Highlights from the 1994 FA Cup game, featuring the brilliant goal that kick-started Nathan Blake's career.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Sunday, September 24, 2006
I don't understand what Glenn Roeder has done to West Ham fans to deserve the abuse that came his way last week. Roeder, who had nearly died while manager of the Hammers in 2003, was called "tumour boy". "We wish you'd died 3 years ago", they shouted. Roeder had waved to the fans of his new club, Newcastle. After the game, get this....he was the one who apologised.
The anonimity of the mob encourages behaviour that just wouldn't be acceptable in normal society. So you get thousands of people chanting merrily about Munich, or Hillsborough. Decent, liberal people think up the meanest, cruellest possible abuse, and scream it out with the sort of venom that should be reserved for murderers, not football coaches, or people who simply follow a different side.
The boundaries of good taste were missing from the terraces a long time ago. I particularly remember Chelsea fans at Ninian Park in 1980. The shy, modest, beloved Welsh boxer Johnny Owen, was fighting for his life on a ventilalor in a Los Angeles Hospital at the time. "Johnny Owen is a cabbage", chanted the visiting fans.
They didn't stop there. "Aberfan, Aberfan, Aberfan", they taunted. They were celebrating the death of 116 children in a Welsh village 14 years earlier. The chants had the desired effect. Long before the game was over, there were bodies being hurled over the back wall of the Grange End.
Cardiff fans were responding as anticipated. I've hated Chelsea ever since. If you ask me about Chelsea, I'll tell you about celery, one man went to mow, and medallions worn around red polo-necks. Think Barry on Soccer AM.
Cardiff fans are no innocents mind you. They still chant "Gas a Jack" and sing other songs about the suicide of Swansea's Welsh international Alan Davies in 1992. I have seen Harry Redknapp being taunted about the death of his best friend in a car crash, and I have seen firemen's helmets worn to a game at Bradford, where a fire had killed 52 fans.
What does all this tell us about the mentality of the football fan ? Nothing really. It's got nothing to do with football. It's just an example of what can happen to the human being in the midst of a mob. It happens in war. Sane, civilised people can turn instantly depraved under the cover of an army. And sometimes, following a football club can feel a bit like that.
Friday, September 22, 2006
On this day, I am quietly mourning the occasion of my 39th birthday. It is a terrible day for those of us who still harbour ambitions to represent their country in sport. I am now forced to concede that I am unlikely to appear at the Millennium Stadium in a red shirt. Of course, there is still an outside chance that I will be selected as goalkeeper, but the narrow-minded requirements of athleticism, physique, and talent cruelly rule me out.
With this in mind, I have requested an archery set as a gift. Hopefully, I will take to the sport immediately - catapulting myself into contention for the London Olympics. I will achieve my lifetime ambition of sitting down on the winner's podium and raising two fingers when they play "God Save the Queen". I don't fancy spending my Saturdays on rainy fields in the company of the strange people who must surely comprise the "Gwynedd Bowmen" , so I will dedicate myself to the task alone. Self-trained, I will shock the archery world at the Olympic trials. Or I might try it once and leave it in a box in the shed.
Other gifts suggest a particularly Welsh mid-life crisis. I got Cerys Matthew's new CD (disappointing - bangy) , and a DVD compilation of the Super Furry Animals. The sleeve notes for the SFA disc, feature a graphic of Robin Friday in the classic yellow/white striped Cardiff City kit of the 1970's.
I have noticed recently how often the broadsheets are referring to the "unglamorous" Cardiff City. Unglamorous? Nous ?
The Furries picked up on a stupendously glamorous era in Welsh football when they went for the Robin Friday association. Wrexham were going through the Blyth Spartans Cup run, and their record - "This is Arfon Griffiths" is still Welsh music's crowning achievement. Swansea were also thriving, basking in a five-goal sun on Match of the Day, bathing in the reflected glory of their Liverpudlian superstars, and producing the last batch of real talent to come from the Vetch - Robbie James, Alan Curtis, and Jeremy Charles. Even Newport County were building a team around Nigel Vaughan which would attract a gate of 16,000 to a European Cup Winners Cup tie.
Personally, I remember Robin Friday as a run-of-the-mill "talented but ineffective" player. But the modern fashion for nostalgically celebrating the anti-heroes of society has led to the re-writing of history, certainly in the case of Robin Friday. "The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw?" Well, I saw him and he was OK. Not bad. No more than that.
SFA have earned themselves the moniker of Cardiff City's "celebrity fans". This is a curious imposition, which is bestowed uniquely in the world of football. Desperate to normalise their existence, the obsessed fan looks around for some sign, any sign, that travelling 250 miles to a God-forsaken stadium on a Tuesday night is acceptable. And an obsessed football fan needs to wrap the flag of a football team around any figure in public life. It is how we identify ourselves, ergo, it is how we define others.
But this is the rub...Celebrity fans are then rated by levels of authenticity. If they once mention in an interview that they look out for the results of their local team, they are chastised as charlatans, unless they have a season ticket. "Where were you at Stockport away?" chides the real fan.
So in that spirit, let's have a look at the claims of the Welsh celebrity fan. Let's start with the Super Furries. Are they Cardiff fans ? "Fan" is probably too strong a word, but they are certainly seen at Ninian Park when they're around. In their previous incarnation as Ffa Coffi Pawb, the North Walian element had other band members who were regulars at Bangor City. But now the band have more of a connection with the capital. They sponsored a kit when we were really crap, and their iconic treatment of Robin Friday has been entertaining. Who cares if they are real fans? Their stubborn promotion of an "unglamorous" club should be applauded.
Catatonia on the other hand were a split camp. While Owen wore his Cardiff City colours on his sleeve, and continues to do so, Cerys was happy to attach herself to the team of her boyfriend, Marc Roberts. This is why she made the appalling error of appearing at "The Big Noise" Festival in a multi-coloured Man United goalkeeper's shirt. It reminded me of the time when Ian Brown of the Stone Roses caused a mini-riot by donning a Cardiff City shirt at a gig in Newport.
The Manics follow Wales properly, though their club allegiances are more shady. Liverpool and Spurs have been mentioned. Likewise the Stereophonics. Stuart Cable would often be seen drumming in a Liverpool shirt.
Some of you now are bristling. "I know him". "That's not true". "He went to Ninian for the Pompey game in '83. That's all part of the fun. It's like a race. Who can provide the most conclusive evidence ? Well Rhys Ifans is Wrexham. That's a fact. You heard it here first.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
This was the game that efectively secured promotion for Cardiff. 4,000 away fans travelled up North to see goals from Blake and Griffith earn a 2-0 win. This is a news clip from the time which features an interview with the legendary Eddie May.
This was taken from an old VHS that I found. It was a rare feature on Cardiff City from BBC's Grandstand which was shown in 1993 when City had just won promotion and the Welsh Cup. It features footage of the wildest goal celebration that I've ever been a part of. If you were standing on the Grange End when Chris Pike scored his goal against Admira Wacker in the European Cup Winners Cup, you'll know what I mean. It also shows a packed Grange End for the Welsh Cup semi final first leg against Wrexham.
These highlights of the 1984 FA Trophy Final at Wembley are taken from a Welsh language documentary. THe game was drawn 1-1. It also includes the goals from the replay at Stoke, which Northwich won with a last minute goal. This is a large file as it has been encoded at high quality. Go and make a cup of tea while it downloads.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Things are pretty nervy in the Red household today. Word has reached me that I may be featured in the Panorama expose on football bungs to be aired this evening. Let's just say that I'm not as confident as Harry Redknapp that I won't be indicted.
As manager of Y Felinheli Under 7's, it's my duty to get the best players, at whatever cost. So when I was approached by a flashy looking geezer outside the Gardd Fon one evening, I couldn't walk away.
He wore D&G sunglasses, perched lightly on the apex of his shaved bonce. He had driven beyond the fashion ghetto of Next in Caernarfon Road to buy his clothes. He smelt of Chester.
But what he offered me was class, in the form of a 6 year old superstar who until recently was treading the turf at nearby Bethel. This player was wanted by everybody. He could run, he had balance, and rumour had it that he was able to kick the ball above head height.
That's what we'd been missing. A high kicker. we had a couple of lads who could kick it "full whack", and a girl who once nearly headed the ball, but a high kicker ? I could only dream.
The deal was done there and then. I told nobody, and on the surface, it looked like the £2 registration fee to the Gwyrfai League was all that changed hands.
But I want to clear my conscience before the broadcast tonight. I'll admit it. I bought that agent a bottle of Magners. With ice. But it was worth it for a high kicker.
Monday, September 18, 2006
Is it me or are Man United losing their dignity ? Firstly we had those ostentatious leather dugout seats, plastered in the name of one of their sponsors (sorry, partners), but much much worse than that is the electronic advertising that now appears on their pitch hoardings .
Not content with just having their company name on the screen, some bright marketing wizard has decided that the sponsors need just a bit more attention. Messages now scroll along the screen, but after a slight pause, the pixels all shift for a half-second, forcing your attention away from the action. After 5 minutes I found this so disturbing that I switched off. I paid all that money for Sky HD, and the football is unwatchable thanks to a combination of Nike and Peter Kenyon. I'd boycottt them if I didn't already do so.
A terrible shame to see Barcelone with writing on their kit. It isn't sponsorship as such, as the Catalan club are paying Unicef 1.5 million Euros for the privilege, but this is just a way of softening up the fans ready for the big hit next year when somebody will pay serious money, and another part of football's soul will disappear.
Much more healthy was Llanelli's 6-0 trouncing of Rhyl. Lovely. It's always fun to see John Hulme spluttering after a loss, and despite the admirable "Fe Godwn Ni Eto" flag, I always like to see Rhyl taken down a peg or two. Also good to see Andy Legg back on the pitch with his amazing long throws. He reached the far end of the six yard box with one on Saturday. I've been watching him on Big Ron Manager, and that isn't the Andy Legg that I know. I think he was keeping his head down for the cameras. This is a man who once asked me to design him a website in which he would charge female fans to gaze at his sculpted torso.
At the other end of the table, Caernarfon took a 7-1 thumping at Port Talbot. One of the more interesting things about this game, is that despite his resignation as manager on Tuesday, Wayne Phillips played for the Cofis that evening, and then played again at Port Talbot on Saturday.
Just up the road in Carmarthen, Bangor began the game in their red kit, and then changed into their blue kit at half time when it eventually turned up. What's the point ? You're just wasting washing powder.
Cardiff confirmed their promotion credentials by beating Luton 4-1 after an early sending off. Mike Newell complained, but it seemed straightforward to me. Wrexham got hammered which never surprises me. They are known in football circles as "tippy tappy", which is a legacy from the Bryan Flynn era. Lovely one touch football, but they haven't had a solid defence since the days of Barry Hunter. Actually, they were always liable to a thrashing even in those days. Can anyone remember a good Wrexham defence ?
Swansea seem to have had their chance last season. They are now losing momentum, and Kenny Jackett is my tip to leave his job this year.
Meanwhile, the sun is still shining in Felinheli. Three matches, three wins on Saturday; 6-2 for the U13s, 8-3 for the U17s against Blogdroed's Valley FC , and the senior side won 2-1 at Nefyn.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Now that Cardiff City's promotion challenge appears to be genuine, it is time to ask a question that has plagued many pub conversations throughout Wales in the past 10 years.
If a Welsh club finished top of the Championship, would the Premiership allow them in ?
I'll be honest; my knowledge in this area is pretty scant. I vaguely remember quite a few conflicting "final decisions" over the years. But as I currently understand it, the Premiership is a members-only club. Any club that is promoted, has to be invited in by its members.
I believe that Sam Hammam has received assurances in the past from the English FA that there should be no problem. But I also recall hearing that were Cardiff City to win the FA Cup again, that the English FA would be unlikely to invite them to represent England in the UEFA Cup.
I also remember the English Conference clubs' abortive campaign to remove the Welsh clubs from the Football League, as they were taking up the places of ambitious English clubs. At the time, Cardiff and Swansea had been involved in high profile acts of hooliganism, and there was some support from League clubs. That one failed I think because the three Welsh clubs are well established, with relatively large travelling support which helps boost the coffers of other clubs.
But I have an historical argument. When the Football League was founded by a Scotsman, there was no question of it being limited to English clubs. It wasn't a National League per se. Wrexham were early members, and Cardiff, Newport and Swansea followed, along with one other Welsh club. I'm ashamed to say that I can't name them. Nonetheless, I'm not sure if the Football League ever became an exclusively English Institution.
I'm looking for help here. Does anyone know what the position is ? If Cardiff finish top, will they be promoted to the Premiership ?
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Robert Earnshaw scored another couple of goals last night. He has now netted 14 goals in 20 starts for Norwich City. For another player, that statistic might sound like a freaky spell of good luck. For Earnie, it represents normality. So why do some managers refuse to pick him ?
Frankie Burrows was the first man who thought he could improve the little Zambian by not picking him. Earnshaw had signalled his arrival to the first team with an astonishing overhead kick to score at Hartlepool on the day I got married in August, 1998. So Frankie dropped him, and signed Dai Thomas to score the goals that season.
Dispirited, there were rumours that he spent the Summer of 1999 in the pubs of Caerphily, and he returned overweight to pre-season training .
Frankie punished him by farming him out to Morton, far away from local distractions. He scored twice in four games on loan at Morton and became a cult hero. Meanwhile City fans were screaming for his inclusion. On his return, he was given five games, scored a goal and promptly disappeared for another six months.
It started going well for Earnie in the new millennium and he became a regular in the Cardiff side. But even then , you always had the sense that Burrows would drop him if he could. Earnie's only protection was to keep scoring, and he did.
By 2004 he had become a star, after scoring 105 goals for the Bluebirds. City were skint, and he was a hot property. He went to West Brom where another manager wanted him to be something he wasn't. Bryan Robson was the wrong man for Earnshaw. Paranoid and defensive, Robson's tactics were to pack the defence and hope for a goal. Strikers need chances, and West Brom weren't creating any. Still, Earnie managed 17 goals in 42 starts for the Premiership team.
The problem is that he wasn't contributing around the park. He couldn't go back and defend corners like Geoff Horsfield, and he couldn't hold the ball up like Kanu. But you don't get points for keeping the ball up, and Earnie rescued West Brom on a number of occasions off the bench.
But Robson just refused to change his opinion.
Mark Hughes was another manager who refused to believe his eyes. Earnshaw has scored 9 goals for Wales in 23 appearances, most of the as substitute. But Hughes wouldn't risk picking him, and it backfired. Remember that game in Serbia ?
With Serbia down and out, Hughes left Earnshaw on the bench, preferring the physical presence of Nathan Blake. Earnie came on in the 77th minute as a last throw of the dice, and only a dramatic goal-line clearance denied him. With more playing time, Earnie would have scored, I'm sure of it.
And still it goes on. John Toshack seems reluctant to play Earnie from the start, even in a Wales side desperately lacking creativity. Bellamy is quick, but he doesn't score a lot of goals. Now that Giggs has dropped into a deeper, more thoughtful role, I'm sure that he could create havoc if he were given pitch time with Earnshaw. He tried him out against Brazil from the start, so there is hope.
The lesson to the managers is, despite your better judgement, Earnie succeeds. But he has to play to score.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Each year, I allocate myself £100 in a Betfair betting account, and play with it until it runs out. However early on that is, I then stop betting until the anniversary.
It's actually been about 18 months now since I last deposited, and I finally ran out on the weekend.
So I've just loaded the account with £100 and have decided to let you lucky people follow my progress across the year. It's Champions League night tonight, so that's where I'll be starting.
Firstly, I've taken Lyon, just £3 at 18/1 to win the thing outright. Hopefully, they'll progress through their group, maybe as runners up to the reborn Real Madrid and then I'll see how the knockout draw works out for them. I may lay them later on.
I'm also backing Chelsea with £10 at 5/1. I think that their squad is made for the Champions League this season, and that's definitely where their priorities will lie.
Barcelona didn't impress me in Monaco, and despite some better form recently, I think that Ronaldinho has now peaked and will struggle to have the influence that he did last year.
£2 at 7/4 Liverpool to win at PSV. There was a reason why Kuyt and Bellamy were rested at Goodison, and I think they may both be unleashed tonight.
£5 at 1/2 Chelsea to beat Werder Bremen at home. They're irrepressible at the moment.
Monday, September 11, 2006
This BBC Article reports that Cardiff City are to appeal against Glenn Loovens' red card, which he received early on in the game against Preston on Saturday.
Manager Dave Jones thinks that they have a case:
"Glenn has been punished for being stronger than their boy. It was shoulder to shoulder," said Jones. "Anywhere else on the pitch, as the ref said, he wouldn't have given a caution."
That's not the point though. It was a red card given for prevention of a clear goal scoring opportunity. It wasn't given for violent conduct. The ref's statement is irrelevant.
I've seen the foul again on television, and whilst it's not as clear cut as I first thought, I'm still convinced that it was a fair decision. City have got no chance with their appeal.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
On 28th december 1999, Cardiff City travelled to Cambridge United for an important league match . Standing amongst the City fans on the terrace, I happened to be making a commentary of the game for a website. It turned out to be one of the most memorable matches in years, as City were left with 8 men on the hour after referee David Elleray showed three red cards.
As time went on, the crowd became more and more frenzied. Despite some Motson-clichees and a large dose of hyperbole, these recordings give a good flavour of that amazing day.
There are two mp3 files. the first contains the 3rd sending off, and the final 10 minutes of frantic defending. Download Highlights MP3 (Right-click, save target as..)
The second MP3 clip features the whole last half hour of the game as it builds to its climax.
Download complete mp3 (Right-click, save target as..)
The team is going from strength to strength and when I got back from Preston, I bumped into the lads celebrating after a comprehensive win. Dylan Bonc was grinning from ear to ear after scoring the first goal, and Danny was just grinning. But I think that was due to the lager.
We are still second after Llanystumdwy also won, but it's good to see some happy faces on a Saturday evening after a few difficult years. We've got Nefyn away next week, and they are the only side so far to take a point from the leaders. We'll have to be at our best.
The Under 17s side lost 7-1 to Waunfawr yesterday. Reports tell me that the team needs time to gel, but things look promising, with a most of the side still only 15.
I watched the U13 side this morning in a friendly against Nantlle Vale. Things looked ominous from the start when Nantlle pushed on and took the lead. But Alun Meirion's team did well to recover and earn a 2-1 win with a late goal. This follows a 7-0 victory over Bontnewydd in midweek.
This was a good choice as Eric Junior's first away game. Deepdale is a fine stadium, and Preston seems a friendly club. City lost, but the way they played suggests that they might not lose too many more if they stay injury-free.
We parked just across the road from the stadium in Moor Park. But a word of warning. Yes, it's convenient, but they think nothing of blocking you in and the car park takes 20 minutes to clear. It'll take you another 15 minutes to get onto the Motorway from here.
The Tom Finney statue is fantastic. The use of water is very effective, and it is easily the best tribute that I have seen at a British ground.
We popped into the Museum of British Football, which lies within the stadium. It's a good pre-match diversion, but I was slightly underwhelmed if I'm honest. Naturally, it is heavily orientated towards England, with just a few items of Welsh interest, namely Billy Meredith's shirt, and an audio piece from his Mother Winnie. I couldn't find Cardiff's 1927 victory in the FA Cup exhibition, which surprised me. Welsh football fans are better served by the Hall of Fame at the Welsh Folk Museum in St Fagan's, Cardiff.
There are good facilities underneath the away end at Deepdale, but I would advise you to eat at the Burger Bar outside. The £3 charge for a hot dog isn't justified by its part-baked baguette and a double sized tinned frankfurter. Why do all these franchised sports-rip offs seem to originate in Berkshire? I reckon that Slough must be the home of American-influenced sports-crap. And I bet they sell popcorn at the Madjeski Stadium.
Inside, the view is superb, though of course the 1500 City fans stood up beyond the first five rows, which I meant that I had a worm's eye view of proceedings.
As soon as Looven's was sent off, the game was distorted. He had to go. It was a clear red card despite the protestations of the City support. What game were they watching ?
This was my first live view of Dave Jones's side, and I was very impressed. Any City side that I have seen over the past 30 years would have crumbled, but this side is made of sterner stuff. In fact, they had the better of the game at 10 v 11, and they played at pace, with no little skill. Chopra looks to be the most talented player that I have seen in a City shirt, apart from Nathan Blake, in his days as a midfielder, before Sheffield United muscled him up.
Preston were spiky, and it was no surprise when the ref evened things up. Nugent feigned to kick the ball at the linesman, in an act of petulance for his first yellow, but I thought his second yellow was a little harsh.
Initially City thrived on the extra space, and at half time I could only see one winner. McPhail started spreading the ball around, and Thompson looked to be working well with Chopra.
But at half time, Preston manager Paul Simpson brought on Patrick Agyemang. He immediately made an impact, and put Preston one up. McNaughton wasn't looking comfortable at centre half, and City were out of shape, as they pulled Joe Ledley back to left back. THe squad is obviously threadbare, with no replacement centre half.
The Preston programme has a flag of each player's nationality next to his name. Agyemang has a Welsh flag. If there is any connection (and I'm doubtful there is), the Toshack should be taking a look. He's just the sort of player that could change things for Wales when things aren't going well.
We scored a good equaliser through Chopra, but Preston always seemed likely to score, and when they did, we couldn't respond. No complaints from me. I was just pleased to see a team full of players in blue shirts who seemed more than capable.
It was strange to hear the Preston fans singing "Top of the league ? You're having a laugh." I am used to being the underdog, but there is a definitely something in the air. We're still top after yesterday's results, and with strengthening in January, I think we could make a go of it.
I've been one of Sam Hammam's biggest critics, but I think he's absolutely right not to overstretch himself. If we haven't got enough money to compete, then so be it. Look at what happened to Leeds when Ridsdale was urged by the fans to spend, spend, spend.
I was entertained in the car by Jason Perry on Radio Wales. I'm sure he's had media training. His voice peaks and troughs in all the right places, and he uses pauses for dramatic effect. This isn't the old Jason Perry that I knew, but good on him. He makes Kevin Ratcliffe sound like Alan Durban.
Friday, September 08, 2006
You're not getting this at Rochdale.
Despite some reservations about committing my eldest son to a lifetime of misery, he received his Cardiff City membership card earlier this week. It was something that I had not planned. Demonstrating great maturity and liberal values, I had decided not to transfer my beliefs onto him. Rather like those families who delay a baptism until the child is old enough to decided for themselves, it would always be his choice. Maybe he would prefer to commit himself to Bangor, Caernarfon, or even Wrexham However, I was forced into early action due to exceptional circumstances. He asked me to buy him a Liverpool kit.
I've nothing against Liverpool per se. In fact, my action shows a great deal of hypocrisy. There is a "Scorcher" annual here from 1974. In it, I have scrawled some graffiti; "Liverpool are magic, Cardiff are tragic". This was only two years before my life was changed by an Adrian Alston goal at Selhurst Park.
Notwithstanding, I am invoking my paternal right to force my child into my way of life. Other parents might want their boys to take over the farm, run the printing business, or become a Doctor like Daddy. My child will drink cider and travel to places like Halifax and Aldershot.
We are going to Preston tomorrow. Whether he likes it or not. City are top of the 2nd Division for the first time since 1971, and Deepdale seems to be a suitable ground for his first away game.
I've never been before. It will be my 51st League Ground visited with Cardiff.
Yet more hypocrisy. When I was a regular traveller, I did my best to put off kids and families by swearing a lot. "They shouldn't be here if they don't like it", was my mantra. "Football is for swearing". After a hard weeks work, it was a man's inalienable right to release his pent up frustrations by using foul language. Football is the working man's opium. I was a librarian.
But now I have crossed over. After paying an extraordinary £20 for a ticket, I would like to sit down. I am old and my knees ache. My son might actually want to see the game. In the days of terracing, we would simply move down to the front, or to an empty space. Seating doesn't give you that option. If the stand is full, you are more likely to be placed next to a beery oaf who insists forcefully that you "sing your heart out for the lads". And sitting down is impossible.
How am I meant to eat my prawn sandwich ?
Still, we will be joining the dense queues of traffic moving along the A55, chock a block with Welsh football fanatics. There is a massive North Wales derby being played on Saturday, and the Taffs will be everywhere. Coaches will drive past Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Connahs Quay and park up for the game of the season. Everton v Liverpool.
Meanwhile, we will tootle on past the Liverpool exit and make our way to Deepdale and the Bill Shankly Stand. I'm going to sit on his nose and remind him that we beat them 4-1 in his first game in charge. I was wrong in 1974. It is Cardiff who are magic. And if they win tomorrow, they might even be ace.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
"Ar y Marc" is a Welsh language football programme which is broadcast on Radio Cymru at the unearthly time of 8am on Saturday mornings.
The presenters are pictured, left to right: Dylan Llewelyn, Dylan Jones and Gary Pritchard (who writes Blogdroed).
This morning, my youngest son charged over to the Ar Y Marc World Cup Wallchart, which remains stubbornly glued to my kitchen wall. He pointed at Dylan Llewelyn and shouted repeatedly, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy".
I had wondered. There is not a trace of ginger hair on his body. He has a sly look about him, and he is generally unintelligible. Now I know the truth. It should have been obvious all along.
I first met Dylan Llewelyn in supernatural circumstances. I had read his pieces in the legendary "Five to Three" fanzine, and I was writing at the time for "Intifada", a Cardiff City 'zine. I made my first ever visit to North Wales, aged 20 and after a session in the Globe I walked into a chip shop in Upper Bangor.
There was a lad in the queue wearing an FAW pinbadge. For some reason, I was compelled to enquire "Are you Dylan Llewelyn?". He was that man.
Dylan has written some books, including "Awe", about the people who follow Wales away. It has a photgraph of me in it, taken after the famous leek march through Nuremburg before the 1991 debacle. But that's another story.
"Ar y Marc" is well worth a listen. It is the only show in the World that even acknowledges the existence of the Welsh Premier. And I have just discovered that it is available online at
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/networks/cymru/aod.shtml?cymru/ar_y_marc. The next step is hopefully a podcast of the show.
I know that you read this blog. That doesn't surprise me. I have long been an influential voice in Welsh football, ever since I stood chanting for TerryYorath on the Bob Bank, and made you resign the first time around. But I am a little surprised that you followed my advice to the letter without even a nod of recognition.
You picked Earnsaw like I said, and dropped Giggs into midfield. Out went Fletcher, leaving Carl Robinson to carry the water. But John, it didn't really work. For that, I can only apologise.
On paper, there is nothing wrong with the Gigs-Bellamy combination up front. Plenty of teams play without a target man these days. It's the way they play that is the problem. They both like to play into space, and that usually means away from goal. The thing about the target man is that he will often take up the central patch that nobody wants. He will pull defenders away from the areas that Earnshaw and Bellamy need to exploit.
It's almost always a bluff. Nobody plays the obvious ball to the middle where the big lumbering centre forward is waiting to crash the ball home like Hot Shot Hamish. But that centre forward needs to be there to allow space for the pull back, the whipped ball, the far post lob.
And I don't want to labour the point, but all those short corners didn't work either. I realise that you didn't have much option, but you need to try something else.
Still, it wasn't a bad workout against a largely disinterested Brazil team. We passed well and looked a lot more creative without Carl Fletcher facing his own goal. Gareth Bale got his nervy game out of the way, and Duff seemed to enjoy himself. ( Is it true that Ronaldinho was desperate to play because Duff is the only international right back who makes him look handsome?)
I thought that Robinson justified his selection over Fletcher. But I'd still like to see Savage in that role. And James Collins. I used to watch him regularly when he was a gangly Ginger playing youth football. I simply can't believe that this is the same player. And have you seen him play up front ? He got five minutes in Teplice, so at least you've got that up your sleeve.
But John, what about that leisurewear ? What were you thinking ? It was like a late eighties shell suit. triangles of blue and green, along with navy and red. Yeeuch.
I have to admit that I didn't watch the second half. It was liberating to turn it off. I'm not a footieholic. I can live without it. There is plenty enough football without having to suffer practice matches to pump money into the Brazilian FA.
But not everyone is like me. And if you are going to play a match in London, you could at least give the Welsh fans some decent tickets. While everyone rattled around a half empty ground, the loyal Welsh followers were squeezed into the corner with the worst view in White Hart Lane.
There were plenty of Welsh rugby shirts on display last night. I'm not one of those who gets apoplectic about this, but it does suggest that a lot of those watching weren't exactly diehards.
Mind you, there were a lot there who will watch Wales in any match. I bet that a good percentage of them were at the Leyton Orient v Wales game a few years ago. The rest of the 20,000 were just football tourists.
And finally John, a question. A man called Brian told me that he used to play football with you in Victoria Park after school. He says that if the Canton lads were too rough, you would take your ball home. Is that true John?
Sunday, September 03, 2006
After the intial registration of the sunlight beaming into the room, it was my second cognitive thought of the day. A picture replayed in my mind of a Czechoslavakian substitute turning slowly, frame-by-frame. The ball hit his shin as he spun a right boot at it, and it curled away from Paul Jones, hit the side netting, and nestled inside his right hand post. The clock showed 88 minutes. A gloom fell over me and I buried my head in the pillow. Not again! Not another bad luck story!
I don't believe in God, fate, luck, karma, destiny, or any other of those mumbo jumbo unscientific crutches. But something, somebody, must be against our National football team. It happens too often for it to be coincidental.
Or does it ? The fact is that we went out there and played against technically superior opponents. We defended reasonably well, and our two quick strikers ran onto long through balls to create a couple of chances. It was more than we could have hoped for. But a defensive action can only bear so much. If it hadn't have been an absurdly offside first goal, it would have been a goalkeeping blunder, a penalty, a lucky rebound, or some other jammy means of scoring. We always seem to suffer bad luck, but really we can't complain about the defeat.
It still hurts though.
What about the performance ? Firstly, the manager. I thought he was brilliant. He put out as solid a team as he could muster for the first half, but then he sniffed an opportunity. The Czechs weren't causing us enough trouble to warrant both Fletcher and Robinson taking up space in midfield, so he brought on Ledley. In a midfield desperately lacking creativity, there was always a chance that Ledley could grab a goal. And he very nearly did. When we went a goal down, he brought on two attackers, and it paid off.
Compared to the sterile negativity of Hughes' reign, Toshack's tactical bravery looks promising. It might be worth watching this team develop into an attacking force. Tosh seems to know when to batten down the hatches, and when to go for it. I couldn't help thinking of the game in Serbia in 2003. Serbia were motiveless, down and out, and we just needed a killer punch. Hughes bottled it, stayed tight, and we failed to qualify.
I am a bit concerned about what we will do when we play at home. We can't sit deep and lob balls up to Bellamy and Giggs. A series of 0-0 draws would follow. But after this performance, I'm confident that Tosh will know what to do. We have creative players to come in, like Ledley and Koumas. Cotterill's move to Wigan is good news. Now we need David Vaughan to step up a gear, and Simon Davies to get away from Everton. And I'd love to see Robbie Savage picking up the pieces.
Sky reported 4,000 Wales followers. How times have changed since we took less than 100 to away games, and all the fans were on first name terms. Some resent this growth, but not the team. Fantastic support last night surely helped the young players.
Still, I am hopeful that this wasn't the best performance that we will get from this group. We seem to be moving in the right direction after years of little development beyond the first team.
We have a couple of good keepers coming in to replace Paul Jones.
We have a back three in Collins, Gabbidon and Nyatanga that can play together for the next six years. If Delaney can stay fit, we have no worries on that side.
Sam Ricketts always surprises me. Technically I don't rate him very highly, but he's got some balls. He seems to work well with Giggs, and is far from in awe of him. There aren't many inexperienced players that would ignore Giggs calls to have a crack at goal from left back. Fair play to him.
With all due respect to Fletcher and Robinson, we need to move on in central midfield if we are to have any real chance of success. We have to keep the ball much better than we did last night, and Fletcher needs to turn around 180 degrees and face the opposition's goal. There is talk of Ledley moving to left back, so a central midfield of Koumas and Giggs might be the answer, with Earnie partnering Bellamy up front. For the home games at least.
I was a little concerned at kick off that we had no real striker on the pitch. Bellamy is thrilling of course, but he's not what you would call a goalscorer. Earnshaw should play, with Giggs dropping deeper. Can Craig Davies come on quickly enough ? Maybe Hartson should be there as another option. A plan B.
So I think it's time to stop the self pity. Yes, we were unlucky, but so are lots of football teams. This is a side that could be fun to watch. Let's not put pressure on them. Let's support Toshack and the lads that want to play for Wales. Give them a chance to develop and I'm sure we'll get something out of this campaign. Probably not qualification, but a couple of tidy results , and a climb up the rankings would be good. Watch us move up to fourth seeds for the next draw, and stay positive.
Bring on Slovakia.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
I feel like this on the morning of every Wales away game. A bit guilty. I feel like I'm letting them down by not being there. I don't often travel away with Wales for a lot of reasons, mostly logistical. But I still place myself mentally in Prague with mates, acquaintances, and friends that I haven't met yet. I'll scan the television pictures for close up shots of old comrades from Cardiff, and look out for the flags from Pwllheli, the Ty Gwyn and CPD Inter Ifor. I should be there. I'm letting them down.
How much worse must it be for Robbie Savage this morning ? He could be playing, but he's not. He said some nasty things about the boss, and this time he wasn't forgiven. Toshack had a difficult job to do when he came in. He was left with a player power culture that had been cultivated by Mark Hughes, himself not long out of the dressing room, and keen to offer the players the same sort of priveleges that he would have liked. Tosh was prepared to make a stand, and there has been a revolution amongst the pampered.
I belive that Sav has tried to make amends, but the peculiar and outmoded childishness of the football professional has meant that he won't phone Tosh because "he hasn't got his number." Tosh has responded by claiming that Savage wouldn't get in his side anyway.
Meanwhile, Gary Speed sits at home. He'll probably play golf instead of watching the game. He retired a few years ago you see, because he wanted to save himself...for Bolton. I know, I know, but remember this is a man who once went on holidays instead of playing for Wales.
At least Gary Speed is a decent player. Sunderland's Danny Collins has thrown his toys out of the pram because of selection disagreements. Come on Danny, at last wait until you've got something to brag about.
Ben Thatcher has bigger things to worry about at the moment, but he has proved that adopting a country is not always a good idea. Like Pat Van Den Hauwe before him, Thatcher had a go at international football, but his heart wasn't in it. At least Van Den Hauwe had the Mandy Smith excuse.
Jason Koumas is yet another international outcast. Currently sitting in front of his PSP I expect. Sulking since the start of the season, he has yet to kick a ball, and has been left out by Toshack's tough love.
The magnificent Andy Johnson (no, not that one, the crap one) retired from international football a couple of years ago, when it became apparent that despite his remarkable talent, he wasn't going to be a first choice player.
And finally, Johnnie Hartson, who retired for family reasons has now moved down South and wants to play again. "Only on my terms" says Tosh. To give Hartson is due, he has never let Wales down, and would always turn out. Toshack's loyalties now lie with the young players that he has been forced to use by the arrogance, and apathy which has afflicted many of our players.
What are we to make of all this ? There will be about a thousand people out in Teplice today who have made great sacrifice to stand in the rain and watch this team. They have paid good money, left families at home and taken time off work for the privelege.
Meanwhile, there are a group of professional players, who to put it bluntly, can't be arsed to play for their country. Ivor Allchurch must be turning in his grave.