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Whisper it quietly but after a rather muted build up the country is starting to come down with a increasingly severe case of “Football Fever”. Its the type of statement that the tabloids love to bandy around in order to sell more copies and the supermarkets like to use to sell more beer/pizzas/annoying little flags that fly off cars as they’re going 60mph down the dual carriage way. But, alas, its true and it happens every 2-4 years (or 20 years if you live in Scotland).
So while Roy (not calling him “Woy” anymore, eh Rupert?), Wazza, Stevie G and co are doing us proud out in Ukraine, or “The Ukraine” as people like to call it making it sound like a trendy four-piece garage rock back from Woking (or “The Woking”), the nation is awash with replica kits and hammy adverts for Danish beer espousing Englishness.
But earlier this week amidst all the pomp and circumstance, hope and glory and “Macho Man” Randy Savage theme music there was a little reminder of just how insanely overblown football in this country can be. There were minute-by-minute updates on news and football betting websites, eight-page pullouts in the papers, numerous trending topics on Twitter…all for the release of a list. And that’s why I’m looking at the most overblown, over-hyped and ridiculous days of the football calendar.
* Fixtures Day – Mid/Late June
Earlier this week it was, of course, “fixtures day”. Now for the uninitiated, fixtures day is exactly what the name suggests…the day when the fixtures for the next football season are released. And here’s a little clue as to how it normally goes; everyone plays everyone else in their league twice (both home and away), and everyone moans that their clubs have been dealt a harder calendar than their rivals.
It’s complete nonsense unless you’re a Manchester United fan, and that’s because we KNOW that the FA and the Premier League are always out to punish us…
* Transfer Deadline Day – 31st August/31st January
The bi-annual event that has made Jim White a legend amongst the unemployed, students and people whose job it is to spend all day watching Sky Sports News.
In what can only be seen as a massive contradiction of EU employment laws, footballers are only allowed to transfer between clubs in a few set periods during the year (the poor things). Now if this was any other walk of life you’d get things done nice and early, wouldn’t you? Say you needed a new bucket, but you were only allowed to buy buckets in January and August, you’d buy it on the 1st of the month, maybe the 2nd of January subject to hangover, but you certainly wouldn’t wait around until 11pm on the 31st to nip out to your local all night supermarket and buy one.
So why is it that football clubs who need a player wait until the very end to buy the player they desire? Why not cut out the foreplay, the flirtation, and just be up front about it at the start of the window?
Well, because football is ridiculous and football fans love it. People sit up until the wee hours waiting to see if Nigel Quashie has completed his move to West Ham or if Benjani has fallen asleep at the airport again. And Sky love it, they get millions of viewers all day watching middle aged men getting excited in the car park at Old Trafford/Stamford Bridge/Priestfield while a group of local school kids make rude gestures in the background.
* Boxing Day (erm…26th December)
Boxing Day. Everyone wearing their new scarves in the stands. Hangovers and over-eating. Cigars and whiskey rather than Woodbines and mild. A day in the football calendar that harks back to the golden age of football when racist hooligans roamed wild and free, players turned up after a shift down the pits and skill was as commonplace as those soft foreign Nancy boys. Everything was sepia tinged, everything was better, repeat to fade.
I’m exaggerating a bit there, football was a more “authentic” game back in the day and arguably all the better for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that nostalgia is probably more rife in football than in any other walk of life outside of pop music and coal mining.
Traditionally Boxing Day was a major day in the football calendar but that notion is becoming more and more tenuous by the year. Gone are the marquee fixtures and genial atmosphere, in their place tepid affairs between two teams of primadonnas who don’t really want to be there, spread across three or four days (last year only seven Premier League games took place on actual Boxing Day, the same number as the year before and one less than in 2009). Yes it may be a break from having to speak to your relatives or, even worse, your loved one’s relatives but its hardly something to get worked up about now, is it?
* Any International/European Tournament Draw – September/December
You know the drill. Two saccharine hosts from the Eurovision School of Ham, Michel Platini/Sepp Blatter rambling on in broken English, Fat Ronaldo eyeing up anything in a dress and three hours of montages showing Zenit St Petersburg/Red Bull Salzburg/Stoke City on their European escapades. It can only be the draw for a major tournament!
Now I understand there’s an interest in who your team will face in the Champions League or World Cup, but do we really need all the accoutrement? Does there need to be a performance of the official tournament song by Nelly Furtado? Or an awkward interview with Rudi Voller and Edwin van der Sar? The actually drawing of the teams takes about five minutes, do we need all the faffing about?
And nowadays we get it for everything. The Champions League, The Europa League, The World Cup, The European Championships, The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, The FA Vase, The Mid-Cheshire Youth League Community Cup…I’m pretty sure Franz Beckenbauer broke into my house last night and carried out the FA Cup third round draw on Football Manager for me.
* “Super Sunday” – Whenever Sky deem it fit
SUPER SUNDAY! MEGA SUNDAY! BATTLE OF THE GOLIATHS!
Erm…actually, no. No Ben Shepherd, no Jamie Redknapp, no Trans-Atlantic narrator. You can guarantee at least once a season there’ll be a Sunday afternoon where a combination of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and perhaps one of their local rivals play each other…and it always underwhelms.
Great games stand alone, very rarely do they happen on the same day. And very rarely do these afternoons live up to billing. But that won’t stop the Premier League hyping them to the hilt. And it doesn’t even stop at the top clubs; Norwich vs. Reading and QPR vs. Wigan in one afternoon will probably be treated like the 1982 World Cup semi finals. “The Battle at the Bottom”…it definitely does have a whiff of that, that’s for sure.
Leon Knight has been quite successful as journeyman footballers go. Having played for ten English clubs, two clubs in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the mighty Greek side Thrasivoulos Fylis you’d perhaps think that his career has been, well, lacking in highlights.
But if you ask the man himself you get a very different story, as this video indicates.
I’d hate to see what happens when he’s in bed with his missus…
Its a sad thing…an international tournament involving Ireland but not featuring Kevin “Zinedine” Kilbane.
At least, it didn’t feature him until last night!
Kilbane was in the same bar as some Irish fans. The same “karaoke” bar. The following happened…
Now, can you imagine one of England’s most capped players ever doing the same? Beckham? Charlton? Maybe Steven Gerrard if it was Phil Collins but surely not with the same gusto.
Kevin Kilbane…you are a legend.
On the back of the Euro 2012 Nivea ad featuring the Euro 96 legends, another hero from that tournament has got in on the act.
Fresh from his management exploits in the Central Asian leagues, former England captain Tony Adams has been posting some tips online for any budding footballers.
And yes, the old Tony Adams “donkey” nickname is only a tenuous link for an excuse to post a video of a donkey playing football.
You’ve got to love mental Eastern European celebrations (Temuri Ketsbaia was robbed in the PL 20 Years awards…). Take a bow Rostislav Dyakov, who celebrated scoring the winning goal for Kruoja in Lithuania by…running onto a nearby building site.
Ever feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach watching football? Ever actually been punched in the stomach watching football? If so then you probably know how myself and thousands of other Manchester United supported felt at around 16.55 yesterday…you probably don’t care about that though.
First off…congratulations to Manchester City. I’ve said all along that the team who wins the league deserves it and they do. They scored the most goals, conceded the least and that was, literally, the difference. It’s easy to look at where the title was won and lost but ultimately City won it by “doing a United”; destroying opponents and pulling it out of the bag when the cause looked lost.
As a United fan today is disappointing but you’ve got to hold your head up high. We finished on level points with a team far more expensively assembled, we were blighted by injuries to some of our most important players (what we wouldn’t have given for a fully fit Nemanja Vidic or Darren Fletcher all season) and we had some glorious results along the way. Here’s some highlights from the season for me…
* The Drubbings – There has never been a Premier League season quite like this one, and where better to start than the absolute thrashings that some teams have doled out. Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal, Tottenham 1-5 City, Tottenham 4-0 Liverpool, Arsenal 7-1 Blackburn, Fulham 6-0 QPR…I think that covers them all…oh yes, I forgot the 6-1…Norwich 1-6 Manchester City.
Some of the performances have been out of this world, I mentioned on last week’s show that I don’t think a thrashing can be classed as a truly great game but to be fair those will all live long in the memory.
* The Attackers – La Liga is currently home to the two best attacking players in the world (and maybe 3rd, 4th and 5th) but the Premier League definitely has it’s world class talents. Robin van Persie has finally turned years of potential into world class talent, Sergio Aguero has had the best debut season for a striker since van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney has, strangely for him, gone about proving that he is indeed a world class striker with his best goal haul yet (although he’s still not fully forgiven for THAT contract negotiation).
We’ve had Danny Graham and Grant Holt step up fantastically from the Championship, Newcastle’s Senegalese strikeforce terrorise defences up and down the land and the likes of Yakubu and Emmanuel Adebayor roll back the clock when they looked like their careers were petering out.
* The Defenders – And on the flip side, the defenders have been equally fantastic. I still galls me that Vincent Kompany did not win either the PFA or FWA Player of the Year (he didn’t even get short listed for either prize) and alongside him Joleon Lescott has almost become City’s Denis Irwin – you don’t necessarily notice him but he rarely puts in a bad performance. For United Jonny Evans has returned from the brink to be one of the first names on the team sheet and Rio Ferdinand actually stayed fit for most of the season (and played something like his best)!
Fabricio Coloccini was imperious for Newcastle, finally living up to the potential he had at Milan, alongside the excellent Mike Williamson, Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor and James Perch. Leighton Baines is finally challenging Ashley Cole as England’s No.1 left back and Kyle Walker, Micah Richards and Phil Jones offer some hope for the future. And that’s before mentioning the ever brilliant Bacary Sagna and the infinitely improved Laurent Koscielny at Arsenal
- The Comebacks – Yesterday’s finish, for a neutral anyway, is on a par with Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal 1989 in terms of drama (I hope they don’t make a crap film out of this one as well). But even before that it was a season of comebacks. Chelsea 3-3 Manchester United, Manchester United 4-4 Everton Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham, City 3-3 Sunderland, QPR 3-2 Liverpool…the drama this season has not been seen since 1998-99 and, arguably, surpasses it.
- The Managers – Firstly a doff of the cap to Roberto Mancini, there’s harder jobs than managing a team with endless fortunes but he’s done a fine job and conducted himself with dignity throughout the season. Likewise Sir Alex Ferguson has taken one of the worst Man Utd sides in the Premier League era to an 89 point haul – the joint third best United points haul since 1996.
But the real stand out managers have been lower down the league. Roy Hodgson’s reward for solidifying West Brom as a mid table team has been the England job, Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers have both done fine jobs with promoted clubs and David Moyes continues to be the best manager in the second half of the season. If this was limited to the last 10 games then Roberto Martinez would also get a nod. But the undoubted manager of the season was Alan Pardew. After losing most of his senior players in the summer most people had him down as the first manager to get sacked and Newcastle as relegation fodder but the job he has done has been exceptional. The tough job now will be repeating it next season and holding on to his star players.
* The Over-Performers
I’ve already covered Newcastle above but what a year it’s been for them. It’s a great shame that they couldn’t grab the fourth Champions League place but hopefully the club can move on next season. But it’s been a year for the underdog, and for the first time in many (unfortunately blue) moons that both City and Everton finished above their red rivals.
Norwich and Swansea have been fantastic this season, never looking in danger of the drop and, the latter especially, playing great football. Fulham meanwhile have quietly gone about their business and finished in the top half and Wigan have somehow pulled off another Houdini job.
* The Under-Performers
If it wasn’t for Roberto di Matteo (or Lampard-Terry-Drogba, depending on who you think really wears the trousers) then Chelsea would get quite a kicking here. But as it is they’re now a game away from the Champions League so it’s difficult to call that underachievement.
Liverpool have bought some light relief at some of the darkest times this season with their bad PR and even worse performances. They might have a trophy but an 8th place finish can’t be papered over, truly a season to forget. Owen Coyle has done what Gary Megson failed to in relegating Bolton and Venky’s and Steve Kean are clearly Burnley fans but it’s two teams in red and white that stand out for me…
Sunderland struggled under Steve Bruce first half of the season despite a busy summer in the transfer market. Then Martin O’Neill came in and for a while they were flying, but a 13th place finish is very disappointing and a terrible end to the season doesn’t bode well.
And Stoke look like dark horses for relegation next season. They’ve been poor all season, scraping out results in a manner that is increasingly being found out and finishing near the bottom of a lot of stats tables. It’s telling that the Real Premier League Table (a table that takes debatable decisions into account and says whether a team should have got a result or not) has them in the bottom three and next season looks like it’s going to be a struggle.