Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breakaway used to be known as a biscuit, not a league.

If i were Welsh i may have far more enthusiasm for European football than the tiny amount i currently manage to muster. Local supporters, the average for a League of Wales game being around the three hundred mark, have a fair chance of mixing a wet league game on the Saturday with a competitive midweek away day (or long weekend on the beer) in Georgia, Estonia or Malta to name but a few. I believe there are a possible four places up for grabs for the Welsh, three in the league and one for the winners of their domestic cup competition. Only the champions can enter into the prestigious Champions League, the other three in the often mocked Europa League (second, third and either fourth or cup winners). I'd love a Thursday night voyage into the Europa League but alas there is very little chance of that unless they take up my notion of awarding a place to the winners of the Johnstone's Paint trophy.

The only experience i have of European competition is Sutton United's relative success in the amateur version of the Anglo Italian Cup during the early eighties. Similar sized crowds to that of the Welsh sides today, Sutton also played for the love of the game and the honour of representing their community rather than the breathtaking amounts of prize money the big guns aim for. In many cases cash strapped clubs struggle to negotiate the pitfalls of financing a trip abroad. You have to admire Guernsey for their valiant effort in the Combined Counties League and the fortnightly trips they make to the mainland.

Life at the higher echelons of the game is, as one would expect, far more glamorous. Is it so glamorous though that all identity and history becomes insignificant? The Beatles once said, to their cost a little, that they were bigger than Jesus. I sometimes wonder if the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona feel that they may be bigger than the leagues they play in. UEFA always give the impression that they are bigger than the game itself.

The European Cup was a wonderful competition, open only to the champions of each UEFA member. The Cup Winners Cup was obviously working on the same format, and then we had the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (later to become the UEFA Cup) for the also-rans who just missed out on domestic silverware. As great a distraction as these competitions were, they always played second fiddle to our first division and the grandest of all cup competitions, the FA Cup. Unfortunately the European game has mirrored the changes of our domestic game. As the Premier League has become the only trophy worth winning in England, the Champions League has become the only place to be for capturing the wider audience and it's rewards.

The irony in the name of the Champions League is famed enough, yet it would appear even more of a mockery is on the horizon. This season 76 clubs have contested the competition coming from 52 nations. The 76 is soon whittled down to an elite 32, all guaranteed an amount of revenue from the group stages. This week the 'delightful' Michel Platini announced plans to increase the group stages from 32 teams to 64. That means a possible seven teams could qualify for the 'champions elect' tournament from each England Spain and Germany. Scotland could even get five places instead of two! I'd like to think the Welsh along with the Faroe Islands and Iceland would get to double their entries to two.

It is still in the development stage but pressure is certainly on UEFA to come up with the goods. Barcelona president Sandro Rosell spoke whilst at a conference in the home of football, Qatar, demanding that if things don't change within the next couple of years the richest European clubs will form a breakaway league. An old age argument we've heard before i know, but if the Champions League is expanded clubs will be forced to play less domestic football. I dread the day that Champions League fixtures appear on the fixture list with a three o'clock Saturday kick off.

There is little doubt something will change as money dictates the game more and more. Take last night's Premier League action for example. Never has the game appeared in a more ridiculous fashion in my eyes.

Liverpool are not only finding victories hard to come by, it would seem shirt sales are hard to materialize too.
I don't believe in a city like Liverpool that the two are linked in any way, Liverpool fans like Newcastle are as passionate as they come and the red home shirts are selling in as high a number as they ever have. The away kits on the other hand need as much exposure as possible in an effort shift units. How else can you explain Liverpool arriving at White Hart Lane to face Tottenham in anything other than their classic, iconic, all red strip? The whole concept of colours clashing still managed to raise it's head due to the visitors wearing all all black away strip, the officials therefore having to change. As you can see from the photo above, Phil Dowd had to officiate the match wearing a red shirt. You couldn't make it up!

As a footnote whilst on the subject of footballers attire, the cold weather is coming upon us know and gloves and the like will become more and more common, although thankfully not snoods. There is still a strong element of players running out in short sleeve shirts but why oh why can't players wear a long sleeved version when they feel the cold? Current fashions, not to mention the advancement of sporting materials, dictate that players now parade themselves on the pitch in an awful under shirt and short combination. A tight fitting item commonly known as a base layer, nothing in football (again with the exception of snoods) has ever looked so ridiculous. Hang on, Peter Crouch's moustache does but let's not go there. The shirts remind me of an Olympic ski suit and appeal plummeted to an all time low last night when i saw Swansea's Spanish striker Michu wearing one that covered the palm of his hands, little holes cut out for his thumbs.

If the top players of the day are going to wear this kind of atrocity under their over used away kit thus forcing the ref to wear the colour of the home kit, then maybe, just maybe, Europe are welcome to them. Let them form their break away league and let the real week in week out football fans enjoy proper football in traditional competitions for the pure joy of playing football rather than to make their millions. Anyone fancy a weekend in Guernsey?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who's wearing what?

A couple of evenings ago i got my first opportunity to see for myself the all new re-branded Cardiff City. Not that you'd have known they were re branded other than for a small scattering of red shirts amongst the away support. In their change strip of all blue they looked like the Cardiff we've always known, even their imploding on the pitch was familiar.

So why then back in 2009 during their last visit to my club, Charlton Athletic, did they wear their then away strip of yellow? Our red and white hasn't changed and i don't believe in the space of three years blue clashes any less, or more, with red. Subbuteo would have gone bust immediately if the two teams that came in the box clashed, instead they went with that age old formula of the reds and the the blues.

If anything, in these modern days of colour television, it should be even easier to wear your first choice colours away from home. The days of lighter shorts on The Big Match are long behind us, so why then did, just a couple of seasons ago, every club visiting The Valley seem to wear a then very fashionable black outfit? From the home end it certainly made every team seem unidentifiable, even the days of a club being associated with a certain change colour are unfortunately a distant memory.

I realise this isn't a particularly new phenomenon, Peter Shirtliff famously scored a brace wearing all blue for Charlton against Leeds at St Andrews during a play off final replay to keep the Addicks in the old first division back in 1987. This season Charlton have been to Elland Road and managed to wear red.

It does seem to be a lot more commonplace nowadays though, the reasons why aren't so easy to discover. My initial thought was to blame kit manufacturers. Kit contracts are worth mega bucks today, Liverpool are reportedly netting £25 million for their deal with Warrior. Similar figures are being banded about as Adidas are potentially tipped to add Arsenal to their portfolio as early as next season. I imagine these ludicrous contracts have plenty of terms and conditions, clubs having to agree to them by clicking the appropriate box before hitting submit.

It can't just be the likes of Umbro or their new owners Nike that demand a certain amount of airings though, clubs must have similar wants. Wearing a shirt on the pitch is of course putting it in the shop window. Manufacturers and clubs are both businesses, the sole aim to make money. If, for example, the green away shirt belonging to Norwich City doesn't get a Premier League outing neither Errea nor the Canaries will see the pennies rolling in from replica sales.

In certain circumstances clubs will also have different sponsors on the home and away kits although this isn't too common place. Only Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday from the top two divisions this season adopt this practice yet i imagine both Radian B and Westfield Heath respectively ask the clubs to give them maximum publicity even if paying  (i'm guessing) a slightly reduced rate than those companies on the home kit.

The FA as we all know are sticklers for rules and regulations, you can bet your bottom dollar they've got some input into who wears what and when. I've not managed to find anything from the Football League, or lower even, but i have found an on-line version of  The Premier League Handbook.

RULES: SECTION F –PLAYER IDENTIFICATION AND STRIP an away kit may only be worn a maximum of eight occasions other than when the match official deems it necessary to do so. Or rather elaborate legal type jargon to that effect.

Lets take West Bromwich Albion for example. Their traditional blue and white stripes will clash at the six clubs that predominantly wear blue (i'm including blue hoops and stripes here), and so going on that principle the three who wear white also. If you add Newcastle's stripes to the equation the referee could insist on the change strip ten times. The club are allowed their quota of eight outings, a grand total in theory of eighteen league matches for their cherry red change shirt or as is common these days a third strip. Not bad for a total of nineteen league away days.

My feelings are to include the eight outings in with the obvious clashes, therefore increasing your chances of seeing the away side in their traditional colours, unless it's Cardiff of course.

But then i'm a nostalgic sentimentalist, not a high flying market leading businessman.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In Bed With Maradona

There's something special about winning a competition. A childlike euphoria takes control of your body resulting in a short period of time running insanely around in circles with your arms waving madly in the air. When the prize is something you actually wanted in the first place the power to control your speech goes as well, the words come out as gibberish while the volume intolerable.

Those of you who tweet frequently will be fully aware of competitions where entry requires a mere 'retweet'. Our timelines are full of them but who actually believes there is a chance of winning and a real prize at the end? When the wonderful folk at Ockley Books offered a copy of the brand new In Bed With Maradona's 'The First two Years' i thought i'd give a simple retweet, what was there to lose? I never normally win anything, hence the exaggerated reaction when notification came of my success.

In Bed With Maradona is at the forefront of the modern phenomenon that is the football blog. More and more blogs based on the beautiful game appear by the week but IBWM still sets the benchmark. Written by a multitude of talented and passionate wordsmiths, it reaches a level i can only dream of. Whether it's a discovery of something special at grass roots level, a day out at the league champions or a club you've never heard of based on the other side of the world, as a reader you're left begging for more and adding a visit to your own personal 'bucket list'.

With every article in the book having previously been posted on the blog, they all fit in with the 1000 word guidelines. This of course means you can pick the book up, open it anywhere and start reading, the perfect coffee table format. It also boasts superb artwork from the likes of Steve Welsh plus some dynamic photography, everything from ultras to almost derelict stadiums and of course some great images of a particular Argentinian footballer.

The quality of the final product is wonderful, the paper's of a real quality, the layout is neat, clear and professional whilst the content covers the pick of the crop from the first two years from the site. Twenty six chapters covering many different aspects of the game.

As a certain time of year approaches this really should be on all big kids wish list, it is the perfect stocking filler! Go on get a loved one to treat you, and if you have no loved ones, treat yourself.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Don't let Uncle Mark get drunk

Welcome to Arsene Wenger's Coat, a safe haven from all that's fashionable in football today.

You may be familiar with my Charlton ramblings at God, Charlton and Punk Rock, you may even  have read nostalgic articles i wrote for both The Football Attic and The Two Unfortunates. Arsene Wenger's Coat is a home for anything that doesn't really fit in anywhere else. Don't try and understand it though, it may be warm and cosy but it's ugly and often laughed at!

Recent posts at The Football Attic have centered around the topic of kit design, classic iconic shirts that still evoke golden memories. But what of today's offerings? Templates are still a mainstay of all but the elite, however there is a jewel or two hidden waiting to be discovered by the masses. Liverpool and Tottenham have come under the spotlight of late for their third kits, created by both the colour blind and those with fond memories of seeing Blackburn Rovers playing on a black and white TV. These are both concepts from manufacturers just breaking into the world of football, yet some of the more established names are worryingly average and far less creative.

One sportswear firm i've always had a soft spot for are Kappa. The Italian company are famous for their tight fitting jerseys, almost reminiscent of cycling tops. Never ashamed of a big logo they've somehow managed to remain classy in the process.

Watching the BBC's football flagship 'Match of the Day' at the weekend i caught my first glimpse of Fulham's third kit, a prime example of the Italian marque's finesse. An exquisite all black affair with a gold and white sash, the back to back man and women are as large as you'd expect on the shorts, they also make an appearance on the shoulders, whilst the main shirt sponsor is reduced to only three inches below a very well positioned club crest.

The sash oozes class, it's always a popular addition in South America both with the iconic Peru kit and also many club sides. Whether it gives Fulham a little touch of the Samba magic on the pitch remains to be seen, although you'd argue it certainly suited the style of a certain Dimitar Berbatov. Only Chelsea, AFC Bournemouth, Carlisle United, Sheffield United and AFC Wimbledon also contain the sash in their closet this season, but it's only Fulham that don't interrupt it with the sponsor name. Hat's off to Kappa, this is indeed my personal favourite of the season so far, the irony however of returning to the studio direct from the Madejski to Mark Lawrenson lounging over his chair in an almost Jabba the Hutt pose was quite disturbing. Lawro may not be the only former pro to have added a few pounds since living a life of luxury dining out on the profits of a Saturday analyzing football, but he's certainly the shabbiest.

In some kind of defense, he came from a period of footballers like Tony Grealish and Gerry Ryan, also both former Brighton stars, where an unkempt mop of hair twinned with a beard or a moustache was considered the norm.

My Panini albums were full of footballers with what was then a fashionable addition of facial hair. Lawro was no exception and was of course blessed with a great head of hair, it's a certainty that no matter how grey it may go he'll never be afflicted with baldness.

It's what's happened since that let's the honorary Irishman down. He has a fondness for vertically striped shirts, not the most flattering of designs for a man rotund in the mid-drift. On Saturday's show it was clearly visible how the lower buttons were straining and the vest underneath was peeking out in between them. Before i'm shot down in flames i'll point out that my stomach is a lot larger than it was in my prime too. I however will wear some light knitwear to cover any embarrassing flaws in my attire. What can be Lawro's excuse? He even has the girls in the BBC wardrobe and make up department to point him in the direction of his short failings.

Does he make up for his visual unhappiness with electric 'second to none' analysis and match commentary? Of course not, he's more akin to a younger version of Father Jack grunting his disapproval. Content enough when sitting in the studio chewing the fat with his old team mate Hansen and Walker's own Gary Lineker, yet a miserable sod of Meldrew stature when sat in the commentary box. Everyone's dream job and he makes it sound a chore. If it wasn't the God given right of all men to get more and more cantankerous the older they get i'd be slightly put out by his nonchalance.

There's a little bit of you that has to love him, every family has their own Mark Lawrenson. An Uncle who lives alone, who gets no advice on how to shop and dress, who begrudgingly turns up at family functions getting moodier and moodier the longer they are there. Their attendance isn't out of duty but more the chance to bag a good square meal and as much free alcohol as is possible. We are all under strict orders not to keep refilling his glass but secretly want to as he gets far funnier and ruder the more drink he consumes. Once he's drifting in and out of sleep we all talk under our breath remarking on how each time we see him he's let himself go more and more, i believe we also may even draw straws to see who has him round for Christmas dinner that year.

Poor old Lawro, he does get some stick. I believe it's all justified.