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.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Absolute digrace

Now, believe me, I don’t want this blog to turn into my own little opportunity at harking on about Birmingham City Football Club every week – I think I did that enough in my last entry. However, the decision to award Aston Villa a penalty in the 83rd minute of an already explosive derby game has left me as well as the other 3000 Blues fans at Villa Park feeling completely disorientated with refereeing in England. The decision wasn’t just bad – it was disgraceful.

I won’t go on too much but for those of you didn’t managed to watch the game, apart from 2 great saves from Joe Hart in the first half, we had Villa hanging on to their Champions League aspirations – Brad Friedel was quite magnificent. We didn’t deserve that yesterday. We deserved to leave with at the very least a point. Villa deserved nothing, yet given everything.

I will leave it up to Roger Johnson to sum up: “Certainly during the first half, I thought he was poor. He was listening to the crowd when giving decisions. Of course it’s going to be a feisty game, it’s a derby. I don’t know what experience he’s had in derbies but you’ve got to put your best refs in and he clearly wasn’t, he’s ruined the game. For me, he shouldn’t be doing these sort of games.”

Enough said.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Great Expectations

I’ve been a season ticket holder at Birmingham City Football Club for around 5-6 years. Being a London-based Blues fan has its problems – 110 miles each week for just a home fixture makes for interesting reading on my brother’s miles on the clock at the end of each season, but for me it is so worth it. If they were 210 miles away I’d still be there each week without fail.

I was there when they came up after winning the play-off final in 2002/03. I was there when we stayed there for three seasons before being relegated in 2005/06. I was there when they were promoted again the following year. I was there when they were relegated again and the Blues ‘faithful’ tore the goalposts apart after the game. I was there for the whole of last season where I witnessed some of the worst football I have seen and somehow we were promoted once again. I’ve been there since the start of this season, and what a season it has turned out to be.

Life isn’t exactly easy supporting a so-called ‘yo-yo’ club as you can see from above. As mad as it may sound, Birmingham winning or losing can have a huge impact on the rest of my week – thankfully the majority of weeks this season I’ve been ecstatic and the dog hasn’t been kicked quite as much as in previous years.

Taking points off Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham and mega-rich Manchester City at St Andrews has been quite sensational. The unbeaten run from October through to February which saw a period of 15 games without defeat elevated a team which took less than £10 million to put together into the top ten of the Premier League, and in the process making every sports journalist and pundit across the land eat their proverbial hats.

However, success brings its own problems – expectation.

As I sat last weekend watching Birmingham v Hull, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was a pre-season friendly. It was boring, unimaginative and lacked any sort of ambition from both sides. Unbeaten since September at home, teams outside the top five or six as it has become this season are now expected to leave Birmingham with nothing. A scoreless draw was played out in front of 26,000, a point that further cemented Birmingham’s target for their best ever league finish.

And what happened when that final whistle blew?


Don’t get me wrong, the performance was truly awful and by far the worst game I had witnessed all season. The battling qualities and ‘character’ of the team was there, but without an ounce of quality. But boos? I wasn’t just shocked, I was pretty disgusted. No doubt the small section of the Blues fan who did happen to boo the team off were probably the same group who spent the first half of the season sitting at home leaving the stadium embarrassingly half-full each week.

The team has punched well above their weight all season in the most unforgiving league in the world. Stephen Carr was retired at the start of last season and yet has turned out to be one of the best bits of business Alex McLeish will ever do. Scott Dann and Roger Johnson have created a formidable partnership with one of the meanest home defenses in the league and neither had played in the top flight before this season. Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson have been simply sensational in midfield, with Bowyer showing the maturity he arguably lacked in his early days and Ferguson providing the class that we so desperately needed.

Sadly, this is a sign of the times.

Next season will be even harder than the one about to pass. Whether Mr Yeung spends his millions remains to be seen. I will be at Villa Park on Sunday for my first away derby game. If they win 3-0, I will be ectastic. If they lose 5-1 like two years ago, I certainly won’t be booing. This season, they have made me proud to be a Birmingham City fan. I just wish all supporters shared the same ideas.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A question of loyalty

The old cliché ‘there is no loyalty in football’ would often be used in media circles when discussing a change of manager at a club, the transfer of a player to a close rival or the notorious greed of some footballers moving for financial gain. However, the latest media storm involving a Premiership footballer has changed that notion for good. The tabloid revelations about Chelsea and England captain John Terry and his alleged affair with the girlfriend of former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge has caused widespread outrage in Britain and across football.

Some would say Terry had it all. The Chelsea and England captain was the man to lead England into the World Cup in South Africa in the summer and be the first captain of his country to lift the trophy since Bobby Moore in 1966. In his personal life, Terry was married to his childhood sweetheart and was the proud father of twin girls.

How the mighty do fall.

The demise of Terry’s image is well underway after the ‘super-injunction’ he attempted to use to prevent the damaging story from being released was thrown out by the judge – an act that will be reverberating across the land of celebrity for a while yet. The attempt by Terry to cover up the revelations summed up the desperation of a man trying to save his ‘goldenboy’ image, and will almost definitely of harmed his image even more. No wonder then as to why crisis PR expert Phil Hall has been called into Camp Terry to try and save the reputation of a man who is under increasing pressure in both the media and football community to give up the England captaincy.

What will happen in the coming days is very much a mystery. It has been reported that Fabio Capello will soon be travelling to meet with Terry to discuss his tenure as captain. Other reports suggest Terry is Dubai-bound to rescue his marriage.

All I do know is that people won’t forget this in a hurry. The cheating Premier League footballer is no new phenomena – just read the News of the World each Sunday and you can read about the latest antics of some of the most highly paid individuals on the planet. However, an unwritten rule has been broken between friends and that for most will be the pill most hard to swallow.

The calls for Terry to resign as captain will rage on. Capello I’m sure will not be drawn into a domestic dispute by any means. He was made England manager and his sole target was to win a major tournament, not to act as a marriage counsellor for his philandering captain. A decision will be made and that will be purely a footballing one – if that is the case Terry will retain the captaincy. Whether morally acceptable or not, England have a World Cup to win.

It does make you wonder though what goes on in some of these footballer’s heads. Many are young men who are thrust into the limelight, paid ridiculous amounts of money per week and worshipped by thousands. I believe many lose touch with reality, living in a bubble of ignorance and totally unaware of the role models they become and the impact they have on people’s lives, especially children.

As for Terry, it now seems that his priorities have somewhat changed. Suddenly, winning the Premier League title and lifting the World Cup in June pale by comparison to facing the end of his marriage. Let it be a lesson to the others in the future, but I fear it won’t.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Lone Rangers

What on earth is going on down at Loftus Road?

It is a question on the lips of most if not all Queens Park Rangers fans after yet another turbulent week in the soap opera that the Shepherd Bush club has become since the arrival of the mercurial Flavio Briatore and his billionaire henchman Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshi Mittal.

So the latest victim of the ruthless Briatore regime comes after just 28 days in the hot-seat and only five games played. Poor old Paul Hart must think his luck is well and truly out. After taking control of a seemingly doomed Pompey ship, he must have thought he had well and truly landed on his feet after taking the job at QPR only a matter of days after leaving the South Coast club rock-bottom of the Premier League. Little did Hart know that the home FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United would be his last as the Rangers boss.

The circumstances around Hart’s departure have become the subject of rumour amongst the nationals this week, some reporting that Hart walked away after being ‘very unhappy’ with certain matters at the club, others suggesting that player power within the dressing room had struck twice in two months, this time involving Spurs’ on-loan star Adel Tarabt after the sacking of previous boss Jim Magilton came about after a bust-up with Hungarian playmaker Akos Buzsacky.

The full story may never be known and once again QPR fans are left in the dark as to why their club has become the laughing stock of the Championship, if not the whole of English football. The recent drama along the Uxbridge Road has yet again fuelled the debate regards to the foreign fascination of English football and begs yet another question – are football clubs becoming the new fashion ‘must-have’ of the rich and famous?

It is easy to forget the recent scandal surrounding Briatore in amongst the recent managerial changes at Loftus Road – maybe a clever PR move to take the heat off the disgraced F1 boss? Maybe we should leave that one for the more skeptical among us.

Briatore, the former Renault principal, was handed a lifetime ban from Formula One after the FIA found him guilty of staging a deliberate crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, a ban that was last week overturned on appeal by a French court. The news will be mixed for many of the Ranger’s faithful with the FA’s ‘Fit and Proper Persons’ Test no longer being breached by Briatore’s antics in the F1 arena, and him being able to continue his reign at the West London club.

So what next for QPR? That is anyone’s guess. I can’t imagine the Alan Curbishley’s, Mark Hughes’ or Sven Goran Eriksson’s of this world are licking their lips at the prospect of becoming the next manager of the world’s richest football club. It is a job that will now be perceived as one that the chances of being given a chance are not very high, a job that could ruin a reputation that had taken years to build. Briatore’s swift and ruthless nature will scare off even the most desperate of those who have recently had their P45s sent in the post.

It still manages to confuse me however regards the whole issue of foreign ownership and what they believe is the recipe for success in the English game. Pumping in millions is one thing, but building a success story overnight is another. The exuberant riches of Manchester City have bought them a number of ‘box office’ signings since their takeover, a number of players seen as extravagant purchases aimed at showing off rather than silverware winning essentials – Robinho being case in point. But, despite over a 100 million being spent on the playing staff, they are still no Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United, far from it.

I wonder if these foreign owners look towards a model or guide when considering their purchases. Manchester United and Arsenal are the most successful clubs of the Premier League era with managers who have reigned for over 30 years between them. Ferguson and Wenger have revolutionised football with their ‘bottom-up’ theories of control. Each have control of each and every element of the football club, from the youth team right up to exactly who is brought in and who is shown the door. Each of the success is no coincidence, believe me. So, if your currently window shopping, looking for next gem of English football or just seeking a new toy - you couldn't go far wrong from taking a leaf out of the lessons taught by Wenger and Ferguson.