Monday, July 02, 2007

Eric the Red signs for Golwg

Ever less frequent, Eric's contributions to this blog will grow silent for a time, while I shift allegiance to the Welsh language magazine "Golwg".

I will now be writing regular sports features for Golwg, and for the first time ever, I will be using my real name; Phil Stead.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Wales 0-0 Czech Republic

This was a memorable event, if not such a memorable game. Giggs' last game surprised me with the emotions it dredged up, from the crowd, from the man himself , and from me. I was a little choked as he walked off, but I can't put my finger on the exact reasons behind that. It was a combination of things. It was a sad conclusion to a famous international career - Giggs is probably the first player whose career I have witnessed from debut to retirement, apart from Gavin Maguire maybe. His departure was a stark reminder of our own mortality, and as I approach 40, these things tend to hit home. My mid-life crisis was further deepened by the reflection on Welsh failure that Giggs' career highlights. I have decided to stop thinking about it.

But Saturday will be remembered by me for very different, but equally earth-shattering reasons. I actually saw signs of life in Commins Coch. For years I have been driving up and down the A470, and this is the very first time that I saw a citizen of that hamlet. I once saw someone walking through, but this time, there was a man digging his garden. He looked a little like that "Oh I doon't believe it" bloke, but I don't think it was him.

I will never ever sit in the Family Stand again. I had bought a season ticket for my son and I, but I now dread each game. The seats are the worst in the ground - and yesterday we were hammered by the most blinding and uncomfortable sun that I can remember at a football match. But the worst problem is the horns. How long do we have to suffer? People can't smoke at football matches any more, but they can blast air horns all afternoon. They must be banned.
I might start an online petition, but I probably won't.

It's very easy to criticise Wales and Toshack at the moment. The tactics are negative, there is little excitement, and we rely on one or two playmakers to create something off their own back. Bellamy is isolated, we have wingbacks who get forward but have nobody to cross to. A few of our players are worse than mediocre, and everyone can see this.

But rarely do I hear anybody offering a solution. That's understandable because there just isn't one. With the group of players available, Toshack's tactics are unavoidable. We are easy to play against, and rarely cause teams problems. But more importantly, we have been easy to score against in the past, and that needed to be sorted out before we can look at more positive aspects.

Last week I listened to Kevin Ratcliffe taking Collins and Gabbidon apart. That wasn't just based on their lazy and rusty performances against New Zealand, but he was suggesting that they weren't the best defensive option for Wales' future. In fact, he was almost insisting it. So Kevin, tell me, even if James Collins hadn't made you look silly yesterdy, what is your suggestion? Would you leave Collins and Gabbidon on the bench for Steve Evans? Maybe pull Delaney across to centre half? I'd love to hear your answers, because like the rest of the pundits I hear criticism but no solutions.

And I've had it with Robbie Savage. I don't mind a silly rant now and again. It entertains me. But don't try to undermine our National team on the morning of a big game. That is simply disgraceful. You had my sympathies before, I understood that you had special needs, but this has crossed the line from stupidity to nastiness. You gone from wanker to bastard in my estimation.

The lack of a target man really does limit our attacking options, and it frustrates me no end. I can only offer one suggestion. Eifion Williams.

Have you stopped laughing? I know he's just been released by Hartlepool, but at 0-0 with 10 minutes to go, I would feel more enthusiastic about our chances of getting a goal if we had a centre forward on the pitch who knows where he should stand, and has a good record of kicking and heading a football in between the posts. Even Tosh's tactic if playing Collins up there would have been preferable to the lack of presence that defined our attacks in yesterday's game. But to use Tosh's well worn metaphor, we would have pulled the sheet up over our head, but our feet would have gone cold, and I dare say we would have lost the game.

So where do we go from here? Ryan Giggs' claim that the future is bright just doesn't wash, and we all know it. The future is better perhaps, because I don't think it could get any worse. That was a fine performance by a limited team, but for how long will 30,000 people pay to watch that level of fotball? The next campaign must see a return to £10 tickets or a visit to a Wales home game will be even more dispiriting than it currently is.

I made yesterday's trip by car in a return trip that took the best part of 8 hours. The new air service from Anglesey to Cardiff has been launched but there are no weekend flights. Whilst I'm sure that there are very good logistical reasons for this, I wonder if there is any hope of arranging special flights for sporting internationals down in Cardiff? I have booked a flight for Wales rugby international v Japan on a Thursday night which means I can leave home at 5pm, but which requires an overnight stay, and some means of reaching Rhoose Airport by 6.30am. I'm sure that there is demand for a flight which fits around both sports internationals, and a specially arranged flight returning at 10pm would have lots of takers I'm sure. Is this an opportunity for another online petition?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Giggs - boo or cheer?

The news that Ryan Giggs is to retire after Saturday's game against the Czech Republic has left me reeling. My first reaction is one of panic, disappointment, and even mortality. That young lad who was scoring free kicks against Belgium in the early nineties is to stop playing for us. How can this be? Does everything have to stop? It seems so.

The decision is another kick in the teeth for Wales. We need to know why so many of our best players feel that they can't be bothered to turn out for Wales, something the rest of us would sell our Grandmothers for. Let's just look at the team we could put out on Saturday.

Coyne; Delaney, Bale, Collins, Gabbidon, Speed, Savage, Giggs, Davies, Bellamy, Earnshaw.

I wouldn't mind backing that team, but in crucial areas, we have players missing that we just can't afford. And they're missing out of choice. Take Giggs out of that lineup and things look really depressing.

Even when we have been really poor and seemingly hopeless, the presence of Giggs on the field has been reassuring, some cause for optimism. And let's face it. Giggs' presence has doubled crowds over the past ten years. we can all complain about the kids blowing their hooters, but we'll soon find out that life without the Giggs fans is even worse.

What irks me is that Giggs apparently made his decision to retire after the game in Dublin, a game in which he was totally ineffectual, and played far below his club standards. This is something we've become used to, but nevertheless if he had played half decently, he wouldn't be retiring now.

He had many detractors amongst Welsh fans, some of whom wanted him dropped due to his paltry total of friendly appearances. Well they're going to get their chance to experience life without him, and it isn't going to be pretty.

More immediately, I'm not sure what my reaction will be on Saturday. Do I applaud and respect the best footballer that we've had since Billy Meredith? Or do I boo a man that is undoubtedly letting us down?

Welsh football is at a low already, and it's going to get a lot, lot lower. Who will be the next rat to desert the sinking ship?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Campione Y Felinheli !

Last night, Y Felinheli Under 17s went to Holyhead and drew 0-0, a result which made them Champions of the Anglesey League (there is no league in Gwynedd).

It was a result which gave me as much pleasure as any professional game in my long history fo watching football. The distinction between the grassroots game and the professional game is become increasingly blurred for me. And on a night when Liverpool beat Chelsea in front of millions, the small band of travelling supporters at Holyhead felt the same elation as the millions who have latched on to those big teams.

It was a night which justified our decision to form the club 2 years ago. The people who converged on the pitch to celebrate with the lads have all played their part in the success. I looked around me and saw the faces of people who have given up so much time over the years for the benefit of football in the village, and they all deserved to share the celebrations. There can't be that many youth teams that travel 25 miles to play their penultimate game.

This was potentially an explosive encounter. We had beaten Holyhead 6-5 earlier in the season, in a match which left our goalkeeper scarred, and Holyhead walking off the field in protest after having two goals disallowed. There were muttered threats about the return game, but in fact the game was played in decent spirit, greatly helped by the league's decision to supply official linesmen.

It was an emotional evening for Joe, the manager. Having managed the same group of players for 10 years, representing a neighbouring village, this was an achievement which saluted his skill and commitment, and which crowned his time as their coach. Softly spoken and easy going, the team plays in his image, and their extraordinary discipline is a reflection of the respect he holds amongst the team and his peers in local football.

I have watched this side often, and they have given me a lot of pleasure. Their football is fluid, controlled, and seemingly effortless. They have come through in the face of intimidation throughout the season, without once responding in kind. I know it's a cliche, but last night was a victory for football. They proved that you don't need to snarl and growl your way to success.

Some of you may scoff at the eulogies I give for our little team, but others will recognise that our small success means as much to us as any glittering television spectacular. The simple fact is
that we don't need to share our delight with millions of others. The happy faces in the Fic last night weren't celebrating a Liverpool win, they were celebrating a tremendous achievement by Joe and Gwil, their team of players, and the community of football in Y Felinheli.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Porthmadog embroiled in FAW Appeals

Flicking through the programme at Llanystumdwy yesterday, I came across an intriguing little editorial which invited further investigation:

"Last Tuesday we were in front of the FAW disciplinary board in our 2nd appeal against our omission from the junior cup. We again lost the appeal so we now go on to the 3rd appeal against the FAW.

We feel strongly as a club that we want to see justice done, not only for ourselves but for all small clubs.

We know that Porthmadog are a League of Wales club, and that Beaumaris are in Anglesey but we will not give in. We went to Beaumaris and won fair and square and we will not be bullied by two Gwynedd League sides into giving up our right to be in the Quarter Final."

The appeal process is not cheap. Any club prepared to go to a 3rd appeal must feel very indignant about the previous decisions. So what is Llanystumdwy's claim?

Llanystumdwy signed a player from Porthmadog called Carwyn Edwards. Before a Junior Cup tie at Beaumaris, the player declared that he had not appeared for Port in the Junior Cup that season, and was not cup-tied. He was selected in good faith, and Llanystumdwy won the game.

Claims were made that Edwards had after all appeared for Porthmadog, and teamsheets were provided as evidence. The player still maintained his innocence and claimed that he had not played in any junior cup game.

It is alleged that Porthmadog had been guilty of a well-used scam in grassroots football. With an important player suspended, they had used Edwards' name on the teamsheet instead of the suspended player, who broke his suspension.

Despite a second appeal, the FAW have ruled that the only hard evidence shows that Carwyn Edwards played for Port, was therefore cup-tied, and Llanystumdwy have been ejected from the Competition.

It's a very delicate situation. Only Porthmadog and Llanystumdwy know what really happened.

Meanwhile Porthmadog have their own sense of injustice with another case.

An old mate of mine, Gary Ismael was running the line at Y Traeth when he was racially abused. Port officials dealt with the matter promptly and banned the spectator. Despite this, they are still subject to a £12,000 fine and a deduction of three points. The FAW yesterday rejected their appeal despite a groundswell of support for Port throughout Welsh football.

Port know only too well what it feels like to be persecuted unfairly. It is ironic that they are currently on the other side of the fence in the Llanystumdwy case.

I have no idea what has happened there, but the persistence of both parties in clearing their names leads me to sympathise with the appealant in both cases.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blood and tears

He had just scored an underserved goal to take the lead against Bethel Under 7's when it happened. Around about the half way line, there was a ball to be won and in he went. Bethel's biggest and best player had the same idea. There was a clear and horrible "krakk" and my son stopped moving.

He had his back to me and I couldn't see his face. But the look of shock on the ref's face, and the quick sprint of the opposition manager told me enough. He started screaming before I got to him, but that's not unusual. At this age, I have seen players scream when the ball hits their thigh on a cold day.

He was already shaking when I arrived, his right leg hanging limply before he slumped. I lowered his sock to see the damage, and there was blood, and swelling to the area between shin and calf, and it had turned a shade of blue/green.

I am the sort of Father who deosn't believe in mollycoddling. A quick glance and get on with the game is my usual tactic. Even now, I wasn't convinced of the severity and asked him if he wanted to play on. We've never beaten Bethel, and with him back on his feet, I thought we might be able to hold on. When he just looked at me and cried, I softened a little.

There is something about carrying your wounded and weeping son off a football pitch that changes a man. I can fit my hand around his skinny little bruised leg, and he clung tightly to me as I cradled him. I can't remember feeling more responsible and more paternal since the day he was born and the whole ward cheered because he wasn't a ginger.

His injury was worse even by the time I approached the touchline. As the parents all stared with concern, I imagined myself as the Irish priest carrying the wounded back in Derry on Bloody Sunday. Luckily, his opponent's Dad is a Doctor and was able to examine him pretty quick. We took him inside and put some tiptops on his leg - strawberry, rasberry and cola flavours.

After an hour, his face had gone white and the swelling was no better. The Doc didn't think it was a break, but we couldn't be sure. I took him off to Casualty.

As usual, the Casualty department was full of people in adidas leisurewear. It should come with a health warning, as there is obviously a higher chance of injuring yourself if you are wearing adidas trackies. We waited about 45 minutes before we were called. I realised I had been stroking his hair for most of that time, and blushed.

My son looked pitiful. He barely looked at the Doctor and answered in mumbled single syllables. Though it doesn't help that he was unable to communicate in his first language - Welsh. Eventually the Doctor asked him if he could walk. "Don't know". "Haven't tried".

At which point, my little cherub rose, placed both feet on the ground and paced around the ward like Iolo Williams climbing Snowdon. A full recovery and a very sheepish parent.

We spent the afternoon in Llanystumdwy watching Felin lose comprehensively to the League leaders. My son spent the whole game playing football with the locals behind the goal. There's a lesson there somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is. At least the injury brought out a side of me that I didn't realise was there. I do care after all, even if Bethel did equalise in the second half.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Koumas - from ridiculous to sublime

Well the game went as expected in many ways. San Marino shouldn't be playing football at this level, Wales were profiligate, and 18,000 turned up to vindicate the FAW's decision to use the Millennium. Yes, the atmosphere was poor, but what can you expect with such a non-event.

The return of Jason Koumas was the big story for me. Koumas is now such an influential player in this side that he outshines Giggs, whose star is sadly on the wane. If he had been available in Dublin, I doubt that we would have lost that game. He is now a real talisman for this Welsh team, otherwise devoid of creativity.

The ninety minutes last night demonstrated the full gamut of Koumas' game. He won Man of the Match, but he might also have been booed off the park, such was his shocking attitude to the game, and to the people who had paid to watch.

He started showboating in the twentieth minute. He abused his talent, sprayed wild passes around the pitch, dribbled backwards, shot with disdain, and generally tried to humiliate his opposition. He tried a couple of back heels, and chipped a penalty down the middle with the force of a blancmange. He took two corners which were belted towards the half way line, for Carl Fletcher..(yes..Carl Fletcher), to chest down and volley well over the bar.

And before all this he managed to get himself booked for kicking the ball away after a Steve Evans foul. On the half way line. Against San Marino. When 2-0 up.

Jason Koumas is a flat track bully. He thrives in the Championship, but won't share the limelight with other players at a better level. He has turned down moves to top level clubs because he knows that he won't look so good up against top quality defenders. But against Lichtenstein and San Marino, he has been the best player on the park. By far.

If somebody could sort him out, get his head straight , then I think Jason Koumas could be World class. But until that happens, he offends me. Natural skill and ability come easily to some people, but without the application, you are insulting your own talent. And that's what Koumas does.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It has to be The Mill Stad

Wales midfielder Jason Koumas says Wednesday's game with San Marino should
be at Cardiff's Ninian Park. The Euro 2008 qualifier will be held at the
72,500 capacity Millennium Stadium in the city, but, as of Monday, just 15,000
tickets had been sold. "It'll be surreal, none of us can understand why the
game isn't at Ninian where the atmosphere would be better and more
said Koumas.

Thank you Jason. Very helpful. I look forward to your post-playing career when you use all that knowledge and experience gained to become a successful football administrator. I would love to hear that phone call to the Millennium Stadium.

"Oh Hello. It's Jase. Yeah that's right mate. Hi.'s about that match we booked next week. I don't know if you saw our game in Dublin, but we were a bit crap. Yeah, I know... Anyway, um, we won't be needing the stadium on Wednesday after all. It's a bit over the top to be honest. What's that? You've printed the tickets? Oh....can't you use them for the Germany game?"

People in Wales have short, but pink-spectacled memories. The Millennium Stadium has to be booked well in advance. Remember when we couldn't get it because there was a Rolling Stones concert or something? This isn't a village hall we are talking about. And the FAW had every right to imagine that we would still be going well at this stage of the competition. It was a bet that didn't seem like a massive gamble at the time.

At a similar stage a few years ago, it was difficult to find a ticket for our home game v Azerbaijan. Even if results had been half decent, we could have expected 30,000 at the match. That's almost twice the attendance we'd have seen at Ninian. Did I say Ninian? Why would we even consider Ninian as the alternative venue for this game? It's about to be knocked down isn't it? Not good enough fo Cardiff, but fine for Wales eh?

Koumas' assertion that Ninian Park would be "more intimidating" is bizarre. History tells us otherwise. Apart from a good atmosphere at our 3-2 win over Belarus, which was wholly created by that pulsating match, the atmosphere at Ninian for Wales games has always compared badly to Wrexham, particularly when the opponents are not major nations.

Swansea have a claim to be rewarded for their ambitious new stadium with a competitive match. It certainly ranks higher than Ninian in the pecking order. I know that they didn't turn out to support the Bulgaria friendly, but let's face it, neither did most of the players. That was an Indian gift to the Jacks.

But the most deserving case has to be Wrexham. Swansea fans can make the Millennium Stadium in less than an hour. It's practically impossible for anybody North of Newtown to make a midweek game without a stopover. Wrexham is still 90 minutes away for a lot of us, but we would welcome the game hungrily. And Wrexham are a club who are desperate for finances. The FAW would be far more magnanimous to take the game up North than to feed the swollen belly of Cardiff City.

The history of Welsh international football at Swansea is inconspicious to say the least. It reached its nadir with the "Swansea Disco" when the lights failed and a 2-2 draw with Iceland ruined our qualification hopes in the 1980s. And more importantly, everyone knows that a biggish game at Swansea would be played out in a nervous atmosphere with a guarantee of crowd disorder at some level. Not Swansea's fault necessarily, but it would happen.

But all this talk is hypothetical. The match had to be booked at the Millennium and so it should be. If Koumas feels that San Marino need to be intimidated, it shows what a low ebb we've really reached. We are an international football team, and the Millennium is our home. Our children need that to aim at. Our youth teams need the carrot of that home debut dangled in front of them.

And for Koumas to talk of a "surreal" atmosphere is lazy. There will be 15,000 people there. Most of them will be die-hard supporters. Show a bit of respect eh, and understand that very few people in this life will experience wearing the red shirt in front of 15,000 at The Millennium Stadium. This is the attitude that makes me so angry about the current team. There is no connection with the Welsh population, and no appreciation of their responsibility to represent us with at least an ounce of integrity and humility.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Choose Wales

Choose pitiful. Choose apathetic. Choose pathetic. Choose unimaginative. Choose impotent. Choose guileless. Choose clueless. Choose amateurish. Choose negative. Choose unambitious. Choose limited. Choose bad. Choose sad. Choose criminal. Choose lifeless. Choose shameful. Choose embarrassing. Choose destitute. Choose hopeless. Choose talentless. Choose directionless. Choose spineless. Choose gutless. Choose ungrateful. Choose slothful. Choose selfish. Choose mollycoddled. Choose millionaires. Choose indolent. Choose uncaring. Choose invisible. Choose abominable. Choose atrocious. Choose disrespectful. Choose dreadful. Choose slipshod. Choose pampered. Choose undeserving. Choose unacceptable. Choose to stay at home on Wednesday night.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dublin's Fair City

This is how football should be. Four thousand Wales fans travelled to Dublin for yesteday's match and received a welcome from their hosts that I haven't experienced in 32 years of following football. From the moment our party stepped off the early morning ferry at Dun Laghoire till we boarded the slow boat back to Holyhead late in the evening, we were enbosomed into Dublin's thriving pub life with open arms.

A few weeks ago, Croke park's polite response to the English anthem astonished observors. It was an epoch-defining moment, which forced the rest of us to re-assess our petty behaviour when visitors are in town. They received the Welsh anthem yesterday with nothing less than enthusiastic fervour. It was a humbling moment which was repeated after the game when the clientelle of a rough-arsed pub in a Dublin back street cheered our rendition to the rafters.

If you like a drink, then Dublin is Nirvana. As a new visitor to the City, I wasn't too sure what to expect. The City doesn't have the best reputation amongst its countrymen, and some Welsh friends of mine dispute its status as the party capital of Europe.

There is a pub in Liverpool called The Philharmonic which is legendary amongst pub fans. Well Dublin has a hundred Philharmonics. Intricate tilework, mahogany bars and marble toilets are ten-a-penny. You really feel like you could dance to the architecture.

But it is the manner of the Dublin drinker which I found most satisfying. Before mid-day, the Brendan Behans were ensconsed in their bum-dented chairs, emitting an easy, comforting aura of contentment and companionship that isn't so easy to find now on the mainland, where snugs have been replaced by leather settees. If I was a Dubliner, I would find it difficult not to drink all day, and so it seems, do many of the natives.

The approach to Croke Park was not unlike so many big English grounds. The sun was out, and it was a pleasant stroll to the ground buried deeply in a residential area. It reminded me of Highbury in that respect.

Inside, it was the biggest looking ground that I've visited. The field is so large that it seems the stand opposite is situated on the other side of the City. The football field was marked out with about 3-5 metres still available to use on the touchlines.

Welsh fans were placed on Hill 16, which was built from the rubble of the Easter Rising, and which has had temporary seating installed for the football. Some fans complained of the view. It was difficult to get a good perspective of the game from such a deep viewing position. But in truth, this proved to be more of a blessing than a hindrance, as both teams served up a shameful display of ineptitude.

Such was the paucity of entertainment and the distance from the field, it was difficult to stay involved. The atmosphere was akin to watching a village cricket match. Between two villages you've never been to and don't care about. But I got a sun tan and looked forward to the pub.

The trip back was a chore, particularly thanks to the performance given by a group of 15 lads from Llangefni, who spent the whole 3 hours with their shirts off, arms stretched wide, inviting all and sundry to "come and 'ave a go", insulting the Polish barstaff, and generally making me look whistfully towards the West, where the Irish once again set a standard of civility that we can only aspire to. "Ceud Mile Failte". Never a truer word was spoken.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Has The Hawk lost his Talons?

Every Thursday morning I pore over the results page of the Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald like I once did the South Wales Echo. A single league table can keep me fascinated for an hour. And occasionally a statistic peeks out of the print that conjurs up a story of drama and intrigue that makes me want to investigate further.

And there it is today: The Silver Star Holidays Gwynedd League.

Cemaes Bay
Played 25
Lost 25
Scored 10
Conceded 158

One hundred and fifty eight goals conceded, in twenty five matches.
On average, they lose 0-6 every game. That is some record, and all credit to the lads who turn up every week to face a hammering.

I wonder what Colin Hawkins makes of it all?

Colin Hawkins is legendary in Welsh football circles. Previously manager at Bangor and Porthmadog amongst others, Colin is variously described as "colourful", "roguish", and a "**** "**!!"$*". His passion for the game is infectious and he is the only Cockney Welsh Nationalist that this blogger is aware of.

I had business dealings with Mr Hawkins for a couple of years, and they were eventful to say the least. His favourite trick involves liberal use of his phonebook full of Welsh legends. In his company, do not ever, ever say that you admire a particular player. The phone will be whipped out, speed-dialled, and you will find yourself mumbling embarrassed greetings to a bemused Joey Jones, Ian Rush, or Neville Southall, who though naturally irritated will sound strangely accustomed to this kind of impostition.

Colin Hawkins has worked hard for Welsh football, and I've yet to met anybody in North Wales who doesn't have their own particular anecdote about the man. I can sense some regular readers already sharpening their pens.

The name of "The Hawk" is synonymous with Cemaes Bay Football Club. And something tells me that he's now manager of that desperate team. In which case it might well be worth taking the kids along to School Lane. If the football isn't pretty, at least they'll pick up a few new phrases to add to their vocabulary.

Don't worry lads, The Hawk will turn it round. He always does.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lampard Lamped

At about 10pm last night, a million pairs of half-interested armchair football fans opened their eyes a little wider as it became apparent that Chelsea's millionaire golden boy, Frank Lampard was about to be whacked by a skinny Tottenham supporter. (Oops, I mean "so-called" supporter, because these people are not true fans blah blah).

Another tedious affair between glove-wearing nancy boys was about to be raised up into the level of unmissable television. You could see the Spurs lad wheel onto the pitch, his arms spread wide like an extra from Green Streeet. He was obviously too slight to cause any real damage and it appeared to be one of those "yoo-hoo look at me I'm on telly" moments. But at the last minute, he took a swing at our Frank, and down went the West End playboy in a crumpled heap.

"Oh dear", bemoaned Mottie. "Disgusting" said Frank. "Go on son, get in there", cried most of us, spilling our lager as we suddenly lurched towards the television.

The young thug was soon surrounded by a number of Chelsea players, blocking our view of the pummelling that his Henri Lloyd windcheater was surely taking under the cover of Didier Drogba's bare back. John Terry looked alert, on tiptoes, facing up to a second invader. To be fair to Terry, he looked calm, in the manner of a man used to petty brawling.

It was an interesting scenario. Footballers are notoriously scared to death of football fans. You only have to catch their eye on the street and they're off. Pat Heard once nearly fainted when I say next to him on a train.

Of course, fans have been attacked by sportsmen before now. First we had Cantona, and then last month, Ireland's Trevor Brennan dived into the terracing to whack a harmless looking Ulster chap who had criticised the quality of beer in his bar. And in both cases, only the authorities didn't shout "good on you". Even the media backed Brennan, who was rewarded with a lifetime ban which he trumped by retiring a day earlier than it was announced.

But footballers are not so easily provoked. They know full well that even the slightest rebuke to an aggressive, foul mouthed fan will turn that spectator into the most sensitive, litigious, pussycat that ever entered the ground. A few years ago, Millwall's goalkeeper Tony Warner flung his water bottle towards some fans who had been abusing him at the Canton End in Ninian Park. Within hours, the police were called and Warner was accused of second degree murder. "It was terrible" cried the indignant skinhead. "I feared for me life".

Things are not so straightforward in the Welsh Premier. I was at a match at Jenner Park watching the sadly missed Barry Town play against Carmarthen. A friend of mine from Barry spent most of the game abusing the Carmarthen centre-half, a large, shaven-headed veteran, whose legs had gone some time ago, seemingly replaced by tree trunks.

The defender was substituted with ten minutes left. It was a strange decision to say the least, as he was replaced by a 17 year old winger with acne and red boots. I swear to this day that our legend had requested the swap. No sooner was he off the field than he was pacing the stands looking for his tormentor. Luckily, my friend, who I'll call Brian because that's his name, had seen this coming. He gave one last mocking salute to the furious hulk, and sprinted through the exit gates, probably saving his life in the process.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Time for technology?

There has been much discussion recently about the use of a "3rd eye" to adjudicate on crucial decisions in football matches. If the recent history of rugby is in indicator of the potential success of this idea, it should be consigned to the scrapheap.

Firstly, we had the Wilkinson try against Scotland. At a crucial juncture of the game Wilkinson took a curving run on the outside and placed the ball for a vital try for England. After consultation, the Television Match Official (TMO), Donal Courteney awarded the try despite pictures clearly showing that Wilkinson had been in touch.

I could take the decision, but I wanted accountability. I wanted to see the whites of Courtenay's eyes. I want him to talk us through the pictures and explain the bit where he looked away, blinked or fell off his chair. He must receive a fee, paiod for out of my ticket money. I have a right to an explanation. But somehow, Courtenay was allowed the right to silence.

Then on the weekend, Wales were denied a last minute try scoring opportunity by an independent timekeeper, Geoff Warren. After indicating 10 seconds left to play, Warren instructed the referee Chris White to blow for time. In the dreadful confusion,the tape recordings of their conversation portray a blustering, pompous panicking TMO leaving poor Chris White in an inextractable position.

If White had honoured his word and allowed the line out, which Wales then scored from, Italy would have had an even stronger case for complaint. Time was up, White had been instructed, how could he let play go on?

Don't get me wrong, I have no love for Chris White, who is a referee that seems to hate the game, such is his desire to stop any passage of play that might be deemed entertaining. But he was left out to dry by Warren, and had to make a public and embarrassing semi-apology.

But it's Geoff Warren I want to hear from. I want to know why he lost 3 seconds of his life. I want to know why he failed to offer any constructive advice to White except to bellow "I have time, I have time!!" Give me accountability. Give me Warren's head. In front of a camera. Explaining himself.

When you lose a game and you suspect a poor refereeing decision you feel indignation, persecution and bitterness. When you lose a game and you know that you have been unfairly denied by a man who has exactly the same viewing position, the same stopwatch, and the same audiovisual tools as yourself, then you feel more than that. You feel helpless, numb and debilitated. I'm not sure that football fans aren't better off without that knowledge.

Club v Academy

There is a pressing issue that is arising through Junior football in Wales that is causing much anxiety and confusion, not to mention a good helping of scepticism amongst the people running the teams.

The word is spreading that from next season, the one player - one club rule will be strictly enforced at Junior level. From next August, and player that is registered with an academy will not be allowed to play for his regular club.

The general feeling is that the rule is unworkable, and that it cannot be beneficial for any party involved. The issue is sitting there like a dark cloud waiting to burst, with little guidance, discussion or information reaching the junior club administrators.

At a League meeting a few weeks ago, nobody really belived it will ever happen. But without discussion, communication and consultation, the rule will pass, and the FAW Trust will find itself bombarded with crisis calls from clubs and players who find themselves in disarray.

There are some tricky issues to be resolved here. Let's look at some likely scenarios.

* Player A is a star player for Felinheli U13s. He is on the fringes of the Bangor City Academy side. Unable to play for Felin, he sits on the bench for Bangor's games.
Frustrated at the lack of football, he goes back to Felin, and no longer benefits from the Academy training.

* Players B, C, and D are outstanding in the Waunfawr 15s and represent Caernarfon Academy. Unfortunately the rest of the Waunfawr Squad is very weak. Without players B,C and D, they regularly lose heavily, the players become disenchanted and the team disbands.

* Player E enjoys playing for his club alongside his schoolmates, but he also appreciates the training he receives at the Academy. His parents do not drive. He leaves the club and finds himself making regular long trips with the academy to away games in Liverpool, Cardiff and Swansea. Disenchanted with the travelling and finding it increasingly difficult to make travel arrangements, he leaves the Academy.

Now I am not familiar with the Academy situation. My players are too young. (Though the Academy age group and qualifying procedure has never been very clear to those of us who aren't in the know.)

But I am confused about what is going to happen. Will the Academy play regular football for their contracted young players? If so, against who? Will Bangor travel to the English clubs? To South Wales? If so, how can this fit into the travelling guidelines set down for young players?

Currently the whole thing is a hotpotch of rumour and speculation. It is causing unrest amongst the junior clubs and should be addressed sooner rather than later.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Welsh Cup Weekend

I was disappointed for Port Talbot yesterday. For years, Afan Lido were the main club in the town. It seems strange to think that Lido, now playing in the confusingly named Welsh League were one of the early European qualifiers from the early days of the League of Wales.

But I have always preferred Port Talbot, though I can never remember if they are Town or Athletic these days. Lido was never a great place to watch football, despite the big stand that sits in isolation on one side. I always felt that Lido was a club run for its players, and home games would see dozens of youth players milling around, watching the senior team.

Port Talbot on the other hand are a much more ambitious club. Chairman Andrew Edwards runs the club like a child would run a toy shop. His enthusiasm is infectious and he tries to do things properly. The club and stadium develop every year, and its always fun to see the madman Hela with his drums and flags on Clwb Peldroed. I found it a shame then that Port Talbot won't be rewarded with a Welsh Cup Final, but all credit to Lido who celebrated with panache.

A shame too for Porthmadog who lost out on penalties at Carmarthen despite their first ever overnight stop. Port are another club who punch above their weight, but they have good local support, and in big Les Davies, they have the League's most exciting player.

The match was notable for a nasty stamp by Carmarthen's Sacha Walters which rightly earned him a red card. But it was a proper stamp at least, not a little nibble that would be perpetuated by someone like Rooney or Beckham. No this one was aimed at the gut, and came from a height of about 4 foot. Now you can't grow up in Port Talbot with a name like Sacha and not expect to mix it occasionally. But if I had that name, I doubt that I would grow a mane of blonde hair and then gel it up like a petrified Tomcat.

An excellent point for the Cofis at Rhyl. It's always good to see anyone take points from Rhyl, but I think it's vital for football in Gwynedd that Caernarfon stay at the highest level. Let's hope that things improve for the Canaries.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sunny Frustrations

One of the disadavantges of following a grassroots team is the amount of postponements that you suffer throughout the season. The slightest shower, frost, or dark cloud, and a game is likely to be called off, such is the standard of playing field below semi-pro level.

And so it was that Felinheli's game at Machno United was postponed ealier this morning. With clear skies and a sunny day, we were all looking forward to the long trip South, but the weather must be different down there below the equator. I discovered an hour ago that Liverpool were playing Man United on Sky at 1pm. It's amazing how many games are called off when there's a big match on the telly.

My own game at Deiniolen was called off due to the number of my players competing in the Eisteddfod this morning. At 10am, my centre half was making funny faces on a stage when he would normally have been winning a 50/50 challenge.

Desperate for football, I made the trip to Y Fali to watch our talented Under 17s side play. There is no Under 17 league in Gwynedd. By that age, the lads are starting to discover beer and women, and many villages struggle to raise a side. So Felin play across the sea in the Anglesey League.

It's a good 20 minutes to Y Fali, which gave my six year old ample time to ask some very difficult questions. Here's a sample. See if you could have answered them:

Q. Can Bangor play against Arsenal in the Premiership
A. No. Bangor are Welsh. Arsenal are English.
Q. So why can Cardiff play in the Premiership?

Q. Why is Y Fali called Valley in English?
Q. If everyone spelt it the same way, then they wouldn't have to write it twice. Why do they bother spelling it differently?

Q. Robbo was Bangor's best player wasn't he?
A. Yes
Q. So why doesn't the new manager want him?

I arrived in Y Fali in a foul temper as you can imagine. Eric Junior was impressed however. "Uw, mae hwn yn lle braf Dad". He wasn't wrong. Y Fali has even got a bank which is a rare commodity these days.

The unpromisingly named "Cae Mwd" was also pleasing. Two decent fields in open ground with good facilities. This morning, there were over 50 young teenage lads making good use of the field. It is so depressing that politicians don't see the evident benefits of sport for this most difficult of age groups. When gang culture is the current hot topic, it is still difficult to find a field to play on. When Thatcher sold off the school fields, she created an irreversible situation, the evil witch.

The game itself was enjoyable enough. A strong wind dictated the play and Y Fali coped better with the conditions. We are the Arsenal of the League, and more physical sides enjoy playing against our pretty football. Still, we came away with a 2-2 draw which was a fair enough result.

A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to defend referees. The past few games I have sen have been well reffed and as a result there have been no problems. Maybe I was wrong. Good refs can enjot themselves. Today's game was well controlled again, and I made a point of praising the ref at the end of the game. I try to do this every game. Refs get enough stick, and if they have a good game, we should let them know about it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happy St David's Day?

So today is St David's Day. And all across the country, little children are being sent to school in National Costume. Which used to mean a pointy hat for the girls , or a waistcoat and cravat for the lads. But more and more our national identity is being expressed through sport, a point that politicians would do well to heed.

The school yard is full of red shirts. Some football, but overwhelmingly rugby. Whatever statistics we can quote about numbers of players and spectators at professional level in the respective games, there can be no doubt that rugby is the sport which has entered the psyche of the Nation. When people want to wear the Welsh heart on their sleeve, they turn to the three feathers and not the Ddraig Goch.

There are other factors which turn St David's Day into a rugby fest. Primarily, the quality of rugby clothing is far superior, and on a chilly March morning, only the cruellest parent can wrap their child up in a low cut football shirt which positively shimmers with synthetic material. It's the thick cotton of a rugby shirt which ones out for the concerned Mam every time.

But the casual patriot, not the fan, will always go with rugby over football. The national rugby team give occasional cause for celebration. That helps. We saw in 2000 that the football team can win over the country when the National team does well, but memories are short. The 2005 Grand Slam elevated rugby back to its former position as the National Game, despite its shameful exclusion of the Northern clubs.

As for the rest of St David's Day, well you can keep it. Not for us the raucous celebrations of St Patrick. We go for hymn singing, tea drinking and the occasional ex-pat dinner where they wear kilts and play harps.

It's Dewi's fault. St David was a famous teetotaller known as "The Water Man". HIs primary achievement was to round up the fun-loving pagans in the area we now know as England, and teach them to work hard, live frugally and dedicate themselves to a lifetime of self-deprivation. What a guy!

This afternoon, I will watch large groups of children reading poems out loud with exagerrated mannerisms. This is called "adrodd" and people compete to see who can be the campest and most absurd poem reader. Even adults. And that is really our National Sport, not rugby or football.

This isn't a Cymru that I feel like celebrating. Where are the pub crawls, the festivals, the holidays? Even the new parade through Cardiff makes me feel slightly embarrassed with its forced patriotism.

Last week, I was given another reason to look West across the sea. The England rugby team visited Croke Park and were given a tremendous welcome by their hosts. That was a shock and a disappointment for me at the time, but in hindsight, I can only admire that country and reflect on my own small-mindedness.

When the Irish respected the Queen last Saturday, I think back to our own treatment of that anthem during the last football World Cup Qualifiers. I had been waiting since 1984 for that opportunity and I booed their miserable tune as loud as anyone. Perversely I never boo it during rugby internationals, and I certainly won't boo it when we play England in a few weeks time.

Remember, the last Englishman to set foot in Croke Park had been driving a tank which killed 14 civilians. And still they didn't boo.

But us? We still lay it on thick. And an Englishman hasn't murdered one of us for a good few centuries now. I'm still not sure how the Irish can have moved on so quickly and so admirably. But it was a stunning tour de force that demonstrated their country's self-confidence, and an attitude to which we can only aspire.

Let's stop defining our Welshness by our hatred of England. It's time to move on. Let's be happy in our skins, and in our cotton, or polyester shirts. Forget the inter-sport rivalry, we're not big enough for that. And let's look towards Croke Park for our inspiration. We are Cymraeg, and that's enough reason to celebrate. Happy St David's Day.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cardiff 4-1 Preston

About five years ago I was working in the press box at Ninian Park when David Moyes' Preston team scored four and completely destroyed the home side. I interviewed David Moyes who cut a very impressive figure even at that stage of his career. But when Frank Burrows bravely appeared to face the music, I kinew that I wasn't cut out for the harsh world of sporting journalism.

City had been on a poor run, and the press were in no mood to let him off lightly. There was almost a feeling of glee that a big home defeat would help them fill the back pages, and they could smell the blood of a respected and likeable man who was about to appear from the home dressing room.

Frankie Burrows was and is no mug. As he made his way up to the Director's Box, where press conferences were held he knew which way things would be going. He stood with his back to the well, outstretched his arms and mocked us; "Nail me up fellas, nail me up." They did, and he left the club.

But the thrashing was reversed last night. And I didn't see it coming. In fact, I laid Cardiff quite heavily at Betfair because I just couldn't see a home win. I saw us lose at Preston earlier in the season, when we gave them a footballing lesson for an hour before somehow losing the game. But since then, we had lost form and fluency, the two attributes which have helped us to over achieve so far.

But there are a few players coming back into form now. And while we aren't fluent, we are at least fast. Peter Whittingham is a proper player and has replaced the threat that Joe Ledley provided in August and September before he ran out of gas.

The most obvious difference of course is Michael Chopra, who is getting close to my all time City X1. But I sense something dislikeable in his manner. Is he arrogant, feisty, or just a moaner? The jury's out, but he's no Carl Dale thats's for sure. I can't see Chopra being a sparky in Newport when he retires.

Roger Johnson had his best game for the club, the daft penalty notwithstanding. There is surprise at his old clubs that he isn't a regular at Cardiff. He is held in high regard universally, and maybe now we have some solid defensive cover.

And a word for Matt Green who came on at the end. Good for Dave Jones on giving the lad his chance. It had seemed that the local route to pro football had been blocked, but Green joins a long list of illuminaries who have progressed to Cardiff from Welsh football, including John Lewis, Carl Dale, and Mark Delaney. Good luck to him.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Scarfers Unite.

For somebody who professes his support of grassroots football, I don't half love my Champions League. I love the theme tune, I love the glamour, and I even enjoy the sheer unabridged commercialism of the big world-wide sponsorship deals.

This week has given me the opportunity to watch the teams that I consider to be the three greatest clubs in Europe, which in my blinkered football horizons, means the World.

Celtic , Liverpool, and Barcelona. The very mention of their names conjures up all that is good about football. Celtic are helped in their reputation by the astonishing acheivement of eleven Glasgow boys who first won the Cup in 1967.

But you only had to look at their fans before yesterday's game v Milan to see what could be possible if we all had their attitude. The singing of "You'll never walk alone" was stupendous, aided by the classy decision to switch off the louspeakers for the chorus. The song boomed out, and was aided immeasurably by the sort of scarf waving that was last seen at Anfield in 1979. I wish that my club could follow suit, but we seem doomed to be cursed forever with our labels and lairiness. Newcastle's scarf giveaway has helped the atmosphere at St James'. Maybe that is an idea we could follow.

When Cesc Fabregas recently questioned whether Mark Hughes the manager could ever really have been Mark Hughes the Barcelona player, he had a point. Sparky's current personality belongs to someone who hates football, someone who places self-interest, and a 0-0 draw above the good of the game. He is not alone in that, but Fabregas is a footballer and always will be. Barcelona are a delight to watch, whatever the result. And, most importantly, they have the best kit in the world.

I have a 1974 Scorcher annual on my bookshelf. On page 47 is the scrawled graffiti of a 7 year old. "Liverpool are Magic, Cardiff are Tragic". How precocious, how prescient. Admittedly, I didn't know the true meaning of tragic at the time, and in hindsight it is a word far more accurately attached to the Scouse club.

But Liverpool are a great club. Their fans make a good claim to be the best in the world, as my 1973 album of "The Kop Choir" will testify. And there they are at the Camp Nou as I type. Smiling, laughing, bedecked in scarves bearing the names of both clubs on the field. And therein lies the rub. The fans of all three of these footballing monuments favour the scarf as a declaration of support. We could all learn something. Scarfers unite for the glory of the game.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Give the refs a break

Two games took my attention over the weekend. Firstly I saw Felinheli battle to a
3-2 win over Llanrug Utd Reserves at Cae Seilo. Then on Sunday I watched the highlights of Cardiff v Leeds on Soccer Sunday, a programme which has now remained true to its extraordinarily low production values for the past 10 years.

Both games were were seemingly dominated by a refereeing performance, when this need not have been the case. In Felin's game, 2 early red cards reduced both teams to 10 men during the first half, for no apparent crime greater than a bit of push-me-round-Charlie. The rest of the match saw some unfathomable decisions, particularly the lack of even a yellow card for Ricky Fic when he pole-axed Llanrug's centre forward in the final minute as he strode away towards our goal.

In Cardiff's game, the decisions were equally bizarre, and even more match-defining. Mark Clattenburg's performance was incomprehensible. Walton was sent off for being nudged off the ball, and Leeds escaped without a caution for a handball which prevented an on-target header from reaching the goal-line.

Dave Jones' after match press conference was spent attacking the referee. At Felin, the local and well-known referee was berated for the full 90, and a little beyond. No more than at any other game in the country, mind you - just the usual stuff.

But do they deserve this abuse? These are men who turn up for the love of the game. As far as I am aware, no referee tries to get it wrong. So from 180 minutes of football, with lots of mistakes and errors on both sides, the only one who is publicly abused is the referee, who earns a fraction of the professional salaries in Clattenburg's case, and a tenner for petrol in the local ref's case.

Last week, Paul Jewell went public and complained that referee Phil Dowd had sworn at his players. Well diddums. It is hard to think of a more ridiculous complaint in the modern game.

So where is the referee's right of reply? Who stands up for the ref? Not other referees unfortunately. Theirs is a lone furrow, and they are quick to criticise the mistakes of others in order to raise their own standing.

And certainly not the media. Any correct referee decision is praised almost grudgingly, as if they were lucky that time, but just you wait, they'll cock it up soon.

Sometimes I would love to hear the ref's version of events. As I recall, Sky used to have Neil Midgeley in the studio to give a ref's point of view. But he was soon ditched as the controversies were quashed far too sensibly and quickly.

But what did Clattenburg see in Walton's "dive"? Was it his angle? Could he tell there was no contact? Tell, us please.

And as far as I am aware, Donal Courtney, the fourth official who awarded Jonny Wilkinson's try against Scotland has not yet explained his contrary decision. I am curious. The unexplainable should be explained.

AS for the Felin game, Terry the ref said that Andy used his head in the stag rutting game. Fair enough, it's his call, let's move on.

And David Jones might prefer to criticise his millionaire centre forward who struck a tame penalty, or his millionaire striker who will receive another suspension for lack of discipline. Or Paul Parry for poor finishing. Or Walton for his first half yellow. But no, it's the ref that gets it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Newport's place in the Universe

One of the more realistic aspects of FIFA 06 on Playstation are the crowd chants and team banners waved by the virtual crowd. Except that in Cardiff City's case, the two most prominent flags, which travel all over the virtual world following City's friendlies even in China, were apparently made by two groups that might surprise a few people.

"Llanishen Blues" are at least a known entity. There has always been a strong following from that area of Cardiff, and I travelled with them myself on a few occasions. But I don't remember a 15ft wide "Llanishen Blues" banner being unfurled at games. I do however, recall a Union Jack, with "Cardiff City" sitting incongruously on the red cross.

The other flag in PS2 displays the legend "Newport Blues". How this must stick in the throat of everyone from the "New Seattle" (c.Spin magazine 1996). There were certainly very few Newport Blues in the old days. And even in recent years, I don't know how many Cardiff fans travel from Newport.

Cardiff have always had a one way relationship with Newport County. In the 80s, Nweport scores announced at Ninian were always cheered or at least approved. The Cardiff people do patronisation very well.

But Newport County on the other hand have their own history. They believed themselves to be the equal of Cardiff, and have understandably resented the local dominance of the Capital.

In their glory days, Newport were a credit to Wales. We all remember the classic team of Tynan, Aldridge and Gwyther. The 1980/81 WCWC run led to a European Quarter Final. Unthinkable for todays Welsh Premier clubs.But in those days, Newport's status was equal to Wrexham, and not far behind Swansea. When I went to watch Cardiff at Somerton Park in 1983, there was an official attendance of 16,000.

The decline of the club due mainly to lack of local support sent the club bust, only to reform as a fan's co-operative in the English Pyramid. A nasty legal battle with the FAW ensued and nearly sent the club down again. Newport won their case and stayed in the English Pyramid. A Pyrrhic victory said some.

Some of the old school still aren't happy. And they elicit sympathy. You can see a selection of authentic NCFC tattoos at various stadia round the country. The old loyalists wander the grounds like lost souls, deprived of their team. To these people, Newport County died in 1989. They reject the new club which goes on without them. A sad situation, when both factions so obviously need each other.

Currently, Newport County play in the Conference South, only a couple of Divisions from their stated aim, the Football League. But that's a pipe dream. County will do fantastically well to reach the National Conference, but that's where it will end. Aldershot are a club in a similar phoenix-like state, but Newport can't begin to match their enthusiasm or support.

Whilst I understand Newport's reluctance to enter the Welsh pyramid. I don't support it from a National viewpoint. But look at it through their eyes. They have recently had big FA Cup games against Blackpool and Swansea which were live on Sky, and matched any interest shown in the Welsh Premierships forays into Europe, TNS's franchised games v Liverpool and Man City notwithstanding.

Newport fear the Bangor scenario. They are similar clubs in many ways, and nobody can argue that Bangor have not been in decline since the start of the Welsh Premiership. Whilst Newport can currently rely on crowds of up to 1,000, this would soon drop to 500, and then 300 in the Welsh pyramid. No wonder they want to stay.

But Newport can never be successful in England. The rise of small clubs based in the wealthy South East is noticable. Look at Rushden, Wycombe, Reading. All clubs built on new money which just doesn't exist in the Newport area.

One of the things that interests me about Newport is the "Welshness" of their support. Newport is not a particularly Welsh area. Situated on the English borders, there is a common apathy towards Wales and the Welsh language from the townspeople (not a City - don't be silly). But Newport County fans parade their Welsh identity when following club and country. I believe that this is due to their club's presence in the English Leagues. When you get called a sheepshagger every week, you tend to behave like one.

The Welsh Premiership is unsustainable without Merthyr and Newport. The admission of those two clubs alone would improve the League by 50%. There would be a lot more interesting games, and even teams like Bangor would would be rejuvenated by their entry. There is a lack of self-esteem suffered by clubs in the League which would be helped by the unclusion of the two biggest semi-pro sides in Wales.

But Newport would rather compare themselves to Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham. Whilst those three clubs remain in the English system, there can be no suggestion of aquiescence. And for that obstinate stance, you can only give them respect.

Up the County!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why is football so soft?

When Kevin Morgan walked off the pitch at Murrayfield on Saturday, it didn't look like he would be coming back. He walked gingerly to the touch line, cradling his jaw, but at the same time afraid to touch it. His mouth was stained with dark blood and it hung at a strange angle. Yet ten minutes later there he was, diving at the feet of a 19 stone forward, and bravely trying to assert himself in an already beaten side.

Meanwhile, across Europe, at the same moment, a hundred different footballers are screaming in agony, rolling on the turf after being lightly pushed in the chest, nudged by a shoulder, or tickled playfully under the armpit.

Now Kevin Morgan is not a hard man. He is polite, well-spoken and generally tries to avoid any roughness. But the culture of his sport is such that he returned to the field with a broken jaw because he didn't want to let anybody down.

Later that evening, the multi-millionaire Samuel Eto declined to take the field as a substitute when requested to by his manager Frank Rijkkard. He was tired apparently.

How did it get like this? What happened to football along the way? When did it become acceptable, if not condonable to make a big fuss over a slight knock? It wasn't like that in the until the 1990s was it? I certainly don't remember Phil Dwyer going down unless he had been assaulted with a weapon.

So who wants it to be like it is now? The fans? No, the fans hate it. The media? Well, it can lend a certain controversy and drama to the game. But overwhelmingly, I'm afraid it boils down to coaches and managers.

In days gone by they might have been former schoolmasters, academics, and since the sixties, pulled from the working class - people who generally had some respect for a person's moral fibre. These days they are almost always former players, former cheats.

And FIFA can take a share of the blame. Whilst I fully support the harsh penalties dished out to professional foulers, why has it become a red card offence to "raise your hands"? What is the big deal about giving someone a clip round the ear after he stamped on you, or pushing someone in the chest after he spat in your face?

The more I see of how the two sports are developing, the more I hope that my children take up the oval ball game. Yes it is more dangerous, less popular, and the financial rewards are much smaller. But I think that rugby will make them bettter people. I can't say that about football.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The poor state of armbands

With due respect to the estimable Brian Williams, the Neath prop who died last week, the Welsh rugby team wore black armbands for their match against Scotland. But it wasn't a band really, it was more of a strap.

Armbands used to be at least 4 inches wide, and were made of heavy cotton material. This style lasted for years after being popularised by the trend setting Nazi party and their uberfashionista, Adolf Hitler, or "Bruno" as he was known in Austrian High Fashion Circles.

The Welsh armbands looked like a piece of electrical tape hastily picked up at B&Q in Carlisle, and wrapped around the upper arm. Surely with the current popularity of ostentatious grieving, they could have done a bit better. Brian Williams deserved it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ali in the Observer

I've known Ali Yassine a long time now. He was watching Cardiff when it wasn't so easy to be a black face at Ninian. He is a Somalian Welsh speaker who has been prominent in changing the public perception of the Welsh language. He is also an actor who I have worked with professionally, and I've got a lot of respect and no little admiration for the man.

It was a shame then to read a backhanded criticism of my work at Cardiff City before Ali took over in his best known role as stadium announcer at Ninian Park. In an article in the Sunday Observer, Ali states that "previous announcers had no connection with the club." Hmmm, thanks mate.

Now as someone who only did the job for the season or two before Ali started, he probably wasn't thinking about me, but the announcer before me was the legendary Phil Suarez, who sadly died before his time a few years ago. If Phil Suarez had no connection with Cardiff City, then I don't know who does.

Now I know how these things work, and I'm sure Ali's phonecall interview has been butchered. It certainly didn't read like the Ali I know. But let's not get carried away with the cult status. Not everybody likes a showman on the mic. Dinosaurs like me believe that announcers are for announcing so I never worried about "playing the same music every week". For me, it's a football match not a discotheque.

And I don't know what to make of Ali's claim that he was the reason for Wales' first goal against Azerbaijan. Apparently he had got the crowd so worked up that the Azer players were standing dumb as Wales strolled the ball into the net. Please. Come on. You didn't really say that did you Ali? And if you did, you don't really believe it?

Scotland 21-9 Wales

I don't know what to make of this game. Wales were outgunned undoubtedly, but I always thought we were going to win right up until the last 10 minutes. We are obviously a more talented side than the Scots, and I am not faulting our application. I am concerned that there is a much deeper problem than a sluggish attitude.

The props have proved that they can mix it with the top teams, all four of them. Alun Wyn Jones is athletic, and I prefer Gough to Sidoli. The current back row is well balanced and I've got no complaints in that area. The half backs are good enough and.....oh dear what have we here?

This is where it all starts to go wrong with the current team. Hook, Robinson, Czeckai, Jones, Morgan. I just don't think that the boys have enough faith in the three quarters to run the ball wide and to play the fluent game that we've become used to. It was high risk even with Shane Williams, Henson, Shanklin, and Alfie. With this lot it would be disastrous.

The decision not to put Henson on the bench betrays a frightening puerility in the Welsh camp, and in Welsh rugby in general. When Morgan went off with an injury, our back line looked like something that had been thrown together for Mickey Steel-Bodger. With Henson's ability to play almost anywhere, his non-selection can only be based on spite and dare I say it, jealousy.

Welsh people have never liked someone who has things too easy. Henson is a naturally gifted player, and we prefer the braver prole who will put his body on the line. Yes, Henson is out of form, but you can't tell me that Sweeney or Aled Brew are better covering options.

The team in general look like they are not enjoy Gareth Jenkins' tactical game. And while I'm at it, the sooner that we look at Roland Phillips' position the better. I'm afraid that you just can't have a professional pantomime cow running the National side's defence. Something has to give. Either the cross-dressing on S4C, or his job with Wales. I know that the defence was outstanding on Saturday which is why I'm having a pop now. My position isn't reactionary, it's to do with respect and propriety from a WRU official . How can we criticise Alfie's recent behaviour when we appoint a television comedian as coach?

And finally a word about the television coverage. Abysmal.

I knew from the start that it was going to be an irritating afternoon, when the Director chose to mic up 15 nervous rugby players instead of the 30,000 lustily boozed up Welsh travellers for the anthem. From then it got worse. Every line out was filmed from pitch level, which is probably just about the worst seat in the house. The animated advertising boards were a pain in the arse, and none of the repeats managed to capture the crucial part of the replayed incident.
I can only think that the job was being performed by a competition winner. And that it had been won by one of those middle aged women who buy up all the magazines and do all the comps. Including the word puzzles.

It's good to be back.

Blogging's a slog

Thanks to those of you who have written bemoaning the lack of recent updates on this blog. But it's not my fault honest. Ever since Blogger was taken over by Google I've been unable to get into my blog. Still, I've sorted it all out now, and we should be all back regular again. And as we're in the 6 Nations season, and I've been watching a lot of rugby, I've decided to write about that as well. It is rugby "football" after all.

Things you've missed me ranting about:

Henson should be on the bench for Wales.
Cardiff City spelt the word "Caerdydd" wrongly on their socks.
Fair play to Collins for apologising to Tosh.
I booked a day trip to the Dublin game in March.
Porthmadog treated so harshly compared to Newport.
Bleasdale finding it not so easy at Bangor. Don't see him lasting.
We desperately need more playing fields.
I saw a 9 year old crying cos his manager shouted at him so much.
I played in the vets game on Boxing Day.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Tough on Port

There have been a couple of disciplinary actions taken recently which may have surprised observors.

Firstly, Newport County were fined £3,000 for failing to control their fans after a linesman was hit by a coin during their turbulent and high profile FA Cup match against Swansea City. The linesman in question commented that the fine seemed a little low, but £3,000 to a club like newport is far from insignificant.

It's difficult isn't it? If the coin in question had missed, we'd have heard no more about the incident. Newport are being punished for the accuracy of the coin thrower.

Further North, reports suggested that Porthmadoc are being fined £16,000 for a single racist insult thrown at another linesman by a fan who was later forced to apologise by a steward.
Further investigation finds £15,000 of that fine suspended, but a dangerous precedent has been set.

I was involved a couple of years ago in an incident at Ninian Park. Two thugs had been shouting racist abuse all afternoon, and were eventually reported by a fellow supporter. A few other fans gave evidence along with stewards and CCTV footage showed their monkey taunts. The case went to court and the case was dropped due to "lack of evidence".

But at Y Traeth, or any other WP ground, a single voice can be heard for half a mile. It seems grossly unfair that Port should be punished for a lone insult, especially when they took the appropriate action and have banned the person in question. If the racist did indeed apologise, that should have been the end of the matter. Port are appealing, and I hope they succeed.