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Next time I’m coming back as a footballer!

Michael OwenSo this morning Michael Owen has announced his intention to retire at the end of the season at the grand old age of 33.

Owen burst on to the scene as a teenager at Liverpool and made England’s 1998 World Cup squad aged just 18. He announced himself on the world stage with a memorable solo goal against Argentina in that tournament and scored a hat-trick as England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich in September 2001.

He has scored 220 goals in his club career, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup (three times) and UEFA Cup. Owen was named European Footballer of the Year in 2001 – the first Englishman to achieve the accolade since my own particular favourite, Kevin Keegan, in 1979.

“Having progressed through the ranks at Liverpool to make my first-team debut at 17, before embarking upon spells at Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City, not to mention representing my country on 89 occasions, I now feel it is the right time to bring the curtain down on my career,” Owen has written in a statement on his website.

But it’s not quite pipe and slippers time yet for Michael.  He has indicated that he would like to become involved with Chester FC in some capacity when he retires, as it was his local team growing up and the team his father used to play for.   As a professional footballer he can take benefits from his pension at his protected pension age of 35 and continue to play for, or be employed in a non-playing capacity with, any Football League club as long as he, for example, do not own or control the club.

So spare a thought for us mere mortals who will be working until we’re old and decrepit in a job we most probably despise before being eligible to retire.  All you’ve had to do is run around the park with the lads for 90 minutes on a Saturday with the odd mid-week game and a few hours training each day for less than half the years we have to work.  Am I jealous?  You bet your sweet **** I am!!!

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And while we’re on the subject

Another superb photo opportunity from Her Maj!

Proving that she does indeed have a sense of humour – during a recent visit to Nottingham with the Duchess of Cambridge, she attended a children’s event in which the 5-10 year olds were asked to present something to celebrate the Jubilee.  Out of more than 1,000 children attending, six were chosen to give their own speech to the queen, expressing their devotion and admiration for Her Majesty’s long reign.  The last child to say his piece was 8-year-old Devon Parker who stood at the microphone a few feet in front of the queen and the royal photographer was able to catch her reaction and response.

Devon Parker:   “Your Majesty, I think you are the nicest old lady in all of England, but I wish you weren’t so old because, if you were younger, you would live a lot longer.  Thank you very much.”

The Queen’s reaction and reportedly her response:   “Now what can I say to that?!?”

Eligibility to vote

They really haven’t thought this whole referendum thing through!

Mr Salmond and his cronies in the SNP continue to tell us that Independence is what the people of Scotland want.  But let’s have a look at the population and who actually are “the people of Scotland”.

When the referendum is held in the autumn of 2014, only residents of Scotland will be eligible to vote.  As a result, almost 400,000 living north of the border but born in other parts of the UK will get to take part, while 800,000 Scots living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will not.   Given that Scotland has a population of just five million, 800,000 is a huge number.

In protest at being disenfranchised, James Wallace, a 23-year-old Dumfries native turned London resident, has launched a petition demanding that expat Scots in other parts of the UK be allowed to participate in the referendum.  Scots ministers say this simply would not be practical.   And, indeed, it’s difficult to imagine how an electoral register of everyone who considered themselves a Scot might be drawn up.   Who, after all, is Scottish? Those born in Scotland? People with Scottish ancestry? Anyone who is partial to Haggis and the Proclaimers?

For James Mitchell, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, residency is the only logical definition of Scottishness in terms of political representation. If you want a say over Scotland’s constitutional status he believes you should move back there.  “It would be absurd to allow anyone who claimed to be Scottish a vote,” Mitchell says.

So Mr Salmond, after reducing the voting age to 16, perhaps you should now try winning the hearts and minds of those of us who live in Scotland but come from different parts of the UK and are eligible to vote if you are to stand any chance of realising your dream – you’re not achieving this at the moment sunshine!

Think before you tweet!

I am all for freedom of speech but there are a few basic rules to follow when you decide to use Social Media sites such as Twitter and Facebook or if, like me, you want to also blog as well.  The main one being:

Think before you hit the Post or Publish button!

This advice is never more important than if you are a person who is already in the public eye – footballers especially please take note!  Some of the worst offenders have been:

  • Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand who was fined £45,000 in August for bringing the game into disrepute after responding to a racially-suggestive tweet about Ashley Cole
  • Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong was also fined £6,000 in the same month after he used a derogatory term about Tottenham fans
  • Then Liverpool winger Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 in January 2011 after he linked to a mocked-up picture of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt

So there was little surprise this morning when I read that Ashley Cole has been charged with misconduct by the Football Association in relation to a Twitter comment he posted about the governing body.   Responding to the FA’s judgement in the John Terry racism case, he tweeted on Friday: “Hahahahaa, well done #fa I lied did I, #BUNCHOFT***S”.   He has now deleted this tweet and issued an “unreserved apology” to the FA but the damage has already been done and he has until 16:00 BST on Thursday, 11 October to respond to the charge.

However, when former England captain Alan Shearer told the BBC at the weekend that Cole should be banned for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against San Marino as a punishment, Cole, 31, then responded by retweeting a message which criticised Shearer.  When will he learn?

Former England left-back Graeme Le Saux is working with the FA to guide players on how they communicate.  The former Southampton, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers defender Le Saux is currently helping to make videos for the FA which will be shown to players about how the governing body operates and the punishments they can hand out for unacceptable behaviour, including the use of social media.  He said this weekend – “The whole pleasure and access that social media gives you is that you are in control of what goes out there, but you must be sensible enough to hold that back.”

Social Media is not for people to bully, insult or intimidate, it is for communication.  My advice to these players is straightforward.  Instead of using your hands to type insulting messages for all to see, try just using your feet to kick a ball – this is after all what you’re being paid for!!!

Temper your expectations!

Tonight we watched from behind our sofas as Wayne Rooney marked his England return with the goal that secured a place for England in Euro 2012’s last eight – but it was a rough passage eased by helpings of good fortune and controversy against Ukraine.

Ukraine, however, will complain long and hard about a contentious second-half incident when Marko Devic’s shot clearly crossed the line before it was scrambled away by John Terry, only for the officials to remain unmoved.  The incident immediately revived the debate about goal-line technology, with a final decision on whether it is introduced expected to be taken in Zurich on 5 July.

England will of course regard it as a measure of justice for Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in Bloemfontein at the 2010 World Cup – but it was also an illustration of how they rode their luck for long periods in front of a predictably partisan home crowd in Kiev tonight.

The Ukrainians immediately demanded a goal and their claims were vindicated as replays showed the ball crossed the line before Terry’s intervention.

Before the game manager Roy Hodgson had said England could dream a little – ahead of the confrontation with Italy in Kiev, they can now afford to dream a little more.

But lets not get too carried away!  We get so above ourselves in these tournaments and the nation as a whole always seems to think that the England team can win the whole thing!  This is quite clearly unlikely to happen while are unable to achieve No.1 status in the FIFA World Rankings.  We are currently No. 6 in the world and No. 4 in Europe, meaning the very best we should perhaps be hoping for in this competition is 4th place and anything better than this is a bonus?

Sorry – you might not like that, but it’s true!

There’s only one Theo Walcott!

When substitute Theo Walcott came on to the pitch against Sweden on the hour mark last night, England were trailing 2-1 and staring defeat in the face – again!

England, who had been leading through Andy Carroll’s bullet header going into the break, conceded twice during a wretched 10-minute period after half-time to leave them deep in trouble.  But new manager Roy Hodgson’s decision to replace James Milner with Arsenal attacker Walcott had an almost instant reward.

Within four minutes Walcott collected a cleared corner on the edge of the box and equalised with a 20-yard shot that deceived Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson and was a sight to behold – surely a contender for goal of the tournament?

14 minutes later, the England winger burst into the penalty box, went past two Swedish defenders and crossed for Danny Welbeck to flick in the winner – job done!

It was a game-changing contribution from the 23-year-old, who was making his first appearance in a major tournament and scored his first England goal for nearly four years.

Oh yes, and did I mention the fact that he plays for Arsenal?

Here’s what was said by the players and pundits:

“I wouldn’t say I was the game changer. It’s always nice to come off the bench and show what you can do. I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t played.”Theo Walcott

“I’m happy with the finish and to get three points but it was disappointing to let in two goals. We came back, we stuck together and the team spirit showed.”Danny Welbeck

“Great game, wonderful result and that customary gut-wrenching feeling of watching England. Nothing quite like it.”BBC Match of the Day presenter and former England striker Gary Lineker on Twitter

“I think Ashley Young is gonna have to make way for Wayne Rooney.”Former England striker Ian Wright on Twitter

Conspiracy Theory #2795

So England were only able to manage a 1-1 draw against France in their first game of Euro2012 last night.  As always, there has been plenty said in the press about the lack of a win against a French side that, despite being the favourites, had a pretty poor back line that should perhaps have been exploited?

I am of the opinion, however, that more sinister forces are at work!  Last night, for the first time in 16 years, the England Supporters Band were unable to play after their instruments were confiscated at the stadium in Ukraine!

However, while the irritation of hearing The Great Escape theme tune repeatedly grated with many listeners, it was last night found to drown out the various mindless chants that Roy Hodgson’s barmy army indulge in and therefore is clearly the lesser of two evils.

It is not known whether the band will be allowed to play in England’s next game on Friday against Sweden in Kiev.  If they can’t play however, and if the rumours are to believed and Hodgson is planning to start Jordan Henderson, England supporters will be rendered speechless for the entire ninety minutes so that TV audiences can watch the game in muted disbelief.

Well and truly stumped!

My poor Dad would be so upset – he loved cricket and was the only person I’ve ever met who found this excruciatingly tedious sport exciting! 

And why would he be so upset?  Well today England crumbled to a 72-run defeat in the second Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi to lose the three-match series.   Only Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior reached double figures as England wilted under the pressure applied by the Pakistan spin bowlers.

It was a diabolical display by England, in stark contrast to the form that carried them to the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings, and one that wasted the good bowling work that had given them an opportunity to level the series.

Geoffrey Boycott, Ex-England batsman, said “I’ve seen some bad performances over the years but that’s as bad as I’ve seen. I couldn’t find any excuses and I wouldn’t want to. They had to change the batting order, but to not be able to make 150? They were missing straight balls. And [Eoin] Morgan? If he’s a Test player, I’m going to eat that famous hat. You’d have to see it to believe how bad it was.”

This is England’s first loss since being crowned the world’s number one side and Pakistan are ranked fifth.  Even if England lose the third test, they will only lose top spot if South Africa win 3-0 in New Zealand in March.

Would it be cheeky of me to suggest some batting practice before the next match?

Lest we forget

11th November is a very important date.  It’s my birthday – woo hoo!!!

But seriously and more importantly, it is Armistice Day – the day which commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

In many parts of the world, people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. local time as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million people who died in the war.  In the United Kingdom, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence was moved to the Sunday nearest to 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday. After the end of World War II, most Armistice Day events were moved to the nearest Sunday and began to commemorate both World Wars. The change was made in many Commonwealth countries, as well as the United Kingdom, and the new commemoration was named Remembrance Sunday or Remembrance Day.

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields”. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

After initially forbidding the England football team from wearing an embroidered poppy on their jerseys during their match against Spain at Wembley Stadium on 12 November 2011, FIFA eventually agreed that the team could wear the poppy on armbands instead. It is also hoped that the Scotland team are able to wear poppies on black armbands when they tackle Cyprus in their international friendly in Larnaca tonight.  Let us hope that common sense prevails!

A game played by men with odd-shaped balls

I am not a big rugby fan despite spending most of my formative years in Twickenham, the home of English rugby.  Like most armchair sports fans however, I do like to support my national team in whatever sporting events are happening on the international stage so I have been keeping a keen eye on the events both on and off the field during the latest Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

With a less than impressive record during the competition on the field, the press attention has focused primarily on the players themselves and their not so exemplary behaviour.  I am not going to comment here on the Mike Tindall saga except to say he has far from covered himself in glory but I am sure his new wife will know how to deal with his stupid behaviour. 

I would like to comment though on the antics of Manu Tuilagi, the Samoan born Leicester centre.  His first faux pas in the tournament was to wear a sponsored gumshield in flagrant breach of the World Cup rules.  The RFU commented at the time that this was a “genuine error” despite the player’s brother Alesana being fined the week before for the very same breach whilst playing for Samoa!  Manu Tuilagi was fined £4,800 by World Cup Officials – I have not been able to find out the amount of the fine levied on Alesana.

Already £4,800 out of pocket, whatever possessed Manu to jump off that ferry yesterday?  A further fine of £3,000 and a formal police warning seems quite a heavy price to pay for a quick dip in the Auckland waters but lets not forget that he is an ambassador for our country while representing us overseas and as such he needs to be aware that the eyes of the nation are on him and his team mates and we expect better behaviour than this from our players.

Manu Tuilagi said that he wanted to play internationally for England where he has grown up, rather than for Samoa, his country of birth.  He is only 20 years old and obviously still has a lot of growing up to do – lets hope he’s learned his lesson – only time will tell.

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