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Preview: Cheer Up Alan Shearer

Cheer Up Alan Shearer

The Greatest Game In The World Since 1863.

Updated: 2018-04-25T12:14:17.365+01:00


Carlos Tevez for Manchester City (v Chelsea), 12 August 2012


So, the Olympics was great.  We got to cheer a wide range of people we'd never heard of in sports that we could barely identify.  From loudly encouraging a Welsh teenager to kick someone hard in the head to praying that a small Chinese man would hit his noggin on a diving platform, it was a fortnight of memorable sporting moments.

I idly flicked through the channels last Sunday as the Olympic events were drawing to a close and happened upon ITV's coverage of the Community Shield.  And, my heart sank.  Here we go again.  Ten months of whingeing idiots whose ability to kick a ball about is the only thing keeping most of them for a stretch in a young offender's institute.

Next time you see a footballer (Nani, I am looking at you), go down after a tackle like he has been smashed around the head with a high quality frying pan, it may be worth remembering Chris Hoy's Olympic training regime.

“Some sessions deal with technical details and are not so hard but after others you are curled up on the ground, vomiting. It’s grim but you have to do it."

Hearing the stories of world athletes who earn threepence ha'penny, eat nothing but celery and train for 22 hours a day in order to perform for about 5 minutes every four years rather puts the trials and tribulations of footballers to shame.

I don't want to carry on the Daily Mail 'athletes are great, footballers are imbeciles' argument and I acknowledge that it's not a straight comparison.  When realising that the football season was upon us again, though, I just couldn't get excited.  Who really gives a **** if Sunderland pay £15 million for Steven Fletcher?  Who cares about the second round draw of the Capital One Cup?  And who can get excited about a brave new era for English football which sees Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard paired in central midfield (combined age: 65).

Clearly, that won't stop some of the football being interesting and it won't stop us writing about it.  Still.  A mixture of it and modern pentathlon would be great, wouldn't it?

I've mentioned this clip a gazillion times before, but at the start of a new season, never has it been more relevant.

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Darren Pratley (for Tottenham Hotspur) v Bolton Wanderers, 17 March 2012


The football world continues to hold its breath for the well being of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba who collapsed during the first half of his team's FA Cup quarter final against Spurs on Saturday.

The medical staff on hand have been credited with saving the life of the 23 year old. Considering the superb facilities that are now available in football, you would perhaps think that the number of player fatalities during matches would have plummeted compared with bygone years.

Sadly, the statistics tell a very different story. Since 2000, 41 players have died on the field of play (or from injury or illness sustained on the field of play) compared to 43 in the entire history of football going back to William Cropper who died of a ruptured bowel in a match between Staveley and Grimsby Town in 1889.

Deaths on the field of play have historically been an odd mixture of illness and bad luck. Until the late 1990s many deaths were caused by head injuries or being struck by lightning, although many others were simply caused by misdiagnosis of injury/illness or complications arising from a collision on the field of play.

Since 2000, however, the majority of fatalities have been caused by heart problems. So why the stark increase in the deaths of young, athletic footballers in the last decade, especially considering the advances in medical treatment and the improved facilities at stadia?

Well, one answer could simply be that there is more football these days. While there have been tragic high profile cases - Marc Vivien-Foe, Phil O'Donnell etc - the sheer volume of matches being played now across the world compared to the early 1900s makes it far more statistically likely that deaths will occur. And, with improved media, these deaths are far more likely to be reported.

Saying that, don't assume that these deaths are taking place in the Third World. Many of the fatalities have been in high profile leagues. Since 2000, players from CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Bucharest, Benfica, Sao Caetano, Sevilla, Motherwell and Espanyol have died, and of course Foe was on international duty with Cameroon when he passed away.

Perhaps also that it's the speed and athleticism needed for modern football puts additional pressure on the bodies of young people. Or, it could simply be statistics. Twelve young people under the age of 30 die from heart conditions every week in the UK, and so it stands to reason that sooner or later one of these will be a sportsperson. For every Fabrice Muamba, there's my mate Jonny's brother who died of a similar condition whilst apparently fit and healthy on a holiday in Croatia back in 2008.

Recent figures from the hospitals in my home town of Nottingham showed that while the number of heart disease patients treated rose in the last decade, the number of deaths fell by 60%. So, there's clearly much more that can be done to save the lives of heart disease victims these days, which makes these figures appear even worse.

It seems counterintuitive that as many footballers have died on the field in the last 12 years than in the previous 112. However, they are the sad facts, and so let's all hope that Muamba - a 23 year old with a fiance and young son - doesn't become the latest addition to these sobering statistics.

Toby Alderweireld for Ajax (v Manchester United), 23 February 2012


(image) Footballers Names Mrs LB Has Misheard During Commentary: Part 9

"Surely his name can't be Celine Dion?"

Peter Odemwingie for West Bromwich Albion (vs Wolves), 12th February 2012


It's over: after 5 years and 207 days, Mick McCarthy is no longer the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.I watched the game on Sunday and we were abject.  We were fortunate to get into the changing rooms at half time with the score at 1-1, but it's hard to deny that we didn't deserve the spanking that West Brom eventually handed us.... A few weeks ago, I chuckled at some Nottingham Forest highlights from a hiding that Leicester gave them at the City Ground.  I laughed because the defending was so appalling, with Forest players failing to chase after balls and just allowing their opponents to walk all over them.  It was like watching a side that wanted to be beaten and got everything they deserved.  Yesterday, watching Wolves was much the same thing.It's hard to argue that you couldn't see this sacking coming: 14 points from our last 22 games; 21 points from 25 games in all; one home win in our last 13 games in all competitions; 18th in the Premier League with 13 games left to play.... If the club was going to make a change, then it's probably better that they acted now rather than wait any longer (although January would have been even better).  The chairman wading into the dressing room to bollock the players after our defeat to Liverpool at Molineux at the end of January was probably the beginning of the end for McCarthy.  Some fans have been calling for his head for some time, and maybe it's my imagination, but he seemed a little more beaten down after that.  It's one thing losing to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea (all sides we beat last year, as it happens), but losing to your fierce local rivals in such a supine way is something else entirely.Were the club right to sack him?  Well, I would have kept him on, but ultimately only time will tell... although it is instructive that we were bottom of the Premier League this time last season and we still managed to escape, albeit by the skin of our teeth.  If we end up with someone like Steve Bruce or Neil Warnock in charge, then I'll find it hard to believe that we've really moved forwards as a club.  Plenty of other clubs have run aground seeking to take things to 'the next level'.....Changing manager and ending up with Martin O'Neill is one thing, ending up with Colin Wanker is a different kettle of fish entirely.McCarthy is often described as being one of those managers who just isn't good enough at the highest level, and you could point at Big Mick's overall Premier League record, and it does look pretty bad....Played 138Won 27Drew 28Lost 83Goals for 127Goals against 241That equates to an average of something like 30 points a season.....but the plain fact is that he leaves Wolves in a better state than he found us: he got us to the top division where numerous others - including two former England managers -  had failed; he kept us in the division for two seasons running and we're not dead yet this season either.  Maybe his teams didn't ever really play scintillating, attacking football (nor, come to that, did they ever really keep clean sheets), and he always had a marked preference for hard workers over flair players, but it really isn't that long ago that we were languishing in the old Fourth Division on the verge of going out of the league and out of business.  Hell, when McCarthy joined us, Glenn Hoddle hadn't even left the club with a full complement of players! As a club since then, we've spent within our means and have kept salaries under control whilst generally performing well enough on the pitch.  If the worst thing happens and we do go down this year, at least we won't be looking at going out of business altogether.It's a shame it had to end like this, but I'll always be grateful to Mick for what he did for Wolves - he's the best manager that we've had in the last 25 years and I think he can leave with his head held high.  Apart from anything else, his press conferences were always brilliant: th[...]

Heidur Helguson for QPR (v Chelsea), 23 October 2011


(image) English football in 'shambles' shocker. With a major tournament around the corner, the FA intervene and strip John Terry of the England captain without consulting the manager. The manager resigns. England have no captain, no manager and naff all chance of winning Euro 2012.

In many ways, I don't blame Fabio Capello for leaving. His heart doesn't appear to have been in the job for some time, and the FA's decision to step in clearly undermined the manager who, frankly, should be the one to pick his own captain.

Saying all that, quite why you'd leave a £6 million job over John bloody Terry, heaven only knows. Remember that Capello was the man who stripped Terry of the England captain's job in 2010 after reports he had an affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. Considering Capello made that decision based on a load of tabloid tittle-tattle, it seems odd that he'd dig his heels in now over a far more serious issue - namely Terry being accused of a criminal offence while performing his job as a central defender for Chelsea.

Personally, I'd not have John Terry anywhere near my England squad anyway. The defender has been dogged by controversy his whole career (although on that basis you'd struggle to get an England team together in this day and age) from assault charges to allegations that he misused his position at Chelsea to 'sell' tours of the club's training facilities.

Plus, the 31 year old is clearly not the player he once was, and there are a handful of better, younger defenders that deserve their chance.

Stuart Pearce will take charge of England for their next match, before Harry Redknapp is likely to take over (although why he'd leave a very successful Spurs team for us all to call him an incompetent nincompoop when England get knocked out of Euro 2012 in the quarter finals, Lord only knows).

Considering all that's happened in recent weeks, we might as well appoint Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra as the next England managers. Nonsense.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto for Tottenham Hotspur (v Everton), 11 January 2012


We're delighted to welcome lovely fella, stand-up comedian and Spurs fan Carl Jones to Cheer Up Alan Shearer. With Spurs second in the table, here's Carl's first guest post about whether his side can actually win the league................................It’s mid-January. Tottenham Hotspur sit three points adrift of leaders Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. The media is abuzz with title talk and Ladbrokes have cut the odds to as short as 6/1. It’s a situation that seemed entirely unthinkable following heavy defeats to United and City in our opening two games. The fixture list didn’t look too kind when it was released last summer. An opening home game against Everton certainly looked like the best opportunity to get off the mark in August. The riots in London deemed the game unsafe to go ahead and Tottenham finished the month bottom of the Premier League. It looked like it could be a long season. Harry Redknapp added dynamism to the midfield in Scott Parker and talismanic presence up front with Emmanuel Adebayor and since then, Tottenham have barely stuttered. With the exception of a tepid display against Stoke, Tottenham have brushed aside Norwich, West Brom, Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves away from home and beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home. December’s draw with Chelsea extends an unbeaten home record against their London rivals to six seasons at a ground their fans used to call ‘Three Points Lane’. On Wednesday night we beat Everton to claim three points that have long been won in the minds of every Tottenham fan. We’ve looked at the table for months thinking “If we can beat Everton…”, adding the three points to our tally in our heads. Now that we have, we actually look like we’re in with a shot at the title. Just don’t tell anyone I said that. I’d hate to be the one that jinxed it. As a Tottenham fan since the mid-Nineties, I’ve seen some truly horrendous lows. A 7-1 defeat at St James’ Park, two points from eight games a few seasons ago, a wretched decade and a half of results against the artists formerly known as ‘the big four’ and signing Grzegorz Rasiak on transfer deadline day. I even took my fiancée for a romantic evening in Grimsby for her first ever Tottenham match in 2005. We lost 1-0. There have been a few highs, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to witness Gareth Bale’s stunning hat-trick in the San Siro, Peter Crouch’s Champions League qualifying goal at the City of Eastlands Etihad Stadium and I nearly broke my foot celebrating Allan Nielsen’s header in the 1999 Worthington Cup Final in a pub I wasn’t old enough to be in. Massive credit must go to Harry Redknapp for bringing the good times back to White Hart Lane. Aside from rebuilding relegation fodder and turning them into Champions League quarter finalists, he’s now taken them one step further. Tough decisions were made in the summer, trimming a bulging squad by shipping out Woodgate, Crouch, Palacios, Bentley, Hutton and Jenas. The decision to replace Gomes with Friedel would have been a difficult one but has proved to be masterstroke. Emerging talent such as Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore have revitalised the side, improving players like Younes Kaboul have added depth and exciting youngsters gaining valuable playing time elsewhere such as Townsend, Caulker and Naughton plus several others breaking through in the Europa League suggest the future is bright. The team spirit is better than ever with the reaction to Assou-Ekotto’s screamer last night testament to that. The steely resolve to keep Luka Modric should also be admired. There might have been a better pay packet waiting for him in West London but the benefit of hindsight would suggest he’s just as likely to win major honours wearing white as he would have been in blue this season. Redknapp has been adamant that he won’t spend big during the transfer window and w[...]

Zinedine Zindane for France (vs Brazil), 12 July 1998


I spent much of the Christmas period in France, and I was delighted to see that there is plenty of TV coverage of the English Premier League. Not only was I able to watch more a less the full round of fixtures on Boxing Day, but also the rescheduled Arsenal v Wolves game the following day. Coverage was pretty good too. Canal+ has this thing they call a “multiplex”, where they show you live coverage from a game, and then if something starts to happen elsewhere, they flick their coverage to one of the other games. On Boxing Day, with a pretty full fixture list all kicking off at the same time, this worked pretty well.I suppose it’s a little annoying when they flick games just as you’re getting your bearings or if you are interested in one game in particular, but given that we spend our time in England on days like this watching a TV programme that consists entirely of Jeff Stelling flicking between coverage of a bunch of blokes watching the games, whilst we get no live footage of matches at all, it’s a relatively good way to absorb the afternoon’s drama. Canal+’s studio coverage is actually fronted by an Englishman; he speaks impeccable French, of course, but his accent is clearly English and he also – unusually for French TV – pronounces all of the English club names correctly and could actually tell you what Wigan or Norwich are like. Darren Tulett has apparently been working in the media in France since 1998 (when he asked Bloomburg, his employers at the time, to transfer him to Paris so he could catch some of the World Cup) and has ended up anchoring TV coverage of the football almost by accident… and he’s clearly a bit of a character. For the Boxing Day coverage, he was dressed up in black tie (the concept of Boxing Day is alien to your average Frenchman and in 2011 was a normal working day), but for the Arsenal v Wolves game he was wearing what looked like a velvet smoking jacket in burgundy. Apparently he’s always a snappy dresser, my father-in-law tells me, and has been called “the Austin Powers of French television". His studio guests for the afternoon’s coverage were the distinctly unpromising Gerrard Houllier and Jean Alain Boumsong.  Actually, from what I could gather, Boumsong is an excellent pundit and Tulett is a good enough presenter to know not to let Gerrard Houllier speak too often....He was funny too: often, at the end of a game, we would get a pitchside interview with one of the French-speaking players – Florent Malouda at the Chelsea game, for instance – but Canal+ also took the live feeds of interviews with some of the managers. When Alex Ferguson came on, Tullet informed the viewers that he would do his best to do an off-the-cuff translation as Ferguson spoke, but did warn us that he was Scottish so….. Sure enough, although the translation initially went well, before long, as Sir Alex became more and more impenetrable, so Tullet’s translation became a bit slower until he eventually started laughing (well, chuckling... he is a pro, after all). I thought he was great fun. He’s got a really light touch and he knew how to bring the best out of his pundits and the coverage that was flicking around games. Apparently he’s known as Darren d’Angleterre and presents other football programmes on French tv that are inspired by the likes of Fantasy Football – one is even called “Match of ze Day”. He once (so I read) persuaded David Ginola to re-live the error that cost France World Cup qualification in 1993. In the sketch, Ginola ends up trying to hitch a ride out of the stadium with his France shirt over his shoulder to the "Lonely Man" theme tune from the Incredible Hulk. Brilliant.Until I saw him on Boxing Day, I'd never even heard of him and he could probably walk unrecognised through the Sky Sports studios.  When you think of some of the idiots we have presenting football cov[...]

Demba Ba for Newcastle (vs Manchester Utd), 4th January 2012


On Tuesday night, a Liverpool side minus Luis Suarez and with Andy Carroll playing up front got spanked 3-0 by Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, a sparkling Newcastle side spanked Manchester Utd 3-0, with Demba Ba, their Senegalese striker, scoring an absolutely splendid goal.

With every game that goes by, Andy Carroll (£35m, 4 goals in 23 appearances) looks more and more like a white elephant and his replacement in the Newcastle number 19 shirt (£0, 15 goals in 19 appearances) looks increasingly like the steal of this or many another season.

Before we get too carried away though, let’s just wait and see if Mike Ashley lets Alan Pardew build on Newcastle’s season so far by resisting any offers he might receive for Ba or Tiote during the transfer window, eh?

It's been a funny old season, eh?  As a Wolves fan, I felt like I couldn't wholeheartedly celebrate Blackburn's win at Old Trafford as I need at least three other teams in the division to remain below us, thank you very much.

This one I'm a little more comfortable with.

Luis Suarez for Liverpool (v Queens Park Rangers), 10 December 2011


It's been a good week for racism in football. Luis Suarez has been banned by eight matches and fined £40,000 for racially abusing Patrice Evra whilst Chelsea and England captain John Terry faces a racially aggravated public order charge for allegedly abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand in a match in October.Both men could be guilty or both could be innocent. I suspect there are lots of people who would like to see Terry found guilty of his charge - not least because he epitomises almost everything that is wrong with paying chavs millions of pounds a year for kicking a ball about -although he is innocent until proven guilty and the courts will decide his fate.What is extremely unpalatable is the way in which both clubs - particularly Liverpool - have reacted to these claims. Let's not forget that Suarez has already been found guilty by an independent tribunal which means (appeal pending, of course) that he has been found guilty of using racist/abusive language during a match.Imagine you'd been found guilty of racist/abusive behaviour towards one of your colleagues at work. Do you imagine that your boss and all your colleagues would turn up for work the following day wearing t-shirts with your name on as a show of support? Do you expect your company would have made a statement condoning the decision and questioning the integrity of the person who made the allegations?Of course they wouldn't. Let's face it - you would be lucky to keep your job at all. There are lots of companies that would march you to the front door with your belongings and sack you immediately for gross misconduct. They would also release a statement saying that racist behaviour cannot be tolerated and that these sorts of harsh measures have to be taken in order to eliminate this problem.And that is why it's been a good week for racism in football. It's all very well for the FA and other bodies to hand down serious punishments for racist behaviour - and potentially the courts in Terry's case - but if the employers such as Liverpool continue to defend the actions of their players it shows that the clubs really don't care about taking racism seriously.The Guardian hits the nail on the head when talking about the decision by the Liverpool team and management to wear t-shirts supporting their striker before Wednesday's match at Wigan: "This was a high-profile international found guilty of racist abuse 24 hours earlier and, raging with a sense of injustice or not, as Liverpool clearly are, they were inappropriate gestures at this stage of an already damaging saga".In many ways Terry's case is similar in that it shows how different a footballer is treated in his situation than the rest of us. Again, say you had been charged with a racially aggravated public order offence having allegedly shouted racist abuse at someone in your office or in the streets. You'd subsequently been charged and have to appear in court next year.Do you think your employers would jump to your defence? Do you think they'd continue to let you be the spokesperson for your organisation (or indeed your country) as Terry is as club as national captain?Of course they wouldn't. What would happen is that you would be suspended from your job immediately the allegations were made. If found innocent you'd be reinstated immediately and if found guilty you'd be lucky to last the day before receiving your P45.Again, Chelsea have failed to take the issue seriously and just one sentence from Andre Villas-Boas shows why: "We know exactly his human values and personality, so we will support him whatever happens."Chelsea will support John Terry whatever happens. That means that if he is found guilty of this offence and is proved to be a horrible racist then his employers will support him. Is that taking a stance in kicking racism out of football? Of course it isn't. An[...]

Karl Henry for Wolves (vs Charlton), 28th March 2008


I've received an early Christmas present.

Much to my wife's delight, our kitchen calendar next year will be the Official Wolverhampton Wanderers FC Calendar for 2012.

I don't know what it's like in your house, but in ours, the kitchen calendar is the source of all knowledge: if it's not in the calendar, then it's not happening.  For the next twelve months, we will be planning and mapping out our lives next to photos of some real Old Gold heroes.  As a sort-of closet Gooner, this will no doubt pain my wife.  Also, our strip no doubt clashes with the daffodil yellow we've apparently painted our kitchen with.....

Of course, the big risk with a calendar like this is that you could get to October and spend all month reliving your bitterness about the fact that you're going to be looking at a picture of a Kevin Doyle who actually left the club in the January transfer window.... but I suppose that's a risk you're just going to have to take.

Things already aren't looking all that great for January's poster boy: Roger Johnson was our big summer signing, but he's just been dropped from the side in favour of a 36 year old Jody Craddock (who hasn't been given a page this year at all, but as a club legend should probably get one every year, right?  Steve Bull should probably always be in there somewhere too.  Maybe John de Wolf too.  Andy Mutch, perhaps?  Robbie Dennison? Mick Stowell?  Bugger the current lot, let's stick to the classics).

Do you think that the players at clubs across the country reach nervously for their copies of the official club calendar as soon as it's printed to see if they've been included?  If you've been left out, then what does that say about your future at the club?  Or if you're desperate to leave, what if you've been put on December?  Is that the equivalent of issuing a "hands off!" statement to other clubs in Football Manager? 

Do manager's insist on copy approval?  Maybe they should.  ("Karl Henry for November?  If he's still playing for us then, then we really will be fucked!")

Sócrates for Brazil (vs USSR), 14th June 1982


Farewell then to Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira.  Better known throughout the world simply as Sócrates, captain of perhaps the best side not to win the World Cup.  60 caps and 20 goals for Brazil; drinker; smoker; political activist; humanitarian; surely one of the greatest, coolest players to grace the game.

Check out this goal from the 1982 World Cup match against the USSR.

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When asked which of Pele or Maradona was the greater player, Sócrates simply replied, "who cares?"... which is of course the correct answer.

A very, very cool guy, and also the owner of what must surely be the greatest beard football has ever seen.

1954 - 2011.


His namesake had a pretty handy beard too, it must be said.  It wasn't the only thing they had in common: both died from complication arising from food poisoning.

Darren Ambrose for Crystal Palace (v Manchester United), 30 November 2011


101 Great Goals #58 - Darren Ambrose

Gary Neville called it the best goal he had ever seen an opposition player score at Old Trafford. It's a bold claim, but Darren Ambrose's strike that helped knock Manchester United out of the Carling Cup was an absolute belter.

And here at Cheer Up Alan Shearer we're delighted to bring you this superb goal with some rare Alan Partridge commentary. Truly a beautiful moment...

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Gary Speed for Wales (against Moldova), 12th October 1994


Before I say anything else, let me just make it clear that I think that Gary Speed’s death yesterday, at the age of 42, is unquestionably tragic; an awful, shocking piece of news. It’s difficult for me to imagine a circumstance so terrible that hanging myself seemed the best option, and I hope I never experience anything remotely approaching it. At the moment it seems pointless to speculate on the circumstances surrounding Speed’s death. For me, it’s enough to know that another human being reached the point where he took his own life. Horrible.Gary Speed was an excellent footballer: you don’t make 840 domestic appearances (including a once-record 535 Premier League games) or win 85 caps for your country without having some talent. Listening to the hysterical coverage over the media yesterday in the wake of the news of his death, however, and you’d imagine that he was one of the most remarkable people ever to live. Mark Pougatch was anchoring BBC Radio Five Live’s coverage, and his reaction was typically overblown: he remarked that he had never, in the whole of his broadcasting career, which includes presenting current affairs programmes, covered a story so remarkable. I can understand why friends and colleagues of Speed – people like Robbie Savage and Shay Given – would be stunned by the news of the sudden death of someone close to them. But everyone else? Was it really a stop all the clocks moment?If – and it’s apparently by no means certain – Speed was suffering from depression, then we can hope that this news serves to help spread understanding and awareness of an awful condition that can strike anyone, no matter how famous, wealthy or happy they may superficially appear to be. There have already been a number of high profile footballers who have suffered from depression in recent years: coincidentally, Stan Collymore wrote movingly about his own experiences of the illness on Saturday, at more or less the same time as Speed was appearing on the BBCs Football Focus programme, talking brightly of his plans for a future. Less then 24 hours later, Gary Speed was dead and that future - his future - died with him. It’s only a couple of years too since the German International goalkeeper, Robert Enke  killed himself in 2009 at the age of 32 after battling with depression for six years. It’s an awful, often invisible condition, that strikes without warning and without discrimination and that we understand so poorly. Speed’s death was sad; the tragedy of a life snuffed out too soon. A tragedy for sure, but also the kind of tragedy that happens every day. Every death is a tragedy in its own way: every soldier or civilian blown up in Afghanistan, even those who don’t receive a funeral procession through Royal Wooton Bassett, every child in the third world who dies of a treatable illness, every cancer victim, every road traffic accident, those Russian sailors not rescued by Prince William… but not every passing will be marked by minutes of silence or of applause, or by tearful fans tying scarves to the gates of football clubs or by special phone-in programmes on the radio. Gary Speed was clearly a much loved and respected man, but it should not lessen the tragedy of his death on Sunday to acknowledge that he was just another human being in a long list whose lives ended too soon. In the UK alone, the statistics tell us that 15 other people took their own lives on the very same day that Speed took his (more than 6,000 each year in the UK and rising). The fact that those other suicides may be less marked does not make them less significant. Crying more loudly doesn’t make the tragedy any greater or the loss any more deeply felt by the bereaved. Footbal[...]

Lukas Podolski for Germany (vs England), 27th June 2010


Well, I never thought I'd see the day when I saw a major sporting organising body displaying levels of incompetence to match the likes of FIFA or the FA.  It looks as though the RFU, the body governing English rugby union may just about take the biscuit.Let's take a moment to remember that rugby fans - myself included - like to assume the high ground in any conversation with football fans: the players and the fans are better behaved, the referee is treated with respect and his decisions are final... blah blah blah.  Oh, how those chickens have come home to roost now.  Amidst the debris of a failed World Cup campaign, recriminations and resignations are flying around, confidential reports are being leaked left, right and centre.  The players, as well as being awful on the pitch, apparently behaved atrociously off it as well, harassing hotel employees, drinking and dwarf tossing, abusing major sponsors, jumping off public ferries.... you name it, the England rugby team appear to have done it, all whilst keeping the main eye on their sponsorship opportunities.Lest we get too carried away with our schadenfreude, however there are a couple of things that I think we can learn from this:1) English rugby can surely sink no lower than this.  Those confidential reports should never have been leaked (called "Twickileaks", obviously) and are a catastrophic breach of trust with the players.  That said, now that the truth is out there, there is absolutely no hiding away from the fact that changes need to be made; changes to coaches, playing staff and to the bureaucracy behind the scenes.  How much would you give for something similar to happen to English football?  Would you like to read the candid, anonymous views of the players and coaching staff on the 2010 World Cup debacle?  Wouldn't you really like to know what the players think of John Terry as a captain or of Fabio Cappello as a coach? I know I would.  We've lived with decades of disappointment -- remember that England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 - maybe something like this would make that fundamental change that could make us winners again.2) I'm not sure that England's football players would be as eloquent in a written report on a World Cup campaign as some of their rugby playing counterparts.  The rugby players use words like "philosophy", "lacklustre" and "blueprint".  I wonder if Wayne Rooney knows what a blueprint is; a poster from Picasso's Periodo Azul, perhaps?  Even if they could string a written sentence together, would your average England international footballer be able to step away from the bland even in an anonymous report?I can remember English cricket hitting rock bottom when we struggled in a test series against Zimbabwe.  We're now the number one Test playing side in the world, and that hasn't happened by accident, but by rigorous player selection and coaching and through meticulous planning.  Martin Johnson ultimately failed in his role as coach of England rugby at least partly because of his loyalty to old hands like Jonny Wilkinson and Lewis Moody; great servants of England rugby who had simply reached the end of the line.  Hmmm.   As Euro 2012 approaches, it's hard not to draw similar conclusions about players like John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.  Let's hope the football team doesn't make the same mistakes as the rugby team, and that we're not reading the usual sob stories in the players' latest round of autobiographies next Autumn.[...]

John Terry for England (vs Hungary), 30th May 2006


I listened to a bit of John Terry's press conference today on the news.It made me wonder why they bothered with them.  Seriously, when was the last time that you heard something interesting at a football press conference from a player (or, indeed, from anyone)?To be fair to Terry, the questions that most people wanted to ask him were related to the racism row that is the subject to a police investigation, so he can hardly be blamed for not wanting to comment on that, and I suppose he was pretty brave to front up at all when he didn't have to..... but even so, what he did say was a long stream of fairly meaningless platitudes.  I'm so proud to play for my country...blah blah... game's changed since I was a kid... blah blah... jumpers for goalposts... the boys are playing so well... blah blah... no one is undroppable... What's the point?  If the players aren't going to say anything at all insightful or interesting, then why bother?When actors are interviewed, they're almost always plugging something, and there's a mandatory bit in every interview where they tell us about how this is such a great movie and how happy they were to work with their co-stars and the director.  Fine.  That's part of the package and is why they agree to be interviewed anyway.  Even so, am I wrong in thinking that actors still manage to be more interesting than footballers in a similar situation?  Now that I think of it, did John Terry even talk much about the Sweden game that he is promoting?Musicians are even better value, many not being afraid to fire their mouths off as they promote their latest album... although, to be fair, manufactured boy bands apart, they're expected to misbehave and stirring up a controversy is hardly likely to harm their record sales.So what is it about footballers?  Why are they so anodyne?Well, the press itself is obviously in large part responsible: the moment a footballer steps out of line, then the media is more than happy to climb onto their moral high-horses and lambast them with the full-force of their righteousness.  These players earn hundreds of thousands of pounds each week, and apparently that fact makes them fair game.  John Terry himself knows this better than almost any other current footballer, so is it any surprise that he's cautious never to step out of line when there is a microphone or a journalist anywhere near his face.That's not the only reason though.  I think there's a much simpler explanation: footballers are simply not clever enough or interesting enough to keep an insatiable media satisfied.  That's not necessarily a reflection of the stupidity of the average footballer.... although you do have to ask why John Terry keeps on getting caught out by the media, time after time, when he knows they're watching him and will crucify him at every possible opportunity, and I do wonder about whether he has the wit to answer a simple question in an interesting way.... It's not even particularly an observation about how one-dimensional most footballer's lives seem to be, although they do some awfully dull people: they play football, they display a spectacular lack of judgement and taste in how they spend their riches and they don't read books.No, I think it might just be a reflection of how voracious our football media is.  There is no one, no matter how smart or interesting, who could be smart enough or interesting enough to be able to feed these wolves for long if they came under their spotlight.  John Terry said absolutely nothing interesting in his press conference today, and it was still dissected in minute detail by the press: it will be the lead story on[...]

Ugo Ehiogu for England (vs Spain), 28th February 2001


I originally published this post here back in November 2009, talking about the crusade to try to shame all Premier League clubs into attaching a poppy to their playing shirts, but the current furore around FIFA's refusal to make an exception and allow the English football team to display the same emblem on their shirts in this week's international match against Spain is essentially the same argument being repeated again.  The reaction to this "refusal" (actually a refusal to break a rule that applies to ALL emblems - a more commercially motivated version of what we might call the Jon Snow defence) has been widespread, including the Prime Minister and Prince William as well as the luminaries and reknowned patriots of the English Defence League.It is an entirely predictable outrage, and we have the same tired old reaction around the poppy every year with tedious regularity... and in fact, the outrage itself really proves FIFA's point that the poppy clearly IS a political symbol. The FA might have now reached a compromise with FIFA that enables the team to wear poppies on black armbands, but the whole incident does nobody any credit and certainly does not indicate to me any greater respect for Our Brave Troops. Anyway, here's my rant again.  Still sadly apt.  I fully expect more tiresome and predictable criticism of Jon Snow for his refusal to bow to "poppy fascism" and wear one as he reads the news.  You can set your watch by it. Anyway.  Here's the 2009 post. --- There's a bit in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" where Captain Black runs something he calls the "Glorious Loyalty Oath Campaign", where everyone in the squadron finds themselves forced to sign oaths pledging their loyalty in order to get absolutely anything or everything: "Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that "The Star-Spangled Banner," one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again"Of course, anyone refusing to sign one of these oaths is immediately branded as somehow being disloyal to their country, to their flag and to their cause:"Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves[...]

Edison Arantes do Nascimento for Brazil (vs Sweden), 28th June 1958


I think this might very well be the greatest advert in the whole, wide world.

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Looking good, Luis.  Looking good. Still got it, for sure.  But only -- ONLY -- because you have no visible grey hairs.  Learn from him: to the shops!  No time to spare!  Just For Men is the answer!

Like I say, the best advert in the world.

Oh no, wait a minute... I'd almost forgotten about this one.

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 [sorry for the terrible quality, but it's all I could find....]

Pele, many people's vote for the greatest player the world has ever seen, dubbed by Peter Serafinowicz (of all people), bravely fronting up to a potentially very embarrassing issue for men of a certain age.

Well, I say bravely....

"Talk to your doctor.  I would.  But I don't need to.  Because I am Pele!  The greatest footballer who ever lived.  Clearly I haven't actually experienced any kind of erectile dysfunction myself.  Me! Edison Arantes do Nascimento.  The greatest player to kick a ball.  The very thought! But in the unlikely event that I somehow did have problems down there, I'd be down the doctor like a shot to get me some little blue pills.... but like I said, I'm fine.  Nothing to see here.  No... EVERYTHING to see here.  I've got it going on in my pants, for sure.  Yes sir.  But if you have problems, you should go.  Now.  In no way am I just saying these things for the money.  No way."


Ryujiro Ueda for Fagiano Okayama (v Yokohama FC), 30 October 2011


You may recall that a month or so ago we shared a video of what was generally believed to be the longest headed goal in the history of football. Jonas Samuelson had scored this header from his own half in a Norwegian league match, leading to a well-deserved fifteen minutes of fame.

Well, he must be livid. Barely a month after his world record breaking exploits someone has only gone and bettered it. You'd be livid, wouldn't you? Doing something that no-one in nearly 150 years of football has done before only for some upstart J-League player to come along four weeks later and do the same.

Anyway, here's Ryujido Ueda's effort for Fagiano Okayama in the J-League last weekend. Arguably it's a better goal as he has to actually beat the keeper (who doesn't cover himself in glory) rather than Samuelson who nodded his into an empty net....

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Gareth Bale for Tottenham Hotspur (vs QPR), 30th October 2011


I know he's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like Neil Warnock.  After yesterday's 3-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, Warnock had this to say in his post-match press interview:

"I found myself clapping when the third goal went in it was such a fantastic goal by Bale. It’s a pity he’s not English."

Neil Warnock is hardly immune from the usual post-match criticisms of referees and opposition players, but in a world of bland, nothing statements and unseen controversies, it's nice to see someone in football tell it how it is, even if that means saying something nice about one of your opponents.

Well played Gareth Bale and well done Neil Warnock.

It's a shame Lionel Messi isn't English too, by the way.....

Jordan Rhodes for Huddersfield Town (v Scunthorpe Utd), 25 October 2011


(image) As Swisslet correctly pointed out here, blanket and hysterical coverage of the Premier League pretty much dominates the media these days, and so the achievements of lesser known clubs often go unheralded.

Last night, Huddersfield Town drew 2-2 with Scunthorpe. It's a result that would have barely registered with anyone outside Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, but it marked Huddersfield's 40th unbeaten league match. That's right. The Terriers, under the management of Lee Clark, haven't lost in the league since they were beaten 4-1 by Southampton on 28th December last year. Unsurprisingly, it's smashed the previous club record.

Clark's side sit second in League One and look good for promotion to the Championship under the 38 year old rookie manager. So, perhaps we could have less coverage about Carlos Tevez suing his manager and Mario Balotelli buying a trampoline and more on the superb achievements of less fashionable clubs?

Rafael Van der Vaart for Tottenham Hotspur (vs Blackburn Rovers), 23rd October 2011


I spent a couple of hours in the car on Sunday afternoon driving home after a weekend away.  I was feeling a little bit jaded, so to keep myself entertained, I had the radio tuned into BBC Radio Five Live to while away the time and to keep my brain engaged. I like Five Live.  There's a good mix of news and sport, and I vastly prefer their more informal style of broadcasting to that to be found on Radio 4.  Sure, there are bits of it that annoy me (Steve Claridge), but on the whole it's a good listen (shifting seamlessly to outstanding whenever Danny Baker is on). Just recently though, I've noticed a distinct change in the tenor of the sports programming.  Football has always formed a bedrock of the station's coverage: until recently, this was the one national radio station where you could hear coverage of almost every big Premier League game.... but you also got pretty good coverage from the other leagues around England and Scotland.  The theme tune to sports report on a Saturday afternoon, with James Alexander Gordon reading out the classified results.... it's all a cherished part of our shared national heritage, and it's one of the great things about the BBC that all of this is still intact.That's not the problem.What's starting to annoy me is that there seems to have been a shift into a more hysterical style of reporting, particularly about football.  The top division of the English league has always been covered in depth, of course, but it seems that now that coverage is not so much focused on reporting what happened at the games as feeding the myth of the English Premier League as being BIGGER and BETTER and MORE IMPORTANT than anything else.  The BBC now seem to play a full part in pumping up these players as the new Gods of our society, and when they inevitably fall short of the holy status that we've given them, the BBC now hosts seemingly endless discussions with experts to pick apart quite how badly we've been let down as a nation by these players.  Before the last England game I listened to long panel conversations about why Wayne Rooney's personal life wouldn't affect the way he played... and then after the game, more panel discussions about why he in fact he should never have played in the first place and should now be omitted from Capello's squad for the Summer, when clearly he won't be.  Frank Lampard was past it, and then he wasn't.... the source of these circular, self-fuelling discussions is seemingly bottomless.  Have your say; text us what you think; message us on twitter.... even the most brainless, one-eyed idiot is now qualified to get involved.By the time I got into my car on Sunday, the Manchester derby was over, but the full, in-depth analysis of events and what they meant was yet to come.  The game between QPR and Chelsea was broken up by a half-time interview with Sir Alex Ferguson, and the game between Blackburn and Spurs seemed to be barely reported at all except to fuel the fire of the sub-plot as to whether 100 or so fans demonsrating after the game could get Steve Kean sacked.  Mark Pougatch, anchoring the programme, seemed dazed; he was simply unable to comprehend the magnitude of that result at Old Trafford and said so, repeatedly.  No matter how many City players and officials queued up to be interviewed saying that it was just a game and was only worth 3 points and didn't win them anything, Pougatch only seemed interested in speculating whether this was the end of a dynasty [...]

David Silva for Spain (vs Scotland), 11th October 2011


"Who is the coach of the World and European Champions?"

If you are asked that question in a pub quiz, then you're going to be reasonably confident of getting the answer right.  No?

Vincente Del Bosque.



....That's what he used to be called, anyway, when he was a humble commoner.  As of February this year, thanks to the King of Spain (a football fan and very much the man who puts the "Real" into Real Madrid), he's now apparently officially known as the Ilustrísimo Señor Don Vicente del Bosque y González, Marqués de Del Bosque.

Wow.  That's quite a title.... (and, to be honest, much though I'm sure he's an outstanding manager, don't you reckon you might have been able to win at least a couple of those titles with the players that he had at Madrid and has with Spain?)

The only other man I can think of in football with an actual, honest-to-goodness title (beyond a knighthood, anyway) is the Lord of the Manor at Frodsham, Jibberish Seaside.  As the Queen is apparently an Arsenal fan (as if she didn't have enough problems), perhaps we should expect a dukedom for Tony Adams in the New Year's Honours list? A baronetcy for Ray Parlour, perhaps? Viscount Perry Groves of Bow?

Gary Lineker for England (vs Republic of Ireland), 26th March 1985


Forgive me, but I haven't watched Match of the Day for a few weeks.  Imagine my surprise when I turned on the BBC's coverage of the Spain vs Scotland game during the week to find that Gary Lineker looked somehow different.

At first, I wasn't really sure what it was, and then - when I looked a bit more closely - I realised that there appeared to be something on his face.  I wasn't quite sure what it was at first, but on reflection, I believe that it may have been a beard.... something I believe that the 50 year-old has been trying to grow since his Leicester City debut in the 1978/79 season.

I can't think of any other explanation for the sudden appearance of this growth.... unless perhaps it's professional envy of the new pundit on the block....

Surely it's not a mid-life crisis?

Whatever the reason for it, I imagine that it probably looks a whole lot more impressive in high definition and AMAZING in 3-D.

Kyle Walker (for Tottenham Hotspur) v Arsenal, 2 October 2011


(image) Look, I told you we were going to persist with this 'hatred of Barry Davies' nonsense. Don't say you weren't warned...

You may want to see here first.

Mr & Mrs Davies – Part 2: At the Beach

Maureen: “What a lovely day.”

Barry: “yes, you join us on this lovely Sunday afternoon with the sun blazing high in the bright blue sky. The temperature is noticeably hotter than it has been over recent days, I was walking past here yesterday and it certainly wasn’t this warm.”

Maureen: “Can you put me some sun tan lotion on my back?”

Barry: “Oh no. Oh no. I can’t believe that decision. Factor 8 when it should clearly be Factor 4. I remember in 1972 when the lotion was chosen with much more care than in is in the modern world. Terrible. Terrible.”

Maureen: “Ah, look at that little lad over there.”

[Barry looks at the boy playing with his bucket and spade for eight minutes]

Barry: “Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooof! Marvellous! Marvellous!”

Chris Burke for Birmingham City (v Nottingham Forest), 2 October 2011


(image) Steve McLaren, 30 August, 2011: "What happens over the next few days will decide whether we can win promotion or not. Absolutely it will, without a shadow of a doubt. What we do now, over the next few days, will determine whether we are good enough to challenge or whether we are scrapping to get into the play-offs. I don't want that. So, I will be making it quite clear what we need. Deliver it or it is going to be a long season.

"We have been saying it for long enough. You [the press] say that Billy Davies was saying it for two years previously, I don't know about that. But I can see it. Over the next few days, we will see the ambition of this club. That is the key thing we will see. We need to go the extra step now."

Just five weeks later, the former England manager has resigned from his position at the City Ground, with chairman Nigel Doughty also set to step down at the end of the season after a decade at the helm.

Davies and McLaren may be very different types of manager but their complains about Forest are eerily similar. Both have voiced their concerns about the lack of investment in the team and both believe that the ambition of the club falls some way short of their own. Davies took Forest to the play-offs twice and was then sacked - presumably the board were fed up with his constant griping - whereas McLaren has now walked just 111 days into his tenure citing the very same problems.

I rate McLaren and I do not blame him one bit from walking away from a club who clearly promised him the earth before delivering next to nothing. To lose one manager may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. Ex-Forest legends Garry Birtles and Kenny Burns also agree that McLaren was perfectly within his rights to walk.

It looks to me that the Forest board has fundamentally no idea what they are doing and I'm not even a supporter. For lifelong fans seeing the same grumbles and same issues continue to rear their heads must be unbelievably frustrating.

Forest are clearly never going to emulate the success of the Clough era. But, they could be a solid mid-table Premier League side if anyone at board level actually believed that was possible. Until they do, perhaps they should employ a boss for whom Championship survival and a balanced budget would constitute success and then everyone's ambitions would be aligned?