Big Night

Well, it could be, but I’m not getting my hopes up just yet. Still, that’s not stopped thousands of fans from queuing up around the block at Beautiful Downtown Bramall Lane to try and get tickets for the match later.

It’s these sort of evenings that remind you how difficult it is to support your club from afar. The atmosphere is going to be electric and I would love to be there, but I will have to make do with watching Premiership footy on my sofa and not straying too far from Whatsapp.

And of course, if it doesn’t work out tonight, there are still plenty more opportunities for promotion to be secured – the next one being on Saturday. Still, it would be nice to get things sorted this evening.

Apparently, I’m supposed to put stuff like #ForgedInSteel and #RedAndWhiteWizards here, but let’s rather settle for #NevouslyDrinkingBrandyOnTheCouchInCapeTown.

Defeatwood Town

Bad news for those of you not into football, because I am into football and today, despite the fact that my team didn’t actually play, has been a good day.

Let’s mentally wander up to Uwe Rösler’s Highbury Stadium (no, not that one, this one) and enjoy Nicky Ajose’s late goal for relegation threatened Swindon Town.

That goal means that Fleetwood Town lost today, and remain in third place in League One on 69 points.

With only the top two guaranteed to go up, I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and I reckon that even if they were to win all of their remaining 6 games, Fleetwood can ‘only’ get 87 points.

That means that if Sheffield United can win just two more games (taking them to 88 points) they are assured of promotion.

FINALLY!!!!!!!

However, further rudimentary calculations suggest that if Sheffield United win on Wednesday at home to Coventry, and Fleetwood lose on the same evening at Oxford – it’s a done deal.

I am going to be a quivering wreck of emotions and mounting anticipation this week.

Be gentle.

The Magic Number

De La Soul fans will know what I’m on about.
It’s three, and today’s blog post is documenting my first EVER hat-trick for my football team, a mere 12 years after I first pulled on the team jersey.

Some players get hat-tricks fairly regularly, but as a big, slow defender, I generally don’t get near the opposition goal much. To be honest, sometimes I don’t even get near the opposition half. But last night for some reason, caution was flung to the wind and I stepped up for one surprisingly calmly taken goal in the first half, another smooth finish halfway through the second, and then a desperate smack from a rebound off the keeper in the final 2 minutes.
Meh. It still counted.

My next hat-trick, should I have started some sort of pattern here, will therefore come in 2029, by which time I will be [ever so] old and we’ll all be playing football on hoverbikes and with laser footballs (or something).

I’m joking, of course. I will never score another hat-trick. Which is why I’m telling you all about this one. Our game last night might not have lived up to the excitement of Leicester’s or Sheffield United’s, but I’m unconcerned by that.

Three – it’s the magic number.

To cheat or not to cheat?

That is the question.
And it’s actually tougher to answer than you might think.

Luis Suárez is, once again, the centre of attention for his last minute antics in a big football match. Luis rose to international prominence with his goalline handball at Soccer City which effectively knocked Ghana out of the 2010 World Cup. And, though I hate to say it now, I defended him over that (although it was mainly just to pass contrary comment on the stupid people on social media).
Forr me, that handball was an instinctive thing – he was on the line, the ball flew at him, instant self-preservation and desperation set in. Four years of preparation, of blood, sweat, tears and hard work came down to that split second:

I would have stopped that shot with my hand if I’d have been on the line that night. So would David Beckham, so would Lionel Messi, neither would Robert Green.

He might have been a thoroughly despicable, cheating, nasty piece of work, but I maintain that that infamous handball was involuntary.

But then… the biting, the diving, the racism, the diving, the biting and the diving since then?
Less involuntary. More considered. Calculated. Controlled.

Deliberate.

Ugh.

The 90th minute dive which won the penalty which assisted Barcelona through at the Nou Camp was disgraceful. It’s difficult not to look at any incident involving Luis Suárez without cheat-tinted spectacles, but even setting aside any dislike for him and his team of UEFA’s darlings, Wednesday evening may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. (Suárez’ collar bone did survive though, despite the obvious agony as he fell to the floor having not been karate chopped across the neck.)

Anyway, the main reason for this post is to share one of the excellent newspaper articles and soundbites that this has generated. Silver linings – sometimes you’ve just got to try and find them.

Step forward, then Ewan Murray in the Guardian:

Once again the cottage industry that is the lauding of all things La Liga, and Barcelona in particular, belies what appear to be dark arts. The Barça brand matters more than what should always be established codes of football conduct. Pundits fawn, laughably in respect of former footballers who would rightly be incandescent had they suffered at the hands of Barça’s routinely wobbly forwards.

If the awarding of Barcelona’s first penalty of the night was dubious, Thomas Meunier committing the apparently fatal sin of falling over with Neymar in close proximity, the hosts’ second, which fuelled the fairytale, represented a blatant act of cheating.

Ewan pulls no punches, voicing opinions which many of us have been harbouring for some time now.

If you watch back through the dying stages, Barça’s players are throwing themselves to the floor with such desperation it is comical. The not-so- subtle message, as witnessed by millions including impressionable young footballers? When in doubt, when things get seriously tough, keep the conning of officials at the forefront of your mind. The ruse is even more effective when a team are at home, in such an intense atmosphere as the Camp Nou.

Preach, Ewan! Preach!

Please, can the thing that comes of this be the fast forwarding of video-assistants for the referees. The pathetic extra official on the goal line experiment has had virtually zero positive effect and needs to be scrapped in favour of a rugby-style TMO. Of course, if this were the case, Suárez would be off (having been booked for diving earlier in the game) and Barca would be out. Maybe that sort of thing is why technology hasn’t been introduced. Convenient human error being a great way to ensure your pet team continue to prevail.

But I’m sounding bitter and cynical now (albeit with good reason).

Suárez will go on Suárezing for just as long as he is allowed to do so.
The FA used post-match video evidence to look back at incidents in the ManU v Bournemouth game and Tyrone Mings and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were rightly handed bans for breaking the rules.

What sanction then for Luis and Barca? (spoiler: it’s none)

Now [FIFA] need to allow the reviewing of video evidence after the game for players diving and then suspend them.
Either that or maybe make some more big bucks by researching, developing and marketing whatever it is that allows players like Pedro and Javier Mascherano to miraculously recover and get on with the game 5 seconds after what appears to be a career-threatening injury.

Hmm. It’s (still) time to drag football’s governing body, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

Team talk

We lost our 5-a-side football match last night. These things happen. It’s never great when they do, but there’s more to life than winning.
There was a cricket match on at Newlands and we were a bit short on players. No-one is saying that those two things were connected, but it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that suspicions were voiced.

Anyway, at half time, there was only one goal in it and there was, as they say, all to play for.
We huddled as the coach called us in for the rousing half time team talk.

He began:

Listen, guys.
We’re a goal behind.
They are younger, fitter and faster than us.
We are older, fatter and slower than them.
They have four substitutes.
We only have one.

It made for difficult listening. Not least because it was all true.
We knew that we were up against it.
But here came the motivational bit, the clarion call to action, the stirring, inspiring conclusion to the monologue. The words which would carry us triumphantly through the trials and tribulations of the upcoming twenty minutes:

Except… that was it. There was no more. At that point, he wandered off the field, Heineken in hand.

Funny thing is, it didn’t really sink in at the time. It was only in the post-mortem after the game that we realised just how lacking in encouragement the team talk had been. That said, in no way am I blaming the lack of half time positivity for the disappointing result.

But I have to say that it certainly didn’t help.