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.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Strange Days In Europa

It's been a bloody weird Euro 2016 so far, dear blog reader; Hungary, Wales, Iceland and Northern Ireland all springing surprises of Major, Brigadier-General and Rear Admiral proportions, England actually playing half-way decent for three out of four halves thus far, the Italians looking brilliant in their opening game and the Germans looking merely ruthlessly efficient (so, no change there, then). And, everybody wondering which France and which Spain are going to turn up. So, it was really comforting on Friday afternoon to watch a terminally dull Italy versus Sweden game where the Italians looked exactly like the Italians usually look in the opening round of a tournament ('0-0. Good result, that!') And then Eder scored. With a shot. What's that all about? It's nice that, in an uncertain world some things, seemingly, never change.
Iceland's first goal at a major tournament this week brought quite a reaction from commentator Haukur Hardarson of Icelandic national broadcaster RUV during the tiny nation's battling 1-1 draw with Stroppy, full-of-their-own-importance Portugal.
Vasco Da Gama, João Infante, Christopher Columbus, Pêro Da Covilhã, Cristóvão De Mendonça, Tristão Da Cunha, Ferdinand Magellan, Pedro Fernandes De Queirós, Lúcia Santos, António Castanheira Neves, Amália Rodrigues, Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão, José Saramago, Carmen Miranda, Carlos Lopes, Eusébio, Fernando Pessa ... can you hear us? Your boys took a Hell of a drawing. And that.

England's 2-1 Euro 2016 win over Wales on Thursday was watched live on the BBC Sport website by a record 2.3 million people and a peak audience of more than nine million on BBC1. This figure is more than double the BBC's previous biggest live streaming audience, an indication of the huge national interest in the game and the fact that many people were at work when it kicked off at 2pm. BBC1's Match Of The Day Live, which kicked off at 1.30pm, drew an average audience of 6.6 million viewers, a 61.6 per cent share of the available audience. It had a five-minute peak of 9.3 million. The online viewing figures, which include mobile, are a sign of the changing way the nation watches television. The 2.3 million audience includes everyone who clicked on the website and started to live stream the football, which England clinched with an injury time winner by Daniel Sturridge. An all-time high audience of 14.6 million unique global browsers visited the BBC Sport website on Thursday to follow coverage of Euro 2016, including Northern Ireland's victory over Ukraine. This breaks the previous record of 13.6 million browsers set on the final day of the 2015-16 Premier League season. Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, said: 'The BBC has pioneered live digital event coverage from London 2012 Olympics to Glastonbury, and our record breaking figures highlight its increasing importance to audiences.'

Sunday, 11 October 2015

About Time

FIFA has provisionally suspended its president the odious Sepp Blatter, secretary general Jerome Valcke and vice-president oily Michel Platini for ninety days. The punishments were handed out by the ethics committee of football's world governing body, which is investigating the three over corruption allegations and other nefarious skulduggery and malarkey. It also banned ex-FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon from all football-related activity for six years. Issa Hayatou, who heads Africa's football confederation, will act as FIFA president during Blatter's ban. Spain's Angel Maria Villar is expected to head UEFA - European football's governing body - while Platini is suspended. But Platini - and Chung - are still hoping to replace Blatter when he steps down as president in February. Hayatou, meanwhile, has issued a statement saying he will only serve 'on an interim basis' and will not be standing for election. Explaining its decision to ban Blatter, Platini and Valcke, the ethics committee said: 'The grounds for these decisions are the investigations that are being carried out by the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee.' The three are banned from any football activity in the interim. Even a kick-about in the park with mates. Well, that's not applicable to Platini because he hasn't got any mates. They deny any wrongdoing. Well, they would, wouldn't they. Britain's FIFA vice-president David Gill has called for an emergency meeting of its executive committee following Thursday's developments. A statement issued by Blatter's lawyers claimed the soon-to-be-former president was 'disappointed' the ethics committee had not followed its own code in allowing him an opportunity to be heard, and claimed the suspension was based on 'a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland.' It added: 'President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate that he did not engage in any misconduct, criminal or otherwise.' One or two people even believed them. FIFA's ethics committee began its investigation into Blatter after the Swiss attorney general opened criminal proceedings against the seventy nine-year-old. He is extremely accused of signing a contract 'unfavourable' to FIFA and making 'a disloyal payment' to Platini, who is also president of European football's governing body. The ethics committee also opened an inquiry into Platini over the two million euros payment, which was made nine years after the sixty-year-old allegedly carried out some unspecified 'consultation' work for Blatter. Valcke was already on gardening leave from his FIFA post following newspaper allegations last month which implicated the fifty four-year-old in a dodgy, underhand scheme to profit from the sale of World Cup tickets. Earlier this year, United States authorities indicted fourteen FIFA officials and associates on bribery and racketeering charges. A simultaneous Swiss investigation was started into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Just two days later, on 29 May, Blatter won a fifth consecutive FIFA presidential election. However, on 2 June he suddenly and unexpectedly announced his decision to step down in the wake of the corruption allegations. He is due to finish his term at a FIFA extraordinary congress on 26 February. Platini and South Korean billionaire Chung - who was also fined one hundred thousand Swiss Francs by the ethics committee - are two of the leading candidates to replace him. Before the imposition of his provisional ban - which relates to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups - Chung claimed FIFA's investigation into him was an attempt to 'smear' his campaign.
England made it nine wins out of nine in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a comfortable win over Estonia at Wembley on Friday. Roy Hodgson's side had already qualified for France next summer and even without injured captain Wayne Rooney were able to dismiss Estonia with barely an anxious moment. Rooney received a Golden Boot from Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off after breaking his England goalscoring record with his fiftieth goal from the penalty spot in the last qualifier against Switzerland. There was barely a moment of note in the first forty five minutes until man-of-the-match Ross Barkley picked out Theo Walcott with a superb pass to score with the last kick of the half. And England's latest victory was sealed in the dying moments when substitute Jamie Vardy unselfishly set up a second from close range for Raheem Sterling. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have also qualified for the finals, beating Greece 3-1 on a brilliant night at Windsor Park on Thursday. Two goals by skipper Steven Davis and one by stand-in striker Josh Magennis sent them through to the finals of a major tournament for the first time in thirty years. Davis forced in a first-half goal, and then headers by Magennis and Davis ensured Northern Ireland were going to their first European finals. Christos Aravidis got a late goal for Greece but it did not spoil the party. With Romania drawing 1-1 at home to Finland, Northern Ireland will top Group F if they get a point in Finland on Sunday in their final qualifier. Wales joined England and Northern Ireland in the finals, reaching their first major tournament final stages since 1976 in somewhat bizarre circumstances despite defeat in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Needing a point to qualify, Chris Coleman's side were beaten by Milan Djuric and Vedad Ibisevic's second-half goals. But, they still went through thanks to Cyprus' surprise 2-1 victory in Israel, which sparked wild celebrations from the Welsh fans in Zenica. Wales' first defeat of the campaign saw them overtaken at the top of Group B by Belgium, who also qualified with a 4-1 win in Andorra. However, Scotland's hopes of reaching Euro 2016 ended as Poland equalised with the final kick of the match at Hampden. Robert Lewandowski scrambled the ball over the line as the hosts failed to clear a stoppage-time free-kick. It had appeared that Scotland's faint hopes of qualification were just about still alive as superb goals by Matt Ritchie and Steven Fletcher put them in front. But Lewandowski, who had silenced the home crowd with an early opener, repeated that feat in the last seconds.
     The Netherlands are on the verge of missing out on Euro 2016 after Turkey defeated the Czech Republic in Prague. Selcuk Inan netted a penalty and Hakan Calhanoglu struck a second to give the Turks a priceless victory in Group A. It means that the Turks now need just a point in their last group game at home against Iceland to clinch a play-off spot. The Dutch beat Kazakhstan 2-1 in Astana but their fate is out of their own hands, with the Czech Republic and Iceland already claiming the top two spots. Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder scored either side of half-time before Islambek Kuat scored a consolation for Kazakhstan as Danny Blind's side won their fourth game of the campaign. The last time the Dutch failed to qualify for a major tournament was the 2002 World Cup. Their final Group A match is against the Czech Republic. Elsewhere, Iceland were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Latvia, despite having taken a two-goal lead. Italy qualified for the finals and kept up their unbeaten Group H record with victory over Azerbaijan in Baku. The Italians went ahead when Sampdoria striker Eder slotted in from Marco Verratti's superb pass. Azerbaijan equalised through Dmitri Nazarov's low, first-time strike, but Italy regained the lead as Stephan El Shaarawy tapped in from close range. Full-back Matteo Darmian added a third whilst Azeri defender Badavi Huseynov was sent off late on. Having failed to make it to Sweden in 1992, Italy - the competition runners-up in 2000 and 2012 - have now qualified for six consecutive Euro tournaments. Norway and Croatia will battle it out for second spot, after beating Malta and Bulgaria respectively. The Norwegians are away to The Azzurri in their final group game on Tuesday, while Croatia face a trip to Malta. Holders Spain and Switzerland booked their places at Euro 2016 with comfortable victories on Friday. The Arse midfielder Santi Cazorla and Valencia striker Paco Alcacer both scored twice in Logrono as Spain beat Luxembourg 4-0 to win Group C. However, Sheikh Yer Man City midfielder David Silva and forward Alvaro Morata both came off with injuries. In Group E, Leicester City's Gokhan Inler scored as Switzerland thumped San Marino 7-0 to secure their spot. Slovenia's 1-1 draw against Lithuania ensured Switzerland join group winners England in France. The Republic of Ireland produced a stunning victory over world champions Germany on Thusday to leave automatic qualification for Euro 2016 in their own hands. Substitute Shane Long's sublime seventieth-minute finish from a long kick by keeper Darren Randolph, on for the injured Shay Given, secured a memorable win for the Irish. Joachim Löw's side dominated possession in Dublin but could not find the net. Which gave Löw more reason than usual to have a face like a smacked arse. The Republic will qualify for the finals if they defeat Poland in Warsaw on Sunday. They are already guaranteed at least a play-off place, with Scotland able to finish no higher than fourth. Jérôme Boateng headed over for the visitors before Ilkay Gundogan, André Schürrle and Thomas Müller wasted chances as the Republic recorded the most important win of Martin O'Neill's two-year reign.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Porridge

Swiss prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Sepp Blatter, the head of football's world governing body FIFA. And, about effing time, an'aal. The Swuss attorney general's office said he was being investigated 'on suspicion of criminal mismanagement as well as - alternatively - on suspicion of misappropriation.' Blatter was being questioned, and his office was searched, it added. Which, one trusts, would've wiped the smile off Blatter's smug face, even if only briefly. FIFA said it 'was co-operating' with the investigation. Blatter has run FIFA since 1998 and has always denied any wrongdoing. In much the same way that Robert Mugabe does. The attorney general's office said the investigation surrounds a TV rights deal Blatter signed with the odious former Caribbean football chief Jack Warner in 2005. Blatter is also suspected of making a 'disloyal payment' of two million Swiss francs in 2011 to the UEFA president Michel Platini, the statement said. Platini has also been interviewed though the attorney general stressed this was 'as a witness.' Platini is widely expected to replace Blatter when the latter steps down in February. That is, if he hasn't had his ass thrown into jail by then, of course. In May, seven FIFA officials were arrested in Zurich on corruption charges by US authorities. Blatter won a fifth consecutive FIFA presidential election on 29 May but, following continuous claims of corruption and rotten doings, he announced his decision to step down on 2 June. He is due to leave the role at a FIFA extraordinary congress on 26 February. FIFA cancelled its news conference on Friday only minutes before it was due to start. Blatter would have been speaking in public for the first time since FIFA's general secretary, Jerome Valcke, was suspended last week amid allegations regarding ticket sales at the 2014 World Cup. Newspaper reports implicated Valcke in a scheme to sell tickets for above face value. Valcke, who describes the allegations as "fabricated", has been released from his duties pending an investigation. In May, Swiss authorities arrested seven FIFA officials in dawn raids in Zurich at the request of the US. One, FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, has already been extradited. The US then unveiled indictments against seven other people in their corruption case. Nine of those accused were high-ranking current or former FIFA officials. They include the odious Jack Warner who is is accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes and is currently fighting extradition from Trinidad. The Swiss opened their own investigation into FIFA hours after the initial arrests. The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says that the timing of the announcement of the investigation into Blatter was 'no accident', coming as it did while the world's media were gathered in Zurich for a FIFA news conference. She added that ever since the first arrests in May, the Swiss attorney general's office has told her it was 'serious' about investigating FIFA and proving to a sceptical world that Switzerland can 'get tough' on financial corruption. FIFA owns the TV rights to the World Cup and sells them to regional federations which then sell them on to broadcasters. Blatter's lawyer, Richard Cullen, said that he was 'confident' the inquiry would clear Blatter of any wrongdoing regarding the contract with the odious Warner. 'We are confident that when the Swiss authorities have a chance to review the documents and the evidence, they will see that the contract was properly prepared and negotiated by the appropriate staff members of FIFA who were routinely responsible for such contracts, and certainly no mismanagement occurred,' he said.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Get Your Draws Down

England and Scotland have been drawn in the same group for qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The old enemies will also face Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Lithuania in Group F after the draw in St Petersburg. Wales - aiming to reach their first finals since 1958 - are top seeds in Group D which also includes the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland will play World Cup holders Germany in Group C, while Spain and Italy meet in Group G. In another tough group, the Netherlands were drawn with France and Sweden. The winner of each of the nine European groups qualify automatically alongside hosts Russia, with the best eight runners-up entering the play-offs in November 2017. In total, one hundred and forty four teams were drawn in Saturday's ceremony. England and The Scotch last met in two friendlies in the 2013-14 season, with Roy Hodgson's side winning 3-2 at Wembley and 3-1 at Celtic Park. Their last competitive meeting was a two-legged play-off for Euro 2000, which England won 2-1 on aggregate. Scotland boss wee Gordon Strachan said: 'Just as the sun came out in Glasgow, we heard we will play England. I can see why the fans are celebrating, it's a fantastic fixture. The last time the two sides met England stepped it up a gear and it was a fantastic lesson - they pressurise you and you make mistakes and that's something that sticks with us - and I hope will stick with us to fire us on. The good thing from the supporters' point of view is there are no ridiculous journeys.' England manager Roy Hodgson, whose current contract runs until the end of Euro 2016, also believes that the tie will intrigue supporters on both sides of the border. He told BBC Radio 5Live: 'The Scotland fixture really excite people, the recent friendly matches showed that, and we have got recent experience of what the atmosphere will be like. The games will excite the public, get people in the mass media excited too, it is a good draw all round - I think Scotland will be happy with it and we are happy with it. It is a great honour to be England manager - I shall be delighted to retain that position all the time people want me too, but it won't occupy my thoughts at this point in time. I'm pleased to come away with a good group and if England want me to lead the team I will be delighted to do so.' England and Scotland fans who follow their teams on the road will be pretty happy with the draw. Short trips to face each other, then mini-breaks to scenic capitals Bratislava and Ljubljana in central Europe and a few days in the sun in Malta as well as seeing the Baltics with Lithuania. On the pitch, there is no doubt about the biggest threat to England and Scotland. Slovakia are 'doing a Wales' - they are flying in Euro 2016 qualifying, topping a group with Spain with a one hundred per cent record from six games. They have risen to joint fifteenth in the FIFA world rankings. There are lots of familiar faces to England in this group. Slovenia and Lithuania are in the same Euro 2016 qualifying group as the Three Lions. Slovenia are forty ninth in the world and third in the group, while Lithuania are fifth. They have been in every one of England's Euro qualifying groups since the 1990s. Malta are bottom of Group H with one point. Both sides will hope they don't struggle in the Maltese heat as much as West Ham United Girls XI, who needed penalties to beat the third best Maltese side, Birkirkara, in the Europa League last week. Wales and the Republic of Ireland were in the same qualifying group for the Euro 2008 finals, with Stephen Ireland giving Eire a 1-0 win in Dublin before a 2-2 draw in Cardiff. Wales manager Chris Coleman told 5Live: 'We've really improved in the last three years. We fancy ourselves against anyone. You look at other groups - it could have been easier or tougher. There's a lot of football to go in the Euro 2016 qualifiers before this. This has been the biggest honour of my career. My sole focus is on leading my country to France. After that I'll look at what's next. We've had a bit of fun being in pot one. It's new for us. We've really enjoyed it.' In the afternoon's earlier global draws twenty preliminary ties in Africa were organised, the order of matches in South America decided and groups in both the Concacaf and Oceania federations resolved. The draw brought together soon-to-be-former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and another alleged criminal, the Butcher of Grosny Vladimir Putin. Both deny any wrongdoing. Well, they would, wouldn't they?
That draw, in full:-
Europe
Group A: Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, Luxembourg
Group B: Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra
Group C: Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino
Group D: Wales , Austria, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Moldova, Georgia
Group E: Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan
Group F: England, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta
Group G: Spain, Italy, Albania, Israel, Former Yougoslav Republic of Macedonia, Liechtenstein
Group H: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus
Group I: Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland
The nine group winners all qualify. The eight runners-up with the best record against the teams first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups will proceed to the play-offs. Russia automatically qualify as hosts.
Africa
Round one, two-legged ties, played 5 and 13 October.
Somalia v Niger, South Sudan v Mauritania, Gambia v Namibia, Sao Tome e Principe v Ethiopia, Chad v Sierra Leone, Comoros v Lesotho, Dijibouti v Swaziland, Eritrea v Botswana, Seychelles v Burundi, Liberia v Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic v Madagascar, Mauritius v Kenya, Tanzania v Malawi
Round two, two-legged ties, played 9 and 17 November.
Somalia or Niger v Cameroon, South Sudan or Mauritania v Tunisia, Gambia or Namibia v Guinea, Sao Tome e Principe or Ethiopia v Congo, Chad or Sierra Leone v Egypt, Comoros or Lesotho v Ghana, Djibouti or Swaziland v Nigeria, Eritrea or Botswana v Mali, Seychelles or Burundi v DR Congo, Liberia or Guinea-Bissau v Côte d'Ivoire, Central African Republic or Madagascar v Senegal, Mauritius or Kenya v Cape Verde, Tanzania or Malawi v Algeria, Sudan v Zambia, Libya v Rwanda, Morocco v Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique v Gabon, Benin v Burkina Faso, Togo v Uganda, Angola v South Africa
The twenty winners from the second round will go into a third round comprising five groups of four. The five group winners of each group qualify for the World Cup.
Concacaf
Third round, Two-legged ties, played from 31 August to 8 September.
Curacao v El Salvador, Canada v Belize, Grenada v Haiti, Jamaica v Nicaragua, St Vincent & Grenadines v Aruba, Antigua & Barbuda v Guatemala
Group A: Honduras, Mexico, Curacao or El Salvador, Canada or Belize
Group B: Panama, Costa Rica, Grenada or Haiti, Jamaica or Nicaragua
Group C: Trinidad & Tabasco, USA, St Vincent & Grenadines or Aruba, Antigua & Barbuda or Guatemala
The top two teams from each group will play in a six-team mini-league. The top three qualify and the fourth goes into an inter-continental play-off with a team from Asia.
Oceania
Round one (group stage)
American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga
Round two (group stage)
Group A: The winner of round one between American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga plus Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Tahiti
Group B: New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands
The top three teams in Group A and Group B progress to round three. That will comprise of two groups of three, with the top team in each progressing to a two-legged play-off. The winners of that qualify for the inter-continental play-off against the fifth placed team in South America.
South America
Group stage: Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay.
The top four teams automatically qualify. Fifth place goes into a play-off with the winner from Oceania.

FIFA - who are, obviously, not a complete gang of hypocritical crooks, oh no, very hot water - has admitted the corruption scandal is putting off new World Cup sponsors and plans to hold a summit with existing backers in August. Secretary-general Jerome Valcke said: 'The current situation doesn't help to finalise any new agreements.' Earlier, key sponsor Visa lambasted Fifa for 'a lack of awareness' of the seriousness of corruption charges. This week, FIFA said it would set up an eleven-strong 'taskforce' to 'examine the issue' of corruption. What's to examine, just stop doing it. The August meeting was first suggested by major sponsors, Valcke said. 'Clearly, there were a number of sponsors, mainly three, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa, who sent a letter to FIFA, asking for information,' he said. 'Two or three days ago we received a letter from all of them offering to meet together, so there will there will be a meeting next month.' Visa chief executive Charlie Scharf on Thursday expressed his concern over the situation, telling investors his payments company sought partnerships with those 'who think and act like us.' He said it tried to hold the highest standards, but did not believe FIFA was living up to those. Visa has been one of the most critical of FIFA's top sponsors. Nevertheless, such public plain talking is rare. Coca-Cola and McDonald's have also been vocal about their concerns. FIFA's other key sponsors include Budweiser and Adidas. Top FIFA officials were arrested earlier this year on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering as part of a US prosecution that also indicted fourteen people. It sparked the resignation of its president, Sepp Blatter, who announced he intended to leave next year. Scharf expressed 'a lack of confidence' in FIFA's ability to reform, saying 'no meaningful reform can be achieved under the current leadership', although he stopped short of asking anyone to resign. He is calling for an independent commission to be set up to plan for reform. Eleven days ago Coca-Cola also called for such a body to be set up. Lobby groups backed Scharf's comments. Transparency International, NewFIFANow and the International Trade Union Confederation all applauded Visa for its stance. 'Coca Cola and Visa have rightly recognised the depth of the corruption crisis facing FIFA,' said TI's Neil Martinson.

Tuesday of this week saw confirmation of the signing by yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies of centre forward Aleksandar Mitrović on a five-year deal. Aleksandar becomes United's second close season capture after Georginio Wijnaldum and arrives from Belgians Anderlecht for a claimed thirteen million smackers fee - making him Newcastle's fourth most expensive signing. Although, considering that one of those ahead of him was The Little Shit, that really isn't saying much. Having flown into Newcastle from Brussels by private jet on Sunday ahead of his medical, Mitrović was spotted at the Gateshead Hilton hotel on Monday. A possible début at Dirty Sheffield United on Sunday now beckons for the twenty year-old Serbian international, with head coach Steve McClaren telling BBC Radio Newcastle: 'It shows where we want to go. It's a statement of intent. We've had to be patient and the first two through the door are the right age and the right experience. His record is good, he's a young talent and his profile is ideal. He's a player we've been following for quite a while. We looked at his record, looked at a few of his games and Graham Carr watched him a lot of times. Credit to Graham and Lee Charnley for getting it over the line.' Mitrović hinted on his social media account over the weekend that the deal was on, thanking Anderlecht for his time there and also saying 'again in black and white' - a reference to the colours of both his new team and those of his former club, Partizan Belgrade. Something of a 'colourful character' (ie. a bit of a nutter, albeit a talented one), Mitrović scored forty four goals in ninety appearances for Anderlecht and has thirteen caps for his national side. He is likely to be joined at St James' Park next week by his Anderlecht team-mate, centre back Chancel Mbemba who is alleged to be on the verge of a seven million quid move to the Premiership side. DR Congo international Mbemba made his senior début in Belgium back in 2013 and according to Anderlecht's website will celebrate his twenty first birthday next month.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

All Fall Down

Soon to be former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is allegedly 'being investigated' by US officials as part of their inquiry into wholesale corruption and rotten doings at the heart of the world football body, US media suggests. The news came just hours after Blatter, to the surprise - but, delight - of millions, announced that he will be stepping down from his role. At some stage. US prosecutors launched an extremely criminal inquiry in FIFA last week, with seven officials arrested in Switzerland, part of a group of fourteen people indicted. Two days after the arrests, the the disgust of millions, Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA thanks to the rank and odious greed of many national associations, mainly in Africa and Asia. However, he said on Tuesday of this week that it appeared the mandate he had been given 'does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world.' Not that this is a new thing, of course, and it's never stopped him from being president in the past. Blatter said: 'FIFA needs profound restructuring.' He said hat he would continue in post until an extraordinary congress is called to elect a new president. No dates have been set, but it is expected to take place sometime between December 2015 and March 2016. 'I am the president now, the president of everybody,' Blatter said after winning a fifth term as FIFA's head last Friday. What would have sounded like parody coming from the mouth of anyone else served instead as an accurate reflection of his own vainglorious self-image. The dark storm of allegations which led to Blatter's dramatic resignation on Tuesday are only the most recent of the venal affairs to dog sport at the highest level. The allegations of bribery in Salt Lake City's successful campaign to host the 2002 Winter Olympics saw ten senior International Olympic Committee figures resign. But that was one event, at one moment in time. Football is the dominant global game. For more than a decade, its highest custodians stand accused of endemic and methodical corruption. The shock lies not in the charges themselves but in the fact that Blatter, master of perpetual evasion, not just a Teflon Don but a man so slippery even his own shadow struggles to cling on, has finally been brought down by them. Blatter has so far carefully avoided handing over a smoking gun. As mea culpas go, 'my mandate does not appear to be supported by everybody' is Sepp's equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction, an empty phrase that only hints at the naked scandal beneath. 'Crisis? What is a crisis?' he famously asked before being voted in unopposed four years ago. This last week alone serves as a neat summary: seven FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland at the request of the US authorities investigating corruption of more than one hundred million quid; reports claiming FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was responsible for an alleged ten million payment of bribes over South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup, Interpol put six men linked to FIFA on its 'most wanted' list, issuing international alerts for two former FIFA officials - including the odious Jack Warner - and four executives on charges including racketeering and corruption and a separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated. And there are scandals within the scandals. If the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was not contentious enough in itself, in December last year FIFA chose not to release its own investigation into corruption. The report's author, American Michael Garcia, immediately resigned. Blatter said last week that he wanted to stay on at FIFA to 'lift the shadow' cast by those arrests, which would be like asking disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson to lead the 1989 Dubin Inquiry, the Canadian government investigation into drug abuse which followed his positive test at the 1988 Seoul Games. US officials quoted in the New York Times said THAT they hoped to 'gain the co-operation' of 'some of the FIFA figures now under indictment' on charges of racketeering and money laundering to try to build a case against Blatter. Earlier the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who is involved in the US prosecutions, all said that they would 'not comment' on the Blatter resignation. In its prosecution, the US justice department said fourteen individuals were under investigation worldwide for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than a hundred million quid over a twenty four-year period. Two vice-presidents were among the seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich. They all await US extradition proceedings. Brazilian footballing legend Pele told the BBC that the developments surrounding FIFA and Blatter 'surprised everyone. My position is like a player. I want to see football put people together, stop the war,' he said. 'FIFA needs honest people.' The arrests overshadowed the vote for a new president, which Blatter won, defeating his sole challenger, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan. Prince Ali withdrew despite forcing a second round, having lost the first by one hundred and thirty three votes to seventy three. Blatter, who has been FIFA president since 1998, said he would urge FIFA's executive committee to organise an extraordinary congress for the election of my successor at the earliest opportunity. This will need to be done in line with FIFA's statutes and we must allow enough time for the best candidates to present themselves and to campaign.' Further allegations of corruption emerged on Tuesday shortly before Blatter's resignation was announced, with claims that FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was linked to an alleged ten million dollars payment of bribes to the odious Jack Warner over South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup. Both Valcke and Warner deny any wrongdoing. Well, they would, wouldn't they? A separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated is also under way. The FIFA president has previously survived repeated accusations of corruption against his organisation. So for him to go, just days after winning an election with a heavy majority, there would appear to be something significant happening behind the scenes. Th FA's Greg Dyke - a long-term Bltter critic - said in an interview with BBC 5Live: 'I don't believe a word of this. If he believes that why not step down last week when we asked him to? He was cock-a-hoop when he won and terribly arrogant. Clearly there is a smoking gun of some sort. This is nothing to do with Blatter being honourable. He hasn't been honourable for years.”' FIFA sponsors, including Visa, Coca-Cola and McDonald's, have welcomed Blatter's decision to resign. However, both Visa and Coca-Cola repeated warnings that they expected 'a swift overhaul' at FIFA. And, McDonald's said that it hoped this would be the first step towards 'gaining back trust from fans worldwide.' By hell, you really know someone has screwed up when McDonald's becomes a moral compass. The rising pressure from the US investigation into corruption looks the most likely source for Blatter's departure and hours after his resignation, reports emerged in US media that the FBI had begun investigating him directly. Speaking on stage, the seventy nine-year-old looked diminished, a far cry from his usual strutting, bombastic self. As he resigned, Blatter suggested he wanted to reform the sport before he handed over the reins to his successor.

Former top FIFA official Chuck Blazer has admitted that he and others on the executive committee agreed to accept bribes in connection with the choice of South Africa as 2010 World Cup hosts. The American said he also facilitated bribes over the 1998 event. The admissions come in a newly released transcript from a 2013 US hearing in which he pleaded extremely guilty to ten charges. In another development, former FIFA Vice-President the odious Jack Warner, who is among those charged, said on Wednesday that he had documents linking FIFA officials to the 2010 election in Trinidad and Tobago. 'I will no longer keep secrets for them who actively seek to destroy the country,' he said in a paid political broadcast on Wednesday evening. And so, the whole rotten house of cards starts to collapse and all of the greed monsters turn on each other to save their own skins. Or, something. Warner, who denies charges against him, said that he feared for his life, but would reveal everything he knows about the alleged corruption. Warner resigned from all football activity in 2011 amid bribery allegations and later stepped down as Trinidad and Tobago's security minister amid a fraud inquiry. A key figure in the deepening scandal, he said that he had given his lawyers documents outlining the links between FIFA, its funding, himself and the 2010 election in Trinidad and Tobago. He said the transactions also included Blatter. The details of Blazer's guilty pleas came as prosecutors unsealed the transcript of the 2013 hearing in the Eastern New York District Court. The admissions are part of a sentencing deal with prosecutors. Blazer was the second highest official in FIFA's North and Central American and Caribbean region from 1990 to 2011 and also served on FIFA's executive committee between 1997 and 2013. To date, he is the highest placed FIFA official to Copper's Nark on his former mates. In the transcript, prosecutors refer to FIFA 'and its membership or constituent organisation' as 'a Rico enterprise' - a Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organisation. Blazer says: 'Beginning in or around 2004 and continuing through 2011, I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup.' Earlier on Wednesday, South Africa denied paying a ten million dollar bribe to secure the hosting of the 2010 event. Blazer said that one of his co-conspirators received a bribe in Morocco for its bid to host the 1998 tournament, which was eventually awarded to France. He and others also accepted bribes in connection with broadcast and other rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003, he added. Other admissions among the ten charges in the forty-page dossier include US tax evasion. Federal agents investigating the tax evasion had detained Blazer and he agreed to co-operate in the US investigations. He is said to have agreed to record his colleagues using a microphone hidden in a keychain. In addition to the US case, Swiss authorities have launched a criminal investigation into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated. Qatar has claimed there is no way it will be stripped of the right to host the 2022 World Cup despite the corruption probe.Foreign minister Khaled al Attiyah dismissed what he called 'a bashing campaign' as 'anti-Arab prejudice' and said that Qatar was 'confident' it could prove there had been 'no wrongdoing' in its selection.
Ryan Taylor has said that he was told he was being released by Newcastle in a phone call from John Carver, who then asked the player to pass the phone to his team-mate Jonas Gutierrez so that the Magpies temporary boss could tell him he was being released as well. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) United secured their Premier League status on the final day of the season. 'John Carver rang me and told me the club weren't going to offer me a new deal,' Taylor told Sky Sports News. 'Then he asked me to pass the phone to Jonas, which was unbelievable.' Taylor spent six years at St James' Park, while midfielder Gutierrez had been at the club since 2008. Gutierrez, who has fought testicular cancer, scored in the 2-0 win over West Ham which guaranteed Newcastle's Premier league status. Taylor said that he had 'some sympathy' for Carver. 'I spoke to him and he seemed upset about telling two good pros, who have been there a long time, that it's come to an end,' said the defender. 'I can't really blame John because he's under instructions on what to do.' Taylor and Gutierrez are currently in Belfast at a coaching course. Following confirmation of his release, Gutierrez took to social media and posted the following message: 'Thanks to all football fans and Newcastle fans for supporting me and trust in me. This is a way to demonstrate I always hear you. You are very important to me, football wouldn't be the same without you. All my effort and affection is for you.' He also posted a photo montage on Facebook before signing off with the following barbed comment: 'Two things I learn from my illness, how you can support a player (Newcastle fans) and how you leave a player alone (Newcastle owner).'

Glasgow Rangers say that they will 'co-operate fully' with the investigation into the 'disgraceful scenes' following the Scottish Premiership play-off final. A violent on-field clash between Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni and Motherwell's Lee Erwin sparked a mass brawl at Fir Parkwith kids getting sparked an aal sorts. Police and the football authorities are reviewing the incident and the match delegate is due to deliver his damning report this week. Mohsni responded to a push by Erwin by aiming a kick and punch at the striker after last Sunday's clash which then descended into chaos and mindless violence. The second leg saw Motherwell preserve their Premiership status courtesy of a 6-1 aggregate victory. Mohsni also tussled with Motherwell's unused substitute Fraser Kerr. All three players were shown red cards by referee Craig Thomson after the match. 'Bilel Mohsni's behaviour was completely unacceptable and had his contract not now expired, the club would have started disciplinary proceedings,' Rangers said in a statement. 'The club will also assist with any investigation into the behaviour of Motherwell supporters and we would like to thank the Rangers fans who were excellent in showing admirable restraint despite severe provocation.' Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins said: 'Police Scotland will conduct a full review of the circumstances and liaise with the appropriate partners, and decide how best to take the matter forward over the coming days.' Rangers' manager, Stuart McCall, claimed that he did not see the incident, but acknowledged such behaviour was 'unacceptable.' Speaking after his side's 3-0 loss at Fir Park, he said: 'If he has thrown a punch that's disgraceful. But it's safe to say he won't be at the club next season. He's out of contract.' Oh, so that's all right, then. Not our problem now, pal. Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough said that the scenes detracted from 'a great day' for the Lanarkshire club. 'There's been an outpouring of emotions, shall we say, and it's gone too far,' he told BBC Scotland. 'Scottish football doesn't need it. There were two teams battling it out over one hundred and eighty minutes, they gave it absolutely everything. For one or two individuals to ruin it, tarnish it, is a shame.' Erwin appeared to shove Mohsni after the defender refused his offer of a handshake and describe his opponent's reaction as 'embarrassing' in a television interview, given with blood on his face. Motherwell fans spilled onto the pitch while the fight was going on and had to be ushered away by police and stewards as they goaded Rangers supporters. Former Scottish FA chief executive Gordon Smith believes it should be for the football authorities, not the Police, to deal with the matter. 'I think it was thuggery,' Smith told BBC Scotland. 'It's happened in a football match and the football authorities have to deal with it. I don't think the police should be involved.'

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bend It Like FIFA (Slight Return)

The FIFA presidential election will take place this Friday as planned despite the arrest of seven FIFA officials on charges they received more than one hundred and fifty million dollars in bribes. Among those arrested was FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb. Prosecutors said they had discovered a dozen schemes, including one awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. A separate criminal investigation into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated has also begun. Swiss police said they would question ten FIFA executive committee members who participated in the votes which selected Russia and Qatar in December 2010. But, FIFA has already ruled out a re-vote, insisting Russia and Qatar will remain the respective hosts regardless of how much - alleged - dirty money was - allegedly - paid. Sepp Blatter faces Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in Friday's election as he seeks a fifth term as FIFA president. because, obviously, he's done such a bang-up job in running a piss-up in a brewary during his first four terms. Prince Ali described Wednesday's developments as 'a sad day for football' but declined to comment further. Swiss police made a series of dawn raids at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where FIFA officials are staying ahead of Friday's presidential election. The seven FIFA officials were arrested after the US Department of Justice issued a forty seven-count indictment charging fourteen defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in a twenty four-year scheme. The FBI also raided the headquarters of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football in Miami Beach. 'The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted,' said New York Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 'It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.' Nine current or former Fifa officials, including Webb and former FIFA vice-president the odious Jack Warner have been charged with corruption. Four individual and two corporate defendants, including former Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer and Warner's sons Daryan and Daryll have already pleaded guilty to the charges against them. Those arrested in Switzerland were Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin. They now face extradition to the United States. Warner, a former FIFA vice-president from Trinidad and Tobago, insists he is innocent of the charges. He quit world football's governing body in 2011 after being suspended pending the outcome on an investigation into corruption allegations against him. He is accused of soliciting ten million smackers in bribes from South Africa's government over the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. In a statement, he said the 'actions of FIFA no longer concern me.' In a separate move, just hours after the earlier arrests, Swiss authorities opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Electronic data was seized from FIFA's headquarters in Zurich as part of a investigation into 'criminal mismanagement' and 'money laundering.' Swiss police intend to question ten FIFA executive committee members who took part in the voting process in December 2010. If convicted, the defendants could face up to twenty years in the pokey. Spelling out details of the US case, Lynch said that some FIFA executives had 'used their positions to solicit bribes. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament. They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.' She alleged that some indicted individuals 'engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organisation overseeing organised soccer worldwide.' Three years ago, FIFA hired a former US prosecutor, Michael Garcia, to investigate allegations of bribery over the awarding of the World Cups to Qatar and Russia. However, it refused to publish his report, releasing only a summary in which it said there were 'no major irregularities.' Garcia quit, saying the summary was 'erroneous.' World football's governing body has been dogged by allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in recent years. The latest events are another major blow, although FIFA's communications director insisted the organisation was committed to reform. 'This is good for FIFA,' Walter De Gregorio told a news conference. 'It hurts, it is not easy, but it confirms we are on the right track.' De Gregorio claimed that Blatter was 'very calm', adding that the seventy nine-year-old Swiss 'is fully co-operating' with the authorities. FIFA later issued a statement welcoming 'actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.' UEFA, the body that governs European football, said it was 'astonished and saddened by the events', while Jim Boyce, Britain's outgoing FIFA vice-president, said it was 'another sad day for FIFA'. England's Football Association said the developments 'are very serious for FIFA and its current leadership.' FA chairman Greg Dyke added that there 'must be a question mark' over whether the presidential election should take place now. Damian Collins, the MP who has called for FIFA reform, said it was 'a hugely significant development for FIFA' and added that Blatter had 'failed to live up to his promises' to stamp out corruption. 'Because he has totally failed to do this, it has been left to an outside law enforcement agency to do the job and take action,' said Collins.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hard Times

A Premier League footballer has been 'caught up' in a one hundred thousand smackers blackmail attempt following an alleged one-night stand, it has been reported. The married defender, said to be 'a household name', is claimed to have spent a 'no holds barred' night of red hot rampant passion with the sweating and the thrusting and the 'yes, yes, Big Boy, harder' and that, with a woman before sending her a number of explicit photographs and videos of himself and his massive maleness. As ou do. Well, as you do if you're a hideously overpaid, numskull moron, that is. But, it has emerged that the alleged woman, allegedly in her thirties and allegedly single, then showed the allegedly intimate images of the player's naughty bits to the player's club allegedly after learning that he was married - and allegedly demanded loads of disgusting wonga in alleged return for her alleged silence. Allegedly. According to the Sun on Sunday (they're not alleged, they definitely exist), the pair allegedly met at a party close to the player's home last year and, allegedly, had sex - lots and lots of sex - some hours later. Blimey, he wasn't hanging about, was he? One wonders if he moves that fast when he's playing for his club. The newspaper quotes an alleged - anonymous, and therefore almost certainly fictitious - 'source' as allegedly saying: 'It was no holds barred. It may have been a brief encounter but it left them both exhausted. This was pure animal passion. His wife would be horrified if she ever found out the full details.' Yes, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing an alleged 'source' would allegedly tell a notorious tabloid newspaper. The alleged woman allegedly travelled to the footballer's club 'along with her family' after learning that he was married and showed officials the explicit material she had been sent. Their reaction is not reported. Although 'crikey, that's a big one. He keeps that hidden in the showers' would not have been surprising. After allegedly demanding an alleged hundred grand to 'keep quiet' - which, as far as this blogger knows is, actually, a crime - she was 'referred to the legal department at the club.' Officials have allegedly refused to pay out any cash. Whether they have also snitched her up to The Law for her alleged attempted blackmail is, also, unknown at this time. The Sun on Sunday claims that, 'for legal reasons', it cannot reveal the alleged identity of the player, the woman or the club involved. Curiously, it does not reveal where it got the story from in the first place although, there would appear to be only three potential sources and two of those would appear to have little reasons to go running to a tabloid with such a tale. It reports that the player is 'distraught' after learning the woman had contacted his club - and we're supposed to, what, feel sorry for him? - while his wife is said to be 'completely unaware' of the one-night stand.

FIFA says that it will not pay compensation to clubs and leagues unhappy about plans to play the 2022 Qatar World Cup in November and December. It also said that no apology was necessary for the idiotic scheduling of the tournament, which will disrupt a number of European leagues. A FIFA taskforce has recommended the 2022 World Cup take place in winter to avoid Qatar's hot summer temperatures. This, despite the fact that Qatar had been awarded the 2022 World Cup following a bid to hold the tournament in the summer. 'There will be no compensation,' sneered FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. 'There are seven years to reorganise.' FIFA's executive committee will meet in Zurich next month to ratify the taskforce's recommendation. Valcke also suggested that a 2022 World Cup final on 23 December was 'looking increasingly likely.' Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore claims a final that close to Christmas will 'cause havoc' with the traditional festive club programme, while FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce wants it played a week earlier. But Valcke says that European governing body UEFA and other confederations are keen on Friday 23 December, although 18 December is 'also a possibility.' Valcke also confirmed that the 2022 World Cup will be four days shorter than previously 'as a concession' to leagues and clubs - twenty eight days instead of the usual thirty two - and that the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations will move to June from January.

The Greek government has suspended professional football in the country indefinitely. The move follows violence at a match between rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, as well as a brawl between club officials at a board meeting on Tuesday. With chaps getting sparked and aal sorts. The Greek league has already been suspended twice this season due to violence. Newly-elected ruling party Syriza have pledged to stamp out the problem. As well as deal with the Germans. The suspension affects the top three divisions in the country. 'What we have been informed is that the Super League and the Football League have been suspended indefinitely,' Super League president Giorgos Borovilos told reporters. 'We have a new government who are looking to bring this subject up for discussion and implement state laws related to it.' Borovilos added: 'The government wants games to start again as soon as possible, but for that they want to see immediate reactions from all of us.' Fans hurled flares, rocks and bottles at officials during Panathinaikos's 2-1 victory over league leaders Olympiakos on Sunday. An executive meeting of Super League officials was then called off after a Panathinaikos official claimed he had been punched by Olympiakos security personnel. The two Athens clubs are known as the 'eternal enemies' and share a fierce rivalry that often spills over into a violence. Although it's still nowt compared to Newcastle and Sunderland. Matches in the professional divisions were previously halted in September and November last year. The first suspension was caused by the death of a fan after clashes between supporters of third-division teams Ethnikos Piraeus and Irodotos. The second sanction followed an assault on the assistant director of the refereeing committee.

Charlton Not Very Athletic have admitted that video footage of a couple apparently having big, hot, thrusting, sweaty sex on the centre spot of the pitch at The Valley was, in fact, a publicity stunt. The video of the man and woman had more than a million views on social media. The Addicks had claimed that the amorous pair had broken into the ground and they were 'investigating' the footage. 'We decided to own up and explain that it was set up by us to launch our pitch hire campaign,' said commercial manager Mark Hassan-Ali. The club are hiring out their pitch for fans to play on in the summer and launched the offer on their website under the headline Score at the Valley.
An unexploded Second World War bomb has been discovered close to Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park ground. The five hundred and fifty pound device, reported by German broadcaster DW as being 'of British origin', was found on Thursday and plans are in place to try and defuse it. The discovery came just hours before Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp was due to give a news conference ahead of Saturday's derby against Schalke. The eighty thousand capacity stadium and the surrounding area was evacuated. 'It is not yet known how long the stadium area will remain off limits,' Dortmund, who shut their Fan World space and club museum, said in a brief statement. The bomb was found at a parking area to the west of the Signal Iduna Park and was discovered after viewing aerial photographs. Finding unexploded World War II bombs is a relatively common occurrence in Germany where several million tonnes of bombs were dropped by Bomber Command and the Soviet air force. The city of Dortmund suffered extensive destruction during bombing raids. Mind you, they did start the war in the first place so, you know, one could argue that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Of course, the pen is mightier than the sword (and, much easier to fit into your top pocket as well).

China should start 'training babies' if the country is to be successful at football, according to President Xi Jinping. Who is, obviously, not mental nor nothing. The government has approved the country's 'football reform plan' and says that being good at football is the 'ardent wish of the whole nation.' As, it is indeed, the fervent wish of England. And, it's equally unlikely to happen any time soon. In its summary of the reform plan, state news agency Xinhua said: 'Grasp the development opportunity as babies.' Xi, a football fan, reportedly has three wishes for China - to qualify for another World Cup, to host one and to win one. This blogger also had three wishes although, to be fair, one of them doesn't involve football. Instead, it involves a paradise island, a big dirty woman, a swimming pool and nice plate of tasty prawn chow mein. Swings and roundabouts, innit. But, perhaps this blogger has said too much. Anyway, the Asian nation, which has a population of around 1.35 billion people, is currently placed eighty second in the FIFA world rankings. China qualified for its one and only World Cup appearance at the 2002 finals, which were held in Japan and South Korea, losing all three group games, without scoring a goal.