Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Yawn, yawn.............then one glorious goal by the Liverpool Towers

Aston Villa v Liverpool in that yawning gap between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, and in the evening, at that, ko 8.45, UK time. It was a keen contest in a snow storm for a good deal of the time. Speccy Martin O'Neill braving the chill in his tracksuit and gloves to show himself to his team and remind then never to falter. Bunty Benitez in his shelter looking twitchy. At 0-0 they go into added-on time and guess what? Who is going to score? Which player needs only a chance, a small space, and can hit the ball without a falter?

There was a tired players episode of table football, the ball bouncing off one player or another but close to the Aston Villa goal. A fair-haired striker without his Alice Band today is in a space on the edge of the box as the ball comes to him. One touch and across the advancing goalkeeper Friedel, the ball travels along the turf and crosses the line just inside the goalpost. 1-0 to Liverpool. The final whistle. O'Neill is on his knees. Benitez in his box does a few tries at confident twitches as if he knew what was going to happen all along.

The long yawn was stifled. Torres ('Towers' in Spanish) provided the moment that made it all worthwhile.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Great Players make Great Games - in Double Quick Time

On Sunday 27th December, 2009, I slept through most of the Arsenal v Aston Villa match on television, the 3rd and 4th teams in the English Premier League. I woke up to a 0-0 score line with Fabregas just starting as a sub in the second half. What followed was the best 28 minutes I have seen this season and maybe ever. He scored from a devastating free kick, curling it over the line of opponents into the far side of the goal which they were defending. He followed this by masterminding continuous attacks on the Villa goal and ended by a dash into space to score his second. In doing this he aggravated the hamstring injury, the reason for his starting on the bench. He was then substituted but had already done enough to be the Man of the Match and the master of his trade in an appearance lasting less than half an hour.
The Sky Television pundit Jamie Redknapp whose garrulous comments often contain some gems - probably overheard from his Dad, Harry, the Tottenham manager - gave me the first part of the title of this piece.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Cool foot Frank

We already know the bazaar qualities of the English Premier League with flashy foreign imports which often don't work, eg Robinho. This weekend the EPL showed some bizarre qualities.

Bizarre item 1
On Saturday Manchester United had the chance to catch up on points with Chelsea by winning at Fulham. The three points would have brought them level with a faltering Chelsea - with only one win in the last three matches. With many defenders injured and unavailable, experienced manager Ferguson chose midfielders Carrick and Fletcher alongside regular full-back, Evra, and reserve team player De Laet as a back four. Man U lost 3-0. Why, with 9 reserve defenders, did the manager not choose two more of them? This is one of the sports where the young have no fear. They may be less-experienced in big matches but would be orientated to defending. Carrick's instinct is to pass the ball forward. He followed his instinct early on, a short pass forward to Scholes, who lost the ball to Murphy, the Fulham captain, who ran forward and scored. Carrick was too near his own goal to play a short pass but his instincts tricked him. Would a trained defender have done this?

Bizarre item 2
On Sunday, the day after Man U 's defeat, Chelsea had the opportunity  to go 6 points ahead at the top of the table. They were playing West Ham at the bottom of the table. What did they do? They drew, 1-1, and were lucky to do so. They were slow, unimaginative, dull and toothless. They should have lost - particularly as there could have been a penalty for the Hammers when Carvalho of Chelsea jumped on the back of a West Ham player as the ball arrived in the goal mouth from a corner. Chelsea drew level through a penalty when the referee, nearer the players, deferred to the linesman further away over a tackle by Upson. Video replays show it as a risky but successful tackle. Anyway, Cool Hand Frank (F. Lampard) took over and scored from the spot. Whistle, confusion, disallowed: Chelsea players in the box before the kick was taken. Frank takes it again, different part of the goal, scores. Whistle, confusion, disallowed: Chelsea players in the box again. Frank runs up again, and scores at the other side of the goal. Whistle, referee points to centre circle. Goal!
Frank Lampard, playing for Chelsea F.C.Image via Wikipedia

Three penalties for the price of one. Bazaar qualities as well as bizarre? But how cool was that from Frank?

In a live interview immediately after the match, asked about how he felt while going through the penalty ordeal, Lampard said, "I could have done without that!" A great understatement. So refreshing, after the boyish blokes who whip off their shirts and glory about the pitch just for doing their job. In contrast,  this was a real professional!

Thanks to Frank, Chelsea got a point they did not deserve and now stand 4 points ahead of Man U at the top of the table -  having bizzarely won only one of their last four games, and that was close, against bottom of the table  Portsmouth. (Permission for the continued use of the photo of Lampard has been requested by e-mail. The photographer was Aleksandr Mysyakin for Soccer.ru)

Bizarre item 3
Mark Hughes, manager of Manchester City, whose 4-3 win against Sunderland at home was televised by Sky, was sacked after the match. Roberto Mancini, whom the former Chelsea manager, Jose Maurinho, replaced at Inter Milan, took over. Hughes with the camera on him during the match claims he did not know he was being sacked until it was over. In post match punditry on television I heard the remark," Won't this treatment (of Hughes) deter young English players from going into management?"
Roberto Mancini
Like hell it will! Wait until we hear the amount of the pay-off. Hughes will never need to work again, but of course he will. And the next time no doubt he will be chosen by those who run the club and put their money into it. Unlike the Manchester City job where he was the sitting manager when new owners came in with huge funds to spend. He had the wonderful experience of spending it for them. The forlorn experience on the pitch and under the cameras for his last game will soon be forgotten. But it was bizarre viewing as the television screen switched from yet another goal by Sunderland and then the figure of the man in the overcoat on the touchline. Mercifully, Hughes was saved from a final touch of humiliation when his team did actually win!

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Monday, 14 December 2009

Glorious goals v Street-Wise ploys; "Nice" v Naughty

Saturday's match at Anfield with Liverpool at home to Arsenal ended with a win for the away team by 2 goals to 1. Arsenal's Arshavin struck like the proverbial cobra to provide one of those glorious goals that he and other people will remember because it was so economical in action and so far out of reach of goalkeeper Reina.

Of course, there should have been penalties, one in front of the referee when Gallas with the curious habit of tackling with his back-turned to both the direction of the ball and the opponent, unsurprisingly tripped a Liverpool player in the box. It would be interesting to know the referee's reason for letting it go. "Just clumsy," is surely not good enough particularly as it seemed to be Gallas's style of tackle. He did it on at least one other occasion.

I watched  Match of the Day on Sunday morning. The pundits were the two Alans: Shearer, a former forward, and Hansen, a former defender, and the defender it was who drew attention to an incident seemingly incidental to the footage of an Arsenal attack repulsed by Liverpool. "Did you notice Carragher's arm," he said. The video picks up the moment again as Arshavin and Carragher stand almost side by side facing the Arsenal goal some yards inside the Liverpool half. Carragher's arm is held out like an insect's feeler behind Arshavin's back. Its purpose, of course, was to act as an alarm signal if Arshavin suddenly turned to run past him - which he did as the attack began. "Street-wise," Hansen proudly pointed out, "Carragher has been around a long time!"

Another glorious goal this last weekend happened in the match Stoke v Wigan, result 2-2. The referee blew for a free-kick to Wigan for a foul on the left wing inside the Wigan half. "It could be Goal of the Season," said Hansen as the video showed Figueroa take the kick, a long ball over the penalty box - Sorensen out of his goal - and into the net. "Now watch," says smart Alan as the video restarts to illustrate his point. We see that just before the free-kick a Stoke player moves past the stationary ball. "Put your foot on it," says Hansen who went on to make it clear that the quick-witted and  'street-wise' player like himself  would have delayed the taking of the free-kick to allow his team-mates more time to get into position behind the ball. He would have done it simply by standing with his foot on the ball so that the kick could not be taken. We have all seen this done. The referee has to chase the offending player away with the threat of a yellow card or punish him immediately with one. In the latter case even more time can be taken up.

If this had happened Figueroa's glorious spontaneous goal that he will remember for the rest of his life would have been aborted. No chance of  making 'Goal of the Season'! But now it might.

Sorensen, by the way, saved a penalty from Rodallega to balance his account. It reminded me that I failed to turn up for the matches last week and did not report on other penalty saves. There were missed penalties from Arsenal's Fabregas, Tottenham's Defoe and, his first miss "since 2006" (commentator comment), Chelsea's Lampard.

For reports on the two matches mentioned please follow the links.



Monday, 30 November 2009

Take your partners for the twist

My blogs have already affected the professional game as seen on television. In two games this weekend plus extracts on Match of the Day I didn't notice any shirt pulling or holding. In fact, the match at Portsmouth against Man Utd was a revelation in the war to ridicule shirt pulling. Why? Well, the referee awarded a penalty to Portsmouth signalling apparently that it was for such an incident. The penalty was taken and Portsmouth scored their only goal of the match - which they lost 4-1. Television revue programmes including BBC's Match of the Day could find no footage of shirts being pulled by the Man Utd players defending a high ball into the box. Vidic and crew were not doing it. Hard to believe, but obviously the opinions of this blog are being respected.

However, when one style of cheating declines then another appears or reappears. Two very clear examples of another cheating trick shown on Sky Sports 1's coverage of the Arsenal v Chelsea match would have each warranted a penalty kick if the referee had seen them. The first was by Arsenal's Sagna on Chelsea's Anelka who seemed to get past the Arsenal player and then fell down. Sagna's arm had gone around Anelka's waist from behind and then pulled backward to rotate Anelka's hips from the front. This overbalances a player moving forward, or striving to do so. Or if it doesn't overbalance him for that reason, the shock of being so intimately interfered with is also likely to do so.

This cheating twist was not the only one of its kind from this team. The second one was performed by Vermaelen the Arsenal defender when John Terry, the Chelsea captain, came into the penalty area for a free-kick taken by Lampard. After the Chelsea attack was successfully cleared by Arsenal, the cameras were able to show one reason why. Vermaelen had done the same as Sagna, the arm from behind encircles the waist then the hand at the front pulls backwards. Terry spun without falling but then Vermaelen hung on to Terry trying to spin him again. You could call it the Arsenal Twist or even Waltz if you like! Again the referee did not see it. And of course, if you asked Mr Wenger, the Arsenal manager, then he would not have seen it either. But he will tonight or tomorrow when he looks at the footage.

I hope that this experienced manager of the Arsenal team will say that this practised cheating must stop? (Well, isn't it practised, two players using it?) Instead, he will probably point out the incident when the ball was kicked a few inches in front of Chelsea's Cech's nose by Eduardo, Arsenal, and the fact that the referee disallowed the goal which followed. The referee saw it as 'dangerous play'. And another incident when Vela went stiff-legged and fell after a tackle in the box by a Chelsea player. This was a possible penalty to Arsenal except that Vela was waiting for it to happen, it seemed, and the referee is likely to see the false fall rather than the tackle.

It was a great match. The flair and movement of the Arsenal players being in the end contained by the strength and skill of the Chelsea team. The result of this gladiatorial contest full of dash and passion was Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3. But what do the players caught on camera feel when they see themselves performing the lower level skills? Shame or pride?

I am a Chelsea fan but I hope that I have been reasonable in my comments. There is no team completely free of cheating and I have pointed out examples of unfair play by Chelsea players.
Example from an October blog:
Why do professionals pull each others shirts? John Terry, captain of England, pulls the shirt of an opponent instead of trying to get to the ball himself. If the captain of the national team does it then it is open to all. All the footballers and all the kids at school.

I hope that my team have not learned any bad habits from their latest game.

Click for a full match report from The Daily Telegraph

Click here for the full match report from The Guardian

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Not Rocket Science!

Watching Porto v Chelsea last night on our 28" television, I kept looking for Ballack. He is a big man, over six feet. Dark hair, good looking athlete. I knew that he was supposed to be playing from pre-match information. It was a Champions League Group match which Chelsea won 1-0. I thought it was him once when a Chelsea player approaching the Porto penalty area received and then passed the ball. The commentator didn't mention it. And if it was him I was not able to identify him again until he was substituted. I realise that I have watched many matches without identifying Ballack. Over several seasons. The next day when he is praised in the press I think ....where was he? Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming Ballack, he may well have had a good game. But to the television spectator he is just a nameless figure representing Chelsea. Like plenty of others.

Commentators don't just comment. They are also identifiers! Interpreters of the screen made of dots of colour. Get real! I know we have huge screens, but the shapes we see are only in two dimensions and only centimetres high in distance shots. My familiarity with a shape will surely develop given time spent watching the shape. But only if it is identified. I want to know who I am watching. Remember the radio? The commentator tells you who has the ball.

On my television, on a large screen, not on a small flickering postcard-sized 1960's meccano-set - when a minute figure picks up a pass in the centre near the penalty box I might be able to tell it is Drogba.  I have a fair idea of Drogba's shape. I think, "Shoot, Drogba, you world-beater you!" And I shout. "Let's have a goal Droggers, old son!
Then the lackey of a commentator says, "Lampard puts another shot wide."
He tells us who had the ball but only when the emotion it conjures has gone.

(Note:This was another match, not last night's; Lampard has put quite a lot of shots wide this so far this season, but in fact last night he was somewhere foreign having placenta treatment on his knee/thigh! How mad is that?)

And have you noticed how much more difficult it is to recognise players on screen WHEN THEY ARE WEARING THE AWAY STRIP? John Terry in the Chelsea blue is instantly recognisable, except in the very long shots. Put him in pink and you have no clue at all who it is. Last night Chelsea were in a kind of white but not England white. Chelsea also have grey shirts and black ones. This all adds to the confusion of who actually is playing, kicking, dribbling, tripping, diving, pulling shirts and taking throw-ins. The commentator is struck mute on this subject most of the time. But he is supposed to be at the match looking at real players and interpreting the game.

For corners and free-kicks you usually get a close-up shot and I can recognise the player - by the 30th game of the season when I have seen him in blue for a few matches, that is. Why don´t the commentators make sure we have the vital information: who the bloody hell has the ball? We can see figures on the pitch and the size of the crowd and all the adverts, come to that. We can see lots of irrelevant information on the screen BUT we want to know the name of the one WHO HAS THE BALL, and the name of the one who has it next, and so on.

Cech throws the ball to Ashley Cole who strokes it forward to Malouda .. Ballack .. Lampard .. Anelka .. Ivanovich coming forward .. Joe Cole  .. BALLACK (there he is)..Drogba .. on his back .. gets up .. unbelievable .. and shoots.

"It's a goal", shouts the commentator. "Drogba has scored a magnificent goal!"

It is not rocket science!
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Friday, 20 November 2009

Fair Play and Replay: the French qualification for World Cup, 2010

The situation described in the last blog continues in the news: Thierry Henry's handling of the ball leading directly to a goal for France by Gallas. ( See below this piece)
               Apres vous Monsieur Duff. Non, apres vous, mon cher Thierry

A replay would be unwise, and possibly farcical, indignant as I am about the injustice to the Irish brought about by unfair play. They rose magnificently to the occasion and then were denied (well, not quite, they still had to score another goal in order to qualify on away goals). Clearly, the player is responsible. Henry said after the match that he did handle the ball but it was the referee's job to spot it, not his duty to point it out. This attitude reminds me of the lack of honesty in other walks of life where highly-paid professionals put themselves beyond the normal rules of reasonable conduct. The attitude of: "If we think we can get away with it, let's do it!". I am sure you can think of recent examples in banking and politics.

A replay goes into uncertain ground. There are so many incidents in a football match that are not judged correctly because the referee cannot see everything. The uncertainty of judging offsides, corners, handballs in general, and the institutionally endemic cheating such as shirt-pulling and pretending to be tripped (diving) are also difficult for referees to judge correctly. There was at least one corner and probably an offside that the referee may have got wrong in the match under discussion.

Fair play means, very simply, that the players should play fairly. The referee's job is to adjudicate situations where two teams of eleven individuals simultaneously co-operating and competing, inadvertently but sometimes intentionally, do not follow the rules of the game. To do this he needs the players to cooperate; why not? It is the players who must play fair. Everyone knows that the referee cannot see everything.

But, the very thought of the TV-soap drama of a replay makes me excited and want it to happen. Would Henry even play? Would it have to be on neutral ground? Would the crowd be vetted beforehand as if boarding an aircraft? Would the players feel like it was a real match? Imagine that the ball flies up in front of the French goal and an Irish player just cannot, cannot ....... stop himself from poking at the ball with a finger. It goes into the net! Goal! Goal! Goal

It would be wonderful on TV. And very difficult to resist!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Excuse me, but did the ball hit your hand?

France go through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year after a disputed goal saw them defeat a valiant Republic of Ireland team last night with an aggregate score of 2-1. The score on the night was 1-1, the French goal came after the ball hit the hand of Thierry Henry before he passed it along the goal line for Gallas to head it into the net from very close range. In the build-up, following a free-kick to France, Henry and another French player seemed to be offside. Understandably, the Irish team feel robbed. They were!

The Italian manager of the Republic side is reported today in The Guardian as saying:
"I prefer that we'd have gone out on penalties and I am sad because the referee had time to ask the linesman and also to ask Henry. He should have done that and I am sure Henry would have confirmed that he had handled. It wouldn't be the first time that a referee asks a player whether it was or it wasn't. It wouldn't have been out of place to ask. This is not good for fair play. I have been to schools many times to talk about fair play. I tell the young children that it's so important in life. This is a bitter evening for us."

Henry admitted after the match that the ball hit his hand but felt it was not his role to come forward at the time. If he had been asked, then I am sure he would have admitted it.

What is wrong with the common sense of asking the player?

Full article from The Guardian

The words of the manager of the Irish team reminds me of  my own words in earlier blogs about getting children involved in showing how to play fair, to shame the adults.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Astro Turf? Today's final play-off for World Cup, 2010 in Paris

The Republic of Ireland v France at 7.30 tonight in Paris where France go into the match with a 1-0 lead from the first round is the subject of this marvellous put-down of astrology in today's Guardian.


The French team's weakness is the manager, Domench, says the writer. Apparently Domenech has claimed that the Republic team is an England B team! It should be some match tonight.
A World Cup without France would look strange, but Ireland's presence would be a marvellous compensation.

And if you ever need to convince anyone of the absurd nature of astrology, read this piece.

An association of football with astrology is a gem!!

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Half expectations

I went along to the pub to watch a match on television yesterday, Sunday, afternoon. It was half time when I arrived, the score on the screen was 0-0. I was quite pleased with that! For me the match would just be starting. I might have missed the dramas of offsides, shots scraping the woodwork, disputed non-penalties, and other referee antics. But I had not missed any real meat. In the pub the sound track from the television is unhearable above the more urgent banter of the customers. There was no chance of finding out what had happened in the first half. But it didn't matter much.

The teams come out, the home team in blue, the away boys in black. I rub my hands, here we go. The boys in black must be up for it to justify their transfer fees and huge wages.  In the 12th game of the season surely the next 45 minutes would see them really gel. A sip from my beer and I settled down to enjoy myself. Soon there's a penalty to the underdogs. 1-0 will really make the expensive boys in black step up the pace; bring it on. A veteran penalty-taker for his country, McFadden struck the ball. Too close to the keeper, Given dived to make an easy save.
And that was the end of the drama. Nothing else to report. Except, very near the end, a blue player who must have been lying on the field near the touchline suddenly sprung to his feet and raised his arm to a throw-in by an opponent. Hand-ball. Red Card! Off goes the Birmingham player. Poor guy must have been so bored he lay down and then felt he had get up and do something. The final whistle went. Birmingham 0 Manchester City 0.

'Why am I still here?'
 I finished my half-pint.
At the ridiculous price of £1.50.
Is there any way I can get my money back?

Sunday, 18 October 2009

A lot of balls

Bent of Sunderland scored on Saturday against Liverpool. His shot was on the way to the left of Reina, the Liverpool goalkeeper. Then it hit a red beachball that had been thrown on to the pitch just moments before. The path of Bent's shot bent even further to the left of Reina and went into the net. Reina was rooted to the spot, his eyes following the track of the red beachball which went to his right and also into the net. He almost dived at it. Replays show how distracted he was. The referee awarded a goal and all the hardened professionals, commentators, and experts around the place accepted this decision at the time.

I couldn't believe it. It did not seem fair, surely it need not be accepted as a goal. And it if was a goal, then should it have been two goals at once?

Suddenly, I could see the future. At every match from now onwards there would be a lot of balls thrown on to the pitch by supporters hoping to intercede with the trajectory of shots at goal. Or the trajectory of balls going for corners, goal-kicks, or anywhere at all. What was the referee thinking of?

You see lots of arguments involving players, their managers and the match officials about incidents on the field. This goal incident seemed barely contentious at all. Nobody it seemed knew enough to gainsay the referee at the time or even in comment just after the match. Only later did I read what seemed to make sense.

The referee was in error and should not have allowed the goal. Instead there should have been a bounced ball on the spot where the collision of the red beachball with the real football took place. An 'outside object' had interfered with the course of play.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

You pull mine and I'll pull yours and other small matters

Why do professionals pull each others shirts? John Terry, captain of England, pulls the shirt of an opponent instead of trying to get to the ball himself. If the captain of the national team does it then it is open to all. All the footballers and all the kids at school.

The problem is that each player knows he will be cheated by opponents pulling his shirt, illegally preventing him from showing what he can do. So players pull opponents off balance in premature retaliation! And the poor referee has the unpopular option of penalising every incident, slowing the game down by adding maybe 10 free-kicks to a match, and those are just the incidents that he can see. I myself saw at least 5 shirt-pulls and I was far away watching on television in Spain. There is little option for the players the way things are. Do as you would be done by does not work in professional sport.

Why don't the kids do something? They don't get paid for playing for the school do they? So what have they got to lose? Why don't the school teams cut out the shirt pulling? And why not the diving as well? They should set an example. The kids don't have much respect for adults these days so why don't they provide a model.

Watching the England v Belarus on television last night from Wembley, I put the shirt pulling aside and watched how the small players, Lennon and Wright-Phillips, were able to scuttle around the bigger guys. When they were knocked down they were up again in the same movement. Crouch, at 6' 7'', who scored two goals, always looks like he is defying natural forces to get at the ball. Even at heading where he starts closer to the ball, he is not a force. By the way, did you notice how high Wright-Phillips can jump? He was up there with the Belarus goalkeeper at one point, head to head, for a cross from the right. The referee was so surprised he blew for a foul for impeding the goalkeeper.

Suppose Fabio Capello, the England manager, chose a team of the smallest players available to him. Would England have a better chance of winning the World Cup with such a squad? And do you know who would probably get in that squad? David Beckham!

Just give him a few months to adapt. I think he is already on to something in trying to look like a small garden gnome with the help of that beard.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Goal Kick

I was reminded of the goal kick when I saw a video of a penalty kick on YouTube yesterday.

Way back when Kenny Bainbridge took his goal kick there was no video, of course, to record it. And the goal kick was not a goal kick in the normal sense of the word.

It was Saturday afternoon; Kirk Merrington Home Guards v East Howle Village in the Ferryhill and District League. Two boys were standing on the line beside the goal. In fact Kenny was leaning on a goal post, and Harry Blackberry was right next to him. Kenny was eleven, a year older than Harry. The match was on the school field at Kirk Merrington.  There were a few adults near them and a few more on the touchline. Not a bad crowd, maybe 30 people, relatives of the players and school kids like the two mentioned.

They chatted a bit with our goalie, George Howe. A tall twenty year old, who worked at Dean Bank colliery in Ferryhill. A good darts player and he looked great in his green goalkeeper's jersey. Just like Frank Swift, the England goalie.

East Howle were attacking: shouts and the thunk of a solid kick at the ball. It was a good ground shot about to cross the line out of George's diving reach near the post. The same post against which Kenny was leaning. It looked like a goal to East Howle when something happened. Two things are important in order to understand the next split second. One: there were no goal nets, not that it would have made much difference. Two: Kenny was wearing a pair of new boots, workman's boots with steel toe caps, that he was very proud of.

Suddenly, Kenny's booted right foot appeared with its toe on the goal line at the other side of the post from where he was standing. The football hit his boot and bounced outward back into play. What had been a great shot by the opposition's centre forward didn't cross the line because of Kenny's steel toe cap. What happened next around Kenny and me is just a blur. The angry howls of the East Howle players, the cross face of the referee certainly, but what I remember most was the praise of the home supporters. Kenny was a hero, and Harry too, by association, standing next to him.

Now for the penalty kick that I saw on YouTube:

Follow this link.


I regret to say that the video has been removed
because of 'terms of use violation'. It showed players waiting around with the ball on the spot for a penalty kick to be taken in a match in Russia. On to the screen comes a spectator, takes the kick, and puts the ball cleanly past the surprised goalie. 

This spectator intervention in a football match reminded me of Kenny and his new boots.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Elsie, the brave

Today, Saturday 26th September, at Ipswich many emotional associations with football came together in a moving moment before the kick-off. The match was Ipswich Town v Newcastle United. Newcastle were lying second in the Championship and Ipswich second from the bottom without a win this season thus far. Sir Bobby Robson had managed both teams in his long enthusiasm for football.

Earlier in the week a thanksgiving service in Durham Cathedral for the late Sir Bobby took place. Testimonials to this great man who put his life on the line and in the news for so long for the game that he loved were made while millions watched on television. The occasion and what it represented was movingly described by Paul Hayward in The Guardian.

A powerful picture from today will always be in my mind: one of the spectators at the match was Elsie, Bobby's widow, Lady Robson, , remaining composed while 'Abide with Me' was sung with the television cameras on her. Her pride in the admiration that had been shown for her late husband must have given her that extra strength she needed.

'Abide with Me', sung before every F.A. Cup final, provides one of those goose-pimple moments in football every year. This was an extra and a special one for this year. How hard it must have been for her to stand up bravely through it; but she did it. What a grand performance! Very well played, Lady Robson! May I call you 'Elsie'?

Ipswich then lost 0-4 to Newcastle. This is the result he would have preferred, I think. He won the old First Division as manager of Ipswich but came from the north-east. A coal-miner's son, and a Newcastle supporter from a boy. He managed Newcastle for 5 years from 1999 to 2004 bringing two years of Champions' League football to Tyneside. The associations are too strong to doubt where his heart was.