Thursday, May 29, 2014

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: IS VARIETY THE SPICE OF LIFE?



The majesty and splendour of Plzen

Let me take you back a few years. Remember Aston Villa beating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam with a clumsy swipe from Peter Withe’s simple black Puma-clad foot? Or John Robertson bouncing Forest’s daisy cutter winner against Kevin Keegan’s Hamburger SV? How about Porto beating Monaco 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen in José Mourinho’s first final, ten years ago? Fine, memorable moments in the history of a spectacular club competition and not a single one of them likely to be repeated ever again at the rate we are going.

ESPN writer Miguel Delaney recently posted an interesting article, reflecting on the continental porridge that we are slowly but surely falling into, as far as carrying off the Champions League is concerned. It is without doubt a tournament that creates different emotions, depending largely whether your team is participating in it or not. Manchester City, for so long the ugly bridesmaids looking in through the steamed-up glass at a party that they had practically never been invited to (apart from one inglorious occasion when some noisy Turks destroyed our concentration), now include themselves in a tiny elite group of clubs that look set to dominate this competition for years to come. Who in their right mind can see anyone from outside Bayern, Real, Barcelona, the Manchesters City and (perhaps even) United, Paris St Germain and Chelsea winning it in the future? Delaney includes statistics that fair numb the senses, but probably only confirm what many of us have been thinking for a long time: we are fast heading for a closed shop:

The number of years since the following clubs had tasted glory in the European Cup/Champions League around the end of 1996-7 season is in the first column. The number of years since their last win as of today stands alongside in the right hand column. Just look at how the it has all changed...

CLUB                                                          1996                                        2014
Real Madrid
32
0
Manchester United
31
6
Bayern Munich
25
3
Barcelona
40
1
Chelsea
-
2
Manchester City
-
-
Paris St Germain
-
-

City struggle with Fenerbahçe in '68
As Delaney points out, the figures at the end of the last century suggest it was – after all – quite a difficult trophy to win. The number of different winners was inspiring. The list below, from the time when English clubs dominated in the late 70s to the Italianate end of the 90s looks just how you would want a trophy hit list to look. Sadly, there is a proliferation of clubs that either do not exist as top flight contenders anymore or are becoming rare birds at these sorts of occasions in the modern football era. The entrants from Sweden, Romania, Belgium and Holland are these days more or less resigned to filling their pockets whilst making a quick exit stage left. they are merely making up the numbers. Even Italy’s finest, past heavyweights in this tournament down the years, look wistfully towards the latter stages and retreat to the warm embrace of the Europa League, where Benfica, Ajax and a host of other past glories often await them.
 



As well as the afore-mentioned Villa, Forest and Porto, it is difficult to imagine the likes of Marseille, Red Star Belgrade, Hamburg, Roma, Steaua, PSV or Sampdoria ever coming anywhere near again. Even clubs, who are still relatively big noises in their own leagues (Roma, Juventus, PSV, Liverpool) are unlikely to make a splash again on the big stage like they once did.



UEFA have constantly tinkered with the European game in an attempt to, in their words, increase competition, and in the eyes of many, ensure a revenue stream that dissuades the giants from breaking away and forming their own tournament. When the Champions League began in 1992-93 (what a year that was), with Glasgow Rangers and IFK Goteborg coming close to the final as losing semi-finalists and Marseille and Milan actually making it, there were two series of groups. The second phase was later discarded for the
Just another night at the Nou Camp
format we have today, whilst qualifying arrangements have been tinkered with to allow more representatives from smaller UEFA nations to get as far as the groups.. This has had a twofold negative effect: firstly, the gap between Bate Borisov and Barcelona means their like are thrashed and turfed out every year. Secondly, the loser’s winnings keep them way above their own domestic competition, so they may return each year to be humiliated by Bayern and Real all over again. They have become simultaneously untouchable kings in their own territories and cannon fodder internationally. Witness the hoo-ha these days if there is a debutante in the group stage or if an unheralded team like Malaga (although propped up with dubious finances) make a bit of a splash. By the time we reach the quarter finals each year, the draw throws teams together, who now play each other four or five times a decade. Unless you are one of these teams, the interest level is surely unsustainable and, even if you are, the attention must begin to drift a little as Barcelona hove into view yet again

City, new to this sumptuous banquet of noblemen, have already had to visit Prince Ludwig's lair twice and they have only participated three times. City’s opponents in the Champions League so far have been:

2011-12
BAYERN
NAPOLI
VILLAREAL
2012-13
REAL MADRID
BORUSSIA DORTMUND
AJAX
2013-14
BAYERN
CSKA MOSCOW
VIKTORIA PLZEN

City’s chances of drawing Real, Barcelona or Bayern yet again next season are high, given they are likely to emerge from Pot Two. Already a familiarity is seeping into the experience and we have only seen the side escape the group phase once in three attempts. It is likely that City will, FFP attempts to derail them notwithstanding, become one of the staples in this diet of stellar teams, megastars and wide-eyed camera-holding spectator-tourists. How are we going to feel about that? Until City win the thing – and this will surely happen one day, given the momentum the club now has and despite its historical bent towards avoiding such glamorous outcomes– it will no doubt hold a sufficiently high level of interest for most onlookers. The chance to see City step out in the cathedrals of Europe (and Plzen) is still a novelty of high enough value to attract many of us brought up on the away end at Huddersfield and trips to the Baseball Ground, but how much time do we still have in this world of unhappy millionaire footballers before even this becomes a little too stale for our liking?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

WOODWARD WOULD, BUT WOULD ANYBODY ELSE?



Mr Ed Woodward has systematically announced, proclaimed and stated that Manchester United Football Club will be “right back into single digit league table action” next season. In a hot and highly inspirational press conference, the football accounts whizzkid laid bare some other facts for the hungry press pack, suggesting that “the football club will be doing its utmost to appropriately extend economically sound applications” wherever it sees fit, that is to say completely generate future-proof aggregates for our multi-digit masses of customers, users, clients and partners worldwide”.

At an early part of the proceedings a perceptibly flustered Sir Bobby Charlton was led away by a gaggle of security guards after blurting out “I GUARANTEE WE WILL FINISH ABOVE CITY NEXT YEAR!!!!”. Looking troubled and having to wipe away sweat from his astonishing dome, Woodward shuffled closer to the bank of microphones and, waiting for an unfortunate facial tick to die away, said, “That is to say, Sir Robert of Charlton expects the football club to be able to in one form or another administrate granular internal or even organic success over a sustainable period of up to triple digit years. At least that is how you should understand it and you can quote me on that, oh yes”.

At this point squeals could be heard from behind the giant white canvass at the back of the stage, where Charlton was being administered with a family bottle of Lucozade and some Manchester United sponsored wet wipes.
Quizzed on the whereabouts of new coaching supremo and overlord Louis van Gaal, Woodward explained that the Dutch coach with no visible signs of a chin fungibly welcomed pioneering aspects of what might well be a matrix interactive leadership pogron and that he would be signing "sometime after the Equinox game".

Woodward concluded the plenary session with a dramatic Churchillian sweep of his rather short arms, opining: “in order to appropriately develop multifunctional platforms and strategize innovative client-based applications, relationships and best practices, we are all firmly agreed that the first thing to do is take a really cold bath. Only by doing this, can I come back into contact with some of my internal organs. Thank you and see you in a double digit future sometime in August”.

Friday, May 9, 2014

LEST WE FORGET

To all those who have shared the pain, 


to all those who drank it in,  
to all those who believed what they saw
to those who couldn't believe their eyes;

to those that toasted with champagne, flat beer, stale ale, Russian vodka, prize gin or a cup of tea
to those on the Hobec, the Delirium and the Alpha Super Dortmunder  
to those who hugged, bumped, shuddered, cried and bruised their legs at Wembley 99, 
to those who giggled at Oldham when Big Andy flexed his neck; 
to those who saw the pie hit Peter Willis
to those in the snow and the rain and the howling gale

to those getting sun burnt and to those catching a cold
to those who got washed out at Boundary Park when Smith missed his pen, 
to those who swore at Lincoln they'd never come again; 
to the bloke who ripped up his season ticket book on the pitch v Bury,
to all those who have resorted to the sherry and the creme de menthe
to those that have run around dazed for days, 
to those that have laughed, cajoled, persisted and wished us on from afar; 
to all those that supported us, put up with us, slapped our backs, kept us sane, avoided eye contact, didn't say what they were thinking, left things unsaid; 
to all those that sang their hearts out, wrote, sympathised, phoned,emailed, reflected and thought of us; 
to all those in the Oscar Wilde in Berlin when City played Blackburn and the Lord smiled on us;



to all those in fancy dress at the Victoria Ground
to all those refs who we questioned
to all the linesmen we abused
to all those in Sale and Brooklands, in Cheadle and Prestwich, Collyhurst and Stalybridge
to those in Moston and Altrincham, Gorton and Ancoats
to all those left behind in Amsterdam, in Alkmaar, in Dusseldorf, in Luzern, in Ballasalla, in Valencia, in Barcelona, in Lisbon, in Gonçal Bocas, in Alicante, in The Hague, in Porto, in Clermont Ferrand, in Haarlem, in Ponsacco, in Baltimore and Denver; 
to all those sharing a moment at 3 o'clock every Saturday; 
to all those who doubted, poked fun, poured scorn, cried foul; 
to all those who believed, believed some more, hoped, lost sleep, threw up, fell out, jumped in; 
to all those who waxed lyrical, shouted from the rooftops, bellowed, cried and stood firm; 
to all those that went home and away; 
to all those in The Comfy Cushion, The Parkside, The Whitestone, The White Hart, The Broadfield, Terry Neil’s, Mary D's, The Blarney Stone, The Boardroom, Yate's, The Pumphouse; The Funzel, The Proeflokaal, The Glue Pot and The George Hotel
to all those that propped us up, put an arm around us, bought us a drink, put up with our moods, pretended to listen, spared us a thought; ruffled our hair; bought us a consolation pint of Terribly Bitter


to all those at Ewood Park, The Den, Saltergate, Bootham Crescent; 
to all those who tackled, blocked, saved, scored, headed, came on, came off, jumped, challenged and played out of their skins; 
to all those who sang long and hard deep into the night;
to all those who dared to dream;
to all those who still dream;
to Dickov and the Goat;
to all who cheered at Wrexham and Stoke;
to all who ran the gauntlet at Huddersfield and Wolverhampton;
to all those on the pop at Meadow Lane
to all those who sang louder the worse it got;
to all those who renewed for Division Three
to the 30,000 that turned out for Blackpool;
to all those on the InterCity to Newcastle;
to all those in the minibus to Swansea
to all those hitch-hiking to Plymouth
to all those in Gelsenkirchen and Copenhagen, Liege and Bilbao, 
to all those on the fishing smack to the Faroes 
to all those in the double decker at Lokeren;
to all those who empathise, sympathise, chastise;
to all those who tried to understand despite everything;
to all those who support United, Everton, Leeds, Chelsea but put up with us as mates on non-match days;
to Rodney Marsh and to Tony Towers
to all those who support MSV, Schalke, Sporting, Napoli, Milan, Benfica, Juve, AZ, Ajax, Belenenses, Valencia but now support City a little bit too;
to all those who have caught the bug;
to all those who send text messages when we lose
to all those who have it in your hearts to say "come on Blues" just to make us happy
to all those writing, thinking, posting, tweeting;
to all those who were there and will be there
to all those who have watched our boys at Wembley
to all those who knees went all trembly
to all those who wish they could be there
to all those new to the throng
to all those who can never go again
to all those wizened, cracked, broken and chastened
to all those for whom hope is the killer
to Paolo Wanchope and Kevin Horlock
to Micky Horswill and Geoff Hammond
to the unsung heroes and the bottle washers 



to the kitmen and the carpert cleaners;
to all those driving Lamborghinis
to Nigel de Jong and Mario Balotelli
to guvnors and young guvnors
to all those who have played like we dream
to all those who have dreamed
to all those who have had a nightmare
to Jamie Pollock
to all those for whom a Blue Moon rising sends a little shivver down the spine;
to all those who climbed the fences at Villa Park;
to all those who saw next to nothing at London Road;
to all those who watched six go into the Norwich net;
to all those who clapped Big Mal across the turf
to all those who flew with Steve Mackenzie;
to all those who sank with Ricky Villa;
to Bobby Mac in goals 
to David James upfront
to Neil Young and Arthur Mann, to Malcolm Allison and John Benson;
to Roy Paul and Don Revie, to Genial Joe and Tommy Caton;
to Whitey, Quinny and Lakey;
to all those who waved a banana and sang Blue Moon;
to all those who sang in the rain in the Prater;
to all those who took a punch on the nose at Barnsley
to all those asked the time at Millwall
to all those who played on through the pain;
to all those who watched four goals go in on Tyneside;
to Stan Gibson and his pitchfork;
to Bert Trautmann and the never-say-die spirit;
to Buzzer, Franny and Colin the King;
to the indomitable spirit of Pablo Zabaleta
to those who have walked Claremont Road;
to those who have raised a glass at the City Gates;
to Tommy Hutch and Kevin Reeves;
to Bill Taylor and Peter Swales;
to Bernard Halford and Tony Book;
to all those who have risked food poisoning, drank too much and never regretted a moment;
to all those hemmed in at Bradford, on the hill at Blackburn, behind the wire at Wednesday, in the sheeting rain at Huddersfield
to all those who entered enemy territory;
to the guy who jumped on Keith Curle at Old Trafford;
to quiet Mel and morose Ron; squeaky Alan and confused Phil;
to Uwe Rosler and Ian Bishop;
to all those who played bit parts;
to all those who scored off the far post;
to those that put 5 in the United net in 89;
to those that saw Dickov slide in the rain;
to those that stayed and those that left and those that turned back and came again
to Bondy, Jimmy Frizz and Big Seizure;
to Georgi Kinkladze;
to all those who watched van Blerk, Kernaghan, Beesley, McNaught, and still raised a cheer;
to the legendary 8,000;
to jinking Kaziu Deyna,


 to all those that sank 12 pints with Bobby Mac and Gerry Gow
to those that swayed on the Kippax, bawled in the Platt Lane, chanted in the North Stand and ate pies in the Main Stand;
to those Chaos Coaches from Prestwich and Whitefield 
to those that came on the pitch at Loftus Road
to Binman Bob 
to all those who saw the glory of Wrexham and Real
to all those who craned their necks, asked who it was, smiled, tutted and shook their heads;
to all those who saw Dennis fly at Wembley;
to those who had a surreptitious leak;
to those who wet themselves;
to those who hung on and have hung on until now;
to those who never gave up;
to those who came back;
to those who can't take anymore;
to those who went away;
to those who are there in spirit;
to all those who will not see what happens next;
to all those who have seen enough already;
to those who will take what comes
to all those who packed the boozers at West Brom and Watford, Carlisle and Nottingham;
to those rubbing their hands and eyes at Gay Meadow and The Shay;
to all those for whom Górnik Zabrze means something;
to all those raising the roof in Apeldoorn
to Peter Barnes and to Dennis Tueart; 



to Denis and his heel;
to Barney Daniels;
to Gerald Sinstadt, David Coleman, Barry Davies, John Motson, Brian Moore and those who have put silken words to our deeds;
to all those who like history
to all those on the quays in Porto and shivering in Red Square
to Captain Mike Doyle;
to Duncan Davidson and Gordon Dalziel
to all those with too many blue garments;
to all those who refuse to wear red
to all those already wearing their lucky underpants;
to those with their sleeves rolled up
to those with a clenched fist
to those with a welcoming hug
to all those in their match gear
to all those who don't really know how to cope,
to all those who don't understand why we do it;
to all those who have spent their last pound on a ticket;
to all those at the Full Members Cup and the Auto Windscreens;
to all those at Darlington and York;
to Edin Dzeko and the 6-1
to captain Vinny and Martin Demichelis
to those who love not knowing what comes next;
to The Elephant of Bondoukou
to all those who fret and worry
to those who take it in their stride
to little El Mago and his pirouettes
to all those who keep on coming
to all those drinking red wine on the Bakerloo Line
to all those on the quays at Porto
to Big Joe and to Helen and her bell
to the Kings of the Kippax
to those with memories of Maine Road
to all those in the 95th minute v QPR
to all those climbing the steps at the Nou Camp
to the quiet man Manuel Pellegrini
to all those who dared believe one day we would come out into the summer sunshine;

You could never say that you didn't play your part 







Other Tedious Stuff

Poets and Lyricists