi-million pound transfer deals are taking place at Real Madrid for sums of money that many of us can not remotely visualise, the leading clubs (or the media) are a little bit shaken up by this suggested movement of football’s plate tectonics.

Benitez talks about loyalty in football with particular reference to Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and half of us believe that these words need to ring true, but some of us believe that the sentences come from another age of football. I personally hope that Benitez is correct and that certain players at Anfield recognise the debt that they have to Liverpool Football Club. Before his move to Anfield, Mascherano’s English football career was going nowhere in the chaos of Upton Park during the dying month’s of Alan Pardew’s regime. Only devoted students of Spanish football would have known about Xabi Alonso before he came to Anfield. You would hope that both players would recognise the loyalty that they have to Anfield.

Will loyalty become a bargaining chip as English football becomes a bargaining chip for megalomaniacs? I like to think that the chequebook can only buy so much in football, and there needs to be something else at a football club to guarantee true success. There is that ‘something else’ at Liverpool Football Club and it is probable that most players recognise that. If they don’t, Liverpool fans should not be concerned if Jermaine Pennant decides that Real Zaragoza will be the next big thing in football, and that Gareth Barry went to a club that seems to be trying to build their future on a sandbank of cheques. It is all about that question of loyalty.

July 07, 2009

Whatever happened to Fantasy Leagues?

Writing about web page

On a blistering hot Friday afternoon in August 1996, we were bored. It was a week to go till our GCSE results, and myself and my friends were bored out of our wits. Ipswich held nothing to entertain us. We had lots of attitude but no money, and we were struggling to think of something to do. For an unknown amount of hours, we had sat on the steps of the Town Hall like all of the other bored teenagers, with the sycophantic vein hope that we would impress a girl. However, time began to drag.

July 02, 2009

Something New to the Table

Something New to the Table

(Terry Roper and Tony McDonald West Ham in My Day Football World 2008)

It is not that hard to read a book that offers nothing more than pieces of paper with words on either side. These books are a trial to get from cover to cover, and the book will probably become abandoned on the coffee table, conveniently left on the commuter train, or discarded by the toilet for ‘loo reading.’ Some books will make you want to give up reading forever. Many football books are brought with excitement for Christmas and find themselves in the jumble sale or the bargain book bucket by mid March.  

You sense that some of these dreadful books have been designed to tick as many boxes as possible. One page will have a few grainy black and white photos to appease the over-60s fans, the central spine will be crammed with colour snaps of today’s heroes for the under fives, and some club shop adverts will be splattered onto the book covers. You wonder why someone thought that these books would sell when they are about as exciting as watching back episodes of Last of the Summer Wine. There are plenty of those books polluting the shelves of your local bookshops.

You will be pleased to note that West Ham in My Day is not one of those dreary books. This collection of interviews with former hammers communicates the passion of one of England’s most iconic football club, and this book does not read like a celebrity magazine. We do not have glossy colour pictures of ex hammers by their swimming pools in their second homes within Miami or Portugal. We get a very human ‘warts and all’ portrait of life at the club, and within the East End of London over nearly sixty years.

It is obvious that the stories within this book will reawaken a lot of memories for many Hammers fans, as well as the wider football community. It is a history of football book too. When you are reading this kind of book, it is easy to only read the profiles of the players that are familiar to you. In my case with this book, I would have read Mervyn Day’s interview as well as every chapter from Frank McAvennie onwards, but I would have failed to have got the point of this book, or understood the rich history of West Ham United Football Club.

The early tales from players that include Bill Lansdowne, Lawrie Leslie and Peter Brabrook talk about a game that seems to be totally different to the football of today. For the fan that believes that satellite television invented football and that all footballers are millionaires within their mansion pads in Surrey, the accounts make for revealing, and sometimes sobering, reading.

All of these accounts have an ‘honest’ dimension about them. For instance, many ex players talk about their frustration after being left out of the first team squad. The story of Mark Robson is one of particular heartbreak. This long standing hammers fan though that he had reached football’s version of seventh heave to play on the Upton Park pitch, but his dream lasted for only one season.

Despite the arguments, dressing room show downs, and training ground fights these interviewees always show an undying respect for the fans and the institution of West Ham United Football Club. Many of these players look fondly upon their time at West Ham, and it is not surprising that many of these legends are still living in the local area. Each story ends with an interesting insight into what the players did after leaving Upton Park and the various tales disprove the theory that all players end up either within the manager’s dugout, the pundits studio, or pictured outside a city night club for the front of the tabloids.

It is no surprise that I know more about more recent players who wore the Hammers shirt. Most of my Hammers friends had a mixture of awe, pride and slight nervousness about Julian Dicks. Dicks was a cult hero for them and you sometimes wondered if they were trying out some of his uncompromising moves during some school matches. The book talks about Dicks doing an unconventional pre-match warm up routine and opting for Coca-Cola rather than energy drinks in the final minutes before leaving the dressing room. Would that be allowed in today’s game?

The commentary about Tim Breaker covers the yo-yo years of the early nineties as well as the initially controversial changes in the management set up involving Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp. Local lad, Mark Robson talks about his one full season at Upton Park. The book finishes with an interview with John Moncur. Like Dicks, Moncur was another cult hero amongst by Hammers friends and you wonder whether he ever got the recognition that he deserved. After opting for West Ham over Chelsea and withstanding the managerial turbulence involving Bonds and Redknapp, he became regular fixture in the centre of midfield.

The Moncur years also covered the Redknapp’s random foreign signings, the emergence of a batch of exciting young footballers including Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. The Glenn Roeder years are also mentioned when Moncur argues that “I was basically told that my age was against me and that he didn’t think I could do a job for the team.” He describes the 2003 side as the “most talented brunch of players in West Ham’s history. But they were lacking the commitment and desire you need to go with it.”

John Moncur believes that the fans “love players who would give 100% every week and also be able to put their foot on the ball and show a bit of skills,” but all of these accounts, in their different ways, seem to recognise this philosophy. Despite various on and off the field issues, the next generation of players seems to breaking into the first team and I hope that they recognise these sentiments of the fans. Without question, the stories of the next generation of players should be told in a similar book in the future.

When Time Stood Still

Writing about web page

Back in the eighties and nineties, there was a sensational show on BBC television called The Rock and Roll Years. Each programme was an exciting mix of news footage and popular culture from a particular year. There were no irritating celebrities waffling on about their love for space hoppers nor pointless opportunities for the general public to tell the world what they were doing in 1986.  

July 2009

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