Friday, February 22, 2013


A dirty blue dystopian tidal wave is at our door. The first, flotsam-strewn wavelets are playing across the plinth and dampening the frayed front edges of our casually discarded Micah Richards slippers. The sky grows dark and angry, disgorging great black plumes across the horizon.

Discontent swirls around the columns and arches of the old ramparts like a serpent intent on wreaking havoc upon all it surveys. A clock strikes the witching hour somewhere in the middle distance of a corridor lit badly by flickering torches. The sound of knives being sharpened on an industrial lathe can clearly be heard. Somebody might already be screaming.

The night talks to us in cold, discomforting epithets. Robert the Dread and shallow-water-City. Dead Men Walking and Motionless Shakeless Kolarov. Disaster is close at hand. Or, at least, something that smells very like disaster. It might, on the other hand, just be badly cooked brodino. Flee if you can, if you wish and, if you stay, avert your gaze, for terrible hobgoblins are about to enter the realms of humankind and blow out those torches of hope. All we will be left with will be the clothes we stand in, a clinging darkness and -possibly- the Europa League.

Then, without as much as the briefest of warnings, the glorious Manchester City of recent times reappears and smites four goals past the hapless men-children of Leeds. They tinker with them like a cat fiddles with a ball of wool. Then, when the plaything is bedraggled and out of shape, they bat it casually into the bushes. Are we to laugh again and straighten our backs, or to remain hunched in the corner, awaiting the next fearsome blow? Is this the way to salvation, an army of marching luminaries, bare-chested and brave, chanting about the best team in the and and all the world? Or are we to start daubing sheets with welcome phrases in Portuguese?

Modern football has taught us to treat victory and defeat in the same exaggerated manner. Second place in the table? Woe is me. Look at the millions of petrodollars fluttering in the Lancashire gale. A defeat at Southampton? God bring down a cloud of locusts on anybody, who does not equate such a thing to the very gates of doom rattling on their ill-gotten hinges, the very end of civilization as we know it. Horsemeat bound in sheets of cheap pasta awaits us all.

Scott Sinclair, Champions League
Arsene Wenger's Great Arsenal Story Book is a case in hand. Is this a black thriller or a comedy set in the labyrinthine waterways of rain-kissed Alsace? Are we meant to listen to the appalling bleating or get on with the washing up? Can this be the future of football, with its unfathomably expensive puffy seats, its matchday experience and its styrofoam cups?What in God's name is happening?

City's midfield, strident and well turned out, ran tiny intricate rings around its opponents, leaving Michael Brown with his shirt on back-to-front and his team-mates chasing what appeared to be the dust marks left by shadows. The goal tally could and maybe should have been seven or eight, but the happy crowd went home with four to slot into their memory banks...
Missing Cavani's music
Win the Cup or its the end of the road, suggests the Daily Hopscotch. Kolo kind of agrees, but not in so many words, misquoted as he is, always is, in the Daily TwostepsBackwards. Even the ornate Italian, distant and frazzled, is beginning to enter the fray. "If they sack me, then all the league's managers have to go...". There are signs of Beesleysndrome and of The Raging Ashtons. Things and people are getting to him again, no doubt. So, 2012-2013 has something of the gallows about it, something of the night, something of the vaguely ridiculous. Would City watchers really have been attempting an argument as preposterous as this, had the bouncy summer budget been spent on Van Persie or Cavani, or Hazard, instead of poor unused unloved Scott Sinclair? Might that 12 point gap at the top have been reversed? Might it have been wise? You know, in the circumstances. To keep on building.

Instead talk is cheap and our air is char-grilled. In place of lying in the sun awaiting another tidal wave of smiles and belly laughs, we find ourselves huddled in an uncomfortable ball, avoiding the stares and muttering about "wholesale clear-outs". Between the knee-jerk reactions to life's tiny ups and downs and the lack of any reaction at all to last summer's needs, it is charming to see that we are still capable of cutting a funny old figure sometimes.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Bert of Leeds waves his bowling pumps
And the gods of football did bring down a terrible and heavy revenge on the men of Yorkshire. A coruscating, unflinching revenge at last for so many dastardly acts of the past: It came down first in a shower of poisonous toads on Neil Warnock, for his devilish deeds with his Notts County side of 1991 that beat City in an incredible FA Cup game, when City would not have scored if someone with a crane and wrecking ball had flattened every member of the opposition, widened the County goal and issued Alan Harper with a flame thrower. Revenge came down in a black pall of smoke on Leeds themselves for all those crunching defeats in the 70s from wee Billy and Big Jack. Revenge arrived swiftly too for the 5-2 thumping last time these teams met in the FA Cup, when Leeds' young cubs swiped City out of the cup in an afternoon of bristling attacking play. 

Report: Manchester City 4-0 Leeds United
Jolly: Mancini rewarded for trusting big names


Looking up into the stands before the match, there were the bent and greying shapes of Tony Book, captain in many a gruesome battle with these men of Yorkshire; of Big Joe Corrigan, who made possibly his greatest-ever save in the FA Cup against this very opposition in 1977, flinging his giant frame into an impossible horizontal swoop to keep the ball out of the City net; of Peter Lorimer, whose high-octane shots used to fly past the City defence before there had even been time to shout "duck." 

This article can be read in full on ESPN's MCFC pages

Gathering momentum:
3rd Round:    Watford H 3-0
4th Round:    Stoke A 1-0
5th Round:    Leeds H 4-0
6th Round:    Barnsley H ....

Q/F draw:  City v Barnsley; Millwall v Blackburn; Everton/Oldham v Wigan; Man Utd/Reading v Middlesbrough/Chelsea

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Leeds United, a welcome sight, a blast from the past.

Marsh and Yorath join battle in 1973
When the Lillywhites step out in their chosen away outfit for the day on Sunday, few will be the links to the golden era of wee Billy Bremner, Big Jack Charlton, to Don Revie and his dossiers, Les Cocker and his medicine bag. There will be no Johnny Giles prompting and digging, no hotshot Lorimer to larrup the ball home. The only constant, linking us all to the days of yore, is likely to be the phalanx of lively visitors from across the hills shouting about "loidsh" and "yerkshire" and otherworldly things that we simple folk can only guess at. 

Leeds represent something of a bulwark in our rose-tinted memories of past years. They strutted about in their all-white kit. They tinkered about with little number flags sticking out of their socks. They kept the ball for twenty minutes against Southampton that time on Match of the Day, enabling Barry Davies to go and make himself a cup of tea in the middle of his BBC commentary. They always seemed to be on the point of winning something, then messing up. It was a right royal soap opera, with The Don directing the traffic in his mac and lucky blue suit. There was Sniffer Clarke and Mick Jones with his cup final bandages. Paul Madeley, the "Rolls Royce" of English defenders and little Chic Bates. They won the league at a canter in 1974, then rocketed to the European Cup Final, where, after the referee decided to be on Bayern's side for the evening, the Leeds support gave us the other image that has lasted the test of time, that of rioting hooligans. A penalty not given; a goal mysteriously  disallowed. There were so many seats on the pitch that night at the Parc des Princes that the Leeds fans invented safe standing in extremis all by themselves. There was probably precious little else safe in Paris that night.    

The 3rd round FA Cup tie City played at Elland Road, Leeds in January 1978 was not only a classic of its kind but represented the end of that great Leeds era and also a microcosm of all that was seventies football: two star-studded sides, flowing football, flowing hair, heaving terraces, ill discipline amongst the players and considerable crowd trouble. 


On 4th April 1992, City -flying in the top six of the table under the high octane stewardship of Peter Reid and Sam Ellis- were preparing for the visit of a Leeds United, who were one of only five teams ahead of them in the league. Leeds it was, under the schoolmasterly Howard Wilkinson, that were providing the main challenge to Manchester United in their seemingly never-ending quest for the league title.

The Yorkshiremen arrived at Maine Road in rich form and there seemed little to point towards the humbling experience that awaited them. By the end of the game, they had been handed a lesson in attacking football and clinical finishing, had had their title hopes severely dented and had ended up receiving what would remain their heaviest defeat of the season. It was one of two consecutive home 4-0 thrashings dealt out by City to their Yorkshire neighbours at this time.

A more recent cup tussle in 2000 reduced City to rubble, as a young attacking Leeds side took the Blues to the cleaners. Still we had the memory of a shot from Ian Bishop that for its beauty, accuracy and deadliness still takes some beating today.

There have been many a tussle along the way and this year's reunion in the Cup will bring back great memories for many City and Leeds fans alike. Here are a few to whet the appetite before one of football's great rivalries is rejoined on the Etihad pitch on Sunday:

September 1981: Trevor Francis injures himself, a feature of his brief but exciting City career, but it doesn't derail City's impressive mauling of the visitors with two goals each for Kevin Reeves and Dennis Tueart.

August 1993: Opening day of the season. Flitcroft's late goal looks all the way the winner, but Brian Deane steps up and brings Leeds level at 1-1
April 1977: Brian Kidd nets one of his two goals in a 2-0 win at a packed Maine Road. Eddie Gray, Peter Hampton, Terry Yorath and Paul Reaney watch the ball fly in.
September 2000: Jeff Whitely and Mark Viduka struggle for possession in City's first away game of the season, a surprising 2-1 win for the Blues.
September 1979: A shot goes flying in during City's 2-1 Elland Road win. Goals from Paul Power and Kaziu Deyna sealed the victory that day.
January 2000: FA Cup action and a spread-eagled Nicky Weaver cannot prevent the ball entering the City net in the festival of goals that was Leeds 5-2 win at Maine Road. Goater and then Bishop with a tremendous curling volley had put City in front twice, before a multi-talented young Leeds side hit back in devastating fashion.
April 1992: the first of two consecutive 4-0 home routs of Leeds, this one almost derailing the visitors' hopes of winning the title in front of Manchester United
March 1993: Gary Flitcroft does battle with the late Gary Speed in a 1-0 win for Leeds at Elland Road.
March 1982: Kevin Reeves scores the crucial winner as both sides slip towards the wrong end of the table. Picture shows a tussle between Leeds hardman Kenny Burns and City utility player Aage Hareide.
January 2003: Robbie Fowler is about to swap Yorkshire dales for Lancashire moors, as Leeds are beaten by Shaun Goater and a wonder strike from Niklas Jensen. Goater doesn't care who he's paired with as long as he's fed properly.
September 2000: Steve Howey has just scored at Elland Road and is congratulated by ex-Leeds man Alf-Inge Haaland. City had just returned to the Premier league under Kevin Keegan and were setting out on what would be an eventful first season back with the big boys.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Nil-nil, two-two, three-nil, Yaya, Garcia; 3-5-2, 9 points, Milner, QPR...
Dear Manchester City, I stand here -- not for the first time in our long and tumultuous relationship -- a little confused. You have given us two draws in the last two games, to add to an unbeaten run into the new year. Our dear neighbours reside up the road, nine doors further along to be precise, midway up Easy Street with their feet up watching the telly. Probably eating peanuts. I am not jealous of the peanuts but am a little confused about being in second place. I cannot make up my mind whether my glass has plenty of life's eternal juices slopping around busily inside, or is leaking its odd-smelling liquid out of the massive as-yet-unnoticed crack at the back. 

- City must win all their games, says Hart


3-0, 3-0, 2-0, 2-0, 1-0, then 0-0 and 2-2. Tell me, is this a wobble before the fall or a pause in the middle of a quickening run towards the finishing line? Why does it echo so in here? Who has hidden my Brian Horton pills, and what is that big man in the lab coat doing with such a big syringe?
Since the annual festive collapse on Wearside, where City were easily beaten by a hitherto and indeed henceforth lethargic and sedentary Sunderland side, goals have been -- relatively speaking -- flying in. Four at Norwich, three v Stoke and Watford, two against Arsenal and Fulham, one at Stoke in the cup and two more v Liverpool. Is this a harvest of quasi-swashbuckling football, or is the goals trail actually beginning to dry up before it has properly reached a flood? None at QPR, don't forget, and that graph is definitely heading toward a pointy end, apart from the two last weekend, which, many would agree, were approximately two more than what was deserved and a mite fortunate given the run of play.

Read the full article here at ESPNFC


Liverpool, until quite recently, were more of a full-blown Friday the 13th hoodoo to Manchester City than a mere boogey-team. At the height of their pomp and glory years three decades ago, they managed 85 unbeaten home games on the trot. That astonishing feat occurred between January 1978 and January 1981. That's three whole years unbeaten at Anfield, a period during which City got tanned a few times, too.

- Aguero brilliance rescues point

Liverpool supporters would probably accept the offer of a month unbeaten these days, but Sunday's performance at the Etihad gave this correspondent a view back on many years of anguish and embarrassment, as Liverpool rolled back at least some of those years to produce a surprisingly fluid and dominant display at the home of the champions. 

The clown and the sorcerer
So resolute and chipper did they become, in fact, that a rare home defeat looked in the cards until Sergio Aguero played the angles to score a sumptuous equaliser to salvage a 2-2 draw. It had been a game chock full of mistakes, mislaid passes and flying, mistimed tackles but was decorated with four beautiful goals. Once again, the English Premier League laid on an error-ridden slide fest that, by the end, had everyone glued to its every hop, every skip and every bump.

It had already become evident Tuesday at Loftus Road that City were not on the brink of any great breakthrough of form or cohesion, as they struggled to get around the bottom club's pedestrian defence. Down Hill and around Derry, there had been no way through to a goal ably marshaled by Julio Cesar. Liverpool's defence presented an altogether different prospect, with Daniel Agger looking like the leftover from a biker fistfight and Jamie Carragher older and wiser in the dark arts of mugging than the hills themselves. Behind them, Pepe Reina trained his sights, slapped his enormous gloves together and checked his angles. 

You can read the full article here via ESPNFC 

Friday, February 1, 2013


HAVE-NOTS: Q.P.R. are aware of what relegation might mean. to them
The Transfer Window, like an addled giant in crotchless pants, waddles through our life once a year with Sky Sports News "hanging out the back", desperately trying to keep us all up to date with near-to-precisely nothing at all. It is a gauge of where modern football has carried us all kicking and screaming: the final gurgling death throes of a witless and feckless agent dust-up in the grey and wet of olde England. In amongst the bullshit, the unhinged and the grotesque posing as something vaguely glamorous, the wrinkly sausage of English football, Harry Redknapp, cast in the role of transfer day fulcrum, the non-fashion magnet, Mr Dave Beckham, posing as a priceless but brainless sporting commodity and Mr. Christopher Samba, intruding on a dank Friday in our lives with his multi-million pound, £100,000 a week (count them, just count them) wages to stand before us as Transfer Deadline Day's Hottest Hot News.It's not Mork and Odemwingie and it's not really worth all the fuss, now is it?

I ask you. From Anzi Makhachkala to Queen's Park Rangers. Once upon a time this would have been little more than the route the Orient Express took. Once upon a time we would not have stopped stirring our weary tea for trifles such as that.

Jordan Obita has left Reading for Oldham. But only on loan. Who is Jordan Obita? Heurelho Gomes, Tottenham to Hoffenheim. Good luck with that, good and stout villagers of Hoffenheim.

We are saturated with football. The minutiae, the crumbs, the dribble of leaking break fluid, as we career off down the hill to where Jim White and Mike Parry and Alan Brazil and the Cybermen are all waiting for us. Set tazers to Destroy Utterly.

It is entirely fitting that a club like QPR, with its ramshackle flamboyance and its Ford Capri puzzaz, should be the focal point of this year's close-to-non-stories. They even have their very own Harry Redknapp, my God, the real one, to preside over this monstrous celebration of not Very Much At All.  

Batman Close gets an extra watering
Last Tuesday, it must be said, with two goalkeepers on the bench for the visit of City and a team already beginning to bear the latest fruit from Tony Fernandes trolley dash through the French first division, you could have been forgiven for asking "Just What Is This All For?". The stakes are high, higher this year than ever before to those considering taking the Premier League underground service to Lower Middling or Muddle on the Floss. Or even Portsmouth Central. New tv money will be much like old tv money, only there will be even more sacks of the stuff lining the director's private corridors. It is this that Queens Park Rangers wish to avoid missing out on. It is this that makes Queens Park Rangers a sort of compelling car crash soap opera to those still awake enough to follow.

Whilst they throw a hundred grand a week at the delightful talents of Christopher Samba, however, not a single penny seems to have been spent on the, what shall we call it, snug away end at Loftus Road. The School End, so called because it has the look of a delapidated bicycle shed, is narrow, painfully narrow, constructed from pipes and boards and odd things left over after geometry class, and gives you the feeling it could be deconstructed with relative ease if you possessed the right levels of anger. I'm sure I read a sign with a lightning flash on it telling me not to lean against the back panels in case I fell out onto South Africa Road.

STAY BACK: There is danger beyond this point.
Owing to a prolonged team talk in the Hop and Pole ("Pop and Hole" by the time we had finished with it) in Hammersmith, some of us were what is generically called "legging it" with two minutes to kick off. The ground loomed ahead of us out of the sheet rain like a capsized pedalo in a boating lake. After dark sounds and smells cascaded about the place. South Africa Road, Bloemfontein Road. The place wreaks not only of hotdogs and kebabs but of a colonial past when money was easy and diamonds were chipped out of the pavements every ten feet. I strayed haphazardly into Batman Close for a super hero leak behind a broken bus shelter. Here there was only a discarded polystyrene and smudged savoloy treasure trove.

Owing to the crushing interest being shown by the locals for their Premier League club, City have been awarded only the paltry offering of seats crammed into the top deck of the School End. I feel like pelting those below with chewed paper pellets from the end of a ruler, but I am missing the materials (no programmes in the rush and the rain and the dark) and a man in a flourescent bib is telling me to get back from near the edge for my own safety. Maybe I look unsteady on my feet, maybe he means he'll be forced to twat me if I advance, I'm not sure. Owing to these vigorous safety measures, not only are we deprived the bottom tier tonight, but also the front row of the top tier, which is covered in savage smelling tarpaulin. Maybe we will be issued with helmets next and a safety video to play on the iPhone before kick-off. Only kick-off has already happened. Figures are scampering about in the driving rain.

Vuvuzela Man prepares to parp
Modern technology had allowed us a look at the City line-up long before we left the pub. Glasses were raised to a side bristling with intent. The pocket rockets are back in after the big boys' day out at Stoke and most agree that that is fair enough against the division's most errant schoolchild. However, it quickly looks like these snotty nosed young savages are up for a fight tonight. This will be no Milton Keynsian utopia, but real life Shepherd's Bush. City prod and probe, only to find 'keeper Julio Cesar erecting an impressive defensive structure. We cannot pass and when we do, Zabaleta's header slaps the bar.

Half time brings an opportunity to walk the vivid concourse, meet and greet and swing a cat above one's shoulders. In fact, none of this is possible, as 1700 people converge on a streak of concrete the width of a piece of an aeroplane aisle. Ah, Mr Fernandes, spend some dosh on this heaving bike shed before it blows away in the storm. Back on the steps, it is increasingly obvious we are witnessing a stalemate between ones who want to but cant and ones who don't want to at all. It is neither pretty nor clever.

Silva makes one last attempt to flick an effort past the Brazillian keeper, but he is having none of it, sticking out a hand to swat it away. A rotund figure with a vuvuzela in the South Africa Road Stand starts to parp a serenade to his 0-0 heroes. He is quickly told how and where to store the annoying instrument. If ever the croaky coughs of a plastic trumpet could represent the hollowness and absurdity of life, it is this. David Beckham, newly signed by Paris St Germain, a club outdoing even City in the shock horror spending stakes, would appreciate its strangled melody. It quacks of hypocrisy and vanity, it parps look at me and chokes in the cold air when it realises it is a sad parody of all our yesteryears. Beckham will do well in Paris. He has the natural style and class to sway the Parisiens. He knows literature and history and politics. He is at once ambassadorial and trite. He speaks fluidly and profoundly. And his wife. Victoria Paradis, can sing the pigeons clean out of the trees. Apart from his well aired dislike of clubs who spend to match the old elite, he should be an absolute hit by the banks of the Seine, of that there can be little doubt. 

Back by the Thames our time is up. The cold embrace of Bloemfontein Road awaits us. It is dark and all roads look the same around here. I walk into a cul-de-sac and swear loudly into the rain. It is a metaphor for something, you can be sure of that.


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