Archive for the ‘football’ Category

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It wasn’t meant to end like this. Not this way.

Anyone with half a football brain knew that whatever unifying effect the fallen Neymar may have had on the Brazilian team, it was unlikely to be enough to beat Germany.

To lose a close-fought match is one thing but to be so completely and utterly humiliated, not only by the ruthless brilliance of your opponent but also through your own staggering incompetence, is quite another. For it to happen to Brazil of all nations? In a World Cup semi-final? At home? It still beggars the imagination.

And yet, being in Brazil these past few weeks there was a sense that while organisers had been frantically papering over the obvious cracks in the infrastructure, Luis Felipe Scolari had been doing much the same on the field. Neymar’s luminescence couldn’t completely conceal Brazil’s alarming shortcomings in defence and with Thiago Silva’s absence, the whole thing unravelled. In their increasing desperation to erase the ghosts of 1950, they sowed the seeds of a disaster that will long outlive the Maracananzo in infamy.

Has there ever been a more shambolic defensive display at this level than that of David Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo and the ironic Dante? An inferno indeed. Incredibly, of course, David Luiz’s transfer to Paris St Germain has just made him the world’s most expensive defender. I do hope they kept the receipt.

Watching the game was a strange experience, going from surprise and shock to eventual embarrassment and nervous laughter. The Brazilian fans, who to their credit stood and applauded their German conquerors, probably felt much the same and it is they who I really feel sorry for.

Whatever unrealistic expectations they may have had of their clay-footed heroes, their infectious joy and emotion, and generosity to visitors, has done much more than any confected FIFA hype to create a truly memorable tournament.

I have no doubt that there will be much anger among them now, which may increase to dangerous levels once the final is finished on Sunday. The irony of one cruel joke doing the rounds – that this was Brazil’s biggest World Cup loss since paying for this one – will not be lost on them.

Victory would not have assuaged any of the deep socio-economic issues that afflict this beautiful country but on a football level it mattered. It really mattered.

For all their big fat salaries and sponsorship deals, this defeat – and indeed the manner of Germany’s victory – was a reminder to the big name players that this is what the game is truly about. As Danny Blanchflower, captain of the famous Tottenham Hotspur side of the early 1960s, memorably once put it: “The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” It is matches like this that are remembered, not your latest Nike or Beats ad.

It may take time but Brazil and its football will recover from this. There have been, after all, five world titles since 1950. It will recover precisely and perversely because of nights like July 8, 2014.

Except that now we all want to play like Germany, not Brazil.

My friend and former Royal Gazette reporter Neil Roberts is a man after my own heart. “What is life without football and music?” he asks towards the end of Blues & Beatles, his entertaining new book about growing up obsessed with Everton FC and the Fab Four – even though the band broke up the year before Neil was born … well south of Merseyside in St. Alban’s, Hertfordshire.

This book is in the same vein as Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and will strike a familiar chord with us obsessives whose memories and moods are defined by the ups and downs of their chosen team and life’s milestones are marked by great albums and memorable gigs. I thought about writing a similar book about QPR and Rod Stewart – only I would have probably topped myself having to write about the R’s depressing 15 years in the wilderness and Stewart’s pitiful squandering of his God-given talent since the late 70s.)

In Neil’s case, his twin obsessions were passed down from his dad Colin, who hails from the Wirral, and the book tells how these become the touchstones through which father and son communicate and remain connected through the turmoil of a family breakup. I worked with both Colin and Neil at the Gazette (it was Colin, then the deputy editor, who picked me up at the airport when I first arrived in Bermuda in December, 1982), so I got a kick out of the island episodes – although knowing both of them, it was painful to read some of the more emotional episodes.

But as someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, that’s to Neil Roberts’ credit. A former BBC and ITN reporter, he writes in a short, snappy style almost as if he is talking to camera and is unabashed about revealing his feelings, which are frequently touchingly sentimental, whether he’s recalling grandparents, old girlfriends or nervously meeting his heroes like Duncan Ferguson or his beloved Paul McCartney. He is, and always will be, a fan at heart and that passion runs throughout Blues & Beatles which is all the better for it.

The person you end up really feeling sorry, though, for is young George, Neil’s son. At age 7 he is already following the twin family traditions (or curses?) even though he must already realise that Everton will only get into Europe again if there’s a war and that the chances of Macca making another decent album at his age are as likely as a Beatles reunion.

The poor lad is doomed to a life of disappointment. Still, it will give him something to moan about in later life – just like a real Scouser!

[adapted from original review on amazon.co.uk]

... and that's what we think about FIFA's "branding"

As the World Cup winds down, here’s a few things I learnt about the World’s Greatest Sporting Event (FIFA TM) while on my travels.

  1. David Villa is a genius. If you think he looks quick on TV, you should see him in the flesh. His pace, vision and reactions have to be seen to be believed. This goal against Honduras (obligingly scored right in front of us at Ellis Park) was sublime.
  2. FIFA branding sucks. I know FIFA’s global sponsorship deals are what keeps the whole circus going but does every single World Cup venue and experience have to be exactly the same? Apart from packets of biltong and the Ellis Park pies, local products were excluded from the stadiums by FIFA who only allowed Coca-Cola drinks, watery Budweiser beer and the blandest of hotdogs. Oh – and you could only pay by Visa.
  3. England really were that bad. As Alexi Lalas told a perplexed fellow ESPN panelist Steve McManaman after the 0-0 debacle against Algeria, “maybe they’re just not that good”. No, Alexi, they were much worse … (more…)

Tickets? Check. Passport? Check. Bullet-proof vest? Well hopefully not … On Thursday I set out for South Africa for the World Cup and it’s hard not to feel like a kid at Christmas.

This will be my fourth mundial having previously been to USA 94, France 98 and Germany 06 but the anticipation never wanes. And experiencing the event in Africa for the first time makes it extra special.

I’ll be traveling with the usual trio of footy-mad mates and we’re lucky enough to have 10 matches lined up in 14 days, kicking off with the mouth-watering prospect of Brazil v Ivory Coast in Soccer City on June 20. We’ll also see Germany v Ghana, Spain v Chile amongst others and, if the group seedings go to plan, England in the round of 16 in Rustenburg and a possible Argentina v Germany quarter-final in Cape Town. I can’t wait – although we will have to spend three days getting there first via New York and Barcelona (don’t ask – it was the only way we could get there for under $1500). (more…)

poor relations

Posted: October 7, 2009 in football

If QPR owner  Lakshmi Mittal is the wealthiest man in British football and co-owner Bernie Ecclestone is No.8, how come we get lumped with Jim Magilton (nice guy but hardly a coach with a winning pedigree). And precious little seems to have been invested in the quality players we need to return to the Promised Premierland. Come on Lakshmi, spare us a few extra shekels!

sports finals

Posted: June 18, 2009 in football, media

Pink ‘uns and Green ‘uns in black and white – and read all over | David Foot | Football | The Guardian.

A nostalgic piece that will probably mean very little to anyone under the age of 30. Sports Finals, the Saturday night sports newspapers that appeared in most major UK cities barely 30 minutes after the final whistle, are long gone. They must seem an anachronism now in the internet age where you can get minute-by-minute reports on your phone but they were an exciting phenomenon to work on.

I was lucky enough to have worked for a while on the now defunct Evening Post-Echo in Hemel Hempstead in the early 80s, alternating between working on the sub-editing desk and filing copy -by phone – from a First Division ground. It never ceased to amaze me how we got it out – even more so looking back at how labour-intensive it was in those pig-headed union days before journalists were allowed to use computers.

It was hard work but rewarding too – there’s nothing like having to dictate a new intro on the fly when some bastard at Highbury scores a last-minute winner to sharpen your reporting skills!

Bummer for Newcastle

Posted: May 24, 2009 in football, humour

And didn’t he look  an arse as the Geordies got relegated! Bet he was the butt of a few jokes …