Top 5: Footballers Who Have Been Surprisingly Immortalised in Song.

Gordo

Football and music have always been connected, often with tragic results. A shudder travels down all of our spines when we think of Bell & Spurling’s song about Sven Goran Eriksson, while the image of Glen Hoddle and Chris Waddle on the CD cover for Diamond Lights still wakes me up in a feverish sweat.

It’s not all bad though. Football has given birth to great chants (discounting the gently or overtly xenophobic ones) and cracking tunes (Three Lions is the perfect pop song- don’t @ me). There’s also the phenomenon of certain players or football figures being immortalised in song; Zinedine Zidane, Bobby Moore, Pele, they’ve all had a crack.

This week I’ve strayed off the beaten track to find my favourite song about a footballer. In truth, there was only ever going to be one winner (as you will see if you follow this article through to its conclusion) but suffice to say it has been a hell of a journey and I’ve wasted an awful lot of time and laptop battery power. Still, what is life but a voyage of discovery and extravagant time-wastage?

So here it is, then; my definitive list of surprising footballers immortalised in song. I’ve included links so you can listen while you read. Or you can read the whole thing and then give the songs your undivided attention (as they surely deserve).

 

NUMBER 5: KASEY KELLER by BARCELONA

www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsiVjwu3254

When I found this on Spotify I briefly feared that it was the American keeper’s own take on Montserrat Caballe and Freddie Mercury’s legendary duet. Once I realised my error, I was able to appreciate the song for what it is; a celebration of Kasey Keller’s heroics in the 1998 Gold Cup, when he shut out Brazil and earned the USA a 1-0 victory. Romario called it the best goalkeeping performance he had ever seen.

Virginian band Barcelona certainly agreed and penned this tune at the turn of the century. Some of the lyrics feel as if their author didn’t watch much football, but perhaps certain choices were made for the sake of rhythm.

Musically, the song is synth-drenched indy; bright and optimistic with a slightly sombre, marching feel. It strikes me as the sort of song that might be played at the funeral of a beloved character from a Super Mario game- let’s say Yoshi- as the mourners return to their lives, knowing that ins spite of the loss of their beloved Dino-chum, everything will continue to be alright.

The final couplet assures Keller that the band don’t blame him for the ‘fiasco’ of France 1998. Surely that was a weight off Ol’ Kasey’s mind.

 

 

NUMBER 4: STRACHAN by THE HITCHERS

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3evEhZ7HyO8

The Hitchers were a Limerick band primarily active in the 1990s. Their drummer and main song-writer was called Niall Quinn so the inevitability of them releasing a football song was there for all to see. What they came up with is a dissection of a Gordon Strachan hat-trick set alongside the protagonist arguing with his wife.

“What are you watching?”, she asks, seeing her spouse slumped in front of the tele getting ready to watch Strachan’s Leeds.

“It’s a programme about art,” he replies, before acclaiming the arrival of the “tiny wee Scotsman with the copper-coloured hair”, “the greatest artist of them all”.

Isn’t that great poetry?

‘Strachan’ is an atmospheric number, with a bright but slightly forboding acoustic guitar underscoring the whole affair. Discords land in the music here, just as in the lives of the characters contained within the song. I will also award bonus points for the inclusion of two sections which anatomise the scoring of goals, pass to pass (like Ant and Dec did in ‘On The Ball’). It’s not quite ‘Scholsey-Gerrard’ but it’s pretty good.

Assessments of all art are of course subjective, but it is hard to deny the quality of a song which mentions Gary McAllister and Rodney Wallace. For both reliving a glorious hat-trick and cutting to the quick of an obviously complex relationship, The Hitchers have made my top three.

 

NUMBER 3: KOE KOE KOEMAN by FRED VAN DER VAART.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiUPP3PYSM8

About thirty million people speak Dutch and I am not one of them. As such, the only words I can understand in this song are Barcelona, Groningen and Koeman. Still, those are words you’d expect to see in any history of the great goal-scoring defender, so I’m happy.

I also cannot find out any information on Fred Van Der Vaart without learning Dutch, so I shall keep this simple. It’s a catchy tune, and can easily double as a chant. The song also feels authentically Dutch, much like its subject. I doff my cap to you, Fred van der Vaart, and hope you are related to Rafael.

In spite of the language barrier, I am certain that the final verse of this song details precisely why Ronald Koeman should have been sent off against England in 1993, and the impact that the referee’s decision had on the world game. Carlton Palmer, it’s said, was never the same player again.

 

 

NUMBER 2: RUMMENIGGE by ALAN & DENISE

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWHL0HsusvU

It is exactly how it sounds. An English married couple making a brave attempt to crack Germany by writing a song about one of the country’s most cherished players. To be fair to them, they actually got to #43 in the German Charts. In 1983.

The video for this song is frightening and the music freakish. The couple are dressed like they’ve just robbed a charity shop and the special effects have a disarmingly hypnotic quality which left me feeling a touch dead inside. The video also features four backing-dancers who are dressed like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge but if he were a sexy cheerleader in a pornographic flick called ‘Das Sexy Sexy Rummenigge Cheerleader Zwei: Return Of Das Sexy Sexy Rummenigge Cheerleader’.

There is also repeated footage of a not-very-good Karl-Heinz Rummenigge goal, presumably designed to convince the audience of the genius of the man. Now I’m not an expert on Rummenigge, but I am certain that he has scored better goals than this; a scuffed effort which trickles into the corner and which should probably have been saved. He even falls over after scoring and barely celebrates it, giving his team-mate only a formal handshake. It’s as if Rummenigge hates this goal.

The music in the song sounds as if The Wurzels have been enslaved by The Cybermen. It’s the kind of tune which climbs inside your head and lays eggs in your brain.

Why do they keep talking about his ‘sexy knees’?

Still, at #43 in the German charts, and #2 in mine, I must credit Alan & Denise for a song which is nothing if not iconic.

 

NUMBER 1: PAPA BOUBA-DIOP by A SWEDISH BAND, APPARENTLY…

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_08YpwxWIcg

As well as scoring the opening goal in the 2002 World Cup and having a propensity to hit an absolute blooter now and again, the Senegalese central midfielder was a cult hero pretty much wherever he played.

As far as I’m concerned, this song befits the player and then some.

The tonality and sound is bright indy; think Los Campesinos! meets Razorlight, with a dash of The Strokes and you’re basically there. It’s catchy, jaunty and fun, with a sing-along chorus which goes,

“Papaaaa, Papa Boubbaaa, Papa Bouba Dioooop. Papaaaa, Papa Boubaaaa, you need to score.”

So why does Diop need to score? Maybe the lyricist is a Fulham fan, or Portsmouth? Maybe he’s Senegalese? Maybe he owes money to a violent loan-shark and if Diop doesn’t score, he risks serious injury or worse?

Sorry, what?

Some lyrics…

“My money’s gone. I’ve bet them all away. The loansharks will kill me if you don’t score.”

“You are a star. Start act as one.”

“You’ll save my life. Or I will taste the knife.”

“Papa, Papa Bouba, you don’t screw up.”

“It’s okay…there’s no pressure my friend.”

Sounds to me like there’s a bucket load of pressure. This is potentially the greatest dissonance I’ve ever heard between the tune of a song and it’s lyrics. For being at once both jaunty and utterly terrifying, this is absolutely my favourite song about a footballer.

I couldn’t find any information about the artist online. Given the content of this song that’s worrying, right?

 

 

 

 

 

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In Praise Of The Own Goal

Banana

 

Modern society has a problem with mistakes. We can’t handle them. Whether it’s publicly shaming someone on social media or expectantly waiting for politicians’ careers to crumble over something they said when they were fifteen, the modern world puts the fear of God into us about ever getting anything wrong. If, like me, you’re seeking an antidote to this ‘terror of error’ then look no further than your local football pitch and the humble art of the own goal.

This weekend, two own goals have been doing the rounds. One, from Stuttgart’s Ron-Robert Zieler, was a throwback (literally) to Peter Enckelman’s for Aston Villa all those years ago. Zieler seemed to be sorting his socks and did not realise the ball was coming his way from his own defender’s throw-in. In trying to prevent the ball passing him, he managed to divert it into his own net. The irony is that if Zieler hadn’t touched the ball his side would have only conceded a corner, as an own goal cannot be scored direct from a throw-in unless an active on-field player touches the ball on its way past. The same was true for Enckelman. Ouch.

The companion piece to Zieler’s howler was Abbie McManus’ masterpiece for Manchester City against Birmingham; a fifty yard lob from the opposing half over her own goalkeeper. It’s exactly how it sounds. McManus can’t take all the credit. Ellie Roebuck misjudged the flight of the ball and probably could have prevented it hitting the back of the net. Have you seen this? If you haven’t, please Google it right now.

Amazing, isn’t it?

The unfortunate thing about the McManus/Roebuck incident is that the players look like they want to cry as soon as the ball goes in. Zieler does too. In the heat of the moment, with adrenaline coursing through the veins and competitive instincts sharpened to their requisite weekend levels, I’m sure it feels bleak as all hell to score a freakish own goal in a high profile football match. But…It’s funny, right?

McManus and Zieler have just joined the pantheon of the greats. And where to start? Chris Brass driving the ball into his own face before sending it into the net? Tony Popovic with a majestic back-heel volley to beat Julian Speroni against Portsmouth? Franck Quedrue inexplicably lashing in a lobbed volley from thirty yards to leave his goalie scrambling? Lee Dixon, Adrien Gulfo (astonishing technique), Jeff Agoos…they’ve all been there.

Own-goals in football are much like any mistakes in the wider world; they are inevitable. And own-goals are never actually that much of a problem, not really, because football is only a game.

And they’re usually funny. Which is nice.

There are exceptions, of course. Laura Bassett’s own goal against Japan in the last minute of the 2015 World Cup semi-final was the bleakest thing I’ve ever seen in a football match. And I’ve seen Jaap Staam take a penalty.

With Bassett, the occasion, the timing, and the way the match had panned out (as well as the fact that she didn’t particularly do anything wrong) contributed to a real sense of pain. She and her colleagues were that close to a World Cup Final and were denied that experience through her bad luck. It was a terribly sad moment, and I expect it took her a while to get over it. The same can be said of Jamie Pollock’s effort which clinched Man City’s relegation in 1998. Damien Duff had a similar experience while playing for Newcastle in 2009. Sport can be cruel, and own goals can be painful.

They can also be a whole load of fun. They can be a way of reminding us that we can all laugh at ourselves and each other from time to time and that we don’t need to go to the theatre to bring farce into our lives. As football becomes increasingly po-faced in its professionalism, and TV coverage tells us the stakes for each and every game are getting higher and higher, the own goal will remain important as a reminder that it doesn’t all need to be taken too seriously; a bastion of silliness in a sea of astronomical wages and minutely calculated diet plans.

So here’s to you, Abbie, Ellie and Ron-Robert. And here’s to hoping you are able to chuckle at those own goals soon, or that you are already. They didn’t actually count for anything, of course, as all three of these players ended up on the winning side.

And just in case you’re not convinced by my hypothesis that own goals are pretty much always there to be laughed at, here’s a list of fifteen of the finest as compiled by FourFourTwo magazine. Sit-back, relax and have a giggle.

https://www.fourfourtwo.com/features/ranked-15-greatest-own-goals-ever

 

Football Makes Me Feel Old: A Quarter-life Crisis in 568 Words…?

OLD

 

God, I’m old.

Last night I coincidentally found myself at the lurid-green carpet portion of the Best FIFA Awards  (come now lads, is that the Best FIFA name you can think of?) and was horrified to realise that I am now an old person. Kylian Mbappe, World XI participant and winner of the award for Most Wholesome Smile, was born in December 1998.

That is appalling.

Mo Salah, who you will recall won the Worst Best Goal Award and was given a fairly shitty night all round , is younger than my little sister.

I am disgusted.

Even the excellent Luka Modric, who was bossing the Tottenham midfield when I was still at school is now only five years older than I am. When did I catch him up?

Marta is 32! She’s even younger than Modric! She’s been around forever, hasn’t she?

Football is patently a young person’s game. I learned to love the sport as a kid, and the model was thus; YOU ‘kid’ admire and enjoy the work of THEM ‘adults’ who play football professionally. I recall participating in conversations with adults- when I was a lad, God listen to me- and casually remarking that someone like John Curtis or Christopher Wreh was a ‘good young player’. What I actually meant was, ‘that person who is much older than me performs their job to a more than adequate standard’.

This model no longer stands. In truth, it hasn’t for some time. Last season, seventeen of the twenty Premier League squads had an average age of less than my own personal average age. Even the crinkliest (Brighton, presumably largely down to Glenn ‘Evergreen’ Murray) will have been overtaken by me come Christmas of this year, left choking in my wake of Werther’s and mothballs.

I’M THREE YEARS OLDER THAN LIEKE MARTENS AND SHE WAS THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD LAST YEAR.

And breathe.

What is to be done? I must accept my new position (not that new, let’s be honest, I’m a twenty-eight year old man who lives in a house with foundations and everything). I am no longer a dewy-eyed munchkin, desperately looking up to and seeking the approval of my heroes. Instead I am the kind of person who- if he met Ben Chilwell in a bar- might give him advice on the best-value scented candles or the easiest ways to streamline his book-keeping.

As football fans we occupy a somewhat static space within the sport. Players, on the other hand, are dynamic ; they debut, grow-up, fail and succeed and then retire. It’s a bit like parking your car in a lay-by and watching the traffic go past; different makes, models and registrations, but the road- your club, the league you follow- stays ostensibly the same.

Is that a problem, though? I think there’s something wonderful about embracing the inner kid-when it comes to watching football. At last night’s Awards, I got a real buzz at seeing some of these faces in the flesh. Mixed in with with the disturbingly young were some legends of my childhood; Seedorf, Schmeichel, Ronaldinho. That was cool. And it was also pretty cool to glimpse the wonder-kids who’s youthful energy brings joy to so many, myself included. In that respect, although it can make us all feel old, perhaps football goes some way towards keeping us young.

What’s that? Harry Kane has scored how many goals?And he’s how old?

Oh, fuck off.

 

The Great Gary Speed: A Reflection

Content Warning: This post contains some potentially upsetting material.

 

Do you remember where you were when Gary Speed equalised against Dynamo Kiev in the 2002 Champions League? Oddly, I do. I was in a cottage in an autumnal Norfolk Broads, enjoying an evening of European competition on ITV. I don’t actually remember the manner in which he scored (I’m fairly sure it was a torpedo-like diving header) but I do recall Alan Shearer arrowing in a penalty some ten minutes later to complete the comeback. For Speed it was a special moment in a long and distinguished career full of special moments.

Make no mistake; Gary Speed was one of the finest footballers to have ever played in the Premier League. Some statistics for you…The Welshman maintained a career largely spent in the top-flight for twenty two years, playing for five different clubs, as well as his country. He retired from playing in his forty-first year and was the first player to hit five hundred Premier League appearances (he still sits at fifth in the all-time list.) He won the Football League championship with Leeds in 1992 and appeared in two FA Cup Finals with Newcastle. He was made an MBE in 2010 and, in that same year, ran the London Marathon for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. His goal-scoring record of one in every six games (ish) does not tell the whole story. Seek out a YouTube compilation and marvel at the versatility of the man in the attacking third; bullet headers (for which he was perhaps best know), impeccably-timed late dashes into the box and the occasional wonder-strike. He was tough-tackling, tireless and generally ended up as captain wherever he played.

Gary Speed is now remembered as much for the manner of his passing as for his remarkable career as a player. This, in many ways, is unsurprising. The shock-waves of sorrow and grief sent through the footballing world at the news on that tragic morning in 2011 are hard to forget. The tributes to the man, at the time and since, reveal a humble, hard-working and generous character. Mickey Thomas recounts that, when he was struggling financially, ‘Speedo’ gave him thirty pairs of his boots in case he wanted to sell them to raise some cash. Various younger colleagues have spoken of his nurturing spirit as a professional mentor.

Louise, Gary’s widow, has begun to serialise her family’s ‘untold story’ in The Mirror and so memories of his life and passing have returned to the back pages this week. Friends and family alike have been sharing memories of confusion and pain, as well as of happier times. Speed’s legacy has, once again, bubbled to the surface and details which have hitherto been intimate will soon become public knowledge.

We are certainly due a reflection upon the life and work of the beloved Welshman for many reasons. His career is always worth celebrating, both for its successes and longevity. Speed was apparently an early devotee to contemporary ideas about fitness and diet and the fact that he played until he was almost forty-one is surely a tribute to that. The way he conducted himself on and off the pitch continues to be an example to anyone who plays the game. His enduring popularity amongst his peers is warming and surely a tribute to a terrific bloke.

It would be deeply sad if the legacy of Speed’s life was overshadowed by the circumstances of his death and yet it is clear that his passing will- and perhaps should- never be forgotten. In a week in which Troy Deeney, Anthony Knockaert, George Green and Bruce Grobelaar have all spoken openly about the times in their lives when they’ve felt fragile, we have all been reminded that things are changing. Slowly.

In football, as in the wider world, old stigmas are peeling away and rhetorics and dialogues are softening. That is a wonderful and empowering thing and will hopefully become a self-fulfilling prophesy; the more players speak out, the more players will feel able to speak out. Considering their feted status as role-models to so many, let’s hope that this will filter through to society in general and inspire others to follow suit.

While Gary Speed’s passing should never be forgotten, it is his life and career that we humans and fans must strive to remember and to celebrate. He was clearly as brilliant a man as he was a footballer, as dedicated to those he loved as to the fans who love him still. I dearly hope that those details which his family choose to reveal to the world will be respected and, if possible, used in a positive way which might encourage anyone-footballer or otherwise- suffering in private to open themselves up to the kindness and generosity which is inherent in the human condition.

 

The Return Of The Women’s Super League.

Ji So yun.jpg

There has been much to look forward to about this season’s WSL. The top division now includes eleven sides- all fully professional for the first time- and European expectations are higher than ever after Chelsea and Man City’s semi-final runs in last year’s Champions League. Moreover, both English and Scottish players are playing for places in their respective nations’ France 2019 squads, after the Scots sealed World Cup qualification for the first time against Albania last week. If that wasn’t enough, Chelsea and City- last year’s one and two- met on Matchday 1. Hopes were high for the opening weekend, and happily it did not disappoint.

THE GOALS

As a general rule, it takes a few weeks of the season before the wonder-strikes and passing masterclass goals kick in. Not in this year’s WSL. Fara Williams curled an absolute beauty into that bit of the top corner for Reading to add to team-mate Gemma Davison’s earlier effort; a Suker-like lob with the outside of her right boot.  The goal of the weekend, however, came from Bristol’s Lucy Graham against Brighton. In what turned out to be the only goal of the game, Graham survived two pole-axes from opposing defenders before composing herself in an instant and spinning her entire body into an instinctive, curling lob from thirty-five yards which caught the keeper just off-guard enough. It’s a stunning strike and, if you haven’t already, I recommend you check it out.

THE NARRATIVE

Chelsea and City played out a 0-0 in which either side could have found a winner. On the evidence of this game, City may well be able to make up at least some of the six point gap which separated the sides at the end of last season. Neil Redfearn had a shaky start at Liverpool, going down to an Arsenal side which- along with Reading Women- look set to provide some attacking flair and entertainment this year. It’s Joe Montemurro’s first full season in charge, so this should hopefully become his team. Oh, and Hope Powell is back; this time at Brighton.

MANCHESTER UNITED

They beat Aston Villa 12-0. Twelve goals to nil. And all of those goals were scored before the seventieth minute. Watch out, everyone else in the Women’s Championship (formerly WSL 2); Casey Stoney’s got her girls fired right up.

THE STARS

Vivianne Miedema had a somewhat disappointing first season at Arsenal, netting only four times in a campaign marred by injury and playing out of position. That was forgotten within ninety minutes on Sunday. The twenty-two year old scored three and assisted two in Arsenal’s demolition of Liverpool and looked sharp as switch-blade. Her talent has never been in question- her international scoring record is extraordinary- and so it’s great to see her playing with such confidence from the first minute of a new season. Her assist for Lisa Evans was a highlight; turning on a sixpence to completely take centre-half Leandra Little out of the equation. She also managed to do that most difficult of things; scoring an indirect free-kick from inside the box. On this form, she looks a worthy successor to Jodie Taylor.

Ji So-yun also had an impressive, if less hay-making, run-out on Sunday. She controlled the game against Manchester City and- in the absence of Fran Kirby for much of the match- looked Chelsea’s most creative player. Emma Hayes looks to be playing a system which caters for Ji’s strengths and the South Korean should be able to build on her excellent work in Chelsea’s double-winning campaign last season. She has an ability to play both as a box-to-box midfielder and just behind the strikers which will serve the West Londoners well this year.

 

It should be, as Alex Scott repeatedly remarked on the Women’s Football Show (which, by the way, has an absolute banger of a new theme-tune) a highly competitive season. The story continues on Wednesday night. I’m looking forward to it already.

 

 

 

 

Norwich’s Amazing Technicolour Changing Room

PINK.jpg

News of Norwich City’s pink dressing room has been slowly spreading around the footballing world. The room in question houses- naturally- the Away team because, as we all know, pink is a colour which has a calming effect on those who behold it. It also lowers testosterone levels. That’s the theory anyway. Apparently it all goes back to childhood.

Is this nonsense? Genius? Norwich’s mixed results at Carrow Road have thus far yielded little by way of confirmation or refutation of the ‘deep pink’ theory, but hopefully by the end of the season a pattern will have emerged. Regardless, The Canaries’ dalliance with the world of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen is only the latest in a long line of instances in which colour has proven to be pretty important in football…

 

#1. Petr, The Orange

Towards the end of Chelsea’s 07/08 campaign, fought on both the domestic and European fronts against Manchester United, Petr Cech unleashed a secret weapon; a spanking new orange kit. Cech’s rebranding was apparently supported by the scientific community (some of them, at least) who claimed that orange was the colour most likely to distract strikers in crucial moments. There was also a vague and nebulous idea that his kit might make Cech look physically bigger, or that the colour orange could create an optical illusion; spreading to fill more of the unfortunate attacker’s field of vision.

Did Cech’s theory prove correct? Possibly, but it made little difference to Chelsea’s season. Avram Grant’s boys fell short in the league before John Terry did the same in the Champions League final shootout.

Cech persisted with the orange kit, though, and remains one of the most successful goal-keepers of his generation.

Rumours that Cristiano Ronaldo still wakes up screaming about apricots are, as yet, unconfirmed.

 

#2. A Grey Day for United

One of the most famous excuses in football history came in April 1996 with Fergie’s assertion that his boys were 3-0 down to Southampton at half-time because of the colour of their kit. The rancid grey in question was scrapped just days after United failed to overhaul their deficit, in spite of the fact that Sir Alex made the players change at half-time. The damage, alas, had been done.

Apparently the bright sun had meant that the United players couldn’t see their colleagues. It was certainly a disaster of a first half for the Manchester team, who had won eleven of their previous twelve. Even Ken Monkou scored.

Fergie’s complaints were not necessarily unfounded either, in spite of the retrospective ridicule they’ve received. United wore this kit five times in total, and never picked up three points. Give it a Google, it’s minging. I reckon it was nothing to do with the sun, the players were just embarrassed at how they looked.

 

#3 A Rainbow Between The Sticks

Jorge Campos started his career as a prolific striker and was thereafter known mainly for being flamboyant, diminutive and well-dressed at work. He was capped 130 times for his country and appeared at two World Cup Finals, but is most remembered for his eccentrically multi-coloured jerseys. Apparently he designed them himself, with a view to increasing his popularity.

It’s hard to disagree with his logic, considering the sight of the 5ft6 stopper became one of the most enduring in 90s football. It’s impressive, considering the hideousness of many of his creations made him look as if a three year old had run amok when building an avatar on The Sims. If Cech’s strip was intended to put strikers off, Campos’ was more likely to make them vomit (or at least grab some glitter and dance like nobody’s watching).

Still, no accounting for taste.

 

#4 Paul Pogba: Tangled Up In Blue

Manchester City had the chance to win last season’s title by beating United at The Etihad, an opportunity so drenched in poetry and potential folklore that it was surely too good to miss? Alas, they bottled it, losing three-two to a United side who’s star player had his hair painted in City colours.

Paul Pogba, having dyed his mohawk blue for a France game, left it intact for his side’s visit to the other side of Manchester. Twitter was not happy. Gary Neville was not happy (although I’ve always imagined him to be a short-back-and-sides-plain-digestive kind of guy). Pep Guardiola even cashed in on Pogba’s bonce by reminding all and sundry that Pogba-to-City had been a potential move in the January of that year.

I suspect the Frenchman was being impish and cheeky in the way that he is wont to do. He must have realised that people would be irked (as they often are by his hair). He must also have realised that anyone who believes the colour of a player’s hair might alter the result of a game of football is a prize twot. Unless that hair was orange of course. Why do you think Alexi Lalas was so good at his job?

 

#5 The White Wall

No, it’s not a Game Of Thrones thing. Fulham took a White Wall to their play-off final victory over Aston Villa in the summer and it was clearly effective.

I know they’re not the first team to do this, but do we honestly think it’s a coincidence that Villa played in claret and blue? Uniformity of colour in a packed stadium is a powerful sight.

Also, this is a subtle way of reminding you all that Fulham are back in the Premier League. In case you had forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Only A Game: A New Perspective on Fantasy Football

FFCm are

Fulham are back in the Prem! Fantasy Premier League is ruined!

This is the conundrum I’m faced with at the moment. I’ve been playing FPL for four years now, and throughout that period Fulham have been sitting in the Championship. From a managerial standpoint, it’s been bliss. My top-flight neutrality has allowed me to switch players in and out of my team without sentimentality or the fear that my actions will have any ramifications for my day-to-day. I’ve been able to celebrate the successes of my Fantasy charges (and failures of those belonging to my rivals) safe in the knowledge that- when it comes to real life results- I have not had to give a hoot.

Not any more. Hoots are now given. And it’s complicated. FPL points are no longer a commodity without consequence.

Even on the opening day of this season, my FPL career benefited from Fulham’s misfortune. Wilf Zaha- who made my starting XI- bagged me five points with his goal at the Cottage, while Tom Cairney- dropped at the last minute for Diego Jota- did not trouble the scorers. Thank goodness I’d left another Palace player- James Tomkins; a six pointer – on my bench. Otherwise I might have felt really dirty. Double figures of FPL points on the opening day against Fulham? Disgusting. The Gods of football would forever have known that, in spite of my optimistic rhetoric, my reading of football’s algorithms had led me to conclude only one thing; Crystal Palace looked a worthy investment against my beloved Cottagers. Is this hypocrisy? Betrayal? It’s hard to say.

More to the point, how do I combat this? Invest blindly in Fulham assets to prove my loyalty? Avoid picking any players from Fulham, and thereby dodge any conflict of interest? Neither option is perfect, and neither is something I think I’ll be doing. Heavy investment could (and will) lead to double disappointment, while ignoring the problem- as so often in life- will not make it go away. As the season ticks on, and the stakes climb slowly to their springtime levels, it won’t just be Fulham’s games that have a say in where we finish in the table. What if a rejuvenated Florent Hadergjonaj- in my starting XI only because of injuries, and captained because my stubby fingers couldn’t cope with managerial changes made on a tiny phone screen- bags a brace for Huddersfield in the penultimate game of the season to leave Fulham on the brink? And what if those points clinch me an FPL title in my most competitive league? What then?!

So be it, I guess. I must accept that the realms of FPL and IRL can- and probably should- be kept separate. Ultimately I will always care more about the impact that results have on Fulham than on my FPL team (“Willian Dollar Baby”- not my best) but I hadn’t appreciated that, for the last four years, that has not been the case. While I have always tended towards supporting the underdog/Jurgen Klopp, I’ve spent four seasons as a top flight neutral. I’ve cheered mainly when I’ve scored highly. Watching Match Of The Day has been an experience largely devoid of stress and tension, with the exception of Mark Hughes’ invariably depressing post-match whinges. This will all change this year. My priorities have shifted. Real-life points are now more important than FPL points.

I think.

Would anyone like to do Fantasy Bundesliga with me?

Football and Love Island

Love Island

 

Love Island has finished! Jack and Dani have won! I don’t understand how, or what that means, but good for them!

I’ve watched fifteen minutes of Love Island, and it really isn’t my cup of tea. I’ve enjoyed the spooling cultural phenomenon that the ITV show has become, though, and find discussing it with friends almost endlessly entertaining. These friends seem to fall into three categories:

1) THE SHAMELESS ISLANDER- “Yes, I watch Love Island…Did you have another question?”

2)   THE ISLANDER WHO FEARS CHASTISEMENT- “Look, I know it’s rubbish but it’s actually great fun and actually it’s not rubbish it’s a really interesting social experiment and I JUST LOVE LOVE.”

3) THE SOCIAL MEDIA ISLANDER- “In my darkest moments of self-reflection, I can admit to myself that I don’t care about Love Island but that I am literally all about the retweets.”

Now, here’s the thing. If you’ve been watching Love Island for the last couple of months, I’ve been privately questioning your life choices. It’s not that I’ve been preoccupied by the fear that I’m losing my friends to this madness, or have thought less of them as people, but I’ll admit to having rolled my eyes at a couple of Tweets, tuned out of a couple of conversations…I’ve been a bit judgmental over something I know very little about.

I’ve some to realise something, though. My judgement is not your problem; it belongs to me.

Love Island is different to football in many ways. One is populated by over-sexed, hard-bodied, bronzer-addicted haircuts, picked on by the press for being a bit thick and with an earning capacity which far outweighs the work they actually do, whereas football…has referees and stuff.

There are similarities, though. People are judged for watching football, just as they are for watching Love Island. I sympathise with the CHASTISEMENT FEARING ISLANDERS who’ve tried to explain or qualify their guilty pleasure, because I’ve done the same with my football fandom. Maybe I’m a big softie (almost definitely) but I don’t enjoy the apologism which accompanies being a fan of certain things. I fear being judged, even though it’s not really my problem.

The objections of non-fans tend to fall into two categories; the high-brow and the low-brow.

The low-brow are the most common and can usually be summed up in either of the following phrases; “Football/Love Island is stupid,” or “Football/Love Island is rubbish.” Ultimately, the low-brow objections boil down to everything in the world being a matter of taste, which is fair enough as long as you don’t make people feel bad.

The high-brow opposition to the two phenomena tend to formulate more nuanced and thoughtful arguments. My personal issues with Love Island revolve around a lack of body diversity, or a concern that the show is a cynical exploitation of participant and audience-member alike. Also, I think it’s a bit stupid (although not that you’re stupid for watching it). But what about my beloved football, with all its inequality and homophobia and associations with fan violence? Plenty of people think it’s a bit stupid too, especially those who’ve read Barry Fry’s autobiography.

The disarming thing about high-brow arguments is that they’re very often correct, sometimes irrefutable…Does this mean we should stop getting pleasure from these clearly problematic entities? Can we be argued out of our hobbies?

No. At least, hopefully not.

Nothing is perfect, and nobody can tell you what you do or don’t find enjoyable. If you look deep enough into anything, you can problematise it. An awareness of the issues inherent in something you enjoy is great, and a willingness to change them even better. BUT everybody needs time to kick back, turn their brains down to just above zero and CHILL. We can’t all be policing everything, all the time. We shouldn’t feel shame for something that brings us joy, as long as it’s not doing anyone else a disservice.

Listen to the high-brow arguments and take them on board. You never know, you might learn something. As for the low-brow objections; ignore them. Nothing cultural is too stupid or simple to enjoy, and no-one can tell you otherwise.

Next time Love Island rolls around, I shan’t be watching it. But I also shan’t be devoting a second of mental energy to those who do, in the hope that I will be afforded the same treatment for enjoying the football. No pleasures should be guilty; they should all be out in the open for the world to see.

 

The Darkness In Football: A Choice That Can Be Undone

I went to see the musical Hamilton for the second time on Friday. This is not a #humblebrag (mainly because that phrase is #unbearable), but rather it is the reason I’ve been thinking about fans in the last couple of days.

Fandom is fascinating. As with Hamilton, so with football, concerts and the rest. A group of individuals with a shared passion comes together to form something bigger and more exhilarating than the sum of their parts. A bond forms and the gathered masses unite for a time in their enjoyment and appreciation of an unfolding spectacle. There’s an energy created and- more often than not- a positivity that disseminates into people’s real lives, at least for a day or two.

At The Victoria Palace Theatre, this certainly seems to be the case. People arrive excited, they enjoy the show, they leave enriched. At least for the most part. This is also true of football fans. There are differences, of course. In sport, there are winners and losers. At Hamilton nobody loses (apart from old racists).

I watched England-Croatia on a balmy night in South East-London. As I walked back to the Overground, I couldn’t stop smiling. England’s Men had just played, and scored in, a World Cup semi-final. I’d watched it with mates and had some beers. The local pubs were overflowing with laughing, tipsy football fans. I was in shorts at ten o’clock. Happy days.

Research shows that domestic violence in this country surges by 38% when England Men lose. It also goes up by 26% when they win. When they win.

Anyone who’s spent much time watching football with other people knows that black moods can grip fans in an instant. I include myself in this; I’ve had some thoroughly miserable evenings watching games (I’m a Fulham fan, for goodness’ sake). Sport allows us to experience highs and lows in a safe space, but with football those extremes are often razor-sharp. For some reason it still seems more acceptable for a man to cry at the football than something that actually matters.

Football does strange things to people, right?

Wrong.

Football exists to entertain, to provide joy. We who laugh or cry or dance like idiots because of it, do so because we choose to. Those who are violent towards their partners, or anybody, ‘because of  the football’ are also making a choice. The game itself does not do anything to anyone. The sport is not to blame; the perpetrators are.

Granted, there are elements of footballing culture in this country, and many others, which seem to encourage these perpetrators. Heavy-boozing during matches is one, as is the polarising tribalism associated with supporting particular clubs. Not to man-bash, but there’s also an inescapable link between toxic masculinity and football which starts with abusing the referee and ends with homosexual players living their lives in the shadows. However, these things are not inherent in the sport, only habits and patterns created around it. They can, and must, be changed.

There were 1,638 football related arrests in England and Wales during the 2016-17 season. 21% of these were for ‘violent disorder’.

Some people expect too much of the beautiful game, and use it obscure problems they can’t face in their own lives. There’s a particular kind of person we’ve all seen on the terraces who seems to live an entire week’s worth of emotion in one ninety-minute match, as if they’ve blocked it up for seven days before allowing it to explode out of them in support of their team. Eva Wiseman’s phrase ‘sanctioned madness’ sums it up beautifully.* It is this madness that lies at root of the aggression and violence which a significant minority of fans choose to associate with football. It is not healthy and, what’s more, it’s seemingly accepted by wider society as just being a part of the sport.

Football is just a game.

If you raise your fists or your voice to another human being in the name of football, you do so because of deficiencies in your own life and not because it’s in any way justified by your love of a sport or team. What’s more, you are not a proper football fan and probably not a complete human-being. You’re just seeking an outlet for something you either can’t understand or don’t want to. You need to undergo a process of rigorous self-examination and sort out your priorities. You need to be a grown-up.

People are scared of football fans because of people like you, but they shouldn’t be. Crowds of people celebrating a result should be seen as an expression of joy, not a powder keg that’s a spark away from being gang violence. Sharing in happiness with a group of strangers is one of the most wonderful things about being human. Football fans should be allowed this in their lives, without fear of making other people feel afraid.

Football, in reality, is not important. It can, however, facilitate important human exchanges. On my way home from the England-Croatia game, an old boy laid his hand very gently on my shoulder (I guess he’d seen my England shirt) and said,

“I’m really proud of them, you know?”

He seemed genuinely moved, and I must admit I was a little bit too, by his dedication to supporting his team. If we’re talking rationally, his was probably a disproportionately emotional response to the outcome of a series of football matches. But then, humans aren’t always rational, are we? That’s why we cry at films, and pray for our favourite characters to survive to the ends of books. We want to feel, and we love to care.

It will take far cleverer folk than I to diagnose what it is about elements of footballing culture that can mutate this desire to feel into something insidious and dangerous. This assessment has already begun, for sure, but it must continue apace. It is our responsibility as football fans to educate ourselves about the poisonous habits which have built up around our sport, and to do our best to change them.

How? Education, for sure, and generally de-normalising the idea that aggression and violence are an inevitable part of football, or sport in general (look at the disgraceful treatment of Chris Froome by some fans in this year’s Tour De France). People need to keep sport in perspective. We can love it as passionately as any other hobby in our lives, but once that spills into hurting other people, it becomes entirely inexcusable.

We need to make the beautiful game more gentle, in any and every way that we can.

 

*Eva Wiseman’s brilliant article can be found here https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jul/01/blaming-football-for-domestic-violence-is-only-half-the-story-eva-wiseman

ANIMAL INVASION: Football Style.

You only need to open your eyes to realise that animals have always played a key role in professional football. Goalkeepers are often nicknamed The Cat. Huddersfield knows it’s beloved club as The Terriers. And what about the most famous bit of sporting commentary in England’s history? If you listen really closely, linguistics experts have agreed that Kenneth Wolstenholm was actually saying…

“And it’s Hurst, he’s got- some beetles are on the pitch- they think it’s all over! It is cow!”

See? Inarguable. Anyway here’s some scene-stealing animals who’ve done their level best to interfere with some actually quite important games. Read the article, and then seek out the photos and videos; you won’t be disappointed.

And, before you ask, I’m not going to be juvenile and mention that time a bird shat in Ashley Young’s mouth.

 

#1. A BIRD SHITS IN ASHLEY YOUNG’S MOUTH.

I lied. United played Swansea on the opening day of the 2014/15 season and Young was privy to some extra airborne protein, eleven minutes in. Still, rather a pigeon than Cyril the Swan, right? Young has since claimed Poo-gate to have been a spot of internet trickery. I’m not buying it. Anyway, it was the most interesting thing that happened at Old Trafford that season, and that includes conceding a goal to Jack Rodwell.

Obviously you’re not childish enough to watch the footage, so I won’t suggest that you search for “footballer gets poo in his mouth” on Youtube. I won’t suggest that at all.

What are you still doing here?

 

#2  JAMES RODRIGUEZ’ NIGHTMARE BUG

After netting a penalty against Brazil in the 2014 World Cup Quarter-Final, James Rodriguez celebrated with a muscular fist pump. The slow motion replay of this action revealed that Rodriguez was being accompanied by his- presumably evil- spirit guide, which sat on the back of his delighted bicep. It was a giant grasshopper or locust or something. Anyway, it was minging and SO BIG it looked super-imposed. Not even Ashley Young could spin this as fake news, however, and the world looked on in terrified silence as James’ brush with death passed quicker than you can say ‘Neymar’s a wuss’.

Grasshopper, Insect, Antennae, Wood, Nature, Giant

If an insect is big enough to be a main course, it’s too big.

 

#3 HUGO LLORIS SPITS IN THE FACE OF HIS CRICKETS

This is a pun which works at an efficiency level of about 60%. First up, the insect in question was a dragonfly rather than a cricket. And, technically, Lloris spat it out of his own face, as it had thoughtfully alighted between his lips during France’s recent Quarter-Final clash with Uruguay. Was this insect deranged? Or badly lost? Or a Uruguayan assassin sent to dispatch with the French capitaine? Whatever it was, I suspect it’s dead now; Lloris’ breathing apparatus appears to be as strong as his left-palm. Still, worth a watch for the shock on the Spurs stopper’s face. And the dragonfly certainly had an impact on the tournament. Just nine days after the incident, a still-flustered Hugo Lloris gifted Mario Mandzukic a really silly goal in a World Cup Final.

You can follow the dragonfly on Twitter @HugoDragonFly.

 

#4 AND YET MORE BUGS?

You know how your Mother always tells you to switch the lights off when you leave the stadium? Workers from the Stade de France certainly do, now. Their forgetfulness on the eve of the Euro 2016 Final meant that the big day (Ronaldo-Fest 2k16, I believe was it’s official title) was blighted by a literal plague of moths. Hilarity ensued, until kick-off at which point the hundreds of millions of viewers set about nailing the coffee to stay awake during a game which did not so much fail to fit the occasion as shit all over it (like a pigeon, eh Ashley?) At least Mick Jagger was there (a joke about Moth’s Little Helper?) and Portugal were able to grind out a miserable win, leaving Swansea fans baffled as to why they hadn’t managed to get the best out of Eder the previous year. The night-butterflies, in my opinion, were the unsung heroes of the hour. The only thing that could have improved their performance would have been a choreographed move in which they formed a magic carpet underneath Pepe’s feet and bore him aloft, proving- once and for all- that he is a master of the dark arts.

 

#5 IT’S A FUNNY OLD GAME

England vs. Brazil, in Chile 1962. Jimmy Greaves is poised to face a host of South American superstars…Didi…Vava…Fido…? That’s right, football’s most famous canine (with the exception of that brave dog who found the Jules Rimet, may it rest in peace) was chased out of his fifteen seconds of fame by a man who would later become the greatest sports broadcaster in English history. After the dog rang rings around Garrincha, Greavsie calmed the beast and lured it to a stop before grabbing its collar and shipping it off the field. Apparently the dog found time to urinate on Big Jim’s hands. Baddiel and Skinner did a brilliant Phoenix from the Flames to immortalise the event.

 

#6  DUCK DUCK DEAD

Zulte Waregem’s Habib Habibou was not amused when a duck imterupted his side’s league clash with Lokeren. His displeasure was, in fact, so great that he grabbed the duck by the neck and hurled it over the advertising hordings. It’s brutal footage, like watching a punch-up on CCTV or Roy Keane making a smoothie. I don’t think the duck actually died, but I’m tired and couldn’t think of a better subheading.

 

And there you have it. Six of my favourites. There are countless more animal invasions out there. I’m certain there was a squirrel at Highbury once, and I’m pretty sure Liverpool- Spurs was interrupted by a cat in the not too distant past. If you can think of any more that I’ve overlooked, drop me a line.

Oh, and the World Cup has finished. I was good, wasn’t it? Roll on, France 2019.