Friday, July 31, 2009

Time for more 'Friday Fun' from the pages of AFTN and another Top Ten List. This time the Top Ten Most Overused Ways To Describe A Free Kick:

(10) "Subtly curled"

(9) "Perfectly angled"

(8) "Neatly chipped"

(7) "Superbly weighted"

(6) "Beautifully flighted"

(5) "Finely judged"

(4) "One from the training ground"

(3) "Sweetly struck"

(2) "Beautifully worked"

(1) "Blootered"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

East Fife finally wrapped up their pre season games last night with a 2-0 loss at home to a Hibernian XI.

Charging ridiculous prices and playing games against less than exciting opposition is hardly going to bring the crowds flocking in to Bayview, as last night's paltry crowd of 361 showed.

Pre-season friendlies and friendlies in general really, I can take them or leave them. It’s hard to get too excited by a lot of them. Yes it’s a great chance to see the new players and for the squad to get to know each other, but all the substitutions take away any aspect of the spectacle. And do 7-1 drubbings really tell the manager or the fans anything positive, let alone boost the confidence of the players?!

The annual tour is something different though and something to be looked forward to, when you don’t need a canoe, galoshes and scuba gear to take them in, like this year in Durham, that is.

Every now and again the pre-season does throw up clashes to whet the appetite, even a tournament. We had just that of course with East Fife in the 1980’s, the perfect pre-season tournament, but it disappeared without a trace.

What am I talking about? The Fife Cup tournament weekend.

The Fife Cup has seemed devalued in recent years, despite our successes, but it wasn’t always that way and in the 80’s they seemed to have found the ideal format for it – a weekend long tournament at one rotational venue in the pre-season.

Starks Park was the host of the first one in 1986. East Fife beat Dunfermline in the semi final on the Saturday, before losing to Raith in the final on Sunday. The 1987 tournament was held at Central Park, but East Fife never made it through to the big show at Cowdenbeath, losing their preliminary tie at home to the Rovers.

It was Dunfermline and East End Park’s turn to host proceedings in 1988. East Fife lost out to Cowdenbeath on penalties in Saturday’s semi final.

Then it came to 1989 and East Fife’s turn to host the tournament at Bayview. We’re still waiting!

For whatever reasons, the Fife FA decided to abandon the tournament idea and the fixtures went back to being slotted in between club’s other fixtures just whenever was possible. Looking at what fixtures we had that pre-season, our last one was a 6-1 thrashing of Inverness Clachnacuddin at Bayview. Surely a Fife Cup tournament would have been more useful preparation for that season and certainly a lot more enjoyable for the fans to watch?

In more recent years, it seems even harder to get the fixtures played. When you’re playing the previous season’s final well into the following season then you know that something, somewhere has gone drastically wrong with the competition!

The pre season Fife Cup tournament had been a great success. The fans loved it, the crowds were excellent, especially for that time of year, and it built up the great rivalries between the clubs and their fans once again. Good, friendly rivalries, with the fans mixing in the stands and terraces. It was also great value for money and you actually saw some good, competitive pre-season action.

For me, it was THE perfect pre-season “friendly” for East Fife. Even if the clubs were to be meeting on league business during the season, it didn’t matter.

We should all be looking to restore some respect back to the Fife Cup and there’s no better way than to reinstate it to tournament form and get it back to being played in the pre-season. I'm sure that the Dunfermline supporters would have enjoyed their 7-1 victory all the more if there was silverware at stake.

So the campaign starts here. Who’s with me? This time next season, we could have something a little bit more exciting to talk about instead of the weather! We can't guarantee no more horrendous defeats though.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today is CONCACAF Champions League final qualifying day, with Toronto FC taking on Puerto Rico Islanders for a spot in the group stages.

As we documented quite vociferously, Vancouver were cheated out of their place in this match up, and putting all bitterness from June aside, all at AFTN would just like to send out a big "C'mon the Islanders" shout. Let's hope Puerto Rico do Vancouver proud.

There's an interesting article on CBC's website about why all of Canada should get behind Toronto for this qualifying campaign (read HERE).

The article is by Nigel Reed, the English commentator for CBC's matches that has an accent so posh and toff sounding that when you first hear it you really think it's someone taking the piss and putting on a very bad English accent. Reading his words are as difficult as listening to them. I really do have to listen to his game with the sound down.

His arguments for this show of solidarity are based on very flawed premises and beliefs and it is perhaps better if he takes off his red and white tinted glasses for more than a moment.

It has been argued that Canada's team, whoever they may be, need a constant good showing in the CONCACAF Champions League to cement Canada's standing in the organisation. But let's be honest here, Canada are not likely to hold any sway in the region until the national team do it on the world stage on a regular basis. These Club competitions, with teams comprising of many non Canadian players, are going to do squat for this.

Reed argues that if TFC were to do well then it would increase pressure to have two Canadian clubs in the qualifying, instead of the one club that puts Canada on an even footing with Nicaragua and Belize. One big problem here that he seems to overlook. These other one club countries, along with the two Club nations like Panama, Guatemala and El Salvador, have a hell of a lot more professional club sides playing than Canada's meagre three.

Until the game develops in Canada and there is a professional league full of Canadian Clubs, or at the very least, half a dozen or more sides competing in the Canadian Championship games, Canada has no right to look for more than one representative in the Champions League. It would be farcical if two thirds of the country's sides progressed, no matter how well the representatives do each year.

The other argument tied into this is that if that isn't possible, then at least an automatic group stage should be made available to the Canadian representative if they keep going far into the competition.

As a Vancouver fan, who will hopefully see his team qualify for future competitions, this would indeed be fantastic. Whether this would ever be likely in the foreseeable future is doubtful. That would require one of Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador to lose their place and that isn't going to sit well.

I'd argue that it's actually a good thing to have to go through a qualifying round to get into the big show. If your team isn't good enough to get past this stage, do they even deserve to be in ther group stages? If you have a weak team, would you rather have six games in an already busy schedule and get humped or have the ability to know that your players weren't quite good enough and concentrate on the business of the League instead.

Then there's the whole Toronto thing. Yes, people do hate Toronto, everything it stands for and all it's sports teams. I'm not one of them. I like Toronto as a city and have had many happy times there. It was the first place I'd ever travelled to abroad. I'm a Toronto Maple Leafs fan and have been since that first visit in 1994, through thin and thinner.

My wanting TFC to lose has nothing to do with hating the city. Yes, it does have a little to do with the way they're in this qualifier and not Vancouver, but most of my anger at that is directed towards Montreal. They will not be forgetten by Caps fans, ever.

No, I want Toronto to lose solely for football fan rivalry reasons.

For Reed to expect fans of other Canadian clubs to rally behind TFC is laughable. If the article was written by a lazy Toronto-based Canadian journalist then you could maybe understand how he doesn't understand the deep rooted hatred that exists between rival football teams and supporters across the world. Reed is English though. He should know better.

Would he expect Chelsea fans to rally behind Manchester United for the good of English football? Or Celtic behind Rangers or Barca behind Real Madrid? Hopefully he shouldn't, as it just wouldn't happen.

I have the excuse that I'm not Canadian and don't have to cheer on "Canada's Club", but that aside, I'm a Vancouver Whitecaps fan first and foremost.

If there was any inkling in me that may have thought about cheering on TFC then that was soon extinguished with the way that some of their younger and more idiotic internet trolls reacted after they qualified.

You also have to ask that if the match is so important to Canadian Club football, then why is CBC not showing the game? They are the nation's broadcaster after all and in every home in the country. How important can it be if it's Gol TV that pick up the match? Kudos to them for doing so though, but it does limit the audience as they are a cable station that you have to pay extra for.

Getting behind TFC tonight isn't for the good of Canadian football. Wanting them to lose and building up a proper set of football rivalries will do far more good for the game's future in Canada as far as I'm concerned, otherwise what's the point of having more than one team anyway?

*** just editing to add that Toronto lost the first leg 1-0 at home ***

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There used to be a time, and not that long ago, when a charity football match involving ex footballers of deserved legends status would cause more than just a ripple of excitement. Sometimes they still can, but nowadays, especially in the UK, these games are everywhere and especially on TV with the likes of Soccer8 and the Hillsborough Game. This only results in an "oh not another one" mindset.

Once the games hit our television screens of course that ultimately leads to only one thing in the current climate of what passes for entertainment – they're invaded by the "celebrity".

Last night I just got round to watching Sunday's England-Germany 1990's Legends charity game, a testimonial as such to honour Sir Bobby Robson, with the proceeds raised going to his own Foundation. A good cause, as the man has given a lot to the English game and isn’t looking his best at the moment, looking very frail and gaunt from his cancer and taking in the game from a wheelchair.

The game itself was always going to pull in the crowds, of that there was no question. The game was played at Newcastle's St James’ Park and with Robson still being held in iconic terms on Tyneside and with England starting with Alan Shearer up front, and including the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley, it was something for Newcastle fans to finally cheer about after their recent woeful times.

England's starting line up was a who's who from the 90's. Their squad was the core of the Italia 90 squad that Robson managed to semi final failure. A real blast from the past and nice to see some quality ex players taking part, especially to anyone who has watched the Masters games over the summer this year, which was not so much a case of being a "who's who?" as a "who’s that?".

Germany wasn't so high on the big household names (at least not to UK audiences) but did feature Lothar Matthaus, Steffen Freund and Jorg Albertz amongst others and boasted a squad with an average age five years younger than the English one.

But then it came to the England subs, a mish mash of mostly bit part players from the international scene and those dreaded celebrities, or "personalities" as they were billed in the pre match press.

I'm not saying that celebrities shouldn't play in any of these matches at all. They do serve a purpose in bringing in extra fans, or at least some of them do, at times. They just shouldn't be a staple addition to EVERY single match as they now seem to be.

We want to see ex players play. Players we grew up watching. Players that are still held in high esteem. Not people who you wouldn't really watch if they were on normal TV in the first place.

Sky’s "The Match" probably holds the most blame for this unwanted influx. The games they put on pitting a team of celebs against a team of ex pros was excellent viewing. I enjoyed all three series of it and the games themselves were good viewing fare. The format was even picked up by Swiss TV and they have run two of these games now.

This "experiment" has seemed to whet the appetite of the celebrities a little bit too much now though. The odd game where they mingle with pros is fine, but save yourselves for all celeb affairs and games like the Sky ones please. You're not footballers. Some of you might be not too bad, some of you may have been on the books of teams as youngsters, but you chose a different career path for whatever reason, stick to that.

TV presenter Tim Lovejoy, a veteran of such events himself (at least he presented a football show and has brought a lot to the game, so can stake some claim) commented in his book "Lovejoy On Football" that when he first started playing in charity games, usually before the Charity Shield or Carling Cup final, he felt "privileged to have been asked" and "felt special to be involved". Even he feels the format is "dead" now and blames the inclusion of reality TV stars as one of the reasons.

I'm with him on that one. It's all about the cult of celebrity and getting your face out there these days for some people it seems.

What place does a D lister like Simon Webbe (of reunited boy band Blue) have in a game between English and German 90's legends? So he used to be on the books at Port Vale. How old was he during that Italia 90 semi final game?! Then there was Angus Deayton, Craig David, Paddy McGuiness and Jimmy Nail was brought out from wherever he's been these days. What purpose do they serve? The Germans didn't bring any such players for their squad.

What was interesting, and good to see, was that with the game tied, the result became more important than giving the celebs a run out. One came on with 20 minutes to go and there was no appearance of another until he was was subbed himself with 5 minutes left. Two more came on for the closing seconds of the game.

So it all begs the question, why the hell were they brought along if it was felt that playing them would devalue and weaken the game? Kind of backs up my arguments about the whole thing. keep these type of games solely for footballers, especially with the emotions of the night.

With the game over (England winning 3-2 thanks to Alan Shearer diving for a penalty) and respects paid to Sir Bobby, another charity game was over and all the celebrities could go back to doing what they should be doing in the first place. Until the next game that is.

I'm sure we won't have to wait too long till we see it on our screens.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Just as all the hullaballoo about David Beckham "losing it" in LA was dying down, he's reacted to more fan abuse during the LA Galaxy's away trip to the Kansas City Wizards on Saturday night.

Some of the abuse was covered in the You Tube video you'll see below (which is an excellently shot video style incidentally) and thanks to St Pauli Fifer on the AFTN forum for bringing it to our attention:

It's just so laughable and he's really just becoming a figure of fun now. Considering he made the Galaxy's tying goal, all people are going to be wanting to talk about is how he's cracking.

The funny thing about it all is that the abuse isn't even all that bad! He had worse in England and when you consider the abuse meted out by the Southsiders to the opposing goalies each home game (attacking everything from their mothers, sisters and wives to allergies to penicillin!) you have to wonder if this is all in the big masterplan.

By constantly reacting to the abuse, the fans in the hardcore supporters sections will just dish out more and more of it and it'll get nastier and nastier. Beckham can then use that as his excuse for leaving the MLS and returning to Milan or to England.

He needs to stop reacting and get on with helping his team by not being the centre of attention all the time or just pack his bags and ship out and take his whole gong show with him.

Personally I just hope he sticks it out to 2011 so I can join in the abuse myself.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I've been going to football matches for over thirty years now. From the early days of my grandad taking me to see Glenrothes Juniors to watching East Fife and Vancouver Whitecaps today.

I thought I'd seen most things but last night's Caps game was a first for me, with the match being played in a thunderstorm and delayed mid game for nearly two and half hours to let the thunder and lightning move away.

When the match resumed from the enforced break, the torrential rain, the uncovered terracing, the empty spaces in the grandstand and the tremendous echo of the Southside chants around the stadium made me feel at home. It was just like being back watching East Fife!

With the Caps having only two wins in nine, and their away form poor, three points at home to Puerto Rico Islanders was a must, no matter what the weather conditions were.

As the game started, there was just the odd spit in the air and the Southside were in fine voice, with the Caps shooting that way for the first half. The former didn't last for long though and seconds later it was monsoon conditions.

On the pitch, both teams looked hungry and keen from the off and had some early half chances that they couldn't convert. Vancouver's best early chance came from Charles Gbeke, who beat the Puerto Rico offside trap three minutes in, but was unable to round keeper Michael Behonick.

The rain seemed to suit Vancouver though and they took the lead a minute later. it wasn't a pretty goal, but hey, they all count!

Marcus Haber pounced on a poor header back and knocked the ball past Behonick just inside the box and managed to slide it in from one yard out to cue soggy celebrations in the Southside.

The conditions surprisingly weren't spoiling the game and both sides continued to attack. There were some fierce blocks and tackles flying in from both sides, but no real shots threatening either goal.

As half time approached, so did a thunderstorm. The seemingly endless weeks of sun and mid to high twenties temperatures were taking their toll on the city and lightning could be seen over the mountains. Lots and lots of lightning! So much so in fact that the players were taken off the pitch with two minutes of the half still to be played.

As fans were being encouraged to make their way from the metal seating in the east and south sides of the stadium, the extended half time interval began and went on and on and on, well you get the picture.

As the minutes ticked by we were informed that the game would not recommence until thirty minutes passed without thunder - the lightning didn't seem to be an issue! Each time we got a few minutes into this time, another flash of lightning filled the sky and another peel of thunder rumbled.

To me, it was amazing to see that they planned to finish the game no matter what. In the UK, they'd have just called it a day after about fifteen minutes! They obviously breed them hardier in Canada.

The delay was too much for some though and many made their way home. Those brave, keen souls that remained though were rewarded after about 135 minutes when play finally resumed just after 10 o'clock local time.

The grandstand was pretty empty, but the Southsiders made their way back to the open air and wet bleachers to take our place for the second half. Top marks to the Club for rewarding our hardyness with some free beer, which was a great touch and much appreciated. I'd also got a free hot dog during the break, so all in all it was turning in to a great night out!

The first half was completed and the second half got underway immediately, and what an entertaining second half it was. Five goals and action galore.

Vancouver doubled their advantage on 51 minutes when the Islanders' Kyle Veris headed Tyrell Burgess' dangerous corner into his own net. 2-0 Caps.

The Whitecaps started to pressure the Puerto Rico goal and took up camp in their half. After a few close calls, they got their third after 64 minutes and what a beauty it was.

Collecting a through ball on the left from Gordon Chin, Marlon James cut inside, ghosted past the Islanders defender and unleashed an unstoppable 25 yarder past a helpless Behonick. 3-0 caps and the best goal most Caps fans won't have seen!

The Caps started to pepper the Islanders' goal and came close on a few occasions. It was the Islanders who scored next though when Marco Reda took the feet from under Josh Hansen in the box and the ex Cap picked himself up to slot home the penalty after 76 minutes.

Vancouver restored their three goal advantage six minutes later and it was James again who met Burgess' cross with a bullet of a header for 4-1.

Hansen and Puerto Rico grabbed a flattering second goal as the game ticked into injury time, but the Caps ran out easy winners when the final whistle came and ended a very eventful evening.

Puerto Rico's minds were on the forthcoming Champions League qualifier against Toronto and rested eight first team regulars. Don't let this take away from Vancouver's performance though as they worked hard as a team and got their just reward.

With the next three games being away from home, this is now the make or break time for Vancouver's season and making the playoffs. Good job they'll be going into it full of confidence.

*** You can see some more photos from the night HERE ***

Saturday, July 25, 2009

There might still be a week of July to go, but as East Fife kicked off their competitive campaign today, there are already signs that it's going to be a long season for the black and gold.

East Fife went down 2-0 at home to Forfar Athletic this afternoon in the First Round of the MG Alba Challenge Cup in front of a disappointingly paltry crowd of only 446 at Bayview Stadium.

The Loons took the lead in the first half on 38 minutes, when Martyn Fotheringham coolly slotted home a cross from ex Fife favourite Kevin Fotheringham and it was our ex Fozzy who wrapped up proceedings with 13 minutes of the game remaining, heading home a corner from his namesake.

Forfar might be in the division below us this season, but with Dick Campbell in charge and strong signings in place, it already looks like it might be a two horse race between them and Cowdenbeath for the Third Division title. Forfar will probably be better than a few teams in our division I would reckon.

The result itself isn't the main concern but more how we played. Or didn't play as the case was.

Michael Brown is looking as shaky in goals as he did towards the end of last season and with the crowd already getting on his back, he needs a confidence boost and quick - as does the whole squad.

The defence looked all over the place on Tuesday night in the 7-1 friendly drubbing by Dunfermline and they looked better and tighter today, with Paul Nugent being the stand out. It'll take a little time for Jonny Smart and John Ovenstone to have the same kind of understanding that Smarty had with Tweedy before, but it will come.

Both of these players are going to be vital if we're not going to find ourselves in a relegation fight this season, because it's difficult to see us being a free-scoring side ourselves at the moment, so we need to keep it tight at the back.

The midfield was weak. We badly missed Lloyd Young and Shaun Fagan in the middle, so it's hard to judge how the Fife will perform in that area until they get back into the team.

We'll need to get a midfield playmaker in before the transfer window closes if things aren't happening in that area. With Stevie Crawford's contacts, hopefully a young SPL loan signing may be forthcoming.

Up front is where we struggled big time last season.

Paul McManus still needs to get fully fit after missing a lot of the pre-season for his wedding. It'll take time for him to get an understanding with Mark Staunton up front and it still remains to be seen whether a defender turned striker will be our goalscoring saviour we need this year.

On the plus side, the young players looked hungry and it was good to see a youthful bench. Whether it's better to have the more experienced players on the bench to come on and turn the game will be debated this week I'm sure on the AFTN forum. The younger players might do better starting than have the pressure of being gamesavers.

It was also good to see the ball being played on the deck, gone were the days of the Dave Baikie punt up the park to one up front.

It's still early days and it was really just a pretty meaningless Cup but if the results don't start to come we know that a section of the home fans will be on Crawford's back immediately.

I don't see it being that particularly a strong Second Division this season and some of the other Cup results today show that it's not just our early season form that's not clicked into gear yet.

The real business starts in a fortnight when the League starts. Let's hope we're in the right frame of mind and confident going into it. A good start is going to be vital.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time for more 'Friday Fun" from the pages of AFTN and another Top Ten List. This time the Top Ten Signs That You've Been Watching Too Much Football On TV:

(10) An optical exam reveals a tiny Andy Gray etched into your retina.

(9) You can't go to your friend's stag party as it clashes with a vital Bundesliga match.

(8) Your grandmother falls down the stairs and you yell "penalty".

(7) When you go to the movies you complain to the cinema that their scrolling news box along the bottom of the screen appears to be broken.

(6) When Setanta went bust, you had to phone the Samaritans.

(5)You crash your car and suddenly go hurtling through your windscreen and the only thing that goes through your head is "I can't wait to see the slow motion replay of that one".

(4) When the news reports that a meteor will strike the earth, ending life as we know it, you murmur "please don't let it be on a weekend"

(3) Everywhere you go, you still hear those horns from the Confederation Cup matches

(2) You spend all your free time making cakes for Jeff Stelling.

(1) After sex, you run around the bedroom with a pillowcase over your head, then dive, arms outstretched, into the corner [or is that just me?!]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

There was an amazing story came out of Bolivia on Sunday. Mauricio Baldivieso became the youngest ever player to turn out for a professional football team, aged just 12 years old.

The kid came on with nine minutes to go for his side Aurora in the Bolivian First Division and beat the previous record, which had been held by a 13 year old Peruvian.

Mauricio turned 13 yesterday and his dad is the coach of the team, so whether this was a genuine attempt at advancing his son's footballing or career or just a cheap birthday present gimick, who knows. Either way, it's farcical.

Even if the kid is a great future talent, he is still just a kid. Aurora's opponents on Sunday, La Paz, showed him what he was getting in to, scything down Mauricio at one point, leading to the players of both sides squaring up and leaving the kid in tears and needing five minutes of treatment.

After the game his dad was said to be "furious" about the tackle.

What the hell did he expect?

No matter how good a prospect the guy is, pitching him in with seasoned professionals as this stage of his career can cause more damage than good. He's not going to develop much if he ends up out of the game for weeks at a time with injuries.

He's just going to be a target for the hardmen of the League and could end up with a career ending injury before he has even become an adult.

There's been a number of great talents discovered and played at an early age. But when they have been pitched in, they've been used sparingly and their managers have used great savvy in developing the players. David Moyes with Wayne Rooney at Everton is a great example of that.

I'm all for young players getting a shot, that's the future that all sides should be developing, but let a kid have a childhood. He's got plenty of years to turn pro when he is stronger, both mentally and physically, and won't burst into tears at hard challenges.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps season now seems to be lumbering from one disaster to another.

The latest, in what is fast becoming a season to forget, is the release of top defender Wesley Charles following a training ground flare up with fellow defender Jeff Parke yesterday.

Charles has been outstanding for Vancouver since joining them last season, a rock in defence, and played a key role in last season's USL Championship win.

The St Vincent & Grenadines international has not had his troubles to seek though and was involved in the onfield bust up with team-mate Charles Gbeke that saw him receive a red card and a two game ban (see HERE and HERE).

That incident saw both players receive a final warning from the Club that such behaviour would not be tolerated and it is disappointing to see that Charles has only managed to keep his nose clean for just over a month.

The incident this time still remains a little sketchy but it appears that Charles took exception to a challenge by Parke and according to Parke, Charles tried to elbow and head-butt him.

Charles was immediately sent from the training pitch and was later released by the Whitecaps.

His loss is a huge blow to Vancouver, who are short on confidence with only two wins in nine and already short of quality defensive options.

It is a disappointing end to Wesley's Vancouver career. He was highly thought of by the fans and was one of my favourite Caps players. He was always committed, maybe too much so at times it would appear.

Before joining Vancouver he spent 11 years in Ireland and his family are still over there. Whether he will now return to try his hand in Ireland or the UK, I don't know, but whoever manages to attain his services will have a great defender on their books. Of course, his reputation is now tarnished and some clubs may give him a wide berth, which would be a real shame.

He'd do a great job at East Fife if Stevie Crawford is reading this. Can only improve last night's 7-1 drubbing by Dunfermline in a friendly!

I'll certainly miss Wesley Charles at Vancouver and wish him well, wherever he may now end up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

David Beckham made his home return for LA Galaxy last night and, as has been widely reported, was roundly booed and jeered whenever he touched the ball (see HERE).

A lot of the vitriol was aimed at Beckham from the LA Riot Squad supporters section and led to the English primadonna confronting the fans at half time.

All I can say to them is a big WELL DONE.

Beckham has shown total and utter disrespect to the Galaxy, their fans and the MLS. When he made the move to LA it should have been a long term commitment. That's why he signed the contract he did and arrived with all the misplaced razzamatazz.

Just because he seemingly wants to save his England World Cup place by playing in a higher profile league doesn't justify his actions. When he made the loan move to Milan, the Galaxy bent over backwards to help him out, fully expecting that he would be wanting to return to see out his contract.

All the toing and froing about whether he would stay in Milan or not has damaged his credibility and reputation in my eyes. He knew, or should have known, what he was getting into when he decided to make the LA move. Bailing out should never be an option.

The game was a friendly, ironically against AC Milan, and the stadium was full of anti Beckham banners. When Beckham confronted the fans at half time his action were farcical, as he looked like he was trying to jump over an advertising hoarding but couldn't even manage that!

Of course when a fan takes up his calling out, it is the fan that's punished.

It was disappointing to hear Galaxy manager Bruce Arena make a statement acknowledging that the fans have a right to voice opinions but must do it in an appropriate manner. I feel they did. It only got nasty when Beckham goaded them by going over to them. He's the one that should be fined for his inappropriate actions. There has been no public chastising of him for his actions that I've seen so far anyway.

Beckham is a hasbeen. He was a technically gifted player but his best days are behind him. He is over rated and living on his past name and glories. When I saw him play Vancouver in late 2007 he was a shadow of his former self.

I'm not a Beckham hater for the sake of it. I was well impressed with him in his early days. When he made his early appearance for Man U against East Fife in a friendly in 1995 he was outstanding and his skills were there for all to see.

He is not bigger than any Club he plays for though and is certainly not irreplacable. Man United seem to have done just fine after his departure.

He has given the impression that he no longer wants to play in LA. Whether this is the case, only he can say, but with his actions and all the comments that came out of Milan during the whole saga it's no wonder that the fans are irate.

The only person that can cool this whole thing down now is Beckham himself. He needs to come out and state where he feels his permanent future lies.

If he doesn't we're going to be reading about this saga for weeks, if not months, to come.

Monday, July 20, 2009

As an outsider looking in, I have to admit, I don't get the Gold Cup.

The tournament has the potential to be a great thing, but seems to be nothing more than a shambles.

It should at least have importance and pride and place in the CONCACAF calendar, but it doesn't give off that impression either.

We discussed some of our feelings about the Gold Cup in the blog before (July 5th) and as this year's tournament goes on, it just causes us more bewilderment.

Where to start?

Well to recap, there's the under-strength teams, with many sides just bringing their B sides to the tournament and at best A minus. Then there's the fact it's being played slap bang in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign. Then there's the whole "why is it played every two years argument?".

I can now add some things to the above.

As kind of a non CONCACAF neutral, apart from wanting Canada to do well and win the Cup, I was a little slow in getting into things. Then Canada got into the winning habit and started playing good football and I was excited by the whole idea and started to take an interest in the tournament and the other games being played.

Then, just as my excitement was peaking what happens? The group games finish and there's a huge six day wait before the quarter finals began and Canada had an eight day break.

I can only assume this is for maximum TV coverage from the likes of the US in particular - in other words, keep the games at the weekends or no one will watch. Not only on TV but in the stadiums it seems.

But come on, when you're trying to grow the enthusiasm for the game amongst the general population of some members of the region, and especially in their media, such a long break is just not on. It completely kills any buzz and momentum the viewing public have been building up.

Then take a look at the quarter finals. A major international tournament that features Panama, Haiti and Guadeloupe in the last eight! I had to look up an atlas to see where the hell the latter was.

Another bewildering puzzle for us is that domestic action continues, forcing players to choose between Club and country and by the looks of it, the Clubs are winning. The likes of the MLS is seen as more important to some players than representing their country at international level and it's more than one country that is affected.

I can't finish this rant without mentionining the officiating. It's been a long running "joke" amongst Canadian fans I know that the refereeing in the region doesn't favour them for a number of reasons. Chip on the shoulder, Old Firm style paranoia I hear you say. Well I thought so too.

When so many people start telling you that they expect Canada to lose their quarter final against Honduras to a dodgy penalty and then that's exactly what happens, it does make you wonder and it does start to devalue the integrity of proceedings.

The penalty in question was so farcical that you just have to shake your head. Find it on You Tube. Watch it dozens of times and still try and see where any infraction took place.

I recently found out that the Gold Cup carries triple FIFA ranking points, so with Canada having no competitive international fixtures for two years now, this is the only way they can keep their place in the rankings. That would explain the whole two year things.

It also explains a lot of the inflated rankings we see for other teams from the region.

There's so many things that could make the Gold Cup the international showcase it should be but I can't see any changes any time soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The bookmakers Sky Bet have the slogan "It matters more when there's money on it". Very true.

There's nothing quite like watching football, or any sport, if you have money riding on it.

I've never been a huge gambler. Never really done the weekly coupon, just the odd game or event that takes my fancy. I always make an exception with the World Cup though. Win some, lose more on that every four years! Been chuffed with some of my winning bets on that over the last few tournaments though.

Today though I had the most rollercoaster bet I've ever had and it wasn't even on football.

At the end of the second round of the The Open golf on Friday night, I stuck a tenner on Tom Watson to win as they were offering amazing odds of 33/1. Staggering odds really considering he was leading at the time.

It was looking a cracking bet right up to the last putt on the final hole today. One putt away from winning a whopping 330 quid. Ah well, them's the breaks, but still a right sickener!

During it all I couldn't help but recall the last really big money bet I was part of and it's a worse bad beat story than the one above. I wasn't the better, but did stand to get a slap up meal out if things had gone well.

It was during Euro 96 and my best mate stuck a tenner on the unfancied Czech Republic to win the thing. They were 75/1 and he'd done his homework and was really confident that they had a great shot.

The qualifying and subsequent rounds was another emotional rollercoaster and the Czechs made the final, playing some cracking football on the way.

We all gathered at my house to watch the final, with 750 pounds at stake for my mate and meals all round at stake for us.

When the Czechs took the lead the place was pandemonium. Germany equalised and then went on to win with a Golden Goal five minutes into extra time from Oliver Bierhoff. The deflation was unlike any I had experienced before or probably since.

Stewart Cink was my Oliver Bierhoff today. Snatching my wad of money away at the last minute with a Faginlike guffaw.

It was great value for my ten quid though. Never has such a small amount of money given me so many highs and lows.

Sport is always fantastic to watch but Sky Bet are right. Have a little flutter on it at the same time and it's the best thing in the world.

And even nicer when you win!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Match Report: Carolina Railhawks v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)

Following a 2-1 defeat away to Miami on Sunday, Vancouver Whitecaps needed to get their season back on track once again last night against the Carolina Railhawks at Wakemed Soccer Park.

Last week’s 4-0 win over Minnesota already seemed like a distant memory and the Caps need to go on an unbeaten streak, and soon, if they want to claim a playoff place. Easier said than done of course if their horrendous injury problems don’t improve soon as well.

The game was played in front of a national TV audience as the USL Game of the Week live on Fox Sportsworld in Canada and Fox Soccer Channel in the US and a crowd of 4,018 in the stadium.

Vancouver started the game with Dever Orgill up front alongside Marcus Haber, surprisingly dropping joint top scorer Charles Gbeke. It was a young attack (a combined age of 39!) but Orgill has particularly impressed in the last few games, especially against Miami, and it’s good to see him get his chance at a starting spot.

Carolina Railhawks have a Scottish head coach in Martin Rennie, who was the 2007 USL2 Coach of the Year with Cleveland. A familiar name in the Carolina ranks (to Scottish people reading this at any rate!) is new signing Greg Shields from Dunfermline, who also had spells at Rangers, Charlton and Kilmarnock. He only signed on Thursday so wasn’t in the line up last night.

It was a cagey start to proceedings, with early possession shared and very little goalmouth action, apart from a slight half chance to Carolina after two minutes.

With 19 minutes gone, the Railhawks had a great chance to open the scoring when Kupono Low was set free on the left and he whipped a dangerous ball across the face of the goal that both Sallieu Bundu at the near post and Brian Plotkin at the back post both somehow failed to connect with.

Two minutes later and Carolina came even closer when the Caps failed to properly clear Mark Schulte’s long throw and Low sent another dangerous cross into the box for Plotkin, but Marco Reda got there first for the Caps, steering the ball inches wide with Jay Nolly left scrambling in the Vancouver goal.

A narrow escape there for the Whitecaps but Carolina tried to build on their momentum, whilst the Caps still looked a little pedestrian.

As the half hour mark approached Haber played a horrendous pass back to Reda, which the nippy Bundu intercepted and ran through to the Caps goal, but his control let him down and Nolly easily collected.

With 35 minutes gone Vancouver finally posed a real attacking threat when Haber did well to keep the ball in play on the right just in the Railhawks half. Haber cut inside and gave the ball to Lyle Martin in the middle, 25 yards out. Martin then went on a mazy but was easily dispossessed about 12 yards out.

Carolina immediately responded and Caleb Norkus played an inch perfect cross field ball into the path of Bundu, but once again the Railhawks striker’s control let him down, allowing Nolly to collect.

The home side were really piling on the pressure and moments later had the best chance of the match so far to open the scoring.

Daniel Paladini collected the ball fifteen yards into the Caps half, sprinted clear of a flat-footed Vancouver defence, cut inside and was unfortunate to see his low effort crash off the left post with Nolly helpless. The rebound fell right into the path of John Cunliffe eight yards out and his effort was brilliantly saved by Nolly at point blank range, although he was flagged for offside in any case.

Vancouver nearly took the lead against the run of play, with six minutes of the half remaining, when Haber and Martin found themselves two on two with the Hawks defence. With Martin straying into an offside position, Haber whipped the ball low and inches past the right hand post.

It was no surprise though when Carolina opened the scoring with two minutes of the half remaining.

Paladini dispossessed Martin Nash in the centre circle and the former MLS player ran on before playing the ball right to Cunliffe, whose low cross box pass found Gregory Richardson just inside the Caps box. Richardson waltzed past Wes Knight, hit the bye line and drilled a low ball towards Cunliffe, deflecting off a lunging Reda before it got there and past the helpless Nolly in the Vancouver goal.

Richardson has recently joined Carolina from the MLS’ Colorado Rapids and looks to be a great acquisition for them and his pace was causing problems for Vancouver.

That was the last real action of the first half and Vancouver went in really fortunate to be just the one goal down.

Teitur Thordarson was clearly as unhappy with the first half performance as the Caps fans watching at home and made three changes at half time, including Gbeke replacing Orgill, who had had a really quiet first forty-five, with Ethan Gage and Vicente Arze also coming on.

The new boys had an almost immediate effect, setting up Gordon Chin for a long range shot at Caleb Patterson-Sewell in the Hawks goal, just over a minute in.

Although the Caps were showing more urgency in this half, they were still wasting possession and not keeping hold of the ball long enough to slow up Carolina’s rhythm.

Before the game Teitur had said that he planned to use Marlon James, who is returning from injury, for the last 20 minutes but he was forced to throw the St Vincent and Grenadine international into proceedings a quarter of an hour early to try and spark something in Vancouver’s attack.

As the hour mark approached, the Caps won a free kick on the right 25 yards out. Takashi Hirano floated the ball delightfully into the box and Gbeke rose well to head narrowly wide of the left hand post.

Moments later and Gbeke put James through for a great chance but he was rightly adjudge to be offside.

With Vancouver seemingly in the ascendency, it came as a bit of a shock when Carolina doubled their lead after 65 minutes. Plotkin played a diagonal ball into Bundu and as Nolly raced out of his goal to clear, his shot rebounded off the fast onrushing Bundu high into the air. As Nolly and Bundu challenged to get the descending ball, the Railhawks forward seemed to get there a millisecond first and the ball ended up in the net from ten yards out. 2-0 Carolina.

The Railhawks should have wrapped the game up with a quarter of an hour to go.

Luke Kreamalmeyer (who sounds more like something you’d shout out in a doughnut shop as opposed to a football player) was set free on the right and his low ball across the 18 yard line was brilliantly dummied by Plotkin, right into the path of Bundu, but the Sierra Leone refugee hit his effort agonisingly inches wide.

The Whitecaps nearly made them pay immediately but James headed an effort just over.

Plotkin had another chance to kill the game off for the Railhawks with twelve minutes left. Collecting the ball outside the box, he powerfully drove on and forced Nolly into a great point blank save. The resultant corner was played to Paladini twenty yards out and he took a couple of touches before unleashing a fierce low shot to Nolly’s near post but the big Caps keeper brilliantly turned the ball round the post for another corner.

Carolina were never really likely to be in any danger though and apart from a couple of half chances, if you can even call them that, the game seemed destined to fizzle out.

The Railhawks though got their best chance to make it three with two minutes remaining.

The impressive Paladini, who seemed to be first to every ball in the middle of the park, played a quick through ball to Cunliffe, who in turn played it through to sub Gavin Glinton. Glinton was adjudged to have beaten the flat-footed Vancouver offside trap and found himself in acres of space with just Nolly to beat. His decision to do a step-over in front of Nolly was his downfall though and the Caps keeper easily gathered the ball. I’m sure the Hawks striker will blame it on the surprise at not being flagged offside!

Carolina were to get a late surprise though when out of nowhere the Caps pulled a goal back with thirty seconds of normal time remaining.

Gbeke played the ball wide left to Mason Trafford, ran into the box, collected Trafford’s pass and rifled the ball high into the net from 16 yards out.

It was too little too late though and Vancouver couldn’t grab a point in the three minutes of stoppage time added on.

The final whistle came and ended what was on the whole a shocking night for Vancouver and a very well deserved 2-1 Carolina win that keeps Vancouver rooted to fourth bottom spot in USL1.

The Whitecaps seem to be playing with very little confidence just now and very little team awareness and, dare I say, fight. There doesn’t seem to be any real leaders on the park and players who can make a difference and turn the game.

Hopefully when the players start to return from injury this will be different but it’s not going to happen overnight.

Jay Nolly was outstanding, easily the Caps Man of the Match. Gordon Chin also looked good in spell and Charles Gbeke added another goal and looked dangerous when given a chance to.

Where the Caps go from here, I don’t know. They need to find the map quickly though.

FULL TIME: Carolina Railhawks 2 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Friday, July 17, 2009

Match Report: Durham City v East Fife (Friendly - 17/7/09)

Ah the joys of the summer weather in the UK! You're all set for a fun filled weekend away with the lads but torrential rain and thunderstorms leave the second game in your plans, away to Spennymoor, postponed.

A postponement for a waterloged pitch and it's only July!

Thankfully Durham City have an all-weather pitch and that meant that tonight's game was definitely on, come rain or shine. Well let's rule shine out right now!

East Fife took down a pretty young squad, but started the game with what is likely to be Stevie Crawford's preferred starting line up in the middle and defence.

Of the three trialists on display on Tuesday night, only Darren Gourlay made the trip down, so we don't know what to read into that.

The game kicked off a few minutes late and East Fife were soon under pressure and found themselves a goal down after just 6 minutes, when Durham's new signing, and a man marked to watch in AFTN's trip preview, Paul Brayson opened the scoring, capitalising on a slip by Jonny Smart to knock the ball over Michael Brown in the Fife goal.

Brayson was snapped up from Newcastle Blue Star in the summer and was the leading scorer in the Unibond North last season. He was proving to be a handful for the Fife defence but an accidental elbow in the face saw him forced to leave the game after just a quarter of an hour, with blood streaming from his nose.

East Fife nearly tied things up on the 22 minute mark Stuart Cargill brilliantly rounded City keeper Marc Riches but saw his goalbound effort headed off the line by Michael Laws.

The Fife did level though five minutes later, when Bobby Linn hit home after getting on the end of a great through ball from Stevie Crawford that left the City defence helpless.

Then came the bizarre twist of the night!

City keeper Riches went down injured on the half hour mark. With no sub goalie on their bench, East Fife's Andrew Stobie took the gloves for Durham!

The young Fife keeper did well to keep a clean sheet up till half time. Maybe he'll play himself into a transfer!

Durham came out for the second half the hungrier looking side and Marc Walton hit the post for them a few minutes in.

This was starting to be an unlucky day for Durham as striker Alex Benjamin, who had come on for the injured Brayson, got injured himself and had to be replaced just after the hour mark. It wasn't a particularly nasty game, just some pre-season rust perhaps.

With nothing too much of note apart from the usual rash of friendly substitutions, Durham brought on Nathan Bonar with 14 minutes remaining.

Bonar is a good prospect who has just been released by Middlesborough and within five minutes the 18 year old striker had made his mark on the game, lobbing the ball over sub Fife goalie Stewart Baillie to give Durham a 2-1 lead.

Durham's lead was to last only three minutes and it was a mistake by Stobie in the City goal that let in his boss Stevie Crawford to tie things up. Stobie couldn't keep hold of a Cargill effort, giving Stevie an easy finish. Maybe Craw owes Andrew a favour now?!!

The goal was controversial though as Durham's Gary Brown went down injured with a head knock. The ref didn't stop play but the City trainer came on as the ball was on the other side of the park in the build up that led to the goal. We'd not be happy if it had been the reverse, that's for sure!

As the game looked to be heading for a draw, East Fife snatched the winner at the death when Jordyn Sheerin coolly slotted home to send the 40 or so Fife fans that made the trip down home happy.

It was a good win against a good Durham side and although the substitutions and injuries make it hard to know how the game may have turned out otherwise, we're at least heading in the right direction, which is good to see. Our improved fitness levels were also visible, which is a relief after last season, and Durham fans have commented on how well organised our back four looked.

Good luck to Durham for the season ahead. Hopefully the injuries won't derail their attempt at a hat-trick of Championships. We'll certainly be following your exploits closely this season.

Just a pity that the weather has stopped our fine form continuing tomorrow at Spennymoor, although a bounce game has been organised at Durham's ground for the Saturday. I'm sure the players and fans will find ways to occupy themselves down in Durham anyway!

FULL TIME: Durham City 2 - 3 East Fife

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's that time of year again. East Fife's annual pre-season tour (read weekend getaway with the lads) starts tomorrow and for the umpteenth time we head off to County Durham.

You can read AFTN's tour preview on the main site HERE and there's a selection of pics from past memorable trips (who can forget the infamous Darlington 6?!!, or the naked penalties in Durham last time around?!!) HERE.

Pre-season friendlies and indeed, friendlies of all kinds, don't really get my excitement levels going. So much so in fact, that the past few seasons I decided to give most of our pre-season games a miss, tours and interesting games like the visits of Accrington Stanley to Bayview or the visit of LA Galaxy to Vancouver aside.

The fact that East Fife decided to not allow season ticket holders in free for these games was one of the deciding factors in this.

There's something special about the pre season tour though.

For a Club the size of East Fife, it's all about the bonding and fun aspect really and not the football.

On the playing side, with such a large turnover of players most seasons, it gives the new guys the chance to enjoy each others company and become a proper team.

For the fans, it's a chance to mingle with the players after the games, swap a few beers and stories and just chill out before the serious action begins.

It's frustrating that we end up down in Durham so much though and I know it's been three years since we've last been there but for a while in the 90's it was the only place we ended up going! It is fairly easy and short to get down there and the facilities are excellent, but still, a change of scenery is nice.

You can always be sure of a warm welcome though and Durham City did us proud in 2006 and so did Spennymoor in 1994 and both sides look to be doing the same again.

I was gutted when I missed Ireland last season. The closest we've come to a continental tour! The trip up north to Wick a few years back was a hoot and if we'd gone much further it would have been continental!

If they have any exciting plans in the future, I'll be there in a heartbeat. In the meantime, to everyone that's heading down, have a great, safe and enjoyable time and don't forget to send in your pics for the site.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Well yesterday it became official. Carlos Tevez has crossed the city divide to join Manchester City in a five year deal, said to be worth around £25.5 million to his advisors.

There's been so much already written about Tevez and the fact that his advisors own his "economic rights" that there's not too much more to say.

This bizarre set up has meant a string of loan deals in the past and all the wranglings and controversy that has went with him just kept reminding me of Jon Stark.

Who the hell is Jon Stark I hear you say! Well those of a certain age and of a UK persuasion will know the names of Jon Stark and Cosmo Kent.

Stark and Kent appeared in a comic strip in Scoop Magazine in the late 70's and early 80's. They were soccer mercenaries. Matchwinners for hire on a game by game by game basis. An original no win, no fee pairing.

It was the kind of thing you loved reading about as a kid, but something like that could never happen. Could it?

Well not on a game by game basis due to the rules of the number of Clubs you can play for in a season, but with players like Tevez and Nicolas Anelka you're not far off it.

Hawking their wares to the highest bidders on what often seems like a season to season basis, these players, with more clubs than Tiger Woods, aren't much better than the likes of Stark and Kent, except they pick up their pay cheque win, lose or draw.

Is football better for having these kind of players in the game? Is it hell. It's great if they're with your Club and helping you win trophies in the short term or avoiding relegation in West Ham's case, but after that you feel used and dirty. I know, I'm a Hammers fan.

Michael Owen could possibly manage being a game to game hitman mind you. The number of games he manages to play in a season would allow him to be in the seasonal Club limits.

When you read these comic strips as a kid you think it's all fantasy but maybe there will be more reality imitating art.

Edgar Davids and his glaucoma induced goggles are akin to Jimmy "Cannonball" Weston, Baypool Rovers ace striker who has a rare eye disease that makes him go blind when his excitement reaches a certain peak! Well ok, maybe just not quite like that!!

John Fashanu grew up in a children's home and made good as a pro footballer, just like the orphan "The Cox Kid". In the strip "This Goalie's Got Guts" goalkeeper Ben Lieper had to juggle being a doctor and being a pro footballer, much like King Kenny Deuchar in his time at East Fife and "Mighty Mouse" from Roy of the Rovers comic.

Then there was the legendary "Billy's Boots" in Scorcher telling the story of Billy Dane who played in an ancient and haunted pair of football boots of an old player. Maybe that's the reason behind Vincente Arze's yellow boots with the Whitecaps.

To this day though I'm still waiting for a real life Hot Shot Hamish to set the heather alight in the Scottish national team. Might be the only way we qualify for the World Cup again!

Fact imitating fiction. Football's certainly starting to look that way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Following a couple of low key bounce matches, East Fife's pre-season continued tonight with their first real test, against a pretty much full strength St Mirren side at Bayview.

The SPL outfit fielded a number of their new signings and a couple of trialists and ran out 2-1 winners.

Billy Mehmet opened the scoring for the Buddies with 20 minutes gone. Saints new signing Lee Mair, who was acquired in the summer from Aberdeen, doubled the lead with a strong header on 71 minutes.

One of our own new signings, Mark Staunton, replied for the Fife, with the aid of a deflection, with twelve minutes remaining and although East Fife pushed for the equaliser, that's how the game finished.

For the Fife faithful in the small crowd, it was the first chance for many to run the eye over our own new signings.

John Ovenstone and Jonny Smart looked quite solid at the back, in the 59 minutes they had together, and although it will take a few games for them to get the same understanding that Smarty had with Steven Tweed, it should give us a very strong and reliable centre half pairing.

New captain Scott Thomson didn't really stand out, although he did only play the first half, but a few games and training sessions should let us see what we have in him come the start of the season.

Stuart Baillie got the start in goal, with Michael Brown having a slight injury, and looked confident and played well. He made a number of good saves and stops that kept the Fife in the game. There should definitely be some good competition for the number one spot this season.

Up front is still going to be the problem and the area many feel still needs strengthening. Missing Paul McManus, it was hard to tell what our final front pairing will produce until we see Shagger and possibly Staunton paired together or possibly another new signing.

East Fife had two possible new boys on show.

Mark Cowan played up front and is a 19 year old striker who was with Hearts last season. He was the Jambos top scorer in the under 19 League and the joint top scorer in the overall League (with 13 goals). Strange that Hearts decided to free him and not loan him out but their loss will hopefully be our gain and he comes highly rated.

The other newbie on show was Darren Gourlay, a 19 year old defender who was previously with Peterborough but hails from Edinburgh. He played for both the reserve and under 19 Posh teams last season.

Overall, Stevie seems to be putting together a good squad that wants to play good football and we're already optimistically looking forward to the season starting.

EAST FIFE: Stewart Baillie (Andrews Stobie 72), Darren Gourley (Michael Bruce 45), Guy Kerr (Johnny McRae 59), John Ovenstone (Paul Nugent 59), Jonny Smart (Darren Thomson 63), Scott Thomson (David Muir 45), Bobby Linn (Aaron Conway 54), Lloyd Young (Shaun Fagan 45), Mark Staunton (Trialist 86), Mark Cowan (Stevie Crawford 72), Stuart Cargill

Monday, July 13, 2009

A certain few players can rightly be classed as the top players of their generation. They're worshipped during their playing careers and beyond, but what happens to the man when that career ends?

What do they do to occupy those football playing free days? To fill that void some go into management (to various degrees of success), others throw themselves into broadcasting and media work, some fall to the temptations of drink and drugs. If you're Pele you sell the wonders of Viagra.

In Zinedine Zidane's case it appears you spend your summer in Canada as part of a three game circus.

Zizou has contented himself with playing in charity games since his retirement. Whether his experience in Canada this summer will change his outlook on such games is now debatable.

How Zidane got roped into taking part into what many fans feel has been at best a rip off and at worst a scam is the big question now hanging around.

At the end of April a group I'd personally never heard of before, Adlani Soccer Ltd, announced that they were putting on three charity football matches across Canada in June and July. It was to be an "All Star" match featuring Zinedine Zidane and Friends.

Have a look at the original web flyer below. The chance to see the likes of Paulo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Fabian Barthez and Samuel Eto'o on the pitch at the same time would have been a mouthwatering proposition. Many felt likewise and bought tickets expecting to see these stars. Sadly, or read luckily, I couldn't go as I was off to see Green Day the night of the Vancouver game. Ah well. Phew more like. The initial ticket price of up to $99 had made me baulk anyway and if I had been able to go then it would have been the $29 tickets for me. That's the tight Scot in me of course!

Questions started to be asked right way, the main one being would any of the players actually turn up? The answer was no. Well, all except Zidane of course and the whole thing became less a case of "Zidane and Friends" and more "Zinedine Zidane and a selection of people he's not long met and the crowd haven't heard of".

When the first game of the tour took place in Toronto on June 25th everything became clear. These were no all stars. People had paid top dollar to see a sham, with the only other player of note being late addition, Argentina's Martin Palermo. 10,152 paying punters in fact and they weren't happy. 15,010 fans turned out to the event in Montreal three days later, the French population holding Zidane alone in high esteem.

Organizer Ahcene Adlani has blamed the problems on a lack of co-operation from the Canadian Soccer Association and other groups.

The Vancouver date on July 4th was already in doubt many felt. It was a 60,000 capacity venue and only 8,000 tickets had apparently been sold - and that was with the lure of the international stars. People were also starting to ask for their money back as they weren't going to be getting what they had bought tickets for.

The whole thing was developing into a farce more each day and this culminated with the announcement on July 2nd that the the game was cancelled. Or rather, temporarily postponed.

The reason? Well keeping well in with the whole theme of things, Zidane had injured his back lifting his child whilst watching a fireworks display in Vancouver on Canada Day!

The game was quickly rescheduled to July 12th and the moved to the much smaller 5,200 capacity Swangard Stadium. Now it was just advertised as Zinedine Zidane and Vancouver All Stars and tickets were now $50 and $25.

As the game approached, and with seemingly very little in the way of advertising or media publicity, ticket sales were slow and a few days before game time were announced at being between 700 and 1000. Promotions were announced on the Adlani website. On the day before the game, if you bought a pair of tickets you could get grandstand for $40 each and bleachers for $25. On game day itself this offer had changed to $30 and $20 respectively. Desperate measures?

Well it seemed to work because a crowd of around 4,000 attended the game last night. the bleachers were pretty much full and the grandstand just under three quarters full. But to see who?

It had been rumoured that the Vancouver players would consist of three former Whitecaps in Alfredo Valente, Steve Kindel and Jeff Clarke. None were in the line ups, although there was ex TFC player Tyler Rosenlund and former East Fife player Emilio Bottiglieri! So that's what Mel's up to now. I bet he never thought when he was touring the shitholes of Scottish lower league football that he'd be on a team alongside Zinedine Zidane one day!

I went up for a nose and if I'd been offered a ticket for $10 would have gone in, but ended up watching the first 25 minutes of proceedings for free from the fence around the stadium. That was enough. Saw Zizou, who still has it and could definitely still play, and he set up a great goal and went on to score a hat trick. It was all sadly going through the motions stuff and a shooting in goal fest (I believe it finished 10-7).

I saw enough and felt I'd had good value for money! I'm sure that those inside enjoyed it. They turned up, in Vancouver any way, knowing just what they were getting - Zizou. Shirts, banner and Algerian flags were everywhere, as the crowd chanted his name over and over. I don't think I heard any English spoken from any of the fans in my whole brief time there!

Adlani had said that Zidane had waived his fee for the match, a fact then when asked seemed to not be the case as far as the French star was concerned according to TSN.

There's a number of sad things about this whole event.

First off, all those fans in Toronto and Montreal who paid good money and didn't see the stars they wanted. One person reportedly spent $1600 on VIP seats. There's been talk of a class action lawsuit.

Then you have the whole charity aspect. It was stated that proceeds from the games would go to Unicef. You always wonder just how much proceeds means and Adlani confirmed last week that, for the Vancouver game at any rate, a whole 2% of the proceeds would find their way to the charity.

There's also the damage to the repuation of Canadian football. It was interesting that none of the big three Clubs wanted any part of the thing. Neither did the CSA. Canadian football and it's fans are not at fault but it's the lasting stigma that this debacle will leave in it's wake. It will just make people wary of any future endeavours, no matter how genuine and unless it has the backing of the Caps, TFC or Impact.

The biggest loser in all of this has to be Zinedine Zidane though.

He is still clearly an idol to his community. He is still worshipped and admired and a figure to look up to, to the Algerian population especially. He's had a great career and, headbutts aside, been an inspiration to many and one of the best players of his generation and perhaps all time.

His reputation has been tarnished by this though. How much he actually had to do with anything and how much of a paycheque he has taken we will probably never know. It was interesting that there was no mention of any of these games on his official website though.

He should have left us remembering the good times.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Since we have been on the topic of football stadiums and redevelopment work on them in the blog this week, we thought it would be a good time to mention Union Berlin and their Alte Forsterei ground.

We were alerted to what has happened to them, and their stadium, by 'The Dude' on the AFTN forum, so thanks for bringing it to everyone's attention.

Union won Liga 3 last season and earned promotion to Bundesliga 2 for next season. In order to take their place in the second tier, the Club have to bring their ground up to certain regulations. Costs which they would struggle to meet.

The solution? Get the fans to do the work and save 90% of the costs. Genius!

The three sides of the ground that are currently terraced are being redeveloped in a project which sees fans performing the majority of the construction work involved, with specialist contractors being brought in for the more complex building work.

The finished result will be a cracking little stadium. One which I'd love to see for East Fife in their current site and Vancouver Whitecaps if they can ever get permission to built one somewhere in the city.

There's a great film about it all that can be viewed HERE and a site all about the stadium. It's in German, obviously, but well worth a look and can be easily translated.

So is this the future for all smaller, cash strapped clubs to give them the chance for promotion whilst still keeping what money they have to invest in the team? it's certainly worth considering.

A stadium to fans orders. What more could you ask for?!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

With Vancouver Whitecaps moving in to BC Place stadium for their inaugural MLS season in 2011, renovation work has already started at the venue, as it readies itself in part for hosting the opening, closing and victory ceremonies at next year's Winter Olympics.

I have to admit to having a little apprehension at first when the news came out that the Caps weren't going to be getting (for now at least) their own waterfront stadium and would be groundsharing in the dome with the BC Lions of the CFL (throwball).

Not a big fan of watching football in domes. I took in three games in Detroit's Silverdome during the 1994 World Cup and it was sweltering in there, although the enclosed roof did hold in a lot of noise and atmosphere, akin to the good old fashioned sheds that I love.

With the new BC Place to have a retractable roof, the guarantee that it wouldn't be an artificial pitch and the release of renederings as to what the final stadium will roughly look like (Photos), I was swayed and am looking forward to seeing the Whitecaps first match there in two years time.

For Vancouver, it marks a return to BC Place, which was their home stadium from 1983 till 1984, when the team initially folded after the collapse of the NASL.

The Caps opened the stadium the first time around on Monday 20th June 1983. Reading the programme from that night there's an interesting tale about how the stadium came into being.

With a crowd of over 100,000 celebrating the Whitecaps 1979 Soccer Bowl win, the jubilant crowd started heckling the Mayor of Vancouver at that time with chants of "we want a stadium!". He became flustered and came out with the immortal lines "I'll guarantee you this...that because of the Whitecaps' fine victory in New York yesterday...we will definitely have a new stadium in Vancouver within the very near future! I give you that guarantee.".

Although the Mayor, Jack Volrich, didn't actually have any firm plans at that point, it marked the start of the ball rolling on BC Place. It was just a shame it took four years and the Caps only got just over one year's use out of it. But now they are returning "home".

As you can see from the renderings link above, the new stadium is certainly going to be state of the art.

I was at the BC Lions game last night and couldn't help but let my mind wander around the stadium, picturing what it's going to be like to watch the Whitecaps in there in 2011. There's been talk of a possible standing terrace for the Southsiders, so was trying to figure out what my view is going to be like and the best place to hang my new flag!

You forget sometimes how vast the stadium is. Even with a crowd of just under 27,000 last night, the stadium looked pretty empty, with a lot of noticeable gaps in the lower bowl, which will be all that the Caps will have (initially at least!).

The toilets have already been revamped and what a difference! They look cleaner and seem larger and the queues seem to move quicker. So there's a start. There's also this bizarre, but cool looking, round water fountain to wash your hands slap bank in the middle of the toilet! It has about a dozen or more tap outlets. Yeah ok, that's not the most interesting story you'll ever read in this blog!

Many fans have been worried that BC Place will not feel like home to the Caps and you'll be inundated with a colour scheme of Lions orange as soon as you enter the stadium.

Although it will only the Caps temporary home, as they still keep their own stadium hopes alive, it has to be remembered that they will be playing more games in there than the Lions.

So far, we don't have anything to worry about, as the tiling on the new toilets are all blue and white (with a little green). No orange in sight!

The food concessions also seem to move quicker now and the fact that there are numerous stand alone carts throughout the concourse throws up the real possibility that the Whitecaps will be able to offer their own take on proper football food and not just crappy hots dogs and burgers. That's what Toronto have done after canvassing fans views.

All in all, it's starting to get quite exciting, as the countdown continues. It will be interesting to see the progress move on over the course of the next two years.

For now, I'll just keeping dreaming of the possibility of pies and bovril whilst cheering on the Caps!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps needed a break. That's the main thing that can be taken from last night's game against Minnesota if the 4-0 scoreline is anything to go by.

With only one league win in their last six matches, the 16 day layoff seems to have rejuvenated the Caps and they produced a clinical and commanding victory against USL1's bottom side, if a sluggish one at times.

Going on the game itself, it is little wonder that the Thunder are currently sitting bottom of the standings, as apart from two wasted second half chances and a dipping free kick effort which was well saved, they produced very little of note as a threat to Jay Nolly's goal and they just can't seem to finish what chances they do get.

With this in mind, it's hard to perhaps read too much into Vancouver's performance, but it was good to see the players put their Canadian Championship disappointments behind them and refocus their efforts on claiming back to back USL Championships. You could clearly see what the win meant to the Caps players, who must have been itching to get back into action.

It was the team's first game back home after their Champions League robbery and Vancouver's football loving public made sure it was a packed house to cheer them on. It was standing room only in the sold out 5,568 crowd, with many still queuing to get in after the game had kicked off.

The Southside was also jam packed and noisy, with many new faces amongst them. Whether it was the weather, holidays or whatever it was that brought them out, they're more than welcome and let's hope they return. After watching last night's demolition, it would be hard to imagine that they wouldn't want to.

The Whitecaps attacked from the off and Tyrell Burgess went close twice in the first three minutes. It was a great start from Vancouver and in particular the Bermudan winger who was making his first start for the Club.

It wasn't long before the Caps got on the scoresheet. With 7 minutes gone Martin Nash played a long ball in for Lyle Martin to chase. Martin controlled the ball well, possibly with the aid of his arm, and outpaced Thunder defender Chris Clements to hit the ball low past Nicky Platter in the Minnesota goal from just inside the box. 1-0 Vancouver.

It was surprising that there was no more scoring in the half, with Charles Gbeke coming closest for the Caps on a couple of occasions, in his first game back after suspension, and Brian Cvilikas for Minnesota.

Vancouver seemed to adopt a pedestrian pace as the second half begun, knocking the ball around without going anywhere with it, and this complacency nearly let Minnesota back into the game but they squandered what chances they had.

The fans had to wait until the 71st minute for Vancouver to double their lead with Martin Nash converting a penalty down the middle, after Burgess was upended in the box.

The Thunder defence found themselves all at sea and struggling to cope with the pace of the young Whitecaps attack, but it was the old man in the side Martin Nash that made the third goal with eleven minutes left.

Nash found Marcus Haber out wide and his pace took him past the Minnesota defence with ease, allowing him time and space to deliver an inch perfect pass across goal to Gbeke who got his name on the scoresheet once again.

3-0 Vancouver but it wasn't to end there. Just two minutes later and it was four when sub Dever Orgill played the ball into the path of Haber out right and the big striker ghosted past the Thunder defence once again, this time firing past Platter himself to get a well deserved goal.

Both teams had chances to add to the scoring in the closing minutes but it ended 4-0 and well deserved Whitecaps win that took them to 6th in the table.

It was a good win, but the team did look a little sluggish at times before they clicked into gear. Only to be expected after such a break. A few players really impressed though with Marcus Haber and Gordon Chin looking good and some nice pace shown from the subs when they came on.

The main thing though was that it was three much needed points and if we can stick together a decent run before now and the end of the season then we'll see where that takes us.

Maybe we should have another break in a few weeks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps finally return to match action this evening against the Minnesota Thunder at Swangard Stadium.

Unbelievably it's been 16 days since the Caps last played a match and a full month since they last had a home game. You'd be forgiven for forgetting that they actually played football in Vancouver in the summer.

For those unaware, this isn't an official League break. Oh no, the USL has been in full flow in all that time, it's just that the Caps haven't been involved in any fixtures.

A few weeks back we looked at how the English and Scottish fixtures are worked out. It would be interesting to see how the USL come up with theirs. I picture a bunch of monkeys pulling names from a wizard hat. Maybe best not to have that image spoilt.

The reason for the Caps enforced break seems to lie at the hands of the Canadian Soccer Association who apparently informed the USL and MLS that they would be holding their Canadian Championship games in this period, except they didn't. According to a Caps employee posting on the Southsiders Caps fan forum, the CSA forgot the slight matter that Canada were taking part in the Gold Cup at this time.

The result being Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver ended up juggling their Voyaguers Cup games inbetween busy League schedules and now they're quiet and the fans are sitting twiddling their thumbs and trying to remember what watching a live match is like.

If the CSA hadn't cocked this up, would Montreal have fielded a stronger side against TFC and would Vancouver then have rightfully claimed their Champions League spot?

All speculation of course, but let's face it, there's been very little else to do for the last 16 days.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Interesting news coming out of South Africa today that around 70,000 construction workers have gone on strike, including a number working on getting the stadiums ready for next year's World Cup finals.

There are six new stadiums being built and four of the existing ones are being renovated.

It always seems that before every World Cup, Olympics, Euros or whatever there are scare stories that come out saying that the necessary venues might not be ready. These of course always end up as nothing more than scaremongering and an opportunity to fill copy on quiet news days.

I'm sure it will be the same here, although a cautionary word of warning came from the organisers who said that they are confident the grounds will be ready "unless the strike continues for months".

This in itself is newsworthy, as usually in such circumstances there is never any word of doubt raised. It is also interesting to note that the Unions involved have stated that the strike is indefinite.

And it won't just affect the stadiums itself. New and improved rail links from Johannesburg airport are scheduled to open just two weeks before the Finals start. That's already tight. Any delay could thrown fans' travel plans into chaos.

With the World Cup meaning so much not just to the country, but to the continent, there is little doubt that things will not be allowed to fall too far behind and everything will be resolved, but what bargaining powers and leverage this will give the Unions.

With the average wage being around GBP192/$310 per month for the workers, and considering how much money stands to be made from the finished work, good luck to them. That's my union background coming out there!

Maybe we can all guarantee the workers worldwide support if they make sure that the stadiums are soundproofed for horn noise.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Whilst browsing at the latest CD releases I stumbled across the first album from a band called The Duckworth Lewis method.

That name will not mean anything to many, as it's the bizarre calculation method used in cricket for rain delays in one day internationals and 20-20, but it turns out to be the brainchild of the Divine Comedy's brilliant Neil Hannon.

It also turns out to be a twelve track album all about cricket! With wonderful song titles like "Mason On The Boundary", "Meeting Mr Miandad" and "The Nightwatchman", I'll be getting hold of a copy soon as it's bound to be a blast.

I'm a sucker for these sort of things, especially those of a football nature.

For me, football and music go hand in hand. I've been working on a three part feature for AFTN about the interweaving aspects of both, in all their various guises, and that will be appearing on the site and in the East Fife programme later this year.

There's always been that close bond for decades now. From the swinging sounds and swaying kops of the sixties, reworking the hits of the day to be football oriented, through to punk, ska, indie and dance songs about the game. Then you had all the Spice Boys nonsense in the 90's that's better forgotten.

So many football fanzines were named after songs too, including Away From The Numbers from the Jam b-side of the same name. And there's the famous QPR fanzine editor turned musician in Pete Doherty.

There's my particular favourites of Half Man Half Biscuit's various nods and the Sultans of Ping extolling the words of wisdom of Brian Clough. There's been so many serious bands who have written about football and football fans. Then there's the not so serious bands who do the same.

When I saw The Duckworth Lewis Method it reminded me of a couple of albums I have from the 90's by a band calling themselves Halftime Oranges.

Two albums, 30 tracks. Each one of them all about football, with titles like "What's The Fuss About Ryan Giggs", "Bob Stokoe Says", "Terrace Girl" and "Zig Zag To The Onion Bag". You can't go wrong with that!

I got sent both the albums free to review in AFTN, primarily due to the track East Fife 4 Forfar 5 on the first album. I pointed out the score was the wrong way around but it was too late for them to change it!

Not really albums to be taken seriously, and I have to be frank, not the most musically gifted songs and singing style you're ever going to hear, but they can still be played time and time again, which I did just recently when making up a CD of them for a friend.

There's just something about the songs that bring childhood footballing memories flooding back. It's great and in the song "Battiston" they have a footballing classic in my eyes, or should that be ears.

Referring to the incident in the 1982 World Cup semi when Germany's goalie Harold Schumacher flattened the French player Patrick Battiston in a moment of footballing madness that I can still picture as vividly today as when I was watching it in my bedroom 17 years ago (how did he stay on the pitch?!!!).

The song has the immortal lines "Oh Patrick. You could have had a hat trick in the final. You could have been the French Geoff Hurst. If Harold hadn't knocked you out first".

The albums are called "Clive Barker Set Me On Fire" and "Rotterdamnation" and you can find them on some of the download sites. Go on, you know you want to!

Maybe Duckworth Lewis will inspire a whole lot of Halftime Oranges for this generation. Let's hope so!

Monday, July 6, 2009

My wife calls me a pack rat. She calls me other things too, but for today let's just look at this one!

For those in the UK unfamiliar with that expression it means she says I'm a hoarder, not that she's saying I'm the rodent of the same name. She says hoarder of junk, I say collector of fine objects! Toemaytoe toemahtoe.

Sports memorabilia, programmes, 7" records are all things I love.

Of course it all started when I was a kid. Then it was primarily football programmes, stamps and a bizarre obsession for getting an action man from my great aunt every birthday. I may have been planning an invasion. I still don't really know why.

Collecting football programmes back then was great. Not that the programmes themselves were in most occasions. No glossy, fancy full colour productions that cost a fortune back then. More just adverts galore and very little info. East Fife's ones in particular in the late 70's and into the 80's were particularly uninspiring.

It was still fun to have stuff from all over the world though.

As the years went on, my interest in programmes started to wane. Many were sold, others that had no real interest to anyone anymore were thrown out. I still have a pile in a couple of boxes that I need to take to a dealer at some point. Collecting programmes just got boring and uninspiring for me.

My collection now is really just my East Fife and Vancouver Whitecaps ones and a few others that have special meaning or interest to me.

Even East Fife's away ones became more of just a regimented collecting for the sake of my collection rather than something to look forward to reading. Buy it at the game have a quick flick through at half time, then file it away with the others from that season never to be looked at again most of the time!

Thankfully the East Fife home programme has kept my interest going in recent years. "The Bayview" has been excellent under the Trust and I've really enjoyed writing for it the last two seasons, continuing into the coming one. Winning the Divisional programme of the year award was a great reward for all our hard work and being second overall nationally even more so.

I also feel that where most Clubs seem to think of the programme as an afterthought, thus making it a bland affair and not of much interest to those not supporting the home Club, East Fife's one does have a lot of appeal to all fans attending the game or picking up a copy from wherever after it.

Vancouver Whitecaps sadly don't issue a regular programme (or program as they like to call it in North America). There's a staple one issued at the start of the season, which is informative and enjoyable and also packed and free! Can't fault that. But that's pretty much it for the season, although it would appear they may issue a second one this season about the halfway mark.

The reason? There's not really the demand for them. They're mostly read and throw away items. Not the same anorak mentality, which is a good thing in some respects! It does make increasing your collection a painfully slow and uneventful one, but does save on space!

I hope that they'll change this going into the MLS. Produce different programmes for every match harking back to the NASL days.

I'd rather pay for an every game issue than just get one season-long affair that was free. I may be alone in that. It's certainly something I would be keen on being a part of if they did go down that path.

It does make you fully appreciate the UK programme culture though and several teams have reignited my programme interest in recent years, noticably mostly non league ones.

AFC Wimbledon and FC United Manchester not surprisingly lead the way, as they do with most things in the way that a football club should be run. Their programmes are interesting and entertaining. So much so that I'm going to be subscribing to the Wombles one for their first season in the Blue Square Premier.

They, along with clubs like East Fife, show just how important and good PR a well crafted programme can be to a football club.

It's just a pity that others, on both sides of the Atlantic, don't always see it that way.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Another week and another in what seems to be a constant stream of international football tournaments this summer.

This time it's the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Held biannually, this is the 10th Gold Cup and once again it is being held in the US. This year though, some of the shine has been taken off the competition with the competing sides treating the tournament in different levels of seriousness as it comes right in the middle of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Costa Rica and El Salvador, for example, are treating the tournament as a chance to keep their World Cup squads together as part of their qualification preparations. Canada and Jamaica on the other hand have points to prove after missing out on the final round of World Cup qualifying with what were, on paper at least, strong squads. They can start their rebuilding now and look to the future.

A number of the 12 teams taking part though have come out and said that they will be fielding B squads. All well and good, but it devalues what it meant to be the confederation's premier international tournament (World Cup qualification aside) and it doesn't add much impetus for watching the events unfold, as the initial crowds are demonstrating.

It just makes you feel what is the point? Are they just continuing to have the tournament for the sake of it? Will it just fizzle out altogether. The MLS and USL, as examples, don't postpone their League duties when the tournament is on, so the top sides either lose players to the Gold Cup or the players just don't go and concentrate on their domestic campaigns.

It's all crazy and another example of an international tournament that should just be held every four years and not in years leading up to a World Cup.

Maybe one day CONCACAF will get the message and reintroduce some prestige to proceedings. Hopefully they do it whilst people still care.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Just a short blog today. More of a rant.

Was watching the Sky's coverage of the Scottish Masters and, even more so than usual, I just couldn't stop wondering how Jim White has had such a long career on television.

His presentation style is so amateur and his attempts at being witty are just cringeworthy.

He was bad enough on Scotsport all those years ago. Then he inexplicably landed a role at Sky.

Why? Why? Why?

Wikipedia have this brilliant summarisation of his talents:

"White is distinguished by his slavish but often clumsy following of the auto cue, often losing all sense of what he is supposed to be presenting."

Is he thought to be the best sports presenter Scotland has to offer?

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