The emotion of following Portsmouth FC

On October 3, 2008 by

When this European adventure started I wasn’t feeling the nerves. Last night they were in full swing as I had to sit through Portsmouth’s adventure in Portugal in the full knowledge that whatever happened I had to keep it down as all three housemates were in bed. Cue a very frantic and emotional roller coaster played out in (near) silence.

I started upstairs thinking that my room would be the best place to watch the game. Big radiator, small room, cold day, it was good on paper. The downstairs housemate was due up for work early so I knew she was already in bed at kick-off so my room upstairs was the less intrusive.

Pompey started off like a rabbit in the headlights facing the bright lights of a Bugatti Veyron. The Portuguese side were full of running, full of confidence whereas Pompey were full of lead and panic. The 3-5-2 system wasn’t working in any way, shape or form as Guimaraes were coming forward in wave after wave of attack.

It was no shock when they scored to reduce their deficit in half. Distin left his man and went for a ball that Sol Campbell was already challenging for. Unsurprisingly neither of them won the ball and it went through to the impressive Brazilian Douglas who chested/handled the ball before firing in unerringly past David James. It was game on.

Pompey tried to rally but they were still sitting far too deep. All three midfielders weren’t leaving their own half of the field. Armand Traore and Glen Johnson were more like full-backs than wing-backs and you could just sense the inevitable coming.

It finally came from a free kick given away by Diarra. The Frenchman had lost the ball in a rare foray into Guimaraes half on the field when he tried to take on one too many players. After losing the ball he went and gave away a soft free kick but it was a mile and a yard away from goal. No immediate danger here folks.

Thirty seconds later and it was 2-2 on aggregate. Joao Alves plundered a daisy cutter of a free kick from a full 40 yards only to see it go through a couple of players’ legs and end up nestling in the corner of David James’ net. Portsmouth were well and truly on the brink and something needed to be changed at half time.

Just before the interval the two housemates who reside upstairs were talking and the landing and suddenly they heard a string of expletives coming from my room. One was heard to say ‘I’m guessing there’s a football match on Neil?’ I didn’t dignify the question with an answer as I was to busy seething at our lack of any positive points.

At the half the old mobile was getting a caning with texts and calls. The general consensus was clearly that the system wasn’t working and that we needed to change to 4-4-2 and try to get at them. So when there were no personnel changes for the second 45 and the 3-5-2 was still in place my heart sunk a little bit.

By now I’d moved downstairs as they were going to bed upstairs and I knew that I needed to be as far away from women attempting to sleep as possible. I don’t think me yelling and screaming profanities would go down well as we got late into the night, during the day and for standard time evening games I get a pass but I think when the clock strikes 11 and beyond that my grace period would swiftly evaporate.

So downstairs with the living room door shut for what was the first time in months and the volume turned down I settled down to watch another 45 minutes of football. Considering I’m usually asleep by half ten (Yes I know – a 25 year-old male whose usually fast asleep by half ten – pretty sad) but we were past my bedtime and the fear of another 30 mins of Extra Time filled my body. I know that after the way the first half had gone that deep down I would’ve gladly taken another 30 mins but I was cream crackered and emotionally drained.

The second half saw Pompey’s players play with what seemed was a rocket up the jacksy. The wing-backs played further up the pitch, Traore played as a left winger pretty much and Johnson has quite an engine on him. Both of them had the beating of their respective full-backs seemingly at will but the final ball was lacking. Guimaraes looked done – they had no energy left and were out of their feet. The longer this game went on then the more it favoured the away side.

The fans started to sense this and the Pompey Chimes were ringing about the Estádio D. Afonso Henriques as they tried to sing the boys home. They were unable to do so in the 90 minutes so we went for another 30 and I started stalking up and down the living room.

My friend James and I were both in agreement that Traore had nothing left to give and had to come off. Belhadj was ready to come on but he didn’t as there were still no changes. Guimaraes started well and Joao Alves forced a fine European campaign saving save from David James. Just a minute or so later and the home side had the ball in the net but the assistant had also put his flag up.

Pompey had an escape and I felt we were going to go on and win. Then ecstasy was coming as Glen Johnson skinned his man for the umpteenth time but this time he found the final ball as well. The England right back stood up the perfect ball to the far post and Peter Crouch rose to head home and put Portsmouth ahead on accurate.

There was a beautiful camera angle showing Harry Redknapp head fresh air just as Crouch put the ball in. I did the exact same thing as I rose from my sofa and then managed to strangle my yells as I remember the sleepers who I live with. Guimaraes were done and they were never going to score twice to win this contest.

I could enjoy the second period of Extra Time safe in the knowledge that we were going through. Peter Crouch put the icing on the cake when he slammed in his second and put Pompey level on the night. This kept up Lassana Diarra’s impressive record of never having been on the losing team in a cup-tie since he moved to English football. It also sent the Pompey fans home happy.

I eventually got to bed just before one with a beaming smile on my face. Following Portsmouth has never been easy but last night was very nerve-wracking and has probably prematurely aged me by several years. When it is time for the next hair cut I suspect I will hear comments of grey hairs but that is what following a football club does for you.

Whatever happens I will always be Portsmouth no matter how many grey hairs or heart palpitations they give me – and boy do they!

Arsenal and Manchester United roll in Champions League

On October 1, 2008 by

It was the second game of the season in the Champions League for both Arsenal and Manchester United last night and both teams came through with flying colours.

Arsenal bounced back from the Hull City debacle at the weekend to tear Porto apart at the Emirates. A truly wonderful display from Arsenal who when they are on are the most beautiful club side I have ever seen. Two goals each from the two front men Van Persie and Adebayor sums up the scoring but it was just a great all round display.

Manchester United went to Danish Champions Aalborg and came away with three points, three goals but two injury concerns. Both Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney came off early with the former leaving the ground on crutches and set for six to eight weeks on the sidelines. Rooney’s injury is still though unclear.

The England striker had put the reigning English and European Champions ahead before Dimitar Berbatov scored his first and second goals for his new club. So whilst Sir Alex Fergson will be delighted at the result and performance but the big question will be at what cost did he earn those three points?

Liverpool and Chelsea keep the English flag flying tonight with Liverpool taking on PSV at home and Chelsea travelling to Romania to take on the very interesting CFR Cluj.

It’s time the FA axe Rob Styles

On September 30, 2008 by

Rob Styles has been a joke for quite a while and Ian Wright reckons that enough is enough and I agree with him.

It is time for the FA to make a move and axe Rob Styles from the Select Group list.

Misery continues for Spurs

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Spurs boss, Juande Ramos, has recently described the current situation at the North London club as “delicate” and “complicated”. Tottenham fans, however, have been slightly less tentative in their opinions. After all, the club have just made their worst start to a season for over 50 years.

They remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, with a woeful 2 points won from a possible 18. More worryingly still, the Carling Cup holders have scored just 4 goals and have conceded a total of 9. For all Ramos’ calming words, Spurs fans just need to take one glance at the Premier League table and the alarming reality really does hit home.

This weekend’s 2-0 away defeat at Portsmouth was all the more disastrous given the identity of the goal scorers. Jermain Defoe claimed the opening goal and rubbed salt in the wounds of the beleaguered Spurs fans by putting in a scintillating performance.

The former White Hart Lane favourite played like his life depended on it and displayed touches of class sorely absent from recent Tottenham performances. Ex-Spurs striker, Peter Crouch, scored Portsmouth’s second goal, condemning the North London side to defeat and increasing speculation over the future of Juande Ramos.

The boss personally believes that he will live to fight another day, expressing his desire to “recover from this very quickly”. However, he also admitted that “whether I survive is for the chairman and the board to decide”.

So where has it all gone wrong for a Spurs side that defeated a typically strong Chelsea team in last season’s Carling Cup final? One primary factor lying behind the team’s disappointing start to the season is the immense squad upheaval seen over the summer.

Ten established members of the Tottenham squad left the club to make way for nine new signings. New players such as Roman Pavlyuchennko, who scored his first goal for the club during last week’s Carling Cup victory over Newcastle, have failed to make a real impression so far. Furthermore, the club was left hugely disappointed at their failure to capture the Zenit St. Petersburg star, Andrei Arshavin.

Spurs also desperately need more cover in central defence and have failed to find a suitable replacement for Jermain Defoe. This lack of balance and depth has blighted Tottenham’s season so far and the club will need to rectify the situation when the January transfer window opens.

However, fans of the club simply cannot wait until January for their team to improve. Improvements need to be made now and the team must start picking up points as well as putting in solid performances.

Ramos needs to improve the manner in which he motivates the club’s current players, many of whom are performing with a distinct lack of drive and energy. He needs to find a way to get the best out of previously erratic players, such as former Blackburn star, David Bentley, and, finally, he needs the continued support of the fans.

This support was not evident at the Portsmouth match, with certain members of the crowd chanting derogatory comments. This attitude, whilst understandable given the unusual position the club is finding itself in, will only bring harm to the manager and to the players.

Written by Charlotte Cook

These ten things I know are true – week seven

On September 29, 2008 by

Another exciting weekend in the Premiership dominated by awful refereeing and the realisation just how Newcastle and Tottenham are. These ten things are things that I now know that I didn’t when I left my desk on Friday afternoon.

I know that Rob Styles has yet again showed that he is not a good enough referee to be making big decisions in the top flight. According to the Daily Mail he is to send an apology via e-mail to Bolton Wanderers but that isn’t good enough. Man up and call Gary Megson and tell him you screwed up – that is the least you owe him.

I know that Rob Styles wasn’t the only referee to have a bad day at the office either. Mike Riley’s handling of the Merseyside derby was poor in the extreme and the sending off of Tim Cahill was a joke. Mike Dean missed a great penalty shout for Spurs at Fratton Park and Steve Bennett’s award for a hopefully outrageous double pike and flip possibly cost Manchester City a chance of a point or three. I am a big defender of referees but they did in general have a pretty horrific weekend all in all.

I know that Hull’s win at Arsenal was the biggest surprise that the Premiership will see this season. A terrific second half performance from The Tigers saw them home and in all honesty they didn’t look like conceding after they had taken the lead. Congratulations to Phil Brown and his side – a really tremendous result.

I know that Newcastle are well and truly stuck in the brown stuff. A lacklustre display at home to Blackburn will not of impressed anyone and star player Michael Owen has come out and said that there is no confidence in the camp. I think Newcastle are genuinely in a relegation battle despite it only being six games into the season but they aren’t the only other big club down there.

I know that Tottenham Hotspur are just awful. I saw the game yesterday and with Pompey being woefully short of confidence and seeing their defence look ill at ease, it was a chance for Spurs to really get going. Instead we saw Spurs come out and play some of the worst football that I have seen in the top flight. Why the captain chose to superman the ball in the area I’ll never know but that was just stupid. Two points from six games is just not good enough and it is not a false position by any stretch of imagination.

I know that Manchester City are going to have their good days but they will also have their bad ones. Yesterday they looked distinctly average at Wigan and I have a feeling they’ll very much be a Jekyll and Hyde team until the January TW.

I know that the Merseyside Derby was rather disappointing. The game just never got going for me and I just didn’t enjoy it half as much as I thought I would. Last years game was immense and I missed it due to being on a coach travelling up to see Wigan Athletic v Portsmouth. This year I saw it and I really could’ve done something better with a rare sunny Saturday.

I know that Aston Villa impress me more week on week. An early goal against at home is disappointing but they came back and did just enough to win. That is the sign of a good side who can win even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders.

I know that my fantasy team despite looking fine to me on paper really hasn’t kicked on. Why didn’t I know about how good Zaki was going to be and just how poor Luka Modric would be in the Premiership?

And finally…

I know that Spurs fans will never forgive Sol Campbell. It has been what six or seven years since he left the Lane and yet they still screamed profanities at him all afternoon. Give it up guys, I think he’s got the message that aren’t overly fond of him.

Racism in Football

On September 25, 2008 by

Last week saw Uefa introduce a crackdown on racism. Michael Platini, president of Uefa, sent out a letter to referees and match officials, which detailed a zero-tolerance policy towards those guilty of racist behaviour.

The letter urges officials to “demonstrate no leniency whatsoever in the face of violent, racist or discriminatory behaviour” and expresses Platini’s desire to improve the tainted image of football. The zero-tolerance policy will see stewards searching stadiums prior to kick-off and during the match, looking for offensive banners or behaviour. As well as the letter from Platini, match referees and officials were presented with a handbook that explicitly depicts the symbols and phrases used by extremist groups.

The policy is the latest move from Uefa to combat racism. Since becoming president of the organisation, Platini has made it clear that fighting discriminatory behaviour is top of his agenda, stating that “we have an obligation to combat this phenomenon through demonstrations and development programmes”.

During the summer, Uefa introduced a new set of regulations governing discipline, which all teams at national and club level must obey. If clubs break these rules, they face a minimum fine of nearly £16,000. Fans of the club may also be prevented from watching the matches. This is not only annoying for the fans but can also have a detrimental impact upon the performance of the team, since most players are motivated, to some extent, by the crowd.

Furthermore, if a club repeatedly offends, they may be docked points and, in extreme cases, may be disqualified from the competition. Prior to the start of Euro 2008, Platini also encouraged referees to stop matches in the event of an incident of racism or discriminatory behaviour.

The latest steps from Uefa were timed to coincide with the return of the Champions League and are especially relevant given the recent abuse of Emile Heskey at the hands of racist Croatian football fans. The FA lodged an official complaint with Fifa following the behaviour of sections of the crowd at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb. Heskey, who had to endure monkey chants throughout the World Cup qualifying match, has been the victim of racist behaviour before whilst playing for his country.

Perhaps the most shocking examples of such behaviour came during the England friendly against Spain in 2004. Every time England’s black players, including Heskey, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Ashley Cole, touched the ball, they were taunted with horrendous racist chants. The Spanish Football Federation was fined £44,750 by Fifa and the organisation warned that repeat abuse would be dealt with seriously.

This punishment was seen as far too lenient by many, including Kick It Out, the anti-racism campaign group. Piara Powar, the director of Kick It Out, was quoted at the time as saying “this is no worse than a slap on the wrist…The Spanish FA have been given a yellow card, not the red that many would have expected”.

Given the criticism levelled at Fifa in the past, as well as the new approach from Uefa, it will be interesting to see how they respond to this latest incident.

Written by Charlotte Cook

El Toon?

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Terry Venables has the option to make a stunning return to top flight management with the glamorous role as manager of Newcastle United.

The North East club who are pretty much dying a death need to do something to alleviate the fears of the fans who saw the club drift to a fourth straight defeat last night. Things haven’t been right on the Toon for quite a while and the departure of their King has not helped. In the weeks since Keegan and the club parted company the waters have been stormy to say the least.

Mike Ashley is ready and willing to sell up and is actively looking for an escape from the club. However as a businessman of some repute he knows that he can’t leave the ship rudderless for too long otherwise his investment will go down in value. He needs a new manager to steady the club and steer it through these rocky times.

The man who has been chosen is Terry Venables. The former Spurs, England, Australia and Leeds manager has been sounded out about the position and has promised to give the club a response today.

Personally I don’t think the Toon fans will be openly receptive to the move but on the other hand they know something has to be done. In an ideal world they would want Keegan back or at the very least Shearer installed but neither of them are coming back whilst Mike Ashley is in charge so they have to look elsewhere for a manager to save their season.

It may just be five games in but things are already looking pretty bad for the Toon. The team looks poor and as traditional for the team, the defence looks shambolic. Whether El Tel is the man to save them is unknown but something has to be done otherwise Newcastle might go back to where they were before Keegan came in first time around.

Horror tackle mars Carling Cup Tuesday

On September 24, 2008 by

The Carling Cup saw the big boys enter last night and whilst there were some upsets (Rotherham beating Southampton, West Ham getting knocked off by Watford) and there was the Welsh derby last night as Swansea beat Cardiff thanks to a deflected free-kick in a game that was marred by trouble afterwards but it was the horror tackle by Middlesbrough’s Emanuel Pogatetz on Manchester United youngster Rodrigo Possebon.

I watched the incident this morning on Sky Sports News and have to admit it wasn’t pretty – not by any stretch of the imagination. There can be no defence for the player who looked absolutely stunned when the referee flashed a straight red in his direction. It was two footed, off the ground and studs showing. It was just how you’d draw my a leg breaking tackle in a diagram.

"It was an absolutely terrible tackle," enraged a less than happy Sir Alex Ferguson.

"What gets me about challenges like that is that the opponent always claims he has done nothing wrong."

He has a point as well. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Pogatetz knew it was a bad one and that he deserved to go – yet he acted like it was the biggest injustice that had ever befallen a footballer. It really rankles with me that he acted that way.

I’ll give Gareth Southgate a lot of credit for not arguing it at all and having no complaints. I wonder if Pogatetz will apologise today after he’s seen the replays of the incident. I hope so and he elects to make a giant slice of humble pie and speaks to the player he hurt himself.

Goal that never was – who is to blame?

On September 22, 2008 by

On Saturday we witnessed one of the most bizarre incidents of this fledgling season or any season for that matter. We saw a goal awarded when the ball went nowhere near the goal – what exactly happened?

Whilst laying on my bed watching Gillette Soccer Saturday on Saturday strangely enough – Kammy went mental at the goings on in his game. He claimed that Reading had ‘scored a goal that was never a goal but was a goal’ – you have to love that man. However not until you actually see what happened does all become clear.

Sadly Youtube have already pulled all the videos with the Football League having claimed copyright infringement. For those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it, basically it was a corner to Reading, the ball swung in and came off a Watford defender. A Reading player tried to keep the ball in as it bounced about three yards wide of the post – at this point the assistant flagged for a goal and as the players jogged back expecting a goal kick – they were stunned when after a bit of a chin-wag – the youngest ever top flight referee gave the goal.

There are those that lay the blame solely at the feet of Nigel Bannister the assistant who flagged but I’m not one of them. However it looks like the head of the Professional Game Match Officials board does and plans to let Stuart Attwell escape sanction.

The referee has to be accountable for his actions when all is said and done. He would’ve known that it wasn’t a goal and yet despite this he went with the word of his assistant. I know they are there to help the referee out but sometimes the man in the middle has to take charge. I look forward to the referee lists this week to see where he ends up.

These ten things I know are true – week six

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After another weekend with a ‘big four’ clash – we look at some more things that I know now that I didn’t when I left my desk late on Friday afternoon.

I know that Chelsea let the chance slip to really put the hammer down and put Manchester United in a big hole. The home side were without Deco who got injured in the warm-up but still looked by far the better side despite going behind early. An equaliser was always coming and when it did they looked like they could kick on and take the three points, however it wasn’t to be.

I know that Sir Alex Ferguson will be very happy to come away from Stamford Bridge with a point. He made a lot of noise about going there and recording victory, which he would’ve liked but when all was said and done – leaving London with the same deficit as they arrived isn’t a bad result.

I know that Chelsea fans still don’t get Nicolas Anelka and that Nicolas Anelka just doesn’t get Chelsea. He has never looked like he has truly found his feet at the club and yet again missed a great chance on Sunday. Joe Cole laid a goal on the plate of the sulky Frenchman only to see the striker let the ball go between his legs with the goal gaping.

I know that whilst 6-0 is a pretty immense scoreline, that it flattered Manchester City somewhat. Sometimes you just have one of those games and boy did Portsmouth have one of those on Sunday afternoon. I sat through the whole thing like the masochist that I am as I saw Robinho and Shaun Wright-Phillips run riot and tear my beloved Pompey apart. That is twice this season Pompey haven’t been at the races which must be a worry for the manager, however as a fan you just shrug and move on.

I know that Liverpool won’t win the Premiership title. Well in all fairness I knew this well before they failed to breakdown Stoke City at home but I thought it was a biggie so I have thrown it in. They may have had a whopping 27 efforts on goal but apart from the free kick that went in directly that was correctly chalked off for offside – they never looked like actually putting the ball into the net.

I know that Robbie Keane is the next Peter Crouch at Anfield. When Liverpool signed Crouch he took an age to score but quickly became a fans favourite for his effort. When he did finally break his deadlock against Wigan the home crowd breathed a giant sigh of relief. When Keane does it’ll be a similar scenario. The £20.3million signing from Spurs has played well and got into the right positions but the ball just hasn’t fallen for him. It’ll come Robbie, it’ll come.

I know that Arsenal’s ten minute spell after Bolton took the lead in their encounter on Saturday evening was one of the best spells of football I have ever had the joy to witness. They tore Bolton apart with crisp free-flowing attacking football and hit the post twice before they got the equaliser. They took the lead not 90 seconds later with a quite sublime move that ended up with Nicklas Bendtner slotting home. Those ten minutes would’ve easily been worth the journey and cost for the travelling supporters.

I know that Spurs have serious problems. I was one of those that thought they would end up safely in mid-table but seriously they aren’t a very good side. I know we are only five games into the season but still no league wins is a worry and they travel down to Fratton Park next Sunday. This is quite quickly moving from a concern to a worry for Juande Ramos and his staff.

I know that the Toon are in a similar boat to Spurs on the pitch. Whilst Spurs have money and stability, Toon’s chairman is desperate to sell up and the home fans are hounding him out of town. However despite these differences behind the scenes, they both look like relegation candidates that need to start becoming gritty and have the ability to nick results.

And finally…

I know that it was wonderful to hear Ian Darke commentate on a big match. The Midlands derby between West Brom and Aston Villa was a thoroughly entertaining game which Darke gave full justice too. He was paired with Dion Dublin for what was as far as I know his co-commentating debut. After a wobbly start, Dublin grew into the role and was guided through the game by the consummate professional Darke. I wonder if the powers that be at Sky are planning on giving them more games?