The joy of six

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Football went goal mad last weekend with Chelsea, Arsenal, Newcastle and Rotherham (unfortunately) all scoring 6 against the unfortunate Wigan, Blackpool, Villa and Cheltenham respectively.

This posed a number of questions, especially in relation to the premier league.  Are we seeing a drop in the competitiveness which the English top flight used to pride itself on? Are Chelsea favourites to retain their premier league crown? And have Blackpool got a chance of staying up this season?

Malouda celebrates during Chelsea's 6-0 trouncing of Wigan

First up, Chelsea V Wigan, a game where the fact that Chelsea scored 6 goals wasn’t actually the biggest talking point. Yes, Chelsea looked their normal ruthless selves but Wigan dominated the majority of the first half which could be seen as a positive, but equally, if they play well and concede 6, god knows what will happen when they have an off day. The game was also notable for its lack of corners – not one corner was conceded throughout the whole game, a record that dates back to… oooooooh at least 2004 (when corner statistics began).

"Look at me Fabio!"

Arsenal V Blackpool also had a certain 6 appeal with the enigma that is Theo Walcott scoring a hat-trick – bringing the tangerine dream of Blackpool back down to earth with a bump. Walcott can often be wasteful and go missing for large parts of a game but against Blackpool he was at his rampaging best – something which can only improve his England cause. As for Blackpool, after their opening day win against a dire Wigan side they had reason to be hopeful for their trip to the emirates, however, the team that turned up on saturday were less Johann Cruyff’s Oranje but more like that fat guy off the Tango advert .

A Newcastle pile on (it was either this or Joey Barton's dodgy 'tache)

Newcastle’s sixy football was probably one of the more surprising results of the weekend with Martin O’Neill leaping from the claret and blue plane just before it began it’s nosedive and Andy Carroll surprising anyone who didn’t pay attention to the Championship last season. The sale of Milner to Man City for a princely sum and Stephen Ireland to boot appeared, to be a good deal, but a rudderless Villa looked lost considering the players were meant to be carefree and happy (apparently they celebrated O’Neill’s exit by sending pictures of champagne bottles to each other). As for Newcastle, they played like a team who deserved to be in the premiership, not like a team who thought they were too big to go down, a la 2009. If they can turn St James’ Park into the fortress it was, then it won’t be long before that fog on the tyne lifts.

Adam Le Fondre - here's hoping we've seen the last of him

Cheltenham, was a whole different story. We scored 4 away from home and lost 6-4. There are some redeeming aspects to take from the performance however. Firstly Adam Le Fondre is waaaaaaaay too good to be playing in league two and the sooner he gets snapped up the better to be honest. Secondly, we are playing good attractive football which is great for the fans and the diamond formation we are employing seems to be working. And finally, the referee gave a very very soft penalty (watch it and see for yourself). This said, you cannot concede 6 goals and the defence and in particular, Scott Brown, need to have a look at their own performances and start concentrating on defending set pieces (there, Cheltenham rant over).

So there you have it, the only question now is how the hell can this weekend live up to it’s predecessor ? Will there be more goalfests or a string of 0-0 bore draws? Have Chelsea and Wigan forgotten how to take corners? And will Cheltenham Town continue to play like they’ve forgotten how to defend them? All will become clear this weekend and strong on paper will be there – whatever the outcome.

Let me know what you think about last weekend’s results and if you have anything to add or any suggestions for my next post let me know!

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New season, new blog

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

First up, an apology. My new look blog was meant to coincide with the start of the new season but due to a busy few weeks and a healthy slice of procrastination this first post is as late as a Joe Cole tackle.

The good news is that my blog is now going to encompass a wider area than just the football league with anything from non-league kickabouts to international footy ripe for attention.

If you have any suggestions for topics or any questions to stimulate debate then please let me know, I will try and cover the most important issues which arise during the season – whatever the level.

So, all there is to say now is stay tuned to “strong on paper” for my next post and thank you for your continuing support!

Putting the ‘Cristal’ in Cristal Palace?

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The C, the R, the Y, the S, the T, the A, the L, it's me - it's Didddddddyyy

Every morning I wake up and peruse the latest rumours on the BBC’s football gossip column and almost inevitably, there’s something so ridiculous I spill my cup of tea.

Last month it was the whisper that Barcelona were interested in none other than Man United utility player, and winner of the most boring man in football: John O’Shea. The image of Pep Guardiola at training one day thinking: “Now I’ve got Messi, Puyol, Iniesta, Henry but there’s something missing… I’ve bloody got it! We need John O’Shea, that’s the missing piece in the Nou Camp puzzle!” actually made me laugh out loud.

I thought it couldn’t get funnier, but then this week what did I see but rapper P Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combes wants to buy crisis club Crystal Palace. Now when we are talking about the weirdest celebrity/football club partnerships this is pretty impressive…

But not even an “exhausted and emotional” (not pissed or anything) Delia “Lets be avin you” Smith can top the potential marriage of bad boy for life Diddy and the swiftly plummeting eagles.

A spokesman of Diddy’s has confirmed interest and apparently it’s mainly down to the fact he likes the name (has he never heard of Accrington Stanley!?).

So, with all this in mind, here is my attempt at a ‘ghetto’ Crystal Palace XI that P Diddy would be proud of…

Manager: Flava Dave Bassett

Goalkeeper: Julian Sperhomie

Centre Back: Fan "Warren G" Zhiyi

Centre Back: Clint "Cypress" Hill

Right Back: Emmerson "Beastie" Boyce

Left Back: Danny Nellyville

Centre Midfield: S "Diddy" Derry

Centre Midfield: Allassane Get Rich N'Diaye Tryin'

Right Midfield: Lil Wayne Routledge

Left Midfield: Julian Gray Z

Striker: Dr AJ

Striker: LudaCris Armstrong

Let me know your thoughts on this potential partnership – match made in heaven? Or is Diddy one sugar daddy Palace don’t need?

Oh and if anyone knows Diddy make sure he reads my blog, it may well encourage him to part with his hard-earned cash.

don’t call it a comeback, call it the greatest comeback

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

This weekend saw the greatest game of football I have ever witnessed being played out right in front of my eyes at Burton’s Pirelli stadium. In a scene which would seem unbelievable even amongst the pages of a Roy of the Rovers comic strip, Cheltenham Town beat Burton Albion 6-5 after being 5-3 down as late as the 85th minute.

There’s nothing quite like the unthinkable happening in football, so, with that in mind, here we go…

Burton Albion 5 – 6 Cheltenham Town, 13th March, 2010

If at 5 o clock on saturday I had been struck down by a rogue bolt of lightning, passers by would gather round my charred remains and see a massive smile on my face – the game of football I had just seen, happened to be one of the best moments of my life.

It all began with a hasty walk to the Pirelli stadium after one too many pints in the watering holes of Burton. As I entered the stadium I just managed to get onto the terrace in time to see Shaun Harrad drill in the Brewer’s opener after 2 minutes, it seemed like it was going to be ‘one of those days’.

A disgusting dive from Harrad and a man who appeared to be the only man in Burton who owned a flag and therefore given the job of linesman conspired against us soon after and we were soon 2-0 down.

As the referee blew for half time I was starting to question why I bothered and convinced myself that this very blog post would be about diving and the steady increase of flag and whistle-bearing idiots – what a difference a half makes.

Whatever Cheltenham manager Mark Yates said at half time, it seemed to do the trick as Justin Richards and then Medy Elito scored within 2 minutes of each other to make it 2-2. Burton replied with two of their own as Townsend put the ball in his own net and on loan Steve Kabba scored making it 4-2. A glint of hope appeared as Michael Pook  scored a free kick in the 84th minute making it 4-3 but less that a minute later Kabba put the result beyond doubt making it 5-3 with 5 minutes of normal time to play.

Then something strange happened.

The football god’s smiled and Pook’s shot from 20 yards took a wicked deflection looping over the open-mouthed keeper – 5-4. But surely that’s it right?

That wasn’t it.

In the 90th minute a long ball was flicked on by Julian Alsop (a man that bares more resemblance to a grizzly bear than a footballer) and Justin Richards passed it into the net under the onrushing keeper. Cue ecstatic scenes in the away end as we snatched a point from the unlikeliest position.

Then something even stranger happened.

In the 95th minute a corner was cleared to the edge of the box where Michael Pook rose, puffing out his chest to control the ball, then, with a sweep of his rapier-like foot, volleyed the ball which span and dipped and unbelievably, hit the back of the net.

A man 3 times my size with a skinhead rushed towards me, we embraced, he held me aloft, and we shared a moment which was probably only acceptable in his eyes on that day, at that time, but why the hell not.

We’d won it, fans leapt the barriers trying to get to the players, grown men sang with a tear in their eye, and players and supporters knew they would never, ever, witness something like this again.

Now, I know this is a Football League blog and that this is by far the most biased post i’ve written but as I’ve said before, I won’t apologise for being passionate.

And anyway, if you don’t appreciate this, your heart must be made of stone, or you must be a Chelsea fan, or both.

Please let me know what your favourite footballing comeback is and keep checking the blog for something a little more impartial, I promise.

Friend or Foe?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The unthinkable has been suggested. Cheltenham Town may ground share with their fiercest rivals Gloucester City which will give the latter a home, and us, some much needed money, but the proposition has divided opinion between both sets of fans.

I am slightly too young to remember Cheltenham/Gloucester derbies but have grown up  with an inherent dislike for our neighbours – joining in with the “We hate Gloucester” songs at games with vigor. However, with Gloucester City lying in the bottom half of the Blue Square North the rivalry has lost some of it’s gravitas which leads me to the question – why not ground share?

Now don’t get me wrong, when I first heard the idea  I was totally against it and part of me still is, but, in a time when we need all the money we can get it’s hard to see how we can turn it down. Yes there might be some trouble but I think with the right organisation, the majority of it can be avoided. Also, this might be the helping hand Gloucester City need to begin their descent up the leagues and if that was the case wouldn’t it be great if we could reignite this rivalry in League Two and beat them (4 or 5 – 0 preferably).

Ground shares have been suggested in the past for great enemies like Arsenal and Spurs and even Liverpool and Everton but have never made it, mainly down to fans’ opinion and to be honest,  they were probably right. But right now, at League Two level and in our current financial position, maybe we should let the Tigers into our back yard…

just not for too long though eh?

Let me know what you think about rivals sharing grounds and whether you would be happy to do so if it was your team!

Massey Attack

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Warnock imagines punching Trevor Massey in the head, twice.

Every year some pundit starts to question whether the FA Cup has “lost it’s magic”, and every year that same pundit chokes on his microphone as games like yesterday’s match at Selhurst Park, reaffirms the FA Cup’s place in the hearts of players and fans alike.

The 2-2 draw between cash-strapped Crystal Palace and fourth-place premiership contenders Aston Villa had all the ingredients of a great cup tie – sublime individual skill, a “David Vs Goliath” match up, and of course, controversy. which leads me to the subject of this post – Neil Warnock.

Now Warnock divides opinion amongst football fans, you either love him or you hate him, personally I am in the first camp so when I read his latest rant about assistant referee Trevor Massey I whole heartedly agreed with him.

If you didn’t see the game, Palace were 2-1 up after a stunning 35-yard free-kick from Darren Ambrose that dipped and swerved and bamboozled Villa keeper Brad Friedel.

Palace looked like seeing out an important win both for footballing and financial reasons until the 87th minute when Villa were wrongly awarded a corner kick. As Speroni made a great save from a John Carew header, the ball cannoned off the head of Nathan Delfouneso and out for a goal kick, or so everyone thought. Unfortunately for Palace (and Neil Warnock’s heart) linesman Trevor Massey proceeded to advise referee Kevin Friend to award a corner kick to Villa, which they then scored from.

Now Warnock has come out and said that he hopes Massey is suspended “for a long time” and I have to agree with him. I understand that everyone makes mistakes but when the mistake is that expensive to a club like Crystal Palace it becomes more than just a case of winning or losing.

Only time will tell whether there will repercussions for Warnock, but, whether you love him or hate him you’ve got to admire the man’s passion, a passion which, I think,  encapsulates the Football League. Lets just hope Palace win at Villa Park and then Warnock can get back to doing what he does best – giving us hilarious quotes like this one…

When manager of Sheffield United, a reporter asked him what he would do if he was the manager of their fierce city rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Warnock replied:

“I would buy some bad players, get the sack and then retire to Cornwall”

*In other news I watched Cheltenham Town’s 1-1 draw with Barnet at Underhill and came away with nothing but a realisation that in Barry Hayles and Julian Alsop we must have the fattest, slowest strike partnership in the Football League – answers on a postcard if you can prove me wrong.

The Magic of the Football League

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The Football League is better than the Premiership. There, I said it. Now before all you Chelsea and Man United fans start foaming at the mouth I am not suggesting the quality of football is better, clearly Didier Drogba has a bit more talent than say Julian Alsop of Cheltenham Town fame. However, if I was to tell you how my love affair began with the Football League then maybe you’d understand.

It was a clear Thursday night in April 1999, Cheltenham Town were playing Yeovil in the Conference with the former needing three points to guarantee promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. I was 10 years old at the time and as me and my dad walked towards the ground, the atmosphere was electric. The previous year I’d already seen Cheltenham win the FA Umbro Trophy at Wembley but even at such a tender age I realised the importance of winning the league. Then this happened…

As the final whistle went the Cheltenham fans rushed onto the pitch, some kissed the turf others lifted the players aloft, my dad, being the clever guy that he is, led me to the tunnel despite me protesting that I wanted to go and see the players. I soon realised each and everyone one of those heroic players would have to walk past us as they went down the tunnel, Neil Grayson, Chris Banks, Mickey Duff all got a pat on the back from a wide-eyed 10-year-old who would grow up from that point with a love for lower league football.

Now clearly this is a self-indulgent post, a Cheltenham Town fan reminiscing about a day which changed his life forever but was probably just another Thursday night sat in front of Corrie for premier league fans. Anyway, this is a blog about the Football League and not just Cheltenham Town so what does make the Football League better than the Premiership? For a start, ask any Carlisle fan…

Now this is all very emotive stuff, things that wouldn’t be out of place in Roy of the Rovers but I know what you’re saying – “You still haven’t told us why the Football Leagues is better!”. Well, firstly, the fans. When a Football League team concedes, the fans get behind them, they will them to get an equaliser whereas it doesn’t take much for Premier League fans to get on their players’ backs and start booing. Secondly, the atmosphere. Now I’m not the best person to talk about this as I am a Cheltenham Town fan so when I watch my team I am accompanied by about 3,000 other fans but when we get going, we really get going and it’s the same for lots of other clubs in the Football League. Football League grounds are real arenas where many a Goliath has been slayed and it’s all down to the atmosphere, every game’s a cup final for Football League clubs.

The terraces make a big difference too. As a 21-year-old I am in a rare position of standing to watch football from an early age. I realise the subject of standing at football matches is delicate after Hillsborough but the point is seats are no safer than terraces, it’s when you start letting too many people in one section of the stadium when it gets dangerous. Terraces make a football ground, there’s something about standing next to fellow comrades roaring your team on to victory.

What about the players? Admittedly many people would rather see world class footballers week in week out for over £50 a time and thats their choice but me, I’d rather not see an over paid prima donna prance around a pitch rolling over like he’s been shot every time the opposition comes within 3 feet of him (I know not all world class players are like this but bare with me). Give me a lion heart playing for the shirt on his back over a mercenary who will change teams depending on the highest bidder any day.

Maybe my opinion about the Football League is confirmed by the continual distance the Premier League seems to put between itself and the fans. I fear we are losing everything that makes football the greatest game in the world and the only place I can see a slither of hope is in the lower leagues at places like Burton, Accrington, Brentford, and of course Cheltenham.

Maybe this is a post full of bias, passion and blind loyalty but I won’t apologise for that, and anyway, isn’t that what football’s all about?

Keep checking this blog for more articles on the Football League where I will be discussing the big stories from the Championship, League One and League Two.