Thursday, 20 December 2012

Manchester United face stern Champions League test

Real Madrid v Manchester United
AC Milan v Barcelona
Celtic v Juventus

There are some sumptuous ties in the next round of the Champions League.

Manchester United could hardly have a had a harder tie than the Madrid giants over two legs. The English league leaders will have to do it the hard way to get their place in the quarter final.

Barcelona, in scintillating form in the Spanish League, but now with the worries for their coach Tito Vilanova, will find it tough against AC Milan.

Celtic, fantastic achievers from the Scottish League and from a hard group, are rewarded with a tie against Italian league leaders Juventus (seven points clear).

Licking their wounds from an early Champions League exit and a World Club Cup defeat, Europa League qualifiers Chelsea took their frustrations out on Leeds United in the Capital One League Cup quarter-final last night. Their introduction to the Europa League will be a trip to Sparta Prague when the tournament resumes in 2013.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Chelsea's arrogance is staggering

Chelsea are getting irritating.

Their assertion that Mark Clattenberg had racially abused John Obi Mikel was ridiculous from the outset. I've said it before: NO referee - pretty much at any level - would be stupid enough to abuse at all - let alone racially abuse - a player. Perhaps players (and I don't just mean Chelsea's) should not judge other people by their own standards.

It was inevitable that the FA would throw out Chelsea's complaint with no evidence. There was no evidence, because it didn't happen. It is interesting that the FA have decided to charge Mikel himself for actions after the game. It will be interesting to see what comes of those.

Then Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo: a man who last season, when standing in after Chelsea had sacked Andre Villas-Boas, won them the FA Cup and Champions League. Now, because they've lost a couple of games, the tantrums at the top start again. Good grief, if every club acted in this manner, then Sir Alex would still be Mr Alexander Ferguson, scratching a living with Partick Thistle until he retired in 1997. And Arsenal would still be playing at Highbury, having scored only 11 goals so far this season (but conceding only six).

But Chelsea expect instant success. Today, today, TODAY. Why?

Because of the money.

It's only because of the money. There's little history from the last century. Not until the money arrived.

These days, any club needs an almost bottomless pit of cash to be able to compete, so all the clubs have to look to rich overseas magnates to own their clubs. It's a sad trend.

Chelsea's arrogance is staggering as they throw their weight around, complaining about referees' decisions, trumped up accusations about what referees say, and sack managers like they're going out of fashion. And, having had their case against Mark Clattenberg thrown out, they have the audacity to refuse to apologise. Outrageous.

Now the man that all Chelsea fans hate, Rafa Benitez, is the interim manager until the end of the season. That's a laugh: the interim manager will be in charge for more games than the erstwhile permanent manager!

Manager after manager has come and gone. Hired by whom? Someone else? No, the man at the top - that's who.

Perhaps he should take a look at himself and sack himself.

That would be good for English football.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Peter Herbert does the cause no favours

I am distressed and disbelieving of Peter Herbert's stance on the Mark Clattenburg incident.

Mr Herbert is the chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers.

After the Metropolitan Police dropped the investigation into a complaint that Clattenburg used "inappropriate language" towards two Chelsea players, Mr Herbert is claiming that Chelsea and the Football Association have manufactured a "cover-up" for not referring alleged comments by referee Mark Clattenburg to the police. I guess, with such a referral, the Police would have continued with their investigation.

Mr Herbert said to BBC's FiveLive: "It sounds remarkably like the football industry wanted to have this issue swept under the carpet."

But I think Mr Herbert is reading it all wrong. The point is: THERE IS NOTHING TO INVESTIGATE.

Chelsea - let's be charitable - have made a huge mistake. Mark Clattenburg never made any racial comments, not said anything inappropriate. It was all a mistake.

What troubles me is that Mr Herbert seems determined to make something out of nothing. Why? I can't believe he is doing the cause of anti-racism any favours with his aggressive stance.

I do not for one second believe that Mark Clattenburg said anything the like of which he is suspected. I don't believe any referee at (almost) any level would. And to think he would do so in the light of recent eventsis beyond all right-minded thinking.

The inappropriateness in this case has been:
1. Chelsea making the complaint.
2. Anyone believeing it for a second.
3. Mr Herbert perpetuating the wrong.

Let's put it to rest.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Manchester United head the October rankings

On the rankings in the Football Ranking System Manchester United remained on top in October, followed by Chelsea and Manchester City.

Celtic are the highest Scottish team, falling one place to eighth. Dundee United are next Scottish team in 31st.

Rangers continue to fall and have slipped from 33rd to 56th. A good cup run might see them regain a few places.

Leading the Championship teams are Middlesbrough who rose 15 places to 15th.

Truro City are in last (202nd) place for the second month in a row.

Ten-place plus movers elsewhere include:
Nottingham Forest, up from 38 to 27.
Blackpool, down from 18 to 28.
Hull City, up from 43 to 30.
Aberdeen, up from 44 to 34.
Crystal Palace, up from 50 to 37.
Oldham Athletic, up from 88 to 77.
Wycombe Wanderers, down from 96 to 106.
Forfar Athletic, down from 106 to 118.
Hereford United, downfrom 126 to 137.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Clubs should get their own house in order before complaining about officials

Distractions, distractions, smoke and mirrors.

Managers have for years sought to blame everyone else for their woes. Now whole clubs are at it.

Rarely do you get a manager admit that it was his fault or his team are just useless (as fans, we know that most of them are!). It's always somebody else's fault - nearly always the officials'.

Now Chelsea, as a club, are seekinbg to blame the officials for their defeat by Manchester United last weekend.

"It was never a sending-off."

"Hernandez was offside."

Referee Mark Clattenburg used "inappropriate language" to player(s) "containing a racial element".

I didn't hear Chelsea complaining when they were given two offside goals against Wigan Athletic last season or when a ghot "goal" turned the FA Cup semi-final in their favour against Tottenham Hotspur.

Managers and clubs only moan when they lose - have you noticed that? Of course you have.

They're not interested in fairness, only winning.

A referee using "inappropriate language"! He didn't swear, did he? Heaven forbid. Players swear at referees, assistant referees and fourth officials all the time. Well, that's all right, isn't it? No, actually, it's not. If referees are at fault at all, it's because they don't deal properly with players who break this law.

Law 12, sending-off offences (bullet 6):
  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.
Hmmm, watch how often that happens in a game. And see how many times it gets punished.

So, before players or clubs start accusing officials of inappropriate behaviour, I think they should get their own house in order.

As a final point: was John Obi Mikel's handling of Mark Clattenburg's arm (as often shown on Sky Sports News) in that game "appropriate"?

Monday, 22 October 2012

We all need to unite against racism

I have to say I am at a loss to understand why Rio Ferdinand, Jason Roberts and other players snubbed the wearing of the 'Kick It Out' T-shirt at the weekend.

What on earth was that meant to achieve?

If it was to get us all talking about the issue of racism in the game, then it has worked. But what else?

Rio's boss Sir Alex Ferguson was unhappy with the player for not uniting with his fellow Manchester United players in the wearing of the T-shirt.

Ex-England player John Barnes said: "If [Rio is] brave enough to go against Ferguson, then he's brave enough to say who he is unhappy with," said Barnes.

"I can't see that [the players] are unhappy with Kick It Out."

Perhaps Ferdinand thinks that Kick It Out should have done something about John Terry (who racially abused Ferdinand's brother Anton), but Kick It Out have no such powers.

Jason Roberts said that he would not wear a T-shirt before Reading's game with Liverpool because he felt that Kick It Out was not being "strong enough".

This seems ill-advised to me.

Talk of a separate Players' Union for black players also seems mis-guided.

We all need to unite against the scourge of racism in football. Break-away groups and protests against those trying to do the right thing are not the way to proceed.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Both Serbia and England to be charged

The scenes following the England Under-21 team's win over Serbia on Tuesday were disgraceful. As England's players naturally celebrated their late winner with some exubernace, there was nothing that could possibly excuse the Serbian players and support team from running over and trying to disrupt those celebrations.

It seems there was some racial abuse from the crowd, and it was little wonder that Danny Rose was so angered by everything that was happening round him that he kicked the ball into the crowd. That the referee booked him for that (second bookable, so Rose was sent off) was farcical given what was going on nearby, with Tom Lees being slapped around the head by Serbian players on at least two occasions.

I hear that UEFA is going to charge the Serbian FA with alleged racist chanting by fans and to charge both associations over the behaviour of players at the end of the game. Let's hope that UEFA also investigate and charge Serbia for the missiles that were thrown towards the England players as they celebrated their victory.

We will see what the results of those charges are.

The Serbian FA tried to deny accusations of racist chanting, no doubt fearing a worse fine than the ridiculous £16,000 fine it received for racist chanting by fans in 2007.

Serbia have a track record in this area. It needs to be stopped.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Manchester United top the rankings for September

On the rankings in the Football Ranking System Manchester United have regained top spot from Manchester City, who have slipped to fifth with indifferent form of late. Chelsea have jumped from fourth to second, only held back by draws with QPR and Juventus. Everton have kept up their early season form and are in third position.

Inevitably, Celtic head the Scottish challenge, falling one place to seventh. Hearts are next for the Scots in 27th.

Rangers continue to fall and have slipped from 19th to 33rd. from 8th to 19th.

Aston Villa have staged something of a recovery, rising from 29th to 19th and Championship risers Cardiff City jumped from 37th to 23rd.

Biggest fallers were Coventry City, who plummeted from 53rd to 72nd.

Ten-place plus movers elsewhere include:
Leicester City, up from 34 to 24.
Dundee United, down from 18 to 32.
Brighton & Hove Albion, up from 47 to 31.
Kilmarnock, up from 46 to 35.
Wolverhamption Wanderers, up from 49 to 36.
Sheffield Wednesday, down from 31 to 47.
Ipswich Town, down from 40 to 55.
Portsmouth, down from 57 to 70.
Crawley Town, up from 84 to 74.
Morton, up from 91 to 80.
Leyton Orient, up from 92 to 82.
Hamilton Academical, down from 76 to 87.
Port Vale, up from 102 to 92.
Southend United, up from 105 to 95.
Wycombe Wanderers, down from 85 to 96.
Hartlepool United, down from 87 to 98.
Burton Albion, up from 113 to 99.
Aldershot Town, down from 96 to 108.
Oxford United, down from 99 to 113.
Dartford, up from 169 to 157.
Chester, up from 173 to 159.
Oxford City up from 179 to 168.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ferdinand and Park, please let's move on

Given all that went the week before it almost defied belief that QPR's Anton Ferdinand and captain Ji Sung Park refused to shake the hand of Chelsea captain John Terry before Saturday's game.

What happened to the football brotherhood following the findings of the Enquiry into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989? It lasted less than a few days.

Ferdinand and Park refused to move on and betrayed the continuing grudge against the - pronounced innocent, let's not forget - Terry.

While one migh have some understanding and empathy with Ferdinand, Park's connection is tenuous at best (I guess it must be that he played with Ferdinand's brother Rio at Manchester United before moving to QPR).

QPR boss Mark Hughes mooted the idea of doing away with the pre-match handshake between the teams. But does he suggest the same for the captains - as it was his captain Park who refused to shake Terry's hand before kick-off. What next: do away with any references to sportsmanship altogether? (I guess that might actually be more honest in the game these days.)

Is there no room for forgiveness in these hard hearts? And forgiving an innocent man, remember.

Can we move on?

Friday, 31 August 2012

Early season shapes the football rankings

From the Football Ranking System we see that Manchester City have just about retained top spot from the very in-form early season pace-setters Chelsea. Indeed, a Chelsea win in the UEFA Super Cup tonight might see them take over on top.

The other early season form team Everton have risen from 6th to 4th.

It will be fascinating to see how far Rangers fall now that they are in Scottish League Division Three. Among such lowly opposition they will not score so many points unless they thrash everyone of them, and they're not doing that yet. In August Rangers have fallen  from 8th to 19th.

Conversely, Swansea City have gone the other way, rising from 18th to 9th, and Wigan Athletic have gone from 14th to 7th.

Ten-place plus movers elsewhere include:

  • Sheffield Wednesday, up from 55 to 21.
  • Leeds United, up from 49 to 36.
  • Motherwell, down from 28 to 38.
  • Yeovil Town, up from 80 to 69.
  • Swindon Town, up from 87 to 71.
  • Dundee, down from 62 to 73.
  • Preston North End, up from 85 to 74.
  • Crawley Town, up from 98 to 84.
  • Chesterfield, down from 76 to 86.
  • Bradford City, up from 107 to 97.
  • Ayr United, down from 88 to 100.
  • Southend United, down from 95 to 105.
  • Dumbarton, down from 106 to 117.
  • Brackley, new in at 157.
  • Bradford Park Avenue, new in at 161.
  • Woking, up from 177 to 166.
  • Dartford, up from 178 to 168.
  • Chester, new in at 173.
  • Altrincham, down from 165 to 176.
  • Oxford City, new in at 179.
  • Billericay Town, new in at 184.
  • Corby Town, down from 174 to 186.
  • AFC Hornhcurch, new in at 190.
  • Bromley, down from 189 to 199.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Football talks a good Olympian game; let's see it in deed

The Footballers versus Olympians debate has raged and has quietened down and will rear its head from time to time over the next season.

The problem with football is that it refuses to learn from other sports; it knows it is the Beautiful Game, but thinks that it is the pinnacle of beauty. But it isn't.

I am not going to go into all the things that football should learn from other sports in this post; they will be the subject of many other posts to come.

However, in the Footballers versus Olympians debate, one thing has struck me. The Olympians have never said a word. People in the media and many of us bloggers, tweeters, facebook posters have commented on their behalf: "Weren't they wonderful?", "Fantastic attitude", "Actually apologising to supporters", etc. But I can't recall seeing any quotes from any of the participiants themselves.

Yet those "in the [football] game" have felt the need to speak out: Richard Scudamore, Joey Barton, Gary Neville are a few that spring to mind. And, of course, they're mostly defending their sport. Well, what would we expect? Of course they would.

The problem lies in the very fact that they need to defend their sport, and the behaviour of players, managers and supporters. And they do need to. It's because football's reputation is so woeful by its deeds that it needs to defend itself in words. Prime example: Alan Pardew (a most unexpected culprit) demonstrates his attitude by his deeds (pushing an assistant referee), but then apologises in words afterwards.

There's always been the joke about the not-so-good manager or player, who "talks a good game".

How about those "in the game", cutting the talk, and improving the reputation of football in their actions? Come May next year, let's see if football no longer needs to defends its actions in words.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Weep for England

So we weep for England.

Once again we were beaten on penalties in a quarter-final. It is our lot.

But let us not disguise the fact that it would have been an absolute travesty of Chelsea-like proportions for England to have sneaked past Italy to the semi-finals. Italy totally dominated the whole of the second-half and extra-time, but just couldn't turn their dominance into a goal. England, however, barely got into Italy's half in that time.

Yet there is some pride in England's performance in the tournament. It does seem to show a new realism about England's limitations. We are simply not good enough to compete with the top nations in World football, of which most are in these European Championships. Top eight (i.e. quarter-finals) is the best we should realistically expect.

My worry is that the fact that Roy Hodgson has done pretty well with a weak and threadbare squad may blind people to the dearth of English talent and the trends that continue to sweep English players aside in our own Premier League.

With few English owners and English managers in the English Premier League, where is the concern for English players and the English national team? It isn't there.

We've got years of this international misery to come, and it will get worse.

As a final point: let's finally lay to rest this myth that there are any World-class English players. There are none.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

All these officials - and they still get it wrong!

Well, good for England. They beat Ukraine and won the Group!

It wasn't entirely convincing, but not many teams are convincing all the way through a tournament. Quarter-final opponents Italy, for example, have been particularly adept over the years at sneaking through the group phase without, in some cases, even winning a game!

But England will have to get better to stand a chance of progressing in this tournament.

England have played Italy only twice before in tournament matches and, strangely enough, they have both been IN Italy. The first was in 1980 in the European Championship when they lost 1-0 in Turin. The second time was in the third and fourth place play-off match of Italia '90 when Italy won 2-1 in Bari.

Going back to the Ukraine v England match and it is astonishing that we still have to suffer from goals not being given when the ball is over the line. This time luck favoured England as John Terry's clearance was of a ball that had crossed the line. The fourth (fifth or sixth or seventh?) official was standing less than ten yards away, but failed to see the ball had crossed the line (or, at least, failed to signal it).

WHAT DO THESE OFFICIALS DO? No one at the BBC or ITV seem to know and surely they would have found out by now. And why do they patrol the goal line on the same side of the pitch as the assistant referee (linesman in old money)? Maybe the goal line official was told NOT to signal for goal line decisions (which would be madness), as that is the assistant referee's decision, but the latter's view would be obscured by the former! (At least it would have been if the assistant referee had been able to keep up with play - he was five yards short!)

In addition, this same assistant referee missed a blatant offisde in the build-up to the phantom "goal", which would have avoided all this goal line fiasco. (I note that a furious Oleg Blokhin didn't complain about that decision not being given.)

Come on, even without goal-line technology, surely the now huge number of officials can get key decisions right.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Nervous about England's chances

Am I alone in being a little nervous about England's chances this evening?

They 'only' need a draw against Ukraine to progress to the quarter-finals and everyone seems to think it'll be a bit of a breeze.

I don't.

  • We are AWAY to Ukraine in what appears to be the hottest venue (at least it has been before).
  • Ukraine MUST WIN to progress themselves.
  • England drew unconvincingly with France.
  • England did beat Sweden - but that wasn't convincing either.
No, I don't want to be a pessimist, but getting knocked out of the Euros is such a common occurrence for England, that I'm always amazed at the optimism that usually abounds. This time round - at least, before the tournament - no one gave England a chance - even in England!

But of course it only takes one win for England to become world-beaters in so many eyes. And "we've got Wayne Rooney back". He might just upset such a delicate balance, but let's hope not; let's hope he shines.

England are no world- (or even Euro-) beaters for me. They're not the weakest team in the tournament, but are they really one of the top eight (i.e. worth of a quarter-final spot)? No, Ukraine might be one of the best eight either, but they'll quietly fancy their chances.

Beware the cauldron-like atmosphere that is bound to greet England's players this evening. Have they got the right stuff to progress?

We shall see.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Table ordering system at Euro2012 is over-complicated

I'm delighted to say that Euro 2012 has so far risen above expectations. There have been some interesting and some exciting games, and very few have been boring. No nil-nil draw yet either! Excellent.

However, there are always one or two things to gripe about (of course!).

As we half-way through the final round of group matches, it has come to light the extraordinarily stupid way of determining the order of teams in the groups. The number of points is the key way to order the teams and, thankfully, that is still the main way (but, as we see the way order is determined after that, we cannot be sure that UEFA will always retain points as the key method!).

If teams are level on points we go through this ridiculous ordering system:

  1. head-to-head results
  2. if three countries are level, goal difference from games between them
  3. if three countries are level, goals scored in games between them
  4. goal difference from all group games
  5. goals scored in all group games
  6. UEFA coefficient rankings
  7. fair play ratings from the finals
  8. drawing of lots.
All this head-to-head nonsense unnecessarily complicates the picture and means that you can't look at a league table and no who will qualify - you have to know all the results too. What is wrong with goal differences, then goals scored? This is supposed to be a LEAGUE system; i.e. it is results over the whole league that should count. By pinning so much on  head-to-head results, they're turning the league into a knock-out.

In other words, ignore numbers 1, 2 and 3.

In this more sensible method, Group One's qualifiers would have been Czech Republic and Russia (rather than Greece).

But there's no hope. Why keep something simple if you can over-complicate it?

Friday, 8 June 2012

Grass Roots Football Part 2

From a contributor:

I read and listen too many of the debates about the Grass Roots football transformation in England lead by the FA. As a youth team coach (volunteer) like so many other willing parents it all sounds wonderful and I’m all for it.

However, I find it so frustrating that The FA, the local County FA’s and the local Leagues don’t seem to be completing the circle themselves.

My own under 12 team have had a fantastic season, playing some really good passing football and developing their skills along the way. I know and agree that it isn’t all about winning but they reached their first ever cup final and were delighted... BUT their day was ruined because the local league insists on playing it on a full size senior pitch with full size goals. Even worse the pitch was awful, like a plough field, only worse! It was the ground on a Ryman League team and goodness knows what kind of horrid kick and rush football they have to play on it. Subsequently the match that followed was by far the worst of the season (for both teams), which ended up in a poor 1-1 draw, decided on penalties (which we won, just so you don’t think this is about sour grapes). Neither team played to their usual level and this was solely down to the size and extremely poor quality of the pitch provided.

We and the team we played in the final both benefit from having smaller junior size pitch with junior size goals (21’x7’ feet rather than 24’x8’) and both of us would have been happy to flip a coin and play it at either of our own grounds – but “oh no, we can’t do that” says the league, it has to be at a neutral ground. Obviously our massive home crowd of a dozen or so parents would be too much of an advantage over the opposition!!

It is just so unimaginably stupid that a local league affiliated to the local County FA which is subsequently responsible to The FA itself who are driving these changes can be so stubbornly ridiculous.

I applaud The FA’s drive and commitment to changes in junior and youth football, particularly bridging the gap between 7 aside and 11 aside with the 9v9 format, which my own team has unfortunately missed out on. But, please get your own act together first and INSIST that local County FA’s INSIST that local Leagues play cup semi-finals and finals that they organise on neutral grounds on appropriately size pitches with appropriately sized goals – surely this isn’t too much to ask!?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Negativity beckons in Euro 2012

So we come to Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland. I never was convinced of the validity of these two countries as a joint venue, and the stories we hear as we approach the tournament are not encouraging. Blimey - if it's enough to put England fans off travelling, then things must be bad! Let us hope that the tournament passes off without any major hitches.

On the field I have a feeling it's going to be a negative tournament. The trouble is that success can be achieved by negativity - you don't actually have to win or seek to win football matches to win football tournaments. Chelsea have proved that recently in the Champions League and Greece have proved it before in Euro 2004.

I know there's more than one way to win a football match, but we must do away with the odious penalty shoot-out and think of a better way to encourage teams to actually score goals - that is meant to be the object of the game after all. I have always advocated taking a player off each team every five minutes during extra time, and just play on till someone scores.

The old Golden Goal didn't really work - and it didn't work because there was still the back-up of a penalty shoot-out. Get rid of it! If you take a player off from each team during extra time and they know they MUST SCORE to win, then a goal will come. It will have to!

I can see teams trying to stifle the teams that want to attack and, having seen Barcelona fail this season, lesser teams will be encouraged to snuff the light out of the more enterprising teams.

Sadly, England fall into the "lesser team" category (they have done for years, but it seems that everyone has finally realised it htis tiem round!), so don't expect many goals in England's games. I could yet end up hoping against hope that they can win a penalty shoot-out!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Congratulations to Chelsea

Congratulations to Chelsea on winning the Champions League!

I'm not sure they won it in the greatest style (either by getting past Barcelona or by beating a dominant Bayern Munich on penalties in the final), but there are many ways to win football matches and Chelsea know how to do that. And the Germans can hardly complain about losing a match on penalties, can they!

The Blues stuck doggedly to their task, only attacking when they were behind and equalising from their only corner (to Bayern's 20) over the course of the 120 minutes.

That their talisman Didier Drogba, who one way or another contrived to defeat Barcelona in the semi-final, should score the winning penalty will be extra sweet for the Chelsea fans.

It was inevitable that Chelsea would eventually win the Champions League with Abramovich's millions (or is it billions now?). Maybe he'll decide his job his done and quit, or maybe he'd like to win the same tournament with a bit more style. It certainly won't be with this same core of players as Drogba, Lampard, Terry and Cole (Chelsea supremely solid rocks) are all the wrong side of 30.

The mistake that Andre Villas-Boas made was to try and move them on too quickly. They will move on soon.

Abramovich should certainly give Roberto Di Matteo the manager's job. Surely he must recognise that he's a lucky manager - and a lucky manager is always better than a good one.

Chelsea have ridden their luck in the past few weeks to lift two trophies. Surely Di Matteo cannot be denied the job now.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Why bigger clubs get more decisions in their favour

The offisde goal scored by Branislav Ivanovic against Wigan on Saturday was ridiculous. How the assistant referee could fail to spot the fact that Ivanovic was way offside was a mystery.

It brings up the old question of whether the bigger clubs have more decisions go in their favour.

The answer is yes, and here's why.

Chelsea score an offside goal at home. The crowd cheers, the Wigan players complain. Less trouble to let the goal stand. Chelsea 1-0 Wigan.

Wigan score an offside goal away. The crowd bays for the officials' blood, the Wigan players cheer, the Chelsea players complain. Less trouble to disallow the goal. Chelsea 1-0Wigan.

Chelsea score an offside goal away at Wigan. The crowd is small and makes less complaint. Just as easy to allow the goal as disallow it: Chelsea 1-0 Wigan.

Wigan score an offside goal at home. The crowd is small and makes less noise for the goal. Chelsea's big-name players mob the referee. Just as easy to allow the goal as disallow it: Chelsea 1-0 Wigan.

You can replace Chelsea with any large, well-supported club.

The officials don't mean it; it's not deliberate or malicious; it's not black or white, and it doesn't happen all the time. but it does happen and the end result is that the decisions will favour the bigger club.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Misplaced loyalty costs Fabio dear

So Fabio has gone!

The mistake the FA made when they appointed Fabio was thinking that putting a good manager in charge of the players would help create a great team.

But you can’t expect a chef to create a great meal with rotten ingredients.

And Fabio Capello couldn’t create a great team with overrated, overpaid and in the end, rotten players.

It is not surprising that the root cause of his downfall was a player who has caused and continues to cause ruffles and ructions wherever he goes. In his annoyance against the FA stripping John Terry of the England captaincy, Fabio Capello showed misplaced loyalty to a player whose very actions show little respect for the thoughts or feelings of anyone else. Capello would have been better off without him.

Whether England will be better off without Capello is open to question – and millions of words will be written in trying to answer it.

For now, it’s farewell to Fabio, but we’re still stuck with Terry.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Manchester clubs trump the north London cards

So Manchester gained the whip-hand over north London on Sunday as City beat Spurs 3-2 and United beat Arsenal 2-1.

Manchester City only just squeezed over the line against Tottenham with a last-gasp penalty taken by a player who might not have been on the pitch on another day, as Mario Balotelli supposed "stamp" went unpunished, but might have resulted in a sending-off on another occasion. My opinion is the same as Lee Dixon's on Match of the Day: there was enough doubt about the action to merit no action. Indeed, it may be that Howard Webb didn't even see it as his head was partly turned away when Balotelli's foot came down.

Perhaps, however, Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp should use his words to Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe for failing to convert a glorious chance seconds before Balotelli's telling spot kick. It's all about points of view, isn't it?

And so it was in the Arsenal v. Manchester United game as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was roundly criticised and booed for substituting the threatening Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Andrey Arshavin as minutes ran out at the Emirates. The fact that Arshavin was ineffectual in preventing United's winner would not help Wenger's case. But he must have had his reasons. He said: "Arshavin is captain of the Russian national team. You have an 18-year-old kid making his first Premier League start and a player who is captain of his country and they are querying the substitution?"

Although no manager - including Wenger - can be right 100% of the time, I am staggered that Arsenal fans can doubt the man (trophyless for six years or not). Look around, you Gooners. If you sacked Wenger, who would be your ideal managerial candidate?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Why do we have corners in football?

Many years ago my grandfather, who was not a great football follower, asked me (as a teenager) why, when a defending team put the ball over the goal line, was a corner kick given.

"Well," I replied, "that's the rule: if the defending team puts the ball over the goal line, a corner is awarded."

I had missed his point.

"Yes," he said, "but why is a corner given? Why is play restarted by kicking the ball in from the corner of the pitch?"

I couldn't answer him. I had no idea and still don't. I suppose someone came up with the idea as being a good way of giving the attachking team a chance to score when the defending team had knocked the ball out of play past their own goal line.

Perhaps a more pertinent quesion for football would have been: why do players throw the ball in with their hands when the ball has gone out over the touch line? That is a bit odd.

About 15 years ago there was an experiment at a low level (approximately Isthmian League level) where they played a season kicking the ball rather than throwing it. Presumably it didn't prove a success, or we'd all be doing it now.

Odd rules when you examine them, but maybe they show that not all is wrong in football, and some things are just right.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Third round weekend delivers as expected

It proved to be an interesting FA Cup third round weekend (as it so often is), from Paolo Di Canio's Swindon Town knocking out Premier League Wigan Athletic to Thierry Henry making a dream comeback for Arsenal, scoring the winner against Leeds United.

The Manchester derby didn't disappoint as we had the return of Paul Scholes, a dubious sending-off of Vincent Kompany as United roared into a 3-0 lead, and a stirring effort to peg United back from City - yet the half-time pundits on both ITV and Sky would have had City "accept and settle for the 3-0 defeat so that it wouldn't get any worse"! A pathetic assessment, and one that would no doubt have had any City fans growling with anger.

Crawley Town pulled off a giant-killing, by dumping Bristol City out of the cup, and Macclesfield Town (2-2 with Bolton Wanderers) and MK Dons (1-1 with QPR) came close and get a second chance.

As for Henry - fair play to him, and will be interesting to see if he can deliver in the Premier League, but from a Leeds United's fan's perspective, the overwhelmingly biased coverage by ESPN on Monday night was little short of disgraceful.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Where to look for Round Three shocks

As ever, when FA Cup third round day comes around, we all look for shocks. Of course, it's no longer "a day" as the third round is spread over four days this year, starting with Liverpool v Oldham tonight - no shock there, I'm sure.

The majority of the ties (26) take place on Saturday, so where might the shocks come?

Barnsley might knock out Swansea City at Oakwell given Brendan Rodgers's propensity to turn his nose up at anything that's not devoted to survival in the Premier League. Crawley Town could prove a tough trip for Bristol City. Fleetwood Town against Blackpool could be a tasty local encounter, but it's hard to see anything other than a Blackpool win.

For a real giant-killing, Macclesfield Town might fancy their chances against Bolton Wanderers, whose form has not been inspiring in the Premier League this season, but their recent 2-1 over Everton might have given them the boost they need.

Recent cup-fighters and form-team Cardiff City might also think they've got a good chance against West Brom at the Hawthorns, and it may depend on the strength of the side Roy Hodgson puts out.

On Sunday the might of Manchester meets head-on at City, with United probably having the bigger need to win, following back-to-back defeats. Without doubt, it's the tie of the round.

On Monday Leeds United travel to the Emirates, but it's hard to see anything other than an Arsenal win, despite the same tie last season going to a replay after a 1-1 draw at the same ground.