Category Archives: Football
I was 11 years old when I first started supporting Manchester United; an arbitrary decision to annoy my Liverpool-supporting older brother, but also linked to the football sticker swapping craze which had spread through the school playground. It was the peer-pressure of youth, centred around the Merlin’s Official Premier League 94 football collection, which led me to give my allegiance to the Red Devils. While most girls’ pin-ups were Take That and East 17, mine were to be Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Andrei Kanchelskis, followed later by Beckham, Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers … and many more besides. Heroes in my eyes.
But where would the club be with out the the gaffer, the manager, the boss? Throughout my years as a Manchester United supporter, though players have come and gone, there has always been the constant of Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed, anyone in their early thirties and younger will never have known any different, but with Sir Alex’s retirement announced this morning after 26 years in charge, a new era is nevertheless dawning. But who will take over? A daunting challenge for even the most experienced.
In our new book, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (publishing next month) – a history of Manchester United from its origins as Newton Heath in 1878 to the present day – the author Søren Frank dedicates the last chapter to Alex Ferguson and the legacy he has created, but also discusses the possible replacements for the (un)enviable position as manager of one of the world’s greatest football clubs.
So who will fill Sir Alex’s shoes? For a quick insight, click on the cover for a sneak preview of some of the top candidates…
In light of the controversy surrounding the Manchester United v Real Madrid match last night and the sending off of Nani by referee Cuneyt Cakir, we asked Keith Hackett, author of You are the Ref: a Guide to Good Refereeing for his reaction. It makes fascinating reading, and raises a number of points not currently being discussed in the media.
‘There are clearly two standards of Law interpretation operating between English officials and the rest of Europe. In European games there is a lower tolerance level for the ‘raised boot’ challenge which will be punished with either a yellow card (Reckless) or red card if the Referee deems it to be serious foul play. English teams therefore have to adapt to these differences in law interpretation.
If the challenge in the game last night was met with a swift yellow card no one would have complained. The referee however decided to give himself a lot of thinking time and may have consulted with his colleagues to receive their view before surprising the majority of spectators by issuing a red card. Our coaching of Referees at the top level is to advise that we do not want any surprises of this type, and UEFA continue to hold regular training camps for Referees. Through the use of video clips we aim to get uniformity of decision making involving all Referees.
However, the question I pose is what homework did the clubs do on the Referee? If they had done their research then they would have understood the high probability of a red card from this referee in particular. He demonstrates great courage on the BIG decisions – that is why he is rated highly amongst his peers.
You are the Ref: A Guide to Good Refereeing covers in detail the law on foul challenges. Managers. Coaches Referees and Spectators should purchase a copy!’
Keith Hackett is a former international referee and now General Manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) - the referee’s governing body and, is the Referee Ambassador for the FA, Premier League and UEFA.
Paul Trevillion, renowned artist and illustrator provides the stunning images.
I have been reading a good book on the evolution of human nature and culture that I’ll not provide a link to here as Bloomsbury don’t publish it and I’m that petty. One piece of social science research it unearths troubles me, and it’s something it seems has long been taken for granted when psychologists discuss the supporters of team sports. We are all desperately, unthinkingly and arbitrarily tribal. Which is to say, we are concurrently members of as many tribes as we can find connections to: from people, say, of the same religion as us to those that like the same guitar-strewn ne’er-do-wells or brand of cat litter. And once in a tribe, we will bias favouritism towards anyone we feel that tribal link to. Uh-huh, me too! I like GrittyKitty! You’re all right, you!
When it comes to supporting a sports team, the biases of tribalism explode. Various chin-strokers suggest that the mini-wars of sports teams, facing each other in packs and defending a home structure, fit so easily with our Paleolithic wiring that we experience the same fervour and bias as if it was in actuality our small band of spear-wielding nudists taking on the appalling cannibals from across the river (i.e. Millwall). This they say explains the popularity of round and oval ball sports, and even prim-white-jumpered cricket.
It’s all in good fun of course, so why bother to give pause? No one is actually getting a spear through her netball bib after all. Perhaps, but a couple of things still stick in my craw. The delusion that the accomplishments/failures of the team I support directly transfer their glory/shame to me creates a worryingly arbitrary pendulum to which to fix my emotional life. No, actually, this I’m OK with, glory being otherwise hard to come by. It is odd though, the unreality of my link to the team, and the fact I would NEVER consider shifting my allegiance. Jerry Seinfeld sums it up well:
Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You know what I mean, you are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt!! Boo. [intro to the Seinfeld episode ‘The Label Maker’]
If there proves to be any truth to the preposterous rumour that Liverpool’s goalkeeper Pepe Reina might be transferred to Manchester United I would respond like that I think. Boo! Different shirt!! A traitor would’ve crossed a line that I personally could never even consider pretending to sniff like cocaine à la Robbie Fowler. Bringing me to the other worry: the unthinking approval-bias towards the behaviour of fellow tribespeople (fans, players) and its corollary, the unthinking bias against the behaviour of the enemy. … I have just deleted a paragraph or two as I dove knees-first into a few of the illustrative sticking points between Liverpool FC and Manchester’s second best club. I delete as I want to move past the bias – as level-headed and good-natured as I imagine my bias to be. There are at least two sides to any story, and since I would want people to be open-minded toward ‘our’ side when it contradicts public or media opinion, I should be prepared to be just as open-minded in the reverse situation. I’m not quite there yet.
This blog arises as we are soon to publish a book on Manchester United’s history: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. I was sick at the thought of it and made sure that all related work was pushed onto my long-suffering colleague Sarah. And have since been hiding my arms under my desk. But no, give them fair credit, the club’s rise is a powerful story, and their achievements continue to break records we should all be impressed by. They have had many excellent players, and also David Beckham. Ho ho. No, he too was more than the shrill stripper naysayers mock. His boots had a genius for spatial geometry, and his best free kicks will be long remembered.
I will say no more lest I chew through my own tongue, but this is a start. Biases should remain on the field, giving us our vicarious jollies through the length of the ritualised skirmish. Go our colourfully dressed little war-party, sack and plunder! Beyond that, let calm and sense be the things of greatest value.
The legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics some have hoped aloud is that more of us, still all geed up and whooping, will take part in sport. When I say ‘us’ imagine instead the unspoken target: some pre-teen lazybones hunched over her smartphone. Suddenly she’s shot-putting her pillowcase of junk food out the window and joining squadrons of her kind in the streets, hurdling bins, moonwalking like dressage horses, going all Beth Tweddle on lamp-posts. Healthiness being the age’s religion, this is seen as a good thing. Sport is good for you. It makes you a fitter biomechanical machine, and a fitter body is happier, lives longer and, though I have gone too far already, contributes more to society. Here I am at a sports publisher, and such a groundswell of interest in sport should have me licking my chops – moo-ha-ha! Allow me instead to pooh-pooh.
But why? Why emit a sales-sapping grump of a blog? Am I so cynical, so sour of puss, so easily prepared to kill joy and rain on the parade of something community-spirited and optimistic, something right-headed and good. I would hope so, yes.
And now I hold up exhibit A, my left ring finger in a splint. This is what sport has done to me. A detached tendon suffered while keeping goal in five-a-side football. Do not, I suggest, try to block a cannonball using your ring finger like a pool cue, tip first. The digit has contracted the deformity known as mallet finger and is now permanently bent at the top joint. It may never fully heal, and in the meanwhile I am forced to wear my plastic finger hat of shame – for weeks.
My question is this: In the light of such a catastrophe, how can anyone of passing sanity suggest that sport is good for you?
Like most people involved in such things I have an atlas of injury remnants across my body: from bone bruises and dicky joints to multiply shucked toenails. We are not alone. Sport leads to a continuous barrage of impacts, crunches, wrenches and body damage. They don’t call them tennis elbows nor swimmer’s shoulders for nothing. One of the Olympic equestrian team was discussing how commonly they break fingers after being thrown. A recent crash in the Tour de France was called the Massacre at Metz for the mangled piles of bodies and bikes it left behind, all their skimpy little bike vests in tatters, with gravel-rash oozing horribly through the holes. None of this is strictly speaking good for you, is it. And I suspect it is only the very luckiest of sportspersons who will not wear the brunt of some injury or other to the grave.
Sport is bad for you. So should we wish it upon pubescent slobs and those less disposed towards physical movement? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine, and probably the real impetus behind our participation anyway, is – no not self-esteem, goal-orientation, team-cooperative-learning-enhancement or some other policy-speak codswallop – fun. Sport is fun. Play it if you want. Unfortunately I will continue to.
I became a five-a-side goalkeeper for the usual reason – sloth. Five minutes into any game, wheezing, glossy, highlighter-pink, I would sub myself into goal to grab a breather. Some other slob would soon come in and replace me, but five desperate minutes later, having chased the ball around dutifully like an aging Labrador, I would limp back into the safety of the goal area. With the back of a downcast head heaving gasped wordless lungfuls at my replacement, I would, more instructively, indicate with a finger the universal signage for I-am-dying-please-allow-me-this-one-favour. Over the years, however, something transpired. I will be 40 in 2013 and perhaps in sport-years an old dog. But learnt I have.
I played football, or soccer as we ignorantly called it, for the first 17 years of life, representing my New Zealand province up to under-18 level. The fact that barely 11 under-18s played football in North Otago helped enormously. I was also the only left-footed player so a shoo-in for the larboard wing. But as the full blast of adolescence raged through my bloodstream, all nonconformist radical (with football inappropriate haircut), I packed it in. Another 17 years passed, and the chance arose to play ‘indoor soccer’ at work. Brilliant I thought. I will be great again. I will hot-knife through these rugby-addled fools like butter. Running onto the pitch, the ball rolled in my direction. Here was my moment. I visualized the sinuous run upfield, drifting, jinking, feigning. Moving to trap the ball, I instead stood on the front of it and face-planted into the Astroturf. My 17-year-old body had deserted me. I looked down in dismay: When had I become so bell-shaped, so ambling?
But I kept at it, and, moving to Britain, played more and more. My stints in goal grew longer. Yet I still saw these as time-outs, a less boring subs’ bench. In my head I was a winger, a glory-hound glory-bound. Besides, others were better than me in goal … not that I was that bad.
One team in an annual company-wide tournament last year needed a goalie. I had been playing a bit more goal for my five-a-side league team, Red Star White City, who were at the time bottom of the bottom division in the BBC league. So I volunteered. The tournament was catalytic to a realisation. We won our group, and I was getting a lot of praise for my keepering. We won our quarter final. (Push play on ‘Eye of the Tiger’.) We brick-bottled it in the semi and exited. But throughout I was diving, rushing, making myself big, cutting down the angles, sticking a leg out. We were drawing a crowd, and I was the instigator of a pleasing percentage of the oohs and applause. Perhaps – I blinked, shuddering – I was actually better in goal.
Pushing into the Brad Friedel years I have accepted my role. The occasional run-out is always appreciated, but first and foremost, I’m the goalie. Red Star White City ascended into the second tier of our league the season before last, and then narrowly avoided relegation back down. This season (a ten-week period) we’re sitting mid-table. It’s hard to believe. We are not particularly hot, skill-wise, and our league is packed with scarily good players. One or two of us have some tricks and pace, but if we keep possession for more than four phases it’s a miracle. Where we excel is organisation. We are in fact like the undefeated New Zealand team in the 2010 World Cup. A bunch of Ryan Nelsons everyone expects to walk over, but who somehow hang in there through sheer will and constant harrying. Defence, we do well. And the heart of the defence is the lunk with the gloves on. Last night we won 3-0 against our arch-enemies Refine United. And in doing so I reached the highest height of my goalkeeping career so far. A bunch of saves all around the area, including three (not entirely over-egged) diving fingertip numbers and a classic backwards-stuck-out-leg-having-gone-the-wrong-way-initially, giving us the clean sheet. In the morning report, I received not only man of the match, but player of the week in all fixtures, and the goalie spot in the (fabled pantheon of) team of the week. I am literally choking in goalie glory. Next week of course I will let in a stupid one at the near post or fumble a back-pass into my own net, but before a fall comes some rather lovely pride.
I still resent my inability to nip, dart or achieve anything approximating fitness, but like Brad on the cover of The Soccer Goalkeeping Handbook, by legendary keeper-coach Alex Welsh, I am aging not ungracefully.
I asked Alex Welsh what he thought the key skills for a five-a-side goalie were compared to that of the full-size version. He summarised it beautifully:
Goalkeeping in Five-a-Side – Alex Welsh
In terms of the goalkeeping issues for five-a-side, the key principles remain the same, but the keeper has less time and space. With a quicker game constrained by the below-head-height and goal-area rules, the following points need to be considered:
- Constantly adjust your position as the ball moves so that you are always in the right place as the opponent shoots; and always be ready.
- Adopt a low, ready position and become a good exponent of the collapsing and low-diving saves.
- If not making a clean catch, parry or deflect into safety zones (wide of the goal).
- Develop good blocking techniques for close-range shots.
- Catch the ball safely before
- Scanning to select the target. Choose the appropriate throwing technique (roll or sling) before
- Counter-attacking to advantage. If counter-attacking, throw to the back foot (the one closest to the opponent’s goal) and if seeking to retain possession throw to the safe side. Remember a pass is a present so don’t give the receiver a control problem.