Guardian Top 100 Blogs

31 12 2010

The Guardian has always been keen to support the football blogging community and the good people there have once again shown they are ahead of the game.
James Dart’s top 100 football blogs to follow in 2011 is a pretty exhaustive list of those sites making a contribution to the debate surrounding the world’s most popular sport.
We’re delighted that GhostGoal has been recognised, but the other 99 are – as many of you will be aware – well worth a look too. Check out the link below:

Guardian’s 100 Football Blogs to Follow in 2011


WSC: Hopes for 2011

31 12 2010

When Saturday Comes asked their regular contributors to come up with some hopes for 2011.

My offering, in additions to some more irreverent choices from others, can be seen by clicking on the link below:

When Saturday Comes: Hopes for 2011


23 12 2010

This is my latest piece for In Bed With Maradona. Bit frivolous but what can I say, I don’t get out much.

For some reason I’ve always been strangely drawn to the idea of wife-swapping. Probably, it has to be said, because I’ve never had a wife. I think I was influenced by the seductive story of Ronnie Wood and George Harrison’s evening spent jamming on their guitars. When the legendary axe-men decided to head off to bed, knowing glances were exchanged and they each slinked into the room of the other’s partner. By all accounts a lovely time was had by all.

The link to Messrs Benitez, Hodgson and Capello may be tenuous to you, but to my warped eyes it is overt. These three characters are ripe for a session of footballing wife-swap. One glimpse of their glum faces, stood mournfully on the sidelines longing for happier times tells me that much.

Rafa Benitez’s Inter experience appears to be unravelling as I write. ‘Donkey daring’ Moratti is a curious strategy with a very short list of outcomes and the suspicion pervades that the former Liverpool boss is willing to cut his losses in the knowledge that the FIFA Club World Cup has been added to his curriculum vitae.

Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson is following the script as written by many a sage judge in the summer – good coach, bad fit for Liverpool. His meticulous but uninspired training ground work has led to insipid performances and Woy in grave danger of rubbing his own face off. Above all, Hodgson is failing to deal with an instantly sceptical audience and the sense that hitting the ground running was a necessity if his tenure was to work out. While Liverpool supporters would never admit it, perhaps first and foremost he is guilty of not being Benitez.

Capello, for his part, carries on regardless. What once passed for insouciance now carries the faint whiff of exasperation. Of course, this is a man who could be forgiven for pining for days gone by. Days when his time could be spent ordering a defender to keep a striker in their pocket rather than a dick in their pants. Capello has made his mistakes as England coach, although opinion differs from person to person as to what exactly those mistakes were. One thing most agree on is that he was rather nifty at the old club management lark – especially in the land of his native tongue.

And so the solution presents itself. Capello could be spared the interminable soap opera that is the England job and jet off back to Italy where Cambiasso and co know a thing or two about holding a midfield together. Hodgson could then return to international management where he wouldn’t be with the players long enough to bore them to death. All leaving Rafa free to ride to the rescue and embrace Anfield life post-Hicks and Gillett.

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for it to happen. You know what wives can be like – Liverpool will be making noises about looking forward rather than back, Inter don’t like the idea of a past relationship with a near neighbour and England may well have been seduced on the sly by a cockney wide-boy with big promises.

Even so, there’s nothing sadder than an unhappy marriage. Maybe the time has come for them to toss the car keys in the hat and spice things up a bit.

WSC: Best and Worst of 2010

23 12 2010

When Saturday Comes asked me and the rest of the regular contributors to the magazine to come up with our best and worst moments of 2010.

Mine are fairly tedious but there’s some good stuff on there. Check it out by clicking on the link below:

When Saturday Comes: Best and Worst of 2010

The False Utopia?

22 12 2010

In a rare outing for the poisoned pen of GhostGoal’s co-founder, Oli Baker has a good old-fashioned whinge about life in the Premiership…

If this article sounds like it is written by an embittered fan of a club staring relegation from the Premier League in the face, that’s because it is. Any attempt to take emotion out of it has probably been unsuccessful, but it’s not for the want of trying.

Promotion to the Premier League is the Holy Grail for most clubs in the country. The Championship play-off final is the ‘biggest game in the world’. For once this isn’t just the produce of Sky hyperbole, but a clinical monetary fact. Fables of exotic players, trips to Old Trafford and Super Sunday give the Premier League an almost mystical quality to lower league fans. Yet, like most things in life, the build up and anticipation is far more exciting than the actual reality. 

For the majority of teams, promotion to the Premier League is followed by a relegation battle. This in itself is not the issue; losing to almost any Premiership team stills beats the rather dirty feeling that follows a hard fought victory against Scunthorpe. The issue is that the prospect of achieving anything other than mid-table obscurity is virtually non-existent. The days of Notts Forest getting promoted and finishing third the following season, or Ipswich finishing fifth in their first season up, are almost certainly well and truly gone. In many respects this shows the strength of the incumbent Premier League teams, but quality of teams is not necessarily synonymous with excitement. The fact that Man City’s spending spree has not met with quite the derision it perhaps would have done in the past, is because the vast majority of fans are happy to see the status quo challenged. 

The mooted play-off for the fourth entrant to the Champions League was attacked by most and the argument that the league itself was the play-off, is a hard one to argue against. However, the fact fourth place is seen as a successful season is a problem itself – shouldn’t football be about excitement? Surely that is what fans want above all else.

Premier League status inevitably brings interaction with fans of the successful clubs. Most of these fans are humble and knowledgeable, but then there is the smug element. The fan who sees their teams success as a personal achievement, as if it somehow they have contributed to it. The sort of fans that tend to think that because they watch Arsenal every week, this gives their football opinions more gravitas. The Championship has its fair share of undesirables of course, but by definition, there is far less smugness. It’s not an attitude that should be applauded, but finding out that someone supports Arsenal, Chelsea or Man Utd tends to provoke an overriding emotion of disappointment. Talking football with someone that supports the likes of Doncaster or Coventry is a much more rewarding and enlightening experience. They can actually tell you things that you don’t know and of course, they would be pretty deluded to be self-satisfied.

Blanket coverage of the Premier League is generally a good thing for fans. Many more live games and Football First allow you to follow your teams performances like never before. Then of course there is Match of the Day. Essentially just a football highlights show, but one that provokes reaction like nothing else. The principle problem with Match of the Day is that it gives every fan, informed or ill-informed, the license to form an opinion based on a few minutes of highlights. This is human nature of course, but there is something to be said for the purity of the audience of the lower leagues. Unless you are a fan of a particular team, you have got be a footballing aficionado to follow football below the top division.

Having said all that, like democracy, the Premier League is far from ideal, but it is better than the alternative. Paying £50 to see your team 3-0 down at Stamford Bridge after 20 minutes is as soul destroying as it gets, but still beats the Boxing Day trip to Burnley. Seeing genuinely world class players in the flesh is a wonderful experience and many of the grounds provide a wonderful atmosphere for football. 

However, there are definitely issues that need to be addressed in the top division. English teams relative dominance in Europe has fostered a complacent attitude. The disenchantment of fans of most clubs is not something that is taken particularly seriously by the Premier League authorities. As far as they are concerned, broadcast revenues are on the increase, so what’s the problem? The exponential amount of empty seats in Premier League grounds should tell you that there clearly is something wrong. Quite rightly, envious glances are cast towards the Bundesliga, where fans are treated to cheap tickets, packed crowds and a competitive division. This isn’t necessarily the template we should try and follow, but the arrogance that our way is best is wearing thin.

Calcio Italia – Jan 2011

21 12 2010

Even if you aren’t really into Italian football, Calcio Italia is a magazine well worth buying. If you are a fan of all things Serie A then it’s practically an essential purchase.

There are monthly columns by such esteemed footballing opinionistas as James Richardson, Gabriele Marcotti and Tor-Kristian Karlsen. There are features from the likes of Jonathan Wilson, Ben Lyttleton, James Horncastle and Simon Kuper. And now, dragging the reputation of the magazine down a few notches, there’s me.  

The January 2011 edition of Calcio Italia magazine includes a feature I have written about Udinese. It charts the history of the club and pays due respect to icons such as Zico, Oliver Bierhoff and Antonio Di Natale, as well as their legendary managers Alberto Zaccheroni and Luciano Spalletti.

You can order a copy online or pick it up at most major newsagents. Highly recommended.

Les Rosbifs Hall of Fame

9 12 2010

There’s a great site called Les Rosbifs that follows the fortunes of Englishmen abroad. The editor Gav Stone is currently compiling the inaugural Hall of Fame nominations. I agreed to be the advocate for James Richardson Spensley – born in England but one of the founding fathers of Italian football. To view this piece and check out the other nominees, please click on the link below:

Les Rosbifs Hall of Fame: James Richardson Spensley