Monday, 24 April 2017

We All Follow United: A Tiding Of Magpies

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self shall say this but only once - and rather quietly - dear blog reader. Because karma is, as we all know, a right bloody bitch. And because gloating is so common and unbecoming. Most of the time.

When this blogger's favourite football team first gained entry into the equivalent of what is, now, the English Football League Championship (it was called the Second Division in them far-off days), they looked like this. And William Ewart Gladstone was the Prime Minister of Great Britain and her empire.
When this blogger's favourite football team first won promotion to the top division of English football - four years later - they looked like this. And, at the Battle of Omdurman, British and Egyptian troops led by Horatio Kitchener (he needed you) defeated Sudanese tribesmen led by Khalifa Abdullah al-Taashi. Who didn't like it up 'em, apparently.
Staying in the First Division for the next thirty five years (they actually won the damn thing four times, the last one in 1927) and, then, having got themselves relegated for the first time, they spent fifteen years back down among the dead men of the second tier. (Admittedly, this included all of World War II during which time football wasn't, exactly, the first thing on most people's minds.) The next occasion that this blogger's favourite football team won promotion, they looked like this. And, the actor and comedian Ronnie Barker, aged nineteen, had just made his stage debut in the play Quality Street at the County Theatre in Aylesbury.
Thirteen years of, very successful, top flight football followed (during which time, United won the FA Cup three times in five years) before another disastrous relegation occurred in 1961. Thus, the next time this blogger's favourite football team won promotion, they looked like this. And, the popular Merseyside beat combo The Be-Atles (you might've heard of them) made their second movie, Help! ... whilst stoned out of their collective gourd for the majority of the time on 'herbal jazz cigarettes.'
Another thirteen year itch followed - during which time, The Magpies won their last major trophy - the Inter City Fairs Cup, in 1969 - before another, largely self-inflicted and thoroughly depressing relegation campaign. The next time this blogger's favourite football team won promotion, they looked like this. And, the comedian Tommy Cooper collapsed and died on stage from a heart attack during a live televised show, Live from Her Majesty's.
It didn't last long, however, and five years later they were back in the Second Division (and, in serious financial trouble due in no small part to signing far too many ridiculously overpaid, lazy waste-of-space gutless cowards). But, a quasi-revolution was about to be sparked thanks to the acquisition of a talismanic leader. The next time this blogger's favourite football team won promotion, they looked like this. And, three members of the popular beat combo One Direction were in the process of being born.
An exciting decade followed with five top four finishes in the Premier League (including twice as runner-up), a couple of thrilling European adventures and two appearances in the FA Cup final (albeit, on both occasions the team turned up but then forgot to actually play) before a series of calamities and much crass mismanagement at boardroom level resulted in another relegation. Nevertheless, Th' Toon bounced back at the first attempt, whilst looking like this. And, a general erection resulted in the first well-hung parliament since the 1930s.
Developing, thence. a reputation for being up and down more often than the pants of some of the lasses doon Th' Bigg Market, like, United slithered to another disgracefully incompetent and cowardly relegation in 2016. But, thanks to the hiring of - for the first time in a very long time - a manager who vaguely knew what he was doing and despite more than a handful of hiccups along the way, now, The Black & Whites are back messing with The Big Boys. And they look like this.
How long they will stay there this time is a question probably well worth asking, dear blog reader. But, not today. Now is the time to have a - small - celebratory glass of a tasty beverage of your choice and go to bed in the knowledge that, next season it'll be visits to Old Trafford, The Emirates, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and The City Of Manchester Stadium (and, a bunch of five-nil spankings, like as not) rather than Griffin Park, Brentford, the Pirelli Stadium, Burton or the DW Stadium, Wigan. It's a necessary difference this blogger feels.

So, as you've probably gathered dear blog reader, yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle United secured an immediate return to the Premier League with an - eventually - convincing four-one home victory over Preston Both Ends on Monday evening. Christian Atsu put the Magpies two-one up shortly before half-time after Jordan Hugill had cancelled out Ayoze Perez's early opener. On a tense evening at St James' Park, the players' nerves (and, those of their long-suffering supporters) were settled when Preston's Paul Gallagher was sent off for handling an Isaac Hayden shot on the line and Matt Ritchie scored the resulting penalty. The establishment of a two goal cushion brought about an almighty roar of relief from the Geordie faithful and a fourth Magpies goal quickly arrived as Jonjo Shelvey's in-swinging corner rebounded off the far post and was deflected into the Gallowgate End goal via the shoulder of Perez to send Newcastle up along with Brighton & Hove Albinos. Satisfaction rather than euphoria was the order of the day after the final whistle and while the players were applauded as they saluted the fans, the biggest cheers were reserved for Rafa Benitez as he took to the field to acknowledge the backing he had received not only tonight but all season. The vague possibility of snatching the Championship title from Brighton still remains - a record-breaking fourteenth away victory at Cardiff on Friday evening would leave United just one point behind The Seagulls. Benitez's side had taken only one point from their previous three matches - and played like a bunch of gutless glakes whose collective arse had dropped out in two of those games, frankly - but their late-season wobble was not punished by their closest rivals. Defeats for Reading and Huddersfield on Saturday left Newcastle needing just one more win to guarantee a top-two finish. Nevertheless, nerves were evident among the players and the crowd, which was - as usual - in excess of fifty thousand, until Ritchie converted his spot-kick to stretch Newcastle's advantage against ten-man Preston with twenty five minutes to play. The hosts took advantage of poor Preston defending for all four goals, with Perez netting twice from corners and Atsu finishing a terrific lightning three-man counter-attack in first-half stoppage time after North End had lost possession in midfield. As the final whistle blew, the Tyneside air felt Arctic but Benítez bore the look of a man feeling the warmth of the sun on his back for the first time following a long, hard winter.
Benitez had made a huge impression on Newcastle supporters in his two-month stint at St James' Park at the end of last season, despite being unable to save The Magpies from dropping out of the Premier League. He was widely expected to leave a club destined for the Championship in the summer - he was, after all, a former Champions League winner with Liverpool and had been in charge of Real Madrid only two months before replacing the hapless Steve McClaren. However, instead of activating the clause allowing him to leave Newcastle in the event of relegation, the Spaniard chose to sign a new three-year contract. 'The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence for me,' he said in May 2016, upon signing the deal. 'This is a huge club and I wanted to be part of the great future I can see for Newcastle United. The main thing for me is that I have assurances that we will have a strong team - a winning team.' Benitez was backed extensively in the transfer market last summer and more than fifty million smackers was spent as one of the most expensive squads in Championship history was assembled. Among the in-comings were striker Dwight Gayle and winger Ritchie, who cost a combined twenty two million notes from Crystal Palace and Bournemouth respectively and they have repaid their sizeable transfer fees with thirty four league goals between them. Newcastle recouped all of that outlay - and more besides - with the sales of disgracefully underperforming cowards such as Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Andros Townsend to Premier League clubs. Indeed, it was something of a running joke on transfer deadline day that Newcastle were the only club in the summer to spend over fifty million quid and still end up making a more than thirty million knicker profit! As for those who stayed following relegation, they have also played their part in Newcastle's success. Jonjo Shelvey, an England international as recently as November 2015, has featured in every league match he has been available for this season and has been the team's main creative forces in midfield. He may not have got here in time to avoid relegation, but Rafa The Gaffer managed to restore competence, commitment and belief in both the dressing room and in the stands - a truly monumental achievement given the years of chaos and mismanagement that had preceded his arrival. Now, of course, the question remains whether he will be backed in the summer with the funds he clearly wants to build a side that can compete in the Premier League. Whether, in fact, owner Mike Ashley shares his ambition. Time will tell, it usually does. As always with this club, uncertainty surrounds the future after Benitez resisted the opportunity on live TV to guarantee his own future with the club. 'You never know, that's football,' he said. 'I'm very happy and very proud for everything we have achieved. Hopefully we have the foundations that can guarantee the future. We need to enjoy this day and afterwards we will see.' The message was clear for all to hear: Benitez will not commit himself to the long-term at Newcastle unless he is given substantial backing from Ashley to create a squad capable of doing more than just surviving in the Premier League. Ashley was not at last night's game when Benitez provided the answer to those who questioned whether he would be able to handle the difficult demands of the Championship. 'It feels really good,' he said. 'I'm really proud of everyone because we knew it would be difficult at the beginning, when everyone was saying, "Rafa has no experience of the Championship and it will be tough." They were right, it was very difficult, but the commitment and hard work of the players every day, and the staff and everyone involved, and then the support of the fans, has made a massive difference. '
Playing to bumper home crowds of fifty two thousand punters can make or break a player, particularly when the club they play for are such hot favourites for promotion. Whilst Aston Villains, also relegated last season, failed to acclimatise to life in the Championship, with their league position dipping at one stage as low as twentieth, The Magpies have not been outside the top four since September 2016. 'It's not easy to drop into the Championship,' former Newcastle winger Chris Waddle (a vital part of the 1983-84 promotion side) told 5Live. "'ewcastle are a big scalp, with the fan base they've got, home and away, so every game has been difficult for them. As we saw, Aston Villa found it difficult and they've got a big support as well. But Newcastle, for all they've had a bit of a wobble, they've been up there all season.' Newcastle secured promotion this term with two games to spare, but they will not match the achievements of the last Magpies side to go up from the second tier in 2009-10. They had been relegated in 2009 with the club's record goalscorer Alan Shearer in caretaker charge - and began 2009-10 in apparent chaos with Chris Hughton as caretaker manager. After a positive start to the season, the popular Hughton was given his first permanent managerial role in October and he led Newcastle to the title with one hundred and two points from their forty six games - twenty three points more than third-placed Nottingham Forest. There was little investment in new players but the majority of the squad from the previous season remained. Captain Kevin Nolan led by example, scoring seventeen league goals from midfield, a tally matched by emerging striker Andy Carroll. Although promotion to the top flight has once again been achieved at the first opportunity, the Championship title is likely to elude Newcastle this time around. Leaders Brighton - ironically, now managed by Hughton - will be crowned champions if they win either of their final two league matches.
Former Newcastle coach Steve Stone believes the current squad needs strengthening again during the summer. 'They still need an awful lot of new players before next season,' he told BBC Radio 5Live. 'Fans realise they're not going to win the Premier League next season and they will struggle to get into the top ten. They need to get a foothold in the Premier League first, otherwise they will become a yo-yo club. It's been a long time since Newcastle were battling at the top of the Premier League. They finished fifth under Alan Pardew the season I was there [2011-12], but they haven't been up there on a consistent basis since Bobby Robson left [in 2004]. Now is the time to buy and build, and make sure club doesn't have to play in this division ever again.' Stone added: 'The fans absolutely adore Rafa Benitez and they have from the start. They chanted his name throughout the game. But he knows now that he needs money and it will be interesting to see if they give him the money he deserves. Everywhere Rafa goes, he gets a massive reception. Newcastle were lucky to get him - they needed him more than he needed Newcastle. Since getting here he has realised what it's all about and he's bought into it.' Meanwhile, club legend Alan Shearer added that Benitez is 'a huge figure at the club. He loves the place and the passion of fans - and it's hugely important Newcastle keep hold of him. I'm sure he will demand the team has to be improved and will demand a few quid to do that. You can't stand still. You can't be loyal and give all the players that have got the team promoted a chance. You've got to go out and buy new players. People realise the team needs improving to get to where they want to be and that's got to be the top half of the Premier League. Now it's about where Newcastle want to be - do they want to get up to the Premier League and be in the bottom three or four fighting against relegation, or do they want to have a go at it? I'm pretty sure I know what Rafa will want to do.'
Several United promotion-winners from previous decades were in attendance, with Frank Clark (1964-65) a guest of his former team-mate and now club director Bobby Moncur. John Anderson (1983-84) was on his regular radio duty for BBC Newcastle. Peter Beardsley (1983-84) was also there, as was Robert Lee (1992-93) fulfilling a punditry role for Sky Sports and Steve Harper (2009-10) was spotted in the stand. Messages of congratulation from ex-Magpies flowed in on social media after full time, with the likes of Alan Shearer, Jonas Gutierrez, Warren Barton, Shay Given, Danny Simpson, David Edgar, Jermaine Jenas, Peter Lovenkrands, Mick Quinn, Steve Howey, Joey Barton and Mehdi Abeid all contributing. Even Andros Townsend managed to squeeze out a tweet of support. It may have been past Moussa Sissoko's bedtime, though, as he was curiously silent on the matter. Which is jolly surprising as he always had plenty to say for himself when he was up here.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

On The Brink

It was a remarkable day in the English Football League Championship on Saturday and the team that probably had most to celebrate out of all the result were yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies. The irony, of course, being that they weren't even playing! Defeats for Huddersfield Town and Reading on Saturday afternoon leaves Newcastle just one win away from a return to the Premier League, as the weekend's results all went their way. Fulham ran riot at the John Smith's Stadium, putting four past Huddersfield in the first half after going behind to an early penalty. Meanwhile Reading lost three-two at relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest to leave The Royals six points behind United with only two games left and with a vastly inferior goal difference. Huddersfield are seven points behind Newcastle on seventy eight points though they do have an extra game (on Tuesday, at Derby). All of this means that a Magpies win at St James' Park on Monday night against Preston Both Ends would guarantee promotion to the Premier League. Or, even a couple of draws in United's remaining three games - Preston, away at Cardiff next Friday and at home to Barnsley on the final day of the season - would now be enough for promotion, given the goal difference situation. On a day when everything went right for Th' Toon, results in the Premier League also went a long way to ensuring that local rivals The Mackems and The Smoggies will both be in the Championship next year as 'Boro were well and truly spanked by Bournemouth and fellow relegation-strugglers Hull and Swansea both won which left bottom-placed Blunderland in aal sorts of bother. Championship leaders Brighton & Hove Albinos were in action on Friday night at Norwich City knowing that a victory there would have seen them crowned as Champions. But, Chris Hughton's side lost two-nil with two own goals from goalkeeper David Stockdale. That means Newcastle could, theoretically, still take the title themselves by winning their last three games - as long as The Seagulls failed to take maximum points from either of their last two (at home to Bristol City and away at Aston Villa). Elsewhere in the promotion chase, Sheffield Wednesday leaped up to fourth place, level on points with Huddersfield, after their two-one win at home to Derby and Fulham's victory at Huddersfield put them into the fourth play-off place at the expense of Dirty Leeds whose form seems to have all but deserted them at the just the wrong time, losing at Burton Albinos. At the bottom, Wigan Not-Very-Athletic just about kept their slim survival hopes in tact with a goalless draw at home to Cardiff whilst Blackburn Vindaloos also drew at Wolverhampton Wanderings and remain in the third relegation place, two points behind Birmingham and three behind Nottingham Forest. Burton's win eased their relegation worries as did Bristol City's three-two victory over Barnsley. Leyton Orient's one hundred and twelve-year stay in the Football League came to an end with a crushing defeat at Crewe Alexandra. They will be replaced next season by Lincoln City who sealed their own return to the English Football League after a six-year absence, thanks to Terry Hawkridge's brace against Macclesfield.
Television presenter and Hartlepool president Jeff Stelling has told the club's manager Dave Jones to 'quit now' in an impassioned on-air rant. Stelling, hosting Sky Sports' Gillette Soccer Saturday, told viewers: 'This isn't personal to Dave Jones but for the good of the club, walk now. [Director] Pam Duxbury, chairman Gary Coxall, if it means sacking him, do so.' Pools dropped into the League Two relegation zone on Saturday. Their two-nil home loss to Barnet leaves them two points from safety with two games left to play and facing the prospect of relegation to the National League. Jones was appointed as successor to Craig Hignett in January, with Pools nineteenth in the division on twenty seven points. Since then they have taken just sixteen further points from seventeen games and dropped to twenty third. The damaging result for Hartlepool came just five days after Jeff expressed further on-air frustrations at his club losing two-one to beleaguered bottom club Leyton Orient. 'Dave Jones, for the good of the club just go now. You've got thirteen points from fifty one. This is not your level of football. If it means me resigning as president I do so happily. Do it now. Do it today.' Former Everton and Preston player Jones has spent much of his career managing in higher divisions during a career that has included spells at Stockport, Southampton, Wolves, Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday. Following the loss to Barnet, Jones told the Hartlepool Mail: 'I've fought all my life and I won't stop and I don't expect the players to stop. It's disappointing, we are trying to fight for our lives and you want to see more than is happening at this moment in time. I come here and put my reputation on the line and I'm going to fight for that reputation.' Stelling, who was born in the town and is has been a prominent life-long supporter of the club, replaced MP Peter Mandelson in the honorary role as club president in October 2015.
At least seven people have died after an electric cable fell on fans watching a Manchester United match on TV in Nigeria, police say. The high-tension cable fell on a crowded shack showing the Europa League quarter-final against Anderlecht in the Southern city of Calabar. At least thirty people were taken to hospital by local ambulances and police who arrived quickly at the scene. English football has a large and passionate following in Nigeria. Eyewitnesses describe hearing a loud explosion from an electrical transformer which caused the cable to fall. One man told local media that the venue had a roof 'made out of zinc,' which transferred the electricity to those inside. Another eyewitness told the BBC that he had counted 'at least sixteen' bodies at the scene of the accident. It has been reported that scores of fans managed to escape.
SC Bastia must play their next home game behind closed doors at a neutral ground after their Ligue Une match with Lyon was abandoned on Sunday. Kick-off was delayed by fifty five minutes, as Bastia fans tried to attack visiting Lyon players during their pre-game warm-up. Lyon were then persuaded to start the match - having initially refused - before a further incident caused the abandonment at half-time. Bastia's next home game is against Rennes on 29 April. The French league's disciplinary commission said that 'in view of the seriousness' of the naughty incidents, it had suspended the Armand-Cesari stadium as a precautionary measure and would 'relocate SC Bastia's next home game to a neutral ground behind closed doors.' The league also ordered that the space allocated to visiting fans to be closed at Bastia's away games, without specifying how long this closure would last for. Bastia are currently bottom of Ligue Une, three points from safety. The Corsican club were made to close part of their stadium for three matches after a group of supporters shouted racist insults at Nice striker Mario Balotelli during a one-all draw in January.

Friday, 31 March 2017


Football's governing body FIFA has 'passed on' further evidence to Swiss and United States authorities as it completed its internal investigation into alleged corruption. It has been co-operating with law enforcement since May 2015 when FIFA members were arrested in Zurich. 'We have now completed that investigation and handed the evidence over to the authorities,' said FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Criminal investigations are currently ongoing. FIFA says reports of more than thirteen hundred pages were produced after the review of more than two-and-a-half million documents and interviews with 'key witnesses.' There were also more than twenty thousand pages of exhibits. These were all shared with the Swiss authorities, according to the governing body. Infantino said THAT the investigation was carried out 'to hold wrongdoers within football accountable and co-operate with the authorities.' He added: 'The authorities will continue to pursue those who enriched themselves.' It added that from its findings it will make changes to its internal departments which will be revealed at the end of April. In May 2015, Swiss authorities raided a Zurich hotel and extremely arrested seven people who were among fourteen indicted on corruption charges in an inquiry led by the United States Department of Justice. In December that year, sixteen more officials were charged following the arrest of two FIFA vice-presidents in at the same hotel in Zurich. FIFA's internal inquiry may be at an end, but questions persist as to the level and depth of corruption that allegedly took place over many years. The review, led by FIFA's lawyers, was designed to assure the US Department of Justice that the governing body was a co-operative partner in unearthing the grubby truth. The results have now been passed to the Swiss Attorney General and will make their way to Washington DC from there. But the wheels of justice grind agonisingly slowly. It may be many years before any subsequent charges are brought or cases concluded and the guilty brought to justice. In the meantime, criminal investigations continue into a number of individuals along with the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. There's also an uneasy silence hanging over allegations of bribery surrounding South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 tournament. The whole truth may emerge someday. Just don't expect it to be delivered any time soon.
FIFA is proposing a six-nation play-off tournament to decide the last two slots at the forty eight-team World Cup in 2026. Football's world governing body has revealed its plans for how the forty eight places will be allocated, with sixteen Europeans teams set to qualify. The proposals - approved by FIFA's president and his counterparts at the six confederations - are expected to be ratified by the FIFA Council on 9 May. FIFA members voted in January to expand the World Cup from the current thirty two teams to forty eight. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said he was 'satisfied' with the proposals and that European nations would be 'fairly represented.' All six confederations will have at least one team in the expanded tournament, with no inter-confederation play-offs prior to the play-off tournament. The World Cup hosts will still qualify automatically, with their slot taken from their confederation's quota. Should the proposals be ratified, as expected, it will consist of one team from each confederation except UEFA, with the final team taken from the confederation of the host country. Two teams will be seeded based on their FIFA ranking and then face the winners of two knockout games involving the four unseeded teams, with the prize a place in the World Cup. The play-off will be played in the World Cup's host country, with November 2025 suggested as a possible date for the 2026 qualifying play-off. It will also double as a test event for the main tournament. UEFA has achieved its stated aim of sixteen slots. Ceferin made it clear that would be his demand in return for supporting an expanded tournament. Ratification will likely be straightforward given the heads of the confederations have carved this up between them. The play-off tournament, however, is a new idea. It may sound the death knell for the Confederations Cup given FIFA has described the new tournament as a test event. FIFA is keen to expand the Club World Cup as a summer tournament and moving the qualifying tournament to November may create the necessary space in an already packed schedule. There are some significant issues still to be resolved in qualification processes, though. Conmebol (the South America confederation) has been granted six slots in the expanded World Cup. Given there are only ten countries in the confederation, questions have been raised over how to make qualification an attractive proposition to broadcasters, given the ease with which some countries will qualify. The recommended places for each confederation are: Africa - nine (up from five); Asia - eight (up from four or five); Europe - sixteen (up from thirteen); North and Central America and Caribbean - six (up from three or four); Oceania - one (from zero or one); South America - six (up from four or five)
Barcelona will honour their former player and coach Johan Cruyff with a statue of him at the Nou Camp stadium. The club will also name the new stadium which they are currently building for their B team after the former Dutch international, in this blogger's completely arbitrary opinion, the greatest footballer that ever lived. Barcelona made the announcement one day after the first anniversary of Johan's death at the age of sixty eight. Cruyff won thirteen trophies during his time coaching and playing for the club, including their first European Cup in 1992. His son, Jordi, also said that the family will donate a number nine Barcelona shirt worn by his father and the Ballon d'Or trophy from 1974 to a new exhibition at the Spanish club's museum. 'It is an agreement by which my father will always be present at the club that he loved,' Jordi Cruyff said. Barcelona, who are scheduled to start major redevelopment work at the Nou Camp in 2018, will also ask the city's council to name a street or space in the vicinity of their stadium after Johan Cruyff. 'It is an honour for me to say the name of the stadium we are building at the training ground will no longer be the Miniestadi, but from now on will be The Johan Cruyff Stadium,' club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said. 'Cruyff broke down barriers, he was the man who made us lift our heads up and see that nothing is impossible.'
Republic of Ireland skipper Seamus Coleman has had surgery following a horrific leg break in last Friday's goalless draw against Wales. The Everton full-back, suffered both tibia and fibula fractures in his right leg following a dreadful challenge from Neil Taylor, who was given a red card. 'Seamus suffered a serious leg injury and has undergone surgery,' said Republic manager Martin O'Neill. Coleman was given oxygen before being carried off at the Aviva Stadium. He was taken straight to St Vincent's University Hospital immediately after the incident and had surgery on Saturday morning. 'Seamus Coleman, who went off injured during the game, underwent surgery on Saturday morning after fracturing his right tibia and fibula, under the care of the FAI's orthopaedic surgeon, Professor John O'Byrne and Mister Gary O'Toole, consultant orthopaedic surgeon,' said a Football Association of Ireland statement. O'Toole is well known in Irish sporting circles as a former Olympic swimmer. Coleman's serious injury happened midway through the second half of the World Cup qualifier. 'He has had an exceptional season with both club and country and he will be a big loss,' added O'Neill. 'But, Seamus is so mentally strong that when he has fully recovered he will be as brilliant as before.' Wales's manager Chris Coleman claimed - rather unconvincingly - that Taylor was 'despondent' following the game. 'First and foremost, the most important thing is Seamus Coleman,' he said. 'We are told that it is not so good, which we are sorry for. Neil Taylor is not really that type of player, but it's a tough one for Seamus. Our thoughts are with him. I have not seen it again.' How, exactly, Coleman believes that Taylor is 'not that sort of player', whatever 'that sort of player' constitutes, when he'd just smashed a fellow professional's leg in two is not, at this time, known. FIFA is reported to have opened proceedings against Taylor over the incident. Taylor will automatically be suspended for Wales's next qualifier, in Serbia in June, but could have his one-game ban extended by FIFA.
Lionel Messi was banned for four international matches - just five and a half hours before Argentina's World Cup qualifier against Bolivia kicked off. The Barcelona forward was punished for directing 'insulting words' at an assistant referee during Thursday's one-nil win over Chile. Messi, who scored the only goal in the qualifier, was angered when he was penalised for a foul, waving and shouting at the assistant in response. The twenty nine-year-old was fined eight thousand one hundred smackers. Or, about five minutes wages. He will miss his country's next four competitive fixtures. Argentina are currently third in South American qualifying, with the top four teams advancing to next summer's finals in Russia. There are five matches still to play.
Kenya international Clifton Miheso has filed a complaint to FIFA over his claim he was forced at gunpoint to end his contract with Golden Arrows. Miheso alleges the incident took place on 14 January at the South African club's offices in Durban. The twenty four-year-old is seeking a transfer ban 'or other sanction' to be placed on Golden Arrows and also wants twenty two thousand dollars that he claims he is owed in wages. Golden Arrows denied the allegations. The winger's legal representative says that the club has 'failed to provide any satisfactory information' about the incident. Miheso has won fourteen caps for Kenya.
A former member of Ghana's coaching team, Gerard Nus, has ended his 'sit-in' after the country's football association settled his bonuses. He has told BBC Sport that 'the matter is now over' despite not being paid in full. The Ghana Football Association, however, said it 'finally managed to raise the funds to pay all his outstanding bonuses on Saturday.' He had been refusing to leave his Accra hotel since the end of the Africa Cup of Nations in early February. 'Thanks to all people of Ghana. Great memories always from this passionate football country,' Nus posted on his Twitter feed. The Spaniard finally returned home from Ghana on Monday. 'All of this was more about having principles and claiming for the right things more than the money itself,' he explained. Yeah, but, it was mainly about the money. 'I'm just happy to see my family now.' According to the GFA statement there were 'disagreements' over whom should settle payments to the hotel where Nus had been staying. The situation was resolved between and the hotel on Sunday enabling Nus to return home. When Nus started his protest in February the GFA had explained that 'at the end of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations the entire technical team could not be paid their bonuses on time because of financial difficulties. The GFA engaged the staff to explain the difficulties, urging them to go home and be paid later when the money is available. Along with head coach Avram Grant, they all agreed and went home but Nus insisted on staying for as long as it takes to receive his money.'
A friendly match between Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal was extremely abandoned when fans invaded the pitch in Paris. The African sides were level at one-one after eighty eight minutes when a handful of fans broke onto the pitch, with one - wearing a particularly striking darza pair of pink pants - appearing to rugby tackle Senegal's Lamine Gassama. Players ran from the pitch and referee Tony Chapron opted to end the fixture. Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haw's Sadio Mane had given Senegal a second-half lead from the penalty spot but Bi Gohi Cyriac levelled three minutes later. L'Equipe journalist Herve Penot was in the ground and told BBC World Service that the incident 'could have been very serious.' He added: 'I wouldn't say the people were violent, it was much more about trying to be with the players. But you never know what can happen, the organisation was a disaster, it was incredible. After twenty to thirty minutes, a couple of people were on the pitch, then they couldn't start the second-half because they had people on the pitch and the referee said if it happens again he will stop the game. It was very messy.' Local media reported a group of supporters jumped over perimeter fencing at Charlety Stadium moments before the pitch invasion started. It is the second time in five years that a game between the two countries has been called off because of crowd disturbances. Senegal were very disqualified from the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations when a riot led to a play-off between the sides being abandoned.
Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua's Hongkou stadium has been damaged by a fire. There were no casualties reported after the incident on Tuesday morning. The state news agency said the fire had 'not affected the stands or the pitch' and 'investigations were continuing' into the cause. The club, managed by ex-Brighton & Hove Albinos manager Gus Poyet, signed former Sheikh Yer Man City striker Carlos Tevez last year in a deal reported to be worth forty million knicker. Other ex-Premier League players in their squad include two of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies' former players, Demba Ba and Obafemi Martins. The Chinese Super League season started earlier this month with Shenhua scheduled to host Changchun Yatai in their next home game on Sunday 16 April.
The Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association are set to commission a study into potential links between heading footballs and brain damage. The two bodies have invited applications for independent research. Former England forward Jeff Astle died aged fifty nine in 2002, with a coroner ruling that his death was as a result of brain trauma. A re-examination of his brain in 2014 found he had died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Neurosurgeon Doctor Willie Stewart, who carried out that examination, said that it had been caused by Astle heading footballs throughout his career. Astle's daughter, Dawn, said she was 'really pleased' by the announcement of the joint FA-PFA study, adding it had been 'a long time coming.' She added: 'As long as the research is the right research, and being done by the right people to answer the key questions which have been asked by the FA and ourselves, then that is fine.' The research will specifically address the question of whether degenerative brain disease is more common in ex-professional footballers than in the rest of the population. Those interested in carrying out the research have until 17 May to apply. The FA's head of medicine, Doctor Charlotte Cowie, said 'the process will not be rapid' to ensure those affected 'can be confident in the final results. Football can be a killer.' Astle was originally diagnosed with early onset dementia and his cause of death was listed by the coroner as 'an industrial disease.' Twelve years after the former West Bromwich Albinos player's death, Doctor Stewart found that he had died from CTE, a brain condition normally linked to boxing. In 2015, Astle's family launched the Jeff Astle Foundation, which promotes care of others affected and research and education into the condition. Later that year, the FA agreed to carry out research into head injuries in the sport, and also drew up new guidelines on how to deal with concussion. Dawn Astle said that the latest step will help the next generation of footballers make 'informed choices.' She said: 'It is like smoking - we all know smoking can give you lung cancer, the warning is there on the cigarettes. You choose whether you smoke or not, and this will be no different. We know smoking can be a killer, we know football can be a killer - it is on dad's death certificate. It is not about stopping football, banning it, anything like that. It is just about letting people make informed choices, and without the research you can't do that.'
Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale says that Craig Woodman will be 'out for a while' with a fractured arm, having previously joked that the defender could play with just such an injury. After beating Cheltenham in December, Tisdale said Woodman 'could've played with a broken arm, he was that good.' However, the thirty four-year-old suffered that precise injury in Exeter's draw with Yeovil last Saturday. Asked about the irony of his previous remark, Tisdale said: 'Maybe I won't mention that next time.'
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies maintained their lead at the top of the Championship, as Wigan Not Very Athletic made them battle hard for a first win in four games on Saturday, United having, frankly, played a bunch of bloody part-timers in the last three matches. Dwight Gayle netted his twenty second goal of the season when Mo Diame put the ball on a plate for him to finish unmarked at the far post. But the visitors created a shock early in the second half when Michael Jacobs levelled from Alex Gilbey's cross. Matt Ritchie restored the lead for The Magpies when he headed in a rebound off the post from his own half-volley. Paul Dummett's cross from the left was mis-kicked by Yoan Gouffran and the ball fell to Ritchie who volleyed into the turf and when the ball came back off the post he reacted well to nod home at the Gallowgate End - thereafter booting a completely defenceless corner flag towards The Milburn Stand before celebrating with fans in the front row. Newcastle stay a point ahead of second-placed Brighton & Hove Albinos, who beat Blackburn Vindaloos at home, but they now have a ten-point cushion over third-placed Huddersfield Town who were surprisingly beaten at home by relegation-threatened Burton Albion. Reading leapfrogged Dirty Leeds into fourth place with a one-nil victory. Wigan's third straight defeat, in what was interim manager Graham Barrow's first game in charge, sees them slip seven points adrift of safety with seven games remaining. The Latics had caused the leaders some problems at St James' Park and could have taken the lead in the second half when centre-back Dan Burn headed over the crossbar when unmarked from a corner. Second-half substitute Ryan Colclough also went close on a couple of occasions, but Newcastle had enough to close out the game with some ease. Ritchie was denied a second to make sure of the points late on when Matt Gilks saved with his feet in a one-on-one when played in by Christian Atsu.
The jolly excellent website pointed out an interesting factoid this very week. Well, this blogger thought it was interesting, anyway: Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle United have now acquired more league points in their history than their closest geographical rivals, Blunderland. The Magpies' current total of five thousand three hundred and thirty two Football League points since they first entered what was, then, Division Two in 1893, is eight more than The Mackem Filth who currently have a total of five thousand three hundred and twenty four. Meaning that United's - at the time, very disappointing - home point against Bristol City earlier this month was the moment when they overtook The Black Cats as, if you will, The Cock Of The North. This is despite United having played one hundred and twenty four fewer league games with four thousand five hundred and eighteen compared to the red and white's total of four thousand six hundred and forty two - mainly down to Blunderland starting their league career three years earlier than United, in 1890 (which, additionally, gave them a one hundred and thirteen points head start). United previously came closest to overtaking The Wearsiders at the start of the 1997-98 season when they were but twenty seven points behind. Blunderland, however, had just been relegated from the Premier League the previous season - which was, you know, funny - and reached the Championship play-offs that year whilst United amassed a spectacularly modest Premier League total under Kenny Dalglish. The apex of Blunderland's points lead over The Toon was during the 1980-81 season when the gap was extended to a whopping one hundred and eighty nine points. Since then The Magpies have, gradually, been reeling The Black Cats in. Of course, all of this may change again next season, depending which divisions the two North East rivals start the 2017-18 campaign in. Newcastle currently sit fifteenth in the all-time Football League points total list with Bolton Wanderers (five thousand three hundred and forty two) and Notts County (five thousand three hundred and forty four) next in their sights. Those two have played two hundred and twenty six and three hundred and sixty eight more league games than United, respectively. In terms of the top tier of yer actual English fitba (the Premier League and, before that, the old Division One) United are currently three hundred and thirty three points ahead of the Mackems, having played fifty eight more top flight games whilst, in the Premier League itself (since 1992-93) United are a massive five hundred and sixty nine points clear having played two hundred and forty six more games.
      All right, you can all wake up now, this blogger is finished with the stats.
Tributes have been paid to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still unsellable) Newcastle United's legendary tea lady, Kath Cassidy, who has died at the age of ninety. Kath retired in October 2015 after serving beverages to home and away players, managers and journalists at St James' Park since 1963. The club said that she had been 'adored by managers, players and staff alike.' Alan Shearer said: 'She was devoted to Newcastle, always made me smile and made the very best tea.' When Kath retired, aged eighty eight, she was a special guest at the club's game against Norwich City. In a statement, Newcastle United said: 'We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the club's legendary tea lady, our beloved Kath Cassidy. Kath loyally served the club for half a century and was adored by managers, players and staff alike. The thoughts of everyone connected with Newcastle United are with Kath's family and friends at this very sad time.'
Utter disgrace David Moyes has been forced to grovellingly apologise after he allegedly threatened to 'slap' a female radio reporter, but Blunderland are reported not to be planning to sack their manager's ass because he 'quickly admitted his behaviour was unacceptable.' Oh, so that's all right then. What a sodding hero he is, eh? Threatening a lady with 'a slap' for simply doing her job and then, having realised that such behaviour is a disgrace, snivelling to save his job. The incident, which occurred last month, has only now come to light. Vicki Sparks - a former colleague of this blogger at BBC Newcastle, who now works for 5Live and, not for nothing, a lovely person with a pleasant and polite interview manner - was speaking to the Blunderland manager following The Mackem Filth's failure to beat Burnley before the international break. Moyes was said to be 'furious' following a - seemingly, perfectly reasonable - question about whether the presence of Blunderland's usually absentee-owner Ellis Short at the game meant that his job was under threat and criticised Vicki after the interview had ended. However, it is understood that Vicki was still recording when the exchange took place and, although, she did not make a complaint - because, she's a class act who wouldn't do that sort of thing - her employers were rightly, properly furious when they heard the full, unedited audio clip and accused Moyes of crass and ignorant bullying. For which he was, frankly, banged-to-rights. 'It was getting a wee bit naughty at the end there so just watch yourself,' Moyes was heard telling Vicki, aggressively. 'You still might get a slap even though you're a woman. Careful the next time you come in.' The Torygraph claimed that it was Moyes who instigated the subsequent apology, ringing Vicki first thing the following Monday morning, in which he told her that his language was 'completely unacceptable,' before apologising and asking for her forgiveness. It is reported that it was this contrition - and that alone - which appears to have saved Moyes from getting his P45, along with the fact that both Vicki and the BBC have accepted the apology. Nevertheless, this ugly episode will increase the pressure on the former Everton and The Scum manager whose side have not been out of the relegation zone since August. The Black Cats remain rooted to the foot of the Premiership after Saturday's one-nil defeat to Watford.
A football fan has been found very guilty of trying to punch Crystal Palace's bald eagle mascot during an Capital One Cup game. Charlton Not Very Athletic supporter Daniel Boylett, of Eltham, was extremely arrested after 'trouble broke out' at the match on 23 September 2015. He was found pure-dead guilty at Croydon Crown Court of 'attempted damage' over the attack on Kayla, the eagle. He was also found guilty of violent disorder. Boylett was released on bail to be sentenced on 28 April. Crystal Palace - who are nicknamed The Eagles - adopted Kayla as their mascot in 2010. The court heard that Kayla's handler, Chris Belsey, was walking around the Selhurst Park pitch with the bird perched on his forearm. Prosecutor Daniel Higgins said 'three or four fans were shouting abuse' at the pair when one leaned over the barrier and 'threw a punch.' He said Belsey did not know if the punch had landed and Kayla 'seemed unhurt,' but 'due to her delicate bone structure if she had been hit with force, her bones could easily break.' Four other men were on trial with Boylett over the trouble which marred the Capital One third-round tie. Higgins said that there had been trouble 'before, during and after' the game which, at least proves those response are consistent. The first scuffles broke out as police escorted Charlton supporters to Selhurst Park. One officer suffered a cut lip after being hit by what he thought was a bottle as rival fans tried to break the police cordon, the court heard. At the end of the match, which Charlton lost four-one, one of the men facing charges, Sam Donegan, ran at police wielding a large yellow traffic cone and 'had to be subdued with a baton strike.' Which, frankly, is the single funniest comment imaginable given the circumstances. After his arrest, he told police that he was 'annoyed' as 'we just got battered. I picked it up and let my anger out.'
They were heady, historic days in the sporting history of Iceland. A Nordic nation of three hundred thousand people toppling former World Cup winners and footballing lawmakers England in a major tournament doesn't happen every week. It would appear, however, that those in Iceland ensured they celebrated that famous win in the best possible way. Nine months on from the two-one victory on the French riviera which cost Roy Hodgson his job and Joe Hart what remained of his reputation, local newspaper Visir has reported a record-breaking amount of births in Iceland. Indeed, the weekend of 25 to 26 March saw the highest-ever amount of epidurals administered to patients in Icelandic hospitals.

Sunday, 5 March 2017


Lingerie firm Agent Provocateur has been bought by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley after it was placed into administration. Private equity group 3i has owned the struggling company since 2007. Agent Provocateur has ten stores in the UK and employs around six hundred people. It is not known if there will be any job losses. It has been reported that Ashley paid around twenty five million smackers, seeing off competition from another private equity firm, Lion Capital. The lingerie firm was sold to Ashley via a so called 'pre-pack deal' - which means a buyer is lined-up to buy the assets of a company, but crucially not its liabilities, such as its debt and pension deficit. Rumours that this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle United, also owned by yer man Ashley, will be turning out in fishnets, suspenders and naughty knickers next season - whatever division they're in - cannot, at this time, be entirely discounted.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle's remarkable away record continued on Tuesday night, as a frantic finish to a second-versus-first tussle saw The Magpies deservedly regain pole position in the Championship table with a two-one victory over them Brighton & Hove Albinos. Trailing to an early - rather dubiously - penalty, the visitors ultimately saw their hard work pay off when the home defence was breached twice late on - Mo Diame's freak equaliser followed by a massively significant and celebrated winner from Ayoze Perez.
      United made their maiden league visit to The Amex Stadium - although they've twice trekked there for FA Cup ties, both lost - and, unlike those previous woeful displays, this time actually made a serious attempt to win. That had been called into question by some when a team missing Dwight Gayle through injury included neither Daryl Murphy or Aleksandar Mitrovic - Yoan Gouffran shouldering a lone burden up front. Such a cautious approach may have betrayed a desire to avoid defeat above all else, but it looked to have handed the initiative to a Brighton & Hove Albinos side beaten just once in seventeen home games. Pre-match worries about the potential influence of the referee Bobby Madley - widely reported to come from a family of Huddersfield Town supporters - on the game appeared at least partly justified when he decided that some inconsequential six-of-one-and-half-a-dozen-of-the-other tussling between Ciaran Clark and Glenn Murray was worthy of a fourteenth minute penalty which was duly dispatched by the Albinos forward. At that point, there was genuine apprehension that United's promotion push was starting to falter, but going behind so early seemed to galvanise Newcastle and they began to show more attacking initiative against a Brighton side who seemed unsure of quite how to respond. Karl Darlow made a couple of timely blocks but the visitors looked more likely to score and twice came close to a breakthrough at the end of the first half through Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie. Paul Dummett made a vital goal-line clearance shortly after the resumption, but when Albinos 'keeper David Stockdale presented the ball to Gouffran only for the Frenchman's arse to fall out when presented with a scoring opportunity, it began to look as if this wasn't Newcastle's night and the first of a trio of potentially season-defining away games within a week would be lost. Rafa The Gaffer's response was to dispense with Jack Colback and introduce Daryl Murphy. The veteran forward soon had the home defence cacking bigly in their own shorts, Stockdale saving twice from Murphy headers. Nine minutes of time remained when a corner was fisted clear by Stockdale and although Atsu sliced his shot, it clipped Murphy's toe before looping off the heel of Diame and arcing into the roof of the Brighton net. If that was a piece of fortune - and, it was - then the eighty ninth minute winner was majestic: an inch-perfect long-range pass from Matt Ritchie found Atsu and he crossed to substitute Ayoze Perez who side-footed his first time effort past Stockdale.
The travelling support when total mental apeshit. Added time was negotiated without incident before some joyous scenes at full time saw some Toon players throwing their shirts into the crowd. Rafa Benitez acknowledged the acclaim of the fans, while Darlow deservedly claimed the man of the match award for some crucial stops. Turning one point into three against their nearest rivals on their own ground felt pivotal, but in no way a fluke. If other away victories for United this season were enjoyable, this one was the real deal, a genuine scalp and tangible reward for the effort of the players and those near three thousand supporters who made the thousand mile plus round-trip to Sussex on a weekday to cheer the team on. The discipline, patience and persistence the players showed pointed to a message delivered and received on the training ground. Given their next few fixtures, it could be a vital victory for Newcastle as they face every other team in the current top seven in the next few weeks. They travelled to third-placed Huddersfield, who now trail them by eight points, on Saturday and then go to Reading next Tuesday. By the middle of April they will also have faced Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Dirty Leeds.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle's maiden success at Huddersfield's John Smith's Stadium on Saturday evening brought a return to the Premier League at the first attempt for The Magpies immeasurably closer for Rafa The Gaffer and his hard-working side. This thirteenth away league win this season matches Newcastle's best-ever return away-from-home, recorded during in the famous Kevin Keegan 1992-93 campaign. United made it ten Championship games without defeat, their best sequence of the season and the longest unbeaten league run since 2011. Spurred on by Brighton & Hove Albinos' three-nil defeat at Nottingham Forest earlier in the day, United's victory saw them move five points clear of The Seagulls and open up an eleven point gap between themselves and The Terriers (and, with a goal difference of plus forty, effectively, that's could prove to be worth an extra point at the end of the season). Newcastle had to work hard for their victory, which was watched by a record league crowd at the John Smith's Stadium of twenty three thousand two hundred and thirteen. Huddersfield, who dominated possession, started brightly but fell behind when man of the match Matt Ritchie was tripped by Nakhi Wells in the box and picked himself up to send Danny Ward the wrong way from the spot. The lead was doubled just after the half-hour mark when Daryl Murphy beat the offside trap from a superb Jonjo Shelvy pass and dispossessed the Town 'keeper before converting a fourth goal of the season with a neat finish from a tight angle put through Ward's legs. The home defence whinged - as did some glake on no importance in the Daily Torygraph - that Murphy had kicked the ball out of the goalie's hands in the process (he, in fact, did no such thing as television replays subsequently proved). The home side continued to dominate possession and were rewarded for their endeavours with eighteen minutes remaining when Jonjo Shelvey was adjudged to have fouled Elias Kachunga on the edge of the area. On-loan Sheikh Yer Man City midfielder Aaron Mooy beat Karl Darlow to set up up something of a grandstand finish, only for an over-enthusiastic Huddersfield side to gift a crucial third goal to United in added time. Four additional minutes had been indicated when the hosts won a corner that replacement 'keeper Joel Coleman went up for - finding himself out of position when United counter-attacked and substitute Dwight Gayle's forward surge ended with him heading into an empty net to register a twenty first goal of the season (and, by far, his easiest). It was a catastrophic error from The Terriers 'keeper who had charged forward for the corner, but should still have done better than head the ball straight to Gayle who nodded into the unguarded goal. The possession stats may give the impression that this was something of a lucky win for United but The Terriers actually created very little, being restricted to long shots and free-kicks all easily dealt with by Darlow, whilst Rafa's side were far more clinical in attack and resolute in defence.
Also on a football theme, this blogger is jolly grateful to his good chum Danny for asking him the following question on Facebook: 'If [Girls Aloud] were a five-a-side team playing against Saturdays United, who would you play where?' To which this blogger replied: 'Cheryl in goal - she could stop everything with her gob. Big Hard Kim at the back, Nicola as the ball-winner in midfield (cos the ball winner in midfield is usually a pint-sized ginge psycho), Sarah and Nadine up front. Twin-strike force. (All four of them).'
A Tibetan women's football team has claimed that they have been denied United States visas to take part in a tournament in Texas. They say that they were told they had 'no good reason' to visit the US. Most of the players are Tibetan refugees living in India and had applied at the US embassy in Delhi. US President - and hairdo - Donald Trump has imposed a travel ban (now frozen) on nationals from seven countries, but neither India nor China is on the list. Tibet, a remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as 'the roof of the world,' is governed as an autonomous region of China. Cassie Childers, the executive director of Tibet Women's Soccer and a US citizen, told the BBC that she had accompanied the group of sixteen players for interviews at the embassy on 24 February. 'I am disappointed because we had planned the trip for months. It was a big moment in every player's life when they were told about the trip. It was their opportunity to tell the world that Tibetan women are capable of achieving anything,' she said. Childers added that she was 'ashamed' her country had refused to grant visas to a women's football team. However, she said that she did not think the denial had anything to do with the Trump administration. 'I had feared an outcome like this because Tibetans usually struggle to get US visas as officials fear that they might request asylum,' she said. She added that her team 'was in good spirits despite this setback. The players are very positive. I was very dejected but they motivated me. I hope some other place will invite us where Tibetans are welcomed. Otherwise, we will just get together in an Indian city and practice anyway.' Most of the women in the team carry Indian Identity Certificates, which are documents issued by the Indian government to Tibetan refugees and function as passports. Two members of the group held Indian passports. Another four players who live in Nepal and are Nepalese citizens, have also applied for visas in Kathmandu, but haven't heard from US officials. A US official told the AP news agency that they 'did not comment' on individual cases, but that the US position on Tibet had 'not changed,' which is that Tibet is still recognised as part of China. The team was planning to take part in the Dallas Cup, an annual tournament for youth teams from around the world.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Top Of The Shop

Newcastle went back to the top of the Championship with a comfortable win over the bottom side Rotherham United on Saturday. Daryl Murphy struck in first-half stoppage time with The Magpies having dominated much of the opening period. Matt Ritchie made the game safe soon after the restart as he slotted home after Yoan Gouffran's shot was saved. Ayoze Perez scored the third before Ritchie got his second with a composed finish as Newcastle re-established their one-point lead at the top. With first-choice strikers Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic both out injured and Mo Diame away on African Nations Cup duty, there were concerns as to where Newcastle's goals would come from, but those fears were banished as Perez went close a number of times as the home side dominated the first half. With several long-term injuries (Vernon Anita being the latest addition to the growing list) and three squad members still away with their national sides in Africa, United were forced to include a number of fringe players on the bench, including Sammy Ameobi and Jamie Sterry, both recently returned from loan spells and teenager Dan Barlaser who made his first team debut in mid-week in the FA Cup victory over Birmingham City. It was The Millers, however, who should have taken the lead when Magpies goalkeeper Karl Darlow fumbled the ball on the edge of the area and into the path of Jerry Yates, who was eventually denied by Darlow as he recovered superbly from the error. Murphy gave Rafa The Gaffer Benitez's men the lead seconds before the break as he turned in DeAndre Yedlin's cross and, soon after the interval, Ritchie made it two-nil to help ensure Rotherham would lose for the seventeenth time in twenty one games in all competitions. Perez then got his first goal since October after another cross from the impressive Yedlin, before Ritchie grabbed his second of the game, slotting home a pinpoint pass by Jonjo Shelvey - who returned for his first league appearance after the completion of his five-match suspension. With Brighton & Hove Albino's bruising victory over The Sheffield Wednesday on Friday evening (a game with three sendings-off and a geet rive-on wi' kids gettin' sparked and aal-sorts), only a win would have seen The Magpies reclaim the top spot. Meanwhile, another defeat for Reading - three-two at Derby - meant that the gap between United and third place was extended again to nine points (effectively ten, given The Toon's vastly superior goal difference). That gap was also maintained when fourth placed Dirty Leeds United lost to Barnsley in the Saturday teatime game.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Video, Drugs, Rock & Roll

Referees will be able to use a pitch-side monitor for the first time to review decisions when the Club World Cup begins in Japan on Thursday. Video assistant referees will review "match-changing" situations before informing the on-field official. The referee will then be able to view footage for some decisions - something not permitted in previous trials. FIFA's chief of technical development Marco van Basten said the move 'represents a big step forward.' Video assistant referees have been able to assist officials during two international friendlies this year but the Club World Cup represents their first use in FIFA competition. Previous usage has been in what FIFA call a 'semi-live' scenario, where the referee was not able to review decisions on a pitchside monitor. Under the live system, on-field referees will still make the final decision in the process but it is hoped video assistant referees will be able to correct clear mistakes in 'serious' incidents. 'Ultimately, these tests should prove invaluable in terms of determining whether the processes are sound or whether any further refinements are needed,' added Van Basten, the former Netherlands international striker. 'At the same time it's important to remember that we are entering somewhat unchartered territory here, given that we are going live for the first time.' FIFA intend conducting further live trials in several countries next year.
Future World Cup finals will feature sixteen groups of three countries in a forty eight-team tournament, if FIFA president Gianni Infantino gets his way. Infantino, who became head of FIFA in February, previously spoke of expanding the World Cup from thirty two teams to forty. Under his favoured sixteen-group structure the top two teams would progress to the last thirty two and on-going knockout matches. A decision will be made in January but any change would not be likely to take effect before the 2026 World Cup. FIFA's council will discuss the proposal at a meeting on 9 January but Infantino made 'expansion' part of his election manifesto because he wants to allow more countries the chance to compete at football's flagship event. If world football's governing body does not adopt the sixteen-group format, other options that will be considered include another version of the forty eight-team event which would see a thirty two team one-game knockout round with the winners joining sixteen teams who have qualified by right; keeping the tournament at its present size of thirty two teams; expanding it to forty teams (ten groups of four or eight groups of five). The number of teams competing at a World Cup last increased in 1998 when the tournament expanded from twenty four to thirty two countries. UEFA's Euro 2016 tournament featured twenty four nations for the first time, an increase from the sixteen-team format in place since 1996.
Russia's right to host the 2018 World Cup amid revelations about a state-sponsored doping programme has been questioned albeit only by rent-a-quote gobshite MP Damian Collins rather than anyone that actually matters. A World Anti-Doping Agency report detailed an 'institutional conspiracy' involving more than one thousand Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Football was one of thirty sports implicated by the McLaren report. 'FIFA now have to look very seriously at the way in which the World Cup is going to be staged,' whinged Collins. But, they're not going to so save yer breath, mate. Russia's sports ministry denied claims of a state-sponsored doping programme - well, they would, wouldn't they? - but Richard McLaren, author of the WADA report, said that international sports competitions had been 'unknowingly hijacked by the Russians' for years. The Canadian described the London 2012 Olympic Games as 'corrupted on an unprecedented scale.' Collins, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, added: 'It does taint the London Games. What is shocking from the report is this was state sanctioned. It's not just widespread abuse by Russian coaches and athletes, it is something that has been planned and executed with the authority and support of the Russian government.' Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was sports minister during the time detailed by the McLaren report and is seeking re-election to the ruling committee of FIFA. Mutko, who chairs the 2018 World Cup organising committee, has said THAT Russia will 'resort to legal action' in response to the allegations of institutionalised doping.

The former FIFA president Sepp Blatter's six-year ban from football has been extremely upheld after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The eighty-year-old Swiss was very banned over ethics breaches as his seventeen years as head of football's world governing body ended in a corruption scandal in 2015. Blatter who is, obviously, not a complete crook - was found to have made a £1.3m 'disloyal payment' to ex-UEFA boss Michel Platini. Both deny wrongdoing. And, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, 'well, they would, wouldn't they?' CAS described the payment as 'an undue gift' with 'no contractual basis.' Blatter said 'no other verdict could be expected.' He added: 'I have to accept this decision. I have experienced much in my forty one years in FIFA. I mostly learned that you can win in sport, but you can also lose.' In its written verdict, CAS said Blatter 'requested the annulment of the ban but did not request a reduced penalty.' It added: 'In any event, the panel determined that the sanction imposed was not disproportionate.' FIFA extremely suspended Blatter and former French international Platini for eight years in December, but the bans were reduced to six years by its appeals committee. In May, CAS reduced Platini's ban to four years after he appealed. The sixty one-year-old had sought to get the punishment overturned, but a three-man panel said it 'was not convinced by the legitimacy' of the payment Blatter made to him in 2011. Both men say it was for 'consultancy work' that Platini had allegedly done for Blatter between 1998 and 2002 and they had 'a gentleman's agreement' on when the balance would be settled. The payment is also currently being looked into by Swiss prosecutors.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle returned to the top of the Championship table as Dwight Gayle's hat-trick inspired a comfortable four-nil home win over against Birmingham City. Gayle headed in unmarked from a Mo Diame cross, and then finished a low cross for his second in the first-half. Yoan Gouffran thumped in Newcastle's third following a set-piece early in the second-half. Gayle's sixteenth goal of the season from Jonjo Shelvey's pass capped the win against The Blues, who drop out of the top six. After three games without a win - including last week's controversial loss at Nottingham Forest - Newcastle fans might have feared an end-of-year wobble, but any such concerns evaporated early as Rafael Benitez's Magpies imposed their dominance. Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett started the game after they had the disgraceful red cards they both received at Nottingham Forest eight days earlier overturned by the FA. Newcastle's players were reportedly keen to impress after feeling understandably frustrated that they had lost the City Ground having been forced to play much of the game with nine men. In the event, Newcastle did just that. Gary Rowett's side had climbed to fifth in the table, but failed to cope with the free-scoring hosts as their miserable run on Tyneside - four straight losses at St James' Park - was extended. Shelvey and Matt Ritchie had the quality deliveries to feed the lively Gayle, and Blues goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak had plenty of work to do before his goal was eventually breached. The visitors were lacklustre going forwards, meaning a comfortable return to the summit for The Magpies who climbed one point above Brighton, winners against Leeds on Friday evening. They also remain six points ahead of third-place Reading who beat Sheffield Wednesday two-one.