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.

Sunday, 20 November 2016


San Marino officials have demanded an apology from Germany's Thomas Müller, who made comments about their team following an eight-nil win for Germany on Friday. Müller said that playing 'a team of amateurs' in the World Cup qualifier put German players 'at risk of injury.' Bayern Munchen's chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge added: 'San Marino has nothing to do with professional football.' San Marino's Olympic Committee spokesman, Alan Gasperoni, offered ten reasons for the game to be played and told Müller that Germany 'does not own the game. It's served to make me realise that even if you wear the most beautiful Adidas kits, underneath you're always the ones that put white socks under their sandals.' Good answer! San Marino Secretary of State for Tourism and Sport, Teodoro Lonfernini, called for a formal apology. 'Germany are world champions, but they are not the master of the world,' said Lonfernini. Joachim Löw's side were two-nil up inside nine minutes and ran out easy winners, with a hat-trick from former The Arse forward Serge Gnabry on his debut, two from Jonas Hector, an own goal and strikes from Kevin Volland and Sami Khedira. Müller - who did not score and has also not scored for Bayern in the Bundesliga yet this season - said afterwards that while 'it's a highlight for San Marino to play the world champions,' the game should not have been played. 'It served to show that even against lowly teams like ours you cannot score a goal and don't say you were not frustrated when [goalkeeper Aldo] Simoncini denied you,' Gasperoni said in the letter posted on Facebook. 'It also served to show that football belongs to everyone who loves it and we are part of that, whether you like it or not.'
England players have been banned by the Football Association from having nights off while on international duty. The FA is looking into claims that 'several players' were 'out until late' on Saturday night after Friday's three-nil win over Scotland - less than three days before they drew two-two with Spain in a friendly. The naughty boys. Wayne Rooney grovellingly apologised after pictures showed him appearing completely bladdered at a wedding that same night. Meanwhile, the Sun claims 'up to ten' other players were at a nightclub drinking until 4:30am on Sunday. A statement issued on behalf of Rooney, who had attended a wedding at the team's hotel, said: 'Naturally Wayne is sorry that pictures taken with fans have been published. Although it was a day off for the whole squad and staff, he fully recognises that the images are inappropriate for someone in his position.' The FA, whose decision is, they claim, 'not prompted purely' by Rooney's night out on the razzle, is not expecting to discipline anyone. Chief executive Martin Glenn said: 'Don't make a drama out of it.' Oh, too late for that mate. These are British tabloid newspapers we're talking too, they'll make a drama out of anything so long as it features, you know, tits. Or Jeremy Clarkson. 'We are having a proper investigation into what went on. It's disappointing. It's appropriate that he apologised. It doesn't set a great tone for the England captain but I don't want to over-dramatise it either. Were there FA staff involved? We're establishing the facts. We're talking to people who were there to find out if anybody from the backroom staff was involved. Why on earth would you be doing that given there is a team agreement around alcohol consumption during camp? There would be questions asked for sure. There's been a journey. A strict disciplinarian like Fabio Capello where the players were closeted away, it was seen not to be a good success. Roy Hodgson brought a more liberal approach. Roy was right, let's treat people like adults. The best agreements are when players come up with their own rules and then work with them. I think we're probably in the right ball park. We just need to have a degree of trust and make sure when we agree something as a group, we stick to it.' Glenn added that he had 'no intention' of speaking to The Scum's manager, Jose Mourinho, who was said to be 'unhappy with the situation' concerning Rooney. England's players, who will still have free time but not whole nights off, all reported back at 11am on Sunday as they were instructed to, and attended training in the afternoon. When asked about the Rooney story, Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws manager Jurgen Klopp said that he did not see a problem. 'I feel sorry for the players,' he said. 'We live on the sunny side of life, but in the end maybe it is a surprise there is a human being behind the kid. This generation is the most professional generation of footballers we have ever had - not only in England. All the legends you admire, they drank like devils and smoked like crazy and were still good players. Nobody does that any more. I've no idea where Wayne was but I'm pretty sure it was not that serious.' Scotland and West Bromwich Albinos captain Darren Fletcher defended his former The Scum team-mate Rooney in an interview with BBC Radio 5Live. 'The whole situation is very unfortunate,' said the midfielder. 'I hear a lot about how professional footballers are detached from the public and they don't mingle any more. This circumstance shows why professionals are scared to do it. He's suffered the consequences of the social media world we live in. Players will be even more guarded now. People plaster you all over social media when you're kind enough to take pictures with fans. He holds his hands up. It's been blown out of proportion. That's not me defending my friend, Wayne Rooney, that's me defending most footballers who like to let their hair down. He's made a mistake but a genuine one in terms of trying to give a bit of time to fans when he was a bit worse for wear. He's the most down to earth guy you'll ever meet. If he gets the chance to socialise with normal people and his guard is down, he's probably let the guard down too far. He's almost been too approachable and down to Earth.'
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle United moved five points clear at the top of the Championship by beating Dirty Leeds at an emotional Elland Road. Fans of both sides held two minute's applause before and during the game to make next Sunday's fifth anniversary of the death of Gary Speed, who played with great distinction for both clubs. Dwight Gayle pounced on a Rob Green howler to volley the Magpies ahead in the first half. Leeds rallied and Eunan O'Kane's shot was well saved but Gayle's second, from a sharp team move after half-time, sealed Newcastle's eighth league win in a row. Defeat by contrast ends Leeds' three-game winning run and leaves them just outside the play-off places. In front of a sell-out thirty six thousand Elland Road crowd (Leeds's first full-house in six years), these two old heavyweights evoked memories of classic top-tier matches of yesteryear with a first league meeting since 2004. Speed's tribute briefly brought the two teams together but with both in search of points for a realistic return to the Premier League, it swiftly returned to a contest that Newcastle, for the most part, controlled throughout. Gayle's breakthrough goal came from a swinging Jack Colback cross that Rob Green failed to cope with, the first real opportunity of the game. The goal ignited a response from Leeds as referee Graham Scott waved away Pontus Jansson's protests for a penalty at the end of the half and they continued that momentum early in the second period with possession and some pressure. Yet Newcastle snuffed out hopes of snatching a point or more when sharp passing sliced open Leeds' left and Gayle turned in Vurnon Anita's cross for a second that created a comfortable cushion and in turn deflated the hosts.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Scotch Missed

Gareth Southgate took a significant step towards being appointed England's full-time manager and intensified the pressure on his beleaguered Scotland counterpart Gordon Strachan in the process with a comfortable three-nil World Cup qualifying win at Wembley. Southgate knew victory would press his claims to succeed disgraced Sam Allardyce on a permanent basis - and England delivered with a display that was unconvincing but easily enough to beat Scotland. Daniel Sturridge's stooping, instinctive header from Kyle Walker's driven cross put the hosts ahead after twenty four minutes and Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws team-mate Adam Lallana did the same from Danny Rose's delivery five minutes after the break. James Forrest and Robert Snodgrass missed opportunities for the visitors before Lallana added England's second - and Gary Cahill's sixty first-minute header from Wayne Rooney's corner only increased Strachan's agony. England now top Group F while Scotland languish in fifth - above only Malta - with their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 tournament in Russia fading fast. England's interim manager deflected all talk about his future in the build-up to this qualifier - but he will know he is effectively in an impregnable position after this win against a very average Scotland side. Even Southgate's biggest supporters, however, would be hard-pressed to suggest this performance hinted at a golden future for England, but it is surely enough to earn the forty six-year-old the chance to plot the way ahead to the next World Cup. He was under a little pressure after a poor performance in the goalless draw in Slovenia, but this was just what he needed - in result terms at least - and it is now surely only a matter of time before his appointment is confirmed, irrespective of the result of Tuesday's friendly against Spain at Wembley.
Captain Rafael Marquez headed in an eighty ninth-minute winner to give Mexico a dramatic two-one win over the United States in their 2018 World Cup qualifier. The match in Columbus, Ohio had 'an added layer' after Donald Trump won the US presidential election, having criticised Mexicans in his campaign. The visitors took the lead through a Miguel Layun shot before Bobby Wood equalised just after half-time. But Marquez nodded in a Layun corner to give Mexico victory in a feisty match. The win ended Mexico's run of four defeats in the state capital of Ohio - a key 'swing state' won by Trump on Tuesday - in World Cup qualifiers going back to 2001. President-elect Trump has described undocumented Mexican migrants in the US as 'criminals' and said that he wants to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. 'Maybe now they have a bad time, a time of intolerance and with this win maybe they can forget now a little bit what happened here in the US,' said Marquez.
Poland striker Robert Lewandowski needed treatment after a flare thrown by home fans exploded near him during a heated World Cup qualifier in Romania. The Bayern Munchen player was not hurt but appeared shaken after the incident early in the second half, which forced play to be stopped for several minutes. The match in Bucharest was also interrupted for a minute at the end of the first half after fans threw flares and firecrackers on to the pitch. Poland won the Group E match three-nil. Rennes forward Kamil Grosicki's fine solo goal put the group leaders in front after eleven minutes. The two delays followed as the home crowd grew restless before Lewandowski made sure of the win late on, scoring with a composed finish in the eighty second minute before adding a third from the penalty spot in injury time.
Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet were on target as France marked the first anniversary of the Paris attacks with victory over Sweden in a World Cup qualifier at Stade De France. A minute's silence was observed before kick-off to remember the one hundred and thirty victims of the attacks on 13 November 2015. Emil Forsberg's free-kick put Sweden ahead in the second half but The Scum's Pogba quickly equalised. Payet's sixty fifth-minute winner moved France three points clear in Group A. The West Hamsters United midfielder had earlier set up the equaliser for Pogba, the world's most expensive player nodding home his team-mate's precise free-kick. Payet capped a bright performance with the decisive goal, turning the ball in from close range after Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen fumbled.
Ex-The Arse midfielder Serge Gnabry scored a debut hat-trick as Germany brushed aside San Marino eight-nil in a one-sided World Cup qualifier in Serravalle. Gnabry, now at Werder Bremen, opened his account inside ten minutes and hit two more after the break to become the first Germany debutant to score three times since Dieter Müller in 1976. Sami Khedira, Jonas Hector (two) and Kevin Volland also scored, while Mattia Stefanelli conceded an own goal. Germany lead Group C by five points. Gnabry joined Bremen for an undisclosed fee in August after finishing as joint top scorer at this summer's Olympic Games as Germany lost the final to hosts Brazil. 'I did not count on scoring three goals on my debut,' said Gnabry, who joined The Arse from Stuttgart in 2011 and made eighteen appearances for the club, scoring but once. 'I am very happy. The last two years were difficult but now I am playing many games and am in scoring form. I hope it will continue.'
Northern Ireland replaced Azerbaijan in second place in Group C thanks to an impressive World Cup qualifying win at a rain-lashed Windsor Park. Kyle Lafferty fired home the opener in the twenty seventh minute and Gareth McAuley headed in from a Chris Brunt free-kick to make it two-nil before half-time. Conor McLaughlin headed his first international goal before Brunt claimed his second goal for his country. Ireland are second on goal difference, five points behind group leaders Germany. West Bromwich Albino's Brunt was back in the NI team for the first time in thirteen months, having missed Euro 2016 because of a serious knee injury. 'To score four goals and not concede any is a good result, especially against Azerbaijan,' said Brunt. 'They were flying high in the group.' Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill described the win as 'huge' and praised the fans for their backing.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


Keith Telly Topping fully realises that it is really unbecoming to laugh, in a thigh-slapping style(e), at the misfortune of others, ear blog reader, and this blogger tries to do so as little as is humanly possible. Unless, of course, the recipient obviously deserves it. But, the following example of schadenfreude is just so funny. That odious, full-of-his-own-importance clown Sam Allardyce has had been very sacked as England manager - 'by mutual agreement' with the Football Association (ie. they very sacked him and he agreed to be very sacked) - after just one match and sixty seven days in charge. It follows a newspaper investigation claiming that Allardyce had offered advice on how to 'get around' rules on player transfers. Allardyce is also alleged to have used his role as England manager to negotiate a deal worth four hundred grand to represent an - as it turned out, entirely fictitious - Far Eastern company. An FA statement said that Allardyce's conduct was 'inappropriate' and that Gareth Southgate would take temporary charge of the England team. '[Allardyce] accepts that he made a significant error of judgement and has apologised,' the FA said. 'This is not a decision that was taken lightly but the FA's priority is to protect the wider interests of the game and maintain the highest standards of conduct in football. The manager of the England men's senior team is a position which must demonstrate strong leadership and show respect for the integrity of the game at all times.' For football fans, who still ultimately - and, much to the disappointment of the various wide-boys, absentee landlords and dodgy crooks that run our clubs - fund the game, thoughts will perhaps turn to the wider culture of money-chasing greed and rule-avoidance, and how the role of the England manager has become entangled in those pursuits. Allardyce succeeded Roy Hodgson in July following England's disastrous performance at Euro 2016 in France and, thus, becomes the national side's shortest-serving full-time manager. Although, ironically, in terms of statistics, his record as England manager of having a one hundred per cent record of wins is unlikely ever to be beaten.
The Daily Torygraph claimed that Allardyce had a meeting with undercover reporters posing as businessmen before he took charge of his first England training session. During the meeting, which was recorded on a hidden camera, it is alleged that Allardyce said it was 'not a problem' to bypass rules on third-party player ownership and claimed that he 'knew of' agents who were 'doing it all the time.' Which is illegal, incidentally. Allardyce, who had meetings in Mayfair and Manchester with the undercover reporters posing as representatives of a fictitious Far East firm that wanted to buy players, had been caught up in an exposé discussing a proposed four hundred thousand knicker arrangement which would have seen him fly to Singapore and Hong Kong to 'address investors' in the non-existent company. He insisted that he would have to 'clear' such an arrangement with his employers, the FA, but was also heard in conversation discussing about how third-party ownership of players can be circumnavigated, in contravention of existing FA and FIFA rules and also making various unflattering comments about his predecessor Roy Hodgson - including mocking Hodgson's speech impediment - and the former England coach Gary Neville, as well as the FA's decision to 'stupidly' rebuild Wembley at a cost of eight hundred and seventy million smackers. Allardyce also complained that the FA's president, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, did not attend meetings and he made some unflattering remarks about Prince Harry. Neither of which are sacking offences but, they are quite funny. Allardyce - described by the Gruniad's Daniel Taylor as 'a clot', 'a greedy old fool' and 'one of the most arrogant men in the business' - met FA chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn on Tuesday to offer what he called 'a sincere and wholehearted apology for my actions.' He left out 'grovelling', please note. He explained that it had been 'a great honour' to be appointed England manager in July and that he was 'deeply disappointed at this outcome. Although it was made clear during the recorded conversations that any proposed arrangements would need the FA's full approval, I recognise I made some comments which have caused embarrassment,' he added. 'As part of the meeting, I was asked to clarify what I said and the context in which the conversations took place. I have co-operated fully in this regard. I also regret my comments with regard to other individuals.' But, the thing that he most regrets, one imagines, is that he got caught. The FA asked to see the Torygraph's evidence on Monday evening, as well as holding a conference call with Allardyce, who left his home in Bolton at 7am on Tuesday in his Mercedes to meet his employers at Wembley and take his caning. It must have been a long and uncomfortable drive back to Bolton for Allardyce - a drive he will never take as England manager again - after utterly failing to convince Clarke and Glenn that he should keep his job. Interestingly, Allardyce's public contriteness seemingly didn't last very long as, within hours, he was whinging that his sacking was due to 'entrapment' and that, in this case, entrapment had won. This, seemingly, was a view shared by one Gary Parkinson of FourFourTwo magazine who claimed that Allardyce was 'assassinated by England's attitude to class and cash'. Whereas, most people in the game seem to think that, on the contrary, Allardyce was 'assassinated' by getting his own greed right on. That's certainly the Daily Mirra's view on the matter, among many others.
In an interview on the FA website, Glenn said that Allardyce - described by the Daily Scum Mail's Martin Samuel as 'a piteous figure undone by greed' - was 'distraught' but that 'discussing a range of issues from potential contraventions of FA rules through to personal comments frankly just don't work when you're the manager of England.' However, Glenn added that it was 'a really painful decision' as the FA believed Allardyce was 'a great fit for England manager and we think could have been extremely successful.' But, now we'll never know.
The former Blackpool, Notts County, Notlob Wanderers, Newcastle United (where he was hated by the majority of supporters), Blackburn Vindaloos (ditto), West Hamsters United (ditto) and Blunderland manager Allardyce won his only game in charge of the national team last month. An injury-time goal from Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws' Adam Lallana gave England a one-nil win over Slovakia in the first of their 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Allardyce had been due to announce his squad for the next round of qualifiers on Sunday but now Southgate will be in charge for four matches against Malta at Wembley (on 8 October), Slovenia away (11 October), Scotland at home (11 November) and Spain in a friendly (15 November) as the FA searches for a successor. Southgate ruled himself out of the running for the job prior to Allardyce's appointment but the current bookmakers' favourite may become a contender, possibly due to lack of many other viable candidates, depending on results in his caretaker spell. Allardyce - despite his own staggering hubris concerning his abilities - has always been something of an acquired taste to many within the game, both for his a 'I call a spade a bloody shovel' personality, his frequent need to make his mouth go in public - often over issues which are nothing whatsoever to do with him - and as a manager whose tactics have often been ridiculed by his detractors as basic and over-physical. He was successful up to a point at Notlob, getting a hard-working if somewhat unattractive side to respectable 'top ten in the Premier League three years running' type status (albeit, after he left, Notlob's chairman Phil Gartside infamously stated that Allardyce's replacement, Sammy Lee, would be a better manager and the team would play better football than they ever had under Allardyce). But Allardyce was never taken to by the majority of fans of Newcastle, or Blackburn, or West Ham - for a variety of reasons - and his reputation at Blunderland rested purely on keeping the Mackems in the Premier League during his one season in charge at the Stadium Of Plight. The label of being a 'kick and rush' manager always irked Allardyce who once claimed, as befitted someone with a towering sense of his own importance, that if his name was 'Allardici' he would be 'more revered' - and his England vision, outlined during his interview at FA board member David Gill's house in July, was believed to have been 'perceptive and modern.' So it will have been with a heavy heart that the FA's hierarchy listened to Allardyce's pathetic bleatings at Wembley on Tuesday afternoon before sacking the huge ass of a manager they thought would lift the post-Euro 2016 gloom. If the FA felt there was any justification for keeping Allardyce, it would surely have given him the benefit of the doubt. Allardyce never made a secret of his self-considered 'suitability' to be England manager - so he will be heartbroken that the dream he harboured throughout his career is over in a mere sixty seven days. Sadly for Allardyce, the lack of judgement and loose-tongued approach which saw him caught in the Daily Torygraph sting meant that events at Wembley on Tuesday were always heading towards an inevitable conclusion. As Allardyce was making his way to Wembley for his humiliating showdown with his employers which had echoes of so many other farcical FA episodes down the years, he may have been reflecting that one of the reasons he was targeted for the sting by the Torygraph was his apparent proximity to earlier allegations of potential greed. Rightly or wrongly, it could also be one of the reasons why the FA may have been nervous about the prospect of Allardyce's past being dragged back into the public spotlight on the back of these new allegations. A BBC Panorama programme broadcast in September 2006 accused Allardyce - then at Notlob - and his agent son, Craig, of various 'irregularities.' That broadcast prompted an outraged Allardyce to vow to boycott the BBC for life and extremely sue the broadcaster, branding the allegations 'outrageous lies.' Following a period when Allardyce did not speak to the BBC, the threat to sue was never followed through. Allardyce later claimed in his autobiography that he was 'advised' it would 'cost too much money' and 'take too long.' One or two people even believed him. (There is a very good summation of the entire 2006 saga here. Along with Allardyce, several others implicated by that Panorama programme also threatened to sue. Kevin Bond, Harry Redknapp's former assistant at Portsmouth, took his case the furthest - but dropped his libel action against the BBC six days before the case was due to start meaning that, to date, none of the claims made in the programme have ever been legally challenged.) In his book, Allardyce claimed: 'For the record, I've never taken a bung in my life. I might have enjoyed a meal or a bottle of wine on an agent or two but that is it. I was earning one and a half million pounds a year, so I didn't need a little bit extra from an agent. It would have been madness.' Ironically, it now appears it was exactly the fact that he was 'looking for a little bit extra' on top of his - huge - England salary which cost him his 'dream job.' Some may have a modicum of sympathy for Allardyce, brought down by non-footballing matters; there may be those who feel his punishment is harsh and believe that his remarks on third-party ownership were part of a private conversation while his comments on the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry were crass but hardly the stuff on which such jobs as England manager should be lost. Which is probably true, but that's not why he got the tin-tack. Ultimately, the bigger argument goes to the heart of the lack of judgement and big-mouthed approach shown by the footballing figurehead of the FA. The FA's statement spoke of the need for 'strong leadership and respect' for the integrity of the game and it, clearly, felt his behaviour was 'unbecoming' of an England manager. In the final reckoning, the FA clearly felt that as guardians of the rules and the body which judges others, Allardyce's words, his naivety and poor judgement in discussing intimate FA and footballing matters with relative strangers, the notion he might even consider himself as a potential adviser to this albeit fictitious company, weighed too heavily against him. Allardyce may still face a Football Association inquiry into the comments he made, specifically on third-party ownership and offering advice to businessmen on how to 'get around' the governing body's rules on transfers according to the Torygraph which promised more disclosures in the coming days, with much speculation surrounding their tease concerning 'at least eight English managers' allegedly involved in rule breaches and, indeed, Thursday brought a second 'victory' for the Torygraph when Barnsley sacked their assistant manager Tommy Wright over corruption claims made by the newspaper. This could all get very messy before it's over.
England are now 'the laughing stock of world football' following the departure of Allardyce according to BBC pundit Alan Shearer. 'I'm angry, I'm sad, I'm staggered at the misjudgement from a guy who said this was his dream job,' the former England skipper told BBC Radio 5Live. Before elbowing someone in the mush. Probably. Shearer, who scored thirty goals in sixty three games for England, said: 'It's incredible and a catastrophic misjudgement by Sam and his advisers. I'm angry at the whole situation. I didn't think England could stoop any lower from what happened in the summer at the Euros. Now here we are, a laughing stock of world football.' He said he believed the England job 'looks a poisoned chalice,' adding: 'It's a very, very difficult job, some would say the impossible job.' Graham Taylor certainly did. The former FA chief executive David Bernstein also told BBC Radio 5Live: 'The hubris of it all is extraordinary. This is a man earning three million pounds a year. I wonder whether there's a pay-off or not. I hope not, because I don't think fifty or sixty days' work merits a pay-off. There's no question he brought the FA and football into disrepute and that's not acceptable. I have very little sympathy.'
Meanwhile, check out this list of things which lasted longer than Allardyce's England reign.
Sam Allardyce could be very banned over the revelations that led to his sacking as England manager, Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn says. The FA is awaiting the newspaper's full transcripts of the meetings before deciding what action, if any, to take against Allardyce other than sacking his enormous ass. Glenn said punishments 'could range from a fine to a ban.' Asked if a charge was likely, he replied: 'It is realistic. It's not for me to call but once the evidence is clear, the decision will be based on the merits of the evidence. We've treated Sam as an employee. Sam's role as a participant in the game will then be, potentially, part of this next process, if there is one.' Glenn said that he felt 'let down' by Allardyce and letting him go was 'not an easy decision. I genuinely think, for football reasons, he was a really good choice,' he claimed. One or two people even believed him. 'My instinct was to say: "Let's look at it but let's see if we can find a way of making it work." But as the events unfolded and in the cold light of day, [we judged] that it was going to be a compromise to the FA.' The Torygraph are releasing full transcripts of their investigation, which covers alleged corruption across English football, to the police. In the latest release, former Premier League manager Harry Redknapp has been reported as saying that some of his players bet on the result of one of their matches and he did nothing about it. Football Association rules forbid players from betting on games in which they are involved, with all managers expected to report any misconduct. The newspaper has revealed several cases of alleged corruption in English football. When contacted by the Torygraph, Redknapp claimed that he 'did not think it was against the FA rules at the time.' The paper does not suggest that Redknapp knew the players were betting at the time of the match nor reveal exactly which club it was or when it happened. Redknapp has managed West Hamsters United, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stottingtot Hotshots and Queens Park Strangers. Meanwhile, Pino Pagliara, who appears in the video with Redknapp alongside fellow agent Dax Price, told the BBC on Friday that his previous claims that eight current and ex-Premier League managers took bribes was 'a lie.' On Thursday, Southampton's assistant manager, Eric Black, was alleged to have given advice on how to bribe officials at other clubs, with the Premier League club requesting a full transcript of the meeting from the Torygraph. Black denies the claims. Barnsley's assistant manager Tommy Wright was sacked by the club on Thursday over claims that he took cash for trying to 'engineer' certain transfers, allegations which he has 'categorically denied.' And, in what appears to be the weakest of the Torygraph's claims, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, manager of Queens Park Strangers, has denied 'any accusations of wrongdoing' after being filmed apparently negotiating a fee to travel to Singapore to speak to the Far East firm. The club's internal investigation into the conduct of Hasselbaink is currently on hold as they await all of the Torygraph's evidence. A Torygraph spokesperson said that it remained the newspaper's intention to release the information but that the police had asked to review it first. City of London Police later confirmed that 'discussions' had already taken place with the Football Association and the Torygraph. Former Moscow Chelski FC striker Hasselbaink issued a statement on Thursday when first implicated by the newspaper and denied 'any accusations of wrongdoing on my part.' He added: 'I was approached by Mr McGarvey and Ms Newell of the Telegraph purporting to be players' agents. They offered me a fee to make a speech in Singapore. I do not see anything unusual in being offered to be paid to make a speech. I did not make any promises in return. I did not ask QPR to purchase any of the players who were said to be managed by Mr McGarvey and Ms Newell and did not and would not recommend the purchase of a player for my personal gain.'
Timing is everything, we all know that. So, it was absolutely hilarious to watch the Football Association and Sam Allardyce suffer further embarrassment on Thursday when all of the England players in Allardyce's squad received postcards from their now ex-manager under the headline The journey has begun. And, ended. The message to the players who defeated Slovakia in their opening World Cup qualifier read: 'Well done! Our journey has begun with our first win together. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Sam Allardyce.' The cards were reportedly sent out on Tuesday, the very day that Allardyce extremely lost his job. The FA had already thrown out four thousand T-shirts (triple X large, one imagines) which the ruling body was planning to give away to fans at Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Malta because they had a 'similar' Allardyce quote on the front. Allardyce, meanwhile, has gone on holiday to 'reflect' on his misfortune. Whether or not he sends any more postcards to players remains to be seen.
Christian Atsu's first-half goal saw yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle win at bottom-of-the-table Rotherham to keep the pressure on Championship leaders Huddersfield. The Magpies' Yoan Gouffran had several early chances, while Joe Newell and Jon Taylor went close at the other end. But Atsu scored the decisive goal just before half-time, firing into the top corner from the edge of the box ith a moment of Premier League quality. Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey had chances to make it two-nil whilst Dominic Ball hit the woodwork for the hosts late on. Gouffran was unlucky not to put The Magpies ahead when his volley was blocked on the line by the chest of Ball and Taylor had a decent chance for The Millers when his shot clipped the crossbar. The Toon took the lead four minutes before the break as Atsu cut inside from the right to unleash an unstoppable strike. After Gayle failed to get a strong enough connection on a Shelvey free-kick, Atsu saw his next shot pushed away by Rotherham keeper Lee Camp. Mohamed Diame, Shelvey and Ciaran Clark all had decent chances before Ball was unfortunate not to equalise, and Will Vaulks had a header cleared off the line.
Three people have been very arrested after rival fans clashed outside West Hamsters United's new Stadium. Sick violence flared after the Hamsters' one-one Premier League draw with Middlesbrough Smog Monsters on Saturday afternoon. Two men were extremely arrested on suspicion of affray and a third on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, Scotland Yard said. Officers were also deployed inside the stadium during the match to deal with 'a separate disturbance,' the Met added. However, it was 'quickly dealt with,' the force claimed, and no arrests were made. Police 'escorted' Middlesbrough fans away from the stadium while officers 'contained' some Hamsters supporters. With truncheons. Probably. There have been several crowd disturbances since The Hamsters moved to the former Olympic Stadium from Upton Park with kids getting sparked an aalsorts. At the first Premier League match at the venue - against Bournemouth on 21 August - some fans arrived with tickets for seats that did not exist, while fighting broke out between rival supporters outside the stadium. West Hamsters said that ten fans were ejected from the stadium during the four-two defeat to Watford last month. The Met said more than forty thousand people had attended Saturday's match against Middlesbrough, and 'the vast majority' had been 'good natured.' At West Ham? That's got to be a first, surely?
The Daily Mirra has claimed that Nigel Pearson's relationship with Derby County owner Mel Morris 'hit rock bottom' when the multi-millionaire 'began using drones to spy on training sessions.' Pearson is set to be extremely sacked as the Rams’ manager after 'a huge row' with Morris reportedly took place following a run of just one win in eleven games for The Rams after Pearson took over at Pride Park in the summer. The paper states 'it is believed that the former Leicester boss became disillusioned with life at the club when Morris started using drones to keep tabs on his training methods.' The Candy Crush tycoon, who is reportedly 'worth five hundred million knicker' employed the technology 'so that he could watch Pearson putting his first-team squad through their paces from anywhere in the world,' the Mirra claims. Asked about the so-called 'spying missions,' Micky Walsh, Pearson's agent, said: 'Nigel's suspension is in the hands of his lawyers and we're also speaking to the LMA.' Derby County officials declined to comment.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Remembrance Day

In an era when words such as 'hero' and 'brave' are thrown about with little thought to what they actually mean, it is all too easy to forget the sacrifices made by previous generations who really did live up to that sort of billing. When the British Army launched its disastrous Somme offensive in the summer of 1916, few people could have envisaged the devastation the campaign would bring. The opening day alone saw British casualties of almost sixty thousand and by the time the slaughter had ground to a bloody halt in the November mud, Britain and her dominions had lost a staggering four hundred thousand men - the cream of a generation. Among the dead was twenty five-year-old Donald Simpson Bell, a second lieutenant in the Ninth Battalion Yorkshire Regiment – known today as the Green Howards - who was the only English professional footballer to receive his country's highest military award for gallantry, the Victoria Cross. Born in the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate in 1890, Donald attended the local grammar school and, it was there that he first came to prominence as a talented all-round sportsman. A keen cricketer, Bell was captain of his school side and, it is said, had the attributes to go further in the sport had he wished. But, football was Donald's first love and a move to London's Westminster College in September 1909 saw him sign amateur forms with the then Southern League side Crystal Palace. Despite establishing himself as a regular in the college football team, in addition to its rugby XV and cricket XI, Bell would leave London on completion of his studies in 1911 having made no first team appearances for Palace. He subsequently returned to Harrogate where he taught English at Starbeck College. Nevertheless, football continued to occupy a significant part of his life and, after brief spells with Newcastle United's reserve side (making his debut for the Magpies' second string in a Northern Infirmary Cup tie against Spen Black & White at St James' Park in March 1911 and playing several times in the side that won the North Eastern League title that season) and later Bishop Auckland, Bell joined Mirfield United. In October 1912, the twenty two-year-old earned his first professional contract when he signed with Second Division Bradford Park Avenue, reportedly earning a princely two pounds and ten shillings a week. Comfortable in both defence and midfield, Donald made his Bradford debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1913 and went on to make five more first team appearances for the club as he helped them secure promotion to the English top flight. Events further afield were about to impact on both Donald Bell and the country as a whole, however, as Europe was plunged into bloody conflict in August 1914. With a promising footballing career ahead of him, Donald instead asked Avenue to release him from his contract so that he could answer Lord Kitchener's call to arms. (It is often claimed that Donald was actually the first professional footballer in the country to join up although this is difficult to verify; certainly it's fair to say he was one of the first.) He enlisted as a private in the Ninth (Service) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment in November 1914. Bell excelled in military service and was soon commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Ninth Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (Alexandra, Princess of Wales' Own) – the regiment now known as the Green Howards. By late 1915 the British Army had suffered debilitating casualty figures and Kitchener's army of volunteers, newly-married Bell among them, were being sent across the channel to prepare for the summer offensive Field Marshall Haig had planned North of the Somme Valley. Bell and his battalion arrived in France in August 1915 and were initially sent into a relatively quiet sector of the line near Armentieres, before heading South to begin preparations for the upcoming battle. The opening day of the Battle of the Somme saw the Green Howards placed in reserve near the town of Albert, however, they were soon thrown into the front line when they attacked a German defensive position called Horseshoe Trench on 5 July. It was during this action that Donald was recommended for the Victoria Cross. As Bell and his men made their way towards their objective, they immediately came under heavy German machine gun fire. With his men caught in the open, Bell traversed down a communication trench with a junior NCO and a private - Corporal Colwill and Private Batey. According to the official Yorkshire Regiment records. 'They crept towards [the trench] and then, suddenly, made a dash across open ground. Bell, who was a superb athlete, moved with incredible speed and surprised the occupants of the machine gun position, shot the gunner with his revolver and blew up the remainder with Mills' bombs. He then threw bombs into the nearby trench, killing over fifty of the enemy.' Donald's bravery allowed his battalion to capture their objective. Bell was a reluctant hero, however, and sent a letter to his mother soon after the action in which he wrote: 'I must confess that it was the biggest fluke alive and I did nothing. I chucked the bomb and it did the trick.' In another letter to his sister, Nancy, he wrote:, self-deprecatingly: 'I was lucky enough to knock out a machine-gun which was causing the lads some bother.' If it was luck, Bell's finally deserted him just five days later. On 10 July during a similar attack on another German stronghold, leading his troops across open ground near the village of Contalmaison, the twenty five-year-old was cut down by machine gun fire and died where he fell. His body was later buried by his men and a wooden cross erected in his memory at a position soon to become known as Bell's Redoubt. Just weeks after his death, Donald was posthumously awarded the British Army's highest decoration for gallantry. The awarding of the Victoria Cross was officially announced in the London Gazette on 9 September 1916 and read: 'For most conspicuous bravery (Horseshoe Trench, France). During an attack a very heavy enfilade fire was opened on the attacking company by a hostile machine-gun. Lieutenant Bell immediately, and on his own initiative, crept up a communication trench and then, followed by Corporal Colwill and Private Batey, rushed across the open under heavy fire and attacked the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. Five days later this gallant officer lost his life performing a similar act of bravery.' The medal was presented to Donald's widow, Rhoda, in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace five months later by King George V. After the war, Donald's body was moved from its initial resting place and reinterred at Gordon Cemetery located in the valley below Ovillers-La Boiselle. In 2000, a memorial co-sponsored by the Players Football Association was erected on the site of Bell's Redoubt to commemorate the actions of Donald in 1916. Almost one decade later, the PFA also bought his Victoria Cross and campaign medals at auction for a price of twenty one thousand pounds. They are now on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester. On 10 July 2016, to mark the centenary of Donald Bell's death, a game took place at Bradford Park Avenue's Horsfall Stadium between two of his former clubs, Bradford and a Newcastle United XI.
     In the event, United's young reserve side - which included the likes of Haris Vučkić and Gael Bigirimana - won three-nil. Ivan Toney put Newcastle ahead after thirteen minutes when Callum Roberts pulled the ball back and Toney tucked a shot inside the post. Sean Longstaff doubled United's lead early in the second half with a low curling shot. Former Plymouth player Tyler Harvey added a third, six minutes from time. In addition to Harvey, the Magpies included three other debutants in their line-up, recent signing Stuart Findlay and trialists, George Ede and Flavio Da Silva. The game saw United renew acquaintances with Park Avenue over half-a-century after the two clubs last met in a senior competitive game. Dropping out of the Football League in 1970, Bradford later went bust but reformed as a Sunday League side and then, happily, re-entered the non-league pyramid in 1989. Aside from Donald Bell, other player links between the two clubs include the great Len Shackleton (who signed Newcastle from Park Avenue in 1946) and Jimmy Scoular (who was appointed Bradford's manager after finishing his distinguished playing career at St James' in 1960).

In common with most clubs in the country, five Newcastle United players lost their lives during the 1914 to 1918 war. Tommy Goodwill and Dan Dunglinson, who had both joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, were killed on the first day at the Somme. Their team-mate, George Rivers also lost his life during in the same offensive, a few days later. Midfielder Richard McGough, an acting bombardier with the Royal Artillery, was killed in April 1917 at Pas-de-Calais whilst inside-forward Tom Cairns died six months later whilst serving with the Royal Field Artillery at Arras during the build up to the Cambrai offensive. They are commemorated on a rather beautiful brass memorial plaque which is on public display at St James' Park opposite the Milburn Stand on Barrack Road, along with dozens of other players and club employees who saw active service during the war. Several former United players, including Jock Findlay, Tom Hughes, Charles Randall, Tom Rowlandson, Richard Harker and John Fleming, also perished during the conflict.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Dragons ... And Dungeons (Hopefully)

Welsh Wales produced the performance of the tournament so far to beat Belgium in the Quarter Finals of Euro 2016 on Friday evening. In an exhilarating display of counter-attacking football, they beat the highly fancied Belgians three-one and, in doing so, showed England's pampered, over-paid worhtless prima donnas what it's like to actually have the will to win a match instead of, you know, being more concerned about poncing around doing shampoo adverts. Wales reached the Semi-Finals of a major tournament for the first time after a stirring fightback in Lille backed by a huge travelling support. Radja Nainggolan put Belgium ahead with a thunderous twenty five-yard strike in the first half but Wales's captain Ashley Williams headed in from a corner to equalise soon afterwards in a breathless period of play littered with chances at both ends. Welsh celebrations reached stratospheric levels when Hal Robson-Kanu, a striker currently without a club, gave them the lead with a superb turn and finish. After withstanding late Belgium pressure, Wales sealed victory through a header from substitute Sam Vokes that set up a Semi-Final against Portugal and a potentially mouth-watering duel between Real Madrid team-mates Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The game also provided proof that you can lose forty eight per cent to fifty two per cent and still stay in Europe.
The most jaw-dropping aspect of the aftermath of England's calamitous Euro 2016 exit was the truly excellent bug-eyed rant that Danny Baker used his Twitter account for shortly after England lost to Iceland. Seldom, dear blog reader, have more richly deserved expletives been used to describe so few. 'Absolutely disgraceful, England. You useless over-paid, over-indulged mollycoddled shits. You are beyond shame. [A] disgrace to working people.' And, that was one of the nicer bits! You go, Candyman! ITV's former tame England manager, Glenn Hoddle, also got a savaging from Baker: 'Oh, we are getting Glenn Hoddle's reaction now. Next up the reaction of a paving stone in Blackpool.' Heh.
There was also the, widely reported, silly season story about the Manchester comedian Joe Hart who got bombarded with abusive messages on Twitter after some planks mistook him for the wank hands England goalkeeper of the same name. Congratulations to Joe (no, the other one) for taking it all with a joke and suggesting that, despite the fact that he's 'a chubby gay comedian', if England want a replacement for his namesake, he is available! You certainly couldn't do any worse than the other Joe, Joe. (This blogger particularly enjoyed the bit about the poor chap called George Osborn [sic] who told Joe, in commiseration, 'I know how you feel, mate!')
How nice it was, also, to see notorious - but, sometimes quite funny - Twitter gobshite Joey Barton, finally come around to the suggestion Keith Telly Topping made two years ago that maybe, just maybe, wank hands Joe Hart might want to consider doing a few less of those wretched shampoo adverts (for which, one presumes, wank hands Joe Hart gets paid an obscene amount of wonga) and a bit more time practising his goalkeeping. Just a suggestion.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable and, recently relegated) Newcastle United have signed Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle and Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, both on five-year deals. Gayle, twenty five, scored twenty six goals in seventy four games for the Palace after joining them from Peterborough for six million smackers in July 2013. 'Newcastle has a massive fan base and a great history so it is amazing to be here,' he told the club website. Scotland winger Ritchie, twenty six, featured forty two times last season as The Cherries maintained their top-flight place. 'It's an unbelievable feeling to come to a football club like this,' said Ritchie. 'I loved it at Bournemouth - I had a fantastic time there and it had a huge impact on my career. But when a club like Newcastle comes calling, I couldn't pass up this opportunity.' Both fees are undisclosed, but Gayle's move - which happened on the day that Newcastle's England winger Andros Townsend went in the opposite direction in a separate deal - is reported to be worth ten million knicker, while Ritchie's signing is believed to have cost around twelve million notes. The pair are manager Rafael Benitez's second and third signings since the club's relegation from the Premier League, following Wednesday's arrival of Belgian goalkeeper Matz Sels. 'Dwight is a great player, a proven goalscorer, and it is fantastic news that he has joined us,' said Rafa The Gaffa. 'We have been following some wingers for a while and Matt was one of the best prospects for this team. He has great ability and pace, and as soon as we knew that Andros Townsend could be leaving, our priority was to finalise this deal.'

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Frozen Out!

Watching the Wales versus Northern Ireland match at the Euros over the weekend, this blogger was genuinely unsure as to how much longer he was going to be able to take listening to Robbie Savage's crowing squeaky voice without smashing myself in the face with a toffee hammer, dear blog reader. As it happened, Keith Telly Topping just about made it to the end in one piece. It was touch and go, though. Keith Telly Topping will say this about Savage, though: He was bloody annoying as a player and now, he's bloody annoying as a commentators. At least he's consistent.
Italy versus Spain on Monday, though. What a fantastic game of football that was. This blogger loves watching the Italians when they play counter-attacking football and break at pace. If this blogger was German - which, obviously, he isn't - he'd be rather nervous right about now about the coming Quarter Final.
And, then there was England versus Iceland. To which, really, the only suitable comment is something along these sort of lines.
'Tactically inept, embarrassing, horrible, clueless.' 'Possibly the greatest calamity in England football history.' To be honest, this blogger kind of half expected it given that England had struggled to break down teams in the previous three games and Iceland had spent the same period successfully stopping other teams from breaking them down. Of course, the British public - and the British media - predictably went totally off it. 'We're the laughing stock of Europe,' apparently. Why? We lost a football match. We do that a lot, dear blog reader, you might have noticed. Collectively, we still seem to have this ridiculous idea in this country that we're, somehow, still among the world's elite - in football, in international politics, in everything. But, we're not. We're not very good, frankly. We haven't been very good for quite a long time. And, I mean, that's okay, really - not everybody can be good at everything - but we need to get that simple fact into our thick heads before we're ever going to progress. As a football nation and as a society.
Mind you, whichever rank clot at ITV thought it was a good idea to show one of those dreadful wank hands Joe Hart shampoo adverts at half-time just moments after the full-of-his-own-importance Sheikh Yer Man City goalkeeper made his second calamitous wank hands fiasco mistake of the tournament really does deserve a pay rise.
Here's a thought, Joe. Maybe, if you spent a bit less time being paid, what this blogger presumes are disgraceful amounts of money making bloody shampoo adverts and a bit more time, I dunno, practising your goalkeeping, you might not make so many wank hands mistakes. Bit of a radical suggestion, I know but then, that's this blogger, always thinking 'outside the box', as it were. Something echoed by this strongly-worded op ed piece in the Indi. Hart has, apparently, apologised to the nation for his woeful errors. Which is big of him since, you know, it was his sodding fault in the first place. He claims to be 'devastated' and to have spent time in the dressing room with his head in his hands. Before it slipped through them and into the goal. Allegedly.
Of course, Mister Hodgson will cop the brunt of the criticism for this malarkey - and, not entirely undeservedly either. He, at least, had the common good manners to do what lots of the shadow cabinet have been doing of late and resign, live on-air, moments after the final whistle. But, it's got to be said, that was a woeful, wretched, embarrassing, almost amateurish performance by a team full of over-paid, under-performing cowards who all looked like they couldn't wait to get back to their two hundred grand-a-week-plus wage packets, their flashy cars, horrible houses full of bling and their curiously orange wives and girlfriends. Congratulations to Iceland - and I mean that genuinely. They simply wanted it more. Although, it could be argued that a team of six-year-olds would have wanted it more than that England side. Maybe they all thought THursday's Brexit vote was meant to be taken literally in regard to the European Championships.
Comedy moment of the week: One of Mister Hodgson's predecessors as England Failure, sorry, Manager, The Wally With The Brolly, proving he's every bit as good a tipster as he was a coach at Newcastle on Sky Sports HQ. Taxi for McLaren.
One imagines they'll be playing that clip for years on It'll Be Alright On The Night. Hopefully with a 'wah-wah-waaaaah' accompaniment.

Finally, this blogger's thanks go to his old mucker Jonny Arnold - Welsh, and therefore safely into the Quarter Finals already - for pointing out that ITV News's feelgood '... and finally' item immediately after the channel's coverage of England's exit was, wait for it, the one hundredth anniversary of The Battle of The Somme.