Monthly Archives: January 2011

Let It Be Said, The Romance Is Dead

Ahh, the FA Cup. Every year it brings up the great cup stories, the great upsets, the great goals, the great moments always associated to the finest domestic cup competition. And everyone loves to see the underdog have its day, Hereford beating Newcastle, Sutton beating Coventry, Leeds beating Manchester United.

But come the fifth round of this years FA Cup, that won’t be happening.

It was  pretty inevitable after games against Derby County and Torquay United, Crawley Town would be getting the big name draw for the fifth round. And that is just what happened, out came ball number seven, Manchester United, followed by ball number one, Crawley Town.

Premier League v Blue Square Premier. Surely the tie of the round, the one all TV stations will be fighting each other for, the tickets snapped up straight away, the chance of the greatest cup upset of all time. My God why isn’t it the next round already, we are missing so much for waiting. Scrap the rest of the Premier League season, no one cares about that until the best cup tie of all time.

I think you get the idea.

This will be billed as the greatest game in Crawley Town’s history, and to some extent, it is. The next game they face is Kettering Town, which has hardly the same appeal as a team unbeaten in the Premier League. Which non-league club wouldn’t love the chance to play Manchester United? Everyone from AFC Wimbledon to Billingham Synthonia would die to have that one opportunity, the once in a lifetime moment, or more realistically, once in many lifetimes. But Crawley, you have that doubt, they don’t need it do they?

Oh, I let it slip didn’t I? How silly. Yes, Crawley Town are far from popular, far from popular by being the most disliked non-league teams in every division that exists from the Blue Square Premier down.

They are the Manchester City of the non-league world, filled with cash from outside investors (in fairness to Crawley, the two owners are both fans of the club, paid off the debts, brought that level of stability rare to non-league clubs these days), they find themselves in 2nd place in the BSP, two points behind leaders AFC Wimbledon with just the four games in hand. Comparing the money spent on players in the FA Cup fourth round game between Torquay and Crawley, the other Red Devils had spent over £500,000 on players, which for a non-league club, is probably the equivalent of having water in your village when every village around you just has mud.

But as you may say, some people still find Manchester City as that cute little club you are allowed to like, no matter how much money is spent by them. But this is by far not the worst thing about the club. Not by far. steveevans

To the right of this text is Steve Evans.  Normally at this point I’d say the positives about the guy before I’d launch into the negatives. But, there is no positives. None. You can dislike Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp and so on, but this could be one of the worst managers in football, not in terms of ability, you don’t get to be so high in the league if you don’t have that, but in terms of attitude, personality and style.

Lets start of with the small things, because they all add up in the end don’t they? He often refuses to shake hands with opposition managers, gets himself sent off from the dugout, sends tirades towards the referees and officials. Then, as I learned from ‘Two Footed Tackle’ often ‘forgets’ he does such things and claims to be a nice and lovely individual. Oh, don’t you just love that sort of person?

But, that is only the small things, because despite other managers displaying some of those characteristics on occasion, none of them has ever been convicted of fraud.

You didn’t see that coming did you?

Remember Boston United, the club Soccer AM used to take the mick of because they had the same name as a well known place over in the USA? Steve Evans was manager of this club, his first foray into management. But it was he who ultimately destroyed the club, sent them tumbling down the pyramid and into obscurity.

From one of the few twitter accounts I have actually seen mentioning this fact about Evans (the others being the Non-League Show and Two Footed Tackle), Two Hundred Percent linked to a Telegraph article back in 2002.

This is a link to the article. Read it. Take as long as you want, but read it, it’ll explain everything so much better than I ever will.

Done? Excellent.

They key bit comes in the final paragraph:

"The sad thing about this whole story," Bean said, "is that at the greatest moment in Boston’s history, one man did so much to damage the club’s reputation. In everything that went wrong at the club, Steve Evans was the common denominator."

This man destroyed Boston. They are now playing in the Conference North after a brief trip down to the Northern Premier. They were on the brink of financial ruin, it is a miracle they haven’t went the same fate as Chester City, Ilkeston Town, down and out. No longer existing.

Steve Evans was fined £8,000 and banned from football for 20 months. He was also given a one year suspended sentence after a criminal investigation into fraud. The likes of Dagenham and Redbridge, a team who had been pipped out on promotion missed out on the glory land of league football, instead given to a team who were managed by a crook.

There is no beating about the bat here, a clear crook. A man who does not even deserve to be given a third chance (Evans was actually rehired by Boston United, would you believe) is seeing his team in the big time, in the limelight, and if there is one manager who doesn’t deserve it, it is him.

The large amounts of money being placed into Crawley is no bad thing, its obvious someone wants to see a team do well, be successful, much like Manchester City. But given Steve Evans record, you do wonder is he is the man you want to trust it with.

Look at the major outlets. BBC, ITV, ESPN, all the newspapers, how many will mention all of what has been said? None, they’ll go on about how fantastic it is that a small team from Crawley have drawn Manchester United. How they are the first non-league team since 1994 to reach the fifth round.

It’s good for the fans, the players, it isn’t their fault. Good for them, they deserve it.

But Evans doesn’t.

And for once, I will be cheering on Manchester United. Most of non-league, will be cheering on Manchester United. You don’t have a reason not to be cheering on Manchester United.

F1 in 2011

It is another Bloggers Swap Shop post today, and while I’ll be writing for F1 Weekender, here is Kayleigh from Kayleigh’s Bits and Pieces about what she is looking forward too F1 wise in 2011.

When I write for my blog it’s easy, the posts write themselves as my thoughts and ramblings that have been going around my head for a few days come tumbling out onto the page. But to give me a bit of a challenge I thought it would be great to have the opportunity to write for someone else’s blog and so I signed up for The Bloggers Swap Shop. Luckily I ended up with the chance to write for the Northern Waffler, one the blogs I read regularly (and I’m not just saying that I promise RG!).

I have mulled over what to write for this post for a few days now, initially I was going to write about my favourite driver Kimi Raikkonen (using the link of making his debut in F1 all thanks to Peter Sauber), but to be honest I’m sure you all know it all anyway!

So instead of looking back I have decided to look forward, and tell you a bit about what I’m looking forward to in the 2011 F1 season.

1. Can anyone design a better car than Red Bull?

Over the past couple of seasons the Red Bull car has been pretty much the fastest car of the field, so I’m looking forward to seeing if any of the other teams can change that this season.

2. Technical Regulation Changes

The new season is bringing with it some new (and not so new) regulations. Back after a year on the sideline, KERS should allow the drivers more chances to overtake, with the boost of power that the system brings. For me this is only worthwhile when the teams are at different stages of their development. When they all have KERS working, then it is almost back to a level playing field.

Totally new for 2011 is the adjustable flap on rear wing (with an aim similar to the FDuct, affecting the air flow over the rear wing on straights to lose drag and make the car faster). The adjustable rear wing should make it easy to overtake the car in front, but the tight regulations about its use could see confusion.

3. Lotus Renault GP

This should be at number 1 really but I’m trying not to be too biased! I can’t wait for the season to start to see how good the Renault car is compared to the other teams. It’s going to be great watching Kubica in action again and hopefully Petrov can improve on last year, and with two points scoring drivers, we can fight for 3rd place (at least!).

4. Pirellis

New year, new rubber. For me the way the tyres hold up will make or break the season. Dramatic I know! The problem is tyre companies are in a difficult position. They want to look good by making durable tyres but as spectators we want the tyres to degrade quickly to make the racing more interesting. Pirelli are saying the right things about making the racing better so fingers crossed it doesn’t go too far the other way and the tyres fall apart too quickly causing accidents.

5. Media & the Lotus vs Lotus Saga

The whole Lotus Renault vs Team Lotus is going to drag and drag all season long and most F1 fans will have a strong opinion on this, as do I, but several fans are most definitely going to be confused. The media are vital in minimising this confusion, after all nobody gets confused with Red Bull and Torro Rosso. Obviously the Lotus situation is very different as they are entirely separate entities.

Lotus Renault GP is the full name of the rebranded Renault F1 Team and the important thing for me is that the car is still called Renault. Very few people called McLaren by their full Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, so I don’t see why the LRGP should be called anything other than Renault. I think it is clear that Group Lotus intend on being more than a title sponsor (after investing in the team), but I don’t think they should push the matter in this first year. Commentators and the media should call the team Renault so that the casual and confused fans can still see that the black and gold cars are Renault.

I think how the media portray this battle is going to be vital. Mouthing off in the press isn’t going to do anyone favours and building a good reputation will be important. Lots of fans see Team Lotus (Lotus Racing in 2010) as having the spirit of the original Lotus but all I see is a canny businessman trying to build a brand & a fan base very quickly, so bought a name thought would offer this. They are no more the ‘real’ Lotus than the Group Lotus backed Renault will be, so it is vital that nobody makes this claim.

6. Schumacher

I was never a Schumacher fan, I always happened to support his opposition (Hill, Hakkinen and then Raikkonen), but I realised that I missed him when I found myself cheering him on at a Race of Champions event. I was really excited for his comeback but unfortunately that hasn’t worked out as well as hoped. I’m interested to see what he can do next year – he will need all his experience to ensure that he gets on top of things very quickly this year or else I can see another dire year like 2010.

7. Can HRT make it to the grid?

I’m not so sure. Using the 2010 car in testing is not that unusual (remember we didn’t always get new cars till the European season kicked off a few years ago) but I can’t see how they will have a new car at all to race in 2011, never mind the resources to carry on as essentially a DTM team one week and an F1 team the next.

8. Will Wirth’s CFD approach work?

Wirth have used Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD for short) software to design extremely successful sports cars. I don’t think it’s the CFD approach that is hurting them so far (I think it is more the lack of current F1 knowledge – what works in sports cars doesn’t necessarily work in F1), so in 2011 it will be interesting to see how much they’ve improved. The difficulty will be whilst the Virgin car will be much better than the 2010 car, as always it’s the gap to the other teams that they will be judged on.

9. Hamilton vs Button

Last year I think everyone expected Hamilton to blow Button out the water, regardless of which is your preferred driver, because McLaren is built up around Hamilton at the moment & Hamilton is a great driver. Button more than held his own although he tailed off towards the end of year. This year I’d like to see him beating Hamilton all season!

10. Massa

Last year was a bad year for Massa. Not as bad as the year before of course but he really needs to show what he can do in 2011 and stand up to Alonso.

11. Politics

I love the politics of F1 & I am interested to see after a quiet 2010 what kicks off this year. There’s bound to be lots of it, with Lotus vs Lotus court cases, Ferrari threatening again to leave, 2013 rules to be agreed on and a new Concorde agreement. Still, with all this bubbling in the background I hope the majority of the action is on the track!

What are you looking forward to in Formula 1 in 2011?

5 Sporting Events to Look Forward to in 2011

Exactly one year ago I wrote about my five sporting events that I was looking forward to in 2010, and four out of five of them were highly enjoyable (damn that World Cup). But 2011 has no luxurious offers like that, so here is what I am looking forward to, sporting wise, in the year 2011.

19th February – 2nd April : Cricket World Cup

I am not a cricket fan. And frankly the last World Cup seemingly went on longer than Uranus orbiting the Sun, and was more confusing than the MLS Draft. I was even considering not bothering with it at all.

Then I hear England might have a chance. Back off their Ashes slaughtering of the Australians, they are now saying that a win is possible. Well hello, I like to hear that. After the success of the Twenty20 World Cup last year, England have every chance in the slightly longer version in Asia, hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Of course the team everyone has to beat is Australia who have won the last three versions. But then there are the likes of India and South Africa, I presume, because they always seem to be good.

Winners Prediction: England.

7th April – 10th April : The Masters

There are so many top golfers in the world right now, it is almost impossible to even consider who might win. European heroes Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy. Don’t forget the holder of the Masters Phil Mickleson who won in emotional circumstances. And Tiger Woods, don’t ever write him off.

It is so close to call, it just makes it all the more exciting. Who can take that step and be the best in the first Major championship of the year. I almost am too excited about it. And as long as it doesn’t have a Louis Oosthuizen style walk over about it, it should be a cracking and tense four days of golf.

1st July – 24th July : Copa América

Copa América, the European Championships of South America, bringing the flair, the glamour of the ten South American teams (and two other, less sexy ones), with their slick passing, entertaining football, beautiful weather and quality players.

Obviously, the Argentines and the Brazilians will go into this as the favourites, but still not having the best World Cups on their backs. Though, times have changed for the both of them, new managers, new style of play. But the stars remain, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Neymar, I can go on.

And then there is my favourite international team (aside from England), Chile. I love their attacking football in the World Cup, and despite them being dumped early by Brazil, I loved the football. The innovative 3-1-3-3 formation was successful, they finished one point behind Brazil in the qualifiers remember. Sadly, the manager is now gone, but their play has stuck by me, I’d love them to do well.

Don’t forget Uruguay as well, fourth in the World Cup. Quality strikers in Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani.

Oooh, I’ve had quite the love in with South American football here. Sadly, the awkward number of just ten teams means for it to work well, two non-South American nations are involved, namely Mexico and Japan. The same Mexico murdered by Argentina 4-0, and Japan, who lost to Paraguay 0-0 on penalties.

I can’t wait, I mean, the 2007 Copa América only averaged 3.31 goals per game. This will be quite the show.

Winners: Argentina

9th September – 23rd October : Rugby World Cup

I am much more of a Rugby League man myself, but, it is hard not to get a tad excited when the other egg-chasing, Rugby League wannabe, Rugby Union gets together the 20 best teams in the world and says, “Hey, you produce a rather good month of rugby why don’t ya.”

And they occasionally do. This time out, its in New Zealand, so, not ideal for the old English supporter (not that it ever stopped them during the Ashes).  England themselves always seem to peak in the World Cup, winning it in 2003 and finishing as runners up in 2007. Probably 3rd this year then.

New Zealand as hosts always seem to be the best team in the world, but never perform on the big stage. Could this be the time they change that, in front of their own fans, time will tell.

And of course, will there be any shocks? Who can tell. Argentina stormed there way through to third in 2007, can they pull it off again?

There are a lot of questions because I genuinely don’t know much about it. Other than the Newcastle Falcons aren’t that good.

Winners: South Africa

Someday: David Haye v Wladimir Klitschko

Oh come on, it is going to happen. When it will, who knows, July, August, September, whenever. Haye will fight a Klitschko at least, no doubt one of them being Wladimir. Who has just said he expects a fight.

And it is what we all want. Haye’s last fight, that farce against Harrison, is hardly something you’d want to gloat about, you want to beat the best. And that is just what the Klitschko’s are, the best.

Yet Haye is a handy customer himself, he can sure talk the talk, and so far has certainly walked the walk. His performance against the giant Nikolai Valuev was outstanding. But can he transfer it to the bigger stage, the big fight. They want it, we want it. It’s just a matter of when.

Hopefully soon, though.

Winner: Klitschko

The Boy Who Cried Gulf

Ever since December 4th 2010, everything about the 2022 World Cup has been made up on the spot. Nothing about it has seemingly been thought out before the bidding was made, a winter World Cup is on the cards, messing around with the European leagues and adding to the overall pain of it all Michel Platini has once again had to get involved.

The President of UEFA has called for not a Qatar World Cup, but instead, a World Cup which incorporates the whole of the Gulf. You know, Bahrain, UAE, that’s all involved in this idea from Platini.

The one positive to take from this is that some of the FIFA committee have realised Qatar alone can not hold a World Cup, that it isn’t feasible, that it isn’t possible.

Just a big shame that this realisation has come a month and a half too late. None of this was ever mentioned in the bid by Qatar in the build up to the big vote. No mention of moving it to the winter, no mention of it not being fully in Qatar at all.

Why should a bid change just because FIFA told them so? To me, this isn’t FIFA’s problem until at least 2020, when they see if the building is on schedule and that everything is on time. This is now down to the organisers of the bid, they said nothing about a winter World Cup, so it should be held in the summer (even if logistically it is a nightmare) and it should be in Qatar, no where else (even if logistically it is a nightmare).

Spreading the World Cup around the Gulf will be a nightmare, all the building plans for the new stadiums being built might as well be chucked out the window. Remember that nice thought where they would transfer the stadiums to the third world countries, forget it, might as well not happen.

And Qatar are not the finest nation (up to 105 in the world at least), but a few more of them? UAE are slightly better (102nd), Bahrain are flying in 93rd. Then there is Oman in 104th and Yemen in a toasty 127th. We want the best teams in the world playing in the best international competition in the world. Not some pretty average teams who will struggle in the group stages, lose some teams who will be competitive, no other Asian teams might as well bother trying to qualify.

Anyway, does Michel Platini have any right to go on and say what the Qatar World Cup should be like? He is the President of UEFA, no interest what so ever on Asian football. He should care more about Russia and 2018, and just that.

In theory it seems sensible, spread it around. But it is too late, you can’t promise one thing and then change it completely, it undermines the entire bidding process. USA, Australia, Korea and Japan might of well not have bothered, or maybe they should have promised unreasonable things, but get to change them after wards. It is what FIFA are doing to Qatar, and I can’t imagine Qatar are too happy about it.

In the Firing Line

It might as well be the 17th Century. A crowd is gathering in the village centre. In the middle, a wooden stage with four men, smartly dressed, trying to get a peek through the window in the shop to see the latest offerings on sale. But they know their time is up, one more  bad performance, and they are out, down, hanged for all to see.

Roy Hodgson, Avram Grant, Gerard Houiller and Carlo Ancelotti. Step forward, your times are nearly up.

It is fair to say that for Roy Hodgson, his dream finish to his career, his one last chance at a big job, has gone horribly wrong. As ever with Liverpool, expectations are high, for the players they have, too high. A once great team over two seasons have fallen greatly. The two Champions League final appearances, they weren’t decades ago, they happened four and six years ago. But ultimately the last trophy was the FA Cup in 2006 (one of the best of all time, drawing 3-3 with West Ham and winning on penalties), which is at least better than Arsenal.

But, despite the lack of silverware at Arsenal, they are consistently putting in top four finishes. Liverpool last season were a disappointing seventh, this year they are twelfth, four points off a relegation place.

There is some blame to be had at Hodgson. No doubt about it, some of his signings have been questionable, his reluctance to change tactics during the game has also notably been the downfall of the man. But is he a bad manager? No, of course not. He got an average Fulham team to the Europa League final, thrashing Juventus along the way. He’s also managed to manage Inter Milan, and wasn’t too shabby there.

Hodgson could barely spend this summer, the ever popular duo of Hicks and Gillett didn’t give him the money. What use is it improving on the squad when you don’t get the cash to do it in the first place? Sure Konchesky, Poulson, Jovanivic and the like have been unimpressive, and the duo of Steven Gerrard and Jose Reina keeping Liverpool in a slightly more respectable position.

And, thanks to those brilliant Liverpool fans, the thought that the most wanted man back at Liverpool is Rafa Benitez is brilliant. Now, I’m not quite sure if they saw the dire, unimpressive performances last season under his control. Or, the lack of him doing anything as impressive since the Champions League win in 2005. His signings have been brilliant compared to Roy Hodgson’s haven’t they. The farce surrounding Alberto Aquilani only goes to prove the point.

Earlier today, Lawrie Sanchez said on 5Live that Liverpool were not a big club anymore. He is right. A big club plays in the Champions League, competes for titles. That isn’t Liverpool anymore, they are just a big name. A name the fans around the world will have heard of, will appreciate their history, but when they can only attract Milan Jovanivic, Paul Konchesky, you aren’t a big club anymore. They don’t go together.

It is in unfortunate for Hodgson, nothing has gone for him. The fans have found the first scapegoat after Hicks and Gillett left, sadly for Hodgson, it happened to be him. Blame the players not performing, blame the previous regime. But Hodgson does not deserve to be sacked.

For Avram Grant though, it is totally his fault. He can’t blame anyone else. Even working under the gobby idiots Gold and Sullivan (and Brady to a certain extent), he can have no excuses to the season West Ham are currently having. Last nights performance against Newcastle United, a team who have been known to struggle against the teams lower down in the league, was nothing short than abysmal. The defence was missing, the attack was absent, the midfield, Scott Parker aside, lacked any commitment.

And none of this is helped by their manager, a man continually looking lost for the whole ninety minutes. He doesn’t inspire any of his players and it shows, the football is lacklustre, they are deserved relegation candidates. And as correctly suggested by the Newcastle fans at the time, “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, has simply got to happen.

Gerard Houllier is a tougher case to decipher. He came into a mess, Martin O’Neill left the club unexpectedly a week before the season started. Houllier was made to wait by his previous employers until Aston Villa could come up with a sensible package. The team had a poor set of results, most notably losing 6-0 to newly promoted Newcastle United. And have seen most of their best players leave, to Manchester City…

In fairness to Houllier and Aston Villa, I like what they are trying to do. Bring in young English players and focus everything around that. There are some good players in the making, Marc Albrighton making the biggest impact of the season, and then others like Fabian Delph and Nathan Delfouneso.

But are they good enough right now? Houllier saw he had a young squad, brought in Robert Pires who is past his best, but could give useful help to the young players experience and the like. The experiment is so far failing, sure it is a long term plan, but should any plan contain the thought of getting relegated to the Championship.

From one damning report (unknown on validity), it seems Houllier has been given a team not prepared to care what he says, or work under him in any form. If you have that after just a few months in charge, you are going to struggle to even improve. It is an unfortunate situation for the former Liverpool manager, but one I can’t see him improving.

And then there is Carlo Ancelotti. In a more competitive league, Chelsea see themselves within a tight top five (though soon enough Manchester United will break free soon enough), but find themselves in fifth. How times change. Remember when Chelsea were scoring for fun, beating West Brom and Wigan 6-0, Blackpool 4-0, top of the league, the pundits were saying Chelsea were going to run away with it. Carlo Ancelotti was even awarded Manager of the Month in September. The smart people though, said wait and see, and look who turned out to be right.

For the defending champions, fifth isn’t the best place to be in after twenty one games, but the way the Premier League is working this season, it is not the end of the world. One point off Spurs in fourth, it has been worse.

Well, not since Roman Abramovich has been in charge. Form wise, Ancelotti looks in trouble, ten points from a possible thirty-three. That includes defeats against a struggling Liverpool, a humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland and other losses against Birmingham, Arsenal and Wolves.

What has gone wrong? The change of fortunes has been dramatic, and often blamed upon the sacking of Ray Wilkins, which is of course total rubbish. There are numerous problems which were not sorted out. The lack of replacements in the transfer window, the players they currently have are out of form and they lack any depth in any positions.

Now, by fantastic chance it happens to be January, and transfer window month. These issues can be fixed in there, buying new players, players to fill the position. Sacking Ancelotti before February would be insane, but hey, I imagine that is what Abramovich is.

With the rate managers are going at this moment in time, eight managers have lost their job since the 29th December in the Football League. That is a rate of just under one a day. It isn’t winter anymore, it’s sacking season, and the chairmen are hungry.

Four managers in the Premier League are under threat. Roy Hodgson is sadly, almost certainly going to be out of a job after the FA Cup game against Manchester United. Who to replace him, Kenny Dalglish? Really? He hasn’t managed since 2000, times are different now. He won titles, yes, but returns have rarely failed to work. Kevin Keegan didn’t do well in his second stint at Newcastle United (Mike Ashley aside of course), that’s just one example. Hodgson should not go, but ultimately, the fans, the board, will no doubt not die until he is out of the Liverpool job.

Same with Ancelotti, sure he’s the least likely to get the sack, but he has got to be careful. There are others who would love his job.

As for Avram Grant and Gerard Houllier, I’d be surprised if both of them are in charge by February.

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