Posts Tagged ‘Football’

Relegation Day

May 22nd, 2011 No comments

Today Blackpool Football Club, along with four other teams, find out if they are going to be playing top flight football next season or plying their trade in the Championship. There are two places left to join West Ham in getting relegated and Blackpool’s fate is somewhat out of their own hands. A win could see them drop and a lose could see them survive. It is all about the other results today.

Blackpool have had a remarkable season. They have been a breathe of fresh air in the league by adopting one of the most entertaining brands of football. They have conceded more goals than any other club in the league up until this point but have scored more goals than all but the top four clubs. Manager Ian Holloway has moulded Blackpool to play to their strengths and almost ignore their weaknesses. Defenders Alex Baptiste and Ian Evatt have impressed a number of pundits this season, but they are probably not quite Premier League quality. They are no Scott Dann.

Will we see Bloomfield Road host Manchester United or Leeds United next season?

There is a small part of me that would not be sad if Blackpool don’t manage to stave off relegation as with the parachute payments and Karl Oyston‘s refusal to spend big money on player contracts then the club should be a in a fantastic situation to build a stronger squad, improve the stadium and facilities and make another push to become an established top tier team over the next ten years. This sane, sensible part of me is today being pushed to the back of my mind as the romantic, football supporting part of me really wants Blackpool to be the first team this season to win at Old Trafford and for other results to go our way so I can spend another year watching Match of the Day with Ian Holloway interviews!

A day in the South Elmsall sun

April 10th, 2011 No comments

For the second Saturday in a row, Andrew and I headed to a non-league fixture in Yorkshire as part of his Yorkshire Football Weekends series of articles. Following on from our trip to Bradford last week, we headed to the small town of South Elmsall found on the Leeds to Doncaster line, just to the east of Wakefield. Frickley Athletic was the destination team, and their key match against against Chasetown FC was the fayre for the afternoon.

As we alighted the train at the small, yet busy, station we started looking for somewhere to sate out thirst on what was a very balmy afternoon. It was some disappointment that we discovered that the more central of South Elmsall’s drinking establishments were all closed. Andrew had secured an interview with one of the committee members for Frickley Athletic so we headed towards the stadium a little earlier than we would have hoped. Luckily, on arrival at the ground we were greeted with the sight of the club house, complete with bar. Whilst Andrew grilled the club’s representative, I quaffed some refreshing beer and watched the racing from Aintree.

The Tech5 Stadium itself is exactly what I imagined a non-league ground to look like. A small, uneven looking pitch, surrounded by a low wall, with open grass banks at each end with a small terrace along the far side of the field and a larger terraced stand along the nearside. The ground, which a mere five years ago had been declared unfit for the Conference North, was tidy and compact and felt a lot more engaging and atmospheric than the offerings from the Horsfall Stadium the previous week.

One of the real treats that the Tech5 Stadium had to offer was the excellent pie and peas. Of the three things that Mark Ainge, a committee member for the club, had highlighted this was the one ha was most right about. The other two, the Frickley centre forward Ashley Longstaff and the goalkeeper Ben Simpson did not quite live up the billing.

The game itself was a real battle of a game. Frickley started the afternoon in the relegation zone of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League and Chasetown needed a win to keep their play-off hopes alive. There was a real tension around the ground and I have to admit that I had this down as an away victory before the kick off.

Frickley started the brighter, with the two strikers holding the ball up well as part of a 4-4-2 formation, though the midfield seemed there more for decoration that purpose as the ball regularly bypassed them whilst being sent long by the centre halves.

As the half wore on, it was clear that the physicality of the two teams was coming to the fore, with stray elbows flying all over the place. It was somewhat against the run of play when the Frickley ‘keeper lost a regulation high ball from a corner and watched as it sailed through his arms into the back of the net. However, the goal seemed to spur the home side on and they picked up the temp and the competition seemed to get even fiercer.

Frickley got their equalizer just on the stroke of half time. Chasetown failed to clear the ball from a corner and a low driven shot found its way into the back of the net. An excellent time to score.

The second half was far more open with both teams looking for the winner. Jack Watts, the home side’s foil for the bruising play of centre forward Ashley Longstaff, was proving a real handful with his clever flicks and runs. The lad has a real future in the game and perhaps will find his way to the higher echelons. He appeared to have the skills and composure to make it to the lower leagues if he wanted to. With only a handful of starts for the club, he managed to bag his first goal towards the end of the half causing a wave of relief and jubilation to sweep across the nearly 200 fans supporting the home team. It turned out to be the winning goal and the young forward is unlikely to score a more important goal this season.

Saturday Afternoons in West Yorkshire

April 4th, 2011 No comments

It has been a long time since I went to see a live football game so when Andrew at work offered me the chance to join him in on his Yorkshire Football Weekends, a plan to see a different Yorkshire club play each Saturday afternoon for the rest of the season, I jumped right on board. I really enjoy live sport in any guise and used to love my afternoons at Headingley when I was a member at Yorkshire Cricket Club.

Following a mad dash for the train due to some faulty ticket machines at Leeds station we eventually jumped on a train to Bradford where we were going to catch the bus up to Horsfall Park, the home of the once mighty Bradford Park Avenue AFC. The club now plays in the Evo-stik Northern Premier League – the 7th tier of English football’s pyramid – but once graced the higher echelons of the league structure, playing in the first and second divisions throughout the pre-war years.

We grabbed a few drinks in the local drinking establishment once we arrived at the stadium and enjoyed the second half of the Manchester United and West Ham game via Greek satellite. The remarkable finish to that game put us in just the right mood for the afternoon delights to follow.

Many people would question our choice to visit a non-league side in search of live football, but with tickets costing less than ten pounds and a really goof atmosphere where you really feel part of the club, I think that non-league is actually a really good way of getting into live football and I would recommend everybody to check out their local clubs.

The game itself was a bit of a thriller with Bradford Park Avenue finishing the first half with a four goal to one lead. The standard of football was actually really high, with some good first touches and a commitment to playing the football along the ground with short passes in the channels and some smart runs off the ball. The second half was a little more disappointing as the non-league fitness levels caught up with the players and the game started to break down and fall into long ball tennis in patches. We did see another two goals in the second half, including a free kick taken from outside the penalty area that was remarkably similar to the one Wayne Rooney had scored for Man Utd earlier int he day at Upton Park. The final score finished 5-2 to Bradford Park Avenue. You can check out a full match report at Andrew’s football website.

The afternoon was rounded off when we visited the same drinking establishment as earlier in the day only to find we had stumbled into the West Yorkshire Divisional meeting of the English Defence League. We scarpered pretty quickly!

January Sales

February 1st, 2011 1 comment

Following a hectic transfer deadline day with record fees being splashed around and panic buying of the highest order I thought I would take a look at how my club, Blackpool, faired in the market.

The headline for Tangerine fans was he fact that Charlie Adam is still a Blackpool player following a transfer request and bids from Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Apparently Liverpool’s best bid of £7.5million was rejected, but Spurs’ best bid, thought to be around £8-9million plus clauses was accepted but the paperwork could not be compelted in time. How much of this is ‘Arry Redknapp being his usual transfer deadline day self and how much is accurate is essentially a moot point now. The deal was not done and Blackpool’s midfield dynamo has another six months to add to his value. I am suere that Adam will leave in the summer for around £10million, but then a 2000% return on an investment is simply astonishing for a club like Blackpool. For that sort of money the team can buy in four or five players to sure up a midfield and defence that has looked shaky all season.

In terms of bringing players in, Holloway didn’t splash the cash, mainly concentrating on loan players and short term contracts. Of the five players brought in, all five are on short term deals until the end of the season.

The headline grabbers in the English press have been the loan signing of former Southampton and Stoke hitman James Beattie from Rangers and the permanent signing (albeit on a short term contract until the end of the season) of Sunderland midfielder Andy Reid, however I think that the loan capture of Zenit St Petersburg front man Sergei Kornilenko is the real coup.

Segei Kornilenko for Ruben Kazan

Kornilenko is a current Belarus international and has a pretty decent strike record throughout his career. Prior to moving to Zenit, he was scoring a goal every three games in domestic football and a goal every four games at international level. The Belarussian should provide fantastic cover for DJ Campbell and Marlon Harewood and provides some physicality up fron that should help Blackpool against some of the more aggressive defenders in the Premier League.

The other signings Holloway made during January was the loan capture of Jason Puncheon from Southampton and the short term deal offered to Morrocan left-back Salaheddine Sbai. Puncheon is a player that can play on both flanks and as a second striker playing off a target man and should provide some cover for Luke Varney and Gary Taylor-Fletcher during the run in. Sbai was signed on the eve of the epic game against Manchester United and began training the day after. He has been brough in to offer competition and cover at left-back.

In terms of departues from the club there were no surprises or shocks once the Adam story had died down. Mark Halstead joined Kettering on loan for the rest of the season, Ishmel Demontagnac will finish of 2010-2011 at Stockport before returning in the summer. Stephen Husband, Ashle Eastham and Louis Almon will also all be getting some 1st team exeprience for the rest of the season.

All in all I thought it was a positive transfer window for Blackpool and Holloway. It was vital that Holloway and Oysten managed to hold onto Charlie Adam whilst also bringing in some fresh legs to support the first team. With the exception of James Beattie, who’s best days are clearly behind him, I think the players brought in are of the right ilk and mindset to continue Blackpool’s impressive progress this season. Holloway will need to strengthen in the summer for the tricky second season, but me and everyone else are just happy that he has those tough decisions to make as we wrote off Blackpool’s chances right from the start!

There’s No Business Like Show Business

January 12th, 2011 2 comments

Following a lengthy debate with a good friend of mine over at Gibfootballshow about whether the automatic red card given to goalkeeper’s who foul an opposition player when acting as last man was fair it occurred to me that many people today don’t see football as being about fair and sporting play, but as a form of show business – an entertainment rather than an athletic competition.

Many people would argue that football, and sport in the wider sense, is about entertainment and I probably wouldn’t disagree. Top level sport needs public support to survive and continue to attract the very best athletes rather than watch them drift off into other careers. However, I don’t think that sport, and football in particular, should forget that whilst it has a need to be entertaining it is not in the business of show business. The rules and regulations of the games need to reflect the foundations on which sport was built – fairplay, sporting behaviour and honest competition.

I am not naive enough to think that sport is only about the ideal. Many sports created as a way of preparing for battle and honing fighting skills. Others were created as a means of control and to keep people’s minds off whatever the problem of the day was – indeed, this is still the case in less developed countries. However, the emergence of sport as being an embodiment of chivalry and honour stems from these very beginnings.

I believe that the rules of sport need to change with the times. They need to reflect the needs of participants, officials, spectators and other interested parties. They also need to change to accomodate advances in technologyand science, including medicine. However, the underlying spirit and traditions of the games need to be maintained and preserved.

This spirit is one of fairness, where any body can take part in the sport and know they have the same opportunity to succeed in any situation. Of course skill and physical ability have an impact on this. I know that technically I cannot compete with top class sportsmen and women in any field, but I know that if I were to challenge Ronnie O’Sullivan to a game of snooker, or my village team took on Manchester United at football, the only difference between us would be our relative skills and abilities.

Changing rules to differentiate between one player and another, between one group of participants and another is something that goes against this philosophy of openness and fair play.

Sporting Success

December 17th, 2010 1 comment

After the relative success of my recent post on Blackpool’s start to this season’s Premier League campaign, which got reposted on a couple of well respected football blogs, I thought I would write a second piece on the beautiful game.

This piece is focussed on one of the main reasons for Blackpool’s current success story, their manager and coach Ian Holloway. Holloway, who made 2 short of 600 league appearances as a tenacious midfield player, has had a relatively low key career to date. Many of his playing days were spent in the lower leagues with teams such as Bristol Rovers (where he had three successful stints over 18 years), Plymouth Argyle and QPR. He was known as a hard working midfielder who fitted in well in the hard working teams of the bottom couple of tiers of English professional football. His spell at QPR under manager Gerry Francis saw Holloway taste the top flight for several seasons, playing over a hundred times in a four year spell in the Premier League, scoring 4 goals.

Holloway took his first steps into management in 1996 when he rejoined Bristol Rovers as Player-Manager. Bristol were struggling in Division 2 (now League 1) and looked likely to get relegated. Holloway steered the club clear of the drop and managed to finish in a safe 17th position. With a full off-season to work with the squad, Ollie managed to guide the team to a play-off place in the 1997-1998 season. Bristol Rovers were unlucky to lose their semi-final play-off game 4-3 on aggregate to a strong Northampton Town outfit. After finishing a disappointing 13th the following season, Holloway retired as a player and took on management full time. 1999-2000 saw Bristol Rovers move back up the table to 7th place, narrowly missing a play-off spot.

In 2001 Holloway took the QPR manager’s job and was tasked with avoiding relegation. Holloway failed and tasted his only taste of relegation is his career. Holloway learned a lot from the experience and rebuilt the squad from scratch. He started to demonstrate some of the traits we see today, he began to think about how he could turn a club around in a season. Unfortunately, QPR did not bounce straight back up and spent three seasons in League 1 before winning automatic promotion back to the Championship in 2004. A couple of mid table finishes in the next two seasons started to see Holloway linked with a few higher profile jobs, especially that of Leicester City. However, Holloway blames the arrival of F1 mogul Flavio Briatore as the the main reason for the club’s dip inf form and his own apparent lack of focus. QPR narrowly avoided relagation in 2006 and Holloway spent the majority of the tail end of the season on gardening leave.

In June 2006 Holloway was appointed as boss of Plymouth Argyle, the third club he had now managed and played for in his career. Holloway spent a little over a season at Plymouth, leaving them in 2007 to become the manager of Leicester City. This decision was not met well by the Plymouth supporters after Holloway had promised them the Premier League. In an interview he would later give, Holloway looked back on this period and said:

I had a year out of football and had to think about what went wrong in my life. I was given some decent values from my mum and dad in our council house and one of them was honesty and trust and loyalty, and I forgot to do all that at Plymouth. I left them and I made the biggest mistake of my life. But I ended up here [Blackpool] and it was the best thing I have ever done. Daily Mail, 2010

Holloway’s time at Leicester was not a happy one. He had developed health problems due to the extensive commuting he was doing as a result of caring for his profoundly deaf children, he also experienced his second taste of relagation, losing to old club Plymouth Argyle 1-0 along the way. Following relegation, Holloway and Leicester parted company.

A year out of the game saw Holloway concentrate on his family and personal life. Holloway battled his sciatica and anger management issues and in May 2009 was appointed as the manager of Blackpool FC following the departure of Tony Parkes as caretaker. 15 months later, Holloway and Blackpool played in the Premier League, beating Wigan Athletic 4-0.

Enough of the history lessons. Ian Holloway has always been an eccentric figure. Seen in the media and by a number of other managers as a bit of a clown (though he was voted the 15th funniest Londoner in a Time Out poll in 2006), he has been know to give some interesting post match interviews. Whilst at Plymouth Argyle as a manager, he offered to buy every one of the travelling supporters a drink to say thanks for their support. This image has led to many doubting his ability as a manager and coach.

However, recent history has shown this is not necessarily the case. Holloway knows the game he wants to play and tries to build his teams around that game. Holloway is very much a proponent of the “we’ll score one more than you” school of football philosophy and believes that attack is the better form of defence. Holloway often deploys a minimum of three attacking players at Blackpool, often supplementing these with additional forward thinking midfield players. he is also not shy about making attacking changes late in games, even with a slender lead.

In my opinion, where Ian Holloway excels as a manager and coach is the psychological game. He is no talent scout like Arsene Wenger, or a wheeler dealer like Harry Redknapp. He is certainly no tactical wizard like Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti. What Ian Holloway is, however, is a motivator. He manages to get relatively mediocre talent and make them play with passion, intent and desire. He turns Championship players like Taylor-Fletcher, Evatt and DJ Campbell into solid Premier League players. I am not trying to have a dig at the quality of the squad, it is what it is based on budget, stature and training facilities. What I am saying is that under a different manager, even a better tactical manager, Blackpool would probably not be in the same position they find themselves in today. In terms of his ability to get the best out of players, he reminds me a lot of Alex Ferguson. I do not for a moment think that Holloway is the next Alex Ferguson, or even close to him, but they have the same ability to make people play and love playing.

The obvious example of this ability is in the pre-season signings that holloway made when Blackpool won promotion. He shunned the traditional European and South American journeymen that many promoted sides plump for and instead went for Premier League rejects such as Craig Cathcart and Marlon Harewood and players that needed and wanted to provide themselves after being jettisoned by other clubs. He demanded that the players he signed bought into his philosophy of attacking football and had a desire to play 38 games a 110% of their ability and turn up and give 100% each and every week.

This approach will probably keep Blackpool in the league and will probably see Holloway extend his current two year deal. I think Blackpool will not stay in the Premier League long term unless they can attract better quality players, the euphoria of promotion and the passion that Holloway is getting the existing squad to play with will not last forever. We have seen in the past with teams like Reading, Wigan and Hull that good first seasons count for very little in subsequent years. However, I think that in Ian Holloway, Blackpool have a coach they can stick with and build the club around.

A Dream Season So Far

December 5th, 2010 No comments

When I wrote a blog post about Blackpool winning the English Championship play-off final with the title “Blackpool for the Champions League”, I was writing somewhat tongue in cheek, I could not have imagined that they would actually go out and perform the way they have done. The English Premier League season is nearly half way through and Blackpool lie in 12th place on 19 points. Blackpool are not going to qualify for a Champions League spot from here, but it is highly likely they will avoid relegation which is a major feat in itself as they were by some margin the bookie’s favourite to go down at the start of the season (average price around 2/7). I have to admit that I was cautious at the start of the season about the team’s prospects, especially after the summer transfer activity that Ian Holloway undertook. It seemed to take an age for him to make any signings at all and with him releasing a large number of players at the start of the off-season, I was worried that he would struggle to bring in any players. Ian Holloway said at the time that we was looking for the right sort of player with the right mentality to fit into his system, a system that many thought would contribute to the team’s downfall. Ian Holloway prefers an attacking style of play, as seen in the Championship play-off, and tends to employ an “we’ll score one more that you” approach. Eventually Holloway made some signings, which included picking up strikers DJ Campbell (Leicester) and Marlon Harewood (Aston Villa) along with Elliot Grandin (free), Chris Basham (Bolton Wanderers) and Luke Varney (on loan from Derby County).

Blackpool fans are enjoying an amazing start to their first Premier League season

Even with the additions to the ranks, most pundits thought Blackpool would struggle in their first Premier League season (and first in the top flight since the 1970s). Few would have predicted the start that Blackpool got off to beating Wigan by four goals to nil. The result actually led to Blackpool sitting in top spot in the league for a couple of hours until Chelsea won their opening game of the season by a bigger goal margin. This start could not last and a couple of games later Blackpool were dumped out the League Cup and then humbled by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. However, wins against Newcastle, Liverpool, West Brom and Wolves have meant that Blackpool avoided the possibility of ending the season on the lowest ever points total and also ensured that pundits started changing their minds about them even getting relegated.

Before I get ahead of myself, I think it is important to mention that this is still going to a very tough season for Blackpool and if they do manage to avoid relegation this season, it is a real probability next year. Blackpool will always struggle to attract quality players, it is not the most attractive club in the world and it has no money so will never be able to match the wages that teams around them can offer to journeymen and promising lower league players. The stadium, Bloomfield Road, is also a massive problem due its size and the lack of expandability. With a capacity at the moment of around 12000, it is the smallest ground in the league and will never generate the kind of match day income that the club will need to survive. The Blackpool hierarchy need to sort this out and sort it out pretty fast if they have any real chance of ensuring their continued stay at English football’s top table.

Blackpool manager, Ian Holloway

Where Blackpool have a fighting chance at the moment is their manager, Ian Holloway. Seen as a bit of a joker and an average journeyman coach/manager by most, he has transformed Blackpool in his relatively short tenure as Blackpool boss. His attacking philosophy and ability to make players play at a level higher than their underlying ability may allow are the reason that Blackpool won promotion the Premier League and their performances in the league so far. Holloway has a habit of adding extra attackers during games he is already winning, and often plays with three or four attacking players in his formations. Both of these tactics were obvious in Blackpool’s now famous victory over Liverpool in October.

The other ace in Blackpool’s hand is their skipper and last season’s top goalscorer, Charlie Adam. Signed for a once club record of £500,000 from Rangers, Adam has quickly become the keystone in Blackpool’s team. His goals, set pieces and on field leadership are vital for the team and Blackpool look a far weaker team when he is missing. Whilst at Rangers, Adam was never considered a particularly good player. He had a strong left foot but was deemed surplus to requirements at Ibrox. Many fans, myself included, questioned his move to Blackpool but we have been ecstatic to have been proved wrong!

Charlie Adam

By the New Year we should know whether Blackpool are going to stay up this season. They have a testing series of fixtures over the festive period, playing Liverpool, Man City, Sunderland, Tottenham and a very tough game away at Stoke. If Blackpool can come out of that series of games with four or five points then they will be a win or two away from securing their position for the 2011-2012 season.

Come on the Tangerines!

Blackpool for the Champion’s League?

August 15th, 2010 No comments

In their first season in the top flight of English football since they were relegated from the First Division in 1971 and their first season ever in the Premier League, Blackpool got off to a dream start! Pre-season favourites for relegation, they went out at the DW Stadium and took on Wigan, winning by four goals to nil.

Blackpool after the 2009-2010 Coca-cola Championship play-off final

After qualifying for the Premier League with a victory over Cardiff City in the Coca-Cola Championship play-off final, Blackpool have been made everyone’s favourites to go down this season. I have to admit that I think the season is going to be long and hard and we will be on the receiving end of some drubbings. However, from yesterday’s performance it is clear that Blackpool are going to try and play their brand of attractive football and I am sure that there will be some surprises on the way.

Come on the ‘Pool!

Chicago Fire

July 2nd, 2010 No comments

The Fire have had a tough couple of months, failing to win in May and struggling in June as well. The team played in the Sister Cities Cup,a friendly tournament between Chicago Fire, Red Star Belgrade, Legia Warsaw and Paris St. Germain. Fire lost in the semi-final to PSG and then lost the 3rd place play-off against Legia Warsaw. Belgrade went on to win 7-6 on penalties in the final. The team also failed to win in the MLS during May and suffered a 1-0 defeat to AC Milan in a friendly.

The team broke its bad run by beating New England Revolution 1-0 on the 27th June. Chicago have only lost two of their games this season but have been guilty of drawing too many (six in total now).

Team USA didn’t take any Chicago players to South Africa for the World Cup so hopefully the team will benefit from having a full squad to choose from for the rest of July with some big games coming up, including the start of the SupaLiga.

5 Games In

April 29th, 2010 No comments

As part of my summer project to follow Chicago Fire I will be posting periodically about their progress and any notable achievements and such.

The Fire’s season is five games old and after a rocky start (lost two of first three games) we have pulled back to a 2-1-2 (wins – draws – losses) record and seem to be finding the net pretty regularly. Back to back 2-0 wins over D.C. United then Hosuton Dynamo have given us some great momentum for our next few matches – Toronto FC, Kansa City Wizards and FC Dallas.

Brian Mcride is leading from the front, scoring 2 of our 7 goals to date. I always had a lot of time for McBride at Fulham and think that he is probably going to end up top scorer for the Fire this season if he can stay fit and healthy. He really is going to be the key to any success this season.