Monthly Archives: December 2010

Guardian Top 100 Blogs

The Guardian has always been keen to support the football blogging community and the good people there have once again shown they are ahead of the game.
James Dart’s top 100 football blogs to follow in 2011 is a pretty exhaustive list of those sites making a contribution to the debate surrounding the world’s most popular sport.
We’re delighted that GhostGoal has been recognised, but the other 99 are – as many of you will be aware – well worth a look too. Check out the link below:

Guardian’s 100 Football Blogs to Follow in 2011

Wife-Swapping

This is my latest piece for In Bed With Maradona. Bit frivolous but what can I say, I don’t get out much.

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For some reason I’ve always been strangely drawn to the idea of wife-swapping. Probably, it has to be said, because I’ve never had a wife. I think I was influenced by the seductive story of Ronnie Wood and George Harrison’s evening spent jamming on their guitars. When the legendary axe-men decided to head off to bed, knowing glances were exchanged and they each slinked into the room of the other’s partner. By all accounts a lovely time was had by all.

The link to Messrs Benitez, Hodgson and Capello may be tenuous to you, but to my warped eyes it is overt. These three characters are ripe for a session of footballing wife-swap. One glimpse of their glum faces, stood mournfully on the sidelines longing for happier times tells me that much.

Rafa Benitez’s Inter experience appears to be unravelling as I write. ‘Donkey daring’ Moratti is a curious strategy with a very short list of outcomes and the suspicion pervades that the former Liverpool boss is willing to cut his losses in the knowledge that the FIFA Club World Cup has been added to his curriculum vitae.

Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson is following the script as written by many a sage judge in the summer – good coach, bad fit for Liverpool. His meticulous but uninspired training ground work has led to insipid performances and Woy in grave danger of rubbing his own face off. Above all, Hodgson is failing to deal with an instantly sceptical audience and the sense that hitting the ground running was a necessity if his tenure was to work out. While Liverpool supporters would never admit it, perhaps first and foremost he is guilty of not being Benitez.

Capello, for his part, carries on regardless. What once passed for insouciance now carries the faint whiff of exasperation. Of course, this is a man who could be forgiven for pining for days gone by. Days when his time could be spent ordering a defender to keep a striker in their pocket rather than a dick in their pants. Capello has made his mistakes as England coach, although opinion differs from person to person as to what exactly those mistakes were. One thing most agree on is that he was rather nifty at the old club management lark – especially in the land of his native tongue.

And so the solution presents itself. Capello could be spared the interminable soap opera that is the England job and jet off back to Italy where Cambiasso and co know a thing or two about holding a midfield together. Hodgson could then return to international management where he wouldn’t be with the players long enough to bore them to death. All leaving Rafa free to ride to the rescue and embrace Anfield life post-Hicks and Gillett.

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for it to happen. You know what wives can be like – Liverpool will be making noises about looking forward rather than back, Inter don’t like the idea of a past relationship with a near neighbour and England may well have been seduced on the sly by a cockney wide-boy with big promises.

Even so, there’s nothing sadder than an unhappy marriage. Maybe the time has come for them to toss the car keys in the hat and spice things up a bit.

The False Utopia?

In a rare outing for the poisoned pen of GhostGoal’s co-founder, Oli Baker has a good old-fashioned whinge about life in the Premiership…

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If this article sounds like it is written by an embittered fan of a club staring relegation from the Premier League in the face, that’s because it is. Any attempt to take emotion out of it has probably been unsuccessful, but it’s not for the want of trying.

Promotion to the Premier League is the Holy Grail for most clubs in the country. The Championship play-off final is the ‘biggest game in the world’. For once this isn’t just the produce of Sky hyperbole, but a clinical monetary fact. Fables of exotic players, trips to Old Trafford and Super Sunday give the Premier League an almost mystical quality to lower league fans. Yet, like most things in life, the build up and anticipation is far more exciting than the actual reality. 

For the majority of teams, promotion to the Premier League is followed by a relegation battle. This in itself is not the issue; losing to almost any Premiership team stills beats the rather dirty feeling that follows a hard fought victory against Scunthorpe. The issue is that the prospect of achieving anything other than mid-table obscurity is virtually non-existent. The days of Notts Forest getting promoted and finishing third the following season, or Ipswich finishing fifth in their first season up, are almost certainly well and truly gone. In many respects this shows the strength of the incumbent Premier League teams, but quality of teams is not necessarily synonymous with excitement. The fact that Man City’s spending spree has not met with quite the derision it perhaps would have done in the past, is because the vast majority of fans are happy to see the status quo challenged. 

The mooted play-off for the fourth entrant to the Champions League was attacked by most and the argument that the league itself was the play-off, is a hard one to argue against. However, the fact fourth place is seen as a successful season is a problem itself - shouldn’t football be about excitement? Surely that is what fans want above all else.

Premier League status inevitably brings interaction with fans of the successful clubs. Most of these fans are humble and knowledgeable, but then there is the smug element. The fan who sees their teams success as a personal achievement, as if it somehow they have contributed to it. The sort of fans that tend to think that because they watch Arsenal every week, this gives their football opinions more gravitas. The Championship has its fair share of undesirables of course, but by definition, there is far less smugness. It’s not an attitude that should be applauded, but finding out that someone supports Arsenal, Chelsea or Man Utd tends to provoke an overriding emotion of disappointment. Talking football with someone that supports the likes of Doncaster or Coventry is a much more rewarding and enlightening experience. They can actually tell you things that you don’t know and of course, they would be pretty deluded to be self-satisfied.

Blanket coverage of the Premier League is generally a good thing for fans. Many more live games and Football First allow you to follow your teams performances like never before. Then of course there is Match of the Day. Essentially just a football highlights show, but one that provokes reaction like nothing else. The principle problem with Match of the Day is that it gives every fan, informed or ill-informed, the license to form an opinion based on a few minutes of highlights. This is human nature of course, but there is something to be said for the purity of the audience of the lower leagues. Unless you are a fan of a particular team, you have got be a footballing aficionado to follow football below the top division.

Having said all that, like democracy, the Premier League is far from ideal, but it is better than the alternative. Paying £50 to see your team 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge after 20 minutes is as soul destroying as it gets, but still beats the Boxing Day trip to Burnley. Seeing genuinely world class players in the flesh is a wonderful experience and many of the grounds provide a wonderful atmosphere for football. 

However, there are definitely issues that need to be addressed in the top division. English teams relative dominance in Europe has fostered a complacent attitude. The disenchantment of fans of most clubs is not something that is taken particularly seriously by the Premier League authorities. As far as they are concerned, broadcast revenues are on the increase, so what’s the problem? The exponential amount of empty seats in Premier League grounds should tell you that there clearly is something wrong. Quite rightly, envious glances are cast towards the Bundesliga, where fans are treated to cheap tickets, packed crowds and a competitive division. This isn’t necessarily the template we should try and follow, but the arrogance that our way is best is wearing thin.

Calcio Italia – Jan 2011

Even if you aren’t really into Italian football, Calcio Italia is a magazine well worth buying. If you are a fan of all things Serie A then it’s practically an essential purchase.

There are monthly columns by such esteemed footballing opinionistas as James Richardson, Gabriele Marcotti and Tor-Kristian Karlsen. There are features from the likes of Jonathan Wilson, Ben Lyttleton, James Horncastle and Simon Kuper. And now, dragging the reputation of the magazine down a few notches, there’s me.  

The January 2011 edition of Calcio Italia magazine includes a feature I have written about Udinese. It charts the history of the club and pays due respect to icons such as Zico, Oliver Bierhoff and Antonio Di Natale, as well as their legendary managers Alberto Zaccheroni and Luciano Spalletti.

You can order a copy online or pick it up at most major newsagents. Highly recommended.

Les Rosbifs Hall of Fame

There’s a great site called Les Rosbifs that follows the fortunes of Englishmen abroad. The editor Gav Stone is currently compiling the inaugural Hall of Fame nominations. I agreed to be the advocate for James Richardson Spensley – born in England but one of the founding fathers of Italian football. To view this piece and check out the other nominees, please click on the link below:

Les Rosbifs Hall of Fame: James Richardson Spensley

GhostGoal Awards 2010

From what I can tell, it’s awards season in the football blogging fraternity. The Soccerlens awards, the WSC Web Awards and the NOPAs, to name just three. I’m not going to lie to you – GhostGoal didn’t get a single nomination from any of them. Did they not hear about my piece in November’s When Saturday Comes that one reader in the letters page described as “not letting the facts get in the way of a good story”? Actually maybe they did and that’s the problem..

No, I can only assume these things are sewn up like the FIFA awards.. perhaps the Americans were too busy throwing their money at Grant Wahl’s bid for Best Writer rather than trying to secure 2022? Maybe Iain Macintosh is a cash-rich oil magnate with more dough than sense … I’ve certainly heard that the lads from In Bed With Maradona entertain strange blokes from all over the globe so, frankly, who knows…

But I’m not going to do an Andy Anson and moan about the system because I’ve got a better idea. Imaginatively, I’m calling it the GhostGoal Awards 2010. Here goes..

BEST PODCAST

GibFootballShow

I know, I know. Guardian Football Weekly is an institution. To be honest, it’s probably the only podcast I listen to religiously without fail. And it boasts some of the finest journalists around. But this is a blog awards. The Guardian is a national newspaper and James Richardson has been a television presenter for the best part of 20 years. So I’m going to salute Andrew Gibney and the GibFootballShow.

I can’t speak highly enough of what this guy has done. I wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to organising and hosting my own podcast. This guy has done it (the easier part) and then made a success of it (not so easy). What’s more, it has given a platform to many other guys I enjoy listening to and whose work I enjoy reading:

Jack Lang of Snap Kaka Pop
Adam Digby of Il Tifosi
Charlie Anderson aka Luciano Says
Gav Stone of Les Rosbifs
Ethan Dean-Richards of SurrealFootball
Chris Mayer of 6pointer
David Bevan of TheSeventyTwo
Brent Atema of GlobalFootballToday

Give them some support in the NOPA Awards by voting in the People’s Choice Award here or, even better, visit the GibFootballShow site and have a listen.

Honourable Mention:
BackPageFootball – This was the site that gave me my first opportunity to write somewhere other than my own blog. I’d written about three pieces and Kevin Coleman, the founder, got in touch. They’ve been giving inexperienced football enthusiasts the chance to reach a wider audience ever since. I’m thrilled the boys have also received a NOPA nomination for their Hold The Back Page podcast. Good luck lads.


BEST FOOTBALL WRITER

Iain Macintosh

A professional footbal writer with a real job and everything. But it’s not for his work on The New Paper in Singapore or even his services to the ThreeUpFront podcast that earns Iain this award. It’s his brilliant work for In Bed With Maradona and the wonderful writing on his own blog that sets Iain Macintosh apart.

Iain’s pieces for In Bed With Maradona were the stand-out contributions on an excellent site. Check out these two for confirmation:
Disrespecting You. Disrespecting Your Family.
Europa League; A Dead Mouse in a Loaf of Bread.

As for Iain’s own blog, it has been a treasure trove – an eclectic mix. Evoking the spirit of noir one minute, dealing with the drudgery of the mundane the next. Never more so than in the fantastical account of his adventures managing German strugglers Heidenheim and, later, Woodlands in Singapore.

Heidenheim: One More Go Pt 1
The Woodlands Chronicles Pt 1

In the new meritocracy that social media provides, Iain Macintosh is perhaps its greatest beneficiary: standing alongside the big beasts as a fellow with an opinion not to be ignored.

Honourable Mentions:
Jacob Steinberg –
this guy’s dry humour has long made him a must-follow on Twitter. He overcame a difficult debut on Guardian’s Football Weekly in which he decribed Robert Green as ‘World Class’ by continuing to engage with his Guardian minute-by minute work and notably producing this excellent piece for WhoAteAllThePies in which he discusses his love for Italian football.

BEST SITE

In Bed With Maradona

Jeff Livingstone, with the help of David Hartrick and Ben Shave, has managed to put together a collective of football writers to produce the best all-encompassing football site around. In essence, it is almost a Best Of compliation. Like Radu Baicu’s thoughts on Romanian football? You’ll find them here. Adam Digby and Rocco Cammisola’s Italian football knowledge? It’s here. Every corner of the globe seems to be covered and it’s all put together in a slick fashion. What’s more, you’ve got regular contributions from the aforementioned Iain Macintosh and other seasoned pros such as Dan Brennan. What a site.
In Bed With Maradona seems to be up for various awards. Vote for them in the Soccerlens Awards here

Honourable Mentions:
Football Further by Tom Williams. I love this site. It’s a one-man show by a professional journalist and has just the right mix to it. There’s a great banner picture for starters – Hans van der Meer’s famous photograph, as described in David Winner’s Brilliant Orange, illustrating the moment Ajax’s dominance of Europe was ended by Juventus. Then there’s the French football expertise and the original tactical insights. Throw in the interview with Michael Cox of Zonal Marking fame and you have one of the great all-round one-man blogs.
The Equaliser – this one-man blog by Chris Mann really caught the imagination with its ’greatest twenty managers’ feature. That, coupled with its ‘my favourite player’ series and regular updates on African football, sets The Equaliser apart. Check out who won his vote for best manager ever here.


BEST NICHE SITE

Zonal Marking

One of the problems with doing a piece like this is that the whole exercise can be a redundant one. In this case, it feels like handing Al Pacino a TV Quick gong. But there’s no point being contrary for contrary’s sake – Michael Cox’s Zonal Marking blog is the blog of all blogs. Perhaps it is taken for granted now that his site is the first one many fans search for after a big game, and the man himself is writing for The Guardian and ITV among others. But just over a year ago, Michael Cox was just another kid in his bedroom trying to find an audience for his thoughts. I know because I was one of his few readers back then! He launched the Twitter account and the rest as they say is history: a living, breathing example of what is possible in the social media age when you’ve got an idea, plenty of knowledge and are prepared to work bloody hard at it. Michael doesn’t follow me on Twitter anymore – something which may or may not be related to an unseemly spat over a Joey Barton cross! Ah well, his is still the best blog out there, and here’s some examples:
Teams of the Decade #1: Greece at Euro 2004
How the 2000s Changed Tactics #1: The Fall and Rise of the Passing Midfielder

Barcelona 1-0 Inter, 2010 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg

Honourable Mentions:
Les Rosbifs: this site following the adventures of English footballers abroad is just superb and, from a personal point of view, addresses an interest I’ve long held (and many more like me judging by its success). Why are English footballers so often ignored when they leave these shores? Gav Stone’s Les Rosbifs site is redressing the balance.
Talking about Football by Tim Hill: another tactics site, perhaps Tim is the Anakin to Michael Cox’s Obi-Wan – the force is certainly strong in this one. While Zonal Marking is clearly the go-to site for anyone looking for a breakdown of recent matches, Tim has carved out his own niche with some great retrospectives on games gone by – none more impressive than his look at Ajax ’73 here.
Swiss Ramble: Talk about niche, the Swiss Rambler is simply the man for all business related football matters. As a former accountant myself I have some grasp of the financial side of things but this only serves to increase my appreciation of the time and effort that goes into his analyses. Over the past year the Rambler has investigated the financial affairs of many of Europe’s top clubs in a manner you simple won’t find beyond the confines of his website. Superb.

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There’s been loads more to enjoy over the past year. This piece on Just Football was one of my favourites. There are other sites I like such as Brian Phillips’ Run of Play and Danny Last’s European Football Weekends. There are guys like Rocco Cammisola and his Football Express, Rob Marrs with LeftBackInTheChangingRoom, Sam Kelly of Hasta El Gol Siempre fame, who have all helped educate me on my football knowledge in 2010. Steve Gabb’s Mirko Bolesan blog always tells you something you thought you didn’t need to know – but then realise you really did! I’m hoping to read more from Josh Askew’s Holding Midfield blog in 2011 and that goes for anyone else with anything interesting to say about the game of football… yes, including Big Sam’s Twitter account.

A big thank you to everyone above.

WSC #287 – Video Reviews

 The January 2011 edition of When Saturday Comes is out now and – for the third month running – they’ve allowed me to vent my spleen. This time it is in their regular video column where obscure VHS offerings are revisited. I had a look at two that are close to my heart – The Official Steve Bull Story and Bully: The Goal Machine. 

Anyway, I’m sure there’s far better stuff than that to enjoy in the magazine so go buy a copy or check out an online preview of the contents via the link below:

When Saturday Comes – January 2011 – #287

Escape to Victory

As we continue our look at some of the great sides from history it is impossible to overlook the Allied side of the Second World War in the 1981 film Escape to Victory.

This team never actually lined up together in a competitive game you say?
You try telling them that their epic 4-4 wasn’t competitive.

The side boasted a spine of three World Cup winners in Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and the incomparable Pele.

I sense that they would have lined up in a broad 2-3-5 or a W-M formation that was the fashion of the 1940s. Clearly the flexibility of Russell Osman could have helped provide this fluidity of movement between the two formations. Moore took advantage of this as he grabbed a goal and managed to bizarrely pop up on the right-wing to provide the assist for Pele’s spectacular equaliser.

This was a true team effort though. Sure there were the stars, but not only were the rest of this team willing to put themselves on the line for the side – they were even prepared to serve out the rest of their days in a Nazi prison camp for the cause. That’s real dedication.

In the advanced positions, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul van Himst and Hallvar Thoresen all boast truly remarkable records. Deyna had captained Poland in two World Cups while the scoring record of the Belgian forward, Van Himst, is astonishing – 233 goals for Anderlecht at more than a goal every other game. Thoresen’s strike rate at PSV is similarly impressive with 106 league goals in 196 matches. These were no mugs.

In the midfield engine room, it was the Ipswich pairing of Russell Osman and John Wark that ably assisted the impeccable Ardiles. Out wide there was Mike Summerbee of Manchester City fame to fire in the crosses.

At this point, you may have noticed the more controversial selections in the side. At the back with Bobby Moore was the actor Michael Caine. It is easy to deride the man but in truth Caine’s leadership skills were crucial to the morale of the side and he seldom looked out of his depth alongside Moore.

In goal was the faintly ludicrous sight of Sylvester Stallone. The athletic American had a questionable knowledge of the rules and is even thought to have proposed running around the entire German team to score the winner. That said, many keepers wouldn’t have held on to the penalty save from Werner Roth. Swings and roundabouts.

The team showed its grit and determination, not to mention considerable skill, as they clawed their way back from 4-0 down to earn a dramatic draw. Take the time to enjoy Pele’s equaliser .. I believe he counts it in his official goal tally.