Tuesday, 19 July 2011

How to Buy a Football Club...or Not!

My twitter timeline went kind of mad last night, with a peak at around 8:50pm onwards. The Dispatches - How to Buy a Football Club programme on Channel 4 was suitably hyped as must see television, yet for the most part it didn't really live up to expectations and can be seen as a missed opportunity. A view I know is shared by writers at Two Hundred Percent and The Two Unfortunates.

When the goal was gaping several times (the opportunity to expose further cracks in foreign club ownership), the investigative team seemed intent on trying to round yet another defender, showboating when they should have tapped home. Joe Sim's braggadocio about his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, was latched on to as the big name target to reel viewers in, a target that would be particularly difficult to nail, yet they still went ahead. Yet there were many, just as important, threads not pursued, regarding the network of far-eastern football investors/potential investors.

So what did the first 50 minutes tell us. For the informed football fan, probably not a lot more than we already know:

That football attracts businessmen for who breaking rules is just a minor headache to get what they want. Really!

That Bryan Robson proposes a business model where a (non-supporting) owner buys a floundering lower league club on the cheap, invests enough to try and reach the Premier League (or the Premiership as he seemed intent on referring to it) and then sells up at a profit (probably without a care about who to). What's new about that? Isn't that the Milan Mandaric model? One that he is applying to his purchase of Sheffield Wednesday?

That a footballer/ex-footballer is happy to hang around with businessmen who buy him drinks and go along with their business deals providing there is something in it for him? No - didn't see that one coming.

That Bryan Robson, former England captain, failed club manager, failed international coach is now desperately trying to claw something back from his footballing connections/ nah, can't imagine an ex-pro would be doing any of that.

That Robson's knowledge of the modern game is limited. Ask any Blades fan or Boro fan and they wouldn't disagree. Noting Sheffield Wednesday as having big investment potential, yes I can see, but the sell the training ground model he proposed wont work at Wednesday and to say they will get average Premier league crowds on 35-38,000 was naïve in the extreme. Wednesday haven't averaged 35,000 crowds for over 50 years.

That big businessmen, get to sit at the shoulder of football managers and owners at dinner? Well if certain businessmen get the ear of politicians, the PM, why are football directors and managers any different when they are being "entertained"?

That the Football League is a "simple alliance" of clubs who cannot afford to have the regulatory systems in place that identify and prevent potential shared ownership or unscrupulous owners taking over. The Football League - archaic in it's approach? Never! If the Premier League struggle to manage and impose a Fit & Proper rule, what chance have the Football League got? It has barely moved forward from the Hardaker days.

Then, after 50 minutes came the big reveal. Joe Sim was prepared to name one of his two target clubs, the one he was going to invest in with the Dispatches consortium. Photos of Bramall Lane appeared. Photos of Sim being entertained by Scott McCabe, son of majority shareholder Kevin were shown. The #twitterblades #sufc hashtags were in frenzy.

The club, he claimed, is £57m in debt (although most of that is owed to McCabe and his companies) and was available for $15m. So we are seen as ripe for investment, despite the significant debt. No surprise really, although it shows the hit McCabe is willing to take to get out. It was also no surprise to hear the names of other clubs mentioned earlier in the programme as potential targets. All with decent fan bases, most with recent Premier League experience.

So should Blades fans be embarrassed that their club was shown to be entertaining Joe Sim? Well after the initial shock of seeing us involved, no I don't think so.

We have an owner trying to take a back seat, who is looking for new investors and has promised to ensure the club is in safe hands. As he is a fan, we have more reason than most to believe the latter point. Can other club's fans feel as confident? Maybe we have misplaced confidence? God knows McCabe has made mistakes in recent years.

In advertising the fact that he is looking for investment, McCabe is going to attract a variety of different people to the club. Some will be the right kind of person, some wont. Some will be unscrupulous businessmen, where it is self evident, others may mask it well. He will not know this until they have been fully researched, met and discussions have taken place. The statement from the club this morning; that initial meetings took place, but the club decided to take it no further, were no more than I expected. 

Sim and London Nominees are not the only reported investors showing an interest in United. The Malaysian press reported the interest of "billionaire" Vinod Sekhar a man who was reportedly at Bramall Lane for the QPR match last August. A match which saw the Blades defeated and  Kevin Blackwell sacked after just 3 games of the season. This story then went quiet as a bankruptcy claim was filed against him in Malaysia, a claim dismissed just a couple of months ago. Having read some of the comments under this article regarding the case, I would suggest we proceed with caution should any further interest arise.

Interestingly, Dave McCarthy (United's Managing Director), in an interview with the Sheffield Star at the end of June reassured fans that any potential investment would undergo the utmost scrutiny;

"Investment is an ongoing search and before anything gets done it has to satisfy Kevin McCabe and his family. they want what's best for United. they don't want to do something in haste that turns out to be wrong further down the line."

Maybe to temper press speculation, maybe based on the club's recent experience, or maybe even pre-empting last night's programme? Either way we have to take the directors at their word. Trust is a massive part of being a fan of a football club. It is not a nice position of trust, but when someone has as much money tied up in the club as McCabe we have to accept his word.

So we escaped from the clutches of a man who said the need for good PR on takeover was so that they can appease the fans who can be "a bit of a headache". Nice not to know you Joe. Yet we haven't been so lucky in the past. 

I recently reviewed the book Fit & Proper: Conflicts and Conscience in an English Football Club for When Saturday Comes. You can read the review here. The book sets out many of the "characters" to have taken a seat in the Blades boardroom over the last thirty years. From the country's biggest white collar fraudster, to an Iraqi businessman later to undergo gender realignment - before a subsequent reversal. A chairman subject to an international arrest warrant to a fugitive still on the run from Interpol and a London socialite known as "The Count", with indirect connections to Libyan arms dealers. It would have been less of a surprise if Joe Sim and co had taken over.

On reflection, I think the people to be most worried about last night's programme are those with existing foreign ownership, particularly from the Far East where the number of connections made between various football investors was a concern. This was where the programme fell down, briefly casting light on these connections, before returning to Sim and Ferguson.

Do you really know who owns your club? Can you be sure that they are fit and proper? Do they have interests in other clubs? The scary thing is not that you don't know, but the Football League and Premier League probably don't know either.

Football fans as stakeholders deserve greater governance of those running the game and their clubs. There is enough money flushing around our game to fund it, so it just makes you wonder if deep down they really want it. Maybe it is up to the fans to up the ante and really demand it.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chris Porter - Blades Look For A Port In A Storm

Having been out of the country for half of the last week, the announcement of Chris Porter's arrival at Bramall Lane on Friday afternoon came as a bit of a surprise. I had surfed the forums and message boards, but saw little mention of his impending signing. In fact the first I had heard of it was when a work colleague mentioned he had heard a rumour that Porter had failed a medical earlier in the week. Literally, no more than 10 minutes later, the news he had signed was on United's official website.

I felt relatively positive about his arrival at the Lane, although his recent injury record had limited his opportunities at Derby and when fit he had been unable to regain his place. Interested in finding out a Derby view on his limited action at Pride Park, I contacted Ollie Wright of The Derby County Blog for a Rams perspective. 

"Chris Porter was Nigel Clough's first signing as Derby County manager.  The Rams managed to gazump Cardiff City to sign the Wigan-born striker, who arrived from Motherwell for £400,000 at the end of January 2009 with a decent reputation as a goalscorer."

In fact, I remember that Kevin Blackwell was also interested in signing him for United at that time. I was a little underwhelmed then, I think because he was untried at Championship level. Although to be third highest goalscorer in the SPL with Motherwell was still a reasonable achievement. The fact that Clough made him his first signing, was a massive sign of faith in a player yet to play at that level. the Cardiff and Blades interest also vindicates a belief within management circles that he was more than capable. 

"He made a great start to his Rams career by bagging a brace in his first home start, a 2-2 draw with Swansea City, then followed that up by scoring in a 2-1 home win against Bristol City days later.  Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got for him at Pride Park."

"After the Bristol City game, Porter didn’t feature again for the rest of the 2008/09 season due to a hip injury and after undergoing surgery, was ultimately ruled out of contention until December 2009 by this problem. On returning, he got the winner at Watford in his first start of the 2009/10 season and was in and out of the team thereafter, scoring three more times."

It was Ollie's next words that concerned me most. "Last season was therefore make or break for Porter, as he entered the last year of his Rams contract.  Unfortunately, he broke down again during a League Cup tie at Crewe in August 2010, moving Clough to spit, “we’re sick to death of Porter, him and his hip”."

For a manager to openly criticise a player like this suggests a degree of anger and frustration at the situation. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but it strikes me as a manager who is as frustrated with a player's psychological issues in dealing with injuries as much as the physical problems themselves. Last season, I remember Ronnie Moore openly criticising Tom Elliott, a loanee from Leeds, who passed the physio's tests but mentally couldn't play through fear of an injury that had seemingly healed, but not in his head.  

"After this setback, he was barely able to feature again for Derby.  He started just six times last season and although he did score both goals in a 2-1 win at doomed Preston North End, it was no surprise that he was released this summer."

In fact his final game in a Derby shirt saw him score the goal that beat the Blades and seal the Central League Reserves title at the Blades' expense. Clearly capable of scoring goals, up against many of the young Blades players who will feature in the first squad last season, yet the manager had lost all interest and faith in him.

"If Porter is actually fit again and the hip problem is genuinely resolved, then you have got yourselves a natural goalscorer.  He is not the most mobile of centre forwards and not a great footballer, but he does have that crucial knack for finding the back of the net and could really flourish in League One. The question mark, of course, is whether he’s going to break down again."

Ollie's summing up concurs with my feelings on the matter. Although, I wasn't enthused by our interest in 2009, I think he is the right kind of signing for us now. This is based on the fact he has a proven record at this level with Oldham Athletic. But a two year deal to an injury prone striker, albeit on a free transfer, is a big risk, however stringent the medical. Especially when money is tight and transfers in will be dictated by freeing up the wage bill with movements out, alongside a more restrictive wage budget. 

In the last couple of weeks I have answered questions about the Blades' new season prospects for preview supplements to be published alongside next month's issues of When Saturday Comes and World Soccer and a special downloadable pdf produced by football league sites The Seventy Two and The Two Unfortunates. For each, I have said it will be much easier to judge how the season might unfold when we see what the final squad looks like in August.

With Darius Henderson now at Millwall and Danny Wilson this week re-emphasising the availability of Ched Evans (who you would assume will be on his way), that leaves the raw, but promising, Jordan Slew, Danny Philliskirk (another young player,signed from Chelsea), the inconsistent Daniel Bogdanovic and Richard Cresswell as strikers alongside Porter. There have also been rumours that Bogdanovic might be on the move, maybe we will see a move once the pre-season tour of Malta is finished.

I worry that, unless another experienced striker is signed, too much reliance will be placed on Porter's shoulders. Previous managers have played Cresswell out wide and he looked out of sorts over the last 12 months, in an injury hit season. Slew will need someone to play off and I am not sure that Porter will be the best foil. Maybe we can live with his lack of mobility, providing his link play can unleash Slew's pace and quick feet. I just hope that we are not placing all our eggs in a Chris Porter shaped basket. I am pretty sure we are not, I just hope that when I return from holiday for the game at Boundary Park on 6th August that other striker is in place.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Football for the Communities

Following on from last week's post about Northern Leagues United, Saturday morning saw me  heading North East for what was my first game of 11 a side football for at least a couple of years, maybe more.
On arriving at the ground the first game of the day was about to get underway, between Birtley Town's Under 17's and Under 18's. My first task, getting acquainted with my team mates, many of whom I knew by their writing, their twitter names, but not by face.

A representative from Cobaltore Onagawa watches the Birtley juniors game

Introductions made and, in what seemed like no time at all, the PA announced we should be heading to the changing rooms. Directed to Dressing Room 1, which contained the kit of the young Birtley teams out on the pitch already, we instead made our way to dressing room 3. 5 of us sat there, organiser Michael Hudson capturing the pre-match tension and nerves on camera. We waited….and waited.

Where were our team mates? Where was our kit?

Iain Mackintosh, Me, Pras Murukesvan and Ryan Hubbard, not where we should have been
The answer could be found in dressing room 3, where we had missed a seemingly inspirational team-talk from our coach for the day, Blyth Spartans assistant manager Gavin Fell. Quickly changed we joined our squad of 26 (never mind the quality, feel the width) for a warm-up.

I think Gavin quickly sensed the warm-up was taking that much out of us we were at risk of pre-match burn-out and gathered us round for a final team talk. The gist of it being, relax on the ball, enjoy it and if you are knackered come off. There was plenty of (ahem) quality on the bench. The starting XI comprising many of the North East based writers who had at least managed a couple of training sessions beforehand. 

The match kicked off and, to be honest, we were on the back foot from the start. The Fans side benefiting from the quality of FA Vase winners Paul Chow and Paul Robinson of Whitley Bay. Despite this, during the times we pressed, we played with a fluidity of movement that even surprised coach Gavin. Whilst those of us who started on the bench were applauding, as Andy Hudson cut in from left of centre and fired in a shot, the boss just wryly smiled, muttering "He's supposed to be at right back".

Iain Mackintosh, whose running style down the left wing was said to resemble Forrest Gump, provided early entertainment. It must have been tempting for the defence to knock a ball over the top of the fans' right back just to unleash Mackintosh's pace. Sadly he left his deft flicks and mazy runs in the warm up and departed the pitch with a moon at the bench….and his watching mother.

When the first changes were made, there could only have been about 15 minutes on the clock and my first stint, taking over from the injured Stuart Fuller at centre back, saw me find my feet (or should I say my head) quite quickly - a deft defensive header back into midfield. From there on it is all a bit hazy. The absence from playing for most of the last 12 months and a general lack of fitness came into play. The mind was willing and knew where I needed to be, the body just wasn't able. A couple of times I saw Paul Chow break away and there was an inevitability about the goal, my body said "Don't chase back, save yourself". Yes, yes, selfish I know.

I eventually asked to come off, knackered and sore. It was then I realised I had been on the pitch for all of 13 minutes. Breathless and shameful I propped myself up on the perimeter fence. Determined not to appear such a pathetic specimen I managed to recover quick enough to reappear on the pitch shortly before half time, only to see us go 3-2 down.  When Chow and Robinson were off the pitch there was little between the two sides and each time we had gone behind, we drew level. But the three goals for the fans had Whitley Bay written all over them.

Our goals came from our Polish football expert Ryan Hubbard, with a deft Boniek-esque finish past the keeper, and Neil Bellis. Successfully ignoring the claims of his twin brother Richard, he languidly took the ball forward before scuffing a daisy cutter (sorry), striking a sweetly hit shot from 20+ yards escaping the grasp of the keeper and inside the post.  

The Writers half time team talk from Gavin Fell

After an encouraging half time team-talk from the Gaffer - keep doing what we are doing, we are still in it, just relax and play, oh and can we have some better goal celebrations - the referee started the second half and I watched on from the back as we equalised again.

A great finish from Paul Fraser of the Northern Echo, who ended up with the Man of the Match Award for our team. I have to say I would have given it to my fellow central defender Nick Loughlin (Sports Editor - Northern Echo). Playing virtually the entire game with several different partners he must have spent more time on the pitch than anyone and the scoreline didn't do justice to his performance and organisation.at the back. Or the fact he covered for my lack of fitness.

The crowd including @ObscureFootball
Unfortunately, the qualities and skill of the Chow and Robinson combination again came to the fore and their interchanges and play had helped stretch the Fans' lead to 6-3, yet even their mid second half swap deal in exchange for the Bellis Brothers aka "The Crouchie Twins" (©The Gobby Woman in the Crowd) failed to swing the match back in our favour. Two or three gilt edged chances went begging, similar to those they had buried against us first half. In fact our biggest goal threat in the latter stages came from an unlikely source.

Late on we won a corner and I went forward, sensing an opportunity for the kind of celebration Gav's half time team talk had demanded. As I made my aimless, mis-timed near post run dragging a defender out of the way, a space was created and a cry of "Tomasz" rang out behind me.  The space was hit by our goalkeeper Tomasz Mortimer, burying a bullet header…………into the side netting. The bench were starting to celebrate, thinking it had gone in and I think if he had scored, Tom would be still charging arms aloft up the A1 now, just south of North Berwick.

Shortly after the final whistle blew and I ended the game with a face redder than Sir Alex when the fourth official has come up a couple of minutes short on the injury time board. Little did I know, until I stopped at Scotch Corner on the way home that the redness was sunburn and the headache was sunstroke.

Fans and Writers together
Slightly heady from the heat I refuelled with Lucozade and chips n gravy and then shared cider and football chat with few fellow bloggers including Dave Hartrick and Jeff Livingstone from the superb In Bed With Maradona and Stuart Fuller of The Ball is Round and Andrew Gibney of The Gib Football Show. All whilst watching the final game of the day - Birtley Town v Ryton & Crawcrook Albion.

My ball! (Birtley v Ryton)
By the second half I was stretched out on the grass, aching and not looking forward to the impending drive back. I am not sure what the final score was in the Birtley game, not that I wasn't interested, but I couldn't physically stand for a decent amount of time.

So what did the day teach me?

That you can put 2 decent players on a pitch and they can basically run a game and make you look quite foolish. Unless you take on my tactic - pass them on to a team mate and be the spare man.

That football is more than just the hand-wringing, angst and pent-up frustration I have experienced watching the Blades over the last couple of seasons.

That the online football community, both in terms of bloggers and fan interaction on twitter is a tremendous thing. An opportunity to play football, socialise and do something positive for football and communities both in this country and in Japan drew not only people from the North East, but also Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Leicester, London……to name but few. At least 40 turned up to play, with many others turning up just to support and watch.

It was a great day, one that was a pleasure to take part in and I hope that next year I am available to take part again. I promise to be fitter next time.

Well done to Michael and Andy Hudson. Your time, effort and commitment were all so worthwhile.

I typed this in-between tending to blisters and a swollen ankle whilst in Amsterdam and London hotel rooms. Painful, but a small price to pay for doing a little bit to help out a community who temporarily lost their football club but, more importantly, lost their homes, their friends, their loved ones and their own lives.

If you wish to donate to Cobaltore Onagawa, you can do so here

Right, where did I put the Compeed plasters?

Sunday Sun
The Gib Football Show (includes breathy second half interview with me)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

My Dislikable XI - Number 12 (Ashley Hurst)

In another fan selected XI , it is a pleasure to welcome a fellow Blade, Ashley Hurst, to A United View. He went his first match when he was 5 and had a season ticket for 20 years, since he was 8. Although Ash moved away from Sheffield at 17, when he joined the RAF, he still endeavoured to return every weekend possible to watch his beloved Blades and continues to do so now whilst residing in Lincoln.

He plays for and is assistant manager of @interbladesfc, which is a supporters club team founded in 2001. http://www.interbladesfc.co.uk/ You can also follow Ash on twitter at @ashsufc1889

Generally my hate disliking of footballers normally revolves around there off field actions. Players like Joey Barton, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard etc. are far too easy to list there antics are world renowned and not really worth giving them the attention anymore.

On this list I’m going to try to concentrate on the onfield actions of certain players. We all know them, the dirty gits, the career thieves and the just downright useless…but my heart may have ruled my head with a couple on here…

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann

Mardy, whinging, dirty, cocky and arrogant, are just a few words to describe this so called footballer. Claiming that a fellow team mate is “out of his class” exemplifies those traits. He’s stamped on players, thrown water at officials and always had something to moan to the ref about. Throughout his career he’s made some monumental saves, but he has also made some all mighty balls ups…

Right Back Gary Neville

Quite simply put; a career thief. How this just about average footballer managed to carve such a long and illustrious career is unbelievable. He was never the best in the world, or even anywhere near the top 100. He was never talented, just average at best.

Also the whinging and attitude of the player was disgusting. Always the first to start the Man U cloak around the referee, and always the last leave it alone, mostly unscathed.

Left Back Ryan France

What a god awful excuse of a footballer ;-) One of the most awful players ever to pull on the red and white shirt of the mighty Blades. No ball control, no passing ability, can’t tackle, jump, head, or kick…Pathetic.

Centre Back Kevin Muscat

One of the beautiful games so called “hard men.” When in reality he was just a downright dirty player and a thug. Many times has his rash, late, professional fouls erupted into violence with fists being thrown, just for him to walk away laughing afterwards…He never liked it if it happened to him.

Centre Back John Terry

The “new Bobby Moore”…Funny that, I didn’t see Bobby Moore crying is eyes out after World Cup 1970. Not like this pansy was after losing in the Champions League Final in Moscow. Not only that, he’s amazingly overrated. I don’t reckon much the Rio, but he’s far better than JT.

Oh…and he’s a dirty cheating toe rag too.

Central Midfield Jody Morris

Another average player is still managing to fraudulently earn money as a footballer. The little ankle biter that started at Chelsea, then Leeds, Rotherham, Millwall and now at St. Johnstone has managed to convince people that he is a Defensive Midfielder, when in fact he’s just a fit lad that runs around a field.

Added to this abusing American Tourists after 9/11, drunken brawls, sex offences and drink driving simply make this “man” a vile rotten ……………… My moment to refrain from swearing.

Central Midfield Carton Palmer

This is nothing to do with him playing for the other team in Sheffield. This is about is inability to play football (Are you seeing a pattern here?). He was described as "abrasive, awkward and argumentative" but on the pitch he was "determined, hard-working and persistent" by Dave Jones, the then Southampton manager. The latter three comments are what I think, but add to that no football ability and you got the perfect description for Carlton Palmer. Someone that can only run around for 90 minutes is NOT a footballer.

Central Midfield Vinnie Jones

Known as one of footballs “Hard Men” and now has the same tag in Hollywood. Anyone remember the “Soccer’s Hard Men” video, a video that encouraged wannabe players to be dirty. All Jones had in his arsenal was the ability to kick opposing players rather than the ball. Footballers are supposed to be role models, yet this tw@t got himself in the limelight big style…Now this thug is a Hollywood star which just makes it all even worse.

Centre Forward Ade Akinbyi

A striker that can’t score goals………is not a striker, or in this case, not even a footballer. He will be remembered by many Blades fans for “that goal” against Wednesday, but to the rest of us he was a waste of money, space and oxygen!

Centre Forward Jason Lee

“He’s got a pineapple on his head!!”

How have people not sussed this one out yet?!?!? Nineteen different clubs and he’s still getting paid to play (and even now manage). For a striker his goal scoring record is poor at best, even in the lower leagues he doesn’t manage to hit the back of the net much…Just bloody useless!

Centre Forward John Fashanu

AWOOGA…Yeah, does that piss you off too?? Fash is quite simply on my list for the Gary Mabbutt incident. Most of his career spent as part of the infamous Wimbledon Crazy gang, an era of football that bred tw@ts like him (Jones, Wise etc..). An average player, with one hell of a dirty streak.

Manager Bryan Robson

Well, being a manager is a hard task for anyone. Each manager has his own qualities. Some can get a squad together with little or no money. Some can get a team playing the (almost) perfect game. But this choice is made simply due to his sheer arrogance.

Step up Bryan Robson.......Awesome player, don't get me wrong, but as a manager it's a totally different story. At The Blades, his build up play was...well...erm...virtually non-existent. It seemed like an age to get the ball up the pitch, and then when it got there the players didn't know what to do with it. They had no passion, fight or belief. It was almost like they didn't want to be on that pitch. Just like Mr Robson himself I suppose, stood by the dug out.

He was given some money and made a couple of very excitable signings, but also with wage bills to suit.......and he did naff all with them.

Previous XIs

No. 1 - A United View
No. 3 - 9-Men
No. 4 - William Abbs
No. 5 - Goaltastic
No. 6 - Football Charlie
No. 7 - Phil Lupton
No. 8 - Lee Doane
No. 9 - Leazes Terrace
No. 10 - Gib Football Show
No. 11 - The Exiled Robin

Up next:

No. 13 Shakefon (Dave Stevens)

Friday, 8 July 2011

My Dislikable XI - Number 9 (Leazes Terrace)

The eleventh My Dislikable XI, but number 9 in the series (I am an accountant - murky practices with numbers is fine!) comes rom Chris Smith - co-editor of Newcastle United site Leazes Terrace. A fine selection it is too and one that I have put in red & white stripes. Chris was relaxed as to what kit they wore, I just thought with Cattermole in the XI and Steve Bruce managing them it was appropriate.

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann

The infamous German 'keeper is so adept and persistent at acting like an utter prat I really don't know whether to dislike him or admire his effort. 

I mean, it must take some serious commitment to go to the extent of waging a personal hate campaign against a team mate, as he did with Manuel Almunia.  A strange strategy in the end as it could be argued if Jens concentrated as hard on belittling and winding up his opponents (opponents in his case being anyone other than Jens Lehmann) and instead concentrated on the football happening in front of him he might have actually made a genuinely top class ‘keeper, rather than one in a line of let downs.

Right Back Stephen Carr

One of the more subtle dislikes in my footballing world - Carr became instantly dislikeable upon his move to Newcastle for being generally sh#t at defending, in a defence that was already well catered for with inability.  However, his frequent insistence on screaming until his face turned blue at a very young James Milner was mainly what made me take a dislike to the man - more so as the majority of time Carr was in the wrong.  A Mediocre player with the attitude of a man playing a faultless game. Thoroughly dislikable.

Left Back Ben Thatcher

Claims the other fullback berth for this act of brutal thuggery. Practicing the traits of a still-drunk nutcase from the Tyneside Sunday leagues has no business at all in the sport of football.

Centre Back Marco Materazzi

Normally, any player that manages to kick Craig Bellamy in open play, and eventually get the Welsh motor mouth sent off because of it, would be overlooked for disliking.  But Materazzi's underhand ways stretched far away from players that deserved such treatment - his crowning 'glory' being goading the legendary Zinedine Zidane into assault during his final game (2006 World Cup final no less, as you will remember).

When not physically or verbally goading the opposition into physical attack, Marco regularly resorted to the good old fashioned crunching tackled - a 'man' with scant disregard to an opponent’s physical well-being.  A dirty, cheat.

Centre Back Neil Ruddock (C)

Handed the captains armband for my dislikable XI as being, by some distance, the biggest ball ache of the lot.  Not content with being one of the finest examples of the traditional 'kick the man first, and the ball second' defenders, 'Razor' has since extended his arrogance and annoyance factor to a variety of off the field antics – usually manifested by a string of egotistical ‘hard-man’ statements of non-intent. 

His crowning achievement since leaving football being a fleeting string of appearances on Soccer AM (says it all), visiting various clubs to take up run of the mill jobs, claiming he could ‘do anything’ – simultaneously belittling the people unlucky enough to have his company forced upon him for a day.  Forgettable as a footballer, and even duller as ‘celebrity’.

Right Midfield Morten Gamst Pedersen

Briefly labelled ‘the Nordic David Beckham’ - after a few storming seasons of goal of the month contenders it seemed as though Blackburn had found themselves a real gem.  Sure, even in those days he was showing a keenness to hit the floor at minimal contact but it was easy to forget that when he was smashing the resulting free-kick into the back of the net from 25 yards. 

However, having arguably reached his peak in 2006, the ego of (now just) ‘Gamst’ started to flare beyond his capabilities and form stumbled as a result, eventually ending up as he is now contributing the odd goal every now and then in between diving more often than a submarine – this being his finest effort. He now spends his spare time on posting cookery videos on his expensively assembled blog:  http://gamst.co.uk/.

Left Midfield Damien Duff

One of many players tainted by the name-your-wage era of Freddy Shepherd's Newcastle United, Duff's disliking comes largely through little fault of his own.  Signing Duff at a knock-down £5m after he had just completed a silverware laden spell with Chelsea seemed like excellent business, but was done so at a time when Newcastle were woefully short of strikers (Alan Shearer having just retired and Michael Owen on permanent England duty) but furnished with an exciting young winger by the name of Charles N’Zogbia, who had already shown his ability at the top level.  Duff proceeded to butt young N’Zogbia out of all contention for left midfield, scandalously pushing him into a wasted left back berth despite Duff’s constant stream of mediocre and disinterested performances.  Contributing a goal every 14 games for his reputed 70k a week (a goal ratio bettered by N’Zgobia at Newcastle despite playing a large proportion of games at left back), Duff regularly looked as threatening as a Village Fayre – and left a legacy of financial waste and a huge contribution to the loss of Charles N’Zogbia (finished off by Joe Kinnear).  Damaging and disliked.

Central Midfield Jack Wilshire

England's finest young football, a teenager well on the way to becoming a multi-millionaire with the world at his feet...and doesn't he half look angry about it all.  Although not wanting to single out Wilshire for demonstrating the same disparaging attitude which many other young footballers do, he does manage to do it to an extraordinary level. What are you getting all upset about lad?  You've bloody got it all, you've won - just calm the hell down...

Central Midfield Lee Cattermole

I've always been astonished at how Cattermole managed to make it into the professional game - I could perhaps take it as solid evidence that even in the 21st century there are no safe guards in place to prevent genuine nutters entering the game. For the interests of having genuine reasons for disliking players, I was trying avoid the current Sunderland squad – but Cattermole is impossible to overlook.

He is someone who I have had a personal dislike for ever since, when at Wigan, he needlessly clattered into then Newcastle player, Habib Beye, leaving our full-back injured for months.  Like Ruddock earlier, Cattermole religiously practices the 'kick the man first, and the ball second' strategy, and managed to excel himself through this adoption by being sent off in two of his first three appearances last season (after being made captain no less).  A coward and a thug – thoroughly disliked.

Centre Forward Michael Owen

A candidate for one of the worst human beings to exist on the right side of the law.  A great shame as well, as a young Owen demonstrated all the attributes to be a fondly remembered footballer - a positive and sporting attitude on the pitch and professionalism off it.  But since his ill fated move to Newcastle, the striker's greed and self interest have spiralled wildly out of control, to the point he now finds himself a token gesture at Manchester United (whilst still genuinely believing he is so much more than that) and taking great pride in gloating to the common man about his love for his insignificant role.  A pathetic excuse of a man who makes a mockery of every person who would have given their lives to play football, and also to those who have been unfortunate enough to have had to retire from the game through the injury.

Centre Forward Dennis Bergkamp

Sublime, classy, silky skilled, genius of the pitch...but it was his occasional (and I'll stress rare) tendency for unsporting behaviour that left a bitter memory of the Dutch genius.  Again, it’s personal (is that not the point of this?) – stemming back to two separate incidents in the early 2000’s. 

Firstly was a less well documented stamp on Nicos Dabizas at Highbury, during an FA Cup replay – at the start of a fast break which saw Arsenal score their third of the day (in fairness, it would have made no difference to the final result). 

The second was far more memorable incident where Bergkamp decided take an innocuous free-kick, early – toe poking the ball off Newcastle winger Laurent Robert with the clear intention of having him booked, and subsequently sent off.  Debate what you like about the latter incident, but it was something a player with his boundless ability did not need to do and wholly unsporting – as good as waving an imaginary card in the referees face.  I never quite had the same respect for him after that.

Manager Steve Bruce

Now, Bruce would seem an obvious choice given our allegiances and his current employment - but the current Sunderland manager has been thoroughly dislikeable ever since he made the step up to management through a combination of arrogance and disloyalty. His first four managerial appointments saw hm oversee a miserly combined total of 147 games. 

His illogical defence of Lee Cattermole after a particular atrocious challenge on Habib Beye (as mentioned earlier) also showed a true lack of ‘spine’ and even further moved him away from any chance of attaining respect.  His assumption also that he would have the ability to walk into the Newcastle job (despite the post being often vacant) but never bothering to apply, essentially looking to be begged to join got a number of people’s back’s up on Tyneside, perhaps eventually taking the post at Sunderland with a little spite in mind (certainly no issue of loyalty, or origin).  Having said that, his current post has managed to move him from figure of dislike, to one of entertaining ridicule – this last season managing to find himself in the position of being disliked by all Newcastle fans and a sizeable proportion of Sunderland fans also.  Now that takes some doing...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Northern Leagues United

This Saturday I am pleased to be taking part in a great charity football event.

Northern Leagues United is the brainchild of Michael and Andy Hudson (follow them on twitter @DolphinHotel and @HuddoHudson) and follows on from their successful Northern League Day which I blogged about here.

Rather than try and explain fully here why they are doing it, I implore you to visit

but in simple terms there are two key aims.

Firstly to raise funds for a community football club in Japan - Cobaltore Onagawa - the focal point of a town called Onagawa, devastated by a 15 metre tidal wave from the tsunami in March of this year.

The second aim is to continue to raise awareness of grassroots football and the importance of community clubs over here, such as Birtley Town who are hosting the day's proceedings. Birtley Town is a local football club which, despite having no major sponsor, has an FA Charter Standard award for its work in the community and maintains youth teams at every age group.

As well as the three games detailed on the poster above (I'll be turning out for the Football writers at 1pm), Saturday also marks the official opening of a new volunteer-built clubhouse at the ground. There are plenty of other things taking place including a fundraising raffle, an appearance by the FA Vase trophy and anyone attending is asked to volunteer a scarf to decorate the new clubhouse.

Three games of football (including one of varying quality between 1 and 3pm) all for £3. If you are in the area or can attend from further afield, please do. There is surely some comedy value in seeing a team of guys who are used to seeing Caps Lock potentially seeing their Knee Caps Lock as they skew a hopeful punt forward towards the railway line.

I'll report back on Northern Leagues United next week. 

A Conversation about The Blades

Top football league site The Two Unfortunates recently asked me to take part in a "Conversations with..." piece as part of their close-season series.

We talked about the some what eventful and ultimately depressing last 12 months at Bramall Lane. One Blade on twitter described it as "wonderfully eloquent" and another said they "could not fault a single word." Comments that really put a smile on my face.

You can read it here

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A United View on the iPhone

Right, how many of you own an iPhone?.......*scans the room*

Good, lots of you.

How many of you with an iPhone read A United View?

*despondently notes a vast majority of hands falling to their owner's side*

Okay, for the few of you left, you can now get the A United View app on your apple tech and here is how:

1. Download the FREE bloapp from itunes.

2. Then scan the QR code above, or just search in the app for A United View

3. Voila! A United View will be added to your bookmarks and you will be able to access all the latest Dislikable XIs and plenty of other posts old and new. 

4. Why not look for your other favourite football blogs there. I've got Footysphere and Gib Football Show already bookmarked.

Go on...you know you want to make a sad, (nearly) middle-aged man a bit happier.

Thank you

My Dislikable XI - Number 11 (The Exiled Robin)

For the second time in just over a month I welcome Paul Binning of the Bristol City site The Exiled Robin to the pages of A United View. Paul very kindly contributed to this article following Danny Wilson's arrival at Bramall Lane. Today, he offers an XI with an unsurprising sprinkling of Rovers and offers up a chairman suitable for any Dislikable XI. You can also follow Paul on twitter @cider1977

For any Bristol City fan of a certain age, any of the Bristol Rovers team from late ‘80s/early ‘90s could have made this XI – a team that not only seemed to beat us every time we met, but played an aggressive, nasty, direct style of football straight out of the Charlie Hughes School of Tactics, and then pipped us to the Division 3 title in the penultimate match of the 89/90 season with a 3-0 win.  I’ve managed to restrict myself to the two ‘Gasheads’ who epitomised that team most.

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann 
Aside from the fact he was a German ‘keeper who saved the odd penalty – a characteristic certain to rile any English football fan, Lehmann was one of these players who never seems happy unless he’s whinging or moaning about something.  Beckoning the referee to caution opposition players, running 40 yards to get involved in a brawl, aiming vitriol at ball-boys for holding onto the ball too long are all reasons enough to include him in this XI, but for me it was his incessant time-wasting and lack of general sportsmanship that sealed his spot.
Right Back Nicky Hunt
Signed by Steve Coppell at the start of the 2010-11 season, Hunt was touted by many (including this writer) as potentially a more important signing than the glamourous, marquee-signing of England goalkeeper David James.  Here was a solid defender with decent Premier League experience who could establish himself at right-back and lead the rest of the defence.  How wrong we were! 
From day one he looked slow, lacking in anticipation and generally dis-interested.  Two particular moments in an early-season evening game at Ashton Gate stand out, where the bottling out of a header and a 50/50 challenge near the touchline in front of the normally placid Williams Stand was the final straw.  So bad, and so unpopular that questions were asked of manager and chairman at the AGM as to how quickly we could get rid of him – and they answered them!
Centre Back Ian Alexander 
The first of the Gas (Rovers) team from the 1980’s, the best way I can describe Ian Alexander is to compare him with Gary Neville to Liverpool fans, but even more abrasive, aggressive and he had one of those stupid little moustaches that were so popular 25 years ago! 
Only 5ft 8in, he made up for his lack of height by regularly kicking lumps out of City’s more talented left-wingers, Alan Walsh & Dave Smith throughout his eight years in the north of Bristol (and Bath!).  In today’s game he would have been sent off almost every time a derby match came along – in those days he managed to escape with only a couple of red cards, and numerous cautions.
Centre Back Gus Caesar
Gus makes the team on the basis of being probably the worst player to ever pull on a City shirt.  Signed from Arsenal, he has often been named as their worst-ever player, largely as a result of a dreadful mis-kick in the 1988 League Cup Final that led to an equalising goal for Luton when Arsenal were leading 2-1; they went on to lose 3-2.  He was also named number three in a 2007 survey for the worst players to ever play in the top-flight…..and we signed him!  Gus made only 10 full starts before it became readily apparent to all that he simply wasn’t cut out to make it, and following a few short spells elsewhere, quickly disappeared from view.
Left Back Paul Robinson
Another relatively short full-back (maybe there’s a size issue here?), his thuggish and unnecessarily violent behaviour has caused serious injuries throughout his career, most notably Birmingham’s Damian Johnson who had his jaw fractured in two places following a close encounter with Robinson’s elbow, and, a little further back in history, Stewart Talbot, who successfully sued Robinson and Watford following ten months on the sidelines after a typically horrific Robinson tackle.
Central Midfield Shaun Derry
The fact that he’s the first person on Neil Warnock’s team-sheet wherever he manages says almost all you need to know about Derry.  A real old-school enforcer, Derry marshalls the area in front of the back four with the subtlety of an entire rugby club out in town on a Saturday night, all dressed as Smurfs! 
He gained particular dislike amongst City fans following numerous fiery clashes with Crystal Palace during the 2008/09 and 09/10 season.
Central Midfield Dave Penney 
Long been one of my most disliked players for a challenge on cult hero Junior Bent back in the early 90’s whilst playing for Oxford.  Penney’s swinging elbow – you could actually see him looking at where to aim – broke Junior’s cheekbone in three places and kept him out of the game for some time, some argue he was never quite the same player again.  Added to his notoriety in South Bristol by becoming manager of Rovers in January, but proceeded to nearly squeeze his way out of this XI by being so hopelessly inept that he took Rovers from mid-table to the bottom of the league and inevitable relegation.  
Central Midfield Ian Holloway 
OK, OK, I do feel the need to qualify this one by saying it’s his playing career and early managerial career focussed on here.  Even the most hard-nosed City fan would find it hard to not smile at his more recent, comedic moments in the spotlight, and he was on the receiving end of a Panto villain’s style booing during his last couple of visits to Ashton Gate, rather than the vitriol that has been a part of previous visits. 
But the fact remains he has blue & white blood running through his veins, and was the epitome of all we hated about Rovers some twenty years ago.  Tough, abrasive, irritating, irksome, Holloway was the central cog and leader of that team and liked nothing more than to put one over on “the City”.
Forward Marco Gabbiadini 
One of those players who always, always seemed to play well and score against us.  It may not even be true, history perhaps shading memories a certain colour, but I always remember when casting my eye over a team-sheet in the programme and seeing his name, thinking we’d be in for a tough afternoon.  Another fiery player, he is also the first player I really remember who berated referees for every decision, went down ‘easily’ and was more than happy to waste time when it was to his benefit.
Forward David Kelly
If memories of Gabbiadini ‘always scoring’ are a touch vague, that is certainly not the case for ex- Walsall, Newcastle and Wolves (amongst others) striker Kelly.  He did score every time we played against him, particularly during his early years at Walsall, when the most notable single moment of his career came.  Kelly scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win at the now-defunct Fellows Park, in a replay of an early version of the current play-off final.  City’s record in play-offs remains wretched, with not a single success despite numerous attempts.  I still blame David Kelly!
Forward Marlon King 
My original list included Dean Windass for the single reason that his Wembley volley stopped City’s elevation to the Premier League, but in the time it took to write this out, King made certain of being the final name on the list.  For the few of you not au fait with the situation, King served nearly a year at Her Majesty’s pleasure after being convicted of sexual assault and actual bodily harm.  Now, I’m very much in the camp that people deserve a second chance once they’ve done their time, and although King now has fourteen separate offences to his name, I was slightly relieved when the Sky Blues offered him a contract last season.  
He scored twelve goals in the second half of the season to win over most of the critical fans, and then verbally agreed a three-year contract, apparently setting Coventry up with a platform and a goal-scorer they could build a team around.  Then, this gentleman of a man, such a fine upstanding citizen, proved his character and demeanour by walking away at the flutter of more money and decided to repay Coventry’s significant faith in him by moving the short distance up the M6 to local rivals Birmingham.
Manager Tony Pulis 
Steve Coppell was an obvious candidate having left us in the mire and walking out just three games into the season, but this particular spot has to go to Tony Pulis.  Firstly, he’s a Gashead, having played for Rovers for eight seasons at the start of his career. 
Then, having achieved significant success with Gillingham – he was the manager when the Gills so nearly turned over Man City at Wembley – he arrived at Ashton Gate as the man to take us back to the second tier.  He spent £400k on a striker called Steve Jones (who nearly made this list he was so bad), and signed ex-Rovers player Peter Beadle, playing a style of football that the nation’s fans have now become all too accustomed to.  Only six months in and following rumours of a switch to Portsmouth, the home fans made him all too aware of where his future should lie.  The team he left was probably the worst at Ashton Gate in the last 25 years.  To make it all even worse, City was probably the only club he has taken backwards thus far in his career.
Chairman Simon Jordan
I know not many ‘elevens’ would include a chairman, but Simon Jordan simply has to have a mention for his despicable behaviour following the non-allowing of a goal when Freddy Sears hit a shot that bounced back out from the stanchion, something only the referee and assistants seemed to fail to spot. 
Jordan demanded we offer them a replay, saying “if it was me I would have taken the moral high ground”, before going on to call the club “cheats”, “gutless”.  Moral high ground…Simon Jordan….really?!

Unfortunately, the formation software couldn't supply the quartered shirts of Paul's cross-city rivals. Just in case you thought he wanted them in a Blackburn-esque kit........

No. 3 - 9-Men
No. 4 - William Abbs
No. 5 - Goaltastic
No. 6 - Football Charlie
No. 7 - Phil Lupton
No. 8 - Lee Doane
No. 10 - Gib Football Show

Up next:

No. 9 (I missed 9!) Leazes Terrace