Monday, 31 May 2021

Glad It's All Over

The six Premier League clubs involved in the disgraced and disgraceful European Super League fiasco have agreed to make a combined 'goodwill' payment of twenty two million smackers. The Arse, Moscow Chelski FC, The Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws, Sheikh Yer Man City, The Scum and Stottingtot Hotshots all got their greed right on and wanted to form a breakaway league. Which would, effectively, have pissed all over the other fourteen Premier League Clubs and everyone else in the English football pyramid without, seemingly, the six clubs having a single thought in their collective head other than how much disgusting wonga the greedy fekkers were going to rake in for themselves. Should they attempt any similar malarkey again, new rules mean that the clubs will be fined twenty five million knicker each and will have thirty points deducted. So, that makes any such repeat extremely unlikely. Although, it would be really funny if they tried it. Meanwhile, UEFA has temporarily paused disciplinary proceedings against Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. They are the only three clubs - with their greed right on - from the twelve that signed up who are yet to accept any punishment or renounce the ESL and all its Devilish works. European football's governing body had opened disciplinary proceedings against the trio in May. In a joint statement, the Football Association and Premier League said that the English clubs had 'collectively agreed' to make a payment of twenty two million notes as 'a gesture of goodwill.' The money 'will go towards the good of the game,' it has been claimed, which includes 'new investment in support for fans' and will 'help fund grassroots and community projects.' One or two people even believed that was, actually, where the money would end up. 'The six clubs involved in proposals to form a European Super League have acknowledged once again that their actions were a mistake and have reconfirmed their commitment to the Premier League and the future of the English game,' the two bodies said in a statement. 'They have wholeheartedly apologised to their fans, fellow clubs, the Premier League and the FA.' Albeit, apologised nowhere near grovellingly enough to satisfy the impotent rage felt against these greedy louse-scum by the majority of the game's supporters, including - to be fair - many of their own. 'The Premier League and the FA have worked closely together throughout this process and this agreement brings both investigations into the matter to a conclusion,' the statement continued. The BBC Sport website claims that The Scum's owners the Glazer family, Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws owners Fenway Sports Group, The Arse's majority shareholders Kroenke Sports Enterprises and Stottingtot Hotshot's owners will pay the fine rather than their clubs. Whether the billionaire owners of Sheikh Yer Man City and Moscow Chelski FC will do likewise is not, at this time, known. Or, indeed, much cared about frankly. Former The Scum and England defender Gary Neville, who has been a vocal critic of football's governance and the ESL, tweeted the punishment was 'an absolute embarrassment.' And, for once he's absolutely correct. An average of about three-and-a-bit million quid each is roughly what these bunch of jokers spend on vol au vants for the boardroom each season. Nine of the ESL clubs - the six Premier League sides, plus AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid - were fined a similar amount by European governing body UEFA last month. They agreed to pay fifteen million Euros between them and have five per cent of their UEFA competition revenues held for one season, starting in 2023-24. In May, UEFA said the other three clubs involved - Real, Barca and Juve - would face 'appropriate action' having failed to distance themselves from the ESL. Media outlets were told the clubs were risking being removed from the Champions League if the case went against them, but - sadly - that now looks unlikely. The three clubs believe an order issued by a Madrid court in April that prevents UEFA taking action against them is valid in Switzerland, where the governing body is based. This has now been passed to the European Court of Justice for a ruling, which has led to the initial case being stopped. UEFA said it was 'confident' in its case and would 'continue to defend its position in all the relevant jurisdictions.' The negative reaction to the ESL has sparked a huge debate about how football is run. The government has already announced a 'fan-led review' into football governance and the prospect of an independent regulator in English football is set for a parliamentary debate after a petition, launched by a number of ex-footballers, gained more than one hundred thousand signatures.
The Premier League has agreed to roll over its existing television deal with broadcasters for a further three years. The new deal with Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video and BBC Sport will run from 2022 to 2025. The current 4.7 billion knicker deal, agreed in 2018, represented a ten per cent drop in value. Which, one imagines, comes as a considerable blow to the more greedy of football's current hierarchy. They - and you - know exactly who they are. So, good news there, then. The Government has approved the deal 'in principle' with an 'exclusion order' under the competition act, which allows the league to renew without its normal tender process. 'In light of the damaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic throughout the English football pyramid, the Premier League was able to demonstrate to Government exceptional and compelling reasons for the Exclusion Order,' the league said. As part of the new deal, BT Sport say that to help with the fixture congestion, they will change their Saturday lunchtime game to an evening slot when teams involved have played in Europe on the previous Wednesday. Clubs had been concerned that there could be another fall in value if the usual open-market auction started as planned next month. The value of rights for domestic leagues in Europe also appears to have peaked. The Premier League say that the renewals will provide financial certainty to professional clubs and also enables an additional one hundred million smackers of funding to be provided to clubs throughout the football pyramid over the next four years. The extra funding will be available to more than a thousand clubs in the National League system, women's and girls' football, EFL League One and League Two clubs and the Football Foundation. It will also support a number of football-wide projects, including the Premier League's work looking at head injuries in football, anti-discrimination and fan groups. The EFL said it 'welcomes' the increased funding but warned: 'It is important to acknowledge that the current media rights deal will preserve the status quo of an unbalanced, unsustainable and unfair financial distribution model across English football. While we recognise the attempts by the government to increase the level of solidarity provided to League One and Two clubs through this process, what is more urgently required is a fundamental reset of the game's financial model - both in terms of fairer distribution of monies at all levels and sensible, realistic cost control measures to ensure clubs will live within their means.' This blogger is decidedly unsure about this entire 'preserving The Status Quo' malarkey, however. Forty years of imaginative use of demin and ponytails is, surely, enough? 'Covid-19 has had a significant impact on football, and renewals with our UK broadcast partners will reduce uncertainty, generate stability and promote confidence within the football pyramid,' said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters. 'We know that, once concluded, this will have a positive impact on the wider industry, jobs and tax revenues.' The Football Association has welcomed the extra one hundred million knicker of funding which chief executive Mark Bullingham says will 'help the pyramid get back on its feet.' David Kogan, the former Premier League rights executive, said the government's involvement in the deal was a 'really marked difference in the way football's been run in the past.' He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'This will buy the Premier League three years of some peace.' Sky Sports and BT both claimed the deal was 'good news' for its viewers. And, for their pockets, obviously.
The football season has now, pretty much concluded and socherball fans are looking forward with considerable 'oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about that' to the - much-delayed - '2020' European Championships coming up next month. But, in the meantime, now is probably an opportune moment for a round-up of how the 2020-21 season unfolded. The one hundred and forty first season in English football concluded with Sheikh Yer Man City winning the Premier League. In a season played almost entirely behind closed doors, City overcame a shaky (no pun intended) start to the campaign and secured their third Premiership title in four years; having been in eighth place in mid-December, the team went on a thirteen-match winning run that sent them rocketing up the table and, despite a couple of unexpected losses in the closing stages of the season, secured the title on top of a fourth consecutive League Cup victory and reaching their first ever Champions League final. But, they lost that one. City's local rivals, The Scum, finished second in the Premiership, despite not really being in the title race for much of the season, a consequence of a poor start which included three home losses in their opening six games; however, The Red Devils at least ensured Champions League football once again, thanks in part to a remarkable run of form which saw them go unbeaten away from home all season. But, they ended the season on a downer, losing the final of the Europa League on penalties to Villareal. The battle for the other two Champions League spots went to the final day of the season, with Moscow Chelski FC, Leicester City and The Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws all in it to win it. Taking third spot were Liverpool, whose first title defence since 1990 was, mostly, one of struggle; whilst they stood top of the league at the end of 2020, a collapse in form in the new year saw both the team's hopes of retaining the title as well as their sixty eight-game unbeaten run at Anfield implode under the weight of a lack of fans and an injury crisis, including a season-ending injury to Virgil van Dijk just five games into the campaign. However, a strong late run (including that outrageous victory over West Brom in which goalkeeper, Alisson, scored the winner in the final minute of injury time), coupled with the teams above them dropping points, helped The Reds squeeze into the top four. Moscow Chelski FC finished fourth, a strong second half of the season under new manager Thomas Tuchel pushing The Blues from as low as ninth near the end of January to both securing a Champions League spot again and winning their first Champions League final since 2012, a successful end to a mixed season (which included a second consecutive FA Cup final defeat). Having spent most of the season in the top four, another stuttering end to the league saw Leicester City finish fifth and miss out, again, on the Champions League, with inferior home form costing them badly. However, The Foxes at least finished the season with a trophy, winning their first ever FA Cup and giving Brendan Rodgers his first piece of silverware with the club. Finishing sixth were West Hamsters United, who surprised many in going further than their seventh-place finish in 2016. The Arse and Stottingtot Hotshots enjoyed differing form across their respective campaigns, The Gunners even hovering just above the drop zone in November, but ended up battling it out for seventh place and the last European spot - which ultimately went to Spurs, at least ensuring European football for the club next season. Dirty Leeds's first top-flight season since 2004 proved to be highly successful, both the team and manager Marcelo Bielsa attracting plenty of praise for their attacking brand of football and providing some spectacular results even in defeat. Despite achieving a few superb results, including taking four points off city rivals Liverpool, Everton's hopes of European football were done-for by a poor run of form at Goodison, securing just six wins compared to eleven on the road. They ended their season in a disappointing tenth position. In what proved to be Nuno Espirito Santo's last season as coach, Wolverhampton Wanderings endured a less successful campaign than their previous two, the loss of striker Raúl Jiménez to a freak accident in a win at The Arse contributed to Wolves sliding down the table after a decent start and only avoiding a relegation scrap because of the poor form of the teams below them. In what also ended up as Roy Hodgson's final season as manager, Crystal Palace also comfortably avoided the drop, extending their record run of top-flight seasons to nine in a row for the next campaign. This blogger's beloved though (still, sadly) unsellable Magpies finished a creditable twelfth thanks to a fine late run of form which, effectively (and, much to many fans severe disappointment) saved the job of Mister Bruice (nasty to see him, to see him nasty). At the bottom of the table, all three relegated teams had their demotion confirmed with at least three games to play and, for the first time since the introduction of three points for a win, none of the relegated sides broke the thirty-point barrier. Just one season after breaking into the top ten and strutting around like they owned the place, Sheffield United endured one of the worst seasons in their history, breaking many unwanted records and equalling the record for the most losses in a Premier League season and the lowest goals scored in a thirty eight-game season. Ultimately, The Blades simply weren't sharp enough. West Bromwich Albinos finished above them, the controversial decision to sack manager Slaven Bilic in December in favour of that odious lard-bucket Sam Allardyce going against The Baggies, the former England manager suffering his second relegation in his managerial history (his first since 1997). Also returning to the second tier after one season was Fulham; despite enjoying a much better campaign defensively, the London club's hopes were ultimately let down by a lack of goals (including a mere nine scored at Craven Cottage), making it the fourth season in a row where they moved between the Premier League and the Championship. Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albinos comfortably avoided the drop as a consequence of the bottom three's significant inadequacies. 
Having been relegated with a whimper the previous year, Norwich City responded in emphatic style, securing both an immediate return to the Premier League and their second Championship title in three campaigns. Finishing second were Watford, who overcame yet another mid-season managerial change (their sixth in just over a year) to join The Canaries in returning to the top-flight after one season. Taking the final promotion spot through the play-offs by beating Swansea City - and ending a barren run of nine play-off campaigns - were Brentford. Who made amends for their narrow play-off loss the previous year and secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time, their win also sending The Bees back into the top-flight for the first time in seventy four years. Despite ultimately losing out in the play-off semi-finals, Barnsley were the surprise package of the campaign; having looked likely to battle relegation again at the end of October and then seeing their head coach depart for America, the appointment of virtually unknown French manager Valérien Ismaël saw The Tykes rocket up the table and comfortably secure fifth place just ahead of Bournemouth. After having battled against relegation since losing in the play-off final in 2017, Reading also enjoyed a much improved season under Veljko Paunović, only missing out on promotion owing to several bouts of indifferent form. Despite hovering above the relegation zone for much of the season, Coventry City managed to get their shit together in their first season in the second tier since 2012, a good run of results in the closing months pushing them into mid-table whilst The Sky Blues also received some good news off-the-pitch, managing to secure a contract to return to The Ricoh Arena after two seasons away. For the second reason running, the battle to avoid relegation saw all three places open going into the last round of games. Taking bottom place in the closing minutes of the season were Sheffield Wednesday, who fought valiantly to avoid the drop, only for the points deduction (twelve later reduced to six on appeal) for breaching financial rules imposed prior to the start of the season result in survival falling out of their reachand sending the Yorkshire club back into the third tier after a nine-year absence. Rotherham United finished second-bottom and were relegated back to League One, making this the fifth successive season in which they swapped between the two divisions; despite ending up as statistically the worst team in the division, they managed to keep themselves in contention for survival - mostly because of having a multitude of games in hand as a result of two COVID-19 outbreaks - and would, actually, have survived had they not conceded an eighty eighth-minute equaliser in their final match. Despite having what proved to be a spirited first season in the Championship, Wycombe Wanderers endured immediate relegation back to League One, their chances ultimately being undone by a dreadful start which saw them lose their first seven games. Derby County, who struggled all season following the appointment of Wayne Rooney as manager in November, would also have been relegated if not for Wednesday's points deduction; they did secure survival on the final day by holding Wednesday to a draw, albeit the result would have relegated them both without Rotherham conceding that late equaliser at Cardiff.
Playing in the third tier for the first time since 2005, Hull City made amends for their dramatic collapse in form and consequent relegation the previous season, this time being in the top two for almost the entire campaign and ultimately emerging as League One champions. Peterborough United finished as runners-up, making this the third time that manager Darren Ferguson had taken The Posh into the Championship and his fourth promotion with the club overall; Peterborough successfully achieved promotion in a three-three draw with Lincoln City. Qualifying for the play-off final were Blackpool and Lincoln with The Seasiders winning the final, two-one at Wembley to secured their return to the Championship for the first time since 2015. Whilst missing out on promotion yet again, The Mackem Filth did at least secure some success, winning the EFL Trophy whilst also gaining new ownership, in the form of businessman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus. Nevertheless, their defeat to Lincoln in the play-offs will be a bitter blow to Sunderland's long-suffering support who now face a fourth season in the third tier. So that's, like, really sad, obviously. A poor start to the campaign for Burton Albion saw The Brewers pulled into a relegation battle, which was won with games to spare following the return of influential manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselhoff for a second spell as manager. Wigan Not Very Athletic endured what proved to be yet another turbulent season both on and off the pitch, battling both a potential second successive relegation (and a potential fourth in seven seasons) and an uncertain future; however, a good run of form late in the season which coincided with The Latics finding new ownership saved the club from the drop. Bristol Rovers finished rock bottom and returned to League Two for the first time in five years, with three different managers - the most recent being Joey Barton - all trying and failing to improve the club's fortunes. Swindon Town's season rapidly fell apart after promotion-winning manager Richie Wellens moved to Salford City early in the campaign, finishing the season with both the most defeats and the worst defence in the division as they suffered relegation back to League Two; fellow newly-promoted side Northampton Town joined them in immediate relegation, The Cobblers being undone by a terrible run during the winter. Rochdale occupied the fourth relegation spot, bringing an end to their longest spell to date in the third tier and finally enduring the relegation they had battled against in previous seasons. Elsewhere, Ipswich Town finished ninth, Accrington Stanley in eleventh and Fleetwood Town in fifteenth. 
In a campaign marked with constant changes among the top three, Cheltenham Town secured promotion back to League One for the first time since 2009, having stayed in the promotion race for nearly the entire season before edging back into the top three in late February. The battle for both the remaining automatic promotion places and the play-off spots ended up going to the final day, with eight different clubs involved. Taking second and third place were Cambridge United and Notlob Wanderers; despite a poor run of form in December, promotion had never looked unlikely for Cambridge, The U's securing promotion to the third tier for the first time since 2002, giving manager Mark Bonner the first promotion of his managerial career. Having spent the majority of the season looking likely to battle a third successive relegation, a surge in form in 2021 saw Notlob head up the table and edge into third place, securing an immediate return to League One. Qualifying for the play-off final were Morecambe (without Wise), a remarkable achievement considering their consistent battles against relegation in the previous seasons and Newport County, who successfully saw off Forest Green Rovers in a tightly fought semi-final second leg. Morecambe (sans Wise) ultimately gained promotion thanks to a controversial penalty in extra-time. In their first ever Football League season, Harrogate Town defied all expectations and achieved safety with a number of games to spare - whilst inconsistent form prevented the Yorkshire side from challenging for promotion, they were never in any serious danger of an immediate return to non-league football. Barrow's first Football League season for forty eight years saw the club ultimately secure survival against all odds - whilst first hit by the loss of manager Ian Evatt to Notlob and then sacking two different replacements before the end of February with results and form looking bleak, the club managed to pull themselves over the line thanks in part to caretaker manager Rob Kelly, who oversaw ten of The Bluebirds' thirteen wins in both his caretaker spells. Scunthorpe United endured the worst season in their one hundred and twenty two year history, finishing third bottom of the league though results elsewhere meant their defeat to Stevenage on the final day of the season did not send them out of the league. Grimsby Town had a season full of struggle and woe on and off the pitch which culminated in relegation - with even the return of manager Paul Hurst, who had overseen their return to the Football League in 2016, failing to help the club escape another drop into the National League. Finishing just above them were Southend United, who suffered their second consecutive relegation and fell out of the Football League for the first time in their history, a run of just one win in their opening fifteen games on top of an inability to score (their twenty nine goals being the lowest scored by anyone in a twenty four-team division since 1982) ended up setting the tone for the club's hopes. And, in similar circumstances to Grimsby, the return of former manager Phil Brown late in the season proved unable to save The Shrimpers from losing their one hundred and one-year Football League status. In a season marked with different teams taking top spot in the National League across the season, as well as postponement, delays and expunged results off the field, Sutton United finished top in their penultimate game and secured promotion to the Football League for the first time in their one hundred and twenty three-year history. The battle to qualify for the play-offs saw the last two spots open going into the final round of games. Torquay United and Stockport County finished second and third, with the play-off quarter-final places being taken by Hartlepool United, Notts County, Chesterfield and Bromley. Mounting financial problems finally took its toll on Macclesfield Town, who were expelled from the National League and then finally wound up in the High Court before the campaign even began - the only positive coming late in the season, with the creation of Macclesfield FC and the new club being given the go-ahead to enter the tenth tier for next season. Dover Athletic also encountered financial problems, which resulted in the team refusing to play due to a lack of promised funding and their results expunged for the season. As a result of the National League electing to declare the sixth tier null and void, no teams were relegated or promoted between the fifth and sixth tiers; a combination of all these factors proved beneficial for King's Lynn Town and Barnet, who were at threat of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table with the most losses and the worst defences in the division, ensuring fifth tier status for both clubs for next season.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Mirage At The Oasis

In the least unexpected news of the year the Saudi Arabian-backed consortium has ended its bid to buy Newcastle United. As anyone as cynical as this blogger about the fortunes of his beloved (though, tragically unsellable) Magpies kind-of expected would happen from the moment the proposed takeover was first announced. The group, which included Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth-fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, had agreed a three hundred million knicker deal to buy the club from Mike Ashley in April. The deal was still being scrutinised under the Premier League's owners' and directors' test and it is understood PIF ran out of patience after the process has gone on and on and on. And on. The consortium said that it was 'with regret' that it had pulled out. Amanda Staveley, the British businesswoman behind PCP Partners, said she was 'upset' for the club's supporters. Though, not half as upset as the supporters themselves who are now that they find themselves, once again, stuck with the much-loathed Ashley with, seemingly, no Plan B on the table. 'It's awful,' she said, adding that there would have been huge investment in the area. 'We are devastated for the fans. We really thank the fans - I personally thank them for all their support.' Friday saw the Newcastle United Supporters Trust write to their members, pledging to 'once again attempt to engage in constructive dialogue with the Premier League to get Newcastle United supporters the answers they deserve.' Well, good luck with that. They have also released the text of a previous letter they sent to the PL - and the appallingly formulaic reply which it produced. As they rightly observe: 'A supposedly confidential process has been confidential only to football supporters, as disgraced broadcasters in the Middle East, UK broadsheet newspapers and many others have claimed to have spoken to Premier League "sources" about why this deal "should not go through."' For what it's worth, this blogger always had some moral problems with the idea of members of one of the world's most repressive human rights regimes taking over at St James' Park. However, the staggering hypocrisy of a number of MPs who have done their best to scupper the deal whilst, seemingly, having no problems whatsoever with successive British governments selling arms to the Saudis and the barely-hidden agenda of most of those opposed to the deal on entirely financial rather than human rights grounds does leave an extremely sour taste in the mouth. So, as usual, the people we've been most shafted in this protracted and, ultimately pointless, exercise have been the long-suffering supporters of the club. We get left with Mike Ashley - someone whom, according to the Premier League, at least -is a 'fit and proper person.' As Jimmy Greaves would regularly observe, dear blog reader, football - 'it's a funny old game.'

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Political Footballs

This blogger's favourite article of the week comes, oddly, from the much-loathed Gruniad Morning Star. But, at least, it's by From The North favourite, the columnist Marina Hyde: Marcus Rashford Is Showing Our Failing Politicians How To Do Their Jobs. To quote Marina, at some length: 'We'll come to Gavin Williamson, the forty three-year-old secretary of state for education, in due course. Suffice to say Gavin has gone so missing in the biggest game of his career that the coastguard has called off the search and it has now become a matter for the Hubble telescope. As for the prime minister, shortly before Marcus Rashford was born to a single mother who he idolises for her tireless work and sacrifices, Boris Johnson was writing that single mothers were producing a generation of "ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children." Which, let's face it, means so much more coming from him. For now, a reminder of where we were two-and-a-half months ago. Taking the podium at a government press conference, even as Covid-Nineteen was ripping silently through the care homes he'd later lie he'd put "a ring of steel" around, Gavin's cabinet colleague Matt Hancock was very keen to show he had his priorities in order. "I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution," Matt proclaimed. "Take a pay cut and play their part." It must have seemed such an easy win, for politicians who know nothing about footballers, or indeed about football. Or, increasingly, about winning. Just a reminder of where the "world-beating" UK currently is: we have the third highest death toll in the world, the OECD has predicted we will have the worst-hit economy in the developed world and we are on course for one of the slowest and most socially painful exits from lockdown. If this is world-beating I'd hate to see us lose. I don't need to tell you that during this entire shitshow, under their exclusive management, the government has only suggested a single group in our society should take a pay cut: Premier League footballers. To dispense with the more irrelevant end of the housekeeping first: Premier League players were going to take a pay cut anyway when Matt was going for his headline; they announced the thirty per cent reduction within hours; and have since contributed in a vast - and mostly unpublicised - number of ways to social and charitable initiatives within their communities and beyond. But even if they had done absolutely none of that – genuinely unthinkable – imagine Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health in a time of pandemic, spending even one minute having a view on what footballers were doing. Because that actually happened. I know the buzzphrase is "easy to say in hindsight" - but on the basis that I wrote about it at the time, I'm going to have to go with "easy to say in sight." This is not a matter of retrospect - it was always a matter of spect.' What she said.
Still on the subject of ignorant shite-scum politicians using football as a political, well, football basically, a third MP - one Angus MacNeill (no, me neither) - has written to trade secretary Liz Truss to 'voice his concerns' over the proposed takeover of this blogger's beloved (though, tragically unsellable) Newcastle United. MacNeill demanded - demanded - that the government should 'block' the Saudi Arabian-led takeover (whether the government can, legally, do so even if they wanted to is something of an unknown, just in case you were wondering). Like his parliamentary colleagues Karl McCartney and Giles Watling, however, MacNeill did not do so from a human rights point of view (which, to be honest, would be difficult to argue against, even for the biggest supporters of the proposed deal - which this blogger is not, see below). Rather, MacNeill's chief objection - as with his colleagues - is, seemingly, over the issue of TV piracy. Earlier this week the World Trade Organisation ruled that Saudi Arabia had, indeed, helped to breach international piracy laws in relation to the broadcaster beoutQ. MacNeill - like McCartney and Watling - however stopped well-short of suggesting that if Saudi Arabia are, indeed, such a pariah who casually flout international law, then the British government should, also, stop trading with them, selling them vast quantities of arms and other British-made products and making lots of lovely wonga in the process. So, is this crass, ignorant, twattish hypocrisy from a politician? This blogger will leave the answer to that question entirely up to your own sensibilities, dear blog reader. He, himself, couldn't possibly comment. But it is certainly illustrative that - as with virtually everything else involved in football - money is, seemingly, King and human rights are 'someone else's problem.'
Regular dear blog readers will have noticed that this blogger has said nothing previously about the ongoing saga of the - at the time of writing, still-proposed - takeover of his local football club. Except a brief note a few bloggerisationisms back. And, that was merely to observe it says much about the way in which the current owner of the club is so despised by the majority of supporters that they would, seemingly, prefer to see the club majority-owned by members of one of the most harsh and repressive political regimes in the world. Because, compared to the bloke who owns Sports Direct, Saudi Arabia's a haven of integrity and enlightenment, right? If this blogger was Mike Ashley, dear blog reader (which he most definitely isn't, just in case you were wondering), he would be laughing his non-cotton sports socks off at such thinking. Before going back to counting his vast wads of moolah and laughing some more.
    Anyway, the latest twist in the ongoing - and, seemingly, never-ending - saga is that the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has, reportedly, said he will 'fully consider' calls for Newcastle United's proposed takeover to be blocked. Which this blogger somehow doubts ... and he's not alone in that belief, it would seem. Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has written to the league to oppose the deal. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund is financing a three hundred million knicker takeover along with some marginally more morally-acceptable partners like the businesswoman and financier Amanda Staveley and the Reuben Brothers. Western intelligence agencies have publicly stated they believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the PIF, was behind Khashoggi's shocking murder in 2018 - claims which bin Salman himself denies. Though, to paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies, 'well, he would, wouldn't he?'
      In a letter seen by BBC Sport, Masters told Cengiz's lawyer: 'I assure you and your client that her representations are being fully considered in our process.' Cengiz's legal team say it is the first acknowledgement by the Premier League that her views are 'being taken into account' in the takeover, which is being checked under the league's owners' and directors' test. In the letter, Masters also writes to Rodney Dixon QC to say that although he 'remains extremely sympathetic to your client's position' a requested meeting between the parties is 'not possible, particularly in light of correspondence appearing in the media.' Checks under the league's owners' and directors' test have been going on for more than six weeks and show no sign of being decided - one way or another - any time soon. In a statement to BBC Sport, Cengiz said: 'I'm cautiously optimistic the Premier League will make the right decision. I'm sure that if the Premier League follows its own rules and charter, especially the owners' and directors' test, it will block the sale of Newcastle United to Mohamed bin Salman and the Public Investment Fund he chairs. Until Bin Salman is held accountable for his role in Jamal's brutal murder, everyone must refrain from doing any business with him.' 'In addition to concerns about Saudi Arabia's human rights record, broadcast piracy claims have also been raised,' BBC Sports notes. Actually, that's not true in the slightest - questions have, indeed, been asked in parliament by at last two MPs on this subject but neither have even mentioned Saudi Arabia's human rights records. In May 2020, two Conservative MPs called on the government to scrutinise 'aspects of the deal,' with Karl McCartney calling for the sale to be 'blocked' and Giles Watling demanding - demanding - that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport hold 'an oral evidence session' regarding media piracy in Saudi Arabia. It would be extremely hypocritical for any British politician - particularly a Tory - to go down the human rights route given that the UK is amongst the biggest trading partners with Saudi Arabia and that members of the Saudi royal family are regular visitors to both Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Rather, the main highlighted issue - as with almost everything else in the football world - is financial. The broadcaster beoutQ has, allegedly, been illegally showing matches - mainly in Saudi Arabia - despite the Premier League rights in the region belonging to Qatar-based beIN Sports. Saudi broadcaster Arabsat has always denied that beoutQ uses its frequencies to show games illegally. One or two people even believed them. Dixon, on behalf of Cengiz, has previously written to Masters saying there should be 'no place in English football' for anyone 'involved in such abhorrent acts.' Cengiz has also written an open letter to Newcastle fans urging them to 'unite to protect' the club from the proposed takeover, for which the PIF is set to provide eighty per cent of funds. The Newcastle United Supporters' Trust has been publicly sympathetic to Cengiz's stance - and, indeed, one would have to possess a heart made of stone not to - and says that it 'understands' concerns about Saudi Arabia's human rights record. However, it says it has 'no influence' on who takes over the club. They say they will raise issues about Saudi Arabia's human rights record even if they support the prospective takeover. In an online forum, which involved over two thousand supporters, NUST chair Alex Hurst said: 'We exist to be a critical friend of the club, and hold them to account.' Last month, a NUST poll of three thousand plus members found ninety six per cent were in favour of the new consortium to replace current - hated - owner Mike Ashley, who has been in charge of Newcastle for thirteen inglorious years.
   This blogger's own view on this complicated malarkey? If this were purely a human rights issue then it's difficult not to be hugely conflicted by the whole deal - despite the obvious potential win-win situation of saying goodbye forever to the loathsome Ashley. But, of course, it isn't. Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, not everything in life is black and white.
Joelinton scored only his second Premier League goal - and the first since 25 August - as this blogger's beloved though still unsellable (even to oil-rich, alleged human-rights-abusing, alleged pirates) Magpies swept aside ten-man Sheffield United to take a huge step towards safety in their first game since all sport in the UK was suspended in March. The relief on the Brazilian striker's face was evident when he tapped in the Magpies' third goal and, although there were no fans inside St James' Park to celebrate with him, no doubt many were screaming with delight (and, probably, astonishment) from their front rooms as the forty million knicker striker ended his torrid run. And managed not to trip over his own feet in the process. This blogger certainly was. That was the icing on a properly-sweet Magpies cake, baked in an eerily quiet St James' with the only noise heard being frequent bursts of bad language coming from the Sheffield United bench which had the Sky Sports commentary team squirming with embarrassment and grovellingly apologising to viewers. Most of whom, one suspects, frankly couldn't have given a flying fuck about such nonsense. Returning to competitive action after an enforced one hundred and six day break since a victory at Southampton, ten of the eleven fielded at St Mary's by Newcastle were retained, Joelinton returning at the expense of Dwight Gayle. Despite playing their first match since the restart, Th' Toon looked far fresher and more interested than their opponents who produced one of their worst defensive displays of the season, capped off by the red card for John Egan five minutes after the break. It means Chris Wilder's side, who drew against Aston Villains in their opening match back, have taken just one point from two games. As for Newcastle, who have been dealing with that never-ending takeover saga during the lockdown (you knew that, right?), they now have thirty eight points and are eleven points above the drop-zone. Allan Saint-Maximin sent them on their way when he fired home at the far post after Enda Stevens inexplicably allowed Matt Ritchie's fizzing cross to go between his legs. Ritchie then added a second with a thunderous drive from the edge of the area. Then came Joelinton's strike from close range after Miguel Almiron delivered a pinpoint ball to his feet. Newcastle stay at home for their next match against the struggling Villains. Steve Bruccie's team selections, particularly his seeming reluctance to drop Joelinton, had frustrated many supporters and now the possibility of new, moneyed owners from Saudi Arabia has cast further doubt on the future of the manager. But now and again Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty) has confounded his critics this season (this blogger very much included) with wins over Stottingtot Hotshots, The Scum, Moscow Chelski FC and, now, this double over The Blunt Blades. His side produced a disciplined display with plenty of verve and pace provided by Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Ritchie. Saint-Maximin, in particular, was excellent. The twenty million smackers summer signing now seems a snip for the twenty three-year-old who embarrassed the visiting defence with his trickery and bursts of speed, before he got his just reward in the fifty fifth minute. Ritchie added the second fourteen minutes later with the goal of the game - a fierce drive which was too hot to handle for Dean Henderson. And, with twelve minutes remaining, Joelinton, who had arsed-up what seemed a relatively easy chance in the first half by tripping over his own feet, scored his second league goal for the club - two thousand one hundred and thirty minutes and thirty nine shots at goal after scoring the first. (To be completely fair to the lad, he has scored a couple of goals in the FA Cup during that period and another two in recent friendlies.) Wilder's post-match talk to his team might not be repeatable in polite company (or, on Sky Sports). His side's success thus far this season has been built on unwavering discipline and a miserly defence - the second best in the league before Sunday - but neither were evident here. There were suggestions something was not right early in the match when midfielder Oliver Norwood lost possession far too easily on a couple of occasions before Egan got caught up in an unnecessary altercation with Joelinton which earned him a yellow card. That became two yellows for the Irishman in the fiftieth minute when he got on the wrong side of the striker, who he pulled back as Joelinton tried to run in on goal. Referee David Coote was given an easy decision and sent Egan for an early bath. If Wilder had his face in his hands at that moment, worse was to follow. For Newcastle's first, the usually dependable Stevens got his legs in a muddle as he tried to stop Ritchie's ball finding Saint-Maximin at the back post and for the second, right-back George Baldock's reluctance to close down Ritchie gave the Scot room to shoot whilst Henderson's positioning for the shot was also questionable.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Isaac Gives Chelski The Blues

This blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies won for the first time in the league this year with an outrageous late winner from Isaac Hayden against Scowling Frank Lampard's Moscow Chelski FC at St James' Park on Saturday evening. A corner deep into added time looked to have provided United with a final chance to steal the points but Matt Ritchie's kick was cleared as the fourth added minute approached its conclusion. However, Allan Saint-Maximin gathered the clearance, took a touch and put over a cross for Hayden to head into the Gallowgate goal to spark scenes of wild celebration with kids gettin' sparked an' aal sorts. Referee Chris Kavanagh allowed the visitors one further attack but once that was cleared the official blew for full-time and three vital Premier League points were secured by the Black n' Whites. The second period had seen the visitors largely camped in United's half, although they had created few clear openings to worry Steve Brucie's side who had defended resolutely. Jamaal Lascelles was back at the heart of the defence and also returning were Jonjo Shelvey and Saint-Maximin, as the injury crisis which has plagued The Magpies for the past few weeks started to subside. But Jetro Willems was stretchered from the field in just the twelfth minute as what seemed to be an innocuous collision with Callum Hudson-Odoi had him immediately signalling to the bench. Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him nasty) subsequently confirmed that Willems had suffered an apparently serious knee injury. That early setback didn't curb the home side's initial enthusiasm and in the twenty second minute Federico Fernandez supplied a cross for Joelinton who guided a header against the bar. Twelve minutes later Tammy Abraham struck Martin Dubravka's crossbar, although he had been flagged offside but N'Golo Kanté should have scored when clear on the right of the box, only to be denied by the 'keeper's left leg. At the other end Fernandez got the end of a Shelvey free-kick and seemed certain to head home but his effort went high. After the break there was almost no threat from the black and whites but for all the Moscow Chelski FC possession, there were only half chances for Willian and Abraham and Dubravka had remarkably few saves to make. Then with two minutes to go, Miguel Almirón played a fine ball to the far post which was headed back to Joelinton by Saint-Maximin. But the Brazilian swung wildly and sliced his effort wide. Nevertheless, Joelinton managed to win a corner in the final minute of added time and Matt Ritchie was roared into the Strawberry Corner as he prepared to delivered it. The corner was headed clear but then came Saint-Maximin's glorious curling ball into the box and Hayden got his connection spot-on to beat Kepa Arribazalaga who could only get an ineffective hand to his header leaving Moscow Chelski FC's manager, Frank Lampard, looking his someone sucking a lemon at the final whistle. Lampard subsequently whinged that his team has 'dominated every aspect' of the game. Except for scoring the most goals, obviously. Hayden had filled in at right back, with Emile Krafth being replaced by Sean Longstaff.
Elsewhere, Sheikh Yer Man City threw away the chance of a win in a dramatic climax at Etihad Stadium, while bottom-of-the-table Norwich City battled for a much-needed victory over strugglers Bournemouth. Two goals from Sergio Aguero inside the last ten minutes looked to have helped champions City to victory over Crystal Palace, but Fernandinho's own goal just before stoppage time ensured the sides drew two-two. At the bottom of the table, Teemu Pukki's first-half penalty was enough for Norwich to claim victory over Bournemouth, who are now only one place and three points above The Canaries, as both sides finished with ten men. Wolverhampton Wanderings fought back from two goals down at half-time for a superb three-two win at Southampton, with one goal from Pedro Neto and two from Raul Jimenez moving them up into sixth place. The Arse were closing in on victory at home to Sheffield United, but The Blades fought back with a late John Fleck goal ensuring a draw. Watford missed out on the chance of a fourth straight win when Troy Deeney had a penalty saved by Stottingtot Hotshots keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, but the goalless draw means Nigel Pearson's Hornets are unbeaten in seven games. Hundreds of West Hamsters United fans protested about the running of the club in the week of the ten-year anniversary since David Sullivan and David Gold took over, while on the pitch The Hamsters were held to a draw by Everton. Brighton & Hove Albinos are still searching for their first league win of 2020 after they were held one-one by Aston Villains at The Amex Stadium. On Sunday, Ashley Westwood's stunning strike saw Burnley come from behind to beat Leicester and earn their first points in five games. And, in Sunday's late game Champions-elect Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws defeat The Scum two-nil. Which was funny.
Having failed to make their dominance count in the first meeting with Rochdale, this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies made no mistake in their FA Cup replay, coasting into the Fourth Round at St James' Park on Tuesday evening. The outcome was hardly unexpected given the strong starting line-up and bench named by Steve Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty), but there were certainly some unexpected, 'I can't believe my eyes'-type events for almost thirty thousand fans present to witness. Mister Cashley made a rare visit to Gallowgate as United avoided any additions to their lengthy sick-list - and saw record signing Joelinton finally break his scoring duck with a first competitive home goal and only his second since joining The Magpies in the summer. On a night of broadly positives, there was a successful return from injury for Jamaal Lascelles, more valuable pitch-time for Matt Ritchie, a run-out for Jonjo Shelvey and an assist on his senior debut for teenager Tom Allan. Some generous defending by the League One visitors had allowed The Magpies to rack up an unassailable early lead by the half-hour mark. An own goal and a suicidal clearance by 'Dale goalkeeper Robert Sanchez that gifted Miguel Almirón a goal sandwiched by a quality Matty Longstaff's strike. A low-key second period was illuminated when Joelinton shook off his torpor to stick the ball past replacement custodian Jay Lynch, rounding off his side's first victory since the week before Christmas. Making his first start since returning from a lengthy injury, Ritchie's cross from the left was prodded into his own net at the Leazes End by Eoghan O'Connell in the seventeenth minute. Another Ritchie cross from left three minutes later found Matty Longstaff in front of goal and he had to time to take it down, turn and dispatch it past Sanchez. Six minutes later it was game over when Sanchez passed straight to Almirón - who had shot against a post when the tie was still scoreless - and he picked his spot to open up a three goal lead - the Paraguayan's fourth goal in his last five games in all competitions. Joelinton's goal arrived eight minutes from time when a neat pass from Andy Carroll released Allan down the right and his measured low cross was touched in by the Brazilian from six yards. An evidently relieved number nine then ran to embrace Brucie and his coaching staff on the touchline before being mobbed by his team-mates. Dale's consolation arrived in the eighty sixth minute when a short corner was played back by Aaron Wilbraham for Jordan Williams to hit a low shot from the edge of the box that beat Karl Darlow via a post. A fifth home goal almost followed in the closing seconds after Joelinton gained possession in the 'Dale box and set up Carroll, whose rising effort was tipped onto the angle of post and bar. Newcastle now face another League One side, Oxford United, in the Fourth Round. Victory over The U's would see The Magpies appear in the Fifth Round of the competition for the first time since Cashley bought the club in May 2007.
A deal to show FA Cup matches via seven online betting websites is being investigated by the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator. The Football Association has been criticised after it sold the rights to the competition via a third party. The Football Association being, of course, an organisation that is keen to fine and suspend any footballer or club official found to have bet on any football-related activity. How ironic it is, therefore, that they seem to have no problem getting their collective kit off and hopping into bed with such people as these. Sanctions for bookmakers involved could include a warning, financial penalties or the revoking of licences. 'Our investigations into that matter are ongoing,' Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur told BBC 5Live. 'I understand why there are concerns and, to be clear, we already require gambling operators to market, advertise or engage in sponsorship in a socially responsible way. We are in touch with all operators in the deal to find out what they did to satisfy themselves.' A Gambling Commission spokesperson added: 'We expect gambling operators to ensure, when agreeing commercial deals relevant to sport, that such arrangements are consistent with keeping gambling safe.' Since the start of last season, bookmakers have been able to show FA Cup ties on their websites and apps. The seven gambling websites - Bet365, Betfair, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Unibet and Paddy Power - acquired the rights via the agency IMG, who agreed a deal with the FA. Who, in turn, didn't ask too many questions when they saw the size of IMG's cheque. Probably. In the FA Cup third round, twenty three matches were available to watch on Bet365 - all those that did not kick off at 3:01pm on Saturday, including this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies draw at lower league Rochdale. The matches were available to anyone who had placed a bet or put a deposit in their account in the twenty four hours before kick-off. Betting companies with streaming rights for FA Cup ties say they would allow the games to be streamed on a free platform elsewhere. In July 2017, the FA announced it was cutting its ties with gambling firms, but the deal with IMG was done in January 2017.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Sweet FA Cup

Once upon a time, dear blog reader - and not all that long ago either - the first Saturday in January was one of the three or four most important and most looked-forward-to days in the English football calendar; it was FA Cup Third Round day and - a few postponements notwithstanding - it was thirty two matches which saw the surviving lower league (and non-league) clubs joined by the Big Boys, the forty four Premiership and Championship clubs. It was the point in the season where even clubs whose league season seemed to be, effectively, a massive write-off could dream about a good cup run and, possibly, a date at Wembley in May. But that, dear blog reader, was in another time and now, the FA Cup appears to be little more than an inconvenient distraction to many clubs and their owners - something that takes time, attention and resources away from the really important stuff, making more money from league positions and the opportunity of selling more replica shirts in Malaysia. Worryingly, this lethargy and lack of too much interest appears to have also been picked up by some fans with low crowds often being recorded for even potentially exciting, winnable ties. The fact that the games are now played over three - sometimes four - days doesn't exactly help matters.
Still, dear blog reader, some things remain reliably consistent. The inevitability of this blogger's beloved - though still, tragically, unsellable - Magpies once again managing to screw up in the Cup (this being a club, remember, which hasn't got past the Fourth Round since 2006). Yes, the squad is, currently, decimated by numerous injuries and, yes, Steve Bruice (nasty to see him, to see him nasty) did something that many of his recent predecessors were reluctant to and played his strongest available side. But still, whilst some may regard a one-all draw away at Rochdale and a completely unwanted replay at St James' Park in a fortnight as a decent result compared to previous loses to the likes of Oxford United (2017), Stevenage Borough (2011), AFC Bournemouth (1992), Grimsby Town (1982), Exeter City (1981), Chester City (1980), Wrexham (1978), Walsall (1975), Hereford United (1972), Carlisle United (1968), Swansea (1965), Bedford Town (1964), Peterborough United (1962), Scunthorpe United (1958), Rotherham United (1953) and Bradford Park Avenue (1949), this blogger does not.
League One Rochdale earned a replay after they came from behind to draw one-one with Newcastle at Spotland. The Magpies took the lead through Miguel Almiron but forty-year-old substitute Aaron Wilbraham levelled with a close-range finish with eleven minutes left. Elsewhere, holders Sheikh Yer Man City claimed a comfortable win over Port Vale while Tranmere Rovers produced a brilliant fightback to draw three-three against last year's beaten finalists Watford. Goals from Oleksandr Zinchenko, Sergio Aguero, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Phil Foden gave City a four-one victory over the League Two side, who found the net through Tom Pope. League One strugglers Tranmere delivered arguably the performance of the day as they came from three-nil down at half-time to earn a replay against their Premier League opponents. Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nathaniel Chalobah and Roberto Pereyra had given The Hornets the upper hand, but the Wirral outfit battled back in the second half. Connor Jennings scored just after the hour and Manny Monthe made it three-two with twelve minutes left at Vicarage Road. Rovers then equalised with an eighty seventh-minute penalty, converted by Paul Mullin, after Mason Barrett had fouled Corey Blackett-Taylor. Premier League sides Brighton & Hove Albinos and Aston Villains were both knocked out of the competition after succumbing to Championship opposition. Adam Reach gave Sheffield Wednesday a victory over Brighton at Amex Stadium while Anthony Knockaert and Harry Arter helped Poor Bloody Fulham Haven't Got A Chance to a two-one victory over the Villains whose attitude to the inconvenience of the tie can be summed up by manager Dean Smith picking, effectively, a Villains reserve side. League Two Carlisle United secured a replay against Championship Cardiff City but may feel they should have done better after squandering a two-goal lead. Jack Bridge and Harry McKirdy put The Cumbrians ahead but second-half goals from Callum Paterson and Gavin Whyte got The Bluebirds back on level terms. Non-league Hartlepool had taken a surprise lead into the half-time interval against Oxford United thanks to Mark Kitching. However, The Yellows rallied and ran out four-one winners after Rob Hall, Shandon Baptiste, Tariqe Fosu-Henry and Matty Taylor found the net. Twelve-time winners The Scum and Wolverhampton Wanderings will need a replay after their tie ended in a goalless draw at Molineux. The Scum failed to have a single shot on target in a domestic game for the first time since January 2015. Adam Idah netted a hat-trick on his FA Cup debut for Norwich City as they were emphatic four-two winners over Preston Both Ends - managed by former City boss Alex Neil - at Deepdale. Jay Rodriguez struck twice to give Burnley a four-two win over Peterborough with Erik Pieters and Jeff Hendrick also on target for The Clarets. Southampton eased to a two-nil victory over Huddersfield thanks to goals from teenagers Will Smallbone and Jake Vokins. A brace for Philip Billing plus goals from Callum Wilson and Dominic Solanke ensured safe passage for AFC Bournemouth as they cruised to a four-nil win over Luton Town. Leicester City reached the fourth round with a two-nil win over Wigan Not Very Athletic following a Tom Pearce own goal and a strike from Harvey Barnes. Welsh side Newport County had knocked out Leeds United, Leicester City and Middlesbrough and given scares to Stottingtot Hotshots and Sheikh Yer Man City in the past couple of seasons. However, the League Two club will not get the opportunity to repeat their FA Cup giant-killing exploits this year after a three goal defeat by Millwall. A hat-trick from Tom Eaves helped Hull City come from behind to clinch a dramatic three-two win over Rotherham at New York Stadium. Jeremie Bela scored late on as ten-man Birmingham City edged a two-one win over Blackburn Vindaloos in front of the lowest ever attendance for an FA Cup tie at St Andrews, a mere seven thousand three hundred and thirty - a figure which seemed to sum up the general apathy of many supporters towards what was, once, one of the highlights of the season. Those who stayed away missed a truly calamitous cameo from substitute Ivan Šunjić who was sent off on the hour after conceding a penalty by hauling down the Vindaloos' Sam Gallagher a mere ninety seconds after coming on for Gary Gardner. Emilano Marcondes handed Brentford victory over Stoke City whilst Portsmouth survived some late jitters in a two-one success at Joey Barton's Fleetwood Town. Bristol City and Shrewsbury will require a replay after their tie finished one-all, as do Reading and Blackpool after theirs finished two-two. Blackpool striker Armand Gnanduillet missed with a 'Panenka' style penalty attempt but the League One side still secured a replay. The Frenchman created the opener for Nathan Delfouneso, and drilled The Seasiders back in front after Sam Baldock struck in the second half. Then, moments after Danny Loader had equalised for Reading, Gnanduillet was tripped in the box and handed a chance to win it. But he elaborately chipped the resulting spot-kick against the bar and Reading scrambled the ball clear.
Curtis Jones scored his first senior goal for the Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws with an astonishing long-range effort as The Reds knocked Merseyside rivals Everton out on Sunday afternoon. The eighteen-year-old academy product curled in the only goal of the game as Herr Klopp's side edged a over The Soft-Centred Toffees at Anfield. Championship side Derby County knocked Crystal Palace of the Prermiership out with a one-nil win whilst The Middlesbrough Smog Monsters forced a replay against a stuttering Spurs. Chris Martin scored The Rams' only goal with Wayne Rooney going close to doubling their lead late on against The PaLACE. Lucas Moura saved Spurs from a cup upset against The Smoggies, equalising midway through the first half to salvage a draw. Ashley Fletcher had given the hosts - who are currently sixteenth in the Championship - the lead at The Riverside Stadium. Eight-time winners Moscow Chelski FC eased into the fourth-round with a two-nil victory over Nottingham Forest. Callum Hudson-Odoi put Frank Lampard's side ahead after only six minutes before Forest - fourth in the Championship - had a penalty decision reversed by the video assistant referee. Ross Barkley added a second for The Blues just after the half-hour mark. AFC Fylde, the lowest-ranked team in the third round, fell to a two-one defeat against Premier League Sheffield United but it was a performance that defied Fylde's non-league status. The Blades took the lead inside eight minutes through Callum Robinson but it took until the hour mark for them to get a second through Leon Clarke. Jordan Williams pulled a goal back for The Coasters with a clever lob over Dean Henderson, who had replaced the injured Michael Verrips in the Sheffield goal. Queens Park Strangers thrashed Swansea five-one with Jordan Hugill scoring two first-half goals for the hosts. Bright Osayi-Samuel, Lee Wallace and Josh Scowen also scored for Mark Warburton's side with substitute George Byers bagging a consolation for The Sorry Swans. Elsewhere, Kenneth Zohore scored the only goal as West Bromwich Albinos knocked Championship rivals Charlton Not Very Athletic out while Barnsley defeated Crewe Alexandra three-one. Northampton Town beat Burton Alkbinos four-two but Bristol Rovers and Coventry City will meet again after seeing out a two-two draw, with Rovers captain Tony Craig scoring an own goal after having previously giving his side the lead. Monday's fourth-round draw will be held at 7.30pm, shortly before The Arsenal take on Dirty Leeds in the round's final tie.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

T'Was The Weekend Before Christmas ...

Steve Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty) said that he 'hadn't heard a roar like it' as Newcastle fans celebrated Miguel Almirón's first goal for yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies. The popular Paraguayan midfielder scored a late winner against Crystal Palace to send The Magpies above The Eagles into ninth place in the Premier League. It also saw the twenty five-year-old break his Newcastle goal duck on his twenty seventh Premier League appearance since joining from Atlanta United for a then-club record twenty million in January. Whilst some media commentators and sneering gobshite journalists - most with a sick agenda smeared all over their disgusting collective mush - have chosen to focus upon Miggy's lack of goals with some glee, Newcastle supporters - you know, the people that factually matter - have been, broadly, highly supportive of the wee man, appreciating his tireless energy, pace and work-rate and knowing that, eventually, the goals would come. 'I think the crowd showed their appreciation for him,' said Brucie and, for once, he was absolutely correct. 'I think relief is the wrong word - we're all just delighted for him. Since he came to the club in January he lit the place up with his pace, trickery and skills. Day-in, day-out, he works and works, but unfortunately he's not been able to manage a goal. Today he's got the winner and we're all delighted for him. It took a long time, he's been unfortunate on so many occasions. Today when it fell to him, it was a difficult chance, coming from behind him and he's managed to smash it in. He's a great pro, a great lad, and he works really hard. When you've got a gem like that they deserve all the success I'm sure will find him.' The game looked set to end in a stalemate before Andy Carroll headed a cross down for an unmarked Almirón to volley home and Newcastle comfortably then held on through final ten minutes for their third victory in four games. Since Newcastle lost embarrassingly five-nil at Leicester at the end of September, they have beaten The Scum, West Hamsters United, Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Southampton and the Palace as well as drawing with Sheikh Yer Man City and Wolverhampton Wanderings. Palace had more of the possession and it appeared that their injury-hit defence had dealt with the aerial threat of former England striker Carroll before he played a crucial role in the winner. The Eagles also had the better chances for the majority of the game, with Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke denied by home goalkeeper Martin Dubravka in each half. But the visitors slipped one place to twelfth after their four-match unbeaten run came to an end. Newcastle welcomed back Almirón and Jonjo Shelvey after they both missed last Saturday's defeat at Burnley with injuries and they provided a welcome boost as The Magpies remained unbeaten at home since an opening day of the season loss to The Arse. The midfield pair had been instrumental to their team's run of seven points from nine before the Turf Moor setback and added some guile to go with Newcastle's undoubted grit. Both showed some neat touches while Almirón curled an effort straight at Palace goalkeeper early on whilst Shelvey - the club's top goalscorer so far this season - sent a speculative effort just over from near the halfway line which narrowly cleared the Palace bar. Then with time running out, Almirón found himself in space in the box to pounce on Carroll's knock-down and his relief was clear, the twenty five-year-old peeling off his shirt in celebration, which saw him receive a booking from some over-officious prick with a whistle. Brucie sprang a selection surprise by asking Joelinton to play up front with Carroll, rather than out on the left but, for the most part the strike pair struggled to connect and The Magpies did not give him enough service. But, just as Palace were beginning to increase the pressure, all that changed as Fabian Schär's right-wing cross found Carroll at the far post to lay on Almirón's match-winner. Schär was impressive in a back-three alongside Federico Fernández and Florian Lejeune - the latter making his first appearance of the season due to an injury picked up, also against Palace, in April. Also worthy of praise were United's two wing-backs, the often under-appreciated Paul Dummett and Javier Manquillo - the later, in particular, keeping the dangerous Zaha quiet for most of the afternoon. Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty) said: 'I always thought maybe one goal would decide it because Palace don't give much away. We try to prime ourselves the same way. My goalkeeper made a few good saves but I don't think anybody would deny that Almirón deserved the winner.' On United being in the top half of the table at Christmas, he added: 'I'd have taken it because it was difficult at the start [of the season] but in the Premier League you can't get carried away. I look at our fixture list coming up and think "wow" - we've got some tough games in a close period of time. We'll accept where we are because the lads and the staff have worked so hard. There's a good spirit amongst them, that can go a long way, and they showed that again today.' Three points raised Newcastle two places into ninth - their highest league position for over two years - and extended their current unbeaten home Premier League run to eight games, something not achieved since 2012.
Elsewhere, Sheikh Yer Man City came from behind to beat Leicester City at The Etihad Stadium and move to within a point of the second-placed Foxes. Jamie Vardy finished off a flowing counter-attack to fire the visitors in front, but a deflected Riyad Mahrez effort and an İlkay Gündoğan penalty turned the game on its head before the interval. Gabriel Jesus slotted home Kevin De Bruyne's low cross in the second half to complete the scoring and lift Pep Guardiola's side to within eleven points of leaders Liverpool (although, obviously, The Reds have a game in hand, being otherwise occupied - see below). In Saturday's early game, Soft Toffees Everton and The Arse played out an uneventful goalles draw at Goodison Park in front of their respective new managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta. The two men - and the crowd - had little to get excited about, with The Soft Toffees failing to register some much a a single shot on target during the game and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang squandering The Gunners' best chance of the match early in the second-half. High-flying Sheffield United edged to victory at Brighton & Hove Albinos despite having two goals (rightly) disallowed by the video assistant referee. Which, obviously, made their sour-faced manager Chris Wilder gurn like he'd just stood in some dog-shat. Well, no, hang on, he always looks like that. John Egan's early goal was ruled out by VAR, but Ollie McBurnie's powerful effort gave The Blades the lead midway through the first half. Jack O'Connell's second-half header was also chalked off by VAR, but Wilder's side held on to move up to fifth in the table. Struggling Southampton moved out of the bottom three with a comprehensive win at a very poor Aston Villains, who drop into the relegation zone. Two goals from in-form striker Danny Ings either side of Jack Stephens' header put The Saints firmly in the driving seat, before Jack Grealish netted a consolation for Dean Smith's side with twenty minutes remaining. Second-half goals from Romain Saïss and Raúl Jiménez helped Wolverhampton Wanderings come from behind to beat struggling, relegation-haunted Norwich City at Carrow Road. Todd Cantwell capitalised on a poor clearance to put The Canaries ahead, but Saïss powered home a header to restore parity before Jimenez beat Tim Krul with nine minutes remaining to seal the points for Nuno Espírito Santo's team. Meanwhile, Jay Rodriguez's late goal secured all three points for Burnley at Bournemouth. The match at The Vitality Stadium appeared to be petering out into a stalemate, but Rodriguez got on the end of Ashley Westwood's delivery to seal back-to-back league wins for Sean Dyche's side. Rodriguez's was the first effort on target from either side in the ninety minutes.
As their points lead in the Premier League remained in double figures, Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws boss Herr Klopp praised his players for 'passing test after test' after they became Club World Cup Champions for the first time by beating Clube De Regatas Do Flamengo of Brazil in Qatar. Roberto Firmino scored the decisive goal in extra time to secure victory for The Reds at The Khalifa International Stadium. It is the second trophy Liverpool have won this season after they beat Moscow Chelski FC to win the UEFA Super Cup in August. 'The boys dug in again and massively put in a performance,' said Herr Klopp. 'They keep getting tested constantly - our life is like this. At the moment we pass test after test after test. We have to make sure we pass further tests as well.' Victory was all the more impressive for Liverpool considering it has come in the middle of a busy December for the 2019 Champions League winners. The Club World Cup clashed with Liverpool's Carabao Cup quarter-final at Aston Villains, meaning that they had to send separate teams to compete in the competitions. A youthful Reds side lost that game five-nil at Villains Park but the first team were able to add another trophy to the cabinet and they return to England with that ten-point lead at the top of the Premier League, as well as a game in hand over their rivals. Herr Klopp said that he was proud of his players for putting in such a strong performance in another final. He added: 'I struggle to find the words to express my respect for the boys. It was incredible. We did so many good things. I saw so many sensationally good performances and I am really happy. It was a very intense game for different reasons; it was not our best game we have ever played but it was enough to win. This was a wonderful night for the club. I said before I didn't not know how it would feel. Now I know it feels outstanding, absolutely sensational. I am so proud of the boys.' One concern for Liverpool was a potential injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England midfielder was seen using crutches and wearing a protective boot during Liverpool's celebrations having earlier been substituted following an awkward fall. 'Hopefully it is not too serious,' Herr Klopp said. 'Even he was smiling at the end, which helped us all.'
Martin Peters, who has died aged seventy six, will forever be remembered as the England World Cup winner described as 'ten years ahead of his time' by his manager, Sir Alf Ramsey. As immaculate off the pitch as he was on it, Peters was the thinking man's midfielder and a trailblazer for the modern goalscoring midfield players who populate the Premier League today. Perhaps 'fifty years ahead of his time might have been closer to the truth.' He scored England's second goal in the four-two win over West Germany in the World Cup final - but this was just one part of a career that brought club successes in domestic and European football to set alongside that day in the glorious sunshine at Wembley in July 1966. Plaistow-born Peters, whose father was a lighterman on the River Thames, was a product of the West Hamsters United academy, a hothouse of forward thinking led by players such as Malcolm Allison and Noel Cantwell and put into practice by managers Ted Fenton and, most notably, Ron Greenwood. Tall, lean and elegant, Peters was the perfect pupil for Greenwood's desire to bring intelligence and tactical awareness to the game, developing alongside those other England World Cup heroes captain Bobby Moore and hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst - Hamsters fans still boast about how West Ham won the World Cup. He had the natural gifts and awareness that allowed him to act like a sponge for Greenwood's progressive techniques, easily absorbing his manager's instructions and carrying them out with authority. Peters, like another West Ham legend of later years, Sir Trevor Brooking, exerted his influence through speed of thought and natural ability as opposed to physical presence. He became known as 'The Ghost' for his ability to arrive undetected among heavy traffic in the penalty area to score. He made his debut on Good Friday 1962 in a four-one win against Cardiff City and his first goal came in a six-one victory at Manchester City the following September. It was the start of a career that would bring him one hundred goals in three hundred and sixty games for West Ham as he settled into a pattern of performance and goalscoring that would define his style. Greenwood's team was regarded as talented but defensively fragile alongside the fierce competition offered by the likes of The Scum, Everton, Liverpool, Dirty Leeds, The Arse and Stottingtot Hotshots, but they still enjoyed moments of glory. Amid that success there was disappointment for Peters, who was not included in the West Ham side that won the FA Cup final against Preston Both Ends in 1964, victory being secured by Ronnie Boyce's last-minute winner. There was to be consolation, of sorts, for Peters a year later when he was a key component of the team which won the European Cup Winners' Cup against Turn-Und Sportverein München 1860 at Wembley, courtesy of two goals from Alan Sealey. Peters continued to be one of the most significant members of a West Hamsters team that was pleasing on the eye, operating with characteristic stealth and intelligence, but was short on success and his future glories were to come elsewhere.
In the modern parlance, Peters was a 'bolter' in Sir Alf Ramsey's plans for the 1966 World Cup - the player who came up on the rails to make his case for inclusion close to the tournament. It proved to be an inspired choice by Ramsey as Peters helped him fulfil his much-derided prophecy that England would indeed lift The Jules Rimet Trophy on home soil. Peters only made his England debut on 4 May 1966 in a two-nil win over Yugoslavia at Wembley, scoring the first of his twenty goals for his country on his second appearance against Finland in Helsinki on 26 June. He did not actually figure in England's line-up at the start of the World Cup campaign, missing the opening group game against Uruguay at Wembley. Peters started the second match against Mexico and was then a permanent fixture under Ramsey. Peters helped Ramsey implement a system known as the wingless wonders after Liverpool's Ian Callaghan, Southampton's Terry Paine and The Scum's John Connelly had all appeared during the group phase but were left out of the knockout games as England's system reaped the ultimate reward. He once said: 'I wasn't a winger. Alan Ball and I were midfield players that broke wide. We had to get back and defend. We worked hard to defend when we played against a midfield player opposite us and then would break to support attacks. I wasn't quick but I could run and run and run, so I would run into the box, see a space, run into there. If the ball didn't come in you'd get out again, run in and then would come in and bang - goal.' Peters and Ball - both in their early twenties - were the engine-room of the midfield, allowing Bobby Charlton more time on the ball - a key part of Ramsey's plan. It was Peters' cross from the left flank that enabled Hurst to head home England's winner in the tempestuous quarter-final against Argentina at Wembley, a game remembered for the sending-off of the visitors' captain Antonio Rattin and Ramsey tearing George Cohen's shirt away from an opponent as they tried to exchange them at the final whistle. At the age of twenty two, Peters was to take his place in England's sporting hall of fame as he scored the sort of goal that became his trademark in the final against West Germany, pouncing in the penalty box to put England two-one ahead.
Hurst recalled: 'When you look at the film of Martin after his goal in the final you can see him flicking his fingers out. He said the exhilaration was like an electric current running through his hands. He was a fantastic player, a natural footballer who was totally and utterly devoted to the game.' It was the high watermark of his England career and future World Cups would provide bitter disappointment for both Peters and Ramsey, the manager whose aloof public profile was at odds with the complete devotion he inspired in his players. Peters, now at Spurs, was still central to Ramsey's plans when an England team many still argue was actually better than the 1966 World Cup winners in terms of pure talent, headed to Mexico four years later. Most of the great names remained though Nobby Stiles had been replaced as the midfield enforcer by Spurs captain Alan Mullery, Everton pair Brian Labone and Keith Newton replaced Jack Charlton and Cohen, while Manchester City's Francis Lee came in for Roger Hunt. And, when Peters put England two-nil up in the now infamous quarter-final against West Germany in León with one of those familiar far-post arrivals on the end of Newton's right-wing cross, Ramsey looked on course for more success. Instead, with the outstanding Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti having a rare off day as a late replacement after Gordon Banks was taken ill and Ramsey's substitution of Bobby Charlton with Colin Bell backfiring, West Germany fought back to win three-two in extra time. It was the end of that golden England era. Peters was Ramsey's captain, with Moore replaced by Norman Hunter, on one of the darkest nights in England's football history - 17 October 1973 and the World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley that they needed to win to qualify for the 1974 finals in West Germany. It was a night that belonged to Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, labelled 'a clown' by Brian Clough, as he performed heroics and his goal led a charmed life. England could only draw the game one-one. It was the end of Ramsey and Peters followed not long after. He won his final cap in May 1974 in the two-nil defeat by Scotland at Hampden Park, Joe Mercer having taken over as caretaker manager from Ramsey. Peters may have had an inauspicious end to a magnificent England career but his record of sixty seven caps, twenty goal goals and a World Cup win secures his place in history.
Peters cut his ties with West Hamsters in March 1970, becoming Britain's first two hundred thousand knicker player when he signed for Spurs, although a portion of the fee was taken up with Jimmy Greaves making the reverse journey to Upton Park. Martin was at his peak at twenty six, figuring in a side with a more ruthless edge under manager Bill Nicholson and alongside players of the calibre of Mullery, Pat Jennings, Mike England, Martin Chivers, Steve Perryman and Alan Gilzean. Peters was able to add his elegant flourishes and natural eye for a goal to these talents and he went on to further success at White Hart Lane. He scored on his debut in a two-one win against Coventry City and finally won domestic honours when Spurs beat Aston Villains in the 1971 League Cup final at Wembley. Peters was captain when Spurs repeated the feat two years later against Norwich City. Spurs also won the UEFA Cup in 1972 when Wolverhampton Wanderings were beaten in an all-English final, but they tasted defeat in the same competition's final two years later when they lost to a crack Feyenoord side in a two-legged tie which was overshadowed by crowd violence. He left for Norwich City in a fifty thousand quid deal in March 1975, having scored seventy six goals in two hundred and sixty appearances for Spurs.
Even in his latter years, Peters was still able to show the old mastery and enjoyed something of an Indian summer at Carrow Road, winning the club's player of the year award in 1976 and 1977. In 2002 he was made an inaugural member of Norwich City's Hall Of Fame. In 1978, while still at Norwich, Peters was made an MBE for services to football. He is still regarded as one of the finest players to represent The Canaries, scoring forty four goals in two hundred and six league appearances before joining Sheffield United as player-coach in July 1980. Peters was Harry Haslam's designated successor as Sheffield United manager but only had a brief and unhappy spell in charge for sixteen games between January and May 1981 when The Blades were relegated to the old Fourth Division. In 1982-83 he played in defence for non-league Gorleston in the Eastern Counties League, after which he retired from playing and joined Hurst in forming an insurance-selling business. For a period Peters was also on the board of directors at Tottenham and he later took on hospitality roles both at Spurs and West Ham.
Peters made a career total of eight hundred and eighty career appearances in all competitions, scoring two hundred and twenty goals and was inducted into English football's Hall Of Fame in 2006, confirming his status as one of the towering figures of the post-war football generation. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen - whom he married in 1964 after they met at a bowling alley in Dagenham - and by their children, Leeann and Grant.