Thursday, 7 October 2021

Aal The Lads & Lasses, There, Aal With Smilin' Faces ...

The Premier League, tis blogger's beloved (though, previously, unsellable) Newcastle United Football Club and St James Holdings Limited have, today, settled the dispute over the takeover of the club by the consortium of PIF, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media. A three hundred million smackers Saudi Arabian-backed takeover bid has, finally, reached a conclusion. The fact that it has happened this week, after eighteen months is something of a shock. Last week United's supporters were celebrating when they learned of a January arbitration date. Now one of the most complicated takeovers in the league's history is over and fans can dream of a brighter future. It will be a future without hated previous owner Mike Ashley and one in which the club can compete with Europe's biggest teams thanks to the billions the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) can provide. 
    For a fanbase and club which has lurched from one drama to another in the past decade-and-a-half since Ashley first waddled into Th' Toon, at least there is now a blank page. No-one was expecting the takeover to be completed this week. The best anyone could have hoped for was January 2022, when arbitration between the consortium, led by financier Amanda Staveley, was scheduled in an attempt to settle a row with the Premier League about who would have control at the club. The Saudi state has been accused (rightly) of human rights abuses and was recently embroiled in a copyright row, which would have made it tricky for the takeover to go through based on the Premier League's owners' and directors' test. So, what the consortium needed to do was prove that the Kingdom's PIF, which would provide eighty per cent of the money for the takeover, was a separate entity to the state. Difficult, perhaps, when the ruling leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also listed as PIF's chairman. But with legally-binding assurances provided, that has now happened. It is understood there will be significant consequences if those agreements are broken. The consortium can also demonstrate how PIF already invests in companies, including the McLaren F1 team, without state control. 
    The precursor to news of the takeover going through on Wednesday was Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports saying it had resolved its long-running dispute about Premier League football matches being broadcast illegally in Saudi Arabia. By proving there is separation between the Saudi state and PIF that issue becomes immaterial. But after claims that beIN had previously pressured the Premier League into blocking the takeover, the timing was interesting nonetheless. There is no doubt the vast majority of fans are celebrating the Saudi Arabian-led takeover, no matter the potential distractions that come with it. A Newcastle United Supporters' Trust survey said this week that almost ninety four per cent of its members who expressed a preference were in favour of the takeover and owner Ashley has been told to 'get out of our club' at nearly every match. The situation has become especially toxic this season. Newcastle are currently winless, second bottom in the Premier League and the same fans' survey said ninety four per cent of supporters want manager Steve Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty) to leave 'in the best interests of the club.' And, to not let the door hit his arse on the way out. The takeover, they hope, will wash away the sour taste in many mouths on Tyneside. 
     PIF's assets of two hundred and fifty billion knicker dwarfs the wealth of even Sheikh Yer Man City's Abu Dhabi owners and Paris St-Germain's Qatari owners and can conjure up images of signing the likes of French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe or recruiting Antonio Conte as a replacement for Bruce. At least, that's the theory being pushed by most of the media. 'Fans are absolutely delighted that the disastrous fourteen-year reign of Ashley is almost over,' said Greg Tomlinson of NUST. 'They are looking forward to having hope and belief in their football club for the first time in many years. We don't demand that the club is winning trophies next season. We just want growth and a football club that gets better. Fans have been beaten into the ground.' Tomlinson added: 'Clubs are bought and sold at the highest level by billionaires and sovereign states and we have not had a say in that. But as a supporters' organisation we will always support inclusion and be against discrimination and abuse of human rights. We will use our influence to effect change where we can.' Backed by the wealth of PIF, the consortium is also made up of Staveley's PCP Capital Partners and British property investors the Reuben Brothers, who are also billionaires, so there appears to be no shortage of money. Staveley, who is from Yorkshire, has spoken in the past of her admiration for Sheikh Yer Man City, having been involved in the Abu Dhabi takeover thirteen years ago. But she has also previously urged caution about lavish spending, preferring to highlight how City's owners have invested in the city of Manchester and in developing an impressive youth academy. So there is much hope from locals - this blogger very much included - that the new Newcastle regime follow a similar template. 
    From a club perspective, one of the first items on the forty eight-year-old's agenda will be overhauling the structure of the club and improving its communications with supporters. Ashley is seldom heard from and any communication from senior figures often comes in the form of statements from managing director Lee Charnley, who is Bruce's go-to man when it comes to transfers. Or, lack of them. But there is no chief executive tasked with running the club, there is no director of football and Bruce is the public figure who has to face weekly questions about everything from legal cases to lack of funds for players, which led to huge frustration in the summer. At which he is, quite simply, about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Bruce, a Newcastle fan himself - something he trots out with monotonous regularity - claims that he 'only wants what's best for the club and if that means a takeover, then great.' But with the new owners seeking to establish a bond with supporters, the sixty-year-old's position will be under serious threat. Without any ability to sign players until January, a replacement, big-name manager, would at least signify their intent. Staveley praised the former - highly-regarded - Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez when she first made her move for the club in 2018. But the Spaniard has made a fine start with Everton this season. Other fans have said they would like former Juventus, Italy and Moscow Chelski FC manager Conte, who is available. Other managers on the market include another former Moscow Chelski FC boss Frank Lampard and former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder - although appointment of the latter would be regarded as a significantly retrograde step by many. Current coach Graeme Jones could also work as an interim replacement should Bruce get his large backside kicked out of the front door at St James Park into the gutter along with all the other effluence. After a poor start to the Premier League season, the most important objective will be maintaining the club's top-flight status. But for a lot of fans the future suddenly looks at least a little bit brighter. Of course, we've been here before - fourteen years ago, to be exact when Ashley took over the club. So, the age-old truism 'be careful what you wish for, it might just come true' is, always, worth having in the back of ones mind. Nevertheless, Amanda Staveley has told NUFC fans they are 'the greatest in the world.' Which, in one sentence, is more than those same fans ever got out of Ashley's gob. The British businesswoman greeted supporters at the Jesmond Dene Hotel, where the consortium members had been awaiting the announcement. She told supporters: "It has taken us four years to get here today. I know everyone has got a lot of questions about managers and players and things. Right now, we just want to get in and do a review of the business and we are going to let you all know the plans. We're here to invest. We are patient. We are genuinely here to try and make sure that we try and become the best custodians of the club we can be. You are the greatest fans in the world."' She added: 'This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United. We intend to instill a united philosophy across the club, establish a clear purpose, and help provide leadership that will allow Newcastle United to go on to big achievements over the long term. Our ambition is aligned with the fans – to create a consistently successful team that’s regularly competing for major trophies and generates pride across the globe.' Good words. Now, back 'em up with some positive actions and a bit of progress and, trust this blogger Mandy, m'love, you'll be able to walk across the Tyne without getting your feet wet on the wave of goodwill that'll be coming your way.

Monday, 12 July 2021

They Were Only Supposed To Blow The Bloody Doors Off

Sunday saw the final of the socher-ball Euro 2020(ish) competition played at yer actual Wembley Stadium. If you missed it, we lost. Next ...
Almost twenty four viewers watched England's historic Euro 2020(ish) victory against Denmark on Wednesday on ITV. According to overnight figures, the semi-final at Wembley brought an average audience of 23.86 million. The last five minutes of the match drew a peak audience of 25.71 million - almost five million more than the peak audience recorded during the previous Saturday's match against Ukraine. The game was the most watched non-news event since Croatia knocked England out of the 2018 World Cup at the semi-final stage. That match was watched by 24.3 million in July 2018. England's four-nil win over Ukraine attracted a peak TV audience of 20.9 million, making it the most-watched live TV event of the year up to that point. The most watched event of recent years remains the Prime Minister's May 2020 coronavirus announcement, which was seen by 27.49 million viewers across six different channels.
Meanwhile, a TV audience of a fraction under thirty one million punters watched the tense closing minutes of the Euro 2020(ish) final, overnight figures show. Ratings peaked during Sunday's calamitou penalty shootout between England and Italy at Wembley, which was broadcast on both the BBC and ITV. An average of 29.85 million watched the whole match live. Te combined figure makes it the highest TV audience since the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. Whilst England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved two of the Azzurri's spot kicks in what was, very much, a game of two halves, Marcus Rashford hit the post with his spot-kick before Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka had theirs saved to hand Italy a, in the end, well deserved victory. 'You can cut ratings in so many different ways and audience measurement has changed over the years, but safe to say this: it is among the biggest audiences in UK broadcasting history,' said Deadline's international editor Jake Kanter. In footballing terms, the highest ratings before Sunday's figures were released came from the West Germany versus England semi-final at the World Cup in 1990, watched by twenty five million viewers across both of the main hannels. That also featured a painful penalty shootout exit for England. The official audience for Sunday's match may rise still further when those who saw it via catch-up services are taken into account. The overwhelming majority of people watched the coverage on BBC as compared to ITV - by a factor of more than four to one.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Nursing A Semi

England's fifty five-year wait to reach a major socher-ball final is over after victory against Denmark at Euro 2020(ish). On a night of nerve-shredding tension followed by unconfined joy and delirium at a rocking Wembley Stadium. Gareth Southgate's side were on a mission to travel one step further than any England side had since 1966 (and all that) and the World Cup final win against West Germany. They finally achieved the long-cherished goal as they came from behind to triumph in extra time against the plucky Danes. In front of sixty six thousand fans and in a frenzied, thunderous atmosphere this newer Wembley has not experienced before, England battled their way out of adversity to secure a meeting with Italy in the final at the same venue on Sunday. And, they'll probably lose because, that's England for you!
Sometimes, your luck is just in, you catch a break when you most need it and, after so much major tournament semi-final heartache over the past decades, England finally got something to go their way and, in the process, one of these suffocatingly high-tension encounters to follow suit. They had to fight for victory against steely opponents - who had an inspired keeper in yer actual Bacon Sandwich Junior, Kasper Schmeichel - especially after conceding their first goal of the tournament to Mikkel Damsgaard's free-kick after thirty minutes. But they replied quickly as Denmark captain Simon Kjær turned in Bukayo Saka's threatening cross six minutes before the break getting to the ball inches ahead of Raheem Sterling. Schmeichel was Denmark's hero as the hosts sought the winner, saving brilliantly from Harry Maguire and Harry Kane as the game went into extra time and the prospect of penalties loomed large. The moment the nation has awaited so long effectively arrived with Wembley's giant screens showing one hundred and three minutes and Kane standing over a penalty after Sterling had been fouled by Joakim Mæhle. The contact appeared minimal but the Dutch referee, Danny Makkelie (who had an excellent game throughout), felt it was sufficient to award the penalty and VAR agreed with the decision. To compound the uneasiness, there was a second ball on the pitch at the time, although it did not appear to have affected play. In keeping with England's long and tortuous history, it was not straightforward as the normally ice-cool Kane saw a pretty awful penalty saved by Schmeichel - but the rebound fell back at Kane's feet and he scored. Kane has now equalled Gary Lineker's long-standing record of ten goals for England at major tournaments. Wembley promptly went pure dead off-it with deafening noise and bananas celebrations and, after all the 'years of hurt,' England now have the golden opportunity to finally claim a major crown. The biggest crowd at a British sporting event in sixteen months had provided the noise throughout, living every moment and now they knew the end was in sight. The night would belong to them, to Gareth Southgate and his squad that has ripped up the old narratives around the England team. At last, Denmark were broken. They would finish with ten men after their substitute Mathias Jensen was injured in the one hundred and fifth minute with all of the replacements having been used. They simply had nothing left. England had suffered and worried, they always do. But in the second period of extra time there was an unusual sense of comfort and even serenity as Southgate’s players closed out the game with great common sense, keeping their composure, taking care to play keep-ball. The statistics showed that Denmark only touched the ball once inside the England area in those final fifteen minutes. England deserved it. They had considerably more shots than their opponents and, from an early point in the second half, it was they that were constantly on the front foot - the fact that the best player on the pitch, by a distance, was Schmeichel was telling. On an unforgettable night, England answered two of the most crucial questions surrounding them. For all the promise and progress since the bitter disappointment of defeat to Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals in Moscow in 2018, the players and manager needed to demonstrate they could overcome what has proved to be an insurmountable hurdle for both themselves and their predecessors, after they also came up short in the last four at the Italia 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996. This was the acid test - at least before Sunday's final against a formidable Italy - and they delivered the goods not only in the context of Euro 2020(ish) but also in demonstrating their character and big-match mentality. England went into this semi on a wave of expectation and national optimism after the last-sixteen victory against Germany at Wembley was followed up by the emphatic four-nil demolition of Ukraine in the quarter-final in Rome. And they faced a test of their nerve when they fell behind to this excellent Danish side. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Kasper Dolberg went close - the latter after a poor Pickford clearance - and England were in trouble when Damsgaard summoned whip and power on his free-kick. It was the first goal Pickford had conceded in seven hundred and twenty five minutes for England. England were ragged at this point - the worst they'd played since their ponderous and lethagic first round game with The Scotchland - but the response was full of conviction, equalising swiftly then taking control before the tiring Danes and the magnificent Schmeichel were finally overcome with Kane's winner. Southgate's team has crossed a barrier no England team has made it beyond since Sir Alf Ramsey's World Cup winners - now we must wait to see if it will give them the confidence and belief to clear the final hurdle. As Southgate will have demanded of them, England's big players made their impact when it mattered most on a night when failure would have been hard to bear. Kane, who struggled to get into Euro 2020(ish) during the group stage, rode his luck to score his fourth - and most important - goal of the tournament after his missed penalty, but his performance was full of energy and menace. He is back to his best and how England will need that against the two great Italian central-defensive warriors Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who have a quality and street-wisdom reflected in their combined total of seventy years. Sterling continued his superb tournament, reflected in the run that earned England's match-winning penalty, hitting at the heart of Denmark's outstanding defence until he finally drew the crucial mistake. The Scum's Harry Maguire, an injury doubt who did not even make the start of the tournament, is now back in the role where Southgate wants him - defensive leader, powerhouse and ever-present set-piece danger at one end and blockade at the other. There were, in fact, fine performances from all of the back four - Kyle Walker in particular - whilst Saka, Mason Mount and late substitute Phil Foden showed plenty of drive and energy going forward. Once the euphoria has died down and England's heroes clear their heads, they must go above and beyond the call of duty once more. There were tears among Denmark's players as the final whistle sounded on their Euro 2020(ish) campaign, one which began with the trauma of Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest in their opening game against Finland then went on to be a huge credit to coach Kapser Hjulmand and his team. Denmark had the air of a squad on a mission as Eriksen thankfully continues his recovery but they were not simply fuelled by emotion, this was a team with quality and character who fully deserved to reach the last four. And, make no mistake, Denmark made this a very awkward night for England but might just curse the failure to protect their lead to half-time. This was a cruel night for Hjulmand and his team - but they have graced Euro 2020(ish) with their strength, unity and their performances. Pickford set a new record for an England goalkeeper for most minutes without conceding overtaking Gordon Banks' seven hundred and twenty minutes set between May/July 1966. England won a European Championship knockout game after going behind for the first time, while it's the first time they have done so in a major tournament since their three-two win over Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup quarter-final. This was the seventh game at Euro 2020(ish) to go to extra time, with the 1990 and 2014 World Cups the only major tournaments to see more matches go to the extended period (eight each). Mikkel Damsgaard's opening goal for Denmark was the first direct free-kick goal of Euro 2020(ish). Jack Grealish became the third England player to be both subbed on and then off in a match at a major tournament whenhe was replaced by Kieran Trippier for the second half of extra time, after Jamie Redknapp (against The Scotchland in Euro 1996) and Aaron Lennon (against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup). Although the decision seemed to surprise some commentators, Grealish had begun to give the ball away rather too often and, England's dominance during the final fifteen minutes justified Southgate's switch. At nineteen years and three hundred and five days, Bukayo Saka became the youngest Englishman to start a match at the semi-final stage or later of a major tournament.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

The Charge Of The White Brigade

England produced a somewhat-better-than-expected display as they thrashed Ukraine four-nil in Rome to set up a Euro 2020(ish) semi-final against Denmark at Wembley. Which now, knowing the daft sods as we all do from bitter past experience, they'll probably now go and lose. Nevertheless, regardless of what the future may hold, Gareth Southgate's side followed up the landmark victory over Germany in the last sixteen by producing a performance of composure and high quality to continue their impressive progress in this tournament. Harry Kane was back to his predatory best after struggling in the group stage, following up his goal against Germany by poking home a superb pass from Raheem Sterling after only four minutes. Ukraine barely threatened and England - having reached the last four at the 2018 World Cup and the following year's Nations League - were on their way to a third successive semi-final when Harry Maguire powered home a header from Luke Shaw's free-kick seconds after the break. The outstanding Shaw was the creator once more four minutes later with a perfect cross that was headed in from six yards by Kane. England were impressive as they simply overpowered Ukraine with substitute Jordan Henderson getting the fourth - his first international goal, in his sixty second appearance - when he arrived with perfect timing to head in Mason Mount's corner. To add to England and Southgate's satisfaction, they kept their fifth successive clean sheet to maintain their record of not conceding a goal at Euro 2020(ish). Southgate never wavered for a second in his belief that captain Kane would have a significant impact on Euro 2020(ish), even when he looked off the pace and out of sorts when failing to score in group games against Croatia, The Scotchland and the Czech Republic. Performances which led to some calls for Kane to be dropped (albeit, not from anyone that actually matters). Southgate's faith was rewarded when Kane got off the mark with England's crucial second in the two-nil win over Germany in mid-week. It was the catalyst for the real Kane to come alive in the tournament - and he punished Ukraine in trademark style. Kane pounced for his first, rose to power in a second and almost completed a hat-trick in spectacular fashion with a left-foot volley that was turned on to the post by Ukraine keeper Georgi Bushchan. He was a constant threat, his link with Sterling increasingly impressive and has timed his return to peak form perfectly. The Scum's Shaw has had to fight to revive his England career - having been behind Moscow Chelski FC's Ben Chilwell for some time, he missed out on a start against Croatia in the Euro 2020(ish) opener, when Southgate used Kieran Trippier in the left-back role. It has all changed since he was brought into the side for the goalless draw against The Scotch. Shaw has made a magnificent contribution to England's run to the semi-final and will likely be one of the first names on the teamsheet for the game against Denmark. Shaw has been solid in defence while proving to be a potent creator of goals, setting up Sterling's vital opening goal against Ze Chermans then setting up two more here, first with a fine delivery from a free-kick and then a perfect cross. It has not been a smooth ride for Shaw, who emerged as a teenager at Southampton before his big-money move to The Scum in June 2014. He has suffered serious injury at United and was, seemingly, never trusted by Jose Mourinho when he was The Scum's manager, but is now delivering for England in a major tournament - proof of his character and an achievement that makes that long road even more worthwhile. Southgate has manoeuvred his England squad with great expertise throughout Euro 2020(ish), demonstrating the riches he has at his disposal. In Rome, he was able to give a first start in the tournament to Jadon Sancho, the twenty one-year-old who has just agreed a seventy three million knicker move to The Scum from Borussia Dortmund. Sancho slotted in perfectly in place on the injured Bakayo Saka on the right side ofa three-man attack, showing huge confidence and ambition in a timely reminder of what he can offer. Moscow Chelski FC's Mount also returned the side, with two creators in the shape of Aston Villains captain Jack Grealish and Sheikh Yer Man City's Phil Foden left on the bench. Henderson, the vastly experienced Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws' captain, made his mark while Marcus Rashford was also introduced off the bench during the second half. It was proof, amid an imperious victory, that Southgate's England squad has the sort of quality and depth that will make them confident they could finally end that fifty five-year wait for success.
Everywhere you looked on the pitch there was an impressive performance from an England player. John Stones reacted well when Roman Yaremchuk found space, forcing the striker wide for his chance. Stones has not put a foot wrong all tournament. The midfield duo of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were, again impressive despite both being of yellow cards (a further caution would have seen either out of the semi-finals). Rice produced another alert, composed display. Heoffered brisk passing, went close from twenty yards and was around to mop up any danger. Phillips had to be disciplined when Ukraine started to stroke the ball around midfield. Like Rice, he avoided picking up a booking that would have brought a suspension. When Kane scored the third, both were replaced by Henderson and Jude Bellingham (who, himself, showed maturity way beyond his tender years during the final thirty minutes). Sterling was, again, a constant threat with his pace and tricky. Southgate is just the second manager to take England's men to the semi-final of both the World Cup and the European Championship, after Alf Ramsey in 1966 and 1968. The Three Lions have now kept seven consecutive clean sheets for the first time in their history. They have not conceded for six hundred and sixty two minutes. This was Ukraine's joint-largest defeat in a match at a major tournament, equalling their four-nil hiding by Spain in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup. Raheem Sterling has been involved in twenty two goals in his past twenty one games for England (fifteen goals, seven assists), while Harry Kane has been involved in twenty seven in his past twenty six (eighteen goals, nine assists). Kane's double moved him level with Alan Shearer and just one behind Gary Lineker's record of ten tournament goals for England.
Luke Shaw's assist for Harry Maguire was the first time two The Scum players have combined for an England goal at a major tournament since David Beckham assisted Paul Scholes against Portugal at Euro 2000. England keeper Jordan Pickford has kept five clean sheets at Euro 2020(ish) - no keeper has ever kept more in a single staging of the competition before. Southgate warned England not to underestimate Denmark, who beat the Czech Republic in Baku on Saturday. Denmark gave England problems in the Nations League last year and have wonderful togetherness after Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during their opening game of the competition against Finland. 'They're obviously riding a wave of emotion after what happened with Christian and that's understandable,' Southgate said. 'It's going to be a fantastic game to be a part of. We have got more experience as a group of those sorts of games and individually the players have experienced those games, which is definitely helpful. We still have a long way to go and we are not satisfied. Tonight is a really enjoyable night for everybody but I've got to say I was already thinking about the next challenge before the end of the game. That's the one for us – we've never been to a European Championship final. It's another opportunity to make history.' Southgate was asked whether England had ignited the nation (whatever that means). 'I know what will be happening at home and that is great,' he said. 'It's lovely to send everyone home happy on a Saturday night – beer in hand or in the air, they should enjoy it.' Southgate spoke with pride about his role in reviving England. 'When I look at the people who are in that list of England managers, you know, Sir Bobby [Robson] and Sir Alf [Ramsey], so many of the managers that have gone before, it is an absolute honour to be in that sort of company. I know how high I hold them in esteem and it's great to be able to get the results that are putting our country on the football map again really.'

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.