New Perspective

Being abroad for a while certainly gives one a different perspective on the Premier League. There’s no blanket coverage. It’s not in all the newspapers. It’s not talked about often in the workplace. Would you believe there’s actually a world outside the Barclays Premier League?

Well, it turns out there is. Last year I was lucky enough to watch a lot of Fox Soccer’s coverage of the Premier League here in the USA. Despite the bombastic musical overture and flashy graphical presentation, it had a far more relaxed and laid-back presentation and attitude towards the English game than I’d been used to.

First off, the host, Rob Stone, enthusiastic without being grating, was excellent. He let the ex-pros have their say but wasn’t afraid to chip in an opinion or two, and could often be found smoothly dropping in references to professional wrestling and guns n’roses (amongst others things) during his segues.

His main sidekick ad infinitum was Warren Barton, former Premier League mainstay, never shy of putting forth his point of view. He was always something of a figurehead. In the studio, there was an air that suggested, “you may not agree with this man, but he’s played 3,623 games in the Premier League. And he used to play for Maidstone United, so you have to respect him.” Prone to using big hand gestures and wearing nice waistcoats, those two things along already make him a better analyst than Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer. Essentially though, he was an engaging and interesting pundit.

Then we have the Robin to Barton’s Batman: Eric Wynalda. Even at 7am PST, this man was a bubbling ball of enthusiasm and excitment. He was so clearly passionate about the game, you could see he genuinely loved being able to sit there and watch these games and then get to talk about them after. I always felt there was something more about him, something existentially uplifting. He loves football, but not only that, he believes in football, he believes that it is a force for good, and he makes you want to believe in it too.

And the three of them had a great chemistry. Sometimes the discussion would get quite heated over a controversial point, but it was never antagonistic. More often than not, there was a warm, convivial feeling to proceedings and it pulled you right into it. They were often funny, quick to praise good football but not afraid to be damning of dull matches or poor sportsmanship.

It’s these qualities of honesty and conviviality that NBC’s coverage (the new rights holders to Premier League matches) sorely lack. Everything is taken very seriously. Rebecca Lowe looks constantly like she is about to deliver bad news to someone. Robbie Earle is there, hunched forward and eyebrows raised, but unable to shift out of second gear. Robbie Mustoe is also there, clearly still thinking that he’s on some kind of massive wind up and Jeremy Beadle is going to appear in a gorilla suit at any moment.

It’s all very dry and drab, and for a show going out on the flagship channel of one of America’s biggest networks, you wonder if it’s doing more harm than good it when it comes Americans’ preconceptions of soccer being boring and the English being stuffy. Fox’s coverage never came close that, but NBC seem to be playing up to it. They’re trying so hard to impress New Viewers, they’ve completely lost sight of what was good about what came before it. They’d do well to remember that you can’t polish a turd, and Monday’s 0-0 game between Man Utd and Chelsea was an enormous floating example of that.

There’s still the issue of the commentary to be discussed, but that’s for another time. The good news is that Rob, Warren & co. can still be found presenting Champions League matches. I’ll leave you with a clip of the live coverage from the game between Palace and Sunderland. Please note this was the live coverage, while the game was going on and things were happening on the pitch. Thumbs up all round.

Crystal Palace Vs Sunderland

SniperTube episode 5: Man Utd Special

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? On the wrong end of an absolute tonking. By the time the 5th or 6th one goes in, you’re so far beyond caring that you’re busy chatting to the bloke next to you about politics or kabbadi. What’s that, we’re down to 10 men as well? Ah well.

Yep, we’ve all been there. Some more than others, it has to be said. And when the most domestically successful team in English football gets a jolly shellacking, we have to savour the moment, since it happens so very, very rarely. And then dredge up and bask in a load of other whuppings for good measure.

After three years of treading water in Division 1, Crystal Palace would finally be relegated in 1973. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom at Selhurst Park, where one of their 7 home victories was against one of the less well-remembered Man Utd sides (they finished a lowly 18th that season). And what a victory it was, too:

Apart from the pure joy of listening to Brian Moore saying “Manchester United simply don’t know which day it is”, it’s also great to see moustachioed genius Don Rogers (“…in a way, doing a Pele”), Palace’s rather dark red and light blue striped kit, and rubber “goalie gloves” taken straight from the washing up bowl and onto the pitch.

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Man Utd walked the league in the 99-00 season, 18 points ahead of nearest challengers Arsenal come May. Here though, it’s early October and the season is still very much finding its feet. And as soon as you hear Martin Tyler say something about “Phil Neville’s been put there to do a job on Gianfranco Zola”, you know the United defence is going to be in for a long afternoon:

There’s so many things wrong in this video. Jody Morris scoring, then doing that trombone celebration; Chris Sutton scoring, who cost £10million (30YS Videprinter: Ten); and finally the conclusive proof that all ‘keepers who wear jogging bottoms are ultimately doomed to fail.

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Post Love it Newcastle under Kevin Keegan were something of a busted flush, but no compilation of teams beating Man Utd 5-0 is complete without Little Kev’s moment of small revenge. Fergie’s men famously overhauled the Geordies 12-point lead to take the title in 1996, but then Shearer was bought for £15million that summer in what was really Keegan’s last throw of the dice. He would leave the job just a few months later, but not before this:

Keegan’s last hurrah showed just how wonderful that Newcastle team could be on occasion. Everyone remembers Philippe Albert’s chip, but David Ginola’s strike for 2-0 was almost as incredible. Keegan resigned in January 1997, saying that he’d taken the club as far as he could; Kenny Dalglish took over and Newcastle finished 2nd behind Man Utd, just as they had the previous year.

SniperTube episode 4: El Tel, O’Neillism, Head-over-heelism

Football and music have generally had something of a blustery relationship. The times when they have got it right can pretty much be counted on one hand: World in motion, Three Lions, and…well I wanted to say Diamond Lights, but there’s quite a few people who would disagree. To put it mildly. But despite the slim pickings, they both return to the well from time to time to try and rekindle something from the dying embers of what should have been a perfectly decent romance, only to find a mausoleum of bitter memories of why they didn’t get on in the first place.

We will remember Kevin Keegan for many things. A glittering career with Liverpool, Hamburg and Southampton. Winning the ballon d’or two years in a row. That post-match rant. His disastrous spell as England manager. But Keegan was never shy of dabbing his hand in other areas of the media, appearing on BBC’s Superstars gameshow and avertising Brut aftershave in a spot alongside Henry Cooper. (Well if you must see the two legends in the shower together, it’s here). But for our first main event, Keggy dons a brown jacket and some pretty exciting cream flares, picks up the microphone and quite literally lets rip with a torrent of vocal transnificence:

In all fairness, he makes a relatively decent fist of it, but you can see the look of absolute terror in his eyes. This is a man who has agreed to something without a full knowledge of the possible ramifications: dressing up like a crooner and miming someone elses song in front of some TV cameras and an audience. The song reached #31 in the UK chart, but, blazing a trail for Anglophonic curly-haired career-mutant David Hasselhoff 10 years later, reached the top 10 in Germany where he was based at the time. I’m just finding it hard to imagine Gary Barlow writing a schmaltzy love song for James Milner to warble, though I’m sure it would be quite enjoyable in a sado-masochistic way.

Speaking of Take That alumni, we now look at a memorable encounter between Robbie Williams and the legendary Martin O’Neill:

Williams struggled for long periods with self-esteem issues, and one can’t help feeling O’Neill’s brazen face-to-face evaluation of his talents – “[You] can’t play, you can’t write, you can’t strum a guitar – I thought you’d really struggle” - really can’t have helped matters. Credit is certainly due for him not being a fawning media luvvie, however.

From a chilling slapdown of one man’s talents, to someone that definitely didn’t have any naysayers around to stop him from going on TV and making an arse of himself, it’s Terry Venables. If you thought Keegan looked scared, the look on the faces most of Venables’ QPR team mates in the audience is akin to a group of men waiting to be ushered into a gas-chamber:

The notable exception being Frank McLintock, who must have either hated Venables, or had a father that insisted on his family attending weekly karaoke sessions at the local boozer on a Saturday night, and was therefore so accustomed to a grown man going up in musical flames, he had no way of empathising with the shame.

SniperTube episode 3: Refereeing special

It’s often said that referees have the hardest job in football, vilified by both sets of fans, harangued and intimidated by both sets of players, and (in the Premier League, at least) every split-second decision analysed and talked about for days or even weeks after. It’s also remarked that because they haven’t played the game to a high standard, they can’t fully understand or relate to the events on the pitch; because being able to empathise with a player who’s made yet another late tackle is clearly an important attribute for the man in charge. Apparently.

So how nice, then, to see one ref let himself loose and really get stuck in:

It’s not quite a tackle from behind, but it’s a very late lunge, he doesn’t get the ball, and arguably he’s gone in two-footed. How sad to see him bottle the decision, and not even show himself a yellow card. Positively, though, it’s nice to see a referee getting in amongst the action. More of the same, please.

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From a referee making a clumsy challenge, to a referee casting off the creative shackles and really making his prescence felt. It’s 1986, and it’s Ankaragucu vs Besiktas. With the game locked at 0-0 and only injury time remaining, Ankaragucu have a corner. The ball comes in, and there’s some admittedly slapstick defnending, until:

The ref ghosts in at the far post, completely unmarked, and nods it home. There’s certainly a case for offside, but the goal stands. The old turn-away-back-header-fall-over routine doesn’t get so much of a run out these days, but our man has got it down to a tee. There must have been a pretty stringent “respect” style campaign going on at this time, if the total non-reaction from the opposition defenders is anything to go by. Imagine Mike Dean equalising for Liverpool in the last minute at Old Trafford. He’d get well merked.

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The burning question raised by that last clip is, “Why is the ref standing in the goalmouth?” We know they have a thankless task, but getting into goalscoring positions like that should be left to the strikers. We used to get them at school, these goal-hangers who spend the entire lunch break chatting to the opposition keeper, aside from springing briefly into life when the ball comes within a 2-metre radius.

Perhaps it was the preserve of refs from the 1980′s. Here’s a clip from Brazil from said decade. You just don’t see refs in these positions nowadays:

Time to hang up the whistle and get your shooting boots on, sunshine. You can’t teach that sort of poacher’s instinct.

SniperTube episode 2: East Anglia vs The World; and Phil, King of the World

It hasn’t been a vintage week for English clubs in Europe so far this week; as for tonight, with 6 first-teamers unavailable for Arsenal’s match against Olympiakos and Chelsea facing a tricky tie away at Valencia, it’s probably not going to get much better, either. So we cast our eyes back to headier days.

On the back of their best ever league finish (3rd in 1992-93), Norwich City competed in the UEFA cup for the first time. After breezing past Vitesse Arnhem in the first round, they were drawn against Teutonic giants Bayern Munich. Written off and advised by the press to try and keep the score down, they turned football ever-so-briefly on its head:

Contextually, people still cared about the UEFA cup back then; Norwich drew 1-1 in the return leg at Carrow Road, but lost in the next round to eventual champions Inter Milan; Jeremy Goss’s dipping volley has since been voted the greatest Norwich goal of all time by their fans.

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Staying in East Anglia, Ipswich Town’s most famous European moment came in 1981 when Wor Bobby, Johnny Wark and Frans Thijssen inspired them to UEFA cup glory against AZ Alkmaar. More recently, the Tractor Boys finished 5th in the top flight in 2001, then their first season in the Premier League in 5 years. The following season, George Burley’s men negotiated their way past ties against Torpedo Moscow and Helsingborg, before coming up against Norwich’s conquerors in 1994, Inter Milan.

The Nerazzurri clearly weren’t expecting a tough task; they left Original Ronaldo (this one – bloody hell) at home for their trip to Portman Road in the 1st leg. However a highly lacklustre Inter were caught short by an Ipswich Team then suffering from chronic second season syndrome (they were duly relegated at the end of the season), sunk by this Alun Armstrong goal:

This sparked the Italians into life, and while they were unable to pull a goal back in the final 10 minutes of the match, Ipswich eventually succumbed 4-1 in the San Siro. Burley left early the following season, with the side 18th in Division 1 and the club in administration due to the abscence of Premier League TV money. His 8 years there are his only managerial success to date, aside from taking Hearts to the top of the SPL after 10 games but then leaving when it all blew up with Vladimir Not Mental Romanov.

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After pooping the parties of Norwich and Ipswich, it seems only fair we look back at Inter getting the rug pulled out from under them. Under the stewardship of Ron Atkinson (who once said of Jens Jeremies: “he’s got a very unfortunate face”), Villa won the League Cup 3-1 in 1994 against a Schmeichel-less Man Utd (the excuse given by Man Utd fans for the defeat at the time was the abscence of their Danish stopper; I think they expected Villa to grant a replay of the game based on having to play their reserve keeper).

In the subsequent UEFA cup campaign, Villa were handed a first round match against the reigning champions, Inter. Though they had finished just one point above relegation in the previous season, Inter’s team had a genuine superstar tinge to it; Giueseppe Bergomi, Dennis Bergkamp, Ginaluca Pagliuca and Ruben Sosa to name but a few. A Bergkamp penalty in the first leg gave the Nerazzurri a slender lead to take to Villa Park, however it was soon cancelled out by a close range strike from Ray Houghton, who must have been close to becoming Scourge of the Italians after his winner for Ireland at USA ’94.

Imagine if Guy Whittingham’s chip had gone in…anyway, after missing in the shootout, he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for £700k that December. Phil King’s finest hour came after one of only 20 starts he made for the club in 3 years. Also worth noting Nigel Spink playing in goal, due to the 3 foreigners rule in force at that time – Irishmen Steve Staunton, Andy Tactics Truck Townsend and Ray Houghton keeping Mark Bosnich out of the team. Villa subsequently lost on away goals to Trabzonspor in the next round; Atkinson was sacked 10 days later.

SniperTube Ep. 1: Hargreaves’ return and other crackers

Reading the comments section of most youtube videos is like voluntarily wading into a nightclub brawl and placing your head in between the flying fists of two louts; you always end up with a sore head and a whole morning of regret. The video below (presuming it isn’t swiftly removed for copyright reasons) shows Owen Hargreaves scoring a belter from 25 yards on his Manchester City debut, after roughly 2 years out of action with knee-death:

[EDIT: original clip removed due to copyright claim. Cheers lads]

Triffic stuff. The top comment, from mnnh1, reads as follows:

Every goal he scores he should pay back £10 000 in wages to Man Utd. And for ever assist, £5000. If he scores against Utd, should double those figures! We payed his medical bills all those years!

Already you feel like you’re drowning in the dreaded quicksand of “Big 4″ fan-entitlement. The uploader goes on to mention that Hargreaves may have been insured whilst at Man Utd, and this may have helped cover the cost of his wages. Then, just as you feel yourself coming-to with a whiff of reason, you are veritably bludgeoned over the head with:

Insured, you dumb f**k, Manchester United paid his wages and his medical bills for his enture duration at the club. And instead of acting like a chavved up c**t, try and understand, Man City only grabbedhim to p**s us off, so his loyalty should have stepped in but because he’s such a little t**t, he’s over at the s**t end of Manchester, a club trying to buy titles, a blue exploiting football with billionaire owners, a club with no history, a club without the players that got it there.

Of course it’s unreasonable to expect any logic from a football fan. It’s just the Man Utd fan’s incredible sense of paranoia, that Hargreaves only wanted to annoy his former club, that Man City signed him only because they wanted to annoy their neighbours, that’s so terrifyingly ridiculous. And a Utd fan criticising City’s owners is not just the pot calling the kettle black, but forcing it to stand trial for being a kitchen implement.

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It’s unlikely you haven’t seen it, but even if you have, this deft piece of acrobatics from Spanish U21 international Inigo Martinez is always worth revisiting.

Like all the best own-goals, it’s a combination of unscriptable farce and nonchalant body-popping, leading to an epic faith-restoring climax: A 30-yard, look-the-other-way back-volley. The perfect tonic after reading the comments of the almost unfathomably self-righteous Man Utd fans.

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Staying with the own-goal theme, next we visit Hungary. The next clip doesn’t quite reach Martinez-levels of genius, however it’s a great example of close control in the box, and finishing under pressure:

You always expect him to hit the target from 8 yards out, but he’s about to be closed down, and if you look carefully, you can see he’s off balance as he lashes it home – a difficult skill for any striker, never mind defender.

It’s worth watching the replay to see a balder-than-I-remember-him ex-Bee Gee Robin Gibb looking calmly on from the touchline. There’s no visible reaction, but he must be fuming inside. Also on show is a 10 ft-high Orange Juice bottle in the stands, which is surely interfering with lines-of-sight.