Friday, March 21, 2008

UF's Rivalries Series: Liverpool vs. Manchester United

As anyone who follows the EPL will already know, there are several potentially epic matches coming up in the next few weeks between title contenders and lifelong rivals.

In light of this, we here at UF decided to reach out to some longtime fans of the big clubs, asking them to explain what these rivalries mean to them from their perspective.

Being the cheeky bugger I am, I decided to take this one and run with it, because let's face it, we can't let Sir Alex Ferguson and co get away without a retort. Hit the jump for my vitriol.

The primary root of all hatred in my life is jealousy. I think the same could be said for almost anyone. A heady blend of envy and jealousy can spark the most irrational of hate in any of us, even in the most mild-mannered of people. A pithy comment here, an unexplained outburst there; over time, the hatred builds, growing to such an unmanageable size that it is there to stay.

Growing up, I was jealous of the classmates who ended up getting into Oxford and Cambridge, something my father always hoped I would do. While they were reading history and classics, I was embarking on a move to the United States, where I’d set up my life and settle down, something that my old friends always derided and looked down upon. I became the joke, the kid who tossed away that privileged life in search of something else, and it took a long time to shake that moniker.

I guess now, in footballing terms, Liverpool has become the butt of the joke. In my infancy, Liverpool were busy accumulating Viking-esque stockpiles of gold and silverware, trophies in all major competitions, making a true dynasty. It was never pretty, but they got the job done. As I grew up and the Premier League was born, we reached our twilight, and since then, we’ve got relatively little to show for the last 17 years of trying. In that time, we’ve won domestic trophies here and there, and found success in Europe, but the Big Kahuna has continued to elude us for two-thirds of my life, the one that we used to find ourselves winning almost automatically.

Over time, our mystique has dwindled, the days of Dalglish, Shankly, Keegan, Souness, Beardsley, Barnes, Rush, Hughes, Hansen and Clemence are long behind us. We have new talismans now, but it’s hard to argue that we’re still as competitive and successful as we once were. Over the last decade, we’ve shrunk considerably, resigned to fighting for table scraps from the new English elite, Manchester United.

We still have the all-time records over our rival 30 miles away, but we’re always craning our necks upwards to catch a glimpse of them running away with things, and the growing jealousy of the mid-90s has blossomed into full-on hatred in the 2000s.

I hate Manchester United. I hate what they’ve become, everything from their harmonious owner-manager relationship [jealous of that, of course, thanks to our current Hicks & Gillett vs. Benitez mess] to their Portuguese wunderkind [we have our own Spanish genius, but he’s playing catch-up] and his psychic connection with strikers Rooney and Tevez.

I hate that they’ve replaced us as the dominant English force, always competitive for the league while we battle and gnash to secure that final Champions League spot each and every Spring. I hate that they waltz into Anfield and always get results, stealing wins home and away and making us look toothless. I hate John O’Shea, I hate Alan Smith, I hate the bit players in this rivalry. I hate that they score so freely. I hate that Sir Alex Ferguson, a whinger and moaner of the highest order, is still manning the helm from the sidelines, keeping his team happy and content while mine bickers to anyone who will listen.

My hatred is not relegated to the current era. Pick a villain: Brian McClair in the FA Cup, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s godlike strike rate in the late-90s, Eric Cantona, a player that we had first dibs on according to Graeme Souness’s legend. The efficient and ugly, homegrown back-four of Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and a young Gary Neville. Peter Schmeichel, the prototype for arrogant goalkeepers, David Beckham’s best years, Fabien Barthez, Norman Whiteside. Roy Keane.

Of course, I still cling to any pyrrhic victories we’ve accumulated since our last League title in 1990. The game I've always clung to happened in 1994, and saw Man United jump out to a 3-0 halftime lead in front of a stunned Kop end. In fact, it was 3-0 within 24 minutes. Steve Bruce lumbered the first in, Ryan Giggs had a ridiculous chip after breaking the offside trap to make it 2-0, and then Denis Irwin curled in a cracking free kick to make the lead 3.

It took two second-half goals from a restless Nigel Clough, the second as improbable and cheeky as the first, and then that equalizer. Man, that equalizer was something else.

Neil Ruddock, a rather portly, average defender drafted in from Spurs the season before, rose above the masses on an out-swinging cross from the left and thudded the ball deep into the net, hurting his forehead in the process. I’ll never forget seeing him stagger away from the box having scored the goal, clutching his head while a spritely Jamie Redknapp jumped all over his broad shoulders.

By then, of course, the sea change was complete, and we were always playing second fiddle. The days of confidence and pomp were long gone, lost in the 80s and Craig Johnston’s greasy jheri curls, replaced by caution, uncertainty, and a massive, almost unmanageable, inferiority complex. We had to be content with 1-0 cup wins against their second stringers [Fergie was undoubtedly the pioneer of playing reserves in the trophies they didn’t care about, something that spoke volumes of their arrogance] or sneaking scrappy, dull draws wherever we could.

I’ll never forget the Man Utd/Sheffield Wednesday game in 1993, where Fergie seemingly bartered for nine minutes of injury time that saw Steve Bruce score twice and Sheffield Wednesday go home with nothing instead of a well-earned 1-0 win.

The jealousy extends far beyond the confines of Anfield and Old Trafford, two grounds that used to share a working-class charm until they unveiled fresh stadium plans and a modernity that we have yet to match. Their seating capacity swelled while ours seems stuck in the relative Stone Age. For all the noise we make at the Kop End, Man United still has 30,000 more attending their games each week, and the Glazer family rakes in the profits while spending more than enough to keep them atop the league.

I rarely go to Manchester, just because it’s never the sort of place I felt comfortable. They brew Boddington’s, a beer that’s popularized around the world and back, and we brew Cain’s, a gorgeous bitter that still seems sad, tiny and provincial by comparison. Our city struggled with the dwindling of the dock business that made us powerful beyond compare at one point, while Manchester thrived with new business, urban expansion, and renovation at every turn.

It’s hard not to feel jealous, but then again, it’s harder still not to feel hate.

Every empire has its turn in the sun, and we were the undisputed Kings of England back before I was born and while I was still too young to enjoy it. Instead, I had to be content with UEFA Cup heroics, the 5-4 win against laves in 2001, Mark Walters rescuing us in ’92 against Auxerre, and then, of course, Steven Gerrard. He brought us back from a hopeless place in 2005 against the aging but resplendent AC Milan, and then once more in the FA Cup the following year against a punchy West Ham side. Let’s not forget his goal against Olympiakos right at the death of the Champions League group stage, a goal that stunned the nation and kept us in the competition before our fateful encounter with Maldini’s boys in the final.

It says a lot about my team that we’re always looking for last-minute heroics to snatch a point or extra-time when all seems lost. I’d give my right arm to once again enjoy a position of power, one where goals are never far from being scored, and where we don’t have to scrap and pray for a moment of magic.

Magic’s hard to build around, but Man United don’t have that problem. They can score on will, assert their authority and put a game out of reach after it’s only just begun. That’s what I’m most jealous of, and it’s an envy that hurts most of all.

I dream about Sir Alex retiring and the team falling into disarray, but I suppose I must hope for that like I hope for stealing points from the Big 3 like some pauper in a Dickens novel nicking bread from the table while his rich bosses are looking the other way.

We've never won a Premier League title, something that I get reminded of each and every fucking day.

The jealousy for Manchester United will never subside, and nor will the hate. I hope upon hope that this Sunday, I get to witness the beginning of the sea change back in our direction.

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I'm Not Sure I'll Be Able to Stomach Watching

Dear Baby Jesus
Help Grant field a shite Blues side
The Gunners need points

Okay, so it's not exactly the most eloquent haiku, and aren't most Japanese Shintoists to begin with? So I'm not sure the form of the plea will even please the Baby Jesus, but I'm completely at my wits fucking end.

Four straight draws in four winnable matches dating back to the Eduardo injury. Adebayor hasn't done dick since his new haircut. And while poor officiating seems to be a staple of this EPL, the refs certainly haven't erred in the favor of Arsenal as of late. And shit if somehow Chelski isn't able to pull into second place with a win at Stamford Bridge where they haven't lost since, well, since Jesus last roamed the planet.

So hopefully the overmatched Grant will again field a side without Joe Cole and Michael Ballack. Maybe he'll experiment with a revolutionary 4-6-0. I don't know and I don't care how it happens. I just want more than anything, even World fucking Peace, for the Gunners to break the Blues home winning streak not for the sake of ending the streak but because without the three points, the Gunners are dead in the EPL title chase.

Of course the thing I want second most in the world is a Liverpool win. Although I shouldn't say that lest the folks around here get the wrong idea. Still, I'm totally okay if Torres justifies my love man crush.

Here's what happens this weekend.

3-2 (This might be a Jermaine Defoe hatty Ed. Note: Defoe can't play against Spurs due to an arcane new EPL rule.)

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US Men's Youth National Team Qualifies for Beijing

Last night the U.S. Mens Youth National Team qualified for the Beijing Olympics defeating the Great White North, er, Canada 3-0. The U.S. was led by Freddy Adu who scored on two set pieces. Sacha Kljestan scored the other goal as the U.S. shut down the Canadian. The U.S. will play Honduras for the CONCACAF championship on Sunday.

So, it seems Freddy is quite adept at taking free kicks. Here is a link to his first goal and his second goal. Both clips look like the Zapruder film, sorry. The first goal looked pretty weak as the keeper just seemed out of position, but the second was a beauty. Here is a link to a Youth National Team practice taking set pieces. Freddy is the first one taken and it is quite nice.

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UF's Rivalries Series: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

As anyone who follows the EPL will already know, there are several potentially epic matches coming up in the next few weeks between title contenders and lifelong rivals.

In light of this, we here at UF decided to reach out to some longtime fans of the big clubs, asking them to explain what these rivalries mean to them from their perspective.

For this one, we've enlisted Luke Dempsey, a lifelong Man Utd fan, to give us his side of the story. He wrote some tremendous pieces for the New Republic during the last World Cup, including an impassioned defense of Zinedine Zidane's headbutt. His first book, A SUPREMELY BAD IDEA, will be published by Bloomsbury in July 2008.

Luke, the floor is yours.


For me, it all comes down to Jimmy Greenhoff, and an April night in 1979. Wednesday April 4, to be precise, the place Stonnall, a little village 20 miles north of Birmingham.

I am one of two brothers standing near the rear window of our living room. It’s about 9pm; the curtains are drawn against what our mum calls ‘the cold winter’s night,’ even though outside, spring is doing its British best to be a bit better than winter. My elder brother stands at an angle, half looking at the far wall; he’s fifteen, and his hormones are making him feel like a lumbering center back. I’ve done a decade on the planet, and still have all the energy of a child for whom nothing has ever really gone wrong. I’m a nippy little winger.

We are listening to the radio, unable to really look at each other; the tension is too high. The transistor is tuned to BBC Radio 2, specifically, the soccer commentary. It’s an FA Cup semifinal replay, Liverpool vs. Manchester United; second half, still 0-0. The previous Saturday, United had traveled the 60 miles west to play Liverpool in the first semi-final, a game that had ended 2-2.

Let us pause and remember: These were the days before ubiquitous sports on every TV channel. The best you could hope for back then was Match of the Day on Saturday evenings on BBC1, a show which deigned to air brief highlights of two games played at 3pm that previous afternoon. If you were lucky, you supported a top team and might see highlights in midweek, too, on a show called Sportsnight. But wall-to-wall live soccer? If only.

At the time, Liverpool were the greatest club side in the world, having won what was then called the European Cup in 1977 and 1978 (they’d win again in 1981 and 1984). They were also top of the league in 1979, and about to win it yet again under the great, if walrus-like, Bill Paisley. (That was also the year Notts Forest won the European Cup, as they would do again a year later; English teams won the European Cup every year from 1977 to 1982, in fact, an astonishing run.)

The Liverpool team in those days boasted the likes of Kenny Dalglish, and Graeme Souness; a plethora of bad perms; and, let’s be honest, borderline-crap tactics, based all-too-regularly around what was called the ‘alehouse ball,’ in which some twat like Emlyn Hughes (a man who called his kids Emma, and Lynn lest we forget), or later Alan Hansen, pumped the ball long for a big center forward to nod down into the path of an onrushing Jimmy Case or Alan Kennedy.

Forget what you’ve been told – it was often awful to watch, but it won them a lot of stuff. At the time, by contrast, Manchester United were an even bigger club in terms of support; they still are; and they played exciting, if leaky-at-the-back attacking football. But since being the first English team to win the European Cup in 1968, a full nine years before Liverpool, they’d won very little else. In the early seventies, reeling from the loss of Busby and Charlton and Best, they’d even been relegated to Division Two (Chelsea would be similarly relegated in 1979). United had always preferred to lose 5-3 at home to West Brom than ever to actually win anything.

So here we were, two desperate brothers, in love with a team in the shadow of the Scousers. Sure, we’d had the joy of 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, and United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at Wembley in the cup final; but soccer joy doesn’t last nearly long enough, and by the end of the seventies neither of us could argue about Liverpool’s dominance. The memories of street parties for the Queen and the winning goal spinning off Jimmy Greenhoff’s chest – it was the strangest goal ever to win a major tournament – well, those memories were fast receding. 1979 was something else altogether – Thatcher coming to power; there’s no such thing as society, she said, and then she went about proving it by dismantling it. But at the age of 10 I didn’t care either way; I was all about United; and that night in April, I was about to love Jimmy Greenhoff all over again.

Dad wasn’t home. He worked for a roofing company, a company which always seemed to be on the verge of going out of business. That day he was driving back from Carlisle, where he’d spent all afternoon on a ladder trying to work out why a piece of cladding had been stuck to a roof upside down. The foreman had joked that his welder was from Australia, but on a wet Carlisle afternoon 100 feet up it hadn’t been all that funny. He was still two hours from home, and he’d have to listen to the United game in the car, without his sons. By the time he arrives in the Midlands, I could well be in bed; depends on what mood mom is in. At least he’d get to lie full length by the fire, next to his eldest boy, kick his shoes off, and take every shot with every United player, his feet jerking about every time the ball came ‘his’ way.

This 44-year old man had been born in Sale Moor, Manchester, four miles from Old Trafford. He was one of 14 kids. One of his elder brothers, Michael, was the sports editor of the Daily Express, and wrote a weekly column in the United Review, the match-day program; we knew Uncle Mike counted Busby as a friend, but he never boasted about it. One of the younger brothers in the family, John, was the head of the Nursing Union, and would come to prominence as a vociferous anti-Thatcherite in the 1980s. John was also the only one of the 14 who supported Manchester City. He went to a game at Old Trafford precisely once, which was of course the only day Michael ever wrote a piece in United Review about the black sheep brother who laughingly loved City.

Dad was the first of the Dempseys to move south, so we grew up in north Birmingham, a fact which plays into every fan’s prejudice that United supporters are from everywhere but Manchester. So when asked, I say I’m from there, because by blood I am, though I was the first grandchild who was not born close enough to hear ‘Glory, Glory, Man United’ wafting across the city every Saturday at 3. But blood? Mine runs red, and in any case, what would you have me be, a Villa fan?

I have kids of my own, now. They were born in New York City, in a hospital on 68th and York, in the year United won the ‘European Cup’ for the second time. The last time we won that tournament was the year I was born, ’68. In 1999, perhaps our best player was Dwight Yorke. York(e) and 68: I believe in omens. And given what happened in Barcelona that fateful night, the sheer unbelievability of it, one of my daughter boasts a legal middle name of Solskjaer (the other we middle-named Cantona). But it’s not just what happened in the Nou Camp; Ole had knocked Liverpool out of the cup that year, too, a last minute winner into the Stretford End; what else could I name my daughter? (And Cantona... well, if you can show me a better finish than his four-minutes-from-the-end FA Cup Final blast against the Scousers in 1996 – he hit the ball when it was thigh-high and behind him and 20 yards out – go right ahead.)

Her grandfather’s name was Vincent, but by the time United became a team that wins things, those seven letters were etched on a stone in the village of Stonnall. He died the year Gazza cried in Italy, and the last time Liverpool won the league. He took their luck with him, though he took a lot of other stuff, too.

That Wednesday night in 1979, with about fifteen minutes to go, me and my brother could barely stand it anymore, so we did what we always did – got ourselves a ping pong ball and had a kick about in the living room. But as we played, we heard the crowd noise rise, and stopping to listen we heard as Jimmy Greenhoff headed the ball into the back of the net to put United one up.

We made so much crazy noise I was put to bed. Dad and my brother watched the game without me later, though bro snuck up to tell me we were in the Cup Final again, third time in four years.

The first time, in 1976, had ended in heartbreak with heavily-unfancied Southampton beating us 1-0. Then there was the 1977 Liverpool final, and its three goals in five minutes. The first featured Stuart Pearson shaming Ray Clemence at the near post to put us one up, running away and pumping his fist very pleasingly, a celebration I copied for years afterwards. Two minutes later Jimmy Case leveled with a great effort from just inside the box. Then the crazy goal off of Greenhoff’s tits, attributed to Lou Macari still, and we had beaten Liverpool at Wembley; more, we had prevented them doing the Treble (League, Cup, and European Cup) – only one team has ever done that in England (see under 1999).

In 1979, having had Greenhoff knock Liverpool out that Wednesday night, we’d go to Wembley to face a strong Arsenal side, replete as it was with the great Liam Brady. We went two-nil down, had a crazy six minute spell late second half to draw level, then the phone rang, and my dad missed Alan Sunderland’s late, late winner. On the line was one of my dad’s workmates congratulating him for the comeback.
And that’s why I’ll always agree with Alan Sunderland who, when he scored that 89th minute winner in 1979, wheeled away celebrating and mouthing ‘you fucking bastard.’

Yes, Mr. Sunderland, you are. You are a fucking bastard indeed.

In soccer conversations in New York I’m most often asked by Americans why I don’t hate Arsenal and Chelsea as much as I hate Liverpool. After all, Liverpool are a spent force, at least domestically, concentrating instead on winning a few knock-out games each year in the hopes of a cup or two. Aren’t the two London clubs the real threat to United’s dominance? Well, the problem is, neither team was much of a threat to us growing up, Alan ‘fucking bastard’ Sunderland notwithstanding. We grew up being told that Liverpool were the greatest team that ever played, when in fact they were stolid and fairly boring to watch, and that’s one of the reasons we hated them.

Now, I actually love to watch Arsenal play. Against Milan in Italy recently they were astonishing, knocking the ball around like kids in a living room with a ping pong ball and a fast-approaching bedtime. Chelsea, of course, will go back to mid-table once the Russian money goes away – until then, they’ll buy loads of superstars, have no real team, and win the odd thing here and there without any United fans really caring either way. No, it’s Liverpool we continue to hate – we delighted in winning 1-0 at their place around Christmas last year, and getting the chance to sing,

Feed the Scousers / Let them know it’s Christmas time

We laugh our asses off when we bring to mind West Ham fans a few years ago singing, to the tune of “Donna e mobile,”

We’ve got Di Canio / You’ve got our stereo.

We love that in the last twenty years, apart from a bizarre night in Istanbul when AC Milan forgot to come out for the second half and handed Liverpool the 2005 Champions League, they’ve basically won squat. My loathing of them is only deepened now that I understand that the Liverpool I grew up watching were actually winning things for one reason only: the back pass. They thrived on solid ‘defensive units’ who spent 75 minutes of every game knocking it back to the keeper. Can’t do that anymore, and ever since backpasses were done away with in 1992, United has won the league nine times, including that first year of the new rule. No back pass, and this is what you get: Liverpool has come third five times and second once – that’s it. This year, who knows – they could end fourth, but then again they could end sixth.

But the animosity is more than just about soccer.

For a start, there’s the Manchester ship canal, that cunning cut Mancs built to siphon off some of the business Liverpool got from the roiling Atlantic. But it wasn’t just shipping that drove a wedge between the two towns; to my eye, the cities have different emotional registers.

Manchester gave the world ‘What Difference Does it Make?’ and New Order and Joy Division (or, Warsaw, as they were originally called); dark, knowing music that was both witty and clear-eyed. Liverpool, on the other hand, gave the world Paul McCartney and Wings singing ‘Who’s That Knocking at the Door, Who’s That Ringing the Bell?’ His earlier combo, the name of which escapes me, were the greatest band ever, blah blah blah, but they were also horribly maudlin and sentimental more often than people realize (go read the words to ‘Let it Be’ then get back to me).

Manchester is always thought of as a bit rougher, a bit more real, a place with a bit more edge. Consider the soccer fans: Liverpool’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’ is so saccharin as to be pretty much unbearable; United fans, in contrast, sing

Park, Park, wherever you may be
You eat dogs in your own country
But it could be worse you could be a fuckin’ Scouse
Eatin’ rats in your council house.

That’s a song in honor of the Korean Park, who plays for United – utterly bizarre as an encomium, but there it is. Compare, too, the recent minutes’ silence at Old Trafford to honor the lost lives in the Munich air crash, a silence which was perfectly observed inside the ground. Anyone who knows Manchester is hardly surprised. It’s a tough but fair place; the city comes first; you might hate United, but unlike Liverpool fans you don’t make fun of Mancunians who died in a plane crash. The only blot on that silence was the firecrackers let off outside the ground, and United and City fans alike don’t believe it was City fans who did it. It had to be Scousers. They probably thought it was funny.

No, what was funny was Barnsley. I can imagine a conversation in June 2008 between two Man United fans; goes something like this:

MU fan #1: What’s your best moment of the season?
MU fan #2: That’s a very tough one. We were fucking brilliant this year. I’m going to say, Rooney’s overhead kick that hit the bar in the Champions League final....
MU fan #1: Good one! It helps, of course, that Ronaldo smashed in the rebound off of Nani’s tiny cock....
MU fan #2: Of course. But an overhead kick? We’ll tell our grandkids.... So what’s your moment?
MU fan #1: You’re going to laugh, but it was Brian Howard.
MU fan #2: Really?
MU fan #1: Seriously, last kick of the game, in front of the teary-eyed Kop – they’re always crying about something those lot – and there he goes, burying it to knock the Scousers out of the cup. Not to mention he should have had a penalty seconds before. Perfect. And don’t forget they were 2-1 down right before halftime to Havant and Waterlooville in the previous round....

So it goes; as much as we love United, we also loathe, and fortunately can now laugh at, Liverpool. This was to be the season they won the league of course, but that’s because no one noticed they’re not that good at the back, rely too much on an overrated Steven Gerrard, and put Dirk Kuyt in the team most weeks. Torres is sometimes unstoppable, especially against poor teams, but against United at Anfield he didn’t show up; same story at home to Arsenal, even if he claims he was injured. But even United fans felt a bit sorry for staunch Anfieldites at the start of the season: in their first five games, they beat Derby 6-0 (well, duh), and drew every other game. Must have been like watching paint dry.

Being smart fans, they must have known that by the time Fabregas equalized with 10 minutes to go in that sixth home game, the domestic season was over. You can’t take 7 points at home from five and win the league, even if you’ve already played Chelsea and Arsenal. Further, Chelsea, Arsenal, and United each went to Anfield and got a result. All that was left was Brian Howard and the Champions League final.

Because who knows, they’ll probably make it again. My brother has a phrase for all those little teams that show up at Old Trafford and play their hearts out, only to lose at home the following week to someone crap – he says they’re ‘cheating their fans.’ I hereby accuse this current Liverpool team of doing the same. Last week against Inter in Milan they looked brilliant; the week before against Barnsley they looked like Liverpool from the last two decades. But all those Scousers who can’t afford to travel to Italy must be pissed that they play so poorly in England, only to turn it on for the latter stages of the Champions League.

Even though we loathe them, they are true and dedicated fans of their team, and trust me, if United only cared about Europe, there would be hell to pay in Sale and Stretford and all along the Warwick Road. (That said, United fans love Benitez, and we urge you to keep him as long as you can. Fat Spanish waiter, he’s just a fat, Spanish waiter.)

And yet, and yet, of all the games I long to attend, United home to Liverpool in the league is the one. Recent years in the Premiership have been aces if you’re a United fan.

Last year at Anfield we had Scholes sent off, yet up popped John O’Pie, as United fans unaffectionately call him, to smash home a late winner into the Kop end, and thereby pretty much win us the league. This year we nicked the corresponding fixture with a clever Tevez winner right before half time, and next Sunday comes the visit of Liverpool to Old Trafford. My brother being the proud owner of a bunch of season tickets at Old Trafford I’m making the trip, and I’m taking my kids.

So next weekend I’ll be there, with my little Solskjaer and my little Cantona in tow.

It’s their first visit to Old Trafford; I was about their age when I went to see United for the first time too. That day, the accelerator cable on my dad’s car snapped on the northbound M6 and, stuck in 4th gear, he somehow managed to cruise down the off ramp, do a Starsky and Hutch left turn, drop the car at a garage, and get us to the game via a Manchester bus with minutes to spare. I still remember the blissful shock of the green Old Trafford turf as we finally made it to our seats. We beat Birmingham City 1-0 on a Joe Jordan header, and the car was fixed by 5.

Some things never leave you. Brian Howard in front of the Kop. Jimmy Greenhoff’s stooping header in April 1979, the winner off his tits two years earlier. The first time I heard ‘William, It Was Really Nothing.’ Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s goal in Barcelona.

My dad’s face as the light at the bottom of the off ramp turned amber. ‘Hold on, boys,’ he said, ‘this one’s gonna be fun.’

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UF's Rivalries Series: Chelsea vs. Arsenal

As anyone who follows the EPL will already know, there are several potentially epic matches coming up in the next few weeks between title contenders and lifelong rivals.

In light of this, we here at UF decided to reach out to some longtime fans of the big clubs, asking them to explain what these rivalries mean to them from their perspective.

The series kicks off today with the Chelsea/Arsenal rivalry explained from the blue side of town, and with two essays detailing the Liverpool/Manchester United relationship.

Let the record show that the Arsenal fan for today was unable to participate at short notice, so their side of the story will remain quiet for now. If any serious Gooners fans care to retort, drop us an email to the address in the sidebar to the right, and we'll correct this asap.

In the meantime, I'll let the Chelsea fan, Q aka Autoglass, have the floor.

He grew up in Rochester, NY and had season tickets to the Rochester Lancers. He went to school in Boston, lived in DC, and ended up in New York City, spending ten years in Kinsale and George Keeley's watching the footie with the likes of RZM, Hirshey, Bigus and the lot. Last year he moved to California with the Beckhams.

15 years ago, he became a Blue (that story is for another time), and he enjoys sunsets, long strolls on the beach, curling up by the fire, and watching Bigus' Norwich City as they battle for avoid relegation to League One.

After the jump, his perspective.

First, I fucking hate Arsenal. I could, and have, gone on a tear ripping these prancing, preening, Euro-hairgel-jobs and their arrogant manager. I could point out the fact that they shrink from any sort of physical play like a bunch of schoolgirls alarmed that one could actually get hurt in gym class.

We could discuss Arsenal's "20 beautiful, breathtaking 6-yard passes and a boot over the bar." style. I could spend 1000 words on Arsene Wenger alone. About his scorn for the very English game that has provided him with his rare real successes. About the fact that various managers in England have their disputes with individual managers, but that every single one of them hate that arrogant gallic pedophile at the Emirates.

But I'm not going to do that. That is for my endless email flame wars with my mates.

I thought I'd dig a little more deeply into why "the" Arsenal are so loathsome (aside from the fact that they insist on calling themselves "the" Arsenal.). Some self-examination, if you will.

Arsenal are going through their annual late winter run of poor form. Four straight League draws to the likes of St. Mary's Convent for Learning Disabled Dwarfs. This happens every year. Yet, these results are hardly noted in the football world. While the press and the great mass of supporters natter on and on about other sides' stumbles, Arsenal get a pass.

Yet, another year goes by and Arsenal, somewhat quietly, crash out of every competition and add nothing to their trophy cabinet and meanwhile, crisis ensues at Liverpool, or Chelsea, or Spurs, or even United. "We aren't winning enough! What will we do?"

But we hear no gnashing of teeth from the Emirates. Gooners may be sad for a bit when they crash out of three competitions in a fortnight yet again, but they quickly bounce back to their arrogant selves.

This is because Arsenal are not about winning. This is because, at the Emirates, if Arsenal aren't winning, it's the game's problem. If Arsenal do not win something, it is because that competition (most notably an English competition) does not recognize and reward beautiful football. It cannot be Arsenal's problem. Let me explain.

I'm a Yank. I live in the States. I've been supporting Chelsea for 20 years (the why of that is another posting). In my time, I've noticed that a certain kind of Yank becomes an Arsenal supporter. Metrosexual media types. Urbane attorneys. Artistic poseurs. Types who make a statement about themselves with every choice that they make.

They select a fashionable side who have been somewhat successful but who reflect their own personal style, their refined tastes, their inflated self image. A side that says something about them. They seek to support a side who do things "better" than everyone else, a team who plays the game the "beautiful" way. These are people who listen to obscure jazz and are happiest when discussing an artist of whom you've never heard.

These types don't love football as the game is actually played. The game as actually played is physical. It requires grit and steel. It's tactical. Success requires overcoming attrition and hard tackles and opponents who take your measure, look you in the eye, dig deep and find the strength and discipline to keep to a plan and beat you.

In real football, the best side does not always win. But the sides that win over time are sides of character, steel, heart, and courage. Sides that play the way necessary to win a given match. Sides that don't place their own self regard, and an extra step-over, above a result.

Arsenal and their supporters have no time for this. They count passes. They sing of the poetry of movement and flow. They want young, callow players who will "express" themselves on the pitch. They glory in possession and having the run of play. They are different, you see. You, the Chelsea or Liverpool supporter, are but an ignoramus. Sad, really, that you do not understand how beautiful football can be. Much like you could never possibly understand the sublime music of Warne Marsh.

So, Arsenal go to Wigan or some such. Wigan play defensively. They know they will lose if they play Arsenal's preferred style. They don't give a toss if Wenger finds them to be negative. The game progresses. Arsenal are the better side. But Wigan's pitch is not perfect, and the Wigan players tackle aggressively. As the match progresses, the Wigan players (who, of course, hate Arsenal) dig deeper with each passing minute. Wigan have the gall to deny Arsenal space for their brilliance. Perhaps a leg is broken (sorry, I couldn't resist).

When the smoke clears, one of two things happens.

If Arsenal prevail, Arsene Wenger and the London media (who provide him with daily reach-arounds) glory in Arsenal's style and quality. Arsene will be sure to point out that he "rescued" his boys from obscurity and paid little for their services. The Yank support will turn off the telly and will put on some complicated jazz, pour a glass of Montrachet, and smugly congratulate themselves that, sometimes, style and fashion and a certain class of creativity are proven to be better than common sweat and toil. Much like how it is down at work: the cream always rises.

If Arsenal are held, Arsene will complain about the pitch, or the negative Wigan tactics, the officials, or the fact that everyone wants to "kick" Arsenal. He'll never concede to being beaten or held. Arsenal are never beaten, nor are they every truly matched. If Wigan held Arsenal, then this is evidence of an imperfect sport. Such a result could not possibly bother us. Meanwhile, our Yank Gooner turns off the telly, briefly curses what an ugly match it was, wonders if football is too "base" for him, and perhaps doesn't tune in again for a match until he reads of Arsenal returning to form.

Arsenal will crash out of the Prem and the Champions League in the coming weeks. This will be their third successive season winning nothing. But be patient with your Gooner friends, they are watching a different game than you. A game of flow and beauty. A game that you could not possibly understand.

Let them natter on for a while.

Then tell them that Warne Marsh sucked.

Read more on "UF's Rivalries Series: Chelsea vs. Arsenal"...

MLS Seattle Expansion Club Will Have Lame Name

MLS Rumors has done some excellent sleuthing and discovered the finalists for the name of the new Seattle MLS club. And, they are all luh-ame.

Today while continuing our long look into the MLS expansion name game, particularly Seattle's name, MLSR has learned that the Seattle expansion club name will be one of the following: Seattle FC, Seattle Alliance or Seattle Republic.

The club will let fans decide the club name through online voting.

Seattle FC is passable but really is not accurate since all MLS clubs are owned by the same entity. The other two sound like either a neighborhood activist group or some sort of secessionist group.

Many of the traditional American sports teams names are really bad (Raptors, Redskins, Heat, Real Salt Lake), but just because soccer is a niche sport that is highly popular in Europe doesn't mean it has to have a Euro-style club name. It comes across as incredibly snobbish and arrogant to a potentially receptive American audience. I'd suggest something like the Seattle Sucks or Seattle Circuit Boards.

Or, just maybe, they could go with the Seattle Sounders, a name that has been around and has built up capital.

[Photo Credit: Seattle Sounders]

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Footballer? I barely knew 'er.

We here at UF love a good sex scandal.

If it involves futbol, even better.

What could top that? A sex scandal involving futbol and a Hollywood starlet.

Thankfully, Lindsay Lohan has provided us with such a scandal.

Reportedly, Lohan was filmed by Calum Best on his camera phone while, ahem, Lohan polished his pickle. [Grainy NSFW alleged screen cap here.]

Best is an Irish model and happens to be the son of one of the greatest Irish footballers of all-time and a legendary member of Manchester United, George Best.

Coincidentally, George Best was a world-renowned drinker, which might explain Calum's interest in Lohan the Junior, although I bet Dina Lohan was right in line for sloppy seconds after Lindsay.

Also, Cristiano Ronaldo just surpassed Best's scoring record for a ManU winger.

[Photo Credit: The Daily Mail]

A great day for the Best family!

[Ed. Note: After the jump, a couple of videos of Georgie in action on the pitch.]

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Douchebag Proves Even Bigger Douchebag

Some people are just born douchebags. Joe Starkey is one of those people. The Longview, Washington resident, teacher and soccer coach was arrested this week on charges of having sex with a 15-year old student. Starkey is alleged to have admitted he slept with a 15 year-old female runaway that was staying at his apartment. Grade A douchebag right there.

Students at his school were shocked to learn of Starkey's arrest.

Most students at R.A. Long High School say Starkey was a great teacher and coach and they are surprised he would be charged with having sex with a minor.

From the report:
“He was really cool. You could talk to him about a lot of stuff. During practice he would help you with math and stuff if you needed it,” R.A. Long High School student Alysha said. “I don’t know why he’d do that. It’s crazy. I mean, he’s smarter than that.”
No shit he was "cool" to the students. He wanted to get in their pants. Clearly, he wasn't "smarter than that."

I have found Starkey's MySpace page and it is full of interesting tidbits. First, he is a practicing Catholic:

I am a practicing Catholic, and have every intention of staying that way for quite a while, and would not mind meeting someone willing to go to church with me or practice their faith with me. Don't get me wrong, though, I would love to meet other people, too.
Second, boy has he met some other people. Just check out these photos. [Ed. Note: Someone asked who were in the photos. On the left, Mr. Belding. On the right, Carlos Mencia and Weeman] [ 2nd Ed. Note: That's not Wee's Brad Williams]:

It's obvious that this guy was born with a terminal case of douchebag-itis. Maybe he didn't sleep with the girl but all signs still point to d-bag.

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The savior returns from West Brom

Barnsley's run in the FA Cup has been nothing short of remarkable, but an extra layer of magic was added by the heroics of their goalie, Luke Steele, who was signed just three days before the 2-1 win at Liverpool and who also kept Chelsea at bay in the quarter-finals.

However, his participation in the semis against Cardiff was thrown in doubt when his emergency loan deal expired on Monday. The team that owns Steele? Fellow FA Cup semi-finalists West Bromwich Albion. The two sides were dragging their heels on finalizing a permanent switch, and to the relief of Tykes fans everywhere, the deal was put through this morning, and Steele will be a full-time Barnsley keeper from this summer on.

You may recommence breathing.

The sticking point was the nature of the deal that both sides were looking for. According to the BBC, West Brom were keen on Steele joining Barnsley in a permanent deal, although they wanted more of a wage subsidy from Barnsley while he was there on loan. During the first loan spell, the Baggies paid 60% of his wages to help the Tykes deal with the extra expense, although now that Barnsley's collected a boatload of FA Cup money, the switch this time around is thought to be a lot more even.

Of course, Steele wouldn't be able to play against West Brom should both teams win their FA Cup semi-final games, but that's immaterial at this point.

Who knows, considering that EPL keepers are dropping like flies, and that most of the ones left standing simply aren't that good, Steele might well be auditioning for a bigger stage in the future.

Here's looking at you, Paul Robinson.

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Meet Your "New" Football Overlords

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," "What was old is new again," and probably a million other tired cliches describe two cause celebs who you, our fair reader, might know by name: David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. What do these two have in common, other than poncy good looks? They are the two most recognizable faces of English football, even though one currently plays in the MLS and the other happens to be Portugese.

This was a good week for Becks and Ronaldo. Beckham was invited to earn his 100th English cap (I was right!). The not-fat Ronaldo broke George Best's scoring record while, baring the proverbial unthinkable collapse, looks set to earn Player of the Year. (As an aside, the past month has confirmed what I've felt all season, that Man U and not Arsenal has the depth to win the Premiership. It has felt inevitable, like a long-simmering indigestion that has now turned into a full-blown ennui.)

So, we have the aging Beckham, who admittedly hasn’t played a meaningful game of football in 87 months, about to play a meaningless friendly, get his 100th cap, give Capello a bit of good press, and then fade back into the woodwork of southern Californian obscurity. As Lingering Bursitis said, "the idea of Beckham wearing the 3 Lions again makes me nauseous."

And then there is Cristiano Ronaldo, who this week somehow managed to break down Bolton's defense (didn't see that one coming, huh?), bested George Best's scoring record with his 32 and 33rd goals, earned yet more Demento accolades as being the greatest player ever, oh and don't forget that he's only 23 years old. As the NY Kid said, "Ronaldo is a fucking sunty useless twat cuntbag."

What is it about top players who, in the prime of their careers earn such deserved scorn, and then in the twilight of their careers earn such deserved glee? Maybe it is that the Beckhams and Ronaldos are always the lodestars for sport, just as Jordan was for the NBA in the 1990s, Brady was for the NFL in the 2000s, etc. etc. The thing that these players have in common is, at bottom, they are incredibly uninteresting people whose only talent is on the pitch or on the court or on the field. We look forward to the day that their skills fade because we know that such decline is inevitable and that, while opposing teams are helpless to stop such players, than time surely will.

Although, sometimes it isn't time but hubris that can lead to a player's downfall. In other words, it isn't time but rather lack of motivation or lack of focus that brings down top players. It is hard to say that about either Beckham or Ronaldo.

For all his talent, both in playing football and in marketing, Beckham really was never a dominate player on the pitch, but rather the consummate big play player (unless that big play was getting a red card in the World Cup).

Ronaldo is dissimilar because, begrudgingly, at the moment he is playing football at a different level than the rest of the world. Unless he suffers a major injury, it will be at least a decade before Ronaldo enters into the sort of decline that Beckham now finds himself. That leaves us with a lot of suffering in the meantime. Oh, and that suffering includes Man U fans when Ronaldo decides to leave chilly Manchester for the warmer climate of the Iberian Peninsula.

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Chelsea, Grant figure out how to screw a pooch

Blink, and you missed a goal. That's how it went last night at White Hart Lane, where the Eredivisie School of Defending provided us with 8 goals, several from set-pieces, and where Chelsea's title aspirations took a bit of a dent.

Let's face it... they needed that win. Up 3-1 in the second half, Grant made a series of baffling substitutions including the removal of their best player on the night, Joe Cole, and took away all semblance of threat from his side for the last 20 minutes.

Not a good idea against a counter-attacking team playing on their home turf, is it? Ballack came on and provided little stability, Alex didn't get into the pace of the game, and they even gave the hapless Ukrainian a run-out, hoping that maybe he could catch the scoring bug that was going around the pitch.

As such, Spurs scored twice in the last 15, and should have won it at the death if Berbatov's weak shot in the box had a little more venom behind it.

Check out the highlights after the jump of one of the season's most entertaining games. Watch Chelsea as they conspire to snatch a point from the jaws of three. I don't know how Avram Grant still has such job security.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Loose lips trying to sink Cashley's ship

Ashley Cole's been called many things, several of them by us: tosser, over-paid underachiever, whore, adulterer, piece of shit.... the list could go on.

However, he's been called something recently that he didn't like, even though his name was not used outright, and he's taking legal action.

What has he taken offense to?

Being outed.

Apparently, the story goes that the News of the World published some rather salacious stories on Feb 12 claiming that two bisexual EPL stars had been engaged in some dirty phone calls over their cell phones, and that their reporter had seen recordings of the alleged incident.

Then, the story was passed like a leather-clad hot potato to sister tabloid the Sun, who referenced the story in the caption of a picture of Ashley Cole out with his fiancee Cheryl Tweedy, and the calls from the lawyers began shortly thereafter.

It's a weird bit of news; neither paper explicitly mentioned Cole in relation to the story itself, choosing instead to use a nudge nudge wink wink approach that hasn't made Cole particularly happy.

"Cole has decided to sue for harassment, breach of privacy and libel after rumours over his sexuality spread like wildfire on the internet, fuelled by a series of articles in the News of the World and the Sun that did not name him but contained broad hints at his identity.

Legal experts view the case as an important step in taking the temperature of libel and privacy law in cases where the aggrieved parties are not named but the public is able to build up a "jigsaw" identification via tabloid hints that spark gossip via email, blogs and chatrooms.

They said the privacy part of the claim was "unique" because it relied on an untested concept known as "false privacy" - even though Cole says he is not gay, he will argue his privacy has been invaded.

"It's not a clear-cut case," said Mark Stephens, media solicitor at Finers, Stephens, Innocent. "It's difficult for both sides. But ultimately it's going to be embarrassing for the newspaper unless they were publishing on strong grounds.""

This will be interesting to watch, and not just because we might know once and for all whether Cashley likes it up the jacksey. It'll be the first time that gossip blogs and email threads are used to prosecute to such an end, and it might mean that eventually blogs in general have to curb their rampant speculations about anything and everything.

In the meantime, I can confidently report that Ashley Cole loves dudes.* Really he does.**

** No clue.

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Two Men Walk Into An Ice Cream Parlor....

See this here on the right? It's proof that Arsenal's Alexandre Hleb and an agent Claudio Vigorelli were not conspiring with Internazionale when Arsenal was in Milan torching the elderly, I mean beating AC Milan in Champions League play.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is considering reporting Inter to UEFA for tapping up the Belarusian. The involved claim that it was completely innocent meeting.

From the article:

"It's true that Hleb saw Vigorelli and they went out from the Melia Felix but it's not true that they went to talk to Inter Milan," said Morabito. "They went for an ice-cream. We are sorry that Mr Wenger took it badly and complained because we have a good relationship with him."
See nothing wrong with that. There was nothing ill-toward going on in regards to Hleb's contractual situation. Either Vigorelli is practicing his child seduction skills on Hleb or the two went on a man-date. In either case, there is absolutely nothing weird with two men going to have ice cream together.

[Photo credit]

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David Beckham: not liked by Norwich schoolchildren

It's been a while since I had the chance to skewer Beckham, but it appears that his time might finally be up -- thanks to the children and toddlers of Norwich.

As more and more schoolchildren aspire to being megastars and massive celebrities, the kids of Norwich have their eyes on more practical professions like builder, fireman and steelworker.

Way to go, Norwich.

According to the Norwich Evening news, children they talked to idolized few celebrities, and the ones they did look up to included Hilary Duff and Frank fucking Lampard. [wrap your head around that one].

In addition, they wanted to take on everyday jobs, shunning the vacuous pursuits popularized by Beckham and his ugly robot wife.

However, they know that it's not all easy work, like the potential problems of being a scientist.Said seven-year-old Keira Poulton:

“If you were a scientist, you could make a potion that could accidently poison someone which would be very bad.”
Much like watching Spurs games every week.

I realize this story has a rather tenuous link to football, but at the end of the day, it's good to know that not every child is chasing the vainglory of the David Beckham or Ronaldinho lifestyle.

So, Mr. Beckham, I implore you: become a builder now. It's the only way for you to salvage any self-respect.

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Gretna Updates

The weekend has passed, and Gretna is still alive. The team is not completely out of the woods yet, but the skyline does seem a little bit brighter in the South of Scotland. Careful, though, Gretna well-wishers, things could fall apart at the drop of a hat.

The best bit of news to come through for Gretna since last week is that the SPL granted Gretna's request for an advance on their league finish bonus. The emergency loan was given so that Gretna would be able to continue this season, at least until the schedule split. Given that the split is five games away, I think they will make it. What happens after that is anyone's guess at this point.

So, with the future assured beyond the weekend, Gretna traveled to Aberdeen, and lost 3-0. On the plus side, Gretna was able to field a full team, complete with subs. On the bad side, they had to use mostly youth squad players, since the senior squad had not been paid.

So, with the away trip behind them, Gretna was able to look forward to this weekend's assured payday against Celtic. Sure, they have to play their home games in Motherwell, 75 miles away, but at least Gretna get the home gate. Well, they will still get the home gate, but Gretna are no longer allowed to play at Motherwell. The SPL deemed that Fir Park is too banged up to continue to support two home squads, so now Gretna play their home matches in Livingston, which is just over 100 miles from Gretna. It sucks when all fans at a match qualify as "traveling support".

Still, at least it's a game, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. It seems that those senior players who stuck around for the team are not too happy with not getting paid. In fact, they are so unhappy, they almost started to strike. The strike was quashed with an emergency payment, but the amount paid was well short of what was owed to the players. Remember, the SPL has gone on record that if Gretna fail to field a team for a match, they are out of the league, and that has its own set of problems for everyone else in the league.

Finally, if I had a wish on the matter, this would be the only story on Gretna that would have made it to the pages of UF. In the midst of everything that was going on last week for the team, it seems that someone forgot to lock the kit room. Twenty pairs of boots were stolen from the Gretna dressing room midweek, and as of yet have not been recovered. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

Read more on "Gretna Updates"...

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Kids suck. Well, at least kids I don't like, they suck. But the kids I do like, they are ok. The rest, though, they suck. They are whiny, noisy, obnoxious and dirty.

But, I gotta admit kids are sometimes quite humorous, especially when they start to have rational thought but lack that filter that most adults develop between their thoughts and words. Zinedine Zidane, if he didn't know this already, probably knows now.

On his recent trip to Brazil, Zizou toured the country and played an exhibition match or two.

But, his presence has led to an attack on his friend Ronaldo.

From the report:

Zidane was even more rusty come an indoor exhibition match a little later. He had already made a fan in 11-year-old Guilherme Gomes de Assis, who won a signed France shirt from the former world player of the year.

An excited Guilherme declared he would henceforth support France, taking a swipe at Brazil's ailing star Ronaldo. "Ronaldo is fat and no longer scores goals," said the boy. "I prefer Zidane."

See? No filter. Sometimes I wish I could live that way. "Yes sir, I completely understand. You are an utter moron that has no idea about what is going on. And, I am screwing your wife." But, alas, that cannot be. Thankfully, we have little whipper snappers (and anonymous blog posts) to serve these functions.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

I'm sure you would be very welcome to wear this at Parkhead.

Don't say I never do anything nice for you. Not only do I bring you some of the best worst shirts you will ever see, I also sometimes provide you with an eBay link to go purchase it yourself. This week's horror show, in honor of their failure in front of net against Aberdeen yesterday, is Celtic's away shirt from '89-'91.

Sometimes I just don't know where to begin. I guess the color scheme is as good as any. It's not that this is yellow and green together. I like yellow and green together, ask my wife. But it has to be a strong yellow and a darker green. This is some namby-pamby yellow mixed with a lighter green. It makes me think of scrambled eggs with some parsley mixed in. Good for breakfast, but not to wear around all day.

Then there is the pattern. I understand the impetus of the late '80s and early '90s to get away from what had been cookie-cutter, boring shirts. But let's pick one idea and run with it. Either go with the thin stripes or the chevron thingies. Using both is akin to a local artist who adorns her beautiful painted canvas with a mess of papier-mâché. I understand that you have multiple, great ideas. Take the time to flesh them out separately, please. Thank you.

If I have sold you on this shirt, follow this link. Right now, you can import this beauty to the USA for under $25. Hurry, though, you only have about a day left to pick it up.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We are the Village Green Preservation Society

Rooney's house under construction.... no word on where the padded room will go

Anyone else love that Kinks album? Songs full of efforts to preserve the sleepy, small-town country life that used to exist up and down the country before urban sprawl. Ray Davies and co railed against big business and the influx of city-slickers looking for their slice of the Good Life.

Well, if that album had been produced today, they might have added another song, one that addressed the horrific, gaudy tastes of well-paid footballers.

The people of Alderley Edge, Cheshire, one of Britain's wealthiest villages, are striking back against the trend of footballers moving in and bulldozing bungalows in favour of high-priced mega-mansions.

And they're going to vote on whether or not they think the new buildings are spoiling the area.

Take that, Wayne Rooney!

The vote is being sought by the Edge Association, a community group that represents the rich and reclusive residents of the village, who are fed up of what's now known as "The Rooney Effect" after he and his fiancee knocked down a five-bedroom house in nearby Prestbury to make way for their $9 million mansion.

Said Edge Association spokesman Ian Standen:

"What we're concerned about is perfectly good houses being knocked down and redeveloped. It's changing the character of the village."
It's a hilarious situation that the North West's rich are putting themselves in. Simply, they don't want to share their old-aged utopias with the new wave of wealthy that's making their money in the area. Rooney, Michael Carrick, Roy Keane and Mark Hughes all live in the area, and England cricket star Andrew Flintoff recently moved in as well.

The vote is not binding by any means, but the Edge Association hopes to influence policy with the council next year. All the neighbouring villages will be paying attention as the drive to preserve historic houses and landmarks from the hands of football stars and their gaudy taste escalates.

We don't have this problem in Liverpool. We let our superstars live nearby, because let's face it: they're much easier to rob when they're right down the street.

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Scottish football team celebrates big promotion.... with soda

Champagne: not allowed in East Stirlingshire

Over the weekend, Scottish Third Division team East Fife won yet again, a 3-0 victory at East Stirlingshire that moved them to an unassailable 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Congratulations, East Fife! You're the champions, you're getting promoted, and it's time to celebrate, right?


The police confiscated all their champagne.

Directors of the club were warned that alcohol in glass containers was illegal in football grounds, and that the police would have reason to arrest and confiscate the bubbly should it be brought out. Fucking killjoys.

The police warned them several times to keep their booze on ice, forcing them to wait until they made it back to the safety and comfort of their local pub to toast their successes.

Said Chief Inspector Audrey McLeod, from Central Scotland Police:

"During the subsequent celebrations the bottles were produced and champagne was sprayed over the fans who were gathered on the pitch.
Officers again spoke to club officials, explaining the legislation again and highlighting the potential for glass bottles to present a health and safety issue, particularly with a number of families with children in the vicinity.
Following a brief discussion, the bottles were again removed."
Police 1, Common Sense 0.

I wish I had more of a joke here, but the story's hilarious enough. I'm just glad that the fine police of Central Scotland are doing their job and taking care of the real crimes in their jurisdiction. The thugs of East Fife FC must be stopped!

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Sven Will Save Thierry from Sad, Gloomy Barcelona, Promises Sunny Beaches of Manchester

Last week, you might have heard Thierry Henry telling Marca that he wasn't unhappy with Frank Rijkaard's system, just unhappy in general. And while he maintains seeing his daughter just five times in the last eight months has nothing to do with his performance at Barcelona, it would help his performance if he could see her more often.

Wait, what? Oh, and the accountants at Barcelona must be thrilled to learn that the club paid 24 million Euro for someone other than "Henry of Arsenal".

Whatever Titi was trying to say, Citeh boss Sven Goran Ericsson heard him loud and clear. Now Sven's #1 goal for the summer is to save Thierry from the dark cloud of sadness that envelops Camp Nou and to bring him to the City of Manchester Stadium.

This should work out well, because if the movie title is to be believed, the people of Manchester party for 24 hours at a time! And Spain is a sad, sad place – I know this because I have seen Pedro Almodóvar movies and Picasso's "Guernica".

And Henry isn't the only one in a funk at Barcelona. Knocking off Celtic in the Champions League turned out to be rather pyrrhic, with Leonel Messi going down in the first half with a torn thigh muscle again, raising questions about his long-term health. And former wonderboy Ronaldinho missed Thursday's practice and the team's trip to Almeria.

So it comes as surprise that Samuel Eto'o, the one member of the supposed "Magnificent Four" who looked to be the odd man out at the start of the season, is the only one of the quartet of high-priced forwards who's in form. And even he can't be too thrilled about Barça's current slump, which finds them closer to third place Villareal than to the La Liga-leading Real Madrid, after dropping two crucial points in a 2-2 draw at Almeria.

Now Barcelona finds itself seven points behind leaders Real Madrid and just two ahead of surging Villareal.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

How not to ingratiate yourself to a population

It's been a while since any soccer players have really said anything stupid or idiotic in the media, unless you count the almost-daily David Beckham self-updates about his playing condition, his skincare regimen, or his desire to make slippers.

However, Beitar Jerusalem's Croatian goalkeeper, Tvrtko Kale, has decided to throw his hat into the ring of poorly-timed, ill-conceived comments in the press.

In an interview with the Israeli TV Sport5 channel, Kale went on record about the Gaza conflict [scroll down].

Now, there are a whole lot of people wishing he hadn't.

Kale's ideas are simple and Bush-like in their focus. How do we deal with the problem? Simple: bomb the living fuck out of it.

"I get lots of SMS messages from my friends who ask, how is the constant Hamas shelling of Sderot and Ashkelon being allowed? How can the citizens stand this? And I remember how the Croats solved it when we had these problems: Shoot, kill, destroy, and then you have no more problems."
Kale was a soldier in the Croatian army during the battle for independence in the early 90s, so he can be excused slightly considering that before his soccer career took off, he did walk the walk somewhat.

However, you can't really excuse the idea of killing lots and lots of people, can you?

Here's a video of Kale in action, proving once again that it's virtually impossible to put together YouTube clips of goalkeeping. Check out his leaping save!

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Olympic Qualifying; Group Stage Final

As we American users say in the forums of hattrick when the Mexicans fail miserably: jajajajajajaja. USA, Canada, Guatemala and Honduras go through to the next round of qualifying, Mexico do not. Inside, a look at how that happened.

In Group A, we saw the reason the World Cup Finals play the final group matches at the same time. Before the USA-Honduras match even started, both teams knew they were going through. In the first match on Saturday, Panama took out its frustration on the undermanned Cuba squad, with Panama winning 4-1. At least Cuba was able to field 11 players this time, as Linares' suspension had been served. The result left both teams shy of the USA's point total, leading to a listless final match in the group.

The USA-Honduras match up was played as if both teams did not want to win the group. Results in Group B meant that the feared Mexican squad could only finish second at best, and the winner of Group A might have to face them. So both the USA, starting the day in second, and Honduras played the match not to win. The USA took it to the extreme when Charlie Davies sprayed a penalty about 3 yards wide of the right post in the 62nd minute. Davies earned another penalty in injury time, and a lackluster-so-far Eddie Gaven put it in the net.

Group A final standings (W-D-L; Pts; GD)
USA 2-1-0; 7; +2
Honduras 2-0-1; 6; +2
Panama 1-0-2; 3; +1
Cuba 0-1-2; 1; -5

In Group B, the sea change day was on Friday. Haiti pulled out a 2-1 thriller over Canada, but the real story was Guatemala defeating Mexico, also 2-1. It was Mexico's first loss at this level in 23 matches, and it propelled Guatemala into the next round.

On Sunday, the last two matches of the group were played. Canada, sitting on one point played Guatemala, who had already clinched first place in the group. Haiti, on three points, still needed a result to go through in their match against Mexico, who had their lone point from the Canada draw. If Guatemala played an inferior squad, it set up nicely for Canada to pip Mexico at the post, and it would appear that is what happened.

In the first of the day's two matches, Canada routed Guatemala 5-0. Will Johnson scored a brace on both sides of halftime, and Tosaint Ricketts added his own second-half double. The game was sealed in injury-time by Kyle Hall. Mexico now had a seriously pitched uphill climb ahead of them in the second match. The Mexicans came out quickly and put one in the net in the first 20 minutes. Mexico also caught the benefit of an early red card as Haiti's Aveska was sent off in the 26th minute. After Mexico went two up in the 61st, they had the mental breakdown that would lead to their tournament demise. In the 62nd minute, Leonel Saint-Preux broke through the Mexican defense and scored. Mexico, previously even on goal difference with Canada, now had to pull at least six goals to advance. They ended up with five, which might cost Hugo Sanchez the senior team job as well.

Group B final standings (W-D-L; Pts; GD)
Guatemala 2-0-1; 6; -3
Canada 1-1-1; 4; +4
Mexico 1-1-1; 4; +3
Haiti 1-0-2; 3; -4

The semifinals of the tournament, and the de facto Olympic bid finals, will be held on March 20 in Nashville. The matches are Guatemala-Honduras and USA-Canada. The first one should be a barn burner, the second one will (hopefully) be a walkover.

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The Bigus Tripus Roundup.

The Ricoh Arena: "Your ground is too big for you" (and your pies are shit.)

Well I am back. 0 for 2 with no goals and 2 red cards. Either I am unlucky or are Norwich are just shit at the moment? I have never been very lucky but unfortunately for me the later is the correct answer to that question.

Our trip to Coventry was certainly a fun day out. It's just a shame that the Norwich line up treated it in the same way. They were shocking. Spanish new boy Juan Velasco juant the wrong way letting Jay Tabb inside to score the games only goal 6 minutes in. Velasco was substituted on 21 mins and has not been seen since, nor is he likely to be.

I won't bore you all (or few) with a match report... needless to say the game was forgettable. What was I talking about again? Ah yes Coventry! We were crap and the referee lost his mind. Lets hope he finds it before we see that fucker near a Norwich game again.

Packimo (Michael Packard) indicates that the pies are so so. He later retracted this statement and called them 'shite'!

On to the pies. Generic steak and Kidley......... Thats what I said diddle I? Sorry, could not resist that one. The Ricoh is a great ground. Just like most new stadiums. Shame the people of Coventry don't agree. The place was like a morgue. 18,000 were inside but 4,000 sitting in our end.

Packimo was a little delicate on the way up to the Ricoh. I had introduced him to bitter and a decent curry the night before. Not to mention the magical beer scooter than runs from Soho to Stevenage (where we were staying - Up the boro!) at light speed powered only by Cobra.

Packimo grew fond of the bitter rather quickly! (second from the right)

Someone mentioned Ipsw...Ipsw..Them! (It's obligatory and my arm just springs into action on its own)

A night out back home is not complete without shoving your money into a machine with flashy lights (magnets to the drunk) and pushing the buttons in no particular order until you realize that you are going to win fuck all and have just missed the train while doing so.

"Ooooooooooo. Flashing lights and a spiny thingy"- Garry 'Gal' (QPR) Phillips shows Packimo how to lose 20 quid in just under 90 seconds. Wasting money seems to be a popular past time for QPR fans these days.

Sunday brought Packimo a trip to White Hart Lane. I gave my brother-in-law (another yid supporter) my ticket and sent them packing with a broken bottle and a manual on how to start a fight in the club shop over the last Berbatov 9 carat gold M-sized chav ring.

I stayed home and introduced my little angel (foreground) to her cousin. AHHHHHHHHH.....

Packimo returned with stories of Berbatov's alleged brilliance (Yids won 4-0) while waving a Spurs beanie bear. "They only had ten men" I sang over and over and over and over again.

We went to a little country pub in Aston in the evening and had a heated discussion with an Irish Liverpool fan.

- "IIIIIII'mm suo disappointed that they haven't won tha layygue in suo laang."

- "Get over it you spoilt twat. How many trophies do you want in 20 years. I just endured a nine-man morris dance in Coventry. Knob."

Packimo let him have it too.

The pub was so taken with the first American the place had EVER seen that they let us drink after hours. The land lady was wasted... maybe that was the reason.

Monday arrived and I was chuffed at the thought of heading to Colney (Norwich training ground) for a visit and a look at how we would defend Stoke's long throws the following night. The weather was the worst for years. Howling winds up to 80 mph and driving rain. A hurricane in England! Just my luck. We stayed in. So did the team apparently!

Later in the day we made a short trip to JJB sports in Stevenage to waste money on a lot of crap. Packimo bought a Spurs piggy bank and I bought my little boy and England shirt. Idiots. We are aware!

I also bought Lingering Bursitis some Frazzles. They made it home but are now more like Frizzles. Packimo sat on them at one point and so did I come to think of it! Sorry mate.

On Tuesday night we were invited to join Ex Norwich player and Radio Norfolk commentator Neil Adams (top man) and his family for dinner in Delia's restaurant before City played Stoke at Carrow Rd. Had a great time. The food was delicious.

Before dessert we were picked up by Norwich legend Jeremy Goss and walked through to the Gunn Club (named after legend Bryan Gunn) where he interviewed us in front of 300 as part of his hosting duties. Packimo was on good form and even sang to the crowd. They laughed and I laughed at him. Seriously though it was like watching Robin Williams at a Comedy club. I don't know what he was on but I wanted some!

I told a story about an Ipsw..Ipsw...IPSW...scummer that lives above the Norwich bar (George Keeley's) in NY and talked about the NY Canaries ( . Mike closed out with a song he had heard days earlier and another dig at the state of Coventry's pies.

We watched Norwich lose to a long throw from Rory Delap from a box owned by a Guy named Garry Mansell. A top fella!

Again I will not elaborate on the match as it is still too painful. Oh go on then. It wasn't that bad we played a lot better than we had against Coventry but still couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo. Cureton missed another sitter in the dying moments (similar to Coventry). Stoke, however, were crap and are a one-trick pony. They are very tall and physical like Watford. They will be destroyed in the Premier League if the go up. All they want to do is keep the ball in the air and exploit long throw-ins.

The following day we headed home with twice as much crap as we went with. I had eaten so many scotch eggs that I had the bug and craved more. Yesterday I whipped out the Delia Smith cook book and made my own. They are bloody hard to get right I can tell you. 4 left the pan burnt (looked like onion bhaji's) and 2 were edible....just.

Ask me nicely and I'll make you some!


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