5 live commentator/pundit review

New season, and isn’t great to have fans back? I know we keep saying it, but isn’t it great? Great to have the fans back, it’s great. Haven’t you missed fans? Isn’t it great to have them back? Anyway here’s a few thoughts on some of the 5 live broadcast team.

John Murray: For me, the best commentator around. One of the very few of the modern-era that isn’t trying to get himself over, but is confident in his own voice and style and brings everything to life perfectly. Amiable and friendly, without degenerating too far into bantz~! mode. Happily slides up and down the friendliness scale between “cordial” and “chummy” depending on who he’s working with.

Michael Brown: Seems to immediately lose track of what he’s saying immediately after he starts speaking. Waffles on for hours without really making a point about anything. Speaks entirely in rote-learned soundbites that often contradict each other. Does the Alan Smith extendy-voice-growl thing when describing something, e.g. “He gets the ball, and driiiives into the box.” Doesn’t seem to understand anything about anything, but enjoys games with lots of fouling.

Alistair Bruce-Ball: Here are the teams, A. Player left out, I wonder how that’ll affect your fantasy football team? B. Player hasn’t scored for 4 games, have you taken him out of your fantasy football team? The referee today is C. Unit, he’s usually good when you’ve got D. Player as captain in your fantasy football team. Oh, there’s been two goals and a red card in the time I’ve been talking about fantasy football, hopefully they’ll be good news for your fantasy football team, let me just find out who was involved…

Clinton Morrison: An enjoyable ex-pro perspective. Good chemistry with most of the lads, especially Murray and Steve Crossman. Comparatively sane and stoic against the likes of Savage and Sutton. Ends 70% of his sentences with “at this precise moment”, which sounds like it should be annoying but isn’t because he’s too endearing.

Conor McNamara: Bit too obviously a Man Utd fan for my liking. Tries a bit too hard to be eloquent for no reason and it makes some passages of play sound a bit choppy. Does the thing where he’ll hand over to the analyst by saying their full name to end a sentence, which makes it sound like he’s trying to drop them in it for something. “Chance wasted by Nicolas Pepe there, and two packets of hobnobs have gone missing from the kitchen, Mark Lawrenson.” [RADIO GLARING]

Karen Carney: Knows her shit. Good analysis of matches and avoids the shock-jock wankery of some of her peers. Sent football twitter into meltdown by opining that the COVID-enforced break of the 2019-20 season might have benefitted Leeds promotion bid. (I mean, is it that unreasonable an opinion)? Social media target because she’s a woman covering football and it makes certain men feel very threatened. Seems to hate Arsenal 🙁

Alistair Bruce-Ball: I actually quite like him, he’s good at quickly describing the action but in a way that doesn’t feel rushed.

Chris Sutton: A man who is very much tired of London. Everything is marginally disappointing in his eyes. Constantly mardy with everyone and everything, though his description of Turkey’s “wall of meat” during the Euros was amusing. Doesn’t seem to enjoy anything about modern football apart from when strikers get away with fouling people. Has carved out a broadcasting niche as “The Angry Alan Partridge of football” but without most of the humour and all of the cringe (wall of meat notwithstanding).

Robbie Savage: Plays up to the fact that everyone thinks he’s a bit of a knob, but his in-match analysis is usually pretty good (apart from during Wales games). Used to do that thing where he’d say “Listen,” before trying to make a point, except he’d use it at the beginning of every sentence so it sounded like his co-presenters keep drifting off when he’s talking.

Ian Dennis: The quintessential radio “safe pair of hands”, he’s good at what he does and makes everything an enjoyable listen. Also, there’s the Bono incident…

Super League Surprise

I don’t believe anyone complaining about the European Super League is naïve enough not to believe that football’s all about the money. For as long as there has been chairmen to extract profits from clubs, football has been about the money. The Premier League emerged from the era that housed Ken Bates’s electric fences, Thatcher’s persecution of the poor, and Alan Sugar’s desire to sell more Amstrad Satellite dishes. Treating the fans like dirt whilst happily accepting their coin has been the Modus Operandi for the people at the top of the game since time immemorial. The idea that the Premier League was simply a “rebranding” because of football’s bad 80’s vibe is laughable.

So what’s different this time? The transformation of the top flight from “glitzy repackaged Division 1 games featuring Ronny Rosenthal” to “money-making powerhouse featuring all your favourite stars and Nicolas Pepe” was not instantaneous. It was a gradual gentrification, a country and a culture so intrinsically mistrustful of foreigners, slow to change its inward-looking ways. It wasn’t until the ’94-’95 season that we saw more than one foreign import in the top 20 most expensive transfers[1], according to data from transfermarkt.co.uk. Whilst there were many dissenting voices about the formation of the Premier League at the time – perhaps most notably Alex Ferguson, which has been mentioned elsewhere today – it was not a root and branch destruction of the very core of its being. All about the money, yes, a repackaging, yes, but it’s essence was the same.

What the gradual change has allowed to happen is a strange communal cognitive dissonance, in that because things didn’t change an awful lot when we went from point A to point B in 1992, and then things didn’t change that much when we went from point B to point C, and so on ad infinitum, we’ve been able to convince ourselves that relentless extraction of money that football became wasn’t that bad, because the change from what it originally was so slow. And now, worrying that they won’t have access to neighbouring wells to run dry at some point in the near future, the breakaway clubs have decided that they can create a new, safe, endless well of money that will secure the wallets of their owners for all time.

It was inevitable from the day Alan Sugar informed BSkyB of the value of ITV’s bid for the inaugural Premier League TV rights, and told them to “blow [ITV] out of the water.” It’s all about the money. It always has been, and it always will be, and the fans can go whistle. It’s the natural culmination of a sport that’s become obsessed with money above all else, and the most surprising thing is how surprised people seem to by this absolute “revelation”, which was really something everybody knew all along.


[1] Cantona from Leeds to Man Utd isn’t counted as an import

Football goes missing again

The FA are hoping to speak to Jon Stead (pictured) regarding Football’s disappearance (Photo from Wikipedia: By en:user:TuborgLight – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1503797)

In what has already proven to be the most tumultuous of seasons, the game of Football has once again disappeared from view in the middle of a set of fixtures.

Having last been seen in London on Sunday evening during Man Utd’s 3-1 win over Tottenham, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton noted on BBC Radio 5 live that “the game’s gone” after yet another contentious VAR decision. It’s not yet known if this will affect the results following this game, however Sheffield Utd’s caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom is thought to be considering his options following his side’s 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, where the game was still yet to return.

“I don’t think it’s fair to continue playing the game after the game’s gone,” he told reporters. “It’s affected our players, the game being gone like that. Oli McBurnie got distracted thinking about what crisps were on offer in Tesco. It’s not right.”

Southampton, Everton and Brighton were all unable to locate the game in time for Monday night’s fixtures. It’s not yet known if West Brom scoring three goals in a match against someone other than Chelsea is a sign that the game might come back, or a potential warning that it might not return before the end of the season.

The game has gone missing multiple times this season, after several increasingly ludicrous VAR decisions caused uproar amongst fans and the punditocracy. It quietly returned in time for football to carry on as normal the following weekend, but it’s feared this most recent incident may cause a longer disappearance.

If you have any information regarding the game being gone, please dial 0 and ask for the FA.

A forensic analysis of the wank-tastic opening promo from MOTD2’s coverage of the NLD

Despite my hot-headed reactionary approach to everything that ever happens, I’m actually a big fan of dispassionate, reasonable analysis of football matches. As such, I don’t believe the two pundits selected for Sunday night’s NLD coverage on MOTD2 were the best choice. In opting for one lifer from each side, personal feelings were inevitably going to colour any opinion they had on the action. Jenas took the awarding of Arsenal’s penalty far too personally, and hugely overreacted to Keown’s suggestion that Lamela might want to learn from his red card. Similarly, I don’t think Keown would have been so quick to condemn an Arsenal player as “definitely knowing what he’s doing” in the tackle for Lamela’s first yellow.

Enough punditry analysis for now, let’s delve into the murky world of the opening promo. Gone are the days of a 15-20 second montage of the classic goals, the memorable incidents. It’s not enough for something to be a local rivalry anymore, it needs to have context, it needs to have fast cuts, it needs to have meaningless subliminal messaging.

We start off with 6 cuts in 4 seconds, incorporating the logos of each side, consecutive shots of Harry Kane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang puffing their cheeks prior to taking a set piece, and then black and white footage of Highbury and the old Spurs crest. We then at least get the obligatory “classic goal” bit, with Gazza’s thunderbastard in the ’91 cup semi-final at Wembley, followed by Brady’s cracker at the Lane in ’78.

“A battle for supremacy between two of football’s heavyweights,” narrates Mark Chapman over all this, taking us a whole 7 seconds into the spot, at which point we see a triptych of the famous image of Mohammed Ali standing over Sonny Liston in their 1965 rematch, followed by a zoomed shot of Ali’s shorts and left glove on the same picture, followed by the same image in full frame, all in less than 2/3 of a second. BECAUSE HEAVYWEIGHTS, SEE? GEDDIT?

“Until recently, Arsenal ruled the roost,” continues Chappers, as we see shots of Thierry Henry putting his finger to his lips with a “shush” gesture, a bespectacled Arsene Wenger from the very early days, a Dennis Bergkamp knee-slide, Robin van Persie celebrating with his arms open, before another sub-second triple cut with weird zoom and stretching of French strongman Charles Rigoulot. BECAUSE WENGER WAS FRENCH AND ARSENAL WERE “STRONGER” THEN, SEE?

“…but as the Invincibles became the Vulnerables,” says Chappers, as Pires finishes with his left foot and Tony Adams lifts the Premier League trophy in ’98, before switching gears to a morose and aged looking late-era Wenger, Alexis Sanchez moping around looking sad, and another sub-second triple cut of a big green sign for “Vunerability just ahead”. BECAUSE ARSENAL HAVE BEEN VULNERABLE IN RECENT YEARS, SEE?

“…it was Tottenham who took the ascendancy,” with Bale slotting past Fabianski, Harry Redknapp arms aloft in joy, Aaron Lennon diving full length after making it 4-4 in 2008, Eric Dier looking pumped, Dele Alli looking happy, Danny Rose’s thunderbastard sequel, Gareth Bale’s heart celebration close up to pitch-side camera, Spurs fans celebrating wildly next to some glum looking gooners. 10 cuts in 6.5 seconds.

“They’ve finished above their neighbours in the league for the last four seasons.” Slow-mo shot of Pochettino standing on the touchline near Wenger. As Chappers says the word “neighbours”, we get a sub-second triple cut of perm/mullet era Kylie & Jason, FROM NEIGHBOURS. BECAUSE THEY WERE IN NEIGHBOURS AND ARSENAL AND SPURS ARE NEIGHBOURS, SEE? Kane scores a penalty. Kane celebrates scoring a penalty. A Spurs fan holds up an A3 piece of paper saying “MIND THE GAP” (#bantz~!) Sub-second triple cut of a sign for the “Four seasons hotel”. BECAUSE oh my God. Oh my GOD. Kane scores from a tight angle and Guy Mowbray shouts “TOTAL TOTTENHAM TURNAROUND!” Kane slides on his bum in celebration.

LOL!

“A recent slump has seen Arteta’s men fall behind Mourinho and co. again,” as Xhaka punts it into Chris Wood’s hip for the Burnley qualiser the other day, Arteta claps furiously, Xhaka wipes his nose on his sleeve in slow motion, Kane smashes one in off the underside of the bar, Mourinho hugs Joao Sacramento, Spurs fans celebrate wildly (again).

“But there’s nothing like derby day to inject some life into a faltering season.” Spurs players have a group hug. As Chappers says “inject”, we see a post-animated black and white image of someone pumping up an old leather football. INJECT, SEE? Touchline fracas. Mourinho concentrating. Arteta looking stoic. Sub-second triple cut of an Arsenal banner that reads “KEEP THE FAITH”. Saka does a knee slide, Kane, Bale and Moura hug. Aerial shot of the Emirates as chappers says “Your commentator is Steve Wilson.”

So there you have it. 67 cuts in 40 seconds, an intro to the NLD that’s essentially an attack on your senses. It finishes leaving you disoriented, disconnected and nauseas, like after a Jose Mourinho post-match interview when Tottenham lose. A piece with all the subtelty and nuance of someone smashing you over the head with a cello.  

Anyway, here it is, in all its vomit-inducing glory: (CAUTION: may cause sickness)

The day we caught the train (to De Kuip on CM97/98)

Started a game of CM97/98 with Sportclub Excelsior in Toto Divisie. It’s hard playing with lower ranked Dutch teams in this game – no money, no fans, nobody wants to play for you, all the half decent youngsters either go somewhere else or get pinched after about 2 games because of the dreaded big-club release clause.

Anyway, through a combination of graft, luck, an exhaustively put together band of miscreants, and tweaking the tactics of @9798Nikolai, things have started to come together in season #5. We’ve found a bit of solidity with Jan Suchoparek at the back and possibly regen Neville Southall in goal. Regen George Weah, appearing as Joe Latoundji, has been prolific and equally instrumental in attack, alongside mainstay cheapo investment Bruno Gimenez.

We weren’t consistent enough to break the Ajax/PSV hegemony in the league, however we did finish a club record high 4th, and found our feet in the Amstel Cup. Feyenoord were dispatched in round 2, despite us going down to 9 men.

A kind draw gave us D2 Zwolle in round 3, who we saw off 2-1 fairly easily. The quarter final saw us host the reigning European and World club champions, Ajax. We came from behind twice to take the match to extra time at 2-2. Gimenez struck early doors in the first period to send us through with a historic victory.

The semi final saw us face fellow high flyers NAC, who I was expecting a stiff test against after a heavy 4-1 defeat in the league just 2 months earlier. However 2 goals in the first 6 minutes eased all the nerves and we coasted through, with midfield maestro Diniev adding a 3rd early in the 2nd half.

The other semi final saw lowly Telstar succumb to the might of PSV. They had wrapped up the league title a few weeks beforehand and were now preparing to face Man Utd in the Champions League final after they played us in the domestic cup final.

I felt cautiously optimistic going into it. We’d lost both league games to them – a 6-4 ding-dong that we actually had more shots on target in, but young Nev was still settling in, and a 1-0 where we matched them but their keeper, Luca Bucci, was MOM – but the overall improvement had been excellent since we started switching between the narrow 2-3-1-2-2 and a modified version that moves one of the AMCs to CB, depending on the quality of opponent and/or formation used.

Without wanting to blow my own alpenhoorn too much, this 3-3-1-1-2 had been pretty effective at stifling the attacking threat of the big boys and their Ajax/3-1-3-3. We essentially match the numbers at the back and try and focus our attacking in the space left by their only having 1 CB and 1 DM.

We’d only lost once in 15 games going into the final, an absolute mugging at home to Willem II where they went down to 10 men and scored with their only 2 shots on target (dammit Nev!) and we lost 2-1. Our overall record since the 1-0 loss to PSV was P15 W11 D3 L1. We lost our captain, Lyndon B Johnson, to a torn groin a few weeks back:

But other than that, there were no major injury concerns or suspensions heading into the final. My biggest concern was a potential penalty shootout. My personal record in CM9798 finals is reasonable if I get the job done in 90 minutes, but if it’s all square AET, all bets are off. Me and the penalties just don’t get along.

Right then, so the line up and formation shown above were what we went into the final with. Of the others as yet unmentioned in the first XI, Alexander Vergueitchik is regen Sergei Gerasimets, who famously scored the winner for Belarus against Holland in a Euro 96 qualifier (and had a rather splendid curly mullet to boot). The others, well they’re an honest bunch of lads. Here it is, PSV vs Excelsior, David vs Goliath, Branko vs Strupar:

All Change

Benjamin Franklin didn’t have any concept of off-shore holdings, hedge funds or corporate tax evasion. His certainty about death and taxes is less of a lock these days, mainly due to the aforementioned financial fugivity, although it’s probably just a matter of time until we sync our souls into iConsciousness and live forever in a borg-esque electronic collective. On iCloud.

A one-off certainty was that the man taking up the reins at Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson was going to have a difficult time of things. Also certain is that David Moyes will not be afforded the same amount of time that Alex Ferguson had starting out in 1986. Whether or not he’s the right man for the job, there is major reconstruction ahead, and his predecessor must take some of the blame.

Man Utd’s transition from title winners to early season mediocrity can’t be seen as too much of a surprise. The cracks in the United side had been there for a while, gradually deepening, but constantly and cleverly papered over by Ferguson, who became something of the master plasterer in that regard towards the end of his reign. The groomed successors to the once great centre back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand: Smalling, Evans, Jones, none of them have shown consistent quality needed to become a fixture in a top side. Last season’s finale, a 5-5 draw with West Brom where Jones and Evans started at centre back, was, in the words of the great Kent Brockman, a chilling vision of things to come for Man Utd fans.

For so long reliant on Scholes and Giggs to fill in in central midfield, now only new signing Fellaini brings any real impetus amongst a sea of drifters: Carrick, Anderson, Cleverley, an ailing Fletcher – there’s no real backbone, there. Not for a side with title winning aspirations. Elsewhere, Ashley Young continues to offer very little, Nani flatters to deceive while the hungry and hugely talented Wilfried Zaha gets no look in. No long term successor to Patrice Evra has been locked in, though that may change with a silly money move for Leighton Baines in January.

Keeping Wayne Rooney and keeping him motivated becomes an increasingly difficult task as each year passes. Van Persie has only 2 or 3 more years before his powers will start to wane. Hernandez is a good poacher, but doesn’t have the all round game that would make him a starter on a regular basis. Welbeck is by no means a proven striker.

None of this is really new. There is a distinct lack of quality in the United squad, and it has been that way for a while. Ferguson was able to hide the problems for so long because he was a great motivator and a great tactician. He made a fairly good side into title winners. But now with a more limited manager in charge, these problems have come to the fore. Today’s defeat to West Brom was no smash and grab fluke. The baggies were able to expose United’s weaknesses and fully deserved their win. The fluid movement and slick passing that led to the winning goal was a move of greater quality that anything the home side produced over the 90 minutes. There was no inevitability during injury time that Man Utd would equalise – not like in times past – West Brom stood firm all too easily.

Ferguson had to have been aware of the lack of true quality in his squad – why else would he have chosen Moyes to replace him, a man whose trademark has been getting the best out of less than stellar quality players? There isn’t much else on his CV that can have got him the job.

Man Utd have the financial clout to bring in better players, and there will surely be 2 or 3 fairly expensive signings in January. But whether the board of this multinational corporation will have the patience to stick with Moyes remains in some doubt. But the architect of all his problems was the man who chose him for the job. It will be of little consolation when he’s out the door.

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

Red Lenses

It’s somewhat unlikely that Sunday’s match between Liverpool at Manchester United will live long in the memory. Liverpool fans sang, “We won’t do that chant.” Luis Suarez buzzed around a lot and showed glimpses of the behaviour that has endeared him to football fans the world over. Man Utd were the beneficiaries of ludicrously weak refereeing. Just another weekend in the mighty, mighty Premier League.

I actually thought Mark Halsey started the game pretty well. It’s easy for these hotly-contested games to spiral into bitty yellow card bonanzas, but he was lenient on a couple of challenges, one from either side, that would have ordinarily brought a yellow card. Then in the 39th minute, Jonjo Shelvey went into a challenge with one foot, and Jonny Evans went into the same challenge with two feet. Shelvey, after some helpful advice from the ever considerate opposition players – no referee should ever make a big decision in a Man Utd game without first consulting Rio Ferdinand – was shown a red card.

Whichever way you look at this, it’s a poor decision. If he was in the right position to see Shelvey’s studs were raised, then he would also have been in the right position to see that Evans’s studs were also raised. If he was in the wrong position, then a) it’s poor refereeing, and b) he’s making a game-changing decision without being 100% certain that he’s correct. And given his earlier leniency (presumably) in the hope of letting the game flow better, why stymie what was, up to that point, an excellent contest?

Man Utd had been given a stern examination in the first half, conceding over 60% of possession to their North West rivals. Van Persie looked isolated, the midfield was disjointed, and young Raheem Sterling was causing no end of grief to Patrice Evra down United’s left. A side with greater conviction and cutting edge would have been 2 or 3 goals to the good before half time, before the red card, even.

So despite Gerrard’s well taken goal, it always felt like United would come back into it, and so they did a mere five minutes later, Rafael’s excellent curling finish levelling things up. And with 15 minutes to go, Antonio Valencia’s jelly legs took a tumble under the weight of expectation – I presume it was that, seeing as there was eff all other contact – and RVP shrugged off a five minute injury delay to squeeze in the spot kick past Reina. Credit Ferguson’s reverse psychology in his throwaway comment before the match – “We never get penalties there” – but a plague on Halsey’s house for facilitating such an atrocious decision and handing Man Utd a victory they did very little to deserve.

The Man Utd fans sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to Brendan Rogers, who must be feeling a little down on his luck. He’ll wait a long time to see his team play as well as that again and lose, and a narrow defeat to Mark Halsey will not give John W. Henry a reason to wield the axe just yet.

Over in the Fox Soccer studio, it down to Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda (who looks like a taller, less menacing version of Dennis Wise) to argue about the sending off. Barton – whose tan makes Gary Lineker look genuinely pasty – maintained it was a sending off. Wynalda disagreed, desperately trying to find a way of saying, “But it’s a derby game!” in a less colloquial manner, and giving it all the hand gesturing he could muster. Finally, he grabbed Barton’s arm and stared him the eyes before making one final impassioned plea that it wasn’t a red card. Barton didn’t respond. Pools panel result: Away win. (Barton is always away because he’s English).

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35 miles back up the M62, Financial Extravagance’s City laboured to a 1-1 draw with Financial Prudence’s Arsenal. Craig Burley may not be on Sky, but there was an altogether familiar feel to the Scotsman’s haranguing of Arsenal’s zonal marking system. “Statistically, they say that teams using Zonal Marking concede fewer goals,” he said. “But every time I’ve seen it, it never works!” I like to think a part of Andy Gray’s soul was filled with joy at that moment. Burley is the living embodiment of the phrase, “Because fact into doubt…won’t go.” Anyway, it was more to do with playing a keeper that hasn’t got a bloody clue at corners than it was about the relative merit of different marking systems.

Arsenal probably should have been ahead before that, but when put through one-one-one with Joe Hart, Gervinho’s first touch not only deserted him, but seemed to have left planet earth entirely. My nightmares are filled with alarmingly similar situations leading to alarmingly similar outcomes. That and spiders.

And I leave you with news that the UN’s race relations ambassador John Terry has retired from international football, making England a 372% more likeable team.

Thousand yard stare

There are many reasons to reminisce about home when you’re a few thousand miles away from it. Often, it’s not what you might have expected before you left. A chill wind. Peering out at the pissing rain during an English summer. Less flagrant use of car horns at junctions. And of course, for those of us afflicted by an obsession with a particular game involving a spherical ball, the UK’s coverage of professional football.

Now, while the UK is somewhat of a cultural sponge in regard of the US, you’re hopeful it’s still some way away from introducing any sort of “banter zone” into it’s football programming. 606, You’re on Sky Sports, TalkSport and others may have allowed some more of the more “choice” football opinions a platform to be heard on a national basis, but you feel a certain nadir, some sort of terminal cultural Shark Jumping will have happened once any sort of “Banter Zone” washes up on Britain’s fair shores.

Fortunately, the Fox Soccer Channel compensates for its slightly over-bombastic presentation of the sport by adding a hint of Dour Scotsman to it’s football round-up program; while Bobby McMahon is erudite and highly knowledgeable about world football, the sunny Texan skies have made him a little too optimistic than can be normal for any still-native Dundonian.  And as a man who considers himself a quarter Scots, I feel I can legitimately make a sweeping generalisation about 25% of my heritage, hopefully without being more than 75% hypocritical.

One program my nostalgia wore out pretty quickly for was Match of the Day. Some aspects of the “sameyness” of home are comforting, but the droll semi-interested chat of Gary, Alan & Lawro (as the show should be called) is not one of them. FSC’s Banter Zone may be the most ridiculous title for a segment of a TV show ever, but at least you can tell it’s not taking itself as seriously as you might think. By contrast, Gary Lineker has almost reached a sneering pomposity in the way he way presents MOTD, vaguely complimentary towards the Big 2 while snarkily dismissive of most of the other 18 teams in the league. The self-importance on display has you actively searching for the last known location of Andy Townsend’s tactics truck, before you realise it belongs to Andy Townsend and report it to the police for being double parked.

The BBC’s coverage has such a high opinion of itself that it doesn’t realise how much of an irrelevance it is danger of becoming. Zero innovation in its presentation. The same old faces spouting the same old cliches year after year, while some bright spark at BBC Sport thinks that adding Mick McCarthy and Harry bloody Redknapp to the panel line up is in some way going to freshen things up. Motson-lite stats-obsessed commentators, most of whom deliver with that dash of social judgement on proceedings that is so unnecessary. It’s just not very good. Sky Sports may be the devil incarnate, but at least they don’t treat their viewership like a bunch of total dipshits.

America will never care about soccer in the same way that Britain does, but at least it doesn’t treat it with the same complacency as MOTD. So with that in mind, I’m off to get involved in the Banter Zone on twitter.

European Dreams

Quite a lot has been made of the decision to change the European Championships to a 24-team competition at its next incarnation in 2016, in that, on the whole, there has been quite a negative reaction. The perception is that increasing the number of teams will lead to a dilution in the quality. And after a pretty damn good summer of tournament football, it’s hard to disagree.

We had the situation where two arguably “weaker” teams hosted the tournament, thereby taking up two of the four available slots in the pool for top seeds, and thus skewing the difficulty of the group stages somewhat. Anyone trying to justify that the group of Czech Republic, Russia, Greece and Poland was similar in class to that of Germany, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands is unfortunately suffering from some kind of football-based political correctness addiction. A fairer system would be to seed host countries based on their FIFA ranking [before you say it – I know. Ed] along with everybody else; this would stop more higher ranked teams from being drawn as second seeds than seems reasonable.

Having said all that, the group stages were hugely entertaining. With most teams still having something to play for going into their final match, and no danger of a penalty shootout, hope sprung eternal (except in Ireland) and there was far less cagey doggedness than we’ve seen in recent summer football fests.

Leave it to England, of course, to supply the first 0-0 of the tournament.  Some blame has to be laid at the feet of the horribly profligate Italians (in that game), though, who really should have been home and hosed long before England bottled yet another penalty competition.

As an England fan, it is always the hope that kills you. You spend the weeks, months, even years going into an international tournament playing down your chances, saying you’re overrated, bemoaning the ridiculous nationalistic fervour driven by the tabloid media, and yet after riding your luck against the Italians, you think “maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe this is our time.” And you’re still thinking that even after the shootout begins, then boom. That’s why you’re pessimistic about England.

Spain won the thing, of course, but that there has been any debate about the merits of their playing style at all, let alone the scathing accusations of snobbery and reverse snobbery between the relevant parties is evidence enough that Spain 2008-2012 do not possess the mercurial artistry to be considered a truly timeless football team. They are a machine, a process. A particular science can only be beautiful to those who subscribe to the environs of that specific branch. For where is the artistry in a high defensive line and pressing all the way up the pitch? Where is the soul in endless unnecessary two yard passes?

Chinua Achebe observed in Morning Yet on Creation Day that “art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorised dog shit”, and though while I wouldn’t extend this harsh a criticism onto the current Spanish side, I am nonetheless forced to wonder at the circumspection of those who innately believe them to the bestest footballing side ever in the world ever ever. They’re good, yeah. But so what? Football shouldn’t be about the pursuit of scientific perfection. It’s about that feeling in your soul that you don’t get from watching other sports, even when you’re not that bothered about the participants.