Sunday, 30 October 2011
It's always difficult to get down in print what you feel immediately after a game. Inevitably, one is still hyped. On the other hand, when it's gone as today's game has, it's doubly so. Watch the BBC interviews with the respective Managers, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_prem/15413523.stm , and you'll know what I mean. But I would say that, wouldn't I ?
Back to the game.
In an evenly contested first half, neither side created a clear cut chance, but Swansea's half-chances outweighed Bolton's by about a 2 to 1 ratio. The Homesters were generally on top, but it was a game where as a Home fan you were never really relaxed. The sides went in at half-time even at 0-0, with Swansea's Michel Vorm in goal doing particularly well to keep out an N'Gog shot on the turn and the Welsh attack never quite being able to get on the end of some probing, goal threatening passes.
By general consent, the turning point came 2 mins into the second half with the Swans, having been frustrated already when Sinclair's sublime through ball was collected by Graham and slotted inches wide, next creating more . From another attack, Dyer, once again, ran Gardener ragged in a right wing raid and was pulled back for his pains. Having already been booked, Gardener's fate was sealed when Mark Clattenburg produced a second yellow card and he was sent off.
Some will argue that Gardener's first foul in the first half had produced a "soft" first yellow card (Coyle did) and thus the sending off too was "soft". This ignores the fact that during that self same first half, Bolton had time after time committed foul upon foul on the Swansea players using a rotating cast - each time a different player stunting the play - and thus, while Gardener's fouls may not have been cumulative , his team's were. Persistent fouling = Yellow, sometimes collectively, and deservedly so, with someone to suffer eventually. Bolton, and Gardener, did.
Off he went, to a chorus of "Cheerio, Cheerio, Cheerio .....".
From the resulting free kick the ball was worked to Joe Allen on the left inside channel and he advanced and shot low into Jasskalinen's net. 1-0.
Swansea then demonstrated how to take advantage of the extra man by passing and spinning their intricate webs - Bolton were often chasing shadows - and this gradual but effective grip on the tone and tempo of the match gave belief to the crowd and evidence to the team that they could go on to win. In the 57th minute they went further ahead. From a ball slid into the heart of the box Darren Pratley the ex-Swan brought down his former team mate Angel Rangel who was marauding forward, and after Clattenburg's correct award of the penalty, Scott Sinclair cooly sent Jasskaleinen the wrong way.2-0.
With a full half hour to go, and after last week at Wolves, lots of us wondered what would happen should Bolton get a goal back? From the 73rd minute, we found out. The first Away team goal at the Liberty this season came from a Chris Eagles run and cross from the left that skimmed and skidded into Danny Graham, Swansea's striker, who was back defending in the six yard box, and it diverted past Vorm into the net. 2-1. Game on. Well, not really because Swansea showed that they HAD learned from last week.
The Swans retained possession, passed and moved and squeezed to good effect, and continued to create chances to put the final nail in the coffin. That the third goal didn't come until the extra minutes at the end was only because Sinclair, Allen, Dyer, Graham, amongst others showed us that they are human by not taking clearcut opportunities. The final goal came when Graham was put clear by Rangel just over the half way line - Bolton were pushing forward - and Danny Boy raced cleared, drew the keeper , and scored. The roar from the crowd who had played an increasingly important part with their ever louder support, was cathartic. 3-1. And well deserved too.
Two brief notes:
1) I thought Owen Coyle, a Manager who I've previously had a lot of time for, was ungracious in his comments after the game. I put it down to the frustration of having just lost.
2) The coverage on MOTD was very poor.Little highlights, and , even worse, the so-called pundits were almost silent and grudging post these "so-called" highlights. I put this down to poor broadcasting. Football First on Sky was far better. And Goals on Sunday, just watched, gave us a little more credit. Roll on MOTD2, tonight.
But best of all, I was there.Wonderful.Thank you Swans.
Monday, 24 October 2011
I know we live in an increasingly sensationalist society. Part of the rationale of our tabloid led, compensatory-culture saturated Zeitgeist sometimes leads me to ponder on the following question :-
Does no one enjoy football anymore?
Given the spectacle of top class football nowadays, how can they not?
I don't know about you, but I seem to have been reading lately an inordinate number of articles from people who have nothing good to say about "The Beautiful Game". Don't get me wrong, I've written myself about the shortcomings and problems on occasion.....http://pierre91.blogspot.com/ - but surely it's not the case that we're going through some sort of Jurassic Era, especially with the game more immediately available and enjoyable than it's ever been.
How long has you been a Football supporter? You're probably a fan of a particular club.The bulk of the global football audience is. Although there may be some people around who profess to just love the game, and have no particular allegiance to any side in any football contest they see, I have my doubts.
If you ARE one of these fabled beings, someone I'd call a "Fan" as opposed to a fan, would you please ask yourself this.
If you were a Scot, and, whilst on a visit to your local hostelry on the way to the bar you caught a glimpse of the Scotland v England fixture in a European Championship play-off qualifier on the TV and you saw Wayne Rooney line up a penalty against the Scots,- wouldn't you just wish he'd slip and shank it into the Stands? What, not even a teensy-weensy bit?
Or you're an impeccably dressed Italian citizen at a Neapolitan Trattoria ,and, whilst ordering another Cappuccino, you get a sneaky glance at Sky Italia showing Edinson Cavani one on one with the keeper- don't you want him to just slot it? Particularly as the opponents are Meeee-Lan, with their Berlusconi-backed loadsa' Lire.
Go on. Admit it. You DO, really.'Cos if you don't then you must be some sort of Automaton- and a particularly well designed one, since your control over your emotions is ABSOLUTE.
But these people DO exist. Honestly. Or so I'm told. I've never yet met one in real life, particularly when, if I did, I'd sit them down and engage them in a long, convoluted inquisition of How on earth do they do it?
Don't they know this is Planet Football, and we're living through the best years yet??
I say this without fear of contradiction. Let me explain why.
I come to this, as some will know, as a Swansea City fan.Lower West G120 since you ask. Have done since the Liberty, (that's our Nirvana and where we play our Home games), opened in August 2005.As I've said before, my first live match was in 1964(see "Divided Loyalties" on my blog as above) and I've seen Football evolve over the years since.
It was then a totally different game. How can I explain to someone more lately come to the Sport that the pitches alone were very different to todays', with the immaculate turf that graces every PL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga et al, Club ?
Anyone remember The Baseball Ground? With it's knee deep mud in Winter, which froze and rutted hard if the temperature dropped, Derby County managed to win Division 1(the pre-cursor of the Premier League) playing football which would have pleased Guardiola.
Or Stamford Bridge, once covered by 100's of tons of sand that Morecambe Beach would die for. And George Best gliding and skimming,almost floating, over this surface before overcoming a Ron "Chopper" Harris attempted tackle out of the Manual for Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts.He went on to score... see it here at 3m 45 secs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nplemK3Y4ns And while you're at it, watch the rest of the video. You'll love it.
Anyway, enough nostalgia, let's get to the nitty-gritty- how, and why, has football changed for the better.Here's a list of some of the reasons ......I'm sure you can come up with more.
Have you seen any Football League 2 lately? Or FL Div 1? It's an eye opener. Tune in to any weekend highlights show (if you don't see it live it's likely to be your only glimpse). You will see the bulk of the teams playing a standard and quality of football that makes the game from the past look like a different sport. Players are fitter, faster, technically proficient and far more "game savvy". Gone are the days when a Harry Cripps could put a young winger into the stands and earn the crowd's approval (home at the Den) or hatred (perm 1 from 91 others). Yes that's a good thing- watch Southend, Shrewsbury or Swindon even- or go one tier up and delight in Charlton, Huddersfield or MK Dons and you'll see pass and move to attract.
And then you get to the teams in the Leagues above that level. I really don't need to take it further. But if you want me to I will. Have a gander at Southampton nowadays. The club that brought us the sublime Matt Le Tissier has Adam Lallana and a gaggle of others to gorge on. Further down the coast, Gus Poyet's Brighton nowadays include Vicente Rodríguez Guillén , commonly known by his patronymic, Vicente, a player who was surely the blueprint for Juan Mata of Chelsea. Just enjoy, while you can.
I've alluded to FL grounds we've all seen or been to. You have to admit that post-Taylor, and the game's urgent need to make it both safe and accessible for the many, it's far more pleasant nowadays to go watch a game. Whether you go to the PL all-seater stadiums or the Bundesliga's equivalent with safe standing areas, the game's the thing.
No longer welcomed by a trial-by-bladder, the rest of the (non-male) human race are welcomed, and catered for.
I ,too, have heard the argument that grounds have lost the atmosphere of years ago, and, if you like uncomfortable,inaccessible ,and downright dangerous then you may be shocked. I speak as a Swansea City supporter, who, when we were a town, and personally living at the time in Knebworth, travelled the 8 miles to Luton to watch us in a Division 2 fixture (1979/80 season). Whilst making my way back to my car in the side streets around Kenilworth Rd I found myself forced into a terraced front garden just to avoid the bricks. My sin? Wearing a Swansea City scarf. The outcome? Cuts and bruises to the face, aching ribs(for a month), and a fortunate escape because the swamping Luton kickees found a more enticing target of about a dozen Swans fans further down the road and left me to bleed in peace. On getting home, my wife made the illuminating comment..."and this is Football?". She was right. It was. Or the following year (1980/81) season) when, because I'm a football fan, I returned to Kenilworth Rd., not to see my beloved Swans but to watch the Home Counties outfit entertain Chelsea, because I thought it looked like an interesting fixture. What's more my wife at the time decided she'd come with me.And so we went.To be herded and corralled and crushed and downright terrified as the Police gave an Eighties example of the modern technique of "kettling", but in a smaller space(a football terrace) and with similar terrifying results. People falling, and crushed, and walked on just because they were the so-called "Away" fans. Although people were hurt, it NEVER made the press.That was to come later, and elsewhere, with truly tragic consequences. My wife of the time has never been to another football match. I can understand why.
3) Social Attitude
I've been in Grounds where the appearance of any player(or spectator) not from a WASP background was the routine for the start of abuse by a large section of the crowd. This didn't begin to change until both and all, Clubs, the FA and individuals began to confront the issue. To our eternal shame, some people still don't get it! The recent occurrence of both hate-filled and troglodyte chants at ManUtd, Leeds, Tottenham are just a few examples of the distance still to travel. I've intervened in the past (and would do again) when it's occurred near me. It's called taking responsibility- I ain't proud and I ain't smug either. But it does need doing, by ALL of us. It's too easy to blame the Clubs and the authorities. The Government is always ready to use our sport to its advantage. The current farrago over it's suggestion that the football regulatory authorities organize themselves more appropriately does scream the words POT, KETTLE, BLACK. It took an e-petition to get the Commons to belatedly agree to the release of all Hillsborough documents. Shameful.
Have you seen Lionel Messi and his Barca team recently? Have you seen Christiano Ronaldo and the other Galacticos at Madrid? Aguero and Silva At City? Rooney and Nani at Utd? Cavani, Sjneider, and Pirlo in Serie A? Joe Cole and Hazzard at Lille? Muller, Schweini and Gomez at Bayern? Need I go on? Football, nowadays, is played at a high tempo with concommitant skills and a demand from us fans that it please the eye. And that means that people prefer Cezanne to Damian Hirst. Picasso to Tracey Emin. They've got good taste. It's about talent and skill, not marketing expertise and trendiness, surprisingly. As Ian Eyre found out amongst other things. The modern game is a real feast of style allied with substance. Watch the theatre of a packed top-flight fixture, home or abroad, live or on TV, and tell me you don't get a buzz. You MUST do. Otherwise, check your pulse.
5) Memory and Reality
I've seen some truly great players live, not on TV. I was at the Vetch Field for a Wales v N Ireland International fixture when the home Internationals meant something. At that game, I stood on the North bank and saw Welsh fans in their thousands taunt George Best with chants that included "Georgie,Georgie, where's your handbag?" presumably because he wore his hair long and their sexual innuendo was meant to put him off. NI won the game 1-0- Best was indescribable (think of everything good you've seen Messi do in the last 10 games and double it) - by half time those self same Wales fans were clapping spontaneously at the quality of his tricks and flicks. It was life affirming. You know what I mean.
I've seen Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Johann Cruyff and players of equal quality. And it just keeps getting better. I don't quite get that quality live every week. but, on Planet Football, the reality is that this now happens almost every week. It may be because Football is now everywhere- Print and Social Media, TV/Radio, as well as what you see at your club. You can't fail to have a "George Best moment" every weekend. And why not? You deserve it. And it leads us to....
Last Saturday, I watched Swansea City away at Wolves. Despite bossing the game with a display that confirmed our ability to the watching TV audience, and a 2-0 lead that could have been 3,4 or 5 even, we were dragged back to a 2-2 result by a Wolves team that was performing through the vocal dissent of their own crowd. From elation to despair in a heartbeat. The previous week I watched the team at Norwich despite being 322 miles to the West of the actual match. I picked it up off an Internet Stream on my laptop and as I hadn't been able to travel, it was a godsend. But it's not unusual (as Tom Jones might say) for this to be the case. ANY Premier League match, with ANY club, on a Saturday, is likely to be available. No, let's be fair, it's not LIKELY, it IS. Available.
Coupled with my Home Season Ticket, and my desire to travel to the Away fixtures that I can manage,this means that I can watch every single one of my club's first season in the Premier League. I'm made up about that.
I'm conscious of the fact also that this is so because Swansea City are now part of the Premier League elite. It may well be more difficult at the moment to see Huddersfield v MK Dons on the same basis- but, I'll wager that this may not be the case for much longer. Eventually, it'll come to all. When you see Sky's progress, to mention but one broadcaster, you KNOW it'll be so.
As I say, I watched the Swans begin to charm a national audience as they set about subduing Wolves at Molineux in Sky's early kick off game for the Premier League weekend. Let me say it again, 2-0 up and coasting, they were dragged back to a 2-2 draw. I've written in more detail about the game elsewhere but hey- I was there- in spirit if not body. And it was wonderful.
7) Supporter Involvement
I'm one of the first to criticize TalkSport Radio and its many equivalents on differing wavebands and its TV brothers but I'm also honest enough to admit that I love it, really. I'll happily spend the weekend surfing the ether to take in all the football available. Couple that with the reality of the live experience and I'm a happy pixie. Gone are the days of travelling to the game on the same bus as Ted Drake or Dixie Dean but I do get to go to regular fans forums and social evenings, all of which will be enhanced by the appearance of both management and playing staff of Swansea City FC. It's good to talk, and there's a ten-pin bowling evening next month that I'll enjoy too.
I've also just enjoyed the fantastic weekend that saw Man City, those "noisy neighbors", make Sir Alex Ferguson go more red faced by the goal in a 6-1 reversal that saw David Silva, particularly, confirm that there's beauty in the patterns and flow of the modern "Beautiful Game".
Despite all the hype- media trumpeting and all- it's well worth watching.
So, in summary, it's a brand new day.
Embrace it, enjoy it, take part in it, experience it, talk about it, buy it.
# this post was written to reflect my genuine love for the Game, warts and all. There are more than a few, we know.
Saturday, 22 October 2011
So, at the 12.45 kick off of the Premier League weekend, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, it was, perhaps, a little surprising that despite speculation otherwhise during the week, the only Swansea team change from the Norwich game saw Mark Gower drafted in to replace Wayne Routledge, who was on the bench. Wolves started with both Ebanks Blake and Doyle up front, ostensibly a 4-4-2 vs the visitors 4-3-3/4-5-1.
From Swansea, tentative this was not. From Wolves, maybe. The grumbling from their fans was noticeable from the off.
Apart from a 1st minute Karl Henry shot, which swerved violently on it's way to a good parry from Vorm, the Swans proceeded to show the Wolves how to keep the ball, and how that leads to better things.Although both Sinclair and Dyer were being doubled up, after 7mins Dyer and Graham produced a corner from a blocked attack on the right.
Again, a Joe Allen shot on 9m led to the same result. On 13m, an Ash Williams cross-field ball gave Dyer again the chance to earn another corner. Swansea were on top, but had to cope with Wolves around the 19min mark carving out a flurry of opportunities with Vorm's save from an O'Hara shot the highlight. Swansea, with their quality posession, finally produced a goal on 23 mins. Gower chipped an outstanding pass from the inside right channel some 30yds out which left Danny Graham, on receipt in the 6yd box able to both elude Johnson's challenge,twice,and show excellent composure in rolling the ball into the net below Hennesey for his third goal in three games. 1-0 Swansea, and deserved.
Despite Wolves on occasion threatening the Welsh goal from a succession of dubious free kicks awarded against Monk, the quality and quantity of Swans posession and attacks produced a loud chorus of boos from the home fans for the home team.To this cacophony of dissent, Graham ran an excellent through channel on the right to produce an effective cross which Joe Allen, arriving perfectly, turned into the net. 2-0 Swansea, and the home howls of derision got louder.
The remainder of the half passed in much the same fashion- Swansea generally first to both
initial and second ball, and Wolves stuttering and stumbling to get into the game.Both teams left the field to renewed hostilities toward the hosts, and stirring renditions of Hymns and Arias, and other vocal gems from the always loud and proud JackArmy.
The second half, for 2/3rds of its length, followed much the same pattern, puncuated by thrills and spills mostly at the Wolves end, with Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy between the home sticks, keeping his team in the game.I recall him making at least 5 crucial intervensions of one sort or another- from Sinclair(played in by Rangel) on 60mins : a deflected Sinclair shot that spun over the bar on 66mins :from Gower on 81mins. It's apparent, on reflection, that all of these interventions kept his team in the game and it would be remiss of me not to say that
this was the period when the Swans could have put the game to bed.2-0 up and coasting seems fine. 3-0 and the opponent is dead and buried. Swansea were at least profligate when they could have been clinical. Lesson no 1.
There were a whole load of other influential instances from both parties in this half, too.
1) On 67mins Mick McCarthy sent on sent on Milijas and Guedioura for Hammill and Jarvis. Despite vociferous criticism from the stands, both played a part in changing the game.
2) On 73mins, Brendan Rodgers swapped Orlandi for Britton. The key here was that while Britton had been instumental in Swansea both getting and keeping the ball, the Spaniard,
despite sterling effort, was unable to exert the same influence.
3) Swansea, despite ample posession and skilfull breaks began to sit deeper and deeper, almost inviting Wolves to "sling it in"- either from wide or general play- which they did.
It led to Routledge, who had replaced Dyer on 82m, conceding a disputed(from TV replays) corner. The incoming kick was headed back into the middle of the six yard box mix, and despite Vorm's initial block, Kevin Doyle poked in the goal. 2-1, with 5mins to go, and the home crowd woke up.
Moras replacing Gower confirmed that the Swans would be happy to hold what they had- but it was not to be. From a break on the left, a good pull back to the penalty spot saw Jamie O'Hara smash home the equaliser. 86 mins, 2-2, and we Swans were gutted. Collywobbles aside, the minutes ticked to full time. Swansea had their first premier League away point. Wolves had snatched a draw from not the jaws, but half-way-down-the-oesophagus of defeat.
The period from 75 mins to the close was crucial. As a team, we were guilty of dropping deeper and deeper and this invites the opposition to push forward.Many of us have seen our team do this when we are in front on numerous occasions in our journey up the League. It's easy to say it, it's very hard NOT to do it. We need to cut the team some slack- they know what went on and will also spend this week analysing it. We must, and will, learn-quickly- the Prem is unforgiving.
We didn't take one of numerous chances when on top at 2-0.It would have killed the game stone dead.
I've already made plain my feelings about the Britton substitution.The crucial fact is that when he was playing we had, kept, and pressed the ball. The ball is all. With it we win. Without it, unless we get it back, we struggle.
The psychology of our performance is important. People will have seen us, and will know that we are more than capable of winning. Anywhere within reason. We are a work in progress, and, from the interviews I've seen, our Manager is savvy enough to learn. Initially very frustrated, I'm chilling. Do our players and staff the courtesy of allowing that they will learn from today's harsh lesson.
Onwards, and Bolton at Home next.
Monday, 17 October 2011
Being unable to travel to East Anglia I watched the game on an internet TV stream, one of many, and one with both a decent picture AND the English commentary.Wasn't I a lucky boy.Well,no, as it turned out.
Norwich started like a house on fire.Within the first minute, from their first attack, they were ahead. From an attack down their left the ball, via a deflection , was tranferred via a long looping cross from Elliot Bennet on the right wing that went beyond the far post, to be nodded back via Steve Morison to Anthony Pilkington, 6yds from the middle of the Swansea goal and he,to make up for his last week's miss at Old Trafford, smashed it in.
Worse was to follow for the Swans- after 9mins. From a free kick on Swansea's right, 30 yds out, the ball was swung in and Russel Martin ghosted between the zonal defence to head freely into the net.
Swansea almost immediately broke from the left via Scott Sinclair, and fom his determined run into the penalty area where, despite falling, he managed to hook it into the centre, from a deflected ball Danny Graham spun and scuffed/steered it beyond Ruddy in the Norwich goal.2-1, 10mins gone, and everybody breathed deeply.
For the rest of the first half the two teams were like an NBA game- skill,speed and end-to-end attack. Both are to be commended for showing people why the Prem is compelling. This wasn't harum-scarum stuff- it was a genuinely riveting hi speed Chess type of contest. Kudos to both sides.
The half time break allowed the fans to hope(Swansea) and believe (Norwich) that their team could win.
Unfortunately, for us, Paul Lambert's tactical adjustments trumped Brendan Rodgers' tweaks. Norwich dominated the second half, with a posession ratio of 60/40 % giving a strong clue to the way the game unfolded. From a corner midway through the second half Leon Barnett won a header and Bradley Johnson calmly lifted the ball across the box for Pilkington to score his second from close range.
Despite the Swans persistent commitment, including after 3 substitutions Steven Dobbie (one of the subs) limping off to see the visitors reduced to 10 men, Norwich were never really threatened. They saw the game out comfortably to finish with 3 home points and continue Swansea's bad run away from Home.
My feelings, for what they're worth, are this- the second half felt like Chelsea Away second half......we never really seemed "up for it". That's NOT meant to impugn the team effort. They gave it their all - it's more a reflection of Norwich, and their Manager's, ability to get the better of us both tactically and physically.
Our lightness of squad depth means that with current injuries we are desperately missing Caulker's aerial prowess and speed of thought/action. Gary Monk,our skipper, is bravely playing injured. In midfield, Joey Allen and Leon Britton can sometimes be both doing the same job- particularly when Joey may have been wearied by his Welsh exertions. Mark Gower may have been an option there. And up front, DG is tireless, but when the wingers (Sinclair and Dyer) are both doubled up on AND have to slot into midfield, we can become stretched.
This is NOT a knock of my team. I am very proud of them still, and still believe that Brendan and his coaching staff will get far more right than wrong. PLUS, it's only 8 games into the season, and to read some of the poppycock talked on some of my favourite Swansea City fan websites by some doom and gloom merchants who have little constructive to say but find it easy, behind the anonymity of a keyboard, to bad-mouth our own club, I have this to say.
Firstly, post your name and not a pseudonym and take responsibility for what you say.
Secondly, offer some constructive, realistic argument/opinion that stands some scrutiny.
Thirdly, and finally, get a life.
# these are the thought and opinions of Peter Thomas- if you don't agree with them how about posting something that all of the Internet audience can judge.He sits in G120, Lower West.Come and say hello.
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Ian Ayre, Liverpool FC's Managing Director, is not a figure who will have crossed your radar before this week.But his declaration that his club are interested in negotiating their own overseas Broadcasting deal thus putting them outside the Premier League's current collectivist agreement will probably have brought him to your attention.
The Premiership currently enjoys a deal that nets them £1.4 billion for their overseas Broadcasting rights to 2013. Collectively. That means all together,
However, Ayre's words were...."With the greatest of respect to our colleagues in the Premier League, but if you’re a Bolton fan in Bolton, then you subscribe to Sky because you want to watch Bolton. Everyone gets that. Likewise, if you’re a Liverpool fan from Liverpool, you subscribe. But if you’re in Kuala Lumpur there isn’t anyone subscribing to Astro, or ESPN to watch Bolton, or if they are it’s a very small number. Whereas the large majority are subscribing because they want to watch Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.”
When I read this astonishing example of Chutzpah , in it's purest dictionary definition, I was dumbstruck. Coming, as it does, in the very week that Parliament is about to debate the lingering shame that endures from our society's failure to provide closure for many thousands of people still, embarrassingly , hurt and affected by the genuine tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster, it seemed to me unfeeling, at the very least.
Many others, with more grace and knowledge than I, have detailed the appalling failures of that day, and you will forgive me, I hope, in hinting at the juxtaposition of pairing 1989 and 2011.
David Conn, amongst others, has detailed in the Guardian on many occasions the share out of the Premier League pie. To quote his article of today, "Tearing up the pooled TV deal is a recipe for the rich to get richer" ,...."Ayre says Liverpool want more. The Premier League was born from an impulse of individual greed against the collective – unlike US sports – and that appetite has only grown, not lessened, in the 20th year of the English game's new era, with the last vestiges of sharing under renewed attack."
This includes John W Henry, Liverpool's prinicpal owner admitting : "Liverpool and English football were a mystery to me"
That's it in a nutshell, and I'll leave people to argue the morality at their leisure. What I want to do now is to briefly consider the practicalities.
Let's speculate on the long term outcome if we may, and perhaps have a little fun along the way.
Let's assume, that the clubs in the EPL (copyright John W Henry) are stupid enough to vote with sufficient majority - 14 minimum out of 20 - to allow individual overseas TV deals. This begs the question of what happens to the other Prem goodies on offer; namely, the home seasonal TV deal, the prize-for-position money, and the "guess what, we're on TV this week" payment. Do they still get these - or can the rest of the League say "Do one, amigo!”
Well, for Liverpool last year that amounted to £37.3 of their £55.2 (million that is ) League income. Still, I'm sure the Kuala Lumpur chapter of Anfield will help out.
Seriously. let's get away from the finance, because it's as interesting to speculate on other possible outcomes.
I come to this argument as a Swansea City fan, newly promoted and in their first season in the top flight for many a year. I know we're not likely to win the League. I know we're not likely to finish in the top half dozen. There are considerably more, and some would say better, clubs than mine with that as a realistic goal. However, my club's chances of staying in the division are no worse than another 8/10 teams to me. Especially, blessed as we are, by the the Prem's increased funding which gets better by the year should you manage to stay up, and the practical management of Brendan Rodgers with a steadily improving on-field performance that's pleasing on the eye.
I've never had an ache to be a fan of a "Big club". As Ronnie Barker, John Cleese, and Ronnie Corbett suggested years ago- "I know my place".
This is an argument that never ceases to continually amuse me. As I listen to Talk Radio/ You're on Sky Sports type programmes hearing an incessant stream of callers (dolts?) arguing about the "bigness" of their allegiance, sometimes moving from "big club" to "massive club" in the same conversation, I chuckle. Heartily. I assume it is their Clubs they’re talking about.It must be, musn't it?
If the "top four", a phrase dependent on a UEFA co-efficient, are "big clubs", how big are the "big clubs" who don't make the "top 4" ? Are they really big - a sort of Blue Whale in football terms? Or are they just really an Elephant? And does it matter when they're 5th ? - do they then become just a Rhino, say, whilst the Hippo who was 5th last year and is now 4th has grown into something bigger, a Tyrranosaurus Rex maybe ?. You see what I mean.
The outcome of all this nonsense is though, I would like to suggest, a little more serious. How long before Man Utd., Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and their equivalents in other Leagues across the continent, come to feel that their Home League is not really "big" enough for them? You will notice that the 4 English teams I've highlighted are the popularly perceived "big 4" only over the last few years, thus satisfying the UEFA co-efficient. But that doesn't account for Tottenham's incursion recently. I can hear their fans ask now, plaintively, "HOW BIG ARE WE THEN" ?
And there's the rub. UEFA's coefficients, which allow the EPL 4 Champions League places, are flexible, and dependent on that country's clubs performance in said CL over the last 3 years. So whilst it's a "big 4 " nowadays, it could be a 3 or 2 even in years to come. Italy, and Scotland recently, have felt this.
Ah, the Champions League. Notice it's not called the Champions Cup, which, when only Champions entered it, it was. This is where we get the first and strongest indication of what Ian Ayre, and fellow moneymen mean when they pull the Oliver Twist and ask for MORE. This is where the REAL money is made, and "brands" enhanced.
It's no secret amongst football fans that the leading clubs of each nation seem to have a sense of entitlement when it comes to success. Most fans of non-top 4 sides will tell you so. They view themselves as an elite. So it's no surprise really if their executives take this one step further and imagine themselves as a European powerhouse. Thus let's imagine what this European elite might comprise. Do we go with the co-efficient ? What else, what do we have? Well, we have 4 from England,4 from Spain, 4 from Germany, 3 from Italy, France and Portugal, 2 from Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Belgium, Romania and Scotland and a whole tranche of no-mark 1's including Czechs, Swiss and too many to enumerate.
If you were dreaming of a European Super League, which Football Execs do, who would be in it? Well goodness me there's a whole lot of problems there! For example, if it's 18 teams in a division we have a problem. 4+4+4+3+3+3=18.Whoops, sorry, that's 21 silly! So which 3 drops out to make it 18? YOU DECIDE. I think not - some deal will be cobbled together to satisfy the loudest and strongest and to hell with the weaker brethren. Enough, you would say. That's Division 1 then. So the surplus 3 puts the knock on 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2=18 for Division 2 then. Guess it'll just have to be 21 in the second tier, unless some cut-throat, ruthless negotiation is carried out in some Nyon back room. Don't rule it out - this is Platini's fiefdom after all and the once great footballer seems to have picked the Blatter model in his Administrative capacity. But what about the no-mark 1's I hear you ask? Where would they go, and why? Who says that team 4 in England is better than team 1 in Russia for instance? Or team 3 in Portugal over team 1 in Czechoslovakia? Let's not go there, because UEFA, or any other newly constituted group (remember how the Prem was born?) couldn't possibly. Could they??
By the way, What then happens to the Clubs excluded from this elite/ist competition? Do they just pass it through on the nod and satisfy themselves in a lesser domestic league but one that affords them a greater (demonstrably) chance of success. And what about Promotion and Relegation? Don't go there shriek the Accountants. In US Sports it's anathema. But to the British fan it can be the oxygen that makes or breaks a season.
I'm a Season Ticket holder at my club, Swansea City. There is no way we would ever be involved in a European Super League. Thank God. That doesn't mean I can't travel away to see my boys too. I have, and do. I'll continue to do so. In Britain, that is. I don’t think I could afford, or even want, to do more than this.
Whilst an Arsenal fan may travel to Marseille for the Champions League, would he or she be able to do it every other week if it were Sevilla rather than Stoke? Maybe. But I suspect it won't always be so. Rather a wet, windy, wintry weekend in the Potteries than Podgorica, even with it's historic and cultural delights, regularly. They tell me the Balti pies are legend in the Midlands.
So, to get back to the original question......Super League - to be, or not to be.
Not to be, for now. Not for me anyway. Have a think whether it’s for you.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
The International break from Premiership football has allowed us sedentary armchair fans a veritable "Smorgasbord" of presentation and punditry.An Undiluted,unadulterrated, main-line shot of "Football Speak".
No, that's not meant to be a shout out for THIS estimable web vehicle, although if it is, I make no apologies.
It's more that as an almost accidental adjunct to our weekly Sky/BBC/ESPN administered ration, the Broadcasting Gods have served us with, what in dining terms , might be described as an "amuse bouche". That is, the Chefs, be they the BBC,Sky,ITV, ESPN, Talksport,5Liveor the broadcasting outlet bringing it to your living room, have chosen not only the presenters, the commentators even,but those often referred to as the "colour-men". That's the "Big Ron" Atkinson role to you and I. Or the Brian Clough to ITV's Brian Moore from the long lost past.
Oh,oh, but that it were so.
Let me kick off with ITV- since that was my last reference- and Adrian Chiles. The erstwhile BBC One Show's man child has, since his multi million pound transfer to the dark side of presenting ITV's entire football output, managed to both transform himself from a likeable, believable link you're about to enjoy into a "Television Personality", and one, no less who makes you scrabble for the remote. Witness his use by the Network on a series of self-diminishing Daily Shows with his parter-in-scheduled crime, Mrs Frank Lampard, and you can almost feel sorry for them both. Almost. Don't forget the enormous transfer fee and the fact they're getting paid rather well for this.
Good luck to both, but forgive me for NOT feeling sorry.
Incidentally, since I've mentioned the progenitor of "early doors" and "giving it the full gun" prior to his revealing description of Marcel Desailly as a .............well, if you don't know, I'll let you Google it, I'll put it this way; Ron was a true Broadcasting Godfather to Richard Keays and Andy Gray.
ITV's other main presenters range from the competent Matt Smith to the expensive (poached from the Beeb) Steve Rider via the sublime Jim Rosenthal to the effective Craig Doyle or Gary Imlach. Their current lead commentator is Clive Tyldesley supplemented by their other staff commentator, Peter Drury. Their oft-used co-commentator is Jim Beglin. I do not like, or dislike, Jim Beglin. I've heard his career at Liverpool and elsewhere described as "ordinary". I wouldn't disagree, either then or now. Kevin Gallacher,Iain Dowie and David Pleat are also used. Enough said.
On the sofas (for there are always sofas) and around the geometric table (currently) you are likely to find Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate, a middling ex-pro of dubious International descent and an FA Employee. Do not, please, rock the boat. On Champion's League nights we might be lucky enough to have Ruud Gullit or someone different offer an interesting opinion but don't bet on it.
Down at the Beeb, times are tough.
Not only is Auntie's grasp on Broadcast Football getting more tenuous by the season, this is reflected in their team sheet. The Flagship MOTD is fronted by the ubiquitous Gary Lineker, who, thanks to Walker's Crisps and Golf seems to be able to replicate himself, not always for the better. And Gary doesn't do controversy. Ever. His sofa mates are Alan Shearer ( a man who described painting a fence in his Autobiography), Alan Hansen(whose defence of all things Liverpool and growl about "wouldna' happened in ma' day" ) are slipping into parody, and Mark Lawrenson(another ex-Liverpudlian much vilified) and you can see that things are not likely to get heated in their analysis(??) of current games.
Which leads us to MOTD2.
The Corporation's younger brother has, over the last couple of seasons, at least offered something slightly different from it's bigger sibling's braggadocio and love of the status quo. Football things, that is, NOT the band. Whatever your opinion of Colin Murray with his punky schtick and Radio1, music cred background you have to admit this. He's just NOT Gary Lineker. And for me, that's a good thing.
It also touches my spot with it's use of OB via Kevin Day's trips and slips into the hinterlands, and it's use of the Beeb's best pundit, Lee Dixon. Opinionated, knowledgeable and TV/Tech friendly, here is a pundit who gives value for money. Whether it be in analysing moves and games-at which he's rather good- to giving dressing room insights-which fascinate- to the simple "speak clearly and inform" mantra of which Lord Reith would be proud, here's a football analyst who knows what it's about to be a punter and performer. Given his outside interests, which include Food, Wine and Cycling it's perhaps not surpising that his analysis is sharper.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the beeb's commentary team, especially so now that Motty is into yet another season. John Motson is of course an institution. Having started many years past, he still does individual matches and occasional features. Nowadays, the BBC's main commentators are Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce (previously on 5), Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton, and Steve Bower. Motty still performs frequent live radio commentary for BBC Radio 5 Live. It would be unfair also to ignore Dan Walker,who presents Football Focus weekly and is prepared to engage with fans on Twitter and other social media.....(checkout his frequently funny weekly themed sportslists) - eg scienceXI, song titlesXI etc...btw, how good is "Murder on Zidane's Floor".)? Similarly, Manish Bhasin, who,weekly, has to put up with Steve Claridge's presence and foolishness on the Football League Show.
Nevertheless, over at Sky and ESPN, thanks to the almighty dollar(some would say) or the advancement of sports broadcasting(others), things move on. Perhaps the best examples of Satellite solidity have happened in the last few years.
ESPN made their breakthrough when Setanta went to the wall. Having said that, their recruitment of Ray Stubbs made sense. Having worked for the Beeb in many different roles Stubbs said "The opportunity of joining one of the world's leading sports broadcasters on day one of the new ESPN channel in the UK was just too good to turn down." And so it was. In my viewing recently I've seen them use Steve McManaman, Kevin Keegan,Tim Sherwood and others and I always feel as if I've just stumbled on a niche broadcaster by accident.
But maybe it's just me. Perhaps they're a lot better than I give them credit for. Perhaps "I will love it if we beat them! Love it!" deserves more depth than I give it.
So that gets us to Sky. I was, like countless thousand others, at first a sceptic. Here was this johnny-come-lately broadcaster asking ME for money to see it's Sports output. I like many others, soon learned. If you want to see the best, someone's got to pay. Even if it's me.
So here I am, another subscriber, looking forward to another "Super Sunday" and not really minding that my team- that's Swansea City by the way- won't be the lead match, or even the supplementary, but at least we'll be on later. Guaranteed, because on Match First on a Saturday Night I get to choose.
So their pundits, must be the best, yeah? Well no.
The presentation is currently shared by David Jones and Ed Chamberlain, both in situ as a result of the Richard Keays and Andy Gray afterburn. Having presented Sky's grounbreaking football coverage since 1992, both were transferred to Talksport after an in-house disagreement. Some would say that's no bad thing. I'm amongst them. Having established a blokey-jokey rapport with their multitude viewers, both were guilty of at least an error of judgement. And that's being kind. We should not forget that both were and are of the "Big Ron" generation. Perhaps it really was time for a change.
The regular studio pundit remains the anodyne Jamie Redknapp, a man so controversial that Thomas Cook picked him to front it's exotic holidays. Fly me to the moon. Martin Tyler leads the commentary team, not half badly, and Rob Hawthorne and Alan Parry are the other main match commentators.
Of course Sky also has the inimatable Jeff Stelling. Leading a rotating panel of 4 differing pundits weekly, here's a broadcaster who's managed to make 4 men, a desk, and some news both interesting and compelling. Sky Sports Saturday afternoon has made the BBC draught in Gabby Logan, Garth Crooks and others to attempt to compete via the red button with it's Final Score.
All in all I suppose we get the pundits we are presented with.
But just occasionally, we get the pundits we deserve.
Like when Graham Souness spears Tevez.
When Guillem Balague explains why Pep isn't phased by Mourinho.
When Gary Neville, of all people, offers an explanation why England's spine is weak.
And where a Hartlepool fan gets to call on his James Brown doll and proffers what we all feel when our team
"I feel good".
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Every football fan knows the feeling, and treasures it. Wishes it could happen more often, of course, regularly even, with a bit of luck. And knows , that in the real football universe, it’s a once in a generation thing. That’s if you’re born lucky.
It’s that moment that you’re watching the team you love and see for the first time a young player who’s been nurtured through the ranks within the Club and he demonstrates to you, and all lucky enough to be there, confirmation that hey, there’s a new kid on the block. And he can’t half play.
Joe Allen, the Swans’ midfield diamond, is that player.
The 21 yr old made his first team debut in the final game of the 2006/07 season , as a sub in the 6-3 away defeat to Blackpool, although he’d played for the first team previously in an FAW Premier Cup tie and had even featured as an unused sub in a 3-0 FA Cup win for the Swans at Bramhall Lane. He was then a 16yr old 1st year scholar with the Youth team.
I didn’t see either of the above games so the first time I set eyes on him was in a a 2-0 Carling Cup tie win over Walsall, early in the following, 2007/08 season . I remember him setting up a goal for our flying winger Paul Anderson (then on loan to us from Liverpool- sadly, nowadays lost amongst the morass at Forest) with a sublime cross. My footballing compadre Jimmy in the next seat turned to me as we celebrated the goal and confirmed what we both knew “…looks like we’ve got a good ’un then. Boy can play a bit.” As a fan who can give me 20 yrs service over and above mine , at first the Vetch and now the Liberty, Jimmy can usually spot a decent player. He wasn’t wrong.
Joey , since that’s what he’s known as amongst us Swansea cognoscenti, has continued to progress. From limited involvement at first- in first League 1 and then the Championship over the periods 07/08, /08/09, 09/10 with 6,23 and 21 appearances his real breakthrough year was 2010/11, the year the Swans made the leap to the Prem via the Play-offs with 43 appearances. Despite competition over this period from Darren Pratley,Jordi Gomez, Mark Gower, Leon Britton, Kemy Agustien amongst others, many would argue that Joey’s contribution was vital. Our savvy manager, Brendan Rodgers has recognised this in the award of a recently endowed 4 yr contract which allows him to stay with us until 2015, if both he and the club want.
And why would they not?
I have seen this excellent professional develop over this time. I saw him run the Wales U-21 midfield at Parc-y-Scarlets in a defeat of Luxembourg. I saw him score in the 2-2 Derby draw at Cardiff (“you jack bastard” sang the crowd, as is our wont for a favourite). I saw him in the 2010 Cardiff City derby again, where, after a stunning performance in a 1-0 win he won the MOM award. It was one among many so far with many more to come.
I don’t need to tell you what it’s like to watch a genuinely talented footballer perform because you know- how they always seem to have time, how they look and perform like an athlete, how they make the difficult look commonplace, and above all else, how they grace and often change for the better the beautiful game. This Friday night just gone Joey made his first starting appearance for the Welsh national team in their 2-0 defeat of Switzerland at the Liberty. He was excellent, of course. Here’s what the Wales manager Gary Speed had to say - “ Joe was excellent and that was only his first start. He has been playing great for Swansea and he showed that he can play at the top level. I had no hesitation in picking him ,and there was no sentiment involved, it wasn’t a Swansea thing because we were playing at their ground. He is an excellent player on the ball.”
So, it’s not just me and Jimmy then. For those of you who haven’t seen him yet I recommend a viewing. You-Tube if you can’t do live. MOTD when you get a chance.
So what’s he like? To you Gooners he’s like Aaron Ramsey with a bit more pace. To Utd fans he’s like Cleverley but Welsh, see. To Chelsea regulars he’s like McEachran but with 2 years more experience. MCFC fans will remember Michael Johnson before injuries and parties(allegedly) took their toll.
But, to all us Swans……….he’s a diamond being polished by each and every game.
“One Joey Allen,,,,There’s only one Joey Allen”
Saturday, 8 October 2011
In an earlier post I was happy to expound on my preference for Club football over the International experience. My visits to the Liberty to shout on the Premier League’s graceful birds are , and will quite probably remain, a particular preference above International football. But that’s been put to an interesting test - at the Liberty tonight Wales played host to Switzerland in a European Championship qualifying tie that, as I’ve said before, came too late to see them qualify, but pitted them against a Swiss side that was above them in the Group, and still had an outside chance of getting to the Ukraine/Poland based tournament .
After Wales’ previous tie, which had seen them beat joint Group leaders Montenegro 2-1, it was a chance to show Welsh progress (if any) under Gary Speed, and his attempt to evolve the Dragons into a modern, skilful passing team modelled on the SCFC ethos and to measure their progress before the next International qualifying tournament- the World Cup. As a self confessed Football Junky I hunkered down in front of the TV on a mission to get at least a fix of some sort with both that game and England’s trip to Podgorica against Montenegro showing on Sky.
I started my evening watching Capello’s men take the game to the Balkan side and for the first half hour was content to channel surf to the Liberty every 5 mins or so. By the time I finally took the plunge and switched to my spiritual home, England had established a 2-0 lead - game over then,huh - and despite Barry Horne’s irritating and just plain wrong interjections as co-commentator it became obvious that I was watching the more enjoyable game. Supplemented by the Twitter feed on my laptop, and fortified by a very nice bottle of Gran Vega Privado, a Spanish Rose from Campo de Borja of progressively better provenance by the glass, I watched Speedo’s men give truth to the idea that they are making significant and noticeable progress. What I mean to say is that Wales are obviously getting better by the game.
Built on the modern, fluid, pass and move model I see from the Swans- (and other good teams I’ll admit) - Wales gave a display that both made me proud by association and satisfied by result. That they beat Switzerland 2-0 you’ll be aware. What you may not, is that it was so satisfying to watch, given that the greater proportion of the TV audience is more likely to have been watching “England’s best player” give another example of his manifest shortcomings in getting needlessly sent off , and the England national team a hint at their propensity to panic under pressure. Montenegro, urged on by passionate support, came back from that self-same 2-0 down start to earn a 2-2 draw.
So I think it’s time to ‘fess up.
Having declared my love of Club over Country, here I was out and out enjoying Country without Club. Do you know what? It really was nice. Not only that, it taught me something of a lesson - that in my Premiership induced, hyperbole Radio and TV’d unthinking viewing- I was in danger of selling myself short. What I really love is just good football.
It can be any sort……West End v Plasmarl or Seaside v Pengelli in local football; Swansea City v Sunderland in the Prem; Wales v Switzerland Internationally.Whatever.
I have an idea I’m not alone. Particularly amongst fellow Swans.
## Peter Thomas is planning to enjoy Norwich City v Swansea City in the Barclays Premier League and must stop talking about himself in the third person.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
For us football fans, and by that I mean CLUB supporters, the International Weekend is something of a disappointment. Now I don’t mean to denigrate the thousands of fans who’ll flock to Stadiums all over Europe to passionately and patriotically bellow their allegiance in support of their nation’s cause. But in commenting , as I am, you’ll forgive me for feeling a little bit of a traitor.
Wales, for that’s my country, on Friday evening take on Switzerland in the Group G fixture for qualification for the European Championship Finals. Hey, that’s a serious football match in a serious tournament that ought to mean something to me.
Despite Wales not being able to qualify as a result of their under-achieving performances thus far. Despite the prospect of seeing top class professional footballers both in our, and their, teams. After all, last weekend, I was deliriously happy as I watched Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor,(the Swansea contingent naturally) and the rest of the multi-national Swansea side perform more than admirably at our home the Liberty in turning over a muscular Stoke City in the Barclays Premier League.
They’ll grace the pitch on Friday against very different opposition- opposition who, let it not be forgotten, include a player that after last week is guaranteed to stick in Sir Alex Ferguson’s craw.That in itself pleases me no end. Switzerland will include Alexander Frei, scorer at Old Trafford and Gokhan Inler of Napoli along with a slew of quality European Club regulars. So what’s the deal? Why am I not there, and(horribly) not that bothered?
I think it’s because I’m a fan. As opposed to a “Fan”. Can a capital letter really make that much difference? Yes, it can, and here’s why.
Ask yourself this - “Who do I support?”. Simple answer, really. I support Swansea City - have done for years, will do for many more.I guess you’ll say the same about your club.
For me it’s since 1964. In those days we were a typical Football league Division 2 club. We’d wobbled down, up, down, up and so on for many years between the lower Divisions and it wasn’t until Tosh’s remarkable transformation in the 80’s and our club’s subsequent elevation to Division 1 that we were ever near the blessing of MOTD appearances even.
After a brief flirtation(too soon) with the upper echelons of football’s hoi-polloi we were sent back to the place from whence we came(and belonged, said some) - the “Lower Divisions”.
But they weren’t you see to me. The “Lower Divisions”. I put it to you that ALL fans of clubs like ours - clubs who have skittered up and down with brief flirtations among the elite - are truly satisfied customers.
The real “Lower Divisions” are below us……..Conference, Unibond Triangle, Regional and so on. And do you know what? We’ve never, ever been that unfortunate. (Pace Wrexham and Newport , we know you’ll be back one day.)
This, by the way, is not meant to be any sort of chest-puffing, superiority claim.We aren’t necessarily “better” in any sort of way to the clubs below us in Football’s formalised structure. We just happen to have been, of late, a tad more successful.
So that’s the reason why Wales , despite my fond regard, will never, ever, be as important to me me as Swansea City.We are now amongst the Premiership elite but it’s not about that.
It’s why you’ll see many non-league flags amongst Wales support wherever.
Why you’ll see Alfreton Town, Basingstoke, Billericay and who knows what else on the terraces at Podgorica supporting Ing-er-land.
It’s because they’ve never had that unique connection with one of the 92.
There is no other nation on the footballing planet that sustains such a system for better or worse.
That’s why on International weekends I’ll be watching and caring but planning for Norwich, away.
Bizarre? Maybe. Unusual? Not really.
Or at least not for me.
## Peter Thomas is a sad sack with a full Sky Sports/ESPN Subscription, a West Stand Season Ticket at Swansea and a passion for Football.
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
When I tell you that the first time I saw the Swans play-my first view of a live Professional Football match- was Swansea Town v Leeds Utd in the 1963/64 season, a Division 2 fixture that saw Leeds promoted at the Season's end, that will nail my generation..We finished 19th.My Dad took me for my first visit to the Vetch,we sat in the upper tier of the Double Decker and I was hooked. That was also the season that we reached the FA Cup semi-final(going out to PNE), and I was delighted to be allowed to go to our 4th round replay 4-0 win over Sheffield Utd in the January and the even better 2-0 5th round replay win in February over the mighty Stoke.On both of these occasions I was allowed to go on my own, to the fabled North Bank.Wow.I didn't make the stellar 2-1 win at Liverpool in the 6th Round and I'm not ashamed to say I cried at the semi-final defeat to Preston.
Hey,I was bloody 13 after all.What really shocked me though was my dad cried too.Wow and double wow.
Anyway,enough nostalgia.Good memories,which I know a lot will share.
Since those long gone days a lot has changed- both in football and society generally.Don't worry,this isn't going to be a rant about " the good old days".I happen to believe that they've changed for the better.Our Town became a City amongst other things, and the vagaries and vicissitudes,the fortunes and fate of our beloved Swans is reflected in far better detail elsewhere.Suffice it to say that when we beat Reading 4-2 on that fateful Wembley May day we were deliriously happy.Swansea City in the Premier League.Do you know,I still get a buzz from writing it.From thinking it,even.
So,as a Season Ticket holder(I sit in the Lower West and love it) I've seen all of our Home games and was lucky enough to travel to our Away defeats to Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup and to the Emirates where we went down to the Gunners.I really enjoyed those trips too- yes I was down that we lost,but a lot of good things happened .So,what's the point of this nostalgia trip; it's this- why do some of our own fans not only chastise,but curse,mutter and even boo some of our OWN PLAYERS.This irks me.It frustrates me.It annoys me.And,more than anything,it bloody shames me.
You know exactly what I mean.It's the sort of thing that you hear on some of the more
asinine Talk/Phone-in radio and TV shows.Where every caller seems to think football began with the creation of the Premier League.Where Arsene Wenger "deserves the sack".Where 5th = "failure".Where some fat,sloth-like(I guess but I bet I'm not wrong) keyboard/telephone dial warrior tells people that a professional athlete "isn't fit to wear the shirt".By this time I usually explode.Metaphorically,of course.
You will also have heard it at a football ground near you-usually your own.
The current cross-bearer at Swansea City is Mark Gower.This excellent,admirable pro joined us from Southend a couple of seasons ago,having started at Tottenham as a youngster and,on discarding by them, worked his way back into the professional game via non-league
Barnet amongst others.So,having seen him do well for Southend against us,when we signed him I was quite pleased.Since being with us,he's done absolutely nothing but please me-including advancing his skillset by transforming himself from an out and out winger to a graceful,skilfull,ball-retaining midfielder.He suits our game and our team,I like to think,suits him, and has helped him to advance.That's not quite enough for the naysayers tho'.I've heard fellow "fans" groan when he misplaces a pass(as do ALL PLAYERS) occasionally .When he took a
nervous while to get his first goal for the Club I heard some cretins scream abuse weekly.(Yes,I DID intervene-uncomfortable but I like to think necessary).Please don't think that my judgement of ANY player is necessarily right.But I think it's at least fair.
In the last couple of seasons,previous targets of the boo-boys have included Jordi Gomez,the ball-savvy technician who Martinez took to Wigan...."too flash(sic)" and Jason Scotland..."..he doesn't do anything but score goals" (sic-cer).
At Arsenal,I remember Eboue and Bendtner(before they left) taking the flak.Arshavin seems to be the current hate figure there.At Chelsea it's Kalou(christ,even Torres too).At Man U it's Nani for some.."too many somersaults?".
Liverpool?- Carrol.Villa?- Ireland.QPR?- Taarabt-especially after last Saturday.
Go on.Do it.Go down the list of clubs and you will find at least one if not more who are subjected to this dross weekly.It must make it pretty uncomfortable to run out in front of your OWN fans and be subjected to such hateful,sad behaviour.
One of the more positive ( I think) happenings over the last few years has been footballers(athletes,personalities etc) being willing to engage with fans through Social Media streams(Twitter,FB etc)..
But who could really blame them if the abuse they suffer both in grounds and via the ether caused them to withdraw.
Monday, 3 October 2011
Pride in the Shirt-Silky Swans prevail...
At Sunday's Premier League match at the Liberty Stadium I was the proud buyer of this year's Swansea first team top(prem badges and all) as the Adidas stock back-up had arrived and the Club cutely provided a Sales caravan outside in the beautiful sunshine at the base of the West Stand.Proudly clutching my newly bought swag(and no less proudly wearing some of my other Swans colours) I watched the first half of Chelsea's demolition of Bolton on the Lib's bigger than last year's TV screens in the concourse.
We had known ,of course, of Stoke City's physical prowess and their admirable progress in this League over the past few seasons.On Thursday evening they had beaten Besiktas 2-1 in the Europa cup, and their line up for Sunday showed 9 changes to that night's team,with Manager Tony Pulis going with what many would call(pacey Matty Etherington-injury absence) his strongest side.
Meanwhile,Leon Britton's back problems meant he too was an absentee for us and perhaps Brendan Rodgers' decision to replace him with Wayne Routledge and to swap Danny Graham for Leroy Lita up front gave a clue to Swansea's attacking intent.
We started well with Rangel's early sublime ball to Dyer over the top of Marc Wilson giving the Swans very own buzz-flier an opportunity to angularly advance on goal,from where he unluckily allowed the ball to drift a little too far ahead and the chance was gone.A couple of minutes later,Danny Graham was very close to Sinclair's super chip from the left to the far post and Swansea's start had been encouraging.Both sides were competing for every ball and
the muscularity of some Stoke tackling-Wilkinson(booked) and Shawcross(not) the glaring examples.
The breakthrough came early,in the 9th minute, and was a direct result of pace.Allen threaded Routledge through in the inside left channel(in the area but going wider) and the skilful forward showed Shawcross just enough ball for commitment to a tackle and then moved it last minute with a touch that meant the subsequent sweeping away of his legs brooked no argument from Mike Jones in awarding the pen.Scott Sinclair did what Scott Sinclair does-scored, with a neat quality strike into and beyond Begovic's reach and perfectly in the corner of the net.Is it my
imagination,or did SS strike this one a little harder than previous ones? Whatever,he knows damn well what he's doing and the Liberty rocked.
The first half flashed by(for me) and was compellingly watchable.Swans with their pass and move fluency,slow- quick- slow tempo, and frustrating(for Stoke) ball retention.Stoke came closest when the grafting Walters seized on a Swans mistake and accurately and powerfully volleyed a loose bouncing ball toward the roof of the net only to see Michel Vorm in the home goal spectacularly parry it in an acrobatic arch and onto the bar and behind for a corner.DDV was a good shot stopper(our previous Dutch Keeper before decamping to Wolves).Signed from Utrecht for a reported 1.5m, the Vorminator is showing us Swans that one of the world's best footballing nations(Holland) does not put ordinary players into their national squad and in my eyes, if Maarten Stekelenburg is the Dutch no 1 to Vorm's no 2 , then he MUST be one hell of a keeper.Because ours is.
1-0 at half time and the second half was no less compelling.
Incidentally,it's very easy to (snidely) denigrate Stoke as a long ball,bruising team with little else about them.I can be as guilty as anyone on that front but that would be doing them an injustice.They are all of those things, but they have a great deal more about them.There
were periods in the second half when we came under sustained pressure from their legitimate attempts to drag themselves back into the game.The closest they came was when Whelan,their industrious midfielder,curled a box-edge free kick around the wall and struck the base of the Swans post.Fortunately for us it bounced clear,although you've got to admire a guy near me who calmly pronounced..."the wall did it's job,see".
And then,for most home fans came the icing on the cake.Danny Graham,who had spent all match selflessly running channels,linking play,defending with heart and head when need be, managed to strip the ball from Jonathan Woodgate some 35yds out.Racing away,with Shawcross and Woodgate snapping at his heels he drew the keeper and calmly slotted it into the corner.Cue mayhem,delirium,happiness.2-0 and at last we could breathe easy.Sinclair had previously forced Begovic to turn a screamer around the post and both Lita and particularly Moore made important contributions in running down the clock and preserving the status quo.The crowd were in fine voice both in supporting the team throughout and in castigating the officials for leniency by not punishing some overly robust challenges.Both Sinclair and Lita were fouled when advancing at goal to howls of derision.
We saw the game out safely and the team were justifiably clapped from the field.Am I proud?You bet I am.I haven't had the chance to highlight ALL of our team-from Joe Allen (sponsors MOM-deserved) to Monk and Williams(giants against GIANTS at CB).Have a look at our teamsheet.As Brendan said- the team played for the City (all of it) and it was a performance that made me feel a great deal of pride in the shirt.My new shirt,as silky as the Swans performance.Going into the International break,the Club will be psychologically boosted by 3 hard won points and a presence in the table in a healthy 10th place.
Early days I know,but in continuing to make the Liberty a hard place for visitors Swansea are beginning to look the part.On the resumption of the program two tricky away fixtures approach at Norwich and Wolves .We will hope to transfer today's form into both fixtures.
Onward and upward.