Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Charting the 2011/12 season in Football - Number 1

Following the successful Charting the Week in Football series last season, graphs and charts return to A United View as an occasional series throughout the season.

First up for the sarcasm laden treatment are two North London teams (and one wheeler dealer manager in particular), Gary Megson, Alan Shearer and Sky's technology.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Super Sunday at the Reebok

As a Blades fan it is not often you get the opportunity to watch a top of the table clash in the Premier League, but with the kids off to their grandparents for a few days I was able to join my wife (a season ticket holder at Bolton) at the Reebok as the top 2 from week one clashed.
It was a late call, up until mid afternoon Saturday I was still contemplating watching it on the sofa and saving the £28 that the cheapest Reebok tickets cost, but the lure of live football was too much to ignore. It was a good decision. 

Taking my seat behind the goal just before kick off i had a great view, only slightly obscured when Rik Waller took the seat in front shortly after. I was then further upset, picking up the match programme to be faced with a roaring Paul Robinson. He has never been one of my favourite players and was one of the most frequently nominated players in the My Dislikable XI series, so I am clearly not the only one. The sight of The Poisonous Squirrel in ecstatic open mouthed celebration was nearly enough to send me to the concourse. It really should be 18 rated top-shelf material.

Children - avert your eyes

Despite the empty seats, not unexpected given the ease with which I had been able to get one the day before, a decent atmosphere was building. Local rivalries stoked up further by an appeal in yesterday's papers from Wanderers' right back Gretar Steinsson for a fair welcome for Kun Aguero, stating that he had forgiven the Argentine for a spitting incident in Bolton's UEFA Cup clash with Atletico Madrid clash 3 years ago. The thing is, most Bolton fans had forgoteen it............until they read the article. Needless to say his every touch was booed and his name was often called out with a 't' on the end.

The only down side to the atmosphere were the youths with the drums pitchside, bang in front of me. I am sorry you shouldn't need a 12 year old with a bass drum to thump out your chants. 

You can stick your drumsticks up....

The match started at a decent tempo with both sides pushing forward with decent movement and play in an open game. Silva and Aguero were busy for City, popping up across the front line and often deeper, although Bolton worked hard to close them down and limit opportunities. Whilst the Wanderers attacked with intent and created a chance or two of their own, but too often their final ball was lacking, particularly from wide.

The big differences between the two teams could be summed up as pace and strength. City's back 4 and their central midfield shield looked tall and imposing and were able to brush off Bolton players with ease at times. Even the more diminutive players like Silva, Aguero and Milner seemed able to hold off challenges better than their Bolton counterparts. As much through speed of feet and balance as brutal strength. Players like Petrov and Eagles displayed little appetite for battle for Bolton.

Having said that, Lescott and Kompany (the Belgian in particular) were perhaps lucky to escape without a booking for persistent fouling, especially given the frequency of Mike Jones’ whistle. You cannot help feeling that if they had been up against a different opponent than Kevin Davies, the referee might not have been so lenient with the cards.
The fact that City took the lead in a half relatively even with chances, was due to a blunder from Jussi Jaaskelainen. A relatively tame shot from Silva squirmed under Jaaskelainen’s body and over the line. After being an impressive shot stopper over the last 10 years or so, there are noticeable signs that the years are starting to catch up with Bolton’s legendary custodian. Increasingly last season, including the high profile occasion of the FA Cup semi final, the Finnish keeper has demonstrated errors of judgement and slowness of reaction that suggest Adam Bogdan may be getting a chance sooner rather than later.
This may seem a tad harsh and I am taking nothing away from what was Gareth Barry's only contribution to the match, but I think Jussi was also slow off the mark for City's second. Sat right behind it, I thought that he had plenty of time to size it up and potentially stop it.

It would have been easy to assume that Bolton were out of the game at this point, but far from it. Continuing their commitment to attacking play, Bolton continued to look for opportunities against a City side that showed no signs of wanting to protect a lead. Throughout the game, City played with an attacking intent that was as much to their detriment (allowing Bolton space to play) as it was to their credit.

With seven minutes left in the half, Barry’s goal was the signal for many Bolton fans to head for the concourse for pie and pint and many will have only seen Klasnic pull one back with a sweet strike on TV screens as they queued. The ground was lifted once more and there was renewed optimism in the home end going into the break. Optimism that was soon knocked, right at the start of the second half.
Another mistake, a miscue from Knight, let in Dzeko and the Bosnian finished with aplomb. Despite this he looks far from the finished article. Travelling home I read tweets from respected football journalists saying how Dzeko impressed. Yet for me, he is a hard running front man, with a heavy touch and looks far from assured on the ball.
Behind once more, Bolton again fought back and a perfect glancing header from Davies beat Hart and clipped in off the inside of the post. At this point, with a rousing crowd encouraging the Wanderers forward and plenty of time left, I believed the Wanderers might have the momentum to draw level. Yet each attack seemed to fall down on the edge of the 18 yard box.
A Bolton attack falls down

In the end, City looked more likely to extend their lead creating clear cut chances and the increasingly influential James Milner drifted in from the left and created some great openings. Tevez came on to good effect, all it lacked was end product - shots flashing wide of target or blocked.
At the final whistle City fans were understandably delighted. Bolton fans had mixed emotions. Relief that the scoreline was respectable, frustration with the manner in which they gifted City two of the goals and at the fact that they couldn’t fight their way back level. I had enjoyed an open and entertaining game.
Bolton can look forward to a better season than I imagined pre-season. The squad is still a little lightweight, although a return to fitness and form of Mark Davies will help, as will the return from serious injury of Stuart Holden and Sean Davis. They still need a couple more players in their squad and an injection of pace is vital, particularly to offer something different up front. In the absence of Tuncay today, there was only Robbie Blake available to provide an option off the bench.
Their style of play is an ever-changing mix of direct play and short interchanges of passing. One such patient spell of little triangles eventually led to a great chance for Eagles in the second half only for it to be skewed and spurned. Chances like that need to be grabbed, especially when at a premium.

Back in Black - but not yet in the black

City displayed an impressive combination of strength and guile which, allied with attacking intent, showed a marked shift away from games earlier in Mancini’s reign. The chants of “Boring, Boring City” from their fans were rightly ironic. However, they did leave themselves open and better teams, with a little more craft, could have really had them rocking at 3-2 and even pulled level.
Mancini spoke afterwards of signing Nasri this week and you have to wonder where he fits in. City have such a large and talented squad that pieces of the jigsaw are seemingly inter-changeable from one week to the next. How seamlessly Mancini can achieve this tinkering will determine how successful City will be.
So what of my Premier League experience? Well it was a good, end to end game, with some world class players on show. I saw that, despite what Sky might try and tell you, the newly anointed Premier League saviour Aguero is human; shooting over from 8 yards with Jaaskelainen struggling to get back in position. It was played in a less than full stadium with the somewhat manufactured and derivative atmosphere that clubs and sometimes fans seem to want to foist on us these days. From the drummers and cheerleaders behind the goal, to Depeche Mode blaring out after Wanderers’ goals, to the celebration of the fans of the fifth best team in Poland by the fans of the fourth best team in England it is all a bit forced and, unlike the boys from Basildon, of that I can get enough.

The Polish celebration

Ticket: £28
View: Good
Programme: £3 (should have been discounted based on the cover)
Match Rating: 8/10
Value for money: 6/10  

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Rivera, Villa, Huth and A United View

On the 18th August 1943 Gianni Rivera was born. That was followed exactly 9 years later by the arrival in the world of Ricky Villa. The 18th August 1984 saw the birth of Robert Huth.

Then, on 18th August 2010, the world of football was introduced to a new arrival. The creativity of Rivera, the speed of thought of Villa and the aerial dom.... solid hard-hitting approach of Huth, A United View on Football displays few, if any, of those traits.

It started with me ranting about poorly run clubs and the fact that Manchester City could exert such influence over the Championship, by subsidising the loan of a player to Cardiff that the Bluebird could not have afforded themselves. So that more than just me and my Dad have read it, I have linked back to it here. The fact that more than 70 posts later A United View has seen it's first birthday is thanks to the support of many people too numerous to mention. It is hard to single individuals out.........but I will.

In the early days, my first few posts were being read by family and not even all of my friends. Thankfully, they were picked up on by 4 people in particular who started to support my prose with comments, retweets and encouragement; fellow Blade Karl Smout (@footysphere), football league sites (@TwoUnfortunates and @The72football - in particular Rob Langham and David Bevan) and Michael Hudson (@DolphinHotel) .

The fact that these guys took an interest in what I was doing encouraged me to keep going. Keeping going led to the opening up of opportunities to engage and collaborate with a whole host of great football fans, writers and bloggers both on their sites, A United View and on the football pitch at Northern Leagues United.

There has also been a significant amount of support from my fellow Blades, both on the @s24su forum and on Twitter #twitterblades, even though my content isn't exclusively Blades related. Thank you.

Thank you to those who have been willing to contribute to my blog, be it a View From Opposite Ends piece, a quote for an article or the 12 writers/fans who have provided their Dislikable XI.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife for her patience, especially when I am "on that bloody computer again, blogging or tweeting". Thankfully, the divorce papers haven't been served by tweet or comment on the blog..........yet.

The world of football writing and blogging is an ever-expanding scene, with much great content "lost" and unread amidst a vast amount of retweets, facebook shares and google searches. Chris Oakley wrote a great article about it here.

I don't have the niche that Chris refers to and neither am I wholly club specific. Whether A United View will still be here for its second birthday, who knows?  As I write, I've had over 17,500 page views in the first twelve months, most of them in the last six months, and that is really encouraging. Any comments below about what you like/dislike about A United View might help me decide where it goes in its second year.

For now, I thank you for your support and readership and, if I may, I'll point you to three of my favourite articles. Not necessarily the most read or the most commented upon. You can see those down the right hand side of the screen. Just three that I really enjoyed writing and I, personally, am most pleased with.

My Hopes for The Cradle of Football in 2011

For the Love of Football - Interview with Guy Mowbray

Faith in the Universal Liar

Up the Blades


18th August 2011

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

My Dislikable XI - Number 13 (Dave Stevens)

The unlucky 13th in the Dislikable XI series is supplied by a Royal in exile in the States - I am not referring to Sarah Ferguson. Dave Stevens is Reading born and bred, but being based in Las Vegas doesn't limit his ire towards this team of irritants. They are displayed in the red shirts of Swindon Town, although in choosing the colours Dave surprised himself, realising he hadn't actually picked any Town players.

You can follow Dave on twitter at!/shakefon

Goalkeeper Carlo Nash

I might as well start as I mean to go on, so I'll admit from the outset that a lot of my choices are based on actions against Reading players. Carlo gets the nod ahead of several other undesirable shot stoppers thanks to an incident in February of 2006, when Reading - high flying and a mere month away from sealing promotion to the Premier League for the first time ever - met Preston at home.  

With barely 5 minutes remaining in the first half and the scores tied at 1-1, Reading striker Dave Kitson chased down a long ball, only to be met (and clattered to the ground) by the on-rushing Carlo Nash, who - as memory serves - entered the 50/50 in a manner Jackie Chan would be proud of. Kitson went down and had to be replaced while Nash escaped without even being booked. Nasty. I like to call him Carlo "Rash", or at least I did when he would actually be able to get a game (zing).

Right Back Danny Mills

I've never been a fan of that rat-like bully with short-guy syndrome Gary Neville, so you'd think that the man who replaced him at a major tournament after injury would be on my good list. Well, you'd be right- unless, of course, that replacement was a weasel-like bully with short-guy syndrome, incapable of going an entire match without making at least one of the following: awful pass, reckless challenge, disciplinary faux pas or positioning error. Danny Mills: get out of my sight.

Left Back Julian Dicks

While I'm a fan of the physicality of English football, of players getting stuck in and not being afraid of being solid in the tackle, I don't rate players who build a career around unflinching hard challenges or those who revel in "hard man" nicknames.

Julian "The Terminator" Dicks basically fails my own personal "fit and proper persons" test on those factors alone but I'll admit that his influence on the (mercifully brief in popularity) "game" of Fouling Football that some of the more agricultural players at our primary school would whip out during a perfectly good kickaround certainly sealed his fate in being chosen at Left Back here.

Centre Back Chris Riggott

Nasty piece of work, Chris Riggott. A centre back with questionable ability, he travelled to Reading's Madejski stadium with Middlesbrough on the first day of the 2006/07 season. A sunny day, this was Reading's first ever game in the top flight. A game that hadn't started too well for the Royals, as they found themselves 2 down with barely 20-odd minutes gone. Riggott then proceeded to hack away at anyone and everyone who had the misfortune to be in spitting distance of the Boro goal - first his own team mate, Arca who had the audacity to clear the ball to stop it rolling over the line, and then - earning his spot in this dislikeable XI team - a few yards from the centre spot, he went in high on Dave Kitson (who had earlier scored Reading's first top flight goal in history) and did extensive damage to his knee, such that Kitson barely played for the rest of that inaugural Premier League season. Talentless Thug. 

On the plus side, in looking him up just now while writing this, I've seen he's unattached and doesn't have anyone interested in him. Karma's a bitch, Chris.

(Riggott subsequently re-signed for Derby County)
Centre Back John Terry
If the Oxford English Dictionary genuinely accepted photographs as definitions, and defined phrases as well as words, the entry for "Flatters to Deceive" would be a big ol' picture of John Terry.

I hate to break this to those England fans (probably Chelsea sympathizers) who haven't noticed this yet, but Terry's nowhere near as good as he's touted to be. Yeah, he'll throw himself in harms way to block a shot - bravo - but how much of England's "hoof it upfield" woes have come from JT? Plenty, as he seems to treat the ball like it's on fire - get it out as quickly as possible, disrupt, destroy! Give me a ball-playing centre back any day of the week over Mr. Route One. Oh, and his off-field dalliances
certainly don't help his cause.

Right Midfield Danny Murphy

2008. Reading's second season in the Premier League. That well known Syndrome has been in full effect, but on the last day of the season, there's still hope. As long as we win and Fulham do not, we're staying up. We travel to Derby. We put 4 past them. There's not long left in the days games - a mere 14 minutes of regulation time. Could we have performed the great escape? Would we live to fight anoth... oh god, Danny Murphy's scored a header. He never scores headers.

And thus, Fulham preserve their top flight status and we return to the familiar surrounds of the second tier. You know what, Danny Murphy? Fulham have had plenty of time to enjoy the top flight.  Wouldn't have done them any harm to drop down for a year or two. Reading were going to extend their stadium capacity if they stayed up. Thanks for killing off all those jobs, Danny Murphy. Oh, and the hopes and
dreams of many a Royals fan.

Left Midfield Stewart Downing
His inclusion here is not entirely his own doing, I must admit. But Stewart Downing deserves his place on the left flank here for the simple fact that there is currently a bidding war going on for him in excess of £15m. Why does that make him dislikeable?

Easy! Cause he's really nothing special. He's a winger and he's got less than 10 assists in the past 2 years. He plays on the left, is English, and yet has done nothing to solve the English Left Side dilemma. He drifts in and out of games and is lightweight to a fault. £15m! Put a decimal point in there and we'll talk, but that's ludicrous.

Central Midfield Michael Essien
This wasn't a difficult choice, the man seems to consider his job half done if he doesn't go flying in studs-up at least once per half. Seemingly not in possession of a footballing brain, Essien is a classic example of a brute who gets away with a lot of vicious, malicious challenges simple because he plays for one of the league's top clubs. Guaranteed if he was playing for the likes of Stoke, Wigan or Fulham, he'd spend the vast majority of the season watching from the stands as he served out yet another suspension.

Striker Dean Windass

I'm not sure I even need to explain this as I'm pretty sure most of you read the name and thought "yep..." but for completeness, I'll tell you why I'm including him.

I don't know how well known Ivar Ingimarsson is outside of the Championship, but to those of us who follow Reading, he was a great servant and well known for his discipline. Prior to the 2003/04 season, he'd never been sent off - and in fact, to date, he's only been sent off twice. The first time in his English football career that he saw red was thanks to the aforementioned Windass who, while playing for Bradford decided that football wasn't enough of a game and going on the wind up would be better.

Not content with biting Ricky Newman in the build up to Bradford's opener, he then punched Ivar before headbutting him subtly. The icelander (perhaps understandably) pushed him away and received a sending off for his troubles, courtesy of a clueless Linesman who claimed he elbowed Windass. All smiles, the "model pro" Windass came off the pitch at the end of the game saying "I've conned him, I've conned the ref!" pleased as punch, before having to be escorted back to the dressing room by his teammates as the Reading players moved to confront him for his antics... I certainly don't miss the guy in the game.
Striker Tommy Smith

So, it's August 2009. Us Royals fans are still reeling from a second half of the season capitulation (a feeling we should probably have been getting used to) that saw our mighty Reading team drop from 2nd place (and an immediate return to the top flight) to the playoffs and the inevitable loss to eventual winners Burnley. Oh, not to mention the subsequent sale of our top players (Kevin Doyle, I still miss you every day...) and the resignation of our most successful manager of all time, Steve Coppell.

Now I'm sure you can imagine, that's a lot to take in one go. So, to preparations for the new season. New manager, new plan. We're sat refreshing the transfers page on SkySports website, hoping for some good news and lo and behold, what's that? Tommy Smith has passed a medical and is set to sign??! The same Tommy Smith who scored against us a few times? A GOALSCORER?! Rejoice... until, of course, we discover that he's swanned off to Portsmouth and signed there instead. I feel like his subsequent lack of form is the gods showing their opinion of his decision.

Striker Kenny Miller

Where to begin with this spiteful little scrote. He first appeared on my radar as he scored for Wolves at the Madejski and proceeded to celebrate the goal in front of the home fans rather than the substantial away support that had travelled down from the midlands. You stay classy, Kenny Miller - way to disrespect both sets of fans in one fell swoop... He's further helped in to this team by my ancestral roots: my family on my mother's side are staunch Rangers supporters and I was reminded on many a family visit north of the border that you don't cross the old firm divide as a player - especially not twice.

Manager Alan Pardew
A great way to undo years of hard work at a club and the respect and admiration that comes with it is to down tools and walk out for a club in the same division. For extra points in the "lost credibility" stakes, go ahead and claim the move was too good to resist given how "massive" the club is. And so it was with Alan "Parjudas" Pardew, who - on the back of transforming Reading from a team doing little of anything in the 2nd division (as was) to play off contenders in the 1st division (the old names were better, weren't they?) - decided that he'd very much like to abandon all that and manage West Ham - a truly massive club...several positions below Reading.

I enjoyed every single defeat he suffered at that club, especially his first return to the Mad Stad and a brace from Dave Kitson and of course, the 2006 FA Cup Final where he oversaw his team losing a 2-0 lead, a 3-2 lead and then a penalty shootout. Oh how I never tire of seeing his smug face fall.

Previous XIs

No. 1 - A United View
No. 3 - 9-Men
No. 4 - William Abbs
No. 5 - Goaltastic
No. 6 - Football Charlie
No. 7 - Phil Lupton
No. 8 - Lee Doane
No. 9 - Leazes Terrace
No. 10 - Gib Football Show
No. 11 - The Exiled Robin
No. 12 - Ashley Hurst

Monday, 15 August 2011

Promising signs for the Blades

Yesterday I got my first look at Danny Wilson's Blades. Unusually, I haven't seen one minute of pre-season through work commitments and then a family holiday and I was quite looking forward to it.

Despite my reservations about Danny Wilson, I am firmly in the everyone should be given a chance camp. I was reasonably happy with his work in the transfer market over the Summer and a 2-0 away victory at Oldham was a good start to the season. Arriving at the turnstile at about 2:40pm via The Earl I was in good spirits, then it all went temporarily awry as this other post explains.

So when I did eventually get into Bramall Lane, what did I make of the Blades and the opposition provided by the Bees? Here are my post-match reflections.......

I thought the Blades opened up smartly and at a good tempo, with the freshly signed (that morning) Kevin McDonald making an instant impression in midfield. Making himself available and keeping play moving, maintaining possession. Composed on the ball, keeping it simple and providing much needed height in a midfield that seems to have comprised dwarfs for far too many years.

Playing one natural winger in Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, it was disappointing to see so little of the ball played down his side. Even temporary switches to the left wing saw the ball follow Stephen Quinn to the side of the pitch Mendez-Laing had previously been patrolling. As the game developed he started to see more and more of the ball and displayed a willingness to run at the Brentford defence that was always going to get the Blades fans quickly on his side. 

In fact, I would say he was having his most productive spell, just as he was substituted and taking both him and Slew off, immediately stripped United of pace and an element of unpredictably that the Bees defence were finding it increasingly difficult to handle. There was much praise of his performance on twitter afterwards, although I feel that the level of praise was perhaps somewhat heightened by the fact he could be name-checked with an @MendezLaing and the fact he has interacted with the fans on there quite a lot in the last week or so.

He certainly has talent and raw pace. Rather like forward Jordan Slew, I think he has much more to offer than we saw on Saturday. Fast running at defenders, with the quick feet to beat them, excited the crowd, but we need to see it more frequently and consistently, both throughout the match and from match to match. There also needs to be an end product more frequently and some of that can be put down to naivety that will hopefully be eradicated with experience.

For instance, Slew ran in from the left wing first half and took on a shot from a narrow angle when teammates were better placed. Having said that, what I really like about Slew is his willingness to turn/roll his defender and shoot and he took the goal well, although there was a deflection.

Of the other young prospects; academy graduate Harry Maguire continues to grow with experience and at times showed more composure than experienced colleague Neil Collins, who looked much more comfortable in a lower division. Matt Lowton looked better going forward than in his defensive duties and I can't help feeling he would be better deployed in midfield, but then who would play right back?

Understandably Wilson is playing experienced players ahead of youth where he can and seems content to rotate the bench each week. Of those yet to start, I would like to see more of David McAllister (who impressed greatly on debut last season) and, given the lack of contribution of Daniel Bogdanovic from the bench, I think Danny Philliskirk could offer something up front.

The final new boy to comment on is Lescinel Jean-Francois, who showed some nice touches but also a lack of concentration that could have left him exposed by better right wingers. He has clearly ingratiated himself to the fans and on one of his forays forward he demonstrated he has one hell of a shot on him. He just needs to lock on to his target!

Getting back to the match, after the bright first 15/20 minutes the Blades seemed to lose a bit of drive and were drawn into a scrappy midfield tussle. We saw this last season, where we don't profit from these spells of dominance, then pay the price. It didn't happen yesterday, but it could have.

Brentford battled hard in midfield, with Jonathan Douglas the main driving force, although an increasingly vocal and frustrated one as the match wore on. Yet they created little, one effort just over the bar, until an opening for Niall McGinn who curled a shot within a whisker of Simonsen's far post. That could have so easily been the punishment for our profligacy. Despite possession, Richard Lee was rarely tested until the final seconds of the half, when a great save led to pinball in the Bees' box. 

That aside, Brentford offered little and the substitution of the busy McGinn (always wanting the ball for the Bees) and the surprisingly ineffective Clayton Donaldson, did little to change things in the second half. It felt like the match would either drift towards a draw, or the Blades would have to up the ante around the box and pick up a win. The fact that there was neat and quick inter play leading to both goals, showed what was required and what we will need to break down teams this season.

It was hard to judge Brentford. I think they set up as many will at Bramall Lane this season. Keep it solid, work hard and look for a draw, or steal a winner. Few players stood out and Uwe Rosler said post-match that his players perhaps froze a little. I think they did as well.  

The Blades showed in long spells a willingness to keep the ball on the deck and play out from the keeper, although that did provide some hairy moments. I can see a style of play developing and it will be interesting to see how the team settles down, particularly after the transfer window closes. Nick Montgomery and Stephen Quinn were integral to the win yesterday, yet both could be gone in weeks as the wage billis slashed. Certainly replacements will be sought and on current form I would be more concerned about the loss of Quinn.

Montgomery has a ready made replacement in Michael Doyle, you could even argue that McAllister could/should also come in. I think given the youngsters peppering the squad an experienced central/left sided midfielder will be on Wilson's list.

The other factor that might affect how we settle down is the willingness of the manager to chop and change.  He certainly set up the side differently away at Oldham and maybe we will see a grafting central midfield partnership away, with creativity applied at home. Who knows?

What I do know is that the signs are promising. There is still plenty that can be improved upon, but that will be the same across the country two games in. Most Blades fans would happily accept two 2-0 victories to start the season. Now can we back the manager, continue to back the team and build on it? Please!


Full of excitement and optimism, my Blades watching season kicked off yesterday but I nearly missed kick off thanks to farcical problems at the ground. Arriving at the Kop turnstiles at the top of Shoreham Street at about 2:40pm, my 6 year old son tried his season card in the turnstile. It didn't work. I tried it for him. Red light, no entry.

I tried my card, green light and he pushed his way through. Now he was in the ground and I wasn't. I called out to my mate Steve who came and collected him the other side of the wall. I sought assistance from a steward so I could get into the ground. Two female stewards, right outside the gate explained that a lot of cards were not working then directed me to a senior steward with some sort of scanning machine who had 5 or 6 people gathered round him. I explained that my 6 year old son was in the ground, but they said the fact that he was with my mate was fine. Well he knows Steve, but as a nervous boy he will be wondering where his Dad is and what is going on?

I finally spoke to our harrassed man in the illuminous yellow jacket who informed me that the card was "blocked" and I would have to go to the ticket office to sort it out. Now I understand, these people were doing their jobs, they have processes to follow. After all, what is to stop someone turning up with a non-renewed card (there are plenty of them this season) and claiming they should be let in. But they are also unable to exercise any sensible discretion or common sense.

I set off round to Cherry Street, to be faced with two long queues stretching along the car park from both ticket office and promotions office. I rang Steve, my son was okay, but wanted me. They were heading up to the seats to see if my Dad and brother were in the ground.

I spoke to a steward, I told him my predicament and he headed over to speak to a steward and security outside the Promotions Office. The queues contained a lot of hot and angry people. Those trying to collect tickets, those trying to buy (including Brentford fans) and a lot of people with £300+ of season ticket blocked, including one father I spoke to in the same predicament as me, with a young son in the ground and him locked out.   

A steward got me to the head of the queue in the Promotions Office and a security lady called Tracey said to speak to her when I had got my ticket sorted and she would speed up my entry to the ground. Whilst waiting for my card to be investigated, I received a text from Steve. "Worse still, someone has a proper ticket for your seat!" Insult added to injury.

After a few minutes the member of staff came back and told me I couldn't use my son's card from last season. I said that mine automatically renews on the same card and, in the absence of any advice to the contrary when they were renewed, I thought the junior ticket would be the same. I was then told in an accusatory tone "Well you should have a new one". I said "I haven't received one", to which the telling reply was "Well you should have,if you haven't you might get it Monday"!! Was that an admittance that they had been sent out late? I was told I would have to come down and sort it out Monday. They were unable to explain how my seats had been sold to someone else. 

Paper ticket in hand I sought out Tracey and she took me through the South Stand turnstile gates, through the stand, around the pitch and to the Kop Supervisor who would sort out the duplicate ticket issue. As I wandered up to my seat, supervisor in tow, I saw a very relieved little boy and an empty seat. My Dad had explained that they were season ticket seats and after remaining in situ for a short while they eventually moved to other seats. The teams came out and I picked up my boy and held him up to watch, just in time. 

I've heard of problems in prior seasons, but to be caught up in it was a stressful and upsetting start to the afternoon, even before I have to watch Neil Collins try and defend. What bothered me more was the club's inability to cope with the situation. I was lucky I was moved through the queue quickly. Others, like the other Dad seperated from his son were less fortunate. 

Thanks Tracey, if only more people used the common sense and understanding approach as you. If you hadn't, I would have had a very upset son and missed a large proportion of the first half.

Knowing it was a reasonably widespread problem, I expected at least an acknowledgement on the club website. An apology to those inconvenienced through no fault of their own. It is 11:45, Sunday night. Nothing.

So tomorrow, whilst at work, I will have to ring up to sort out the blocked season ticket and make sure they haven't sold my seat to someone else for Tuesday night's game against Walsall. God help them, if they ask me to go down and sort it out in person.  

United have lost around 5,000 season ticket holders from last season. Maybe they want to treat those still around a little better.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Football League's Media Malaise

Some say the Football League doesn't get the coverage it deserves, me for one. Yet, as an organisation, it is partly culpable for this malaise both within the written and visual media. Nothing highlighted this more than the opening weekend of the football league season.

With The Football League Show usually cast off into the early hours of Sunday morning, post Match of the Day, expectations were understandably different this weekend. No Premier League, so no Shearer and Lawrenson to blight my screen and an earlier start for coverage of the first day of the English league programme. Wrong! Instead the BBC showed a level of contempt that enraged many by scheduling a repeat of Con Air at 10:15, relegating Manish and co to the cusp of midnight.

Throw in the fact that the regional football league programming on the BBC doesn't start until the new year, 5 months after the season starts, and the BBC (and ITV before them) have yet to settle on a satisfactory format. It is a real dog's dinner of coverage.

The BBC will point to the fact that the Football League Show is repeated on the red button, until noon the following day. That the goals are on the BBC website from the Monday. That people can record it and watch it later.

All well and good, but there is still a generation of viewers who aren't so technologically savvy, that don't own computers and think that the red button is for calling the warden or home help. My Nan is 92 years old, she loves her football and she took me to my early United games. How is she supposed to catch the 30 seconds of Blades highlights each week?

How about a Sunday lunchtime/afternoon repeat on BBC2? In fact if you are pushed for time, just cut out Claridge and Rosenior's analysis. The same used to be done to the Sunday repeat of Match of the Day. The programme will lose little as a result.

So how are the Football League culpable for the lack of care in BBC scheduling? Well they negotiated this deal. Surely conditions of the contract should state that their clubs and sponsors' product is displayed at a prominent time to maximise interest and viewers? Or maybe it is just about maximising the cash and bugger the end product?

I see little point in the BBC having ten live football league games if they cannot get their bread and butter coverage right. Now in the final year of their contracted coverage, is their any real motivation to change their product? Well, apart from losing Lizzie and her emails and texts from The Football League Show, seemingly not.

With the terrestrial highlights package yet to be agreed from next season and a much reduced price to be paid. Now is a chance for the Football League to try and get improved quality of coverage. It should be a right, not a request. 

Then there is the print media. This weekend, Henry Winter - respected journalist at The Daily Telegraph - highlighted issues facing him and colleagues in reporting on the opening weekend of football league action. In summary a large number of news and photo journalists from mainstream papers and the Press Association were not allowed access to the press facilities at football league grounds. This was due to a dispute with the papers about live updates from the grounds during matches, both on the papers’ websites and on social media, particularly twitter. More details are here.

Top online writer Stuart Fuller of immediately responded to Winter's tweet, saying that there are many writers who have had to cope without the luxuries of a press box for years and still turn out excellent prose. For me, Stuart is one of many such people.

Winter paid to get in at the City Ground, as did Oliver Holt of the Mirror at The Valley. Many others didn’t bother. After all these passionate auteurs of the beautiful game, wouldn’t pay to watch and report on a match out of their own pocket.

Today's coverage in The Daily Telegraph amounted to less than two pages, with two main match reports and about a tenth of the content taken up with the disclaimer stating why they couldn't offer a full service. But, in reality, would it have been that much different without the dispute?  Would the four pages dedicated to the Community Shield have been reduced? Would Alan Hansen’s column have been cut? Would the three pages of rugby coverage have been cut? Would the size of the ads have been cut and precious advertising revenue lost?

Yes the football league are not helping themselves, yet I find it hard to accept certain journalists and certain papers taking the moral high ground. For years the broadsheets have paid lip service to football outside of the Premier League. You may get one/two match reports from the Championship in your Sunday Telegraph/Sunday Times and even in The Times' Monday "The Game" supplement you get a one line summary and quote on each game.

They may have some of the better and more eloquent writers on the beautiful game, but sometimes all you want is an alternative and neutral view on the beautiful game that you watched, not 500 words on why Mike Ashley is a pillock, or Carlos Tevez should honour his contract at Manchester City.

The reports are what create debate and interest. This is a point made by Winter in this article following the Forest v Barnsley match he attended. Yet as valid as his point is, any interest fanned by the journos this week would simply be passing interest on their part, in the absence of their preferred product. Back to the football that Winter openly craved on twitter a few weeks back for him next week.

Although it is easy to criticise the tabloids for many things, the volume and range of coverage is/was always there. Every league match had a report of varying size in today’s Sun (despite the ban). The News of The World was purchased every Sunday, prior to its demise, in the knowledge I would see a Blades match report - something that my preferred reading matter couldn’t offer.

I suspect that for journalists like Winter it is easier to be damning on the football league and their stance. After all, does it really matter if you fall out with Charlton Athletic or Nottingham Forest? What is interesting is that at present the Premier League is facing a similar problem next weekend, unless a resolution is found. You cannot help feeling that it will be sorted by then. If it isn't, will Winter and co be as damning in their criticism of the Premier League clubs. Will they risk a Bates-esque ban for speaking out of turn about those whose relationships they so covet. I really hope it is put to the test.

In the meantime, there are plenty of well-written match reports around the internet, if you look hard enough. @lesrosbifs has been highlighting some on his twitter feed today. Written by people who have to pay to get in, who pay for their pies, their programme and their drinks. Well written articles, from entertaining angles. Maybe the print media are shooting themselves in the foot in this dispute as successfully as the Football League?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sun, Sea, Sand, Beer and Football League Predictions

Two weeks on a family holiday in Lanzarote has been a fabulous wind down, prior to the new football season starting. Although in reality, with the Euro U21 Championships, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America and the World Cups for Women and Men's U17 and U20, football has never really gone away. Unless you are Henry Winter, who bemoaned the wait for Premier League action in a tweet a couple of weeks ago, quickly backtracking when the "Little England" nature of his words were thrown back at him.

Two weeks in the sun, with little internet access and the remnants of the tabloid press to read, highlighted the fascination with the Premier League and dragged out stories of overpaid millionaires filling their pages. I have just about had my fill of Nasri,Tevez, Fabregas and Barton as much as I have had my fill of all inclusive buffets.  

So two weeks after the return of Scottish football (someone asked me, in all seriousness, if Scottish football had kicked off early to help them prepare for Euro 2012 next Summer); English football - well, excluding the bit that Henry is licking his lips in anticipation of - returns. For my team, but not for me it is a trip to Boundary Park as our League One experience kicks off, after a 22 year absence from the third tier.

I have returned to a plethora of season previews and predictions. Some of which I have contributed to. If you pick up this month's When Saturday Comes or World Soccer magazines, I have provided the Blades previews. I would also encourage you to view online (or download) the excellent Football League preview from The 72 and The Two Unfortunates which you can find here. It's more than a match for some of the more mainstream previews available and very professionally done (and it is free!). I again answered their questions on the Blades.

But what about my views on the wider Football League. Last week, pint of Tropical in one hand, pen in the other, I jotted down my thoughts on who would be where at the end of next season, unprejudiced by the season reviews I am yet to properly peruse and here they are. Don't go putting any money on them....I haven't!:


Leicester City
West Ham United

It is hard to see past these two teams. If anything the weight of expectation may be there only downfall.

Leicester have made some astute signings in the Summer, to complement a squad that perhaps should have delivered more last season.  Lee Peltier is more than capable of making the step up, whilst Neil Danns, Sean St Ledger and Matt Mills have been consistently strong at this level. A potential centre back pairing of Mills and St Ledger would be the dream of any club in the Championship. Throw in the Premier League experience of Johnson, Pantsil, Konchesky and Nugent and the strength in depth should see them home.

West Ham have a good manger in Allardyce. A manager who has taken a club out of this division before, albeit some time ago. It pains me to say it, but he is the right man to galvanise the Hammers and his quartet of ex-Bolton signings demonstrate a knowledge of what is required to get out of this division. The stand out signing is Kevin Nolan, a regular scorer from midfield in the top division and the driving force behind Newcastle's title two seasons ago.

Play Offs:
Ipswich - good manager in Jewell, good signings in Chopra, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Bowyer and I am not sure Wickham is that much of a miss.

Leeds - loss of Bradley Johnson is a blow, but I can see them in the play off push. Well-drilled and organised by Grayson.

Birmingham - Assuming the financial meltdown at St Andrews is not imminent I can't see them below the Top 6.

Brighton & Hove Albion - There is always one side who kick-on from a prior year promotion and the Seagulls are just that club for me. The move away from the Withdean to the Amex will be a massive boost and will add to the momentum.

Doncaster Rovers
Crystal Palace
Coventry City

Doncaster slipped away last season and if the season had run on for a couple of more weeks they would have been at real risk of being dragged into the relegation scrap. I cannot foresee anything other than a relegation scrap this season. With the townspeople still not supporting their club and fans starting to turn on Sean O'Driscoll at times last season,when results didn't result from attractive football I can see a club stretched this season. O'Driscoll, never the most effervescent character, sounded like he had lost his mojo in the latter part of last season. He will need to get it back.

Palace seem to be perennially close to the drop and I think this is the year they will finally succumb. The loss of Danns is a big blow and I am not sure the positive impact of Dougie Freedman's appointment will carry over into this season.

Coventry are a club with big problems and if those financial issues lead to administration I cannot see any way back. Administration aside, I think they will struggle badly this season.
League One:

League One:

Preston North End
Charlton Athletic

PNE have a good coach in Phil Brown, although that remains a matter of some debate for many - including their fans -  and retain a strong squad for League One. Of the three relegated clubs, I see them in the best position to bounce back.

Charlton have failed to live up to expectations for the last few seasons and, despite his hero status as a player, many question Chris Powell's managerial capabilities. However, astute signings for League One means I can see them having a successful season.

Play Offs:

Huddersfield Town - A good young manager and generally retained a good squad. Even though quality has left, quality has come in. The signing of Anton Robinson stands out for me. Will push for automatic.

Scunthorpe United have lost several players, but they have bounced back before and have an experienced lower league manager in Alan Knill. Knowing how to get out of League One will help them immensely.

Chesterfield - similar to the Brighton prediction, I see a club with momentum potentially pushing for the play offs, maybe more successfully than Rochdale last season. How they cope with the loss of Craig Davies and Dean Smalley will be key.


Rochdale - the loss of Keith Hill and several players, some of whom have followed him to Barnsley, will hit hard. Sadly I can see a club sliding back after a great season last season.
Tranmere Rovers - Inexperienced manager, leaky defence, a struggle to survive.

Bury - not sure they have enough about them, although if they do survive it will be down to Ryan Lowe maintaining his goalscoring record

Stevenage Borough - could be considered lucky to have made it up and will soon be found out at the higher level. Hopefully the crudity of their play will be recognised by officials.

League Two

Swindon Town
Bristol Rovers
Rotherham United

Swindon, even without the appointment of Di Canio as manager, would have been favourites to get an immediate return to League One. If anything, his appointment makes their task a little bit harder. I still cannot see beyond them though.

Bristol Rovers have a good young manager in Paul Buckle who brought success to Torquay United last season, before his controversial move and they retain a good squad for League Two.

Many Rotherham fans will not foresee a season of success and a lot will depend on how quickly they settle after a Summer where Andy Scott has brought in a large number of players. They still have Adam Le Fondre and even if he were to leave, it should leave Scott a decent kitty to fund replacement(s).
Play Offs:

Accrington Stanley - long serving manger, a team who knows what he wants and a good last season to build upon 

Oxford United - this is the season for Oxford to kick on under an impressive young manager, could well push for automatic

Gillingham - A young and hungry squad who will be well organised under Andy Hessenthaler

Dagenham & Redbridge - the loss of  of the widely coveted Danny Green is a blow, but I can see a strong attempt to bounce back


Barnet - yet another season of struggle at Underhill and I don't think the goals of McLeod and Kabba will be enough.

Macclesfield Town - this is the year that the club with small gates and small ambitions finally succumb.