Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas to all

Hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Year. As the song says- things can only get better.

Cowan and Fianna Fail out, lefties in, Spurs win FA Cup (there's a 1 in the year), Blues win promotion, country returns to growth, taxes reduced, global warming ends and peace breaks out across the world.

OK, we'll be realistic and settle for the first.

Blue Moon, he left them standing alone

Well done to Tim Cahill for doing us all a favour last Monday night by inspiring the Toffees to a 2-1 victory over Man City. Assisting Chelski and Spurs, he also did Everton's chances of surviving another year in the Premiership no harm.

This was Cahill's 28th headed goal in the Premiership, which keeps him well in front as the most prolific headed goalscorer since the commencement of the League in 1991. Quite a record for a midfielder who spent several of his earlier years playing in lower divisions.

Don't you love the way Joe Hart made himself "look big" for this one. Text-book goalkeeping. Bring back Shay Given.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So I did me some talkin to the sun...

Great clip from a memorable movie from the late sixties.

Ralph Coates RIP

Busy pre-Christmas time I know (shoveling snow) but have to log on to pay tribute to Ralphie Coates who passed away last week, following a series of strokes.

Best remembered (by me) for his goal in the 1-0 League Cup Final win over Norwich in 1973, his broader notoriety stemmed from his runners-up spot in the 1970's Bobby Charlton Comb-over championship which was, not surprisingly, won by Bobby Charlton. In third place was Terry Darracott of Everton, followed closely by David Armstrong the flying Middlesboro winger. The high-tackling Terry Cooper from Leeds took the final placing, coming in 5th.

Good luck, Ralph, in the great barber's shop in the sky.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Neil Armstrong at Centre Forward

The above illustration superimposes the walking routes of the Apollo 11 astronauts onto a standard-sized football pitch. Neil Armstrongs' walk to East Crater Pan (Pan 5) took him to just marginally inside the opposition penalty area, having commenced his "run" on the left of his own penalty box having initially dribbled to the right hand corner of the same box.

This is an official NASA map and even if they have similar ones for baseball (confirmed) and I assume American Football I think it will be a long time before they try to plot, or maybe even attempt, a similar walk on a GAA pitch. The hazards are clearly far greater - Armstrong and Aldrin may have been trained to cope with lack of oxygen and uneven terrain, but the could not have been coached in how to deal with the extra-terrestials they would encounter on the "Irish moon". Battered referees, marauding hurley-wielders (dealing with rushes of blood to the head) and men in hospital coats to name a few.

But back to the science lesson - the length of the walk (which was measured and planned) was, according to Neil Armstrong, down to a few key factors - notably concerns over the durability of their uniforms in the searing heat and the need to stay within the range of a fixed camera mounted on the space module.

Science academics who have studied this issue also point to the fact that the astronauts as former athletes, would have possessed an instinctive feel for the confines of football and baseball pitches. It would have been anticipated that distance may have been hard to calculate by sight on the moon, and so NASA took deliberate cognisance of the inbuilt “feel” athletes have for the distances covered on a sporting pitch. An interesting angle indeed - entirely trivial but interesting nevertheless.

Finally, it was disappointing that the first sport to be played in space was not football – although it is quite understandable - quite simply there wasn't room on the lunar module for the corner flags.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poetry - Kodachrome by Paul Simon

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away

If you took all the girls I knew
When I was single
And brought them all together for one night
I know they’d never match
My sweet imagination
And everything looks worse in black and white

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.

The power of photography. I'd just love to see the snaps of Paul's girlfriends.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pub of the Year - 1976 through 1983

Belfield Bar
Bar cards only with Loretto on the door; Mount Anville girls; disco afterwards; lifts home in a Mini.

Pirates Den
A step up from UCD; no questions about age (for except John O'Farrell).

The Rock Inn
A short summer sojourn in 1977; Derek Keogh.

The Merrion Inn
Friday night payday; the Trimleston gang; Iris Grove.

Lincoln's Inn (or just beside it)
Ireland v Belgium away; Bernard Nolan; calling the A40 for a lift home.

Buttery Brasserie
Trinity rugger buggers; breaking glasses; Northern girls and rooms.

Leeson Lounge & OBriens
Office entertainment; default option.

Merrion Row
Rugby nights; Luke Kelly (well not really); abrakebabra; challenging policemen.

Quite private business; Ambie the ignorant tipstaff; too close to home.

Anywhere obvious I've missed?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why I never qualified for Europe at Subbuteo

Looking back at life's regrets, I frequently return to the nagging issue of my poor record at Subbuteo. I have spent hours agonising over this single issue.

I now have a conclusion to the self-analysis, and the long sleepness nights, and it lies in one thing - team formation.

I remember the careful planning that went into each game and the trauma in deciding whether of not to use wing-backs, and indeed whether the opposition were strong enough to warrant me using the catennacio system extolled so expertly by the Italians in the Seventies. Eitherway, my team took the pitch and lined up perfectly, each knowing where to play and what to do. Then the problem developed.

After about four minutes my team would forget everything I told them and they would end up "all over the fucking shop" - five players bunched on the left wing, the full-back playing central midfield and inexplicably my centre forward loitering around the corner flag. Embarrassment sweeps over me as I recall the Inter-Toto Cup game when in ended up with 11 players in the opponent's half. Needless to say I was taking the ball from the back of the net fifteen seconds later.

As I look back with maturity and hindsight, I can now clearly identify that my failure was down to always using the man nearest the ball and not going for the long three foot long push, thus leaving the remaining players "roughly" in the right place. Every time I mistakenly sacrificed team formation for close ball skills. Lamentable.

Here's what I missed, to the sound of The Barrel with "Unreasonable". Look for twice taken penalty towards the end. Idiotic in its' simplicity.

The Bouncing Rovers Fan

Some of us will recall the trip to Waterford for the Rovers Blues Cup game in either 1981 or 1982 and the hooliganism which took place in the main stand during the game. Clearly there is no place for physical violence in a football ground but it has to be said that the performance of the bouncing Rovers fan was the stuff of legends, in a time when this was close to being the norm.

Faced by a wall of locals, this guy (probably no more that 5 foot 6) performed a kind of a grasshopper movement (yet remaining in the same place throughout), as he landed kick after kick on the noses of the dumbfounded locals. Brutal though it probably was, it stays in our minds because of the close to comical movements of the Hoops fan and the total unexpectedness of it all.

Football grounds in the seventies and early eighties (up to the introduction of all-seater stadiums) were potentially dangerous places, although this, (with a perverted logic applied), arguably added to the attraction.

These two videos document the visit of Man Utd fans to White Hart Lane in the mid-seventies when the badge of honour for away fans was to "take" the home terraces. Ignore what was happening on the pitch, and put all your effort into taking the home end. Success generally came at a price - getting thrown out of the ground, being carted off to hospital with a very sore head, and occasionally worse.

The supporters adopted identities and even had business or "calling" cards - the Red Army Red Army (Man United), the Inter City Firm or ICF (West Ham), the Headhunters (Chelsea) or the Zulus (Birmingham City). Political influences were strong within the ranks of these groups and many were infiltrated by right-wing factions who preached intolerance towards blacks, Asians and Jews.

Only when the activities of these groups resulted in fatalities was action taken by the Authorities - looking at videos of games from the mid Seventies it is amazing to note how many indicate an almost total absence (or inadequacy) of a police presence. This was to change gradually over time and the increased stewarding and policing, together with the all-seater stadiums demanded after Hillsborough, has led to the high quality product, in terms of safety, that the Premiership represents today.

Looking at the videos also brings back to memory the hairstyles and dress sense (or lack of sense) from the era. Horrendous, and we were close to being part of it.

Finally I wonder where that Rovers fan is today, thirty years on? I hope he didn't succumb to a life of crime and aggression - the reality I'm hoping is a lot simpler - that he settled down, has a two-bedroomed terraced house in Knocklyon (two children), works as an Administrative Assistant in the Service and gets the Luas up to Rovers new stadium every Friday night.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Man for the Job

You've gotta admire the balls (see above) and the brass neck of Cowan coming out now and fighting like bejaysus for his future. The way he attacked Inda Kinny and Gilmore, not to mind lovely, lovely, lovely, pretty Miriam from RTE yesterday, would make you proud to have him as leader.

Did we all miss something as he drove the country into the ground over the last two to three years?

The Dream is Over

FC United of Manchester 0-4 Brighton & Hove Albion

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

5 December 2009

Keep the diaries free for the first weekend in April.

Hitler meets his match

Taking over Europe was a reasonable challenge and failure was no shame, but dealing with Biffo would make you put the gun to your head.

The final moments.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spoiling the party again

The dream of FC United of Manchester playing their evil neighbours in the Cup lives on although it has become a little less probable.

The away second round game at Brighton was going well with FCUM leading 1-0 and closing in on another shock result until up stepped old favourite Mauricio Taricco with an equaliser - yes that Mauricio Taricco. Assistant to Gus Poyet at Brighton, he played his first game for six years in October and his goal in the FCUM game forces a replay to be played this Wednesday evening. If FCUM can beat Brighton they head to Portsmouth in round three, even more daunting, but remember this is all a dream, a challenge to reality.

So Mauricio, do us a favour and fuck off back to Argentina where you belong, at least till after Wednesday.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Bad Case of Marlon King

A result from Saturday deserves further scrutiny:
Coventry 1 Middlesboro 0.
King (pen) 78.

Fairly tame event you’d say until you realised this was Marlon King scoring against one of his old clubs.

Marlon King, a player with a fairly extensive criminal record and the subject of long and heady debate over the issues of morality within football and indeed the role of football within society.

At the start of this season QPR having considered the issue at length (or having had it considered publicly for them) decided not to offer King a contract following his release from prison following a sentence for sexual assault and causing bodily harm (broken nose included). Not long after QPR rejected King, Coventry stepped in and offered King a return to Championship football. Before proceeding, I need to highlight that my support for Churchill’s decisions about Coventry in World War II have more to do with Keith Houchen and the Cup Final in 1987 than to this latest indiscretion.

Let’s analyse the issue a little more deeply.

At the time of the QPR debate, Paul Wilson from the Observer wrote succinctly on the topic as follows:

“Ken Loach created a mini-controversy in his 1968 docudrama The Golden Vision by including a scene in which a small boy saying his nightly bedtime prayers asks for divine protection for his favourite Everton players. Loach was a perceptive observer of the place football held in ordinary people's lives and he was on to something early when he none too subtly suggested that religion was part of the equation.

As an 11-year-old at the time I did not find it especially unlikely or outrageous. As children we all go through an impressionable stage and, though real life and the growing-up process teaches us fairly swiftly not to be quite so silly, most of us can still recall a relationship with footballers and their clubs that was simply one of worship.

Some might say the entire reason for the ongoing popularity of football is a desire to recapture the lost innocence of youth and return to a world that is perfect once more, though I am not going to argue anything so pretentious or easily shot down here. All I will say is that when the sport is occasionally accused of losing its moral compass, as happened last week when Queens Park Rangers seemed prepared to offer the unlikeable Marlon King a way back into football, the almost universal reaction of revulsion showed that the moral compass is still in full working order.

There are plenty of people, of course, mainly columnists working for national newspapers, who sneer at the very idea of morality in football and cite Stamford Bridge, say, as the new Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet most of modern footballers' offences are against taste rather than the law and Chelsea do not play their games against a background of disapproving silence. This does not make Chelsea fans bad people, despite suspicions that there are even more overpaid and overloud geezer types on their terraces than there are on the pitch: it just means that family ties are stronger than the urge to be judgmental.

QPR considering King was similar to a family risking upsetting its own equilibrium by adopting a complete stranger with a police record. Every Rangers supporter over the last few days, whether they admit it or not, will have been asking him or herself how it would feel to have to admire someone who has just completed a prison term for assaulting a woman. Someone, in fact, with a long list of convictions, more than one of them for assaulting women. Would you be out of your seat with joy when such a person scored the last-minute winner in an important cup tie, or would you have to think twice?

This may be childish over-simplification, but at a basic level that is how supporting a football team works. If we were all going to be completely adult and rational about it many of us might not bother. And because football appeals so directly to children – real children, that is, not just immature adults – it seems astonishing that criminal records can be overlooked when in almost any other walk of life they are strictly enforced. Anyone with King's charge sheet would not have a hope of regaining work as a teacher, a policeman, a nurse or a civil servant. He would be wasting his time even applying for unpaid positions as a Sunday school teacher, a scout leader or a sports coach. It is possible that Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks are enforced too rigorously in this country, where minor teenage misdemeanours can blight employment prospects well into adult life, yet that only makes it all the more unfair when footballers with alarming convictions – in King's case for sexual assault, violence, theft, fraud, receiving stolen goods and other offences – can seemingly breeze back into lucrative jobs.

The reason for that is simple. Where Marks & Spencer, for instance, can easily turn to the next applicant who doesn't happen to have a conviction for petty shoplifting or drunkenness, football clubs find proven goalscorers much more difficult to come by. That does not make it right, however, regardless of the fact that King was not exactly lethal for Wigan or for Hull and that Neil Warnock has now thought better of his offer of a second chance. Dave Whelan at Wigan thought King deserved a second chance too, and only when he blew it did he belatedly realise that the striker was actually on his third or fourth chance. The Wigan chairman said he would never have signed the player had he known the full extent of his record.

That is precisely the point of CRB checking, and football clubs ought to be doing it more assiduously than most employers. They pay bigger wages, after all, and have far more community influence. Where clubs, for reasons of opportunism or short-term convenience, insist on insulting their supporters by employing convicted criminals, they should be reminded by their league about the notion of bringing the game into disrepute. The CRB mission statement – "Our aim is to protect children and vulnerable adults by providing a service to support organisations recruiting people into positions of trust" – could have been written with football in mind. You don't see kids walking around with teachers' or scout leaders' names on the back of their shirts, do you? "

Hard to argue with Wilson’s logic, particularly where this wasn’t a case of a second chance being given to an unfortunate individual who made one wrong choice in life. Quite the contrary – a persistent offender is our Marlon King.

So why do clubs do this?

Closer to home I followed with interest the Waterford fans forum debate around the similar issue of Dylan Kavanagh who was signed by Waterford in August and played several times quite effectively before being released in October (cynically one could say close to season end). This was his second sojourn with the club, having had an earlier period with the club when there was a different Chairman, Board and Manager.

During this period with the Blues, many heated discussions took place about the appropriateness of signing him, coming as he did with a full and expansive criminal record. A portion of the club’s life-long die-hard supporters boycotted games in protest at the club’s “poor judgement” and “lack of ethical standards”. A club like Waterford survives on the loyal support on a very limited number of people and the decision to potentially irk them in this manner is, at best, peculiar and at worst, absolutely foolhardy.

The temptation to adopt a win-at-all costs attitude may be understandable and those in favour of signing him cited the vulgar need to get out of the mire of Division 1 at all costs; and the more considered and philosophical issues of forgiveness and keeping sport fully independent of other social issues.

Those protesting to my mind more correctly referred to the role the players play in the local community (yes, even at this level) and the influence they have on youth. No-one more articulately put this than “Bluemovie” who posted the following:

Second Chance - he's well past his second chance. He has 8 convictions ranging from criminal damage to public disorder to taking of a motor vehicle and driving without insurance (Munster Express). He has admitted 2 counts of attempted armed robbery for which he will be sentenced in December. The Management Committee told us he wrecked a hotel room at an away match in 2007 costing the club. The manager at the time (Cronin) told us that when Dyl's wages were stopped as a result, he threatened our manager. In court, he attributed the attempted robberies to cocaine addiction "spiralling out of control". They occurred on November 20th and December 14th, 2007. He was part of Waterford United until at least November 23rd, 2007. He has admitted in court to threatening Gardai earlier this year - telling them that if they brought him to the station he would "wreck the place".

One last thing. On Tuesday November 20th, 2007, I left work, got a lift and (despite an early puncture) made it up to Ballybofey to watch the Blues in the play-off. Despite losing 3-0 and all but guaranteeing relegation, I clapped our players off the pitch. Players like John Hayes and Paul McCarthy. I travelled home in utter depression, got home after 1 am, tried to sleep and got up again at 7 for work.

On Tuesday November 20th, 2007, one of our injured players put a pair of tights on his head, got a screwdriver and an imitation firearm and attempted to rob a petrol station.

And now I'm expected to bite my tongue and cheer him on on Friday night?

Strong argument, well made.