Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TOURÉ DE FORCE

December confirmed to me what I have been thinking for a long time. I'm not a fan of the African Nations Cup.

Yaya will of course, be off in January, departing the fair shores of Albion to take part in the afore-mentioned tournament, a competition blissfully oblivious to the needs of Manchester City and its followers. Who can do the job that Yaya Touré performs week in week out? the answer to that is simple.


What will City's midfield look like without Yaya Touré? A veritable road block in the centre of midfield, it is about time somebody put in a good word for this man-mountain amongst the landslide of poetry written in the name of Señor Silva, the press pack attached to Mario Balotelli and the seething mass of hysteria that follows Kun Aguero's every broad-thighed shimmy. Yaya bestrides the midfield like a mammoth. The giant frame belies a graceful, almost twinkle-toed mastery of his art. Not the cleaver-in-hand butcher, nor the scavenging assistant. Yaya is the Delivery Man. He quite clearly does exactly what it says on the oversized packet. He delivers. All over the pitch. All night long. In all directions. In all weather and all competitions. he is always there, passing, moving, receiving, going again.

Dean Whitehead's view

These last few days, admittedly, he has been faced by a Stoke side so timid, they might have been carrying pepper spray in their inside pockets. That there was little change to their ultra-functional approach, despite a succession of goals going in, speaks volumes about the philosophy rugged Tony Pulis had imbued in his storm-troopers: right lads, go in, sneak the medium-sized defeat and retreat immediately. No harm done. The glory of ninth place will be ours, oh yes.

The came West Brom, a team happy to get nought on their own patch. A team, according to manager Roy Hodgson, who don't often defend well, but did so on this occasion. In fairness they had a couple of attacks too. City's possession in both these games was extremely high at various points, touching an incredible 95% at one point against Stoke and 82% in the first half against West Brom. What must Stoke supporters have thought when watching later on television, as the little top of the screen caption bellowed "Stoke City 5% possession"? Time to go behind the sofa.

As Yaya could have told you, it was just like Barcelona, only better. That this overpowering delivery of ball to feet to feet to feet only brought three goals against the Potters and one point against the Baggies might be cause for concern to some. That horrendous stampeding noise behind us is being made by United and Tottenham re-enacting the Charge of the Light Brigade, but let's ease up on the nerves a little. It is the Christmas break we have reached, not Easter, not Spring Bank Holiday and we are top for the first time in 82 years. Eighty-two years! That is something to roll around in and rub yourself all over with, not shred and discard.

For those out there with fire licking at their backsides and a raging torment tickling their brains, take a look at these statistics, pour yourself a big glass of cognac and raise it in the name of Yaya.

versus Stoke. Players over 100 passes: Barry: 92 successful /of 102 attempted, Kompany: 100/107 | Nasri: 132/138 | Toure: 158/169 

Yaya passing: overall 158/169 (93%), own half 51/54 (94%), attacking half 107/115 (93%), final third 42/50 (98%)

City's total of 924 passes v Stoke is the highest recorded by any team in any PL game since 2003-04.

City's pass total v Stoke was higher than all but one of Barcelona's league games this season

CITY only the 2nd team EVER to remain UNBEATEN at home in any competition throughout a whole calendar year. Last time this happened was in 1920s

City's home results 2011: WWWWWWDWWWWWWWWWWDWWWWWWWWWW

City -"The League Leaders" -  have now scored three or more times in 12 of their 17 fixtures. Sadly, for the first time this season, nil was the score last time out.

City have already won more games this season, than they did in the entirety of 8 of their last 14 Premier League seasons.

I will miss the big man's nimble progress in midfield, his pirouettes, his beguiling bursts of speed, his tank-like posterior casting a shadow the size of a Hummer over the ball, the languid shake of the head, a wistful flap of the arm as some less tuned in team-mate completes a savage burst of acceleration into the wrong channel, at the wrong moment.

Hurry back, Big Man, we're going to miss you.

Monday, December 19, 2011

FROTH AND BLUSTER ON THE BIG DIPPER

And so it came to pass, the Big test arrived (the latest Big Test), another moment for everyone to cry "they've got no balls!", a giant thermometre ritually inserted where there is little light but much air, to see if the volcanic temperatures prove that Manchester City are boiling over. They just can't hack it, you see, those mercenaries that play for themselves instead of the team, break curfews and shoot fireworks through their shower curtains.

Barry: critics running for cover
That incredible unbeaten league run, which lasted until Stamford Bridge last Monday (12th December. Does anybody remember the last time City went unbeaten until ten days before Christmas? I can't even remember City being unbeaten during the ten days before Christmas....) had come to an end in a hail of flashing legs and a shower of biblical rain. Having run the dark blues ragged for twenty minutes, the Weather Gods had teamed up with the Football Gods and decreed that enough was enough. And quite right too. This sudden imperiousness will bring on a coronary otherwise amongst those of us more used to wiping the shame and embarrassment from our brows.

For people with large football brains (LFB) this meant a juicy moment of truth against Arsenal, the form team, carrying with them in to a cold barren Manchester afternoon the form player in Robin van Persie. The obituaries were already being written. Ian Wright fizzed electrically about balls and asses, mental strength and baby orangutan. The Nevilles prepared themselves for lift-off. Piers Morgan called City fans "oil-suckers". It was all going to go off big time. The nation held its breath long and hard, daring that harrumphing sound to come out right on time.

Millwall, Cardiff, Bury. Jamie Pollock´s greasy forehead.

And when the game of football started, what did the people with LFB witness? A rip-roaring match in which Arsenal did indeed bring their crisp confident form to town. And were beaten. Beaten by a powerful, willful, committed and elegant Manchester City side playing the open, one-touch slide rule football that has had many sky blue devotees rubbing their eyes in disbelief for most of the season so far. Chicken tikka-taka writ large, served with raita and popadoms, chappatis and chutney. Let us not forget (how the hell could we) that if this season's lights went out now, immediately, irredeemably, 2011 would be remembered for the rest of our lives as the year that contained not a single home defeat, an FA Cup win, entry into the Champions League, a 5-1 win at Spurs, a 6-1 win at Old Trafford and a cup win at Arsenal. If they carted us all off to the Maine Road in the sky now, there would be no kicking and screaming. If they put me back on the Brian Horton Elephant Pills tomorrow, I wouldn't squeal for a single second.


Macclesfield, Stockport, Northampton, Lincoln. Walking aggressively at Walsall. Feeling ill at York. Etcetera.

Telegraph readers stunned by marks out of ten
Arsenal at least did themselves justice, playing with a verve and vigour that many visitors to the Etihad these days seem too feeble or frightened to attempt. Hats and beret's off to them for that, despite the wall of bleating and neighing from the ranks of their supporters. "Cash v Class" being one of the more oft-repeated ineptitudes. They contributed fully to a vibrant, swashbuckling spectacle, which will have had many more than just the committed watching agog for the entire pulsating ninety-four minutes. The match hardly stopped for breath, yet, within this typical British breathlessness, were alarmingly few of the skewed passes, hurried clearances into Row J, Keystone cops defending, rugby stadium finishing. Only when the lumbering Mertesacker hove into view (curiously, he is a German) did the ball hit buttocks and head for the cameras. This was a high tempo match full of neat intricate passing, razor sharp through balls, excellent goalkeeping and high endeavour. Silva, Nasri, Arteta and even big Yaya stood out for their ability to thread, prod and link. Gareth Barry, that poor man's implement, did yet again what he has done all season: plugging gaps, linking team-mates, spreading play, carving routes through to Aguero and Balotelli further forward. Pace of a tugboat maybe, but just feel the quality of the work he puts in in that unnoticed zone: the clear-up patch.

It will no doubt have disappointed a few to witness certain solid pillars of truth and reason that are handy to grab onto in a pub argument had just vanished into thin air: Here are the things that will not have made it within 40 miles of Mark Ogden's Telegraph piece today:

  • Balotelli can be relied upon. He can contribute a hard shift of running and chasing without tangible reward; he doesn't always rush down the tunnel in a huff because he has been subbed against his will; 
  • Zabaleta is more than capable of putting an international speed merchant like Theo Walcott in a small box marked "done and dusted" and clasping it shut with masking tape; 
  • Gareth Barry can bestride a midfield containing Silva; Nasri and Yaya and still show up as peerless; 
  • Superstars like Aguero can put in a blood and thunder performance despite squandering their side's best two chances and still have his head clear enough to place it (his head) alongside Vermaelen's swinging boot and set up the winning goal with bravery and elan; 
  • Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany can stand up and accept the loud applause for being best of breed in their positions this season; 
  • Kolo Touré can still hack it with the best when he diverts his thoughts from "does my bum look big in this home kit?".

Nevertheless and these wonderful discoveries notwithstanding, we can still find in a national daily newspaper of all places the following:

Vincent Kompany: 6 - Not the usual assured performance from the City captain, perhaps a side-effect of the unexpected change of defensive partner, with Joleon Lescott making way for Kolo Toure. 
Pablo Zabaleta: 6 - Not a natural left-back, but the Argentine rarely lets City down and he did well in place of the suspended Gael Clichy and injured Aleksandar Kolarov. Hit the post with a second-half strike.
Yaya Toure: 6 - Never as effective in a defensive midfield role as he is when playing in a more advanced position, but the Ivorian anchored well in tandem with Gareth Barry, despite his inclination to break forward.
Gareth Barry: 6 - Rightfully booked for a dangerous first-half challenge on Mikel Arteta, but the England midfielder otherwise did his usual steady job in front of the back four for City.
Per Mertesacker: 7 - When the German’s lack of pace is not exposed, he marshals the Arsenal defence well. Commanding in the air and his presence appears to be calming one for Szczesny.
Andrei Arshavin: On for Walcott, 69, 6/10, Marouane Chamakh: On for Mertesacker, 82, 6/10

Crack journalist begins another City match report
It is a particularly fruitless experience reading any match report involving Manchester City that is written by the Telegraph's Northern football correspondent, but this effort surely deserves highlighting. Whilst Touré and Barry conducted a spirited and eye-catching midfield battle against Arteta and Song, plugging gaps, delivering passes, squeezing and tackling like there was no tomorrow, Kompany and Zabaleta not only employed the powers of a titan to keep Gervinho, Walcott and Van Persie out, but also found the time and energy to take full part in various forays upfield, one of which culminated in the excellent Zabaleta rattling a post from way outside the box. For this 90-minute long display of guts and guile, they are awarded the same mark as Arsenal's two subs, Abbott and Costello, who provided the best display of ineptitude since the piano on the stairs gig back in 1947. Quite what has gone into Arshavin's tea since Euro 2008 is unclear, but, whatever it was, it would have put a shire horse to sleep for an entire winter.

To top the lot off, Mertesacker, a stumbling flour-sack of a defender, is awarded a higher score than any of them. The mind truly tingles with the expert opinions of the great and good. Maybe it was a Christmas joke, sent by the well-meaning to warm us all up on these cold pre-festive days. If so, it certainly got my blood circulating speedily, but not nearly as quickly and fluently as the sight of six-out-of-ten Vincent Kompany, the best central defender in the Premier League, striding out from the City area and charging past opponent after opponent on his way upfield. What a grand sight that was. What a grand old game it was too. What a shame some people cannot see the quality for wool before their eyes.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DESERT DISPATCH - DECEMBER

Those avoiding the new wave of modernism will have had the opportunity to read this in the latest star-spangled issue of King of the Kippax, the best read this side of heaven


"Riding the warm winds of change"

NICE HOUSES GOES UP IN SMOKE
The Chelsea manager, Andrew Nice Houses, suddenly exploded last night in a large shower of ashes and dust. It is not thought anybody was hurt during the incident but a large part of the press room was shrouded in thick purple smoke for twenty minutes or so. It is believed that the fire may have been started inside a deep complex about Smouldering Buggery Manchester City, as is quite usual in these circumstances. “We have been severely victimised,” he squeaked in a wretched tiny voice, which sounded like it was coming from the end of a very long dusty corridor late at night.

Mr. LEWIS HARRIS: A STUDY IN SPORTSMANSHIP
Harris appeals politely
Liverpool’s Corinthian attacker Lewis Feltham Harris, the son of an aristocratic Uruguayan horse breeder and an elegant polo playing countess from Abyssinia, has been in sparkling form so far this season. For a man of such slight frame and delicate disposition to stay so steadfastly on his feet throughout the terrible thumpings aimed at him on the fields of Albion is a testament to his brick-solid thoroughbred attitude to sports and games. Brought up to take a good bashing and turn the other cheek, young Lewis soon learned that skulduggery and foul play, bleating and arm-waving were not the only ways to win at soccer. One didn’t have to cheat to prevail. In his cosy, well-looked after upbringing Lewis learned that Corinthian spirit and a love of one’s fellow man brings the kind of deep respect that everybody is now showing towards him. “To all those snivelling, arm-waving, little jerkers that perennially fall over then bleat to the referee,” he said last week, “I laugh and say, Do it the Lewis Way. Stay on your feet, play to the whistle and never look at the referee with big baby eyes”.

THEY LEFT TOO SOON
One is inclined in these days of spit and feather, bluster and blunder to forget that – amongst all the terrific nonsensical hyperbole – footballers are just flesh and bones, very much like the rest of us in fact. This era, let us not forget, where we worship the likes of Kevin Prince Boating–Accident with his 550 leather jackets and his toe to cranium body art, and Steven Daddy Dick Ireland with his pink furnished Humdinger Chevrolet Space Buggy, plus any number of vacuous television accidents, who judge themselves personalities on the grounds that they have broken wind on camera. Amongst the many others, who left the football fraternity way before we were ready for them to depart. Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira and Gary Speed, we salute your efforts and feel deeply glum that you have gone to join the likes of Neil Young, Mike Doyle, Emlyn Hughes, Alan Ball, Jimmy Neighbour, Bobby Stokes, Alan Davies, George Armstrong, Brian Clough, George Heslop, Derek Dougan, Peter Osgood, Brian Labone in God’s celestial five-a-side tournament. You will both. at least, shore up the midfield very nicely indeed.


FA CUP: THE MANCHESTER DERBY IS BACK
By Shaun Custard still in the Fox and Firkin
With a blink of an eye and a quick exhalation of stale air, it was done. The Dirty Deed. The Revenge Derby is on. Sir Fergus will bring his vengeful but nevertheless world-beating troops to the Elaborately-Sponsored Etihad Stadium to face up to Moneybags Bastard Manchester City for the third time this season and the world can only hope that the old maestro can cook up a more appealing broth than the toad soup and evans dumplings that we were force fed at Old Trafford last month. For Fergus’s side still has merit, oh yes. The thunderous thighs of goal man Rooney and the delicate agility of Donny Wellbred do not suddenly count for nothing, you know. The two little hobbits, Pippy and Prawny, do not suddenly become bad players overnight. Johnny SixesandEvans cannot surely be any worse than last time? Berbatov can still recite poetry like no other Vulgarian I know. These are all reasons for the massive red majority in Manchester to be positive. The Men In Black can sleep easily alongside their teddies tonight. Silly City, as many people like to call them, are foolish in the extreme to underestimate them. Their fans, full of cockiness and Boddingtons, delivered a clear message to the roving Sky cameras yesterday, brimming with froth and frothing with brim, little snot-nosed kiddies trying to get six fingers counted for the cameras. It is this bravado and self-centred behaviour that makes these people so ugly to look at, so painful to listen to, with their prawn kebabs and their Balotelli hats shaped like a waving hand. For, sure enough, class still counts and history is not counted on the fingers of one hand. It takes time to tip a tea pot and class doesn’t just pop out of the other end. With the derby scores absolutely level so far this season, one win each, by the narrowest of margins, City and their unwashed hordes are about to find this out the hard way come derby day in the Cup.
Mark Organ is on holiday in Salford all this week. Brian Granville was unavailable to comment owing to his putty pen melting and Bob Rodent of The Star was too busy looking up womens’ dresses. 

THAT EURO 2012 DRAW IN FULL
Group of Absynthe: Poland (host nation, go easy on them), Chicken Republic, Guatemala and Crete
Grupo da Morte: Germans, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese all at it, all at the same time. Furious, eye-scratchingly horrendous, cards flying, people getting the full hump with each other, wide starey eyes and finger pointing and and and that’s just the Portuguese).
Group of Meth: Pope, Gaudi, Archbishop of Cork and Monseignor Dubrovnik
Group of Meh: Ukraine (home nation, go easy), Svennis, Ingles, The other Ones

NOMINATIONS CLOSE TODAY
By Jamie Redknapp (no relation honest) Best buy of the season: Scot(tie) Parker, hands down. Id the lad Silva could do half the things our Scot(tie) can do, he’d be half the player Sco(tie) is today. A full on Lionel Messi of the Tottenham High Road. Manager of the season so far: Harry Redcap. Don’t Write Him Off yet Award: Frank Lampard (go, cuz!). League Champions come May? Difficult one with all the talent around, but I’m going for…erm… Tottenham.

VESUVIUS ERUPTS, SPEWING PHLEGM AND SPITTLE IN ALL DIRECTIONS 
Side profile, high profile
Aurelio de Laurentiis: here is a man with very attractive slick hair, a way with melancholic drama and very definitely something of the night, it has to be said. The great man of the people, orator profundo, shake-a-leg-Sandy and Billy Big Noise  hath spoken: “The kind Sheik will tire of his toy. He will see football is not only about money, but also glory and oil, funny faces and wolf masks. It is about the sunrise over Vesuvius, the leopard print panties that my girlfriends wear. It is smoke and laughter, laughter and smoke, painting your name on fountains and reducing the toilet block to rubble. All of these things are the football that the Sheik does not get. It is Polly Pocket and Thomas the Tank engine, Brian Deane and Emily Heskey. It is flares, rockets and guns, it is giant heaps of refuse in all directions, steaming grouplets of hooligans on scooters, knife wielding charlatans and pickpockets. It is the glory of Naples, a city drowning in its own detritus. This all is football, this all is what we are, what makes us, what defines us. Tell that to your little Sheik with big pockets.” Afterwards he needed to lie down.  

COLIN GETS AN EIFFEL
Ivorian powerhouse and Bastard Manchester City dietician Colin Tory has complained BITTERLY about his lack of opportunities in the first team. Team Manager Bob Mancini has also explained the reasons behind his frequent exclusion: “Eeer, these ees becoz ee eez not so very good” explained the erudite and confused-looking manager, sweeping an errant lock of grey hair back behind his well-sculpted ear. “Eee theenks ee eez good but in fact, Kompany ees better, Lescott ee eez better, even Steve Savage ee eez better. How can I tell eem these, he will keel over.”
Tory meanwhile has stated that Savage is, in fact, not better, but quite a lot worse than himself. He said: “In fact the new fellow is rubbish isn’t he? I mean look at him! I watch him in training and think to myself “big bugger, he’s so useless this is a deathly insult to Colin Tory.”

PINGPONG
Look at me
Emmanuel Frimpong. Even the name itself shouts “look at  me!”. The hair bellows “I am a peacock”. The demeanour says, “look at all I am become, swanky and so sure”. Here is a young footballer just making his way, learning his trade, picking up juicy titbits here and there to make him a better player, perhaps even a better person. It appears, however, that some lessons have already arrived bang on time at Platform One of Mr Frimpong’s well organised Central Cortex: a) take off your shirt whilst still leaving the pitch to allow full air time for the company slogan (your company slogan!) to your adoring public. b) act the big wedge with other professionals such as Samir Nasri, to show them, even though you are still only thirteen years old, “you don’t take grief from no one”. Here, quite literally, quite splendidly, is a footballer of our times, for our times. I am sure we all deserve him.

MONSIEUR PLATINI: A PROPER GENTILLEHOMME
Michel Platini was a graceful artist in his playing days for Nancy (stop that), St Etienne and Juventus, where he is still treated as a deity to this day. It is fascinating to see that he has brought all of this grace and balance, pomp and circumstance to his current role as Prince of Football, High Chancellor of UEFA, Cadillac Cruiser and The Knowledge of Switzerland. Having quite rightly LAMBASTED Big Bugger Manchester City for their THOUGHTLESS DESTRUCTION OF OUR BELOVED WORLD GAME, he rightly praised Paris St Germain for bringing some colour, verve, competition and MONEY to the dowdy and down-at-heel French league scene. This, you see, is where PROPER SIZED BRAINS make the difference between a Platini and a mere mortal, who perhaps is concerning himself with the whereabouts of his car keys or whether it might just be Miniature Chicken Kievs again for tea. Platini is not concerned with Chicken Kiev, miniature or otherwise. He is rebuilding the CITY OF KIEV, although there might not be too many hotels, or in fact trains or planes. “It will be a complicated success” he regaled. How jolly marvelous. How complicated exactly will it be to be a football follower in these places, Monsieur Platini? Very complicated, extremely complicated, really bloody complicated, or sod it I’m off to Marbella complicated? We love a challenge, so we must thank you for this one. Merci!
But that is to digress and to deflect attention away from this GREAT MAN’S grand oeuvres and manoeuvres. Just this week, he asked the oh-so-pertinent question “How shall we play a world cup in Qatar?” These truly are questions on every poor man’s wet and quivering LIPS. Lips that will be so dry and parched in the 50 degree heat of Doha, they might just as well be removed and used as espadrilles. Luckily there is a font of information, a source of wisdom that will help us garner the correct answer to this latest conundrum: MICHEL PLATINI himself, for it is he who voted for the wretched place in the first place.

TEVEZ MOVE CLOSER TO HOME AT LAST GETTING CLOSER
Charles Tevez’s burning wish to leave Buggery Battery Brutally Manchester City to be closer to his beloved family, half family, inlaws, outlaws, inbreds, invertebrates and assorted ex’s has moved a tiny little bit closer with the news that he may, might, could, should, would if he could, is set to sign for Milan in the window.  This knocks an INCREDIBLE one mile off the journey home and should make just about everybody weep tears of joy, including Kia Joorabchian, who lives next door to wherever Tevez is. Those figures in greater detail: Manchester-Buenos Aires - 6935 miles. Milan-Buenos Aires - 6934 miles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

DESERT DISPATCH - OCTOBER

If you are in any way a traditional paper and newsprint sort of person, you probably read this first in the latest stunning edition of King of the Kippax


Mortgages & Honey Waffles Section
Christmas Carrol explains heading to Mr Henderson
UEFA FFP – The Big Question: Are Liverpool money grabbing opportunists or The Grand Rich History Club of our times? Liverpool bosses are feverishly looking into Thieving Bastard Manchester City finances whilst cleverly attempting to slam the TV money door in everyone’s faces before anybody notices. “This is essentially a very clever move by Liverpool,” Aleksander Whopper of Deloittes, says. “They have come to the conclusion that, despite flinging absolutely millions at Christmas Carroll and Herman Henderson from Sunderland, they will not have a proverbial sniff of Big Time Football trophies for the ever-so-foreseeable future. This is their way of evening up a sloping playing field, that they helped to invert in the first place. They know that all those football tourists who think football was invented by Richard Keys will happily ignore the fact that, like Manchester United, Liverpool stretched the transfer record every summer throughout the 70s and 80s. It’s quite brilliant and it might just work, if everyone closes their eyes for a bit.”

Bath Plugs & Camping Stoves Section
ROONEY APOLOGISES TO UEFA
Full text here: www.soz.like.co.uk

ROONEY COULD LEAD OLYMPIC TEAM
Lord Coe looking for someone who looks like a potato to embody the Olympic spirit
Zeus, just after his successful hair trasnplant
Wayne Rooney may be the figurehead Britain’s national team sport has been looking for to embody the true charm and mystique of the Olympic Spirit. “What we really need,” said Lord Coe, sipping on a mug of tea and chewing on a carrot, “is someone with the chizzeled features of a Greek God, an attitude to life that can be realted to by all youngsters in the UK, who watches reality tv and is fascinated by it, who comes into close contact with people who have embraced Britain’s Rich History of Shopping and who, above all, when dressed in jeans and sensible jacket, looks like a giant gherkin with a cherry tomato on top.”

GUEST PIECE by Mark Church Organ of the Daily Telegraph
MAN U WILL RETURN, CITY ARE DEMENTED, DELUDED AND SMELL OF CHEESE  
DON’T EVEN BOTHER – Ed)

GUEST PIECE by BRIAN “PUTTY PEN” GLANVILLE
And so on and so forth. As Toad of Toad Hall may well have said to the Lilliputians.
When I was just a small boy, just knee high to Luciano Troglio, the great Torino coach of the 20s, he sat me on his gnarled old thighs and began to recite Proust whilst fiddling with my pyjama turn-ups. This had an efforvescent and humbling effect on my undernourished brain. All those long and twisted years later, I am moved to suggest that this Manchester City side is a tea stain on the very ironed apron of association football. They besmirch the good name of soccer and I would wish this malodorous guest far from my table if I had the choice.

Clean Living Section
BLATTER SPLATTER – FOOTBALL PREPARES FOR CLEAN BROOM WITH DIRTY BRISTLES

One + Only: Micky Horswill
WORLD football chief and tireless charity worker Sepp Blatter is being congratulated after it emerged he oversaw the award of a €350 million World Cup contract to a company part-owned by the firm his nephew runs. Blatter, president of football’s governing body FIFA, heads the 24-man executive committee which awarded South Africa 2010’s 380,000-ticket hospitality contract exclusively to MATCH Hospitality in October 2007.

The firm, based in FIFA’s home city Zurich, was picked by the executive committee after a public tender. MATCH is part-owned by Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media, whose president and CEO is Philippe “pro-Zone” Blatter, nephew of FIFA president Sepp. FIFA has confirmed president Blatter was partially involved in the decision to appoint MATCH, prompting criticism from politicians. “We said we wanted to keep everything tight and nice in the FIFA Family and that is what we are doing,”said Blatter later. “Now bugger off the lot of you and let me count my nephew’s money.”

Heroes and helicopters, horses and ponies
MICK HORSWILL – AN APPRECIATION
Ah yes. Well, no. Actually, I’d rather not. Not just now.

Tritonia Humdinger 4x4 & Battenburg Cake Section
ENGLAND SQUAD LATEST: CONFUSION REIGNS AS RICHARDS IN OBSCENE TWEET DRAMA

Micah tries on an England leisure top
The fine early season form of Glen Johnson, the really quite good early season form of Kyle Walker of Tottenham and the nearly outstanding form of Where’s Wally have seen them chosen ahead of Micah Richards of Manchester Death of Football City for the up-coming games with Spain and Sweden. Asked why Richards had not made his experimental squad, Capello said “I say before, I no like players who are in low level teams and who no play well. Ba. Go away now” Richards immediately took to twitter and AMAZED everybody with his foul-mouthed rant against the England manager “Don’t know what more I could do” he tweeted in a terrible temper. “To say I’m surprised is an understatement”. It is thought that his BOILING hot tempered BROADSIDE may well be considered as (all together now) bringing the game into disrepute. A ban for the mealy-mouthed England outsider could follow and he may never play for England again.

STEWARDING TODAY SECTION
Bringing you the latest in stewarding techniques for modern crowd management by Brett Fist of Showrespec
As we saw in the Manchester Ruining the Game City match with Aston Villa it is important at all times to be on the alert for 50 year old men with dicky hearts who wilfully refuse to sit down when a goal is scored, or an exciting event is unfolding.
Amy Wally, regional manager for Showrespec, says stewards were acting on the initiative of the God Theramiptides, who appears in visions to people on a higher intellectual plain than the rest of us, when they tried to remove a troublesome man with a heart condition for persistent heavy breathing and leaning on one of the concourse railings for support. “This was exemplary steward behaviour. If Ronald Hubbard, steward 236, who attempted the manouevre, were a footballer, he’d be John Terry. Commanding, willing, energetic, with a 6th sense for where the trouble is and leading by example."

BALLON DE PLOMB LATEST
Steaming Argentina and Cheating Manchester City ace Sergio “Kun” Agüero has AWOKEN A HORNETS NEST by suggesting “it’s a shame” that Carlos Tevez is mouldering in City’s youth team. Aguero’s TOTALLY UNNECESSARY outburst has come as a shock to players and managers alike. “This is what we don’t want to see,” said Stain Cauliflower in his radio show, "Cauliflower at One". “It is akin to (parp parp) bringing the game into disrepute. This is a club that is clearly out of control and lacking in class.”
(Ballon d’Or latest: Wayne Rooney and Wengerboys Arsene have been named in the shortlist for the big awards this year. “No I don’t know either,” said a man in a street.)

Architecture Section

After the recent unveiling of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, it is rumoured that the Stretford End will also be changing name to the Sixes and Evans Stand and the opposite end will be known as The Last Stand in memory of the club’s heroic attempt not to become second class members of the city of Manchester. 

Keegan turned to face The Bell End 2nd half

Friday, November 11, 2011

LINGUA FRANCA

Gordon Taylor will be "zu Tode betruebt" or at the very least "tres decu".

In other, more homely words, he could also be a tad disappointed.

So that was a tricky start. Foreign languages, a barbed wire no-go zone for many, a place of catastrophic Pythonesque misunderstandings for others. "Did you say "toast"?. Oh I'm terribly sorry, I thought you said "toads". No toads on the menu today, no, no! Ha ha. Ah what an oaf I am!... No, I said "oaf..." And so on and so on.

Few are they who walk the nomadic fields and trip the linguistic fantastic without stopping to catch breath and straighten their dipthongs. We cannot expect everybody, even in these enlightened times, to speak a rich variety of languages and be comfortable listening to conversations in Hungarian and Dutch, Greek and Danish. It is a big wide world but we have brains which have been frazzled by too much cinema vérité and Stella Artois, too many late nights pounding the computer console with our stubby fingers. The coup de grace, as ever, came from that tank of Duvel that we drank the other week. The brain has not been the same since. Bloody Belgians, present Kompany excepted, naturally enough.

Somewhere within this morasse of cliché and inuendo, however, lies a salient point. You, my single loyal reader, probably clicked on the link that transported you here so painlessly because you fully expected to be reading something (some tripe) in English. And this what you got. Already, some two hundred words in, you have had to feast your eyes on at least eleven words or phrases that are not in fact English at all.

But what if your name were Carlos Alberto Martinez? You would of course already have mentally turned off and would be busy excavating your nose.

But, what if.

Would it be possible to assume that, when he was informed by his hard working entourage that the next leg of the magical mystery tour that is his career would see him heading for "West Ham United" all those years ago, that the very basic thoughts that he so specialises in might have featured one of the following rhetorical questions:

  • West Ham's in Inglaterra, isn't it? London, if I'm not mistaken. East End.
  • The people in England speak English, don't they?
  • You have to speak English in England, don't you, if you want to survive, prosper even?
  • English is a popular means of communication between all sorts of people in all sorts of places around the globe. Isn't it? 
I wonder quietly to myself at night, when all I can here outside is the braying of the neighbour's dog and a distant row between homeward bound drunks in the hissing night mist, what exactly Tevez's highly specialised, well-oiled and classily expensive entourage of healers and helpers thought might be a good idea at that particular juncture in his interesting and meandering professional career. Did they immediately sign him up for a crash course, knowing that their client had some difficulty ordering a side portion of picadas in his own husky Spanish on a bad day, or did they resolve to let him flounder and see what transpired? Did they discuss in quiet lucid gatherings how they could best enable their clients a soft and agreeable landing in this land of Balti Pies and Benny Hill, Bullseye and Scotch Eggs (God love us, what must people think?), and what they might have to do to allow their clients to concentrate on the next game, Barry

Correct.

All that money rolling in. All those flashlights popping in his face. Little Mascherano alongside him at the press conference blinking and spluttering. Not a word of English between them. But that was a decidedly long time ago. 2006, it says here. You, dear reader, could learn Farsi, Hebrew and Mandarin Chinese in the time that has since elapsed, and even more quickly if someone waved a salary slip in front of you with more noughts on it than the Greek National Audit. Even if they didn't, you could do it. We are capable of these things, given time and patience, half a memory and a bit of the rub of the green.  

Even me.

I am living proof of this fact. For my sins, I have worked at various times in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Portugal. At no time did it cross my mind that I could simply get away with English in any of those places. I spent nearly ten years in Holland. This is a country that possesses a language which, when spoken with vivacity and enthusiasm, say, in a crowded meeting of management consultants or (my own preferred territory) a stuffed bar at half-past one in the morning, sounds a little like somebody repeatedly standing on an adult squirrel. I persevered with this Language of the Throat and, by the end of my time there, was working exclusively in the native tongue, much to the probable mirth of my company's clients. I, a class A dunce, wastrel and purveyor of linguistic shipwrecks, had made it and made it in Dutch of all languages on this sceptered planet.

THE INDEFATIGABLY OBSCENE SEPP BLATTER

If the mantra in Holland (a country where even the cows moo decent English) is "When in Holland, speak the language the locals do", what can we say about dear old Blighty? I have been addressed in English by supermarket check-out girls in Amsterdam, by shop assistants in Vienna and by floor cleaners in Porto (yes, I get around, yes I talk to absolutely anybody), but England is different. this is because of English. Not Polish, not Turkish. English.Coming to England as a foreigner is different. English, the global language of media, sport, politics and more or less anything else you care to think of, is everywhere. You cannot go to the cinema without it, nor enter a congress. In short you cannot behave like we have all behaved when abroad and wander casually into a place and proceed, without even asking if it is possible, to have a conversation with a complete stranger at speed in your own language.

All of which makes Carlos Tevez ever so slightly odd.

Translate that!
In the intricate world of professional football, communication is key. Teams fill up with foreign imports, managers and coaches come from far afield, fitness trainers, cooks, bottlewashers, cone experts, veruka advisers, nail polishers and boot lickers. They are all there at your top clubs these days and half of them are foreigners.Football is cash. Football is time and space, It is energy. It consumes everything before it. It is Mammon. It is Terry. It is Cole. It is Capello. It is Gordon Taylor. It is the indefatigably obscene Sepp Blatter. The football family speaks English. It churns out publicity, magazines, tickets, jingles, sponsor straplines and a complete wasteland of press coverage and all of it in English. Just Do It. Impossible Is Nothing. For The Good of the Game. You just cannot escape it. Unless your name is Carlos Tevez.


THE GLAZED EYES OF JARI LITMANEN


The modern day footballer has to pick up on an infinite array of tactical suggestions, dossiers on opponents, travel itineries and catwalk invitations. He has to sit at press conferences looking meaningful, answer questions about this that and the tedious other, all the time playing the straight bat, keeping the poker face and following the company line. "We do not test on small fluffy animals." "We do not commit affluent chemical liquids to the North Sea." "We were not in the book depository when the top of his head came off.". Etcetera. To do all of this without falling over takes a working knowledge of the local lingo. How could it be otherwise? I once had the undiluted pleasure of working with Ajax and Benfica, two European football institutions of the highest repute. Dish of the Day? Organising language training for foreign players. Now Dutch and Portuguese are not the easiest of things to get your teeth into. I was there when poor Jari Litmanen's eyes glazed over. I was there when Marcio Santos suddenly needed to go home for a pee (any excuse) and I was most certainly there when Michel Preud'homme tried to distract me from my onerous task by inviting me for a round of golf in Cascais instead. Almost to a man, the players thought it was a big joke. A bloke in a suit trying to sign them up for sessions in front of a whiteboard making fools of themselves. I have seen it many times before. This is like going naked. Suddenly, the senior partner of a huge multinational is laid bare as a mumbling imbecile in English. Top footballers do not like this much.John terry looks tough and confident in "Cockney", but ask him to sit down and order a fruit loop in French and he will look like one of the biggest Jessies since Jessie James.

The counter argument is: where does one start with a language like English, with its silent b's and it's intrusive th's? Put yourself, for a moment, in Carlos's comfortable ultra expensive silk carpet slippers and try to form a Carlos-inspired opinion on the following....English is the language that brings you:
  • six different ways to pronounce "ough" (thought, tough, through, cough, bough, although)
  • verbs that change so radically they might be from Venus (seek > sought)
  • rules that have more exceptions than examples
  • pronunciation from the bowels of hell itself (innovate > innovative; famous > infamous. Try asking a foreigner to say "Neville Southall" and watch as they bite their tongues and keel over)
  • structure as user-friendly as the Mountain Path to Mordor: "I wanted to see what it was like" "I wanted to see how it was"
  • 100s of words that aren't remotely English anyway: creche, kindergarten, shampoo, breeze, laissez-faire, brio, bankrupt, gateau, ketchup.....
It's a tough ask, as modern users of the lingo are prone to say. In real English, it is a demanding challenge. Let Carlos turn the telly on for half an hour and what might he come across for his entertainment , for his education? Ah look, it's Sir Alex Ferguson, speaking...what exactly? Sounds like Hindi from a man with a Mars bar stuck up his nose, but it could be Finnish with all the vowels removed. Let's zap. Ah, Peter Reid. No, can't understand a single word of that either.

Some of our most famous faces mangle the mother tongue until it sounds like a pig in a cement mixer. After a lot of grunting and bleating, all you are left with is bones and fur. How did Mirandinha, the little Brazilian arriving slightly ahead of his time in 80s Newcastle, deal with Gazza's verbal gymnastics, let alone his rubber breasted pranks? The poor man ran around with gloves on looking deeply puzzled for 3 months and promptly made his excuses and left. Deep fired Mars bars, barely dressed lasses ideologically wide at the hips and Barry Venison's highlights can all be tolerated, even enjoyed for what they are, but a gibbering maniac spouting Swahili through a loud-haler?

SWALES, THE LINGUISTIC JUGGERNAUT

Swales + Elton get started
City have had their own moments of linguistic gold too, of course. Which club hasn't? Mention Peter Reid and his special version of thick Scouse, a world of "he's arrived too late at the back sticks" and "he's done his hamstrings in", brings a managerial predecessor to mind: Mel Machin. Here was a man for whom a sentence was often over before it had started or, on other occasions, before he appeared ready for it to be. Quiet, unassuming and utterly monotone, Mel could give press interviews that would have put a bull walrus to sleep. Sure, he pronounced every syllable like the Queen Mother, he used his prepositions accurately and sparingly, but boy did he meander. Peter Swales, another linguistic juggernaut, having famously accused our Mel of having "no repartee" with us proles, went on his merry way too. Many was the interview that would halt mid flow for Peter to put the question "What's the word I'm looking for here, Elton?". When he was hooked up to the mic with Jimmy Greaves in the studio, it was like trying to pull a hippopotamus tooth with a pair of your Nan's tweezers. "Ees the gaffer like Peter aint ee?" - "He is Greavsie, yeah, what's the word I want? Puffa jacket? is it?".

And don't ever get me started on the brilliantly inept Dragoslav Stepanovic, another of Big Mal's experiments: A Serb made captain of City in 1979 despite not speaking more than four words ("Come on you Blues" to be precise) of English...

I digress. Carlos is waiting for us by the eternal whiteboard, marker pen and dictaphone at the ready. So, look at this:

Characteristics of Good Language Learners -Good language learners are born and not made’ - consider the “Good language learner”  model proposed by Naiman, Frohlich, Todesco and Stern (1978) as part of the good language learner study. The model consists of five boxes which represent classes of variables in language learning. These are teaching, the learner and the context (the three independent causative variables.) and the learning and the outcome boxes (the caused variables).

Basically, there are four basic strategies which good language learners employ:
  active planning strategy
  ‘academic’ learning strategy
   social learning strategy
   affective learning strategy  (Stern, 1983)


THE NIHILISTIC ARROGANCE OF THE LONG DISTANCE LANGUAGE LEARNER

Laissez ton cheval et allez boire ton lait
All of this will be news to Kia Joorabchian, I'm sure, but is it asking too much to expect somebody in a situation like this (feted, celebrated, in the media spotlight, paid amounts of money which demand some slight act of loyalty and effort in response) to become competent in the lingua franca of your employers, your peers and the people all around you? After 5 years?! Jan Molby, after a similar period, was so comfortable with the native tongue, he became completely assimilated in the local culture, sending messages in fluent English from his bench inside Bootle Jail. So, it can be done and it doesn't take a brain the size of the Planetarium to carry it off either. Arsene Wenger sounds like a History don from Cambridge when he gets going. Bergkamp, Kompany, Martin Jol, Gullit, Gudjohnsen, Larssen, Mourinho and many others have all impressed with their easy fluency. And herein, perhaps, lies another moot point. Take a Dutchman, a Swede, a Portuguese and they will rise to the linguistic challenge almost immediately. We have marveled down the years at how the Dutch adapt to our game so quickly, how the Scandinavians are onto it in short time, but there is a hidden factor. These are all nations small in size and whose languages don't get you far. Try speaking Portuguese or Danish in your local Waitrose and see what happens. These are countries with a spirit of adaptability and flexibility imbued in the souls of its people. The same cannot be said for your average Spaniard or Italian, where local t.v. dubs John Wayne into a ridiculous falsetto or France where James Bond may sound like Daffy Duck with a Parisien accent. Watch television or go to the cinema in Copenhagen, Lisbon or Amsterdam and you will hear the voices and the words of the people you are watching, not an army of behind-the-scenes mime artistes. There are praiseworthy exceptions (the afore-mentioned Wenger is one, Zola and Roberto Martinez others) but they are few and far between. Despite the clanging mistakes and the frolicking mispronunciations of Benitez, Capello and, it must be said, Mancini, at least they appear to be trying. In the case of Carlos Alberto Martinez, it appears to be more an example of nihilistic arrogance. Plus ça change.


Friday, October 28, 2011

BANANAS ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT

I gave my inflatable banana away to a Dutch girl called Saskia, who seemed to be both passionately in love with AC Milan (Gullit, Rijkaard and The Other Fellow were there at the time) and on the point of perhaps considering shedding some of the flimsier items she was wearing at the time. In a fit of true stupidity and (possibly) overcome by a bubbling tsunami of hormones, I handed it over to her, fully inflated. It was late at night. We were in her flat. I had delivered all the lines about literature and philosophy, about the environment and adventure. I had dropped the names of Johnny Rep and Johan Neeskens into the conversation and said politely positive things about Queen Beatrix and her concrete hair. I had bought dinner and not hogged the wine too much, but still she was completely, utterly, fully dressed.
A Symphony in yellow: the author is 16th on the left, back row

A fully inflated banana.I know what made me do it and all I can say is, all these years later, I feel dirty, shallow and ever so slightly feeble. I want my banana back.

I will never see it again. I bought it somewhere down the side of the Arndale Centre, as you do. Or at least, as you did. I took it out of its package, feeling like a prize plum, and self-consciously gave a tug on its nipple (yes, I know). I had never tried to blow a banana up in central Manchester before. Even the Jacket Potato Man gave me a funny look and I had become quite used to our relationship being completely the other way round. Me: striding past confidently, humming New Order, fairly snazzy shoes, hair dancing and prancing. Jacket Potato Man: listless slightly slimy hair, joke jacket, Thompson Twins on his radio, stuck in a flourescent 4be4 caravan in the middle of the pedestrian zone with his baked beans filling going crispy because the heat on his calor gas burner wasn't properly regulated. Health + Safety would have taken one look at him and towed him away to Runcorn, where Jacket Potato Caravans go to rest.


On a good day he would have a trail of fat lasses on their healthy option day out, slapping their tats with mustard, mayo and ketchup. He'd be active then, parping out the sauce for those flabby armed girls who needed assistance, jumping forward with those pathetic little wooden forklets that you couldn't stab an ant with. "Here girl, grab this in your sausage-shaped fingers and try eating my scolding hot tat, dripping with colourless gravy and scorched beans whilst tottering down to M+S in a howling gale." I used to think the whole things was hilarious. The lasses would have volcanic hot flavourless brown gunk down their boobtubes before they'd even got as far as HMV.

But now he was smirking at me, with his bean stained pinny and his sweaty armpits. I gave it a yank and blew. Up it came like a flower in spring. You have to understand that Manchester in the 80s allowed this sort of thing to happen without a full scale riot and scorching of King Street's shirt shops. Morrissey was busy with his gladioli, there were jerks in jumpers everywhere, New Romantics with ruffs and puffed trousers looked like effete pirates who had pooed their pants. All in all, the scene was ready for bananas. And swimming pools. And fried eggs. And T-Rexes. It was about to get right out of hand.

From Gary James seminal Maine Road Men to Banana Citizens
And how we gave them bananas. My God. I may have felt like a prize Jeremy Clarkson in front of the Arndale with my yellow accomplice that day, but the nearer you got to the ground, the more obvious it got that you were in fact part of a vanguard of hipsters bringing something fresh and new to 80s football, a thing - don't forget - so shop soiled, it was ripe for the tip. Football hooligans had moved on from biff and bosh to rip and shred, casuals were all around, the glint of cold steel, the snide question "where you from, mate?", the little feral packs of spotty aces breathing down your neck on the way to the game.

I remember the rainswept scene down Claremont Road before the second division game with Chelsea, a big top of the table clash, with 40,000 expected and a heap of trouble to boot. Mad packs of scavenging hyenas everywhere you looked. Rain sleeting down, that slate grey vista all the way down Lloyd Street, with the coppers on horseback and the Pink Final man shouting his dues. An atmosphere of malevolent calm hanging over the place, as Maine Road cranked itself up for another of those steaming dripping bad-tempered second divison afternoons out. The distant clipped roar of the Chelsea mob floated over the top of the square riggged North Stand architecture, a set of plastic and corrugated iron struts that must have been chic at one point or another.

Once inside the ground, the threat of violence evaporated and the quality of football on show allowed you all the time in the world to wallow in the stunning visual effect of thousands of inflatables waging war on each other across the ground. It started at Oldham, took off at the Hawthorns with an unseemly scrap between a dinosaur and a giant cigarette, soon attracted paddling pools and six foot snakes and had its finest moment at the Victoria Ground where 12,000 City fans turned up in fancy dress clutching every kind of inflatable known to man. Naturally, City lost 3-1. There was also a home game (Leicester in the cup?) where the players emerged from the tunnel with a banana each, which were hurled into the Kippax. I well remember Ian Brightwell had chosen to carry a five foot banana instead of the "normal" ones and he looked like it was carrying him. Halcyon Days, indeed. Here are a couple of sharp memories from the era: http://www.mancityfans.net


I also had rhino which the filth took off me at Watford, a game I seem to remember we lost 2-0."
Frank Newton: his fault
I remember the Banana being at the Plymouth Game, first of the season in 1987/8. We won 2-1 with Stewart and Varadi scoring I think in a late comeback and the "Big Banana" - the 5 foot type - was in the old Windy Corner between the Kippax and North Stands, later to become one of the Gene Kelly's. I am assuming this must have been Frank Newton.

At a time when the whole country is sitting up and taking notice and the football family is at last taking dear daft old Manchester City seriously, it might be worth remembering how we got this far without going completely nuts: what drove us to carry these things under our arms at a time when the rest of the country were chasing each other with carpet knives, where Blue Moon comes from, and the Invisible Man.

You have to laugh, and if at all possible, the best place to start is with yourself.

  • Were you there? Did you do something embarrassing? Have you been waiting 25 years to unburden yourself? Is it still lying in the bottom of a cupboard somewhere? Frightened to tell the wife? Did the police take a five foot inflatable rhino off you at Watford? Get in touch. You are not alone.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DERBY DAY PLAYER RATINGS


DAVID DE GEA: 8
Looked agile and alert and cannot be faulted for any of the six goals that rocketed past his jumpy, shell-shocked form to nestle in the back of his forlorn, bedraggled, windswept net. Hair stood up to the test, maintaining its stiffness throughout what was an absolute shellacking of the first order. Good communication with his defenders, including the slightly high-pitched "What are you doeeeng?!" after an hour or so and a lively star jump in front of Very Smalling after the 6th (or 5th, there were so many, they merge into each other after a while)
VERY SMALLING:7
Very very long legs, exceedingly long legs which he stuck out to the best of his ability but could not seem to catch Small and Spanish where he needed to be caught, right in the Brussels sprouts. Forged forward, legged it back, turned around and pop, the ball was in the back of the net again.
rio fortygrand: 6
The man for the big occasion. England's Mr Occasion. An occasion just waiting to happen. Would have got a much higher score but for his below average impression of a quayside bollard. Until he threw that risky impersonation around the 4th minute, he was doing so well alongside the ever-dependable Jonny Evans.
SIXES AND EVANS: 9
Scene in the Utd penalty area after Balotelli goal
Talk of the devil, here he is. Game hinged on his unfortunate red card when the two-faced arsonist Balotelli tricked him into thinking Saturn was revolving around his Uranus. If he had stayed on, it was clear United were heading for a cricket score. Came very close with a sizzling swashbuckling miss-kick from Rooney's knock-back. Unlucky with that one. Ball, leg, swing, ah bugga. Will now have to wait for his hair to grow back after being talked to by The Manager after the game.
CAPRICE EVRA: 5 
But was he playing? I don't think so. There's a mistake here. Hang on, just check the programme. Yep, he was out there. Five it is then! Very good. Just like the Invisible Man.
NINNY NANI NONNY: 8
Was asked to cause havoc down the wings and carried out his instructions to the letter. On both the left, when he was there and the right, when he switched, there was absolute and utter chaos. Very nice indeed. Made a beautiful egg custard at half time with some of the eggs that the manager had laid. Delicious.
DARREN FLETCHER: 9 
Goal of the game from "Fletch", a player who is so much more than just a water-carrier and so much less than a proper effective professional footballer in the crunch of the really big occasion.
ANDERSON: -
Cannot be given a mark as he was put in a small perspex box after 22 minutes of the game and shot off towards the Moon with one of sly, skullduggery-man Balotelli's "Ultra Catherine Wheels" attached to it. Will almost certainly fall back to Earth eventually and, when he does, there will still be plenty of people hanging about ready to laugh at him.
LAURA ASHLEY: 8 
Beautiful frocks, just enough frills, just enough embroidery, just enough latticework in the bodice, if you know what I mean. Could have made a nice cushion cover out of some of those crosses. Really quite fetching. When in full flight, it all sort of flew up around his thighs, which was less nice.
WAYNE ROONEY: 10 
Tonking. Not put off by the glare from his wife's party make-up, pasted on by a fleet of McAlpine dumper trucks as the match progressed. Kept running, but mainly in the wrong direction to fetch Anderson's passes. Still can't fault his energy, attitude or indeed his lovely full bonce of auburn hair. Reminded me of Ginger Rogers with a Digestive Biscuit Eating Disorder.
DANNY WELBECK: 8
Showed distinct signs that he really is the real deal. Really. Really real deal. Ploughing a lone furrow upfront cannot be easy, but that is what you have to do when you are away to Inter Milan. Oh hang on...


Some others:
JOE HART: 6 
Didn't see him make one good save all game. Will have to up his performances if he wants to one day play for England.
MICHAEL RICHARDS: 6 
Forgot all about his defensive duties and pushed way up the pitch like a runaway tractor. No 2nd gear, does everything at an enormous gallop. Felt very sorry for Ninny Nani Nonny, who must have been perplexed by the full back's odd positioning way up the right wing. At one point appeared to be trying to rip his way through entire defence. Absolutely reckless attitude to such a big game.
VICTOR KOMPANY: 6 
Got far too close to Rooney almost every time, meaning that Rooney had to drop unfeasibly deep far too often and ended up having the ball nicked from his toes just as he was going to produce something artistic and sumptuous for the Asian viewing public to coo at. This spoilt the game for a significant number of viewers in Thailand almost completely. kompany must learn to back off and let Rooney shoot a bit more. 
JOE LESCOTT: 6
Played almost completely spoiling role, which was a shame for a central defender. Relies almost completely on his left foot, with a little bit of right and a tiny bit of head. This meant that he was often seen turning in little tight circles which made it difficult for the impressive Welbeck to get the ball back, which spoilt what was supposed to be an evenly matched fight.

GALE CLICHY: 5
Seems to have lost all of his Arsenal prowess, where he would run away from the ball constantly and let giant inviting spaces open up between himself and any number of dreamy creamy central defenders with names like Cushion, Poem and Pamphlet. Like Richards, he often looked like a winger, which is ridiculous in a tight match where he was expected to defend resolutely. Poor.
JAMES MILNER: 6
Expected much more from Milner. Here is a player who could, with his height, play the Crouch role, and with his bulk, also do what Yakubu does so well at Whipsnade Zoo, but he persists in running around until his lungs burst, playing fidgety little one-twos with that little Spanish guy and steaming into open spaces with only one thing on his mind: crossing to someone else! He has to wise up, slow down and be more greedy, or he will be on the way out.
GARETH BARRY: 5
Here's another one. Did anybody see him out there? Me neither. Neither here nor there, given the run around by Anderson, until he was mysteriously shipped off in his little skypod to the Moon. Disappointing afternoon counting sheep for Gareth. Also wore terrible trousers to Rooney's birthday party.
YAYA TOURÉ: 5
What does he do exactly? What is his role in the team? Is he a bulky bastion of defence or a bulky invading Viking? Too often he just appears for the big matches and stamps his authority on things without the least permission. He is also far too fast for a big lad. Where was he today, when the little men were threatening to take over? More questions than answers here, I'm afraid, and questions that will have to be answered by someone wiser than me in the weeks to come.
SMALL AND SPANISH: 6
This little man could eventually be a good player, if he would just indulge himself a bit more. We saw from Ninny Nani Nonny how to do interminable stepovers then get clouted into touch, how to do the wibble-wobble then fall over yourself, how to track back without getting your hair wet, but Small and Spanish didn't pick up on any of these little tricks and was the worse for wear as a consequence. No shimmies, no ineffectual waving of the right leg, no poncy poker straight legs before hitting a freekick towards the flagpoles on the roof. All in all, very Spanish and thus deeply disappointing.
MARIO BALOTELLI: 4
He burnt his house down on the eve of the match. What can I say? Should not really have been on the pitch, as his mind was obviously elsewhere. Sixes and Evans clearly affected by the Italian's antics, which were bordering on gamesmanship in my books. At one point was seen to take a small box of matches from his back pocket, making Evans veer away wildly with his arms in the air. This led to the space which led to the other thing going wrong, which ended up in poor distracted United conceding the 4th goal (or was it the sixth, I've lost count)
SERGIO AGUERO: 6
Mesmerised by his thighs. Sadly, he did not do much with them. Pumped up and down a bit, but only managed one goal, which is a poor return.
sub
EDIN DZEKO: 5
Another ineffectual display. Came on and missed two gilt-edged sitters with his first two touches. By the time he had warmed up, the game was almost over and he could only get himself the two goals, one of which came off his knee, the other off his foot.

Referee MARK CLOVED FOOT: 5
Extremely poor performance from this usually one-eyed, one-sided, hey-look-at-me ref. Usually so sure in his early pointing, his manly gesticulating and his gentlemanly leaning towards the home side. Today, nothing went right for the Gateshead Grimace, from the rash of wrongly produced cards to missing five crucial offsides for City's goals.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

PINT OF ANAESTHETIC, PLEASE

Now would be a good time to take in a sharp breath or two, before any bubbles that might be clouding the vision fade and pop in front of the eyes, making us blink like a March hare. Taking a swift glance at this will not help much, mind you:

Premier League table

Saturday, 15 October 2011 
Position Team P GD PTS
1 Man City 8 21 22
2 Man Utd 8 19 20
3 Chelsea 8 11 19
4 Newcastle 7 5 15
5 Liverpool 8 2 14
6 Tottenham 6 1 12
7 Stoke 8 -2 12
8 Aston Villa 8 1 11
9 Norwich 8 -1 11
10 QPR 8 -8 9
11 Swansea 8 -5 8
12 Fulham 8 1 7
13 Everton 7 -4 7
14 Wolves 7 -4 7
15 Arsenal 7 -6 7
16 Sunderland 7 1 6
17 Bolton 8 -10 6
18 West Brom 7 -5 5
19 Wigan 8 -8 5
20 Blackburn 8 -9 5

Quite something, I think you'll agree.I'm not sure any of us quite believed in even our giddiest moments on the magic juice that it might come to this. On the brink of a Manchester derby (that's a proper derby, Mr Ferguson, where you play your proper first team and make proper excuses afterwards) on enemy territory, we prepare to enter the field top of the table, two points clear of our hosts with a better goal difference. Forget not that the United juggernaut put eight past Arsene's stunned crew earlier last month, but still live in our shadow by two goals. And two points. After eight games. Seven wins and an unseemly scramble at Craven Cottage, which should also have garnered three points.

Suddenly, what might have been the crowning glory of a Champions League game at home to a decent Spanish outfit, can't be swept aside quickly enough. That's all very well, your Rossi and your Yellow Submarines but looming on our horizon is one of those epoch-defining games that make your trousers stand up even when they are not being worn by anyone.

They're just names
As is customary at these times, our opponents-to-be have outdone themselves in lethargic one-liners to the press and wacky team formations in "their most important game of the season".  How long, one wonders, can Ferguson perpetuate this nonsense before someone (hopefully wearing an Elizabethan cape, tortoise-shell shoes and a stethoscope) runs up and blows an enormous whistle right in his face? Liverpool -Man United, that age-old squabble, took place in bright sunlight, but with little or no illumination.
In his unparalleled, impartial way, gary neville's column - naturally backing up all Glaswegian ethical codes regarding Liverpool (toughest game), team tinkering (right to rotate) and Wayne Rooney (got to go to Poland/Ukraine) - confirms what we know already. United are inhabiting a world of increasingly ill-formed and ridiculous denial.

Liverpool v United was a study in the Incapable versus the Unwilling, nothing more. If United want to try and convince themselves that a Liverpool so timid, so cautiously structured, so reluctant to push more than two men forward into attack, is the acid test, then they've badly mixed up their "sulphuric" with their "hydrochloric".

In a moment of weakness, I sought comfort in this cutting from 1998 (above). Only 13 years ago. Click on it and treat yourself to the names in the immediate environs of Manchester City. They make pretty hilarious reading. We are in the third column right over to the edge of the page...it's a little blurred in order to protect those still with a weak heart after all these years.


Far be it from me to wander the corridors of the past, slamming doors, opening windows, fanning fresh air into murky, queer-smelling corners, but 1998 was not so long ago. A year of Pollock, of walking aggressively, of Bristol Rovers and Chesterfield, of tears, stale bread and the loudest wake up call since they attached an alarm clock to the side of Pluto's head and let him walk clean off the end of the pier.

Instead of Michael Branch winging it past some nutjob assassin from Gillingham, we now have the sumptuously impudent Mario Balotelli larging it in front of the Villa fans. He skids to a halt, they jeer, he tells them to watch it, they tell him to go screw himself, he nearly scores immediately, then performs an overhead kick in front of them to put City one up. If this sequence had been enacted in 1998, or 1997, or 1996, the script would have been so different, as Jamie Pollock will tell you: fall over your own feet, crowd laughs (that's your own crowd laughing), stand up and rub yourself down, realise half of your arse crack is showing, go up for heroic clearance, flounce ball comically from twenty yards into your own net, crowd disintegrates, giant clap of thunder resonates, stadium folds like little cardboard animation, feeble pre-pubescent voice shrieks "Fail" in the background....

The tide that went out such an unfathomably long way on that sunny day versus Queen's Park Rangers, is now flooding back in. It has been on its way in for a good while now, but the surge is beginning to become a wide wall, a long liquid barrier of tossing spray, a fully-fledged sky-blue curler. The question is, will that mountain of perfect, symmetrical turquoise water come crashing down next weekend and obliterate all in front of it or not? The time feels right. Surf's up.









































































































































































































































































Other Tedious Stuff

Poets and Lyricists