Monday, 25 October 2010

How can we relate?

For me, last week epitomises everything wrong with football today.

A journalist I follow on Twitter tweeted: “Rooney incident is the story of modern football; overpaid mercenaries squeezing greedy clubs, funded by poor fans. Pathetic.” Harsh but so true. We are used to British football’s reputation being dragged through the mud - every Tom, Dick and Harry in the Premier League is splashed across our Sunday papers each week for cheating with the latest wannabe celebrity WAG, and the John Terry saga earlier this year has ensured we aren’t easily shocked anymore. However, Wayne Rooney took football to new depths last week, no question about it.

You tell me how any normal football supporter can relate to a player who, after throwing his toys out of the pram, is punished by being given a five year contract on £250,000 a week? For the first time, the old cliché of ‘no player is bigger than the club’ has been proved wrong – at this current time, Rooney has managed to bring arguably the biggest club there is to its knees. He should be ashamed of himself.

As I travelled back from Birmingham V Blackpool on Saturday, I tuned into the new Five Live show with Robbie Savage. Unsurprisingly, he sided with Rooney. He even told a story of how he once had a club where he was worshipped “in the palm of his hand”, demanding a million pound a year and eventually getting it. By the way Savo, it doesn’t take a genius to work out your were referring to Blues. It may be typical Savage, but it shocked me how he believed he was well within his rights to take such large sums of money. He argued that we would do the same in our jobs, something many would agree on.

However, what these footballers fail to realise is the emotional investment that fans up and down the country place into their football teams. Like I said in an earlier post, the majority are out of touch with reality meaning they are clueless as to how their actions will be perceived.

To add insult to injury, Rooney then flees the UK to Dubai with the same wife and mother of his child that were at the centre of his most recent escapades involving prostitutes – it’s so morally wrong.

He’ll be back to face the music soon enough.

Let me cast your mind back to the USA game in the World Cup – Rooney reacting angrily to fans booing after failing to beat the Americans – best get prepared for more of the same I’m afraid, Wayne.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Business as usual

Five games in the new Premier League season already, and it’s safe to say we look like we are beginning to get a good insight into how the season will go - Chelsea dominant, West Ham hopeless, Liverpool struggling and Arsene Wenger still moaning about referees. A few surprises maybe in the form of Blackpool and Villa’s stuttering start, but in general, it looks like business as usual.

Birmingham have started from where they left off last season. Until last weekend’s derby defeat to West Brom, Birmingham were unbeaten having taken points from Sunderland and Bolton away from home and beating Blackburn at St Andrews. There was also the televised draw to Liverpool and a game where not only me but 27,000 fans walked away from feeling hard done by that we didn’t take all three points – in all the years of watching Premier League football, Pepe Reina’s performance between the sticks was quite sensational.

With a new season comes a new sense of expectation – if you see a previous blog post from last season, I talked about this a lot last season. On the M40 on the way to Birmingham, I wasn’t sat there hoping for a draw. I wasn’t sat there hoping we at least give them a run for their money and make their multi-millionaires earn their money. I was sat there realistically expecting a win.

The expectation at St Andrews has increased tenfold. At the full-time whistle, an air of disappointment filled the ground, and for me it showed the progress we’ve made as a football club. This phrase “proud supporter” gets banded around, but at the moment I really am.

However, it is where this expectation can rise to that can cause concern. Alex McLeish, prior to Blues Carling Cup tie against the MK Dons, responded to suggestions that his team were aiming for the top 6, claiming they were “ludicrous”.

What is ludicrous is the fickle mind of each and every football supporter across the land, and from experience, particularly supporters of the Midlands clubs – just ask Villa supporters where in the league they think they should be aiming. The trick is to capture this expectation and channel it – booing a team because they haven’t blown a Bolton or a Blackpool away at home is simply not the right thing to do.

17th position come May will suit me just fine.

Just ask Pompey was expectation has done to their football club.

Monday, 16 August 2010

There’s only one Robbie Savage

Robbie Savage is never a man to shy from the limelight - last week was the launch of his autobiography, and boy did we all know about it.

For Birmingham City supporters it was a chance to finally find out the ‘truth’ as to why he left to join Blackburn at a time when the Steve Bruce renaissance period threatened to elevate Blues to the heights previously unknown.

Was money the issue? Was it as case of one last big payday? Something is for certain, it wasn’t a case of Sav being out of favour – he was adored by myself and every Blues fan during his time at the club and in all honestly, we still haven’t replaced him. We may have had the class of Christophe Dugarry, but no one even came close to the flamboyant Welshman. He was an absolute joy to watch.

I haven’t actually read the book (£17.99 RRP?!) but I managed to grab a copy whilst shopping in WHSmith and have a flick through. The chapters focussing on his time at St Andrews were really interesting, as expected its typically arrogant – at one point describes how he was the reason the Blues stayed up in their first season in the Premier League – it is one of those statements I hate to admit, but he did. People don’t give enough credit for his overall play. Sav kept the Blues ticking, short and simple when we had it and in his time at the Blues he became deadly from the set-piece. It was when he didn’t have the ball that he was on another level to other players. He chased everything and gave up on nothing – if there is any other player that covered more ground in the first two Premier League seasons the Blues were up I would be seriously surprised – he was magnificent. When he went on his headless runs to close down a back pass, he took every single Bluenose with him and that is why he became such a hero.

There is a fine line between love and hate – just ask Savo. The papers this week jumped on his admission in the book that at in his last game for Blues he didn’t even try – you wonder why he has been so brutally honest. For fans that once loved him, the hatred many feel now still lingers. In last year’s FA Cup tie at Pride Park he was the target of abuse from all 5,000 Bluenoses – at the end of the game he ensured he was the very last man to leave the field of play just to rub it in that little bit extra.

You see Savage, no matter how good or bad, feeds on the limelight. His whole career has been based on it – ‘Jobbiegate’, his Blues departure and his arrival at bottom of the league Derby driving a name but a few moments that have guaranteed Savage his newspaper inches. Even following him on Twitter these last two weeks has been an experience - @RobbieSavage8.

However, despite the book revelations, he will always be one of the game’s characters that everyone will miss once he decides he will hang up the boots. I will remember a player who gave everything in the time he wore the royal blue, a player who wore his heart on his sleeve, excuse the cliché.

Good luck to him.

Friday, 30 July 2010

What a difference a World Cup makes

Apparently the new football season starts in 2-3 weeks...anyone else finding it hard motivating yourself for it?

The ‘World Cup Hangover’ is still lingering. Personally, I still don’t think the disappointment has quite set in as yet. At this time of the summer in years gone by, I literally can’t wait for the season to get started – new signings, new managers, new kits create a huge buzz in the countdown to the start of each season. It is still happening – I’m distinctively lacking the football ‘bug’ all of a sudden, and personally I blame the World Cup.

I think we can all safely say it was a World Cup that failed to excite or entertain, especially if you are English. As much as I hope this doesn’t happen, I believe it has a knock-on effect for domestic football this season. I genuinely believe people are fed-up and the enthusiasm has dwindled slightly.

I suppose we’ll see.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Sorting the men from the boys

It may well be one of the biggest clichés in sport, but…

….what a difference a week can make.

In Perth last week, England played as badly as I or anyone else watching has seen them under the management of Martin Johnson.

They were almost as bad as England in Cape Town on Friday night, but that is pushing it a little.

After feeling deflated, disappointed and totally disillusioned by the England’s performance against Algeria, Saturday morning totally revived my weekend. The way England beat Australia in Sydney for the first time since they won the World Cup in 2003 was unbelievable. Yes the performance was improved. Yes the rugby played was worlds apart from the week before. Yes the changes made a big difference on the field. But for me, the spirit and the heart shown was remarkable.

In all honesty, a video of the game should be shown to our boys in South Africa – that is the level of performance needed to win. That is the attitude to have.

It was like watching a different team. From the opening minutes there was this confidence that many argued was nowhere to be seen. All week, both the English and Australian media hammered home this idea that there was no ‘togetherness’ within the squad. The series of phases England built upon was vastly improved – the second try scored by Chris Ashton was truly memorable. Phase upon phase, patience and organisation led to an opening and Ashton helped himself. The first try was a moment of individual mastery by Ben Youngs. Will Genia is said to be the best scrum-half on the planet, yet Youngs glided past him and made Drew Mitchell look like a plodding front row forward. If he isn’t England’s first choice for years to come, Johnson is surely missing a trick.

And then enter the master himself and the man who came back to haunt the Wallabies yet again on the same ground where his drop goal won the World Cup, Jonny Wilkinson. His second kick at goal echoed the inconsistency his performances showed in the 6 Nations, but the first sealed the game for England.

Fate some would say.

Like the title of this post describes, I believe England's win in Oz demonstrated the difference in passion, belief and the drive to be successful that the rugby team showed. I love my football. I can't get enough of it. But you simply can't match what rugby players show on the field.

For all those who didn’t watch the rugby, I encourage you to do so. The team evoked a real sense of pride in me on Saturday, something that was missing Friday.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Chance to spill Wallaby blood missed

It may have been totally overshadowed by the World Cup in South Africa, but England’s rugby team have managed to cause just as much debate and disappointment as their football counterparts after their first test against Australia in Perth on Saturday.

Australia were well and truly there for the taking. England let them off scot-free.

The 27-17 score fails to tell the whole story.

England dominated the scrum, with two penalty tries their reward for maintaining extreme pressure on the Wallaby pack. The site of the Aussie front row popping out shouldn't be seen on an international stage - just ask Al Baxter and Matt Dunning. Australia must have been having flashbacks to the 2003 World Cup when Andrew Sheridan took the Aussie scrum to the cleaners and secured a semi-final against France. On that day, England built on their forwards dominance. They taught them a lesson at scrum-time and gave their backline the platform to shine.

So what exactly went wrong on Saturday?

From my point of view and in particular looking at the first half – ‘shoe-lace’ rugby is exactly what went wrong. Time and time again, the magnificent Mike Tindall broke the Wallaby defence and made it close to the try line. Time and time again, England panicked. Time and time again they failed to execute and punish the Aussies with points on the board. Speaking from experience, as a rugby team you focus on the visits you make to your opposing team’s 22-metre line and as a team you make sure you come away with points, be it 3 or 7.

As soon as England made it near to the try line with numbers out wide, a forward would turn quick ball slow and make Australia’s job of defending a whole lot easier. I hate to say this again, but from experience, defending against a team that is simply trudging one metre at a time at the base of the breakdown is easy to deal with – most back row thrive on it and when it’s slow and lacking of numbers, turnover time beckons. I counted 4 or 5 occasions when this happened, leaving a frustrated Chris Ashton or Mark Cueto screaming for the ball in vain.

‘Shoe-lace’ rugby – the reason England will never be quite at the level of Southern Hemisphere rugby teams. The ability to revert to a slow and predictable passage of play, ignoring any attacking options. From an early age, Kiwi schools teach young players to express themselves and keep the game quick and alive. When I think about what we were taught at school, it was tackle bags and rucking drills and if you did throw the ball around a bit, it was discouraged. In the end, we wonder why England is producing team after team that fails to develop, improve and compete with the New Zealands of this world.

The pressure continues to mount of Johnson. If only some of the current squad showed the leadership and commitment he did on the field, England would be winning these types of games.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Here we go again...

So that time is here again.

You know.

That sense of anticipation and excitement that is mixed with the dread of yet another disappointing World Cup exit. The underlying feeling that despite the optimism, you know you are going to end up heartbroken come early July. Yep. It’s back.

Seems like only last week that England’s football establishment was brought to its knees on a soaking wet night at Wembley against Croatia, washing away our European Championship hopes alongside Steve McLaren’s management reputation. Two years can make a big difference. Both England and McLaren have rebuilt, albeit the latter on foreign shores. The World Cup has arrived and after an almost exemplary qualifying campaign, the expectation of success has the English fans buzzing once more.

So, the selection. We are down to 23 and no Walcott. I saw him towards the end of last season at St Andrews and he was poor. Liam Ridgewell is an out and out centre half who has played left back all season for Blues and for me was there for the taking. Walcott made no attempt to take him on, stretch him or use his pace against him, making an ordinary Premier League defender look like a seasoned full-back.

What puzzled me was how can you justify Heskey and not Walcott. Heskey has hardly played in the second half of the season meaning he was selected based on previous performances for his country – if that is the case, Walcott’s single-handed destruction of Croatia in qualifying should have seen him make the cut.

However, for me the biggest selection headache is at left-back. ‘Cashley’ Cole has made it his own and does so with aplomb. What worries me is if he takes a knock or bumps into the wrecking ball that ended Rio Ferdinand’s World Cup, Emile Heskey. As Wayne Bridge ponders what could possibly turn out to be the worst decision of his playing career, Steven Warnock would fill the potential void left by Cole. That is where that sinking feeling returns to me. He is another I saw closely away at Villa Park towards the end of April and believe me, he is a million miles away from Ashley Cole. The USA, Slovenia and Algeria of this world may not strike fear into the hearts of Englishman across the land. When names such as Messi, Ronaldo and Ribery do, having an inexperienced and unproven defender within your ranks will guarantee a few nail-less fans by July.

Roll on the start of crossed fingers and tears. World Cup season is upon us.