Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It used to be that when the season wrapped up in Scotland at the end of April or start of May, the wait for the new season to start seemed never ending.

Just what would you do with those long summer days to fill the void?!

Now, with the introduction of playoffs, clubs playing more friendlies, starting earlier and earlier, and early European qualifying rounds, it seems like hardly any time has passed since you saw your team in action.

This weekend has a rash of friendlies already pencilled in and Motherwell start their Europa League journey on Thursday.

East Fife played their first "training game" last night, although not that you would have known that if you didn't read AFTN and relied on the official site for details.

It was an easy work out for the Fife as they took it at a fairly slow pace and ran out 5-0 winners against Milton Amateurs.

The result was of little importance, it was just a chance for the squad to get some live match action under their belt and improve their fitness levels and thankfully everyone escaped the game without any early injuries kicking in.

In all my years of watching the Fife though I can't remember a pre season friendly being played in June before. Not that that is a bad thing.

Last season the Fife were rightly and widely criticised for their lack of fitness levels, which was unfortunately very visible in some games. New boss Stevie Crawford has already said that he wants to work on this from the get go and he already seems true to his word.

With a younger squad than last year, we may not be having the most talented players in the division next season, but at least they'll be able to last the pace!

Monday, June 29, 2009

UEFA's 17th Under 21 tournament came to a close today with a rampant young German side trouncing England 4-0 in the final.

With the Confederations Cup running at the same time as the tournament I've found it hard to raise any real interest in proceedings, only watching the odd game here and there.

I know it's a chance to see the future today etc etc, but I've always found it a tournament that's difficult to raise any excitement.

At first I thought it was perhaps due to the fact that Scotland never seem to qualify, but after discovering that the tournament is only held every second year and not annually like I thought, the real reason hit me.

It's played for too often.

This may seem a strange comment to come out with after revealing I thought it was annually but some digging around online got to the bottom of my feelings.

With the Toulon under 21 tournament being played annually since 1974 and with it being a staple on our television screens each summer, the two competitions have morphed into one in my consciousness, with the end result being that I think of the under 21s as being summer regulars and nothing to look forward to.

Might just be me, but surely making the UEFA under 21 tournament every four years, in the year after the World Cup, it would make the whole competition seem more relevant.

We'd get a chance to look at the exciting prospects that could shine in the next year's Euros and it wouldn't clash with any major senior tournament.

For me, the ideal solution and one that would create some excitement and anticipation around the competition.

It might just be me being a grouch. If Scotland qualify in two year's time, ask me again if I feel the same way. I probably will though!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The 2009 Confederations Cup wrapped up today and what a day it was. Thrills, shocks and goals galore were served up from the last two matches.

With Spain-South Africa kicking off proceedings in the 3rd/4th place play off match, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the game was just going to be a bit of a non event, with some of the squad players being given a run out. Far from it as it turned out, with both teams fielding their top line ups.

South Africa would always have been playing for pride but when you saw that the Spanish had the dangerous Torres and Villa starting, you knew once again that both sides were really going to be going for it. No meaningless matches in this tournament it would appear.

I’ve never had much interest in the third place play off games in any tournament. It is just a battle of losers after all. If they all turned out liked this one though then I might have to change my opinions.

The two teams served up a thriller, with four goals in the last 17 minutes, before Spain eventually broke the deadlock with the decisive goal 17 minutes into extra time in a game where the subs shone.

South Africa once again showed that they weren’t overawed by superstar opponents and played the only way they seem to know, attacking and taking the game to the Spanish. The last two games though have also shown another side to the Bafana Bafana – resolute defending. Albeit with some late lapses.

There’s been a lot of sceptics about taking the World Cup to South Africa. Many feel that the game is not universally popular in the country, with the black population loving the beautiful game and the whites the egg chasing game. Stadiums with spare seats in this preview competition being cited as proof.

Well if the pictures of pure joy and disappointment that were seen on the faces of the South African fans in this game alone are anything to go by, then the passion amongst those that do love the game is immeasurable and are signs alone that taking the greatest show on earth there next year is well justified and an excellent decision. The emotions on display today were worn on their sleeves.

When substitute Katlego Mphela opened the scoring on 73 minutes with a well controlled finish from close range, it was all looking great for the hosts. The build up to the goal was delightful and as the minutes ticked by, the Spanish didn’t look like the attacking threat we all them to be.

That all changed in dramatic fashion when Spanish supersub Daniel Guiza hit two in two minutes, the second a goal which no matter how many times I watch it, I still can’t understand how the ball managed to end up in the net!

With the crowd silenced, bar a few of those annoying horns, it looked all over for the South Africans and when they won a free kick three minutes into stoppage time, they needed something spectacular with what would be the last kick of the 90 minutes. They got it and it was their own supersub Mphela who came up trumps again, lashing home a 25 yard curler into the top corner to send the crowd into euphoria.

With 6 goals in 12 international appearances so far, Mphela could be one to watch at next year’s finals. South Africa’s new Benni McCarthy perhaps.

Spain won the day though with a great free kick of their own from Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso and South Africa just ran out of steam towards the end.

Hard to take for the hosts, but they did themselves and their country proud and can go into next year’s finals full of confidence. They already have the flair and attacking prowess needed, they defend well too. They just need to tighten up a little at the back and keep their full concentration to the very end and they could be providing more shocks on a world scale in twelve months time.

Out to continue their own shocks, the US took on Brazil in a final which many felt would be one sided, after their group match up.

We said in the blog on Thursday that we thought we’d see a completely different game and US team from the one that showed up in that previous match up, but even we didn’t expect what we got.

Brazil had started the game looking pretty comfortable and in control but Clint Dempsey shocked the Brazilians and the watching millions when the US opened the scoring after ten minutes with their first real attack of the game.

You couldn’t help but think, you don’t want to annoy the boys from Brazil!

But before Brazil could take out their anger, they found themselves two down after a great counter attack and finish from US veteran Landon Donovan.

We were now looking at one of the biggest international final upsets of all time and a momentous day for American football.

The States now found themselves in a position though that not many teams have had to face. How do you defend a two goal lead against the world’s most skilful side with still over an hour to go? Do you keep attacking or do you sit back and defend? I’m always an advocate of attack being the best form of defence but for this to happen, the other team have to allow you to do this.

Brazil weren’t about to let the US do this and the second half started as it meant to go on and the South American champs pulled a goal back less than forty seconds in through Luis Fabiano.

The remainder of the game saw wave after wave of gold and blue attacks as Brazil pummelled the American defence.

Brazil had the ball over the line, but the goal was not given, and it was only going to be a matter of time before they equalised and when Fabiano hit his and his side’s second with quarter of an hour left, there was only going to be one winner and captain Lucio made sure that they Brazilians claimed their third Confederations Cup trophy with a powerful header with just six minutes remaining.

Brazil’s class of 2009 showed that they were just that, pure class. They controlled every game they played, bar their semi final against South Africa where they were really tested, and always seemed liked they could step up a gear when required.

As for the Americans, don’t undervalue their momentous fighting achievements in this tournament. They looked down and out and showed spirit and belief to literally storm their way to the final. Even though they fell at the final hurdle, they have made that breakthrough for their national team and set a benchmark for their future sides in future competitions. This will be a key cornerstone in America’s future footballing history, even if the American sports media still won’t take that much interest in them.

As a footnote to that point, it was funny watching ESPN's coverage of Wimbledon when the commentators were complaining that in all the football coverage in the UK press, there were ten pages talking about transfers and just a small paragraph saying that the US had reached the final. Pot and kettle sprang to mind.

It’s been a great tournament, far exceeding my expectations, and has whetted my appetite no end for next year’s World Cup Finals. Let’s hope we can be cheering Scotland on there.

Only 347 days to go till the big kick off!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Watching another regional qualifier of UK Masters football today got me thinking of what would be a great little tournament in Fife to either get us through those long summer days without football or those cold winter days with it - a Fife Masters.

I've been slow to fully appreciate the fun of the whole masters footie that's filled our summer screens the last few years. Initially I saw it as just tv filler, but as more of the bigger names that you grew up with come on board every year and the players get younger and even more competitive, it's become something I look forward to and enjoy in the summer months of football free UK action on our screens.

The Scottish Masters in particular is always fun to watch and not only to see which bizare Old Firm players from yesteryear they drag up. It's also fun to see some of our very own old Fife faves show up in the likes of Gordon Durie and Robert Prytz. This year, we can look forward to Lee Makel doing a turn for Hearts and watch on in disappointment that the Fife couldn't do a deal to secure his services for next season.

Wouldn't it be great though to watch some of those players taking part in an East Fife shirt?

A Fife Masters would be great fun. Get the four Fife teams together and drag out those players that we can cheer and boo all over again. Look at the possibilities for the black and gold squad. There's those with experience - Prytzy, Durie, big Gordon Marshall in goal, Stevie Kirk. Maybe, although highly unlikely, we could tempt Stevie Archibald back. Or how about Arnold Dwarika.

The list is almost endless of legends we could watch once more. The same is true for the Rovers and Pars (who can remember any Cowdenbeath legends?!).

It would be a great event and hopefully pack the crowds in for some friendly rivalry once again if a suitable venue could be found. Possibly the Fife Institute could be converted ok, maybe even the Rothes Halls. St Andrews University could maybe have the necessary facilities. Fife Ice Arena in Kirkcaldy could be the most obvious choice and the easiest to convert.

You could even set up similar Masters events throughout Scotland and use them as regional qualifiers for the big Sky Scottish one each June/July. There could be a Lothian and Borders one, Dundee and Perth, Angus, Aberdeen and the Highlands or you could lump the Fife teams in with the Dundee, Edinburgh or central belt ones depending on how many qualifying spots would be up for grabs. This would also make finding suitable venues a little easier across Scotland.

Probably all a pipe dream of course, but it could be great fun and lets fans from outside the usual teams enjoy some memories of yesteryear, as well as letting those outside of Scotland know that there are Clubs and fans outside of the Old Firm and the Edinburgh sides.

Even if we can't get a Fife Masters to be any part of Sky's Scottish Masters at least the Trusts and Supporters Clubs of all four Fife teams should get together and get this on as a fundraiser. If holding it as an indoor tournament proves problematic, then let's get it on as 5, 6 or 7 a side outdoor tourney. It would be like a Seniors Fife Cup.

Let's make this happen!

Friday, June 26, 2009

After a short break, we continue our look at football’s “Disappearing World” with a look at more of the things missing from the football these days:

5: Inflatables -

Having looked at some of the things which had long lifespans at the football, it’s time now to look at a fad. Something which disappeared just as quickly as it began. Inflatables.

Looking back, the 1980’s will never be remembered for it’s taste. Fashions and haircuts were things to be forgotten. You just have to look at some of the new romantics that used to work in the local newsagents and frozen food shops around Levenmouth during the decade.

The 1980’s saw a series of various fads. Things which seemed hilarious, the height of fashion and a good idea at the time. Like “Frankie Says Relax” t-shirts, bringing inflatables to the football was one of those things.

The whole inflatable craze was never huge in Scotland, more in England, but it did certainly arrive here. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, you’re left asking “what was that all about?”!

The inflatable craze is credited to have begun at Maine Road in 1987 when a Man City fan took an inflatable banana to a game for no real reason it seems other than to get it photographed there to show a mate.

The banana then gained a shirt, a face and a personality and became very popular. To be fair though there wasn’t exactly a lot on the pitch to excite the City fans back then. More inflatable bananas were acquired by City fans and brought to the games and City player Imre Varadi got christened Imre Banana - some of that famous Manc wit we hear about!

And so a fan craze was born and boy did it grow out of all control.

Soon, fans of all Clubs thought it was great fun to bring inflatables to games. Some Clubs fans decided it was a chance to have their own identity reinforced by adopting particular blow ups as their own.

So you had West Ham fans with inflatable Hammers, Grimsby fans were known for their inflatable fish and in Scotland, Raith Rovers fans were just pleased to have the chance to take their girlfriends out for the afternoon.

If it was available as a blow up, it was seen at matches. Sheep, dogs, parrots, even crocodiles added some bite to proceedings. It was the height of the fanzine boom and those, along with fanzine style TV shows like Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football, brought the whole blow up phenomenon to the masses and let them be seen in all their glory.

But before you could say puncture kit, the political correctness police moved in, waving their inflatable truncheons no doubt.

There were health and safety issues cited (you could take someone’s eye out with that was the cry, they‘re a weapon others would say). People’s views were being blocked by the mass of inflatables on display. And worst of all, some deemed the bananas to have racist overtones. It really had all gone crazy.

The result was that many Clubs and police forces banned them, Arsenal being one of the leaders in this campaign if I remember correctly. The inflatable frenzy soon died down and what started as harmless, if somewhat pointless, fun was over and the sound of deflation was heard all across the UK. Who would want to see football supporters having fun after all. Much better that they were at each others throats in the grounds and surrounding streets.

The whole inflatable epidemic never really made it’s mark at Bayview but that’s not to say that East Fife fans didn’t join in the fun altogether. July 1994 and East Fife were down in Darlington for some pre season action and a large contingent of Alex Totten’s Barmy Army made the trip down. With some time to kill before kick off, a few of us wandered the streets of Darlo and the market stalls that were set up. Minutes later and the stall with all the inflatable hammers was cleaned out!

That day the novelty of them wore off pretty quickly, or perhaps that was just the alcohol. It must have happened like this throughout the country, although some small pockets still produce them to this very day.

The last time I can remember taking an inflatable to the football was on the last day of the 1999/2000 season at Boghead. With East Fife looking for promotion and myself armed with hope, optimism and an inflatable champagne bottle with “EFFC #1” written on it in black marker pen, I’m not sure what deflated faster that day - our promotion hopes or the bottle.

There’s nothing sadder than standing sad and forlorn with a limp bit of latex in your hand.

It was pleasing to see some inflatables at Vancouver Whitecaps recent home game against Toronto, with a selection of blow up dolls in red shirts resplendent in the Southside as a nod to TFC's many "plastic" fans. They even raised a laugh on TV.

With Stevie Crawford getting the permanent East Fife manager’s job maybe we can rekindle the craze at Bayview and the next time we invade Starks Park we can be fully armed with out army of black, blow up craws, whilst regaling ditties about flying over the ground.

Or maybe they’ll just stay part of the disappearing world of football.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The mouthwatering prospect of a Brazil-Spain Confederations Cup final wasn't to be, although fans looking to see that match up were nearly treated to it in the 3rd/4th place play off game on Sunday.

In a competition that just continues to enthrall, it was a story of the underdogs in the semis.

The US turned in a tremendous performace yesterday to produce a shock, but well earned, 2-0 win to end Spain's long competitive unbeaten streak.

For the young US side to come back from being all but down and out in the group stages to claiming their place in their first major final is the story of the tournament.

Confidence must be sky high in the US ranks just now and a number of players will have put themselves in the shop window for a number of the top European clubs with their performances so far and whilst their glories will have gone pretty much unreported back home, they deserve all the plaudits they are getting elsewhere.

Now they face the tricky task of playing a team in the final that just dismantled them 3-0, in a game where the States were lucky to get nil and not concede double, with the South Americans taking their foot off the gas in the second half.

Coming back from the lows of that is a feat in itself and you get the sense that the US side will have the belief to put that behind them and I would be very surprised to see a repetition of how things previously played out in Sunday's final.

Brazil had a stunning late free kick from Daniel Alves to thank today for claiming their spot in the final, after a determined defensive display from the South African hosts nearly caused an upset.

If anyone thinks that the teams in this tournament aren't taking it seriously, then you just have to look at the reaction of the Brazilian players and coaches when the winning strike hit the net. To a man they celebrated as if it was a World Cup semi final match up that they were playing.

The 1-0 win certainly wasn't Brazil's finest display of the competition but you have to credit the bafana bafana boys for making it that way.

They showed no fear, no sense of awe at who they were playing. they stuck to their game plan, their game style and took the play to Brazil at times.

They may have missed out on the chance of making their first major final but they have whetted the appetite of many in the country, and the continent, for next year's World Cup.

As I said before, with the passion of the fans cheering them on, who knows how far they could go. The hosts tradionally do well and if they play the same loose and exciting way that they have here, then good luck to them.

I'm looking forward to next year's finals already.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

After a week to forget, the Vancouver Whitecaps aimed to get their season back on track last night with an away match against Cleveland City Stars at the Middlefield Cheese Stadium in Bedford, Ohio. The game being played on an artificial gridiron pitch, complete with markings, at the home of the Bearcats.

Sitting second bottom of USL1, six points behind the 8th placed Whitecaps, Cleveland hadn’t had the best of starts to their debut first division season, recording just three wins in their 13 games to date. They have, however, recently completed a good bit of business in taking on some of LA Galaxy’s developmental players from the MLS.

Still, all that said, it should have been an easy Whitecaps win. Not so as it turned out.

The Caps started brightly and with Charles Gbeke sitting out the second game of his suspension, a lot was resting on Marcus Haber to do the business up front. The big Canadian duly obliged and nearly opened the scoring on 16 minutes but Hunter Gilstrap did well in the Cleveland goal and rushed out to block the danger.

Moments later and the Caps had a two on one, but again Gilstrap kept them out.

The Whitecaps pressure finally turned into a goal on the 18 minute mark when Haber raced down the left and his shot went through Gilstrap’s arms for 1-0 Whitecaps.

This is when the Caps should have turned the screw, especially as Cleveland weren’t at the races, and they tested the Cleveland goalie on another few occasions before allowing Cleveland back into the game and the Ohio side made them pay just before the half hour mark when Leo Gibson waltzed past the static Caps defence and tied it up at 1-1 with his first goal of the season.

The goal should have given both teams a kick up the ass, but unfortunately it only seemed to spur on the home side and as the game approached added on time in the first half a ridiculous penalty decision gave Cleveland the chance to take the lead.

The ball was played through to Gibson in the box but Takashi Hirano won the race and as he turned to get the ball out, Gibson went down with seemingly no contact and the ref pointed to the spot.

Pato Aguilera stepped up and the Bolivian buried it low to Jay Nolly’s right to net his second goal of the season and to give Cleveland a shock 2-1 lead at the half.

The second half saw little in dangerous goalmouth action, as the Whitecaps piled the pressure on the Stars, winning a string of corners and free kicks, but seldom causing much panic in the Cleveland box. The Stars players were struggling to keep hold of the ball, never mind get out of their own half.

Jay Nolly was having an easy second half but Gilstrap kept out the Caps attack with a couple of saves late on, with Marlon James coming closest with a header with four minutes left.

As the game entered stoppage time it looked like it the Whitecaps woes were to continue.

Then up stepped Captain Canuck Martin Nash. Collecting the ball in acres of space, he used the bounce on the artificial surface to full effect and hit a low 25 yards screamer into the bottom left corner of the Stars net, with a fortunate bounce on the way.

Two apiece and the Caps got out of there with a much needed point in front of a low crowd of 1,066.

It was a game they should and could have won. They really need to regroup now and work on sticking away those chances. There’s still a lot of time to get their season back on track though and they now have a long break until they entertain Minnesota on July 9th.

Let’s hope the break does the trick.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

From the pages of AFTN, it's another Top Ten List. This time, Fifa's Top Ten Ideas To Make The Game More Exciting Next Season:

(10) Balls dangerously over-inflated with hydrogen

(9) New Rules for goalkeepers - save a penalty, win the salary of the guy that took it

(8) If a fan throws the ball back from the terracing and it lands in the net, it counts for his team

(7) Players can't do drugs unless they bring enough for everybody

(6) Conceding a free kick results in loss of possession - and shorts

(5) Substitutes warm up by riding around on giant llamas

(4) Players must constantly shout the name of the boot company they have an endorsement with

(3) Central defenders allowed to use baseball bats

(2) Score a goal - win a car

(1) 11 players - 10 strips

Monday, June 22, 2009

Setanta Sports' future is growing bleaker by the day it would appear and today saw some more final nails being hammered into their coffin.

BT Vision, one of the UK's top cable TV providers, announced that they were stopping selling the station to new subscribers, although existing ones will still be able to watch Setanta's output.

This in itself is a huge blow to Setanta as they rely heavily on these outlets and it will be interesting to see which other providers now follow suit.

In further, more damaging, blows though, the Premier League rights to the 46 games which Setanta had previously held for next season have now been sold to ESPN and the SPL today announced that failure to receive payments due has meant that their television rights had now reverted back to them to re-sell.

It is still unclear how much impact, if any, these losses of rights will affect the company's stations outside the UK (in places like North America and Canada) as they seem to be governed by different agreements, with much of their output bought in from other rights holders.

Setanta still look to be putting together a rescue package but without English and Scottish Premier league action, they currently only have FA Cup, International and Blue Square Premier rights to tempt people to keep paying their monthly subscriptions.

Sadly, I don't know how many people this will keep and as the days go by it's looking increasingly unlikely that the station can survive.

I personally find this a shame, as Setanta were providing some good coverage in the UK and offered access to matches for people without satellite and cable access through the freeview platform. They had made a strong impact on sports fans in the UK and gave coverage across a wide variety of sports, providing fans of North American sports in particular a chance to get previously unparallelled coverage.

If Setanta fail, then already replacements will be lined up. ESPN are seemingly looking at launching a new channel to air their newly acquired football and this, of course, will be a subscription one.

Whether the UK market can financially support too many subscription services is becoming more and more debatable and it's the poorer sports fans in particular that will be the ones missing out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The semi finals of the Confederations Cup were decided today with the United States the unlikely celebrants.

Brazil destroyed Italy with a first half performance that was a sheer pleasure to watch. It was hard to tell whether the Italians were trying to play defensively and hit the Brazilians on the break or whether Brazil just wouldn't let them play any other way.

The 3-0 win would have been a lot more if it hadn't have been for Buffon in the Italian goals and Brazil easing off the constant pressure in the second half.

This should have given Egypt a berth in the second round if they took at least a point or didn't suffer a complete collapse against the US.

They unfortunately did the latter and their 3-0 loss meant the US, who had looked all but out before the day's play started, progressing on most goals scored.

It was an amazing and unexpected turnaround and as much as you feel sorry for the Eygptians, who had played some great football in their first two matches, you have to give full plaudits to the Americans who still believed and turned in the performance they needed to, whilst those around them completely imploded.

Brazil and the US join Spain and South Africa in the final four, after those two sides went through yesterday.

Spain turned in another clinical performance in their 2-0 win over their hosts and although South Africa weren't able to replicate their previous fine attacking form against superior opponents, they certainly didn't embarrass themselves and their continuing involvement will keep the home fans keenly interested in the competition.

As much as they would like to see their boys progress to the final, the rest of the world can start to lick their lips at the prospect of a Brazil-Spain final.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

For the second time in three days the Montreal Impact screwed over the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The only difference between the Thursday screw and todays was that the Caps could have had a say in the outcome, had they bothered to turn up.

In a game that we all thought would be fiery from the get go, with the Whitecaps out to avenge their Champions League disappointments, Vancouver turned in a lacklustre display and only posed a real threat in the closing moments, going down 2-1.

Whether the deflation from Thursday still hung over the squad or whether they were missing the suspended Gbeke and Chalres, I don't know, but all Caps fans expected better and more passion from the side than what was on display. Their pace was almost pedestrian at times and that was them two goals down by the half.

It was a poor end to a week that all Whitecaps fans will now just want to forget.

As for Montreal, well what can we say?

The Impact started the game with only two players who started Thursday's debacle. That says it all really.

Montreal played some good, tight and attacking football, in the first half in particular, and this makes Thursday's defeat even more galling than it already is. The Impact showed today what they are capable of if they try.

That, for me, is just even more reason to hate them and no amount of apologies from Joey Saputo and his organisation will ever change that.

The Whitecaps could have gone out and made a real statement today, in front of a national TV audience on CBC's "Soccer Day In Canada". A destructive performance from them would have been the best retort to all that's happened. Sadly we're just left with the verbal volleys that will continue to surround the events.

The Montreal UM02 Ultras stuck to their promise and boycotted the first half, their absence very noticeable on the TV to those who knew. Maybe the Whitecaps were doing the same.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The morning after the night before and not only does it still hurt just as much, but the events of last night are still completely incomprehensible.

Vancouver Whitecaps crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League last night without even kicking a ball.

Toronto FC went to the Stade Saputo needing to win by four goals or more to claim Canada’s berth in the Champions League, a scoring feat they’d only achieved once before in their history.

In the build up to the game Montreal Impact manager Marc Dos Santos stated that he would be putting out a weakened side as the game was meaningless to the Quebec side and he didn’t want to risk injuries for the League. No mention of pride or the fact that Vancouver did Montreal a favour last year in similar circumstances that let the Impact progress.

At this point Vancouver fans started to be a little wary as to what might transpire.

Even in their wildest flights of fancy however, no Whitecaps fans could have imagined what was to take place as Montreal fielded a reserve side, took an early lead through a penalty and subsequently lost 6-1. Yes, that’s right, they conceded SIX soft goals as Toronto clinched their first ever silverware and that all important Champions League spot as the Whitecaps players, management and fans could only look on in disbelief.

Unbelievable. Montreal didn’t just surrender, they completely capitulated.

A few weeks ago there were skirmishes in Rochester in New York state when the home fans taunted the visiting Montreal supporters with signs saying that they were “North America’s Shame”. Those Rhinos fans must be a bit psychic as after last night’s performance the Impact are Canada’s shame at the very least.

Those players looked like they didn't give a shit out there. Watching the goals again and specifically looking at the marking and the players on the line, Toronto players rose unchallenged to head home when surrounded by Montreal players. The Impact strolled around with little urgency and less idea of what to do with the ball when they got it. If these were players hoping to impress the boss and break into the first team then the rest of the USL doesn’t have a lot to worry about.

The Montreal goalkeeper for the night (and I use that term very loosely) was Serge Djekanovic. As he flapped at crosses and stood rooted to his line, you couldn't help but think what a good decision it was for the Caps to release him last season, as he clearly doesn't have what it takes to make it as this grade. You would have thought that at least he would have been out to prove a point that he shouldn't have been let go.

The Caps can hold their heads up high for how they played and what they achieved this year in the competition. There is no shame on them for not progressing. I feel so sorry for the players and management right now.

They were let down by a gutless and toothless display from a Montreal side that put in a performance that was a disgrace to themselves, their fans, the club and the jersey.

I think Vancouver has a new team to not just hate or have a "friendly" rivalry with, but to truly loathe. A team, that if they went out of business tomorrow, then you wouldn’t shed a tear.

In an ironic twist, Vancouver play Montreal in Montreal on Saturday. If they ever need any motivation before any game then last night gave them it tenfold. I’d expect a few hard challenges at the very least.

A Whitecaps contingent had travelled through early to take in the game and hopefully collect their deserved trophy. After the match, the Whitecaps players and officials were visibly shocked by what they had just seen and Caps President Bob Lenarduzzi did well to be restrained with the media, commenting:

"The idea of playing your full squad for the integrity of the game, that's something that always should happen. It's going to certainly require some discussion."

In a touch of class, Montreal ultra fans group, the UMO2, are boycotting the first half of Saturday's match in protest at what their Club did, how they played and the fact that they didn't give a toss about the paying Impact fans there last night with that display. Nice touch and appreciated by the Caps faithful.

The only good thing I can take out of last night was that it showed to me just how much I care about the Whitecaps and what the Club has come to mean to me in such a relative short space of time.
As an East Fife fan (and Scotland fan) you’re used to underachieving and the lack of success. It still doesn’t make it any easier and when the disappointment and heartache is not even by your own doing, well then it hurts all that more.

I'm proud of all of our players and I'm proud to be a Cap today.

Can anyone in Montreal say the same of their team?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The latest round of games in the Confederations Cup wrapped up today and the tournament is continuing to excite and entertain, horns aside of course.

The big story coming out of the tournament is the rise of the African nations taking part.

South Africa dominated their first game against Iraq without scoring. Their second game against New Zealand yesterday saw another dominant display but this time with clinical finishing. The bafana bafana took New Zealand’s All Whites apart and the 2-0 scoreline could have been a lot more.

With flair and an attack minded mentality, you have to wonder what the South Africans might be able to do in next year’s World Cup if they can just bury some more of their chances in games. Roared on by what will be a fanatical and noisy home crowd, they really could be a force to be reckoned with next year and will certainly be exciting to watch.

With South Africa taking part as hosts, Egypt are there representing the African confederation and they have also been a revelation.

Having impressed by their attacking philosophy against Brazil on Monday, the Egyptians continued their fine form against Italy today, pulling of a shock 1-0 victory. Well I say shock, but anyone who witnessed the game will know that it was a well deserved win.

They had their charismatic goalkeeper El Hadary to thank for some vital saves in the second half but they were well worth the three points.

It’ll be interesting to see what else they can achieve in this tournament, although the possible loss of Zidan will be a setback for them. A rematch of their opening game against Brazil would be a mouthwatering prospect if it produces anything like Monday’s match.

When you consider that Egypt have been struggling in the African qualifiers for next year's World Cup Finals, you have to wonder just what else is going to be on show from the African contingent come 2010. The Egyptians are currently bottom of their group after the first two games but you just can't see them not raising their game now and qualifying after these displays.

It was Italy's first ever defeat against African opposition and you know how much the defeat hurt and how seriously the Italians were taking the competition when you see Buffon going up for an injury time corner.

Today’s other game saw the ruthless Brazilians destroy a weak and lacklustre looking US side 3-0, without really getting into full flow. That in itself can only be worrying for the rest of the world hoping to compete in next year’s finals as the South Americans looked rampant as it was.

A match up with Europe’s current masters, Spain, at some point is what we all now want to see. The Spanish weren’t overly impressive against Iraq yesterday and their single goal victory may not have been in doubt once the Iraqis fell behind, but they were more going through the motions than the gears.

The last round of group games will certainly be interesting as Italy fight for their lives against Brazil.

Despite my original expectations, I’m enjoying the Confederations Cup much more than last year’s Euros. I just have to stop dreaming about angry swarms now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Scottish Football League announced East Fife's fixtures for the 2009/2010 season today and the Fife will kick off their campaign at home to Brechin on Saturday 8th August.

There should be no surprise that it's Brechin, as we only seem to play them and Arbroath!

The Fife start their campaign with three of their first League games at home. Add into that at least two Cup games and that should keep all us programme guys busy for a while!

It's a strange looking set of fixtures, with the Fife playing back to back home games four times over the season and back to back away games four times as well.

The Fife face a Halloween trip to Airdrie, which is a scary enough place to go at the best of times.

Disappointingly, but only to be expected, our exciting New Years derby fixture is at away to Peterhead. More disappointing though is that the Club miss out altogether on a festive pay day as the December 26th game is also away from home, as we travel to Arbroath.

The loss of Raith and the failure of Cowdenbeath to get promoted have left the excitement of the League a little flat for us next season but at least we can look forward to another last game of the season fancy dress day out at our Smokie friends on May 1st.

Whenever the fixtures come out they're not going to please everyone. In fact, they seldom seem to please anyone!

I've been one to complain in the past about whatever "stupid way" the football authorities have come up with that season's fixtures but after reading this interesting article, I don't really think it's fair to ever really complain again!

Reading about all the calculations and allowances and requests that have to be fitted into producing the fixtures for the season is mindblowing enough. Imagine being in charge of it all!

Interesting that the computer doesn't take into account distances between grounds. Out of all the things taken into account, you'd have thought that that would have been one of the main ones, to prevent midweek trips to godforsaken places hundreds of miles away!

Seemingly not.

Ah well, at least we all now know what lies in store of us for another season at any rate. It's what we do in those fixtures that matters now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ever since the Vancouver Whitecaps' explosive match on Friday night against Miami, that saw Caps players Wesley Charles and Charles Gbeke fighting each other both on and off pitch and both players red carded, Vancouver fans have been anxiously awaiting what punishments will be meted out to the players by both the Club and the USL.

Well today everyone found out.

Both players have publically apologised for the incidents and the Whitecaps announced on Monday that both players had been fined. The Caps weren't going to comment on any suspensions until after the USL announced what suspensions they would be hitting the players with.

Past history in other leagues left the fans fearing the worst.

Looking at two high profile cases that stay fresh in our memories, the bust up between Hearts players Craig Levein and Graham Hogg in a friendly at Raith in 1994 saw Levein break Hogg's nose in an on field bust up and receive a 14 game ban. Hogg received a 10 game ban.

The most well known incident of recent times was the one between Newcastle's Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer at St James Park in 2005. Both players were sent off in footage that was seen all over the globe. Dyer was banned for three games and Bowyer for four.

The USL have thankfully not taken that harsh a stance on the incident, banning both players for just one match each. They even included Gbeke in their "Team of the Week" for his two goals on Friday!

The Whitecaps have also banned each player for a further one game, but both players will be remaining at the Club.

The punishments could have been a lot lot worse and with both players key to the Whitecaps success this season, all Caps fans can breathe a collected sigh of relief that they will not be absent for too long.

All we can hope for is that the peace pipe has been well and truely smoked and no further repercussions or incidents stem from what happened Friday. Everyone needs to move on and put it all behind them because the one thing that has been made abundantly clear is that any repeat of what happened, either on the pitch or at training, and neither player will find themselves in Vancouver for much longer.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup kicked off in South Africa yesterday to not so much a fanfare as a lone bugler and a cacophony of annoying horns from the fans.

The competition has seen a few changes over the years and is now in it's 8th tournament.

For those a little unfamiliar with the Cup, it started in 1992 as a tournament in Saudi Arabia, which would feature the host nation taking on some continental champions for the King Fahd Cup.

Two such competitions were held (1992 and 1995) before FIFA took over the organisational reigns and decided to make it a bi annual tournament from 1997 featuring eight teams made up of the host nation, the six Confederation Champions and the last World Cup winners.

The Cup was made a four yearly tournament in 2005, with the same qualifying criteria as above, but will now be hosted by the following year's World Cup hosts and will act as a trial run for the host country and a chance to test some of the stadiums in a live international situation.

Many dismiss the importance of the tournament as a World Cup lite and it's not a competition that inspires too much enthusiasm and unless your country is taking part, it's more an aside and something to fill what would be those long summer non footballing days than something that will excite as much as the World Cup or Euros.

All of this is a shame as the 2009 version has been a huge surprise and the four games so far have thrown up some of the most entertaining international contests seen in a long time.

The competition kicked off Sunday with a less than inspiring 0-0 draw between the hosts and Iraq. South Africa should have wrapped the match up but failed to turn their dominance and chances into goals.

Goals weren't a factor in the second match of the day as European champs Spain destroyed Oceanic champs New Zealand 5-0, with Fernando Torres hitting a hat trick.

On paper, the result is not that shocking, but having watched New Zealand giving Italy a good run for their money in a midweek friendly which saw the Italians win by the odd goal in seven. It shows just how strong the Spanish are in world football at the moment and we could see them dominating the game for the spell now that they always promised.

Today saw the first round of Group B matches and threw up two games of fireworks.

The Brazil-Egypt game was simply a joy to watch. End to end action, goals galore and both teams just wanting to attack. Brazil won 4-3 thanks to a very late and controversial penalty but it was refreshing to see a team not afraid to take the game to the Brazilians and Egypt's players deserve full credit and have several impressive players in the shop window.

If there's going to be more games like this one then I'll certainly be glued to my TV for the rest of the tournament.

The second game of the day wasn't as exciting in a beautiful free-flowing footballing sense but wasn't short of controverial and contentious decisions to provide the fireworks.

Italy and the US isn't the most mouthwatering international fixture out there, but after tonight's game, future encounters will be ones to watch as both teams held little respect or restraint for each other, with aggressive play right from the off and a lot of incidents to carry forward to their next meeting.

A dubious sending off, a disallowed goal, a penalty for the ten men and a New York born Italian holding the key to the end result. That's Italy's 3-1 win in a nutshell, with a brace from supersub Guiseppe Rossi being instrumental to the result.

It's been a good opening to this year's competition. Let's hope for some more of the same over the next two weeks.

Just lose the horns!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Freebies are great at any time. Everyone loves them.

In these times when it seems that football is just about money and fleecing the fan for what people can get off them, freebies at football these days can be a rare occurance.

One of the enjoyable things about watching the Vancouver Whitecaps this season is that you will not be leaving the game without at least one freebie having come into your hands during the course of the evening.

The programmes and team sheets are free, there is a free collectors card of former players at each match (to celebrate the Club's 35 years of existance), there's newspaper pullout features dedicated to the Caps and at many games over the course of the season you can pick up a copy of Free Kick magazine - it's not the best football magazine on the market, but it is a homegrown one and that alone is to be applauded in what is not a football dominated media market, and hey, it's free!

These are all great and useful freebies and you almost take them for granted. What I love is the collection of weird and wonderful free items that have been getting given away as you leave the stadium this year. It's got to the stage that, sad as it may be, you look forward to see what piece of tat you're going to get given after the final whistle!

Some have been useful, if a little strange. Friday's game saw $2 off vouchers for Iams pet food. Excellent. There's also been free mints given away. Again, useful and in this case, rather tasty too.

Then you get to the really strange. Those that fall into the wtf category.

At both of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship matches at Swangard this year, punters leaving the game have been given a pill box emblazoned with the sponsors name.

Now it should be explained here that, based on 2008 sales, Nutrilite are the world's leading brand of vitamin, mineral and dietary supplements. So a pill box with their name on it is not exactly a strange marketing tool in itself.

What I find unexpectedly strange is to be given a six slotted, empty pill box when leaving a football match. They're not two things that you immediately think go hand in hand.

But wait. Maybe there is a clever marketing idea here that's been missed and the giving of such a freebie is, in fact, a stroke of genius.

We all know how passionate football fans are. How much a victory or defeat can mean to them. A six slotted pill box could in fact help the fan and drugs companies to cover all bases and never leave the house unprepared.

You can carry vitamins to help you get through a full 90 minutes of noisy and animated support, betablockers for the heart palpitations created over the course of the game depending on whether your team is laying siege on goal or defending for their lives, and lets not forget a mix of various uppers and downers depending on the final result.

As strange as a pillbox may be, this can only rank second in my personal confusion stakes of freebies I've received at the football.

Pride and place in the number one spot goes to the freebie handed out at East Fife's midweek away match at Alloa on the night of December 2nd 2003.

I'd brought along a workmate and good friend of mine, John Dickinson, who was up from England on business for a few days. He was an ardent Barnsley fan and was at a loose end, so going to his first East Fife game was an ideal way to spend some time as far as he was concerned.

The night has gone down in his own personal football folklore and he still talks about it to this day for a few reasons.

East Fife had been playing well, challenging at the top of the table, but Dicko witnessed a shocking game, a 2-0 Fife defeat and the Fife hardly won any games for the rest of the season, quickly slipped down the table and were promptly relegated. He feels he jinxed us.

This alone is not his story to tell. His favourite part of the evening was the freebie that was given out when you bought a copy of the matchday programme - a bottle of shampoo - or rather my look after I received it.

Dicko and I still well remember the look of confusion on my face, as I, a folically challenged individual, stood in disbelief and utter bewilderment as I looked at the programme in my left hand and the bottle of shampoo in the other.

So many words were trying to make it through my head, but nothing could come out of my hung open mouth, as all I could keep thinking at that moment, the resultant ninety minutes, the drive home and even now, was why?

To this very day, I still have no idea!

Freebies at football - you gotta love them!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The term ‘pulsating game’ is a much overused phrase when talking about football matches. Every now and again you get a match truly deserving of this description and last night’s USL game between Vancouver Whitecaps and Miami FC was certainly one of those.

Vancouver won 3-2, fought back from going an early goal down, played some delightful passing football and laid siege to the Miami goal for most of the second half. Yet many of the Vancouver faithful left Swangard last night feeling like they had just witnessed a loss.

Despite all of the good things on show, all of the talking points will be about the controversial points of the game, namely the Caps second goal and the THREE sending offs.

Vancouver went into the match on a three game losing streak, whilst third bottom Miami didn’t have their problems to seek either, with only one point from their last five games.

The Caps started the game the livelier of the two sides, with Charles Gbeke giving an indication of what would lie in store by testing Miami keeper Kenny Schoeni twice in the first five minutes.

It was Miami who were to take the first lead of the night though.

With ten minutes on the clock, Miami won a free kick 25 yards out and Zourab Tsiskaridze’s strike forced Jay Nolly into a fine save to tip the ball over. The resultant outswinging corner was met superbly by Tsiskaridze, who lost his marker and the big Georgian headed strongly into the top left hand corner, rooting Nolly to the spot. 1-0 Miami.

Vancouver levelled six minutes later though when Gbeke outjumped three Miami defenders to head home Wes Knight’s long throw from 8 yards out.

Miami had a few breaks but their attempts at goal fell short, in many ways, and Vancouver were always looking the more likely to break the deadlock.

That break came on 34 minutes when Gbeke doubled his, and the Caps, tally in the first controversial moment of what was to become an incident packed game.

Knight played a great ball in from the right and Gbeke and Schoeni challenged for it in the air on the six yard line. The Miami keeper seemed to have the ball in his hands only for the Caps striker to head it out and into the net.

My initial thought was foul by Vancouver, but television replays seem to show minimal contact by Gbeke on the keeper and Schoeni seems to drop the ball into the net himself. All that really mattered was that the referee awarded the goal and Vancouver took a 2-1 lead.

The Miami players were furious and they were lucky to see only Leonardo Inacio Nunes booked for their protestations.

As half time approached, the Caps had some half chances to increase their lead before a flashpoint incident at midfield on 45 minutes.

As Vancouver's Martin Nash and Miami's Danny Vasquez squared up in the centre following a tackle, Nunes came out of nowhere to send Nash flying. Nash got booked for the initial fracas and Nunes saw red, reducing the Florida side to ten men and cueing more Miami protests.

Vancouver started off the second half keen to kill off the game and laid siege to the Miami goal, with chance after chance, with Miami having some fine saves from their goalie for keeping them in the game.

Gbeke in particular seemed hungry for his hat trick, throwing himself at everything and in seemingly good spirits, joking and gesturing to the Southside when fortune hadn't smiled favourably on him.

Vancouver eventually got their third, after 76 minutes, when Marco Reda bundled home a flick on from Gbeke from a Nash corner. It may have been his thigh, it may have been his arm. It was too quick to tell but, again, all that mattered was that it counted!

3-1 Vancouver but what we thought was to be plain sailing lasted 2 minutes, as Miami grabbed a goal back when Walter Ramirez's free kick crashed of the bar and into the path of Richard Perdomo who threw himself at the ball to head home form 4 yards.

Miami nearly hit a shock equalizer minutes later but Perdomo wasted the fine opportunity.

As Miami pushed forward they were leaving themselves short at the back and Vancouver had a two on one break, but sub Marlon James (making a welcome return from injury) and Gbeke contrived to let Schoeni deal with the danger.

There is no doubting that the Caps forwards could have done better and this seems to have led to the big flashpoint incident moments later with 85 minutes gone.

Full details are still a little unclear but Caps defender Wesley Charles and Gbeke squared up to each other in the middle of the pitch and physical contact was made by both. It appears that Gbeke took offence to comments Charles made to him.

Ref Oliva needed help from his linesman and the result was a red card for Charles and a yellow for Gbeke, although some fans feel it could very easily have been the other way around or two reds. As Charles calmly walked off, the other Caps players had to hold back Gbeke who seemed to want to continue the altercation.

Gbeke was clearly left fuming after the incident and when substituted on the 90 minute mark kicked over a pile of water bottles as he made his way to the bench. Now we're not talking a small kick here. The bottles went flying.

The referee took exception to this and sent Gbeke off from the sidelines. In all my years of watching football I honestly can't remember seeing someone getting sent off for something like that.

Gbeke quickly made his way up the tunnel to the dressing room where Charles was and Caps officials soon had to make a quick dash to the area, and it would appear that a further altercation took place between the players.

Vancouver held out for the win but the subdued atmosphere in the Southside for the last few minutes of the game said it all.

After the final whistle the Miami players tried to get to the referee who now had protection from security! Two big women you wouldn't want to mess with!

The Caps players came to the Southside but were then kept on the pitch for ages as the events of the night hit home.

What the fall out from all of this will be is unclear and the Whitecaps have said that they won't be making a statement on it until Monday.

It will be hard for Charles and Gbeke to play in the same team again after this barring an amazing reconciliation and much public shamed apologies. It will also be hard for Gbeke to get his team mates respect back and he has publicaly acknowledged that he gives his team mates a hard time verbally on the pitch, which is very noticeable at times.

As the Whitecaps try to prize some of the football loving couch potatoes and Eurosnobs out of their armchairs and in to watching the game live, any casual fan watching the game on TV tonight would have been left wanting to come to the next game immediately.

It's a shame that the other proceedings overshadowed what was a good Caps performance and what was a promising return to fine form as the Champions League campaign hopefully awaits.

It will certainly be interesting to see what comes out of all this next week.

Friday, June 12, 2009

CONCACAF's bigwigs released the draw for the 2009/10 Champions League yesterday and Vancouver Whitecaps now know what will be waiting in store for them if they clinch qualification next week.

It's not an entirely mouthwatering proposition.

Canada's entry in the competition have to get through a qualifying round to get into the group stages and were in Pot A. With 8 potential opponents, including trips to Trinidad, Honduras and Panama, awaiting them, it somehow came as no surprise when the draw through up the most unglamourous and least box office friendly tie possible - another two legged match up with fellow USL-1 side Puerto Rico Islanders. Sigh.

Myself and many Whitecaps fans would be quite happy to see a long Champions League run, as opposed to more USL glory, if we had to choose, but the draw has thrown up a nightmare tie on so many levels.

The Caps will be playing against opponents that know them well. They have already played each other twice this season, with one win apiece, and a third game between them will take place in Vancouver just days before the first leg.

The Islanders are also not exactly box office gold. There will be little hype or buzz about the prospect of the teams meeting for a 4th and 5th time this season. There's not going to be a huge rush of fans clamouring for tickets for this one! It's become the Canadian equivalent of East Fife-Brechin City!

Forgetting the lack of exoticness and buzz about the game, the main worry in all of this is that the game is as equally as winnable as it is loseable. The Caps don't do well historically down in Puerto Rico, but we do pretty well at Swangard.

The qualifying game is schedule to be played in the weeks beginning July 28th and August 4th.

If Vancouver can secure the victory, the will qualify for the group stages in Group C where future MLS foes and current MLS Champs Columbus Crew, Costa Rican side Saprissa and probably Mexican side Cruz Azul await them. The Mexcians were last season's beaten finalist in the Champions League and have to go through a qualifying game against another Costa Rican side, Herediano, to claim their place in the group stages this year. A tough proposition, but nothing to fear and three mouthwatering home games to look forward to and three away games it may be better avoiding for various reasons!

Of course, all of these points will be moot if Toronto pull off the big victory they need in Montreal next Thursday. As unlikely as it looks that TFC can actually manage to score at least 4 goals in the game, word coming out of the Montreal camp is that they will not be fielding a full strength side in a meaningless game for them and risk injuries for the remainder of their USL campaign.

Smoke and mirrors? We have a nervy few days to wait and find out, but of course a second string Montreal team with players keen to impress and stake a regular first team spot will be a dangerous proposition in theory.

I can't see many fingernails left by the end of the evening on June 18th.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Obscene is one of the many words that could be used to describe Cristiano Ronaldo's £80 million transfer to Real Madrid. One of many, yes, but possibly the most apt.

In this world of financial woes and a high percentage of people living below the poverty line, this alone makes the size of the fee sickening.

The papers and online sites will soon be full of "What else could £80 million buy you?" style features, citing the vast numbers of expensive cars, private jets and so on that you could purchase for that amount of money. But why would you want or need more than one anyway?!

You could buy everyone in the UK a bag of chips for that money, but more importantly look at what a difference that amount of money could make in the world.

I went into the Sports Relief website to see what that money could buy and you are looking at saving the lives of millions, providing educational facilities, fresh water and of course food to the world's starving, providing medical centres and doctors and nurses. But we all know that and nothing is going to stop transfers like this happening.

Taking all of this aside and looking at it from a footballing viewpoint only, any transfer like this only highlights the vast gulf between the few elite Clubs and the rest, but again, we knew all that already anyway.

We East Fife fans have been celebrating the recent return, on a free transfer, of former defensive stalwart John Ovenstone. Ah for those different circles we move in.

It's a huge gamble by Real Madrid. Ronaldo will be a marked man and you can see him being injured early doors after a clattering tackle from a midfield hitman out to make a name for himself. Will the pricetag seem reasonable if he's missing injured and suspended for a lot of the season?

Then you have to look at the pressure on Real Madrid to succeed now, with this transfer and that of Kaka's. Surely only a La Liga and Champions League double would be acceptable for the money spent. Realsitic? Well money doesn't always guarantee success as I'm sure the likes of Man City will soon become aware. Look at Chelsea, their returns for the money spent is not good and still no Champions League silverware to show for it all.

Looking at the English game, Man United receiving such a vast amount of cash cannot be good for those challenging them for the title. We all know Sir Alex's shrewdness in the transfer market. How many world quality players will he be able to get for that if he wants to?

He bought Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon for £12 million in 2003 and he's seen trophy after trophy delivered from this key investment. The huge profit on his transfer is fantastic business by Man United and shows once again Sir Alex's key philosophy that no one player is indispensible or bigger than the Club. I like that.

As mentioned, Chelsea and Man City are maybe the only two Clubs that can realistically compete with Man U in the spending stakes now, but don't even expect Sir Alex to spend anywhere near that amount of money in bringing in new players, at the risk of disrupting his winning team.

Finally you come to the player himself. The pressure on him will be immense. He will be branded a flop very easily and a waste of money. You know that the media are just waiting for that to happen.

He had a poor season by his standards for Man U I felt. Yes, he got goals, but his overall play wasn't as good as we've previously seen. Was he unsettled? We'll never truely know.

I don't really watch to much Spanish football, except the El Classico matchups between Barca and Real. Barca winning the Champions League raised the stakes in Spain and Real Madrid have now gone all in. It's win or bust for them and it means that I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I'll be paying a little bit closer attention to the Spanish results next season.

One thing I am certain about, without Ronaldo's diving, petulance and hissy fits, the English Premiership is going to be a far more enjoyable viewing proposition as far as I'm concerned next season.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Scotland's World Cup qualification hopes have been helped no end in the last two rounds of matches in the way that Scotland does best - they weren't playing!

The results of Saturday and tonight's matches in Group 9 have now left it looking like a two horse race between ourselves and Macedonia for the runners up place and a possible spot in the play offs.

Macedonia's 2-0 win at home to Iceland tonight has left them level on points with Scotland, but having played a game more, and it's really all in the Scots own hands now to clinch that second place.

When the draw was made for the qualifying group, not many would have expected the former Yugoslav republic to be our nearest challengers, but Norway and Iceland have performed really poorly so far in the qualifying campaign.

Scotland's next match, away to Norway on August 12th, is now crucial. A point would mean that we definitely finish above Iceland, and a win would see us definitely finish above the Norwegians.

Finishing second is still no guarantee of making the playoffs though, as only 8 of the 9 second placed teams will make those. Discounting the games against the lower sides in each group, will help Scotland if we can take 6 points from our games against Norway and Macedonia and anything against the Dutch would then be a bonus. With the Dutch having already secured qualification, it could work in our favour.

There are a few teams we could finish above in the play off race and as much as it pains me to say it, we could do with England continuing their fine form and doing us a favour in keeping their nearest rivals far behind.

We have to rely in Soctland doing their part in all of this of course and as we've seen so many times in the past, that's when we can see it all come undone!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

All at AFTN were saddened to hear on Sunday evening about the tragic death of Dumbarton FC captain Gordon Lennon.

The news has slowly started to come out about what happened on Sunday but it appears that he was on an adventure day out at Inverness when the off road vehicle he was travelling in crashed into an electricity pole, bringing the wires down. He died later in hospital of his injuries.

Lennon was just 26 years old and only weeks ago had been celebrating guiding The Sons to the Third Division Championship. He had previous spells with Partick Thistle, Stenhousemuir and Albion Rovers and was a former Rovers player of the year, a mark of his calibre.

He played against East Fife on several occasions in his career and would have been one of our hardest opponents next season. He always impressed the Bayview faithful, so much so, that when we saw the thread about him on AFTN's forum on Sunday evening, many of us clicked into it hoping we had signed him or were at least being linked with him. Sadly it wasn't and the news has shocked and saddened everyone on the forum.

There is talk of a benefit match between Dumbarton and Partick Thistle, which hopefully as many fans from as many Clubs as possible will be able to attend. A book of condolences has also been opened at Dumbarton's stadium.

Gordon was held in high esteem in the lower levels of the game in Scotland and many have described what a genuinely nice guy he was, who always had time to chat to the fans.

One of the most tragic aspects of this story is that Gordon had not long become a dad and his child was only 5 months old.

AFTN sends it's heartfelt condolences and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.

R.I.P. Gordon. Gone but not forgotten.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A below par Vancouver Whitecaps went down 2-1 at home to Montreal on Sunday night.

The result leaves the Caps languishing 12 points off the top spot in 7th place in the USL First Division and saw them drop below the Montreal Impact on goal difference.

With games in hand and a long way still to go before the play off positions will be finalised, it's not a time to panic yet, but with a potential heavy Champions League schedule to come and a squad lacking depth in several positions, Vancouver may have to make the decision as to which competition will take priority in the coming weeks. For me personally, that would be the CONCACAF Champions League, putting, as it will, the Whitecaps on an international stage.

Last night's game was a bit of a lacklustre affair, with Montreal looking the hungrier team and Vancouver perhaps suffering a bit of a comedown from Tuesday night's heroics.

The goals all came in the first half, with both Montreal goals coming from former Whitecaps players.

Montreal took the lead midway through the first half when the Caps former goalscoring hero Eddie Sebrango hit home the rebound after Jay Nolly had saved well from Rocco Placentino after 20 minutes.

The Caps had had the better of the early play but the goal sparked Montreal into life, but without really threatening to increase their lead.

It was Vancouver who found the net next, when the hero from midweek, Ansu Toure, sent in a delightful ball to the back post and Marcus Haber had time to control and hit home from about six yards out, to tie things up after 42 minutes.

The parity didn't last long and the Southside was still in full celebration mode when David Testo hit a curler from the edge of the box into the top left hand corner of Nolly's net, giving the big Vancouver stopper no chance just a minute before half time and silencing the Swangard faithful.

The action died a little in the second half and Montreal ran out worthy winners, although the Impact were lucky not to see Sebrango sent off after he was about to be booked for diving in the box and pushed the referee in protest.

Whether a Montreal man reduction would have helped the Caps we'll never know, but with the distinct lack of creative flair and shots on target, you get the feeling that it wouldn't have.

Vancouver really need to work on their finishing in the coming weeks and try to at least make the opposing keepers make more saves than skying efforts high and wide constantly.

For Montreal, well let's just hope that they show the same appetite in the big game against Toronto on June 18th.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps return to League action this evening with a home game against Montreal.

It may just be me but it's hard to get up for this game. Having just recently beaten Montreal on Canadian Championship duty and after the euphoric events of Tuesday evening against Toronto, the League, at this time at least, seems almost pointless.

I still feel that the play off system and lack of relegation devalue the USL somewhat, but let's hope that the players don't feel the same way!

On the other hand, the Caps don't want to tire Montreal out. After all, we need them to help us out on June 18th against Toronto.

Perhaps once the agonising wait until the Caps claim that Champions League spot is over, then the League business will become more important in the grand scheme of things again.

This must be what it's like to follow a bigger team! I don't know how much I like it!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

It's hard to believe that despite it being a year away, the 24 teams that will play in the 2010 World Cup are already starting to take shape.

After today's matches, 5 of the 32 teams are now already known with Australia, Japan, South Korea and Holland joining the hosts South Africa in the pot for December's draw after clinching their qualification today.

The Asian contingent may look close to completion after this (I still find it hard to think of Australia being in the Asian section) but there's still a lot to play for with North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran battling for the last automatic qualifying places from the region, as they battle to qualify from Group 2.

The two third place teams in each group will then play off for the right to play Oceania winners New Zealand for a 5th place from Australasia.

North Korea are currently sitting in pole position to join their southern counterparts in the final, but with all the current political wrangling around their nuclear aspirations, it will be interesting to see any repercussions that may follow if North Korea make it through to South Africa. Who knows what the world's relationship with the country will be by that time.

It's always a disappointment to me when it's the same countries that routinely qualify for the World Cup from particular areas, like Asia. It's always nice when Africa, for example, throw up first time participants.

For that reason alone, AFTN will be rooting for the third place finishers from Group 1 to make it through.

Bahrain look favourites to claim that place but have a hard game against Australia next, who may field a weaker side, and that could throw up a winners take all game against Uzbekistan.

If you want romance of the Cup, a team like Uzbekistan getting to the World Cup finals is right up there!

And as we've seen before, stranger things have happened in football. Well, ok, maybe not that strange!

Friday, June 5, 2009

With Scotland having a little rest from international duties till next season, tomorrow's World Cup qualifiers have slipped a little bit under the radar.

The Group 9 matches on Saturday and next Wednesday though could hold some big implications for Scotland's potential qualification to the playoffs and a lot of our hopes hang in the hands of runaway group leaders Holland.

To keep on track, we need the Dutch to stay strong and their away game in Iceland tomorrow is huge for us. If the Icemen were to take anything from that match, then it would not only be a shock but a huge potential blow to Scotland.

Likewise, on Wednesday, a Dutch win at home to Norway would dent the hopes of who could very well be the dark horses in the group.

Norway may be sitting bottom at present but with two games in hand, a brace of wins would see them leapfrog the Scots into second place in the group.

Holland can wrap up qualification from these two games and I'm pretty sure that they won't be taking their foot off the pedal but with such a long season behind the players, anything could happen.

Let's just hope that the Dutch can take some inspiration from their cricketing counterparts in the 20-20 World Cup today, who pulled off a huge win against hosts England, and make it a sporting week to remember for the Orange hordes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In this time of not much football to write about, I thought I'd make today's post partly a bit of a reflection on what wonderful timing it's been arriving in Vancouver and following the Whitecaps.

Last season was my first full season of getting to follow the side in person. Having followed them since 2001 and taken in a few games here and there on vacation, it was great to become a season ticket holder and finally cheer them on from the Southside for a whole season.

And what a first season - the USL Championship was duly delivered on home soil and the Club won the Cascadia Cup as well (a cup for Vancouver, Seattle and Portland that is played for each year).

This season's only just begun and already I've hopefully seen another piece of silverware won with the Caps so near to winning the Canadian Championship in fine style.

What a start! What success! And although it’s great and I hope that there’s a lot more to come, it’s not the driving force for me following the teams I love. Well, you couldn’t really be an East Fife supporter and have that. Thin and thinner it is for Fife fans mostly!

What makes people follow a particular football team? For me it was locality. I believe in following my local side. Others have family traditions whilst others are just glory hunters and want to see trophies delivered on a regular basis.

I’ve been very complimentary about Toronto FC supporters in the past in the articles I’ve written for the East Fife programme and comments on AFTN. They really have galvanised football fans in the city and the country and create an atmosphere that is second to none in the MLS.

There are many teams that look on in envy at what has been achieved there, but let's not forget that they didn't invent how to be a football fan over in Canada!

There is also a lot of flak thrown some of their way, with accusations of them having plastic fans and a support comprising of a lot of johnny come lately's who want the big match atmospheres and didn't support the Toronto Lynx in the USL previously.

You can also look at all the allegations thrown around about "real" East Fife fans that have been prevalent recently on the AFTN forum.

We in the Southside engage in all this plasticness and had a great homage to them with a plastic doll tifo show on Tuesday night (see pic). The truth of the matter is that we ourselves will need to attract a whole lot of these "plastic" fans in order to increase our attendance from the current 5000 odd to the 20,000 needed when we move to BC Place for 2011.

And these fans shouldn't be discouraged or frowned upon, just because they haven't been coming to watch the USL action. Good on them for coming out first and foremost in a hockey and throwball centric city.

What I hope we don't get too much off, and we will get some, is some of the reactions that certain Toronto fans have shown in the aftermath of Tuesday night's defeat. They really have let their fellow fans down.

I can't believe some of the comments on the Red Patch Boys forum (the largest TFC fan group). All the stuff about not going to another game, selling their tickets, not renewing season tickets etc etc. I mean, wow. One defeat and they react like that. Guess they don't sing "loyal supporters" at the games.

Someone should tell these guys that unless you support a team like Man U or Barca or the Milans or teams of that ilk, silverware is not guaranteed in this sport. It's fine to complain about how the team is playing, ask for the manager's head, protest etc etc. That's all part of being a football supporter. Not throwing your toys out of the pram at setbacks and walking away completely. Their fellow fans and the game in general doesn't need people like that.

Their team is only three years old and already people are complaining about the lack of trophies. Give me a break!

I've spent 25 years watching thin and thinner with the Fife. Still being there and cheering on the team through the rough times is what being a football supporter is all about.

As mentioned earlier, I've come to the city at a fantastic time and I'm planning on basking in this success as long as I can! And when the tough times come, I'll still be there cheering.

At least we have the memories. Maybe that's what makes the TFC fans so bitter. They have NOTHING!

My first East Fife game that I was allowed to attend in person was the Scottish Cup replay in 1984 against Hibs at Bayview. Our Second Division battlers won through 2-0 against their more illustrious Premier League opponents and I was instantly hooked, being at every home game for the remainder of that season and then a regular, home and away, thereafter.

East Fife won promotion that season and then nearly went up to the Premier League. After that initial spurt of success it's been mostly downhill following the black and gold! I've still been there though, cheering them on.

Hopefully my Whitecaps experience doesn't go the same way!

Somehow though, I think there's a lot more trophies and success lying in store for the Caps.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When you follow the team you love, you want to watch them play at the highest level they can reach domestically and then challenge for honours internationally and that means the various Champions League competitions that now take place on continents all over the world.

Most fans will never get to see their team play in a Champions League. The chances of seeing East Fife in there are slim to nil I think it’s fair to say!

Last night the Vancouver Whitecaps came that one step closer to making their fans dreams of CONCACAF Champions League exploits that much more of a reality, with a clinical 2-0 home victory over Toronto FC.

Swangard Stadium was packed out and it was standing room only for the 5,688 sold out crowd and the Vancouver fans were sent into raptures by two goal hero Ansu Toure, who struck in each half to clinch the historic win.

The Whitecaps, to a man, put in a gutsy and brave performance for the whole 90 minutes, with each player showing their desire to win the competition, a fact that can’t be levelled at Toronto, whose lacklustre performance, particularly by the non Canadian players, led to heated scenes in their dressing room after the game.

These scenes couldn’t have been more different from those involving the Whitecaps players who came over to celebrate in the Southside as soon as the game was finished, sparking an impromptu pitch invasion and the holding aloft of the man of the hour Toure. The key thing here was that we knew the Championship wasn’t officially won, but after a performance like we had witnessed last night, the fans wanted to give the players the Championship celebrations they so rightly deserved.

Special mention also has to be given over to the Southsiders tonight. We sang ourselves hoarse for the 93 minutes and for the older ones amongst us, especially those who followed the team in their NASL and Vancouver 86ers days, the tears flowed in what was such a special moment for them.

In the build up to the game, so much media attention was given over to the fact that a win or draw in the game would give TFC their first ever trophy. The Caps slid in under the radar unnoticed and made Toronto pay.

The victory leaves the Caps top of the table, having played all of their matches in the competition. With one game remaining, Toronto must win by 4 or more goals at Montreal on June 18th to snatch the Canadian Championship, and Champions League qualification, from Vancouver’s grasp.

A very unlikely scenario, with TFC looking unlikely to score four goals this month judging by tonight display.

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves here and automatically think that the Caps have done it, but it will still be a nervy match to watch in a fortnight’s time.

If, and when, Vancouver does make it to the Champions League it will be a very historic moment as it will be the first time in the Club’s proud 35 year history that the Caps will be entering the world stage for the first time and they will be taking part in a FIFA sanctioned competition. Not bad for a side currently plying their trade in what is supposed to be America and Canada’s second tier football league.

The two weeks of waiting to see if the dream is a reality is tantamount to torture, but when the big news is official, it’s Champions League here we come.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Just had the chance to watch Saturday's Scottish Cup Final for the first time.

A wonder goal from Nacho Novo and the wrong side of a post was what led to Falkirk going down 1-0 to double winners Rangers, in what was a good, attacking affair.

Having touched on the romance of the FA Cup in the last couple of posts, it got me thinking again about something we've discussed on AFTN for many a year. Why can't the Scottish Cup capture the public's imagination the way the FA Cup does?

Even the addition of more non league sides and Junior sides hasn't done the trick for most followers of the Scottish game.

I love and welcome their additions though and the Junior sides in particular have more than held their own in the last two competitions.

The whole non league set up in England is fantastic. Even the smallest, FA regulated side can have dreams of Wembley. Very far fetched dreams admittedly but dreams none the less and maybe more realistically, dreams of taking a scalp of a First or Second Division Club.

The whole non league structure of the pyramid is a world leader and something I would love to see in Scotland, although many Highland League and Junior sides are quite happy not to go down that path.

Perhaps with more regional leagues and greater local media coverage of these, maybe one day we can have a proper Cup competition where the minnows really stand a chance of causing shocks that the public care about.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Having returned from a nice relaxing break, it finally gave me a chance to catch up with the FA Cup Final.

The game may have given Guus Hiddink a Hollywood ending to his brief Chelsea stint but you have to feel sorry for David Moyes who saw his side fall just short again.

Everton have played some of the most attractive football in the EPL for the past two seasons and deserve some reward for their efforts.

They couldn't have hoped for a better start, with Louis Saha's stunning goal after just 25 seconds.

You also half expected Chelsea to hit back and they did of course to win the Cup with a 2-1 triumph.

So many FA Cup Finals disappoint and although this match was no classic it was certainly a lot better than some of the poor fare served up in recent years.

That said, there's still no romance unless the winners come outside from the big four.
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