Sunday, May 31, 2009

The romance of the FA Cup seems to leave the competition the further it goes on and the bigger sides take over.

Trying to get a bit of romance in a hotel on the Oregon coast isn't so easy, at least in a football sense.

With the game starting to make some good inroads in North America, it's disappointing that so many fans can't have ready access to one of the game's showcase events.

Setanta have the rights to show the FA Cup Final in the US and Canada and as great a service as they provide, it does deprive many fans and potential fans of watching what many feel is the highlight in the calendar of the English game.

With the burgeoning interest in watching illegal online streams through the likes of Justin.tv and Ustream, the footballing authorities in the UK really need to make sure that they make their showcase matches are readily accessible to as many people on a worldwide stage as possible.

In the meantime, I'll just have to wait until I get home tomorrow evening to watch what happened.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Today was meant to be a milestone day in my part as a Vancouver Whitecaps supporter – my first Caps away game.

I’ve touched on this on the blog before, but for me, an essential part of being a football fan is the ability to follow your team both home and away. Following a team in a continent as vast and varied as North America makes this an impossibility on a regular basis unless money and time are no objects.

There’s nothing like an away game. You sing that little bit louder, you shout that little bit louder and there’s just a great feeling of watching your boys in the opposition’s patch, hopefully, coming away with the three points and sticking the fingers up to the home support (metaphorically speaking of course!!).

The fans that have made the journey are like a special little club. I hate to use the term “real fans”, as there are many reasons why many true supports can’t watch their team away from home, but inwardly we all feel that way.

My days of travelling all over Scotland watching East Fife have been fantastic. Seeing all the grounds, the towns, the pubs and social clubs. There really is nowt like it.

We’ve been lucky that we have such a great and vocal travelling support that put many a bigger Club to shame. Remember how many we took up to Aberdeen in the Cup this season on a Wednesday night. More than most SPL teams outside the Old Firm and when the Dons fans started singing to the Dunfermline fans in the next round as to how we brought more fans than them, well, that was special!

Supporting Vancouver (or any number of MLS or USL teams) is not that easy in this regards.

There are two Canadian teams in the USL, ourselves and Montreal, and well, they couldn’t really be much further apart really! We lost our closest away game, Seattle, to the MLS for two years, so that leaves Portland as our nearest rivals and our best shot at an away game and they’re over 5 hours away plus horrendous border wait times that can be another three hours on top of that.

With Portland gaining MLS entry along with ourselves in 2011, we have a lot more years of continued rivalry to come with the Timbers and two possible away matches within semi easy reach.

There was a bus load and some cars heading down from Canada for the game today. We were here already, checking out the beautiful Oregon coast and beaches. Unfortunately my car completely died just before I had to head back from where we were to the motel and then leave. By the time Triple A came out to fix it, it was too late to catch the whole game as Portland is nearly 2 hours away from where we are staying. Aarrrggghhhh.

I decided the head through anyway and got there in time to see the end of the first half, in theory, but the city was at gridlock and there were no parking spaces ANYWHERE so I just had to head home again after trying to find parking for 50 minutes! A long way to go for fuck all!

I ended up listening to the game on the radio and with Portland getting five figure crowds and the Timbers Army being one of the noisiest supporters groups in North America, it sounded like a cracking atmosphere.

Vancouver played pretty poorly and they lost 2-0, so perhaps missing the game was a good thing after all. Still a right pain in the ass though.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The sad news was announced today that the Scottish, Welsh and Irish FA's have signed an agreement stating that they would have no objection to the English FA entering what would be an under 21 side in the 2012 Olympics in London.

The agreement goes further in saying that the three organisations would not stand in the English FA's way as long as no players were selected from any of the other home nations.

To many this will seem like a fine compromise and no fuss at all, but scratch a bit below the surface and a different picture starts to emerge.

FIFA's Sepp Blatter had stated earlier that a combined GB team from all the host nations would not affect the standings of the four countries. He has also stated that by England entering a team under the "GB" banner things would not be affected this either.

The latest mutterings coming out of FIFA though are not so clear, with Blatter stating that his views would not be binding on any of his successors.

One such potential successor is little Jack Warner and his corner has already been set out. The CONCACAF countries, and to a lesser extent some African countries, want to see the UK's four nations go into one side and Warner backs this 100% and is likely to back any such bid for this to become a reality.

If such a thing was to happen, my interest in international football, and many many other Scots, would be all but gone.

Going back to the original point about Team GB at the Olympics, the home nations could have just gotten together and set out a round robin qualifying tournament to see who would represent Team GB.

This of course is also fraught with danger and could set a dangerous precedent going forward for all competitions.

There are no easy answers except to not enter a team at all.

So will England as Team GB start to put the nails in the coffin of the home nations?

It may be too early to tell, but it could be worrying times ahead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps took a huge step towards claiming their first Champions League spot last night with a dominant 1-0 home victory over Montreal.

A cracking strike from Ethan Gage from the edge of the box after 67 minutes was the deciding goal of the game. It was good to see Gage get his first goal for the Whitecaps seniors, having come up through the ranks of the residency programme.

The goal eased Caps worries, having missed a penalty after 52 minutes. Well, we say 52 minutes but it was three minutes before Charles Gbeke got to take his spot kick after Montreal arguing and blatant time wasting from Montreal goalie Matt Jordan.

Jordan should have been booked for his delay of the game but the referee bottled what would have been a second yellow card for the goalie and as things often pan out in such circumstances, Jordan saved the penalty when it was eventually able to be taken.

A red card or not, it still doesn't detract from a woeful spot kick by Gbeke - the second such horrendous penalty in the last two home games.

That miss could still prove to be costly for the Caps as qualification for the Champions League group stages could still go down to goal difference.

At the moment, the Caps are sitting plus 2, the same as Toronto, but with more goals scored. With other qualification factors taken into account, a 1-0 win for the Caps against Toronto next Tuesday would leave TFC needing a 3-0 win against Montreal in their final match, which would not be beyond them considering the Impact's current form.

Next Tuesday is arguably the biggest game for the Caps in many a year, even more so than the USL Championship games I'd argue as it can propel the Caps onto a bigger, worldwide stage.

Tuesday can't come quick enough for me right now.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barcelona ran out deserved 2-0 winner in the Champions League final today, with a more comfortable win that most people expected.

Apart from the odd 5 or 10 minute spell here and there, Barca bossed proceedings and could have had a couple more goals before the end.

I've been very critical of the competition in recent years but today's game was miles away from last year's bore draw.

Barcelona have a skillful and attacking side and it's been a joy to watch them secure their treble over the course of the season.

The goal that clinched the Cup today was a well worked effort but the marking of Messi was shocking and uncharacteristically unlike Man U. Did they just run out of steam at the wrong time?

The only thing which would have made today's result even better would have been if Scholes or Ronaldo had seen red. The tackle which earned Scholes a booking would have seen him sent off with many referees.

The trophy presentation was a fitting end to the game. Not quite the big march up stairs from years ago, but certainly better than just standing on the pitch getting it.

Barca's guard of honour when Man U picked up their medals was also a classy touch from very classy and deserved Champions League winners.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just a quick blog today.

Tomorrow sees the Champions League final and for the first time in many a year, it's a game that I'm actually looking forward to.

Barcelona and Man United are two skillful teams, full of flair and exciting attacking possibilities.

With Barca missing some key defenders, the game could be a high scoring affair as I don't see either team sitting back. It's not in their nature.

We're hoping for a Barca win first and foremost, but here's to a game that lives up to all expectations as well.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Bank Holiday weekend playoff final frenzy has become a firm tradition in England now, with many looking forward to the three games.

As is often the case, two of this years games were nervy affairs where quality football often takes a back seat but the excitement of the occasion is always at the forefront, no matter what you're watching on the pitch.

Saturday's League 2 playoff between Gillingham and Shrewsbury looked to have the makings of a nil nil, neither side giving anything affair that was destined to go to penalties. That was before Simeon Jackson popped up to head home a 90th minute winner for the Gills, in front of an impressive and staggering crowd of 53,706.

You do have to wonder of course where all these fans are when their Clubs need them the most during the regular season.

If there's one player that will want to forget the League 2 play off campaign from this season then it's going to be Shrewsbury's Neil Ashton.

To say that he had a bit of a nightmare would be an understatement. In the first leg of their semi final against Bury he scored an own goal in the only goal of the game. In the second leg, he conceded a penalty, which Bury missed. In the playoff final, he was the defender beaten on the line by Jackson's header. That's a threesome you don't want a long summer to be left thinking about.

The League 1 final was the pick of the bunch. A cracking, end to end feast of attacking football saw Scunthorpe win by the odd goal in five against Millwall to reclaim their place as a Championship side.

It was another late winner for the Lincolnshire Club, in front of a pro Millwall crowd of 59,661. It was a great triumph for Scunny, who were two minutes away from not making the playoffs at all, until a late goal against Tranmere sealed their place and broke Wirral hearts.

It was great to see another unfashionable Club in the Championship and I'm sure that Newcastle will be relishing their trips to their 9,183 capacity Glanford Park instead of Old Trafford.

And talking of the Championship, an early Burnley goal saw the team that has excited us across three competitions this season deservedly claim their place in the Premiership after a 1-0 win against Sheffield United.

It wasn't a classic but the Burnley fans in the 80,518 crowd had a happy journey home at the end of a season that saw them play 63 competitive matches and establish Owen Coyle as a manager with a very bright future.

And with that, it was all over for another season in the English Leagues.

What awaits in store next season? More of the same excitement would be nice for starters, as some of the best games this season have come outside of the Premiership.

Let's just hope that some of the crowds that saw this weekends action will become regulars and much needed paying punters at lower league grounds throughout England next season.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 2008/09 English Premiership season is now over and although it was a tense day with four teams still technically battling to avoid relegation, the day ended more with a whimper than a bang with all four teams showing very little in terms of fighting spirit and the desire to stay up.

Middlesborough were basically doomed and had little chance of taking anything from the mighty West Ham anyway. Sunderland were lucky that they didn't need to take anything from their game against Chelsea, with the Blues dominating most of the match against the Black Cats.

That left what was expected to be the decisive battles and much flicking between the two matches on the remote.

Hull limped home against Man United, failing to get the ball for most of the last 5 minutes of the game. Fergie, as expected, put out a young side and full credit to them as they showed more fight than a team fighting for their lives.

It was good for Fergie too as he would have taken flak if they'd lost but his side did their job and it was then the others that let themselves down.

Hull thankfully survive to fight another Premier League campaign but they have seriously lost that winning feeling and 2 wins in 25 sees them very very lucky that Newcastle have been even worse.

The joy of seeing fat, weeping Geordies was what we'd hoped for. Shearer really should have "stayed on the telly" but his side didn't have the urgency of a team that had to take at least a point.

They had no battle, no fight, no clue really for most of the game and it was fitting that it was an own goal that eventually sent them down.

We predicted that Hull would just do enough a few weeks back and we now further predict that Newcastle will not bounce straight back up again.

There'll be more tears than Gazza. Sob on the Tyne.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The SPL relegation issue was settled today and a 1-0 win for Falkirk against ten man Inverness, saw the Highlanders suffer their first relegation, and really their first major setback, in their 15 year history.

The SPL couldn't have hoped for a more dramatic final day, with the bottom two squaring up against each other at Caledonian Stadium and even third bottom in danger, albeit slight, of dropping out of the League if they suffered a big defeat at home to Hamilton.

TV backer Setanta must also have been glad of the dramatic end in store.

As it turned out, neither game was a classic, as was to be expected, and with so much at stake it was too nervy an occasion for too many risks to be taken.

Falkirk's win was aided by the first half dismissal of Inverness stalwart Ross Tokely, who saw red for a last man professional foul that did probably stop a goalscoring opportunity.

Inverness' relegation is a huge blow for the Highland side. They had looked all but safe right up until about a fortnight ago and many expected them to stay up with relative ease.

The drop will hit the side hard and financial difficulties could be ahead if they can't go straight back up again. With this season's First Division sides Livingston and Clyde being in serious trouble, the lack of the big gate receipts can take a horrible toll on previously ambitious and/or previous high flying sides.

How Inverness cope with this setback could have a serious affect on their entire future.

Friday, May 22, 2009

It was good to read today that UEFA have finally announced that they are charging the Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa following their actions after the Champions League defeat by Barcelona earlier this month.

How only two players are being charged and not Michael Ballack, and to a lesser extent John Terry and Alex, is a mystery to us here though.

The case will be dealt with on June 17th and hopefully the pair of them will have the book thrown at them.

You have to ask though what is the point? Will it stop these players, especially Drogba from acting the same way again? Probably not. Will it stop other players haranguing referees in the future, again, probably not.

Drogba is being charged for his shocking after match meltdown where he verbally abused the referee and ranted to TV cameras and although he picked up a booking for his antics, they continued for a long time afterwards unpunished.

Bosingwa's charge relates to comments he made in a Portugese paper after the event where he asked if the referee was a "thief".

Both players have since issued apologies and have been very contrite about proceedings. All very well and good but the damage has been done by that point. It's easy to apologise after the fact.

Once actions like Drogbas have been seen on the pitch and comments like Bosingwas read in the press, these are the things that stick in people's minds. These are things that people remember, not apologies. And these are things which fan the flames of hatred in the fans and affect referee's safety, integrity and reputation.

Chelsea have also been charged with the failure to protect the referee, control of their players and for objects thrown on the pitch. A fine or whatever that will be imposed, will not help Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo feel better about the death threats he received.

Now I'm no angel here. I've shouted more than my fair share of abuse at officials over the years, but I acknowledge it's a difficult job, everyone makes mistakes and the game couldn't take place without them. TV coverage and analysis of every little thing the referees do by the so called experts in the studio and gantry only act to add more pressure on the officials.

The whole "respect" campaign is a joke as players still go unpunished and get away with far too much.

What can be done to change all of this?

Well no easy solutions, as it's easy to get hot headed in situations I'll admit, but one good place to start would be by punishing the actions there and then on the pitch.

If UEFA and FIFA really want to clamp down on the abuse of officials then they should make it a law that any player who crowds the referee or linesmen and gets in their face to challenge any decision gets a yellow card immediately and if they keep it up then a red.

There should be a zero tolerance rule of this abuse and referees strong enough to enforce it.

Be interesting to see how many players from Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United (to use just UK examples) swarm the referee then when they could soon be finding themselves having an early bath.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Vancouver Whitecaps got their Champions League ambitions back on track last night with an excellent 2-0 win away to Montreal.

The Caps goal led a charmed life as Montreal hit the woodwork on several occasions and missed a complete sitter. The Impact side also found Vancouver keeper Jay Nolly on fine form and he played a complete blinder in a man of the match performance that saw him keep Montreal out time and time again with a string of top saves. I would go as far as to say that I don’t remember seeing Nolly have as good a game as he did last night.

Vancouver took the lead through two early goals from Marcus Haber and Charles Gbeke and although disappointing to see them sit back for so much of the match after going ahead, they did what they needed to do to take the points back home and still looked very dangerous on the break. The win has given the Caps a real chance of qualifying for their first Champions League campaign and if they can win their two home games, then that dream could very well become a reality.

For those unfamiliar with the CONCACAF Champions League, it is the new format for the old Champions Cup which began in 1962. Comprising of 24 teams, the new look format began last year and consists of qualifying rounds, a preliminary round, a group stage and then knockout matches from the quarter finals onwards. The overall winner get to represent the CONCACAF region in the Fifa World Club Championship, so ultimately Vancouver could get to square off against Man United.

Canada are afforded one spot in the competition, the same as the likes of Nicaragua and Belize, whereas Mexican and American clubs can claim four places each. It kind of shows how low down the pecking order Canadian football is by CONCACAF but it’s up to the Clubs to prove them wrong and Montreal did just that with their run to the quarter finals last season. Canada’s cause isn’t helped of course by only having the three Clubs competing for that one place, so things aren’t likely to change any time soon until more professional Clubs in the country can be taken on board.

It’s certainly a competition that has grabbed me however. The excitement generated by the Canadian Championship games against Montreal and Toronto, for me, surpasses that of League business, although actual League games are devalued anyway with the farcical play offs in place.

Vancouver may have their destiny in their own hands, which is always nice, but goal difference could be an overall factor depending on how Toronto perform at home to Montreal in the last match. Let’s just hope that the decision to sit back and not increase their tally in Montreal doesn’t come back to bite them.

That’s looking well ahead of course, there’s the small matter of two home wins on the next two Wednesdays to take care of first of all.

That done and it could very well be the case of "Champions League and we’re having a laugh" in Vancouver and the prospect of off season football is a very pleasing one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It may have been a shadow of it’s former self, but it was still sad to the UEFA Cup bite the dust this evening.

In many ways though, it was good to see the competition put out of it’s misery as it just didn’t have the appeal that it used to and the fault for that can lie mainly at UEFA’s door.

As soon as they started tinkering around with the straight knock out format, started allowing too many of the top teams in the Champions League and teams started to field weakened sides in what should have been important games in the competition, the Cup basically had no future.

38 years, 25 different Clubs triumphing, when I was growing up the UEFA Cup meant something. It was also sad to me when the Cup Winners Cup went, as back in the day that meant something to.

I’ve always wondered what could have been if these European competitions were around in East Fife’s glory days in the 40’s and 50’s. I wouldn’t have been there to see it obviously, but who knows what trophies could have found their way back to Bayview.

It was fitting tonight that the last contested final should match the trophy’s history. It started off great and full of life, then took a dip in quality and enjoyment levels, looked like it was going out with a whimper and then towards the end, it started to garner interest again. And then it was all over.

The importance of the competition has really sunk in recent years and this can be seen by the TV coverage of the last ever final. In the UK, it was relegated to ITV4, so not everyone would be able to see it even if they wanted to. In Canada, it wasn’t actually shown at all and the first airing of it will be on two day delayed coverage on Setanta. No one cares about it any more, unless your team is in it and actually show that they want to be in it.

The last final was deservedly won by Shakhtar Donetsk. They looked the better side throughout and started the game with such promise and flair that it looked like it was going to be all over before half time. Their eventual 2-1 extra time win against Werder Bremen wasn’t a classic in the mould of the 2003 Celtic – Porto final, but neither was it like some of the bore defensive stuff we saw in the 80’s and 90’s. It was an enjoyable game of football.

And that’s what the UEFA Cup should have been about all this time. Enjoyment. Enjoyable football, enjoyable away trips for the fans. UEFA killed the real enjoyment, the real passion of the competition. Once again the money won and the greedy Clubs who wanted more games got their way.

Will the new Europa League give any more enjoyment? I wouldn’t think so. The first season buzz will soon be replaced with Club’s feeling it’s a waste of their time and money to travel thousands of miles for meaningless games when their real heart lies in their domestic leagues. It’ll soon all fizzle out to be replaced by something else in three years time or tinkered away beyond recognition.

What can save what used to be such valued competitions? European Super Leagues?

Nothing will ever make these competitions as enjoyable to me again as pure knockout rounds did.

Unlikely we’ll ever see this again, but stranger things have happened in football and who would have thought not that many years ago that the European Cup, the European Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup would all no longer exist?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If you think your team has had a bad season, then spare a thought for fans of Fort William FC in Scotland's Highland League.

The League wrapped up on Saturday and Fort William ended their season with a 7-1 trouncing away to Inverurie Loco Works.

A bad way to end the season, but not exactly a surprising one as Fort William have shipped 121 League goals this season, scoring a massive 16 in reply. That's a goal difference of minus 105 to save you working it out, oh you already had! It's an improvement on last season's minus 142 goal difference though, so things are moving in the right direction, but in saying that they got a win and three points last season!

The Club managed to take only ONE point in the whole campaign, a 1-1 draw in their sixth match of the season at home to Wick Academy. Wick finished fifth in the League and must be wondering how they became the pub quiz answer that they now are.

The worse league defeat of the season came in November, when Deveronvale recorded a 10-0 home win.

The four Cup competitions didn't provide any solace for the Club either. Four first round exits and a 10-0 Scottish Cup humiliation away to Junior side Banks O Dee were what Fort William had to show for their efforts.

The Club and their long suffering fans must have had an inkling of what was to come this season when they lost 5-0 to a Shetland XI in the SFA North Cup back in August, but no one could have predicted just how bad a season it would turn out to be.

I've been following the Club's fortunes in recent weeks just to see if they could turn things around but sadly not. They lost twice to the odd goal in three in the closing weeks, which must have been heartbreaking.

I've always had a soft spot for Fort William and they're my favourite Highland League Club and it's not just because they play in black and gold! I've followed their fortunes since they joined the League in 1985 and have a number of their programmes from their first Highland League campaign. When East Fife visited them for a pre season friendly in 2000, all at Claggan Park made us very welcome.

It's sad to see how their season panned out and it was the tenth time they have finished bottom of the Highland League, in what must be one of, if not THE, worst performances of a senior side in any football league in the world. It was also their sixth last placed finish in the last seven seasons.

Help could be at hand though and from an unlikely source, for Fort William are going to become America's team (www.americasteamfc.com).

In one of the most bizarre link ups I can remember, a group of around 10 American soccer players are going to be coming to Fort William to try and take the team from last to first, from zeroes to heroes, and as pie in the sky as it may seem, it's a great idea and great publicity for The Fort.

The whole idea is the brainchild of American producer Paul MacDonald and the whole "experiment" is going to be part of a reality TV series which has already been picked up by Fox Sports Channel in North America and there are UK negotiations currently underway, with BBC Alba having already shown interest.



Like with Ebbsfleet before them, the plan is to let fans make the decisions, team selections etc and membership is $69 for the first year and AFTN are planning on becoming members and we'll follow what's happening on the site and in the blog.

Ebbsfleet struggled for their second year, so it will be interesting to see what happens after the 2009/10 season at Claggan Park.

Will be interesting to see how things play out but let's put it this way, they can't have a much worse season than they've just had, so anything is worth a try! And at least they're keeping the Fort William FC name.

Let's just hope that East Fife meet The Fort in next season's Scottish Cup. Be nice to have some worldwide interest in us!

Monday, May 18, 2009

One more weekend, two relegation places and four teams. That's the math as we move into the final round of matches at the bottom end of the Premiership.

An interesting weekend of games saw twists and turns galore and not a little controversy to add in to the mix.

Middlesborough might look pretty doomed sitting there second bottom, with the worst goal difference and the inability to hold on to any lead they may get, but with the teams above them facing some tough final matches against teams at the top, a 1-0 win might just yet be enough for them, especially if Hull were to ship a few at home to Champions Man United.

The big question of course is what kind of side will Man U put out at the KC Stadium on Sunday. I think we all know the answer!

There is no way that Sir Alex will risk his star players with the Champions League final just three days later. Ronaldo may have Golden Boot aspirations but they will count for nothing for his manager. Rooney, Tevez, Van Der Saar and a few others will be rested. Ferdinand may play a little to get his fitness levels up. Nobody knows for certain.

What we do know of course is that even a second rate Man U team has the flair, skill and abilities to take Hull apart, something Phil Brown will be in no doubt about.

What Brown needs to do in the build up to the game is to make sure that little snippets get out there that his players will be battling for 90 minutes, with tackles flying in and apologise in advance if any Man U players miss the final in Rome as a result.

He's already starting to get some of that message across in saying what the game means to the Club and they'll be going for it 100%.

You all know AFTN's stand on this. We want Hull to stay up and I still feel they will.

Sunderland are probably the Club shitting it the most down there.

Their position looked pretty safe all but a few weeks ago but a horrendous run of form and a capitulation against Pompey tonight means they will be going into the home game against Chelsea with little confidence. With a passionate crowd guaranteed to be roaring them on at the start, if results start to go the wrong way for them, the fans will be on their backs and adding to the pressure ten fold.

That leaves Newcastle and hopefully we'll see the Toon Army and their deluded fans taking a drop down into the Championship.

They still think that they're such a big Club, but, fans apart, they have nothing. The Setanta pundit on Saturday (I forget who it was now) who basically said that they like to wallow in misery and self pity hit the nail right on the head.

If the results do go the way I expect, then they better close the bridges in Geordieland come Sunday night.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shots count for nothing in football, only goals. A fact we all know and Vancouver Whitecaps had this reiterated the hard way on Saturday night in their 2-1 top of the table loss to Rochester Rhinos.

The Caps outshot their NY opponents 23 to 4. Yes, you read that correctly! Their downfall coming in the shape of Rhinos keeper Scott Vallow who played a blinder and pulled off a number of spectacular saves to keep the Caps strikeforce at bay.

Add to this a shocking missed penalty by the equally shocking Ansu Toure and you have the night in a nutshell.

It was another off key and at times lacklustre display by Vancouver. There were moments in the second half where, despite being two goals down, the players showed no urgency and were just knocking the ball about as if they were out on a Sunday afternoon stroll a day early.

This is what you would expect from a Rochester side who had lost a game in Portland two days earlier, not the rested Caps. The Rhinos though just had to go through the motions and do just enough to take home the three points.

There are still a number of Vancouver players who are either underperforming or who clearly don't have what it takes to make it at this level. The next few weeks will be very telling in this regard.

It was a little lacklustre off the pitch too. I just wasn't in the mood for the game tonight. I put that partly down to the fact that I still feel the League campaign is just foreplay for the real thing in September and October and also the fact that I'm not a fan of 7pm kick offs. A nice Saturday afternoon kick off would do just nice. Not going to happen of course, but maybe some time.

Vancouver are facing two must win games in the Canadian Championship if they are to keep their Champions League aspirations alive.

Going on this display, if the teams don't find their finishing touch soon, then they won't be packing flip flops and sunglasses this winter.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Scotland's shame (that's Rangers Football Club for those of you outside of Alba who may be unsure who we're talking about) just keep the embarrassments to the Scottish game coming.

Not content with riots in Manchester, censures about bigoted songs and players on international duty disgracing jersey and country, we now have this:



Absolutely disgraceful behaviour from Lafferty. To get a fellow professional sent off for such actions is the lowest of the low and right down there with spitting on a fellow player.

Hopefully the SFA come down hard on him, not that that will really matter as it won't affect the player or Rangers until next season.

His actions and the sending off could affect the outcome of the SPL. Rangers went down to ten men themselves but won 2-1.

Whether Aberdeen would have won the game with a one man advantage is something that we'll never know.

All we do know is that there is yet another dark blue cloud of disgrace affecting the Scottish game.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The teams contesting the Football League play off finals have now all been decided.

After mentioning earlier in this blog that I had no real interest in the Division 2 playoffs this season I found myself watching the second leg of the Bury - Shrewsbury game on Sunday and what a match. It may have only had one goal in it during normal time, but the end to end action, the late goal, the sending off, the penalty shootout. Wow! That's what play off football is all about. My match of the playoffs so far.

Shrewsbury will meet Gillingham in the Division 2 final and my nightmare scenario of Leeds meeting Milton Keynes in the Division 1 final thankfully couldn't have been further from reality, with Millwall now meeting Scunthorpe.

Scunthorpe were the last team to clinch their place at Wembley tonight in a match that gave me a lot of pleasure.

I mentioned earlier how much I hate the Club killers that are the MK Dons. If they could never win anything else in their entire history and then fold then I couldn't be happier.

This season's finale in England and Scotland has been a kind of redemption season, where good triumphed over evil.

Big spending plastic MK are still stuck away from where they want to be and so are the Club that spent too much and imploded, Leeds. No bigger games and higher leagues for those two. MK will hopefully now just be one season away from meeting Wimbledon.

Another of the Club killers, Airdrie United, face relegation from the Scottish First Division and hopefully those play offs will go the right way and err on the side of good.

The final side in peril from the Club Killers Axis Of Evil could suffer an even worse fate.

Livingston FC are apparently facing administration, having already gone through serious financial problems in 2004. A date of June 30th has been set for the Club to pay off all their debts, with the local council seemingly the largest creditor. The Scottish League is also threatening them with relegation from the First to the Third Division if they don't fulfill paying the players wages.

Some say that they would never want to see a football club go out of business. I don't subscribe to that way of thinking. There's some I'd like to see go that way and for very valid reasons.

MK Dons, Airdrie and Livingston are three such clubs. Their sins in football terms need punished at some point and karma is giving them all a good kicking this season, with hopefully more to come.

In Livingston's case, the ideal situation of course would be for them to fold and for their place in the Scottish League to go to Edinburgh City.

What goes around comes around. Hopefully.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One of the guys on the Vancouver Southsiders Forum was recently over in the UK and went to several football grounds.

He was at a lot of the big stadiums, including Old Trafford and Wembley, and I asked him which was his favourite. His answer was Colchester United, because of the atmosphere at the game he saw there against Leeds.

This got me thinking about some of the great grounds I've seen football at and some of the not so great.

As football fans in the UK I think we take some of the things about the game there for granted and this is especially true for those of us who follow the smaller teams.

For me, there's nothing like the atmosphere at one of the smaller grounds. One with character, history and a story to tell. Fans of the bigger clubs don't get to see that side of the game and it's them that's missing out.

I know I touched on this a couple of days ago when I was talking about Burnley's Turf Moor, but if you let me induldge myself once more, I'd like to continue this discussion.

It's a shame that so many of the great grounds in the UK are no more.

I have some pictures of some of the great Scottish League grounds of the past that I plan to put up on AFTN soon as part of an article on such things.

As East Fife supporters, we've been lucky to travel all over Scotland and see some sights and some "sights".

Looking at some of the old pics, there's Airdrie's charming little stand at Broomfield. A construction that stood out like a sort thumb in an otherwise drab ground and drabber town.

Stenhousemuir and East Stirling are now ground sharing partners at Stenny's Ochilview, but in the old days you were lucky to have one team play in the basic conditions there, with another small yet charistmatic stand.

The Shire's old bus shelter stand was another such structure.

The Fife's pre season trips to the north of England saw us play at Darlington's Fleethams which was so much more of a football ground than the expanse of plastic they currently play in.

I wish I'd appreciated our times at these places a bit more. You know, the 92 Club and 38 Club groundhoppers of yesteryear may have had a point in all that.

Watching some of the lower league and non league playoff action in the last wee while has made me want to go on a tour of some of the old style grounds that still remain in England and see some more of the ones I haven't been to. Who knows how much longer the grounds will be around in their current forms. The way things are going, the Clubs might not even exist for much longer in some cases.

Any football fan who hasn't experienced a friendly in Spennymoor or Seaham should make sure they get themselves there for East Fife's friendly against the resurrected Spenny team come July.

Real football, in a real football stadium. Is there anything better?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Well I have to admit I'm shocked.

The Scottish Premier League is actually providing excitement this season and not only that, the usually ridiculous top six/bottom six split has helped that excitement.

With Hibs cutting the euphoric post Old Firm glow of the Rangers supporters to a peep tonight and Falkirk pulling off one of the wins of their lives at the other end, we go into the final two games with all to play for.

Two goals now seperate the top two, with Celtic reclaiming their top spot as they aim for 4 in a row and their 7th title this decade. It's going to go down to the wire for another season and both teams have the outcome of their destiny in their own hands. It's going to be up to goals now.

At the bottom end of the table, it's refreshing to see so many teams fighting for their Premier lives for once. No team has been left behind with the other five just playing out meaningless games.

Mathematically, none of the bottom five are safe. It's looking bleak for St Mirren though, who have now fallen into the bottom spot following their 2-1 defeat at Kilmarnock tonight. But with second bottom Falkirk just one point above them and with the two teams meeting on Saturday, that's a game I'd like to see live on TV and not some of the other bizarre fixtures that Setanta come up with.

One more win for Inverness and Killie will see them safe. Hopefully the Highlanders survive as I have a soft spot for them, loving their home town as much as I do.

As for Kilmarnock, well too many bad memories from our clashes in the 90s for me and I'd love to see them get relegated. If Ayr go up from the Second in the playoffs, then that derby and the Raith-Dunfermline one will make the First Division an exciting prospect next year.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the SPL this season is some of the football being played. There's been some good stuff on display. It's just a pity that a lot of people outside of Scotland (and the rest of the UK for those with Setanta) don't get to experience it fully.

The SPL and SFL really need to relook at their coverage abroad. With the Old Firm supporters clubs having a stranglehold of live coverage in North America and with commentary of games being blocked on the BBC website to those outside of the UK, the football authorities are not doing the game in Scotland justice and not providing it with the leadership it needs.

To put the Scottish game back on the map on a global level, they need to make sure that fans and ex-pats can view the action live, or as near live as possible, and not have to resort to online streams from weird and wonderful places, otherwise the general viewpoint of football in Scotland will not be favourable. The need to get their product out to the mass market.

Many still feel it's a second rate league, with second rate football being played in it. As this season has shown, there are times when this can't be further from the truth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The dangling cash cow of the Premiership that is the Championship playoffs has now been narrowed down to two teams, with Sheffield United and Burnley coming through their second leg matches to claim their places at Wembley.

The Sheffield United – Preston match was a pretty uninspiring affair, as the tension of the occasion and what it was financially worth both teams seemed to stifle the action a little. Over the two games, United were probably just the worthy winners.

Many will feel that if they can return to the Premiership after the controversy surrounding their previous relegation, then it will be justice being done. I don’t quite fall into that category, being a West Ham fan and all that, but can see that viewpoint.

Their opponents at Wembley will be Burnley and they have my support for the game.
After all their recent Cup exploits, they deserve some reward and they have shown themselves to be capable of holding their own against the big boys.

It’s also great to see another Scottish manager doing so well. Owen Coyle is as Irish as I am, so I’m claiming him as one of our own!

Reading were my tips to win automatic promotion this season, after their early season form impressed. But a run of poor home form in particular has cost them dearly.

Burnley are an unfashionable Club, like Hull before them. They’re also a real football club, with real fans and a proud history.

I remember them almost going out of the football league a few years ago and their bouncebackability has been great to see.

Their Turf Moor home is also a proper football ground. It may look different on the outside after over 100 years, but it’s innards still hark back to a day when football stadiums had real character and weren’t just plastic playthings for rich businessmen.

If anyone saw the tour of Turf Moor on Soccer AM on Saturday you’ll no exactly what I mean by that. The old ground has all the characteristics and features that you feel could tell some great stories if walls could talk.

Looking around the unglamorous and basic dressing rooms, it might help some of the over paid and over inflated prima donnas to remember their roots and remember a time when football wasn’t all about money and TV exposure.

All that aside, Burnley have earned their right to have a shot at the big time once again. They’ve played great, attacking and enjoyable football all season and my claret and blue scarf will be worn for a different side in nearly two weeks time.

It’s a phrase I hark on about a lot, but once again, it would be great for football if they can make the jump to the Premier League and even more so if they can stay there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

With two weekends of action left in the English Premier League, things are still no clearer at the bottom end of the table.

At the top it was a weekend that saw the top three all win again, Arsenal ship a barrowload to another of the top teams and Ronaldo showing both the things that he has in his locker - skill and petulance. Yeah, pretty much the same boring stuff you'd expect.

Whilst Man U can clinch another title before their nearest rivals even play another game, the battlers at the "business end" (copyright all lazy journalists everywhere) still have it all to play for.

Hull look in deep deep trouble now. Two games to go, one of them against Man Utd and the look of beaten men. I still feel if they can grind out a win at Bolton then they'll survive the drop, but for a side that was sitting in the top six at Christmas, their decline is frightening for all those similar teams with similar Premier League ambitions of surviving in their first season in the top league.

They've now fallen into the relegation spots for the first time all season and with just two games to go, there's not a much worse time to find themselves in that position.

West Brom continue to be the form side down there and you can't write them off either. The spirit and fight shown by the Baggies in recent weeks has been a joy to behold.

The big game in all of this of course was tonight's north east derby between Newcastle and Middlesborough. For those hoping for a north east relegation trifecta like me and for those just simply hoping for Hull to survive, this was one of those games where you want there to be no winner.

At a push a Boro win would have done and it was looking good for most of the match before Boro's lack of ambition and punch meant they had no hope of coming back once the Magpies eventually went ahead.

A 3-1 game was a surprise really as I'd expected a nil nil game from two sides with so much at stake but very little to offer.

The defeat basically dooms Boro and they'll not really be missed from the top flight.

Newcastle still have two tough games to go and I don't think they'll take anything out of them, so for Hull, one point may just do it.

I won't put my black and gold scarf away for the season just yet.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In a rematch of last season USL Championship game, Vancouver Whitecaps hosted the Puerto Rico Islanders on Sunday evening, coming out 1-0 victors in a less than exciting game.

Just as in the Championship game, the winning goal came from Charles Gbeke, in the same goal and from a basically identical header. Spooky stuff!

It was a reduced Southside that witnessed the win this evening, Mothers Day festivities in Canada taking preference for some bizarrely, but those there enjoyed the hard fought victory in a game which didn't really live up to it's billing.

What it did do though was to send Vancouver to the top of the USL standings only six games in.

With the Caps not yet firing on all cylinders and with their injury worries increasing instead of decreasing, with top scorer Marlon James being stretchered off in the first half, it's shaping up to be another excellent season for Vancouver once they get most of the guys fit and healthy.

I'll even be brave enough to predict just now that we'll see another Championship winging it's way to Vancouver in a few months time.

As Man United have proved time and again over the years, it's not the teams that win stylishly every so often that win the Championship, it's the ones that can win dirty and that's certainly what the Caps are doing just now.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The 2008/2009 season is now officially over for East Fife, although of course it was over a long time ago.

With the lack of goalscoring prowess on display for the Fife this season, it was perhaps apt that the final goal of the season should be an own goal. Even when we win, we can't score for ourselves.

There's been very little in way of plaudits to come out of this season. It's hard to even pick a stand out player of the season, but the AFTN 3-2-1 votes will be tallied up soon and the winner announced here and on the forum.

The performances, although few, of Muir, Cargill and Sheerin has been pleasing to see and hopefully will be the way forward for Stevie Crawford.

As we keep on saying, youth is the only way for a Club of East Fife's size and finances to go.

Maybe as well, at least we can find players hungry enough to play for the jersey and for the fans for a whole season.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The English Football League play offs are now well under way. I have mixed feelings about play offs but the English ones I love.

Playoffs in the Scottish League are pointless when you only have ten team leagues. Just let the runners up go up and the second bottom team go down. They both deserve and have earned their fates. If that means East Fife lost the chance to go up then so be it.

When you look at how far behind East Fife fourth placed Arbroath finished last season and they still went up, it just makes Scottish football all the more ridiculous than it is.

It may be exciting for the fans of those who make it to them, but until there’s League reconstruction and bigger leagues, playoffs have no place in Scotland.
In Canada, the Vancouver Whitecaps and their USL counterparts also have their playoff cross to bear.

When you have a League with no promotion or relegation, what is the point of playoffs at the end of the season to decide who are the Champions? It devalues the whole league and makes the whole season almost pointless and irrelevant. Just give the winners after all the league games the trophy. Of course, with Americans controlling the League that’s never going to happen.

Going back to this season’s English League play offs though, there’s some tasty matches in store.

I have to admit that the Division Four (alright division 2 for you newfangled people) ones hold little interest to me this season. I’ve not been following what’s been happening at the top end of that division and always find the whole “who’s going to lose their league status” at the other end to be all that more exciting, although the bigwigs at the Football League kind of spoiled a lot of that this season with all their point deductions.

If Accrington or Darlington aren’t in the Div 2 playoffs then it’s not that much of a necessity for me to watch them. I’ll watch the play off final of course, as they’re always fun.

The Division One playoffs throw up some interesting games and feelings for me. A Leeds United – MK Dons final would be an awful proposition. I can’t think of a Club I detest more than the Club killers of Milton Keynes. We were talking about plastic fans and plastic clubs yesterday and you don’t get more of an artificial club than the bigspending wanabees of MK. All true football fans know that there will only ever be one Dons in English football and they’ll soon hopefully be back in the Football League.

As for Leeds, well I’d love to see them lingering in the lower reaches of English football for a long time to come. A better example of living outwith your means I can’t think of.

It was a shame that Scunthorpe couldn’t hold on to their lead in the game tonight, but I’ll certainly be rooting for them in the second leg and hopefully in the final. Another “unfashionable” club in the Championship would be great for football.
The first leg of the Preston – Sheffield United game tonight was a cracker and I can’t wait for the second leg already. Reading and Burnley should serve up another fine feast this weekend and I’m hoping for a tasty Preston – Burnley final, with one happy Scottish manager at the end of it all.

When at it’s best, play off football can serve up some of the most exciting matches of the season and at least the English leagues do it right.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Champions League football fest this week continued on Wednesday evening when Vancouver Whitecaps kicked off their qualifying campaign in the CONCACAF version with a game at Toronto in the Canadian Championship.

With the Caps having never been beaten by TFC, it was a record that all Caps fans hoped would continue. We'd have been happy with a point in the end, but as it turned out an early Toronto goal caught Vancouver cold and proved to be the only goal of the game in horrendous conditions.

With the stands emptying quicker than an all you can eat pork buffet at a Mexican beach resort, there was more plastic on display for the watching national TV audience than is usual when you're watch the plastic Toronto fans in action. They clearly don't like the rain, those pampered east coast softies.

If you're going to go to all that bother of building a new football stadium, you'd have thought you'd have put a roof on the whole thing. I thought uncovered terraces harked back to the halcyon days of UK football and only still exist at old fashioned football stadia or Clubs that has no cash. Not forward thinking football clubs like TFC would have us believe they are.

That forward thinking clearly extends to throwing cups full of beer and other objects at Whitecaps players. As classy as Portland and as equally disliked. Nice badges of honour there.

The game itself was poor stuff from both sides. The Caps could have grabbed a draw in the closing minutes but Marlon James couldn't continue his scoring ways from the weekend.

Vancouver's final ball into the box let them down time and time again, but they certainly held their own against their MLS opponents, in what is still a makeshift Caps side due to injuries.

Vancouver need to get some of these players back as soon as they can if they don't want their Champions League campaign to be over before it's really begun like last season. The important thing is they only lost by one goal.

With so much at stake, there's still all to play for and qualification is still in the Caps hands and with the Southside right behind them for two of their three remaining games, I wouldn't write them off just yet.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just when I was all set to start this complaining about another boring Champions League final looming, Barcelona stepped up to the plate and did the business.

Chelsea bored, whined and cheated their way through the game tonight and got what they totally deserved from it - nothing.

It wasn't the best refereeing performance in the world this evening and we're going to be talking about another shocking sending off decision, but the whole night was overshadowed for me by Chelsea's constant bullying of the official.

The reaction of Ballack at the end when he basically manhandled the ref was appalling. He should have just stopped the game there and then and send the moaning git off. What happened to the respect campaign? The fact that he was wrongly complaining for a decision in the first place makes it all the worse.

When the match finished, the reaction of the Chelesa players was totally unacceptable and I hope that UEFA throw the book at them for it. The ref should just have stood there, taken out his book and red carded all off them one by one.

For the good of European football, the right team is in the final.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Man Utd-Arsenal Champions League semi final looked delicately poised on paper, but you just knew that it would only take one away goal from the Red Devils for the tie to be over.

For those hoping to see an Arsenal-Barca semi final like myself, any hopes of an entertaining evening were destroyed within the first eleven minutes. The oven hadn't even preheated for my pie before the match was as good as over.

As much as I hate Man Utd, I have to give them plaudits for a clinical display and they fully deserved their place in the Final. Grudging praise there.

What was truely shocking though was the decision to send off Darren Fletcher.

Now I'm not just defending him because he's a Scot, but Fletch can feel himself at the wrong end of one of the worst refereeing decisions I've seen in the Champions League this season.

You can argue over whether it was even a foul, as he clearly nudged the ball away but he was wrapped around the legs of Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas afterwards.

In no way was it a sending off though in anyone's book. A yellow card at the worst and that's if it was even an infringement.

How there can be no appeal on this is mystifying. Fletcher has been immense for Man United this season and to miss the final due to such an error would be heartbreaking for the lad.

It seems that is all boils down to whether the referee will admit he was wrong in his match report. I can't see how he can fail to admit this after watching all of the video evidence at his disposal, so it's now a case of wait and see for Fletcher.

Hopefully justice will be done.

Mind you, if the same thing had happened to someone like Ronaldo, I'd be laughing my ass off about it!

Monday, May 4, 2009

With three games of the Premiership season to go, there's realistically 5 teams battling to avoid finishing in the bottom three and the ignomany of losing their top tier status.

West Brom already seemed doomed after failing to take anything in the must win game against Tottenham at the weekend so it's really four into 2.

Maybe we shouldn't write West Brom off though. At least they're showing some fight and desire to stay in the EPL. They're battling and scrapping for everything they can get and if they can manage to pull off another great escape then they'll have deserved it.

That same desire can't be easily seen in the other four however.

Hull tonight looked lacklustre and a beaten side short of confidence. They battled for the last ten minutes sure but if I had been a Hull fan watching that performance at Villa Park this evening I'd have felt short changed. That was a disgraceful team performance from a Club battling for their lives.

They might still stay up because the sides below them are even worse. That's what will probably also save Sunderland.

Newcastle looked like they could have easily shipped ten against Liverpool and Middlesborough are still boring everyone shitless, like they've been doing pretty much their whole Premiership existence.

With those two meeting next Monday, defeat for either should spell curtains. What's the odds on a no score bore draw though?

The big money is there for the taking once again for two of these Clubs. At some point somebody is going to have to step up to show that they want it and there's not a lot of time left.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Championship's regular season came to a close this afternoon with 8 teams still having a lot to play for and it was an exciting end of proceedings.

I was disappointed that Birmingham clinched the final automatic promotion spot, as I still haven't forgiven the tortoise headed Alex McLeish for leaving the Scottish national team the way he did, but it's adding to the midlands derbies that we'll have in the Premiership next season.

Cardiff were left heartbroken after missing out on the playoffs by one goal. Things were in their own hands at the start of the day but they just couldn't deliver and their recent run of poor form has really come back to bite them and i would be surprised to see Dave Jones keeping his place at the helm for next season.

Preston are the on form team at the moment, with 12 points from 12, and Alan Irvine has them playing some exciting football.

A Preston-Burnley final would be a mouthwatering prospect.

I'd love to see Burnley going up. Another small, unfashionable club and after their recent Cup exploits, they deserve some reward. It would also be a great story as I still remember how close they came to going out of the League altogether a few seasons ago.

At the other end of the table it's how the mighty have fallen. The three relegated teams have all played in the Premiership, but for Charlton and Norwich in particular the fall from grace must be particularly shocking and as Leeds have shown, once fallen, it's not that easy to get back up again.

It's been a great Championship season and I've enjoyed following it all so far and the playoffs look like some cracking high scoring games are going to be in store.

Just more proof of where the most excitement can be found in English football these days. Real football, real fans. Long may it continue.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Scotland, Spain, America.

The three countries where games caught our eye today.

East Fife's season just won't seem to end and another lacklustre display has now left them facing the ignomany of a 7th place finish. Where did all the good times go?

Well they're certainly around in Barcelona as the stylish Barca destroyed Real Madrid who made the mistake of annoying them by taking the lead. You really don't want to do that at the moment.

The game was a joy to behold and showed what a confident team can do when in full flow.

In Minnesota, the Whitecaps continued their winning streak with a fine 3-2 victory and Marlon James hitting a great hat-trick on his first start for Vancouver.

At least with East Fife's game starting so early, you know the day can only start to get better.

Friday, May 1, 2009

As East Fife stutter and stumble over the finishing line, there's only two games of the Scottish Second Division season to go and that'll be a relief to everyone down Bayview way.

As we've said before, the close season is murder unless you've had a season to forget. That's where we fall into now.

For me, the jury is still out on Stevie Crawford's now official appointment.

I'll give him time but I can't help but feeling the Club have done this on the cheap. You can't tell me that he was the best candidate that applied.

He's saying the right things about giving youth a chance but since we disbanded our under 19 side and have no apparent youth policy in place, you have to wonder where he's going to get all these players from.

It's going to be tough for Stevie. Whether we all agree with his appointment or not, the key now is to give him our full backing and see where he can take us.

Let's hope for another Stevie Archibald rather than a Gavin Murray.
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