Buzzing in the Hive

The first thing good  sign was that, silly UEFA regulations not withstanding, they were serving beer in the bar at The Hive, the sports complex in Edgware where Barnet FC now play their home games, and where Arsenal Ladies were staging their home Champions League tie against Glasgow City as their landlords Borehamwood had a home FA Cup tie against Carlisle. It was busy inside and a fair number had come down from Glasgow. A group of them acknowledged me as I passed them in my amber and black scarf. I went over to talk, explaining that I was really a Turbine Potsdam supporter and had acquired the scarf in a swap after the tie in Glasgow two years ago. One lady looked at the scarf closely, then announced.

‘It was me you swapped with!’

She beamed and gave me a hug. In that moment, I suppose, I became an honorary Glaswegian, at least for the day. I confirmed my impression of two years ago, that the Glasgow City supporters are a very friendly bunch,

Just before one o’clock we walked round to take our places in the ground. The Hive is yet another identikit modern football ground, tidy and modern but really without character. Without much atmosphere either except for the noisy support of the Scottish contingent.

The game was, from a Glasgow respective, a disappointment.  A 4-1-4-1 formation never really worked, City failed to press and played too narrow which allowed Rachel Yankey and ex City player Emma Mitchell  the space to cause lots of problems down Arsenal’s left. They were in front after 12 minutes with a header following a short corner and although City had a couple of half chances in the first half the pattern of the game was set.  After 34 minutes Ellen White turned and shot narrowly wide. Two people thought this was a goal. One was an elderly chap who quickly stifled a cheer. The other, to general amusement, was the stadium announcer;.who. as Glasgow moved the ball upfield informed us that it was now 2-0 to the Gunners. The Scottish mirth didn’t last long as within a couple of minutes it was 2-0 as poor defending allowed Danielle Carter to score following a high ball into the box.

In the half time tea bar queue, which was long enough for people to have to stand on the muddy bank and watch passing Jubilee Line trains, City fans were fearing the worst.

‘It’ll be 6-0’ one announced confidently. No-one contradicted him.

In the end it was 3-0. Ellen White finally did get a goal and as Arsenal  continued to dominate it could have been worse. The goalkeeper made a couple of good saves, the crossbar was hit twice and there were a couple of timely interceptions as Arsenal’s pace and movement always looked like opening Glasgow up.

The consolation for Glasgow, I suppose, is that Arsenal could have killed the tie off but didn’t. City will need to play much better than this on Wednesday though. They were too negative today. In the second half Glasgow’s midfield was playing just in front of the back four most of the time, allowing Arsenal too much tine on the ball as they built from deep positions and preventing them getting support to a very isolated Jess Fishlock when they were able to clear. Petershill is a cold uninviting place when the wind blows, there will be a sell-out partisan crowd, so who knows?

Back in the bar I caught up with former Lincoln Ladies Supporters Club chairman Tom Johnstone. He will, he says, not be following the club to Nottingham where they are playing as Notts County Ladies from next season. He’s going back to his roots and Glasgow City are now his team. He tried hard to hide his annoyance as an elderly Arsenal fan came over to tell us how rubbish City were.

‘It was tactics’ said Tom  ‘part of our game plan’ .

‘How can you be in the Champions’ League? You’re rubbish!’ persisted the charmless Arsenal fan..

‘Because we’re Champions’ I suggested, ‘in 2013 as well.’

He glared at me and shuffled off.

It was back at Marylebone, in the wonderful wood-panelled bar, that I began to think about the issue of Scottish independence. I have never actually asked a Scot how they will vote in next year’s referendum. I missed an opportunity today. I wondered whether I would vote for independence if I lived in Scotland? There was a film about Boris Johnson on BBC2 in which several participants expressed the view that the prospect of Boris becoming Prime Minister had to be taken very seriously. When I heard this I knew that I would.

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Flowering in the Vase

It is a lingering regret that Bromsgrove Rovers never reached Wembley in the FA Trophy. Rovers twice reached the Quarter Final. Their replay defeat against Enfield in 1976 was a heroic failure against much stronger opponents but the defeat at home to Northwich Victoria twenty years later was a bitter blow. Now a Bromsgrove team is on the road to Wembley again, this time in the FA Vase. After three seasons when Bromsgrove Sporting, as a new club, were not eligible for the Vase, being in a national competition has given the club a real lift. A win at Westfields next Saturday would see the club in a national draw with the possibility of a tie against holders Spennymoor Town or another Vase big name.

As Rovers tried and failed to get to Wembley two of our North Worcestershire neighbours. reached the Twin Towers. The team from a carpet town I won’t mention but  I will talk about Halesowen Town’s Vase exploits in the mid 1980s. After losing in 1983 the Yeltz were back at Wembley in 1985 and won the Vase with a 3-1 win over Fleetwood Town. I went down to cheer them on and remember a wonderful occasion. The Yeltz played some brilliant football and were irresistible. I can still picture Malcolm Hazelwood’s superb pass to release Lee Joinson in the build up to the first goal and the instinctive link up play between the Joinson twins for Lee to make it 2-0.  Was this really 28 years ago? It is still a vivid memory.

The following year Halesowen retained the Vase with a 3-0 win over Southall. This was, however, neither a memorable game nor a particularly good performance. My match day programme says that one of Southall’s strikers was a 19 year old electrician called Les Ferdinand. I wonder what happened to him?

Ir wasn’t the Finals that caused Halesowen difficulties but the Semi-finals. I remember a tense second leg against Warrington Town in 1986 that the refereed struggled to keep control of and then a remarkable replay at Telford which finished 6-3 but in which Warringtom refused to lie down and which remained in the balance until the last five minutes.

They say that the semi-finals are the worst stage at which to lose and this is certainly true of the Vase. What I saw in the players’ faces at The Grove and then at the Bucks Head was fear, fear that all the hard work of battling through six rounds was going to be in vain. Once you reach the Second Round Proper you can be drawn against teams from other parts of the country that you know nothing about and who may be very good teams. There are a lot of rounds to get through, some long journeys to play good teams: the Vase is a tough competition and if you lose in the semi finals you know that, unlike the Trophy, you will probably never get so close again.

But that is the joy of the Vase. Now that even the FA Trophy has been devalued by Blue Square Premier teams with ‘other priorities’ it is the last competition that retains the essential spirit of the Cups, the last one where all the teams involved really want to have that day out at Wembley. Six months and a lot of football would lie between Westfields and Wembley. But who says it can’t be done?

A Tale of Harry and Roy

I am going to start with two footballing scenes. The first is at The Hawthorns in February 2011. West Bromwich Albion are playing West Ham United in a Premier League game. Roberto di Matteo had been sacked the week before and the new appointee Roy Hodgson is at the game as a spectator before formally taking up his duties.  For half an hour or so the Baggies take West Ham apart and lead 3-0 at half time. But no-one is relaxed. 3-0 is just not a safe lead for this team. When West Ham score early in the second half we fear the worst which duly arrives. It finishes 3-3 amid shambolic defending.

The players had been due to have a few days off but the new manager tells them they are coming in on Monday. There is work to do. At the next match the Baggies, without playing particularly well, look better organised. Obver the next few weeks they stop leaking goals, and begin to pick up points. Albion stay up comfortably and pick up a long awaited win over Villa on the way.

The proof of the pudding is in he eating and even if Hodgson is a rather conservative coach, the pudding he served in his 15 month tenure at B71 was appetising enough. Maybe his time at England has been a disappointment, maybe his tactics have not always been right but who could do better given the limited amount of talent available and the top clubs doing their best to hinder rather than help?

The second scene is at Dean Court Bournemouth in 1971. This is according to a university acquaintance who recalled a 3-0 win over Aston Villa in a Third Division match where Harry Redknapp the West Ham reject reject playing at outside left   tormented Villa’s right back before, in the dying minutes, receiving the ball and sitting on it to taunt his hapless opponent.

This surely is the most apt image of Redknapp, a lower division journeyman and local hero. like a southern Cec Podd or Alan Buckley. It was as a local hero, now managing the Cherries that he enjoyed his one significant managerial success, an FA Cup Third Round win over Manchester United in 1984. That’s a long time ago. and he hasn’t done much since apart from sweet talk the gullible London football press into thinking he’s some kind of football genius.

But what about the 2008 Cup win? What about it, bought as it was with lavish amounts of money Portsmouth FC didn’t have, which is why they are now halfway down League Two. Harry Redknapp is, essentially, a small time footballer and a small time coach with a high opinion of himself that he has conned the press and part of the public to share. That is the essence of the matter. He is a con man, a Cockney spiv if you like, and he who should keep his counsel, particularly with regard to a coach who, whilst even less distinguished as a player, has walked the walk as a coach. .    .

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Back At The Grove

At Halesowen Town’s ground The Grove you can still see where the top of a grassy bank at the far end marks the level of the pitch before it was lowered and levelled in 1986.  It had a hell of a slope in the old days. No wonder the team were virtually invincible at home. The problem was that the slope barred the club’s way to promotion so it had to go. The huge amount of soil that was removed in levelling the pitch was used to build a terraced bank along the eastern side of the ground. The construction of the bank and the lowering of the pitch gave the ground an enclosed cockpit-like feel. You are everywhere close to the play and have a good view. I was reminded today of how much I used to like this ground. It seemed a perfect venue for a local derby in the FA Cup,  for a game of cut and thrust, of twists and turns, a game that even merited a full preview in the Birmingham Mail.

As a neutral I was a little disappointed. 5-0 to Halesowen it finished and that was a fair scoreline. It could have been more. A stroll in the autumn sun? Not really, that would be unfair to Tipton who didn’t play simply because Halesowen didn’t let them. The Yeltz pressed, tackled, denied Tipton sustained possession, and, as the cliche has it, earned the right to play. This was a potentially difficult game and Halesowen’s performance correspondingly impressive. Having earned the right to play they did, and some of their attacking was a joy to watch.

After early pressure and missed chances Tipton’s number 5 opened the scoring with a superb looping header into the top corner from a long throw. Unfortunately he scored at the wrong end.  Before half time the Yeltz added a second. After the break Halesowen’s number 10, a player I think called Haseley, who had earlier missed a hat trick’s worth of easy chances scored a hat trick,. the second goal of which was a wonderful chipped volley from thirty yards out, as good a goal as I have seen at semi-professional level for many years, His third and Halesowen’s fifth was from a tap-in in injury time. By this time many spectators had lost interest and turned to their phones to catch up on the extraordinary happenings at Villa Park and Old Trafford.

I will, no doubt, be back. The football was good, the number 9 bus from Bearwood stops just over the road and there’s a real ale pub next to the ground. What’s not to like?

Football Ruins the Summer – Again

Just when you thought we were having another wonderful sporting summer football has come along to spoil things. I like women’s football. It has come on a long long way in the last ten years, in terms of fitness, tactics, and technique.  Louisa Necib’s sublime finish for France’s second goal against England is testimony to that.

The problem is that is mainly other countries that have come on a long way. England were expected to do well in the Women’s European Championship. They were runners up four years ago and, prior to the final warm up game against Sweden were unbeaten in eleven games. Apart from France they were drawn in a weak group. Seen in this light their performances and their record of one point from three games are embarrassing. The one point came as a result of a last minute equaliser against Russia. They were within thirty seconds of going home pointless.

 

The final match against Frances’s second eleven laid bare the inadequacies, the errors, the inability to retain possession, the naive tactics, the lack of fluidity, the slow crablike build up that reminded me  too much of the men’s team. If England’s ladies were the second best team in Europe four years ago they are not now in the top ten.

The knives are now out for Hope Powell because of her selections and her allegedly abrasive personality that has led to conflict with senior players, indeed the refusal of a couple of top players to play for England. What will the FA do?  No doubt Powell will be hung out to dry but do the suits at FA Headquarters  have an idea of who to replace her with? have they considered how the FA Women’s Super League can, or will, further the development of the England team. Early signs are that they are really only concerned about making money.and that the long term development of the game is not the overriding priority.

Before long England will not even be the best team in Britain. Scotland, who lost narrowly to Spain in a qualifying play-off, are closing quickly, this despite the suffocating dominance of Glasgow City in the domestic game, and have talented players developing their game abroad. For example Lisa Evans and Emma Mitchell play in the Bundesliga, for Turbine Potsdam and SGS Essen respectively. Kim Little runs the midfield for English champions Arsenal.

This afternoon Germany will play Italy and the position of German coach Silvia Neid will also come under scrutiny if the holders lose having been disappointing so far. After their exit from the 2011 World Cup against Japan, a couple of German coaches. particularly  Potsdam coach Bernd Schroder, were withering in their criticism.  He is not a man to mince his words and will surely have something to say. This time, though, the DFB might not be so quick to leap to her defence.

Appleton on the Move Again

Early in 1982 it was agreed at a meeting of Football League Chairmen that clubs would not poach each other’s managers during the season.  Within days Wolves had poached Ian Greaves from Oxford United, a move that Oxford’s new owner, a certain Robert Maxwell, described as “an unprovoked act of aggression against a struggling club.”  Greaves himself showed his disdain for his former employer by commenting that “there seems to have been a bit of a hoo-ha down there.” Many felt that justice was served at the end of the season when Wolves were relegated to the Second Division and Greaves was sacked and faded into obscurity.

There is a warning here for Michael Appleton who, after just eight weeks at Blackpool, has moved to Blackburn. Appleton is a Salford lad who began at the club he supported, Manchester United, before moving to Preston from where Gary Megson signed him for the Albion. He played relatively few games for the Baggies as a knee injury ended his career at the age of just 27.  Appleton was held in such high regard that he remained on the payroll joining the coaching staff. He did his badges and rose to become First Team coach and eventually assistant to Roy Hodgson.  It was inevitable that he would leave at some point to further his career and last year he was appointed to his first managerial job at Portsmouth. Even Hercules would have struggled to stop Pompey’s kamikaze descent into non-league football and local derbies against Havant and Waterlooville and Appy was generally reckoned to have done a decent job in impossible circumstances. There was no long term future for him at Fratton Park  and his move to Blackpool following Ian Holloway’s move to Crystal Palace seemed a logical one. Blackpool were reasonably well placed in the Championship and still receiving parachute money even if Holloway was always going to be a hard act to follow.

What he might have achieved at Bloomfield Road will never be known as he has now gone. While Blackburn are better resourced than Blackpool and may have mote potential they are owned by the Venkys who have turned a well-run club into a circus. What if he falls foul of the Global advisor Sebby Singh? What if it all goes pear shaped? Who will then employ a manager with a reputation as an opportunist with no loyalty?   If he were to drive a couple of junctions down the M65 and talk to people in Burnley he might appreciate the risk he runs. Owen Coyle went from hero to zero in January 2010 when he abandoned the Clarets to move to Bolton. Having taken Bolton down and been sacked he finds himself out in the cold, his reputation seriously damaged. Burnley folk might also tell him about Coyle’s immediate predecessor  at Turf Moor, (and his own predecessor at Portsmouth)Steve Cotterill, whose reputation has never really recovered from his walking out in Stoke City ten years ago. Still, if the chickens are to come home to roost, the Venkys will make sure there are plenty available.

Will Villa ruin my life again?

Once upon a time the position was simple. Albion’s neighbours from down Island Road were a bigger wealthier club than us and usually won on the infrequent occasions we got to play them. Then came the Wonder of Mulumbu, the Miracle of Scharner, a home draw we dominated and we could all feel the crowing claret and blue monkey being lifted off our backs. We are ending 2012 as West Midlands top dogs. Four weeks tomorrow they come to The Hawthorns and we should be favourites to win but…………

They have made poor managerial appointments in Houllier and McLeish, sold their best players, narrowly avoided relegation, struggled near the foot if the table this season as Albion headed for temporary Big Four status. How we laughed. But now they are a two leg tie against Bradford City away from a major final at Wembley. Whilst a one-off tie at valley Parade might have been considered a banana skin, over two legs it would be a big surprise if they didn’t win. They’ve started picking up points in the league too and I’m starting to lose sleep about the 19th January.

It is the Cup that bugs me most. Albion, after all, have not reached a major Wembley Final since 1970 (when we won at Villa Park en route) Even in the golden age of the late 1970s and early 80s we were the “nearly men”. We won nothing and saw Villa win the League and European Cup with a team that was no better than ours. Even the Wolves won the League Cup in 1980. All those things hurt. Still do.

There is a sense in which Villa deserve to go to Wembley which is that they have taken the competition seriously. Sadly Albion in recent years, and under successive managers, have regarded the Cups as a distraction. We have had chances. In December 2010 we went to Ipswich in the League Cup Quarter Final with a realistic chance of getting to Wembley. Roberto di Matteo made wholesale changes and a makeshift Albion team lost 1-0 to a side the full strength team would surely have beaten comfortably. The league form  slumped after this and di Matteo was out of a job just two months later.

It is, of course, important to stay up but supporters live for the days out, the glory. And we are long overdue a Cup final. There remains the FA Cup and I hope Steve Clarke will show us that the FA Cup is important to him. Our Third Round tie at Queen’s Park Rangers is important. If we lose that, lose on the 19th January and then see the men from Witton get to Wembley a few days later January will be a horrible horrible month, and Aston Villa will once again blight my life.

So come on Steve let’s go for it. Let’s make it our aim to get to Wembley in the Cup that matters!