Amusing yourself at the football part 176

31 05 2018

I’ve started taking pictures of books at the football,

Schneider at Altrincham

Bradbury at Bangor

Marx at Macclesfield

CLR James at Rhyl

Le Carré at Connah’s Quay

Levi at Alfreton Town,

Welsh at Coventry City

Zizek et al at Betws-Y-Coed

Hawking at Llanfairfechan

Joyce at Prestatyn Sports

Welsh at Old Colwyn


For what it’s worth I blame Nick Hornby.


Just get behind the lads, go on, just get behind the lads

30 05 2018

Get behind the lads, get behind the lads.

That’s our job, we have to get behind the lads, that’s what fans do!

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers has been cautioned by the police for tweeting racial abuse”

Look, just get behind the lads. That’s our job as fans.

“But our captain is the biggest buy-to-let landlord in the north.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left back abuses our fans on team bonding sessions in town.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our manager is an insufferable bore.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left winger diverts his wages through the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands in the name of tax efficiency.”

Just get behind the lads

“But one of our midfielders spoke in support of Tommy Robinson whilst he was on Question Time.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“But our vice-captain has been dubbed as “the worst landlord since Rachman”.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our right back co-wrote an episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve keeper founded a company to deal in conflict diamonds.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielders still likes Morrissey.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve full back like speaks like a university student…….and stuff”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielder wears a Make America Great Again cap in post-match interviews.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers is a part-time DJ in a local pub but tells people, via his own you tube channel, that he curates a cultural happening that highlights the synergy between cool people, cool places and cool times.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our defenders has launched his own right-wing populist party and they’ve staged a coup in Peru.”

Just get behind the lads,

“But our board members are nothing more than a plague of goodwill locusts that have already ruined nearly a dozen clubs.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But the football world is now little more than a cynical homage to Thatcherite logic. It’s two millionaires arguing over a throw in, it’s match tickets with prices in three figures, it’s imperialistic giganto-clubs replacing the alienated fans from their local communities with tourists that offer strident opinions on trains, it’s a media that won’t let you think about anything else, it’s an industry continually expectorating PR flim-flam. Football is now a moral vacuum where the only measure of worth is the illusion of success.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about the morally relative jargon that’s employed to obscure the pandemic cheating?”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about our well known internet fans? One of them says that we can’t doubt him because he has an moral MA in the Sociology of the false number 7, an apparent MPhil in Football Analyticalness and a virtual Phd about Franco Baresi’s running gait whilst wearing asics boots. Needless to say he will have already had the last laugh at least 96 hours before you’ve heard the question you worthless cretin.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“Right then, I’m Offski.”

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just Get behind the lads.









In other words, never silence them analytical sensibilities.

You’ve got to sell yourself at the end of the day mate

4 02 2018

Football had never provided a stable employment sector and those working in the sport perpetually carry this cultural baggage. John Jenkins had known its weight for twenty two years.

If you’re lucky to have a career in professional football you get used to a lack of stability. It’s there when you start out as the system that appears to offer glory and riches sheds hundreds if not thousands of doe-eyed hopefuls to the anonymity of real life without a second thought.

When you’re playing there’s an omnipresent sense of fear, fear of injury, fear of reduction to bit-part status, fear of not gaining a new contract. It’s there when a manager’s honeymoon period ends, it’s there when youth coaches realise they can be relieved of their roles almost without notice.

JJ thought he knew where he was with football but it only took a couple of days as player-manager to realise that the pressures he now faced had a totally different feel. Within a couple of weeks he had noticed that the pressure was omnipresent. No sooner had one challenge been bested than another hoved into view. Summers were now a mixture of phonecalls and thwarted plans, even when he was on holiday, especially when he was on holiday.

Today’s problem was just another layer of worry, another part of the managerial tapestry; it was the end of November and his United side were on a bad run. There was absolutely no way of denying that things looked bad, or that the sense of pressure had increased, JJ hadn’t woken up with a sunny disposition for six weeks.

When people talk about “them that work in football being so astronomically rich they don’t worry about the day to day grind any more” they are only giving a partial story. Abundant riches may exist and they may have cushioned people from real life pressures to an extent, and even cushioned football’s pressure to an extent, but they have also exacerbated the sense of pressure.

How can you truly enjoy financial security without job security?

A lack of wins quickly becomes “a major slump” and a virtual scandal.

We must win.

We must entertain.


At times the premium income didn’t feel worth everything that went with it, JJ was still amazed that football had become so short-termist.

When JJ began his managerial role some of the older coves from football’s fraternity offered him candid advice. Some of the advice was useful; it was better to remain aloof from the players, shouting did lose its impact after the first time, he always asked advice but stuck to his decision in the end and he wasn’t afraid to change.

But other parts of the advice sounded like it came from a different time. The memory of someone else’s words cannot prepare you for the sensory onslaught of “a major slump”, it’s something that you have to feel to understand. You have to actually live through a six week period where you veer from thinking about next season’s European logistics to reading tweets that label you as a fraud.

JJ’s experience had provided a fast eye for detail so he had been the first person to notice that things were going astray. He could have offered his opinion to the public weeks ago, if anybody had bothered to ask, but he didn’t for two very good reasons.

Firstly, he remembered how he felt whenever his manager had publicly criticised his team. Teams rely on confidence and negative public interventions do not help, confidence has to be sustained not dissipated.

Secondly, he remembered the wise advice about being careful around journalists lest they chip away at everything you’re trying to do. Everybody remembers public managerial meltdowns and that’s not how he wanted to be remembered.

When strident questions began to fill JJ’s football landscape he knew that people had finally caught up with his analysis. The idea that people appeared to think that managers were unable to understand football was once a source of private amusement but the terrace critics, radio show callers and tiresome journalists were no longer amusing.

JJ detested the constant need to justify himself when his side lost and loathed the overly fulsome praise when his side won, he hated expressing the same sentiment ten times.

Losing because a couple of details in a match slightly eluded your side is bad enough but being forced to listen to other peoples’ opinions was probably the worst part of the job. His trusted coaching staff were the only opinion he needed and they only needed to express their opinions once.

Everybody else’s input was less than worthless in terms of winning football matches, yet these opinions were everywhere. Even when he wanted to switch off from football the opinions were still everywhere. He used to say half-jokingly say to his friends “Could you still read that newspaper if you knew it also contained a less than flattering public opinion about you?”

He could say with sincerity that people were entitled to their opinion, they paid his wages blah blah blah, but why did everyone try to sound like an expert, anybody can look like an expert in hindsight but why does everybody try to sound like an expert before the matches as well? It’s very annoying when you have to humour the people that don’t appear to know that it’s very easy to think when you aren’t under the pressure of judgement by end results.

Fans still came to speak to JJ as he entered the ground on a matchday, or when they saw him in Tesco, and they were always supportive. Hearing a small example of simple human warmth  like “Come on JJ, we know you can turn this around.” could always pick his spirits up.

JJ always came across as an optimist but he could see a hundred well-wishers and only remember the harsh words of the single critic.

His uncanny ability to pinpoint individual voices in the crowd didn’t help. He hated that split-second of nervous tension when he actually caught a critic’s eye, he hated seeing the shameful face, he hated seeing someone that had been caught doing something they didn’t want to be judged upon. It was pointless behaviour on every conceivable level.

It’s amazing that people think they can say anything within the anonymity of a group, but them it’s equally amazing that people don’t seem to realise that the twelfth row isn’t very far away.

Good natured patience was out these days but anger was very fashionable in your “modern football” . The good will that automatically came with the status of authentic club legend was clearly no longer limitless. Last week JJ had made the mistake of searching for his name on twitter and it was almost soul-destroying, all of the goals he scored and trophies he won were faint apparitions, the latest defeat was all that mattered.

JJ really disliked the judgemental way in which some people thought about football. Hair-trigger emotions do nothing but create pressure. Don’t we all want the same thing? Don’t we all crave the same success?

Everyone knew JJ’s place within United’s history. He was in second place on the highest goalscorers’ list and fourth on the list of appearances makers. Everyone knew his part in the titles, cups and European nights. These past glories, memories that had made everyone so happy, had been placed in the dustbin of history by some people because United had gone weeks without a victory.

Fans might be amazed to learn that managers don’t entirely trust fans with fickle attitudes because it’s like dealing with spoilt teenagers. How can people move so easily from clichés about temporary form and permanent class to the judgemental “He’s lost the dressing room he has”? How can people not realise that they sound ridiculous? It helped that JJ was always perfectly aware that patient fans still existed.

Those that work in football view their sport with an unsentimental air. There are few grey areas when it comes to results and United’s recent record was stark by the end of November; depending on your point of view United had either failed to win for six matches or only registered a single win in the ten matches since the middle of September.

JJ knew that these results weren’t good enough but he was still an optimist, he tried to spin the situation by saying that because seven of those defeats had been by a single goal things could change quickly. He knew things could change quickly, he had seen that happen plenty of times, including three or four of United’s seasons.

There were too many unreasonable expectations.

For example JJ once asked a fans forum whether they would accept a judgement about themselves if that opinion was based on things they were unable to control? While most seemed to agree with this fair point a few of the more confident fans provided answers that were variations of “Yeah, but….”.

JJ responded to those people by asking whether they thought a manager could actually control everything. When a few responded with “Yeah but” again JJ let fly;

“I’m sorry some of you feel like that but you haven’t seen went we do in training. You don’t see how hard we work every day to get things right. You don’t see how the coaching team tries to think about issues and problems. You don’t see how some of our training drills are based on the analysis of opposition’s weaknesses. You lot just saw the misplaced pass, the mishit shot and the opposition goal go in.

You don’t seem to understand that we can work all week on something, and that this approach can work perfectly for ninety nine percent of a match, but the tinniest of details, the most insignificant of small details, can still go wrong and ruin all of that work.

You can analyse and find weaknesses, you can try to work on things to instil confidence but Smithy can still slip and the cross can still arrive at their striker’s feet, or they can still score the winner against the run of play because Damo was five yards out of position when the ball was halfway inside our half.

So tell me, how is a manager supposed to deal with that?”

Nobody answered with “Yeah, but” that time but this was the judgemental environment that managers have to deal with.

When JJ answered his board’s call for help three and a half years ago he became United’s first player-manager for a quarter of a century. The speed with which the decision was made, and the situation progressed, naturally led to a feeling of dislocation. It wasn’t just his new responsibilities there was a new style of human interaction.

One of his old managers advised him that he had to put distance between himself and the lads in the dressing room. On the most basic level this isn’t difficult because you can just stop using the dressing room, however it is more difficult situation on the emotional level.

You have to change from the person that’s in the middle of dressing room humour, the person that started most of the dressing room jokes in JJ’s case, to the person that has to drop his mates, and you have make this change almost immediately.

Until this forked road in his journey coaching certificates had been curiosity that involved vague ideas about post-playing career options but now he had to actually use them. Would his mates listen to him? Would they play for him?

Those worries were without foundation because his quiet sort of charisma was sufficient. The players wanted to win for him and the fans. JJ wouldn’t let them forget the fans. It helped that his golden touch meant that he could still weigh in with his share of goals, admittedly he didn’t score the quantity of goals he used to but he was the most senior member of the squad.

The first season was a great success because it produced the first cup triumph for twelve years. JJ had been not only been able to combine managing and playing, he had made a telling contribution in many matches like the late semi-final winner and the explosive derby winner.

The second season had been good as well as European football had been achieved again. He may not have contributed as much as the first season but he had still scored three or four important goals. The third season was much the same.

The fourth season was very different. The positive results were slower to come, the cup matches were closer as the side seemed to win thanks to luck rather than skill. European football was achieved by the slimmest of slim margins.

JJ knew football was like that. He had always thought that United’s fans lived up to their reputation as patient and knowledgeable people but it turns out that some of their fans were just like everybody else when they thought success wasn’t coming their way.

In this particular autumn JJ knew that he hadn’t been quite doing it on the pitch over the last eighteen months. He had been the first to know, it was his body.

He was slightly slower to react to everything, some passes moved slightly too quickly and some crosses were slightly too high. He was still in the right areas of the pitch but you don’t lose that special awareness.

JJ wasn’t particularly worried that the passing of time was reducing his effectiveness, it happened to every player and you cannot hide from the progress of time. He wanted to keep playing and he thought he was good enough, his general recption as he warmed up and the crowd murmur when he was about to come on told him that.

The barbed dressing room comments told him that his teammates had also noticed; “It looks like you’ll have to drop yourself gaffer.” And he’d return the badinage but behind it he knew they knew, you can’t hide in a team of highly tuned professional sportsman.

Then he started to hear the comments from the frustrated crowd “You’re too old Jenkins.” He knew that they were just frustrated and taking it out on a passing target but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. Twitter was full of harsh words and the phone in shows spoke about the tarnishing of memories. He still scored a couple here and there but it wasn’t quite the same.

Alas, you cannot hide from the passage of time.

A general sense of pressure was building, if only people looked at the game as he did, then they could see that we weren’t far from where we should be, or could be. Injuries hadn’t helped but the absence of that elusive quality called confidence had been more important.

JJ knew that fans paid good money to come and watch us but some fans didn’t seem to understand that shouting at “their” players until their veins were popping out of your neck didn’t make the players play any better, or concentrate more, or score more, or stop the other side from scoring.

JJ pinned his hopes on January, he knew that a new sense of urgency from a few new faces could help.

He wasn’t sure if he had enough resources to tempt the kind of players he needed, he wasn’t sure if they’d come anyway if truth be told. United still had a pull, and to judge from past conversations with people so did he, but would it be enough? Money was too tight to mention, as Simply Red once said.

So how would JJ freshen things up when money was tight? How could he get his squad to think about things and adapt?

He thought about varying training, but they already did that. He thought about slackening and increasing the tempo but they’d done that as well. Different tactics might work but what if they didn’t? If only he could put his finger on the missing ingredient.


In the middle of December a cartoon light bulb illuminated above JJ’s head. The answer had been staring him in the face all along. He was going to put himself on the transfer list, he was going to sell himself.

He knew the side had been relying on his reputation a little bit too much, he could still produce a brilliant flash of inspiration but United needed a more regular supply of inspiration.

He knew he could do a job for someone, he knew that he could get a good price for himself and the move would impress the chairman as it would be one of his efficiency savings; his contract contained a special premium if he played.

The brilliance of the decision was in its simplicity, with JJ the player gone JJ the manager had one less problem to think about. The other players could thrive without the added pressure of his presence in the team.

He tried to explain his idea to his family and they said that they could understand what was going to happen, although he could see the doubt in their eyes, especially his wife.

He tried to explain further; “The idea came to me as I watched Superman 3 the other Sunday. You know that scene with the Bad Superman?” He son looked at him with amazement but his daughter wasn’t sure.

He was still wondering about the best way to broach the subject with the players on the next day’s drive to the training ground, would they think he was mad? After JJ’s announcement the squad looked at the decision from two perspectives.

From a football perspective the players wondered if this was a wise move. They knew they needed JJ’s skill and calmness, or even just his mere presence.

On a more fundamental level they wondered if JJ had lost his mind, how could he create two people by separating the player from the manager? How could he sell himself and remain as manager? JJ assured them all that it would not be a problem. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

JJ spoke to the board, they were also incredulous but again he assured them that there would be no problems. The chairman perked up when he heard the bit about efficiency savings. JJ assured the board that there would be no problems. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

The club’s PR department called a press conference for the next day with a statement that contained enigmatic phrases “GROUND-BREAKING DEVELOPMENT!!!!” and “WORLD’S FIRST!!!”.

After the press release social media was alive with rumours, questions and incredulity. “How can a manager sell themselves and remain in post? The guy’s lost it!!! #lostit” being one tweet.

Social media rumour-mongering turned the press conference into the biggest media event the club had ever hosted. The nationals were there, international journalists were there, twice as many television cameras were there.

JJ began by carefully explaining how he would become the first Player Manager to remain as a manager and sell themselves as a player. As soon as he started speaking there was a noticeable hum in the room. JJ then introduced the philosophical underpinnings of his idea. He started with Cartesian dualism…

“I believe that there are two kinds of foundation: mind and body. The mind can exist outside of the body but the body cannot think. This theory has been called substance dualism and it’s compatible with every type of outlook, whether that’s scientific, philosophical or religious.

For example from a religious point of view immortal souls are said to occupy an independent realm of existence that’s distinct from the physical world. Therefore in effect it is possible to separate one’s mind from one’s body.”

…continued with concepts..

“The idea of non-reductive physicalism tells us that while mental states are physical they are not reducible to physical states, therefore we can separate the mind and the body.

Here I am talking about an idea like anomalous monism that was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper Mental events. In the paper Davidson stated that descriptions these so-called “mental events” are not regulated by strict physical laws.”

…moved on to Chalmers…

“David Chalmers, in his idea of naturalistic dualism, outlined the explanatory gap between objective and subjective experience that cannot be bridged by reductionism.

For Chalmers consciousness is, at least, logically autonomous of the physical properties and requires a new fundamental category of properties described by new laws of supervenience, but we don’t need to detain ourselves with the full implications of that here. It is enough to say that like other philosophers Chalmers sees his work as naturalistic because he believes that mental states are different from, and cannot be reduced to, physical states.”

… then Jackson…

“…Another philosopher to bare in mind here is Frank Jackson. When he revived a theory of epiphenomenalism he revived something that tells us that mental states do not play a role in physical states.

For Jackson there are two kinds of dualism. The first is that body and soul are two different substances. The second is that body and soul can be different properties of the same body.

He goes on to states that the mind/soul are internal, very private sphere that are not accessible to observation by others. For example we can know everything about a dog’s ability to follow a scent but we will never know how a dog experiences the following of a scent.”

The press knew that this was no ordinary press conference. How many press conferences made you question metaphysics? JJ continued..

“..While I appreciate that the reason for calling this press conference may sound a little “different”, and I may invite ridicule, I believe that I have just established my idea’s sound philosophical grounding.

I realise that I may be the first manager ever to quote philosophy so extensively in a press conference so that in itself may sound surprising but it is only surprising because this the first time that I have openly quoted philosophical ideas in public.

I started an Open University degree five years ago and I have since progressed to a Distance Learning Masters in Philosophy at the University of Durham. Until this moment I have looked on this education as a private matter, a charming diversion from the world of football.”

While tranches of the audience were agog, large clumps were incredulous. JJ then explained the part that a Sunday afternoon nap played…

“…The idea came to me as I watched I Superman 3 on TV the other week. I was having a nap and woke up just before the scene where Superman turns bad. I carried on watching and thought that I’d love to be able to do that, I don’t mean wreck an oil tanker by the way!

I mean separate my mind and body.

Then I thought why not! I could split my Player-Manager role into the separate roles of Player and Manager. The philosophical ideas that I have studied in the past quickly came to mind.

I went to the university library and took out books on the ideas of reanimation, transmogrification and transubstantiation. When I read them I knew I was on to something then.”

JJ finished the press conference by assuring the fans that knew this move would be a world first but they had to go with it. JJ assured them that it would be the best thing in terms of the squad, the coaching set up and most importantly, metaphysics.

With that he was gone, he didn’t take any questions.

The media and social media went into what they term “meltdown”. Sanity was doubted. At home JJ turned on to the news challenges and members of the public guffawed.

JJ wasn’t downhearted, he knew that he had done the hard bit by convincing himself that it was possible to separate the mind from the body, he still reasoned that there was nothing to stop him from visualising different parts of his mind developing separately, all he had to do was make it happen.

For all of his conviction he wasn’t quite sure how he’d do that, he just knew that he would show people what he meant. JJ must have have felt calm that evening because he enjoyed a very pleasant night’s sleep.

Strange things afoot!

The next morning JJ’s Mercedes was resting at the lights by the branch of Tesco he normally visited when something strange happened.

An extremely odd sensation washed over him, it felt like something was being sucked out of him. The sensation only last a couple of seconds but a distinct aura remained. The lights changed and JJ pulled off.

The aura slowly developed in intensity. A couple of sideways glances told JJ that it was developing into human form. He didn’t feel worried because something told him that this is what he wanted to happen.

By the time he was in his training ground parking spot another body was sitting in the passenger seat, it was a perfect copy of him. JJ felt that instant rush of elation that comes with relief. This is exactly what he said would happen! He had proved philosophy correct and the naysayers wrong.

Both JJs left their car at the same time and walked towards the training complex’s main buildings.

Naturally people took double takes as the JJs walked past. Pete Kennedy spoke for everyone when he said; “OH MY GOD!!! BOSS you were right, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!” When they went through the main doors JJ the player went one way and JJ the manager went the other.

JJ the manager sat at his desk as if he’d been liberated. Everything felt lighter and more positive, joy and relief, relief and joy. The workload suddenly felt smaller, he could do his job properly, concentrate on everything that he needed to do in the office, and not worry at all about taking part in training.

As JJ basked in the relief of the new situation Pete Edwards stuck his head around the door. JJ asked his best friend what he thought about everything. “Jesus I don’t believe it JJ, you were right, you were right!”.

Pete continued babbling and a thought came to JJ “Bloody Hell, it’ll be a bit weird if they see two versions of me at training.”

JJ told Pete that he thought that it would be better if he and the rest of the coaching staff took training until JJ the player left as things would be less complicated that way. He would still give general guidelines and observe training from his office because the last thing we need the players to do is freak out, we’ve got matches to win. The Assistant Manager left JJ to get on with his piles of paperwork.

When JJ realised how much he could get done without taking part in training he thought about changing his mind but he resolved to stick to the original plan. He was still going to sell himself, how weird would it look if two JJ were seen together? It was lucky that United didn’t have a match this weekend otherwise we’d be knee deep in fuss.

On the training pitch JJ the player went about his usual business. His teammates had obviously felt the natural surprise of finding out that the metaphysical development had actually happened but they also were reassured that aside from the knowledge that there were two JJs nothing seemed to be different. They weren’t two JJs on the training pitch at this particular moment.

It helped that JJ the player seemed to be the JJ that they all knew, he looked exactly the same, sounded exactly the same and ran in exactly the same way. He looked exactly like the same as JJ the player-manager.

The older members of the squad couldn’t help notice that JJ had returned to his old relaxed self. When they mentioned this to JJ he said “Well I haven’t got to worry about managing now have I?” with the old sparkling eyes. The sparkle was back!

JJ the manager heard the effect of social media fuss before he saw it from the windows on the far side of his office. The hubbub caused him to move towards the windows. The training ground had been mobbed by fans, journalists and TV crews.

When training ended the world saw the evidence with their own eyes, two JJs got in to JJ’s car. The crowd and the media surrounded the car as if they were insects in an Indiana Jones film.

After the exchange of pleasantries about weird days neither JJ spoke on the journey home. There was no need to speak, they both knew what each other was thinking and they both instinctively knew that the situation was too strange to think about.

Helen met the two JJs at the front door and kissed both of them she was so flummoxed. Their children stood in her wake and gazed with disbelieving faces, Mark said to Emma, “SEE, I TOLD YOU Dad was right!”. All Helen could say was “I knew I shouldn’t have doubted you when you had that look in your eye!”.

Without speaking JJ the player took himself to the spare room he decided that it would be better if he stayed in the spare room to avoid confusing everybody, he was the JJ that was going to leave after all.

Later that afternoon Helen casually asked JJ the manager a question “Yeah but what about his clothes? Is he going to share your wardrobe or what?” which was a quick reminder that life often throws unintended consequences into your path.

JJ the player told them not to worry, he’s be fine in training kit for a few days, he was only going to be lounging around the house anyway.

Neither the player nor manager had the desire to venture out of the house, especially with media people about. They both realised simultaneously, naturally, that it was a great situation that they didn’t read the tabloids. What kind of person wants to see themselves plastered all over the pages of a tabloid?

JJ the manager logged out of social media and they both kept the news channels off the telly. Merely getting to work was enough at the moment for a few days.

On the fourth day after the profound metaphysical development JJ the manager ventured to a third destination for the first time when he visited Tesco. A person sidled up to him in the pasta aisle and said “I’m sorry to see you go but I’m also glad that you’re staying as well!” All of a sudden the situation felt beyond weird.

At least when JJ the player went clothes shopping JJ the manager knew that his clothes would be cared for. JJ had always been a fastidious type when it came to personal appearance, he hated getting marks on his clothes and the way that other people could be inconsiderate about someone else’s things.

In the middle of the second week after the profound metaphysical development Athletic came in with an offer for JJ the player and JJ the manager quickly accepted it, JJ the player was glad to be going, he hated not being able to leave the house. He could mourn the fact he was no longer a United player later.

On the day he left as a player JJ the manager offered fulsome praise.

“JJ was the very image of this great club for 15 years so it’s fitting that I offer thanks to him on behalf of our club and our supporters. We’d like to offer JJ the player all the best for the future, except when he plays against us!”.

The press and supporters may have doubted him but he had proved that the impossible could be done. You could create two different people by separating the player from the manager.

For weeks after the transfer the shoulders of JJ the manager remained relatively light. It was great to have a freer mind, a mind that could concentrate on the job of managing. The players noticed that JJ was still relaxed; “Well I haven’t got to play anymore have I!!! I can’t be blamed for you lot cocking it all up can I!!!” he said as his eyes sparkled. The players laughed along with him.

Nobody was able to pinpoint what had changed but it was obvious that something had changed.

Not only did everything feel more relaxed something appeared to be working in matches because United were unbeaten in the first four post JJ transfer matches (two wins, two draws). Everything just felt better.

The fact that it appeared that United had received the better end of the deal probably helped, JJ the player appeared to be struggling to settle at Athletic, and they were doing even worse than United.

The media praised him for his masterstroke and “obvious business acumen” but JJ didn’t meekly accept the plaudits or the media’s representation of the situation. He knew that he always needed a few weeks to adjust to new surroundings, he knew that JJ the player would find his feet eventually, and so it proved.

Once he adjusted to the characters in Atheltic’s squad and their football approach JJ the player’s undoubted skill shone once again; he scored in three consecutive matches in February. By the end of March he had scored seven goals in fifteen league and cup matches, set up a few more and won a couple of man of the match awards.

JJ the manager was pleased that he was back on top form as he knew what that would feel like. It was nice that there was a bit of space between player and manager but JJ the manager still wanted to keep abreast of the player’s progress, which was easy thanks’ to our media’s football obsession.

For a couple of months the United v Atheltic match had been merely the fortieth match in a forty-two match season, whenever an interviewer asked him about the match JJ the manager spoke with a gleam in his eye about people having a great chance to offer a fitting tribute to a club legend. It was easy to feel magnanimous when your side is doing alright.

Atheltic’s improved form didn’t matter because United were maintaining the same relative gap. April’s second match, a 2-0 home defeat, dropped the massively unwelcome hint that if United weren’t careful they could be passed by Atheltic but this hint was dismissed.

In truth Athletic had been catching United ever since JJ the player had hit form.

When JJ the manager watched Athletic on telly he saw a confident team, a team that belied their lowly position with tough and silky football. It appeared that JJ the player had been their missing link. Consequently the forthcoming match had developed a distinctly ominous feel before Athletic actually passed United at the end of April.

In April United reverted to their pre-transfer form. United may have snubbed the first of the optimists “next chances” in April but the month provided other chances, and they were all snubbed with apparent abandon. It is very hard to remain optimistic when your side returns to misery as time appears to progress far too quickly.

JJ began to wish that he could go and do something on the pitch, he yearned to get on and do something, he knew that he could have done something, he still had an assured touch in training. He also knew that FA had insisted that because he had sold the player part of himself he was physically unable to set football on a football pitch.

The cold hard facts were inescapable.

There were three league matches left.

Atheltic were in seventeenth place with 41 points.

United were in eighteenth place with 38 points and a vastly inferior goal difference.

A worst case scenario had developed in plain sight.

It took these bone dry facts for JJ to finally realise that he could be the first man in the history of football to relegate himself.

Atheltic were about to visit United, JJ the manager was about face JJ the player. The match from the near distance was now in view.

The optimistic grasping of March – “I wouldn’t worry just yet” – felt far older than a couple of months.

In October nobody would have predicted that United’s involvement in virtual relegation decider but who would have guessed that United’s erratic form and the quirks of the fixture list would combine to produce such a scenario. Nobody would have thought to envisage that a player-manager could sell himself either.

The media was absolutely devoted to what they had decided to christen “El Metaphysical”. The build-up was annoying for all concerned as the media pursued their usual hyperbole-driven agenda of sell sell sell.

They seemed to interview everybody with a pulse and dragooned the United fans into two camps. One side said that JJ had tempted fate by selling himself to Athletic and the other said that it was impossible to look into the future and adequately predict what will happen.

JJ knew that when you’re in the vortex of football you see how the media works, you see how agendas are constructed to draw interest to a product. JJ saw this in the way they had framed this story.

The media said that JJ the player was thirsting for revenge because he had a massive point to prove and that JJ the manager was virtually cowering in his office because he feared the worst.

In the player’s case this was a ridiculous, why would he wish harm on himself? In the manager’s case it was all too true, but then it was fairly rich for the media to make judgemental comments about a manager feeling under pressure when they were responsible for trowelling on another layer of pressure with their coverage.

Whenever a manager is in trouble the media scents blood and continue getting in the way with their questions, as if their questions actually change something. JJ knew that he had given them the perfect storm with his novel approach to the situation but the course of action sounded like a good idea at the time.

JJ started to dread the press conferences with their arduous, tedious nature, how was he supposed to say what was going to happen? Didn’t these idiots in the media already have a rough idea of what may happen? Weren’t they paid to cover football?

JJ was at the latest press conference table attempting to field the questions like a resolute opening batsman. He tried platitudes but the questions didn’t stop, he tried to put the barriers up with monosyllabic sentences but the questions didn’t stop.

He yearned for things to go back to normal, he yearned to be somewhere else. Fragments of images rushed around his head, a sunny training ground, the post match euphoria of a cup triumph, being at home with the kids. He struggled to suppress his actual thoughts about the situation and was tempted to utter the following rejoinder;

“Do you know something, it is difficult to respect most journalists. To be fair you are skilled in your work environment, you know what you’re doing but why were you allowed to wield such power? You have never had to cope with the strain of managing a football club, how dare you judge me!”

He thought better of that because he knew the journalists were scenting blood.

One of the muckracking tabloid types bowled knee-high yorkers

How do you prepare for playing yourself?” ….. “Have you prepared for the psychological strain of seeing yourself trying to beat yourself?”

The questioning caused something in JJ’s head to fall on its side. His expression and demeanour changed immediately.

The journalists could see that their questions had not only rendered someone speechless they had caused a man to look out from an unmistakably haunted expression, if his eyes could have spoken you wouldn’t want to know their soul-shredding secrets.

JJ thought he’d kept a lid on his emotions but it was clear from the TV news and the following day’s back pages that the press had noticed, something had changed at that press conference.

His wife noticed, his children noticed it, then his players noticed. In the days leading up to the match JJ the manager tried to motivate his squad but the words sounded meagre and felt hollow.

He knew that his gamble had almost failed, he tried to formulate new tactics and thought about trying new faces from the youth team but the end result would yield the same disappointing return.

Even if he avoided relegation this season, what about next season? Going through this again didn’t bare thinking about.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to avoid the path of time, important dates still come to our paths. The months, weeks and days had receded to hours, minutes and seconds. It was the night before matchday and JJ felt like a husk of a man, an automaton following the indentations of a familiar pattern of behaviour.

In the sixty minutes before kick off he could only offer meagre words that echoed with a clang of an empty oil tanker. He fell back on platitudes, stay sharp, stop them scoring, take your chances. There was a new variation in the coaching;


There was a clear note of desperation in the voice but the players still believed, they wouldn’t let JJ the manager down, they knew how to handle JJ the player, they had been training with him for years. They knew that they had to keep the ball on his left side, he was weaker on the left side.

At half time United were losing two nil and both goals had been scored by JJ the player.

By the sixty fifth minute JJ the player had completed his hatrick and by the 80th minute he had set up a fourth goal.

When JJ the player was substituted in the 87th minute the crowd could only applaud.

JJ the manager was glad to hear the tributes but sorry to hear his personal abuse. JJ the manager focussed on the truly touching movement rather than the fact that he was “totally fucking useless”.

JJ the manager was too stunned to ride the wave of emotion. To lose is one thing, your personal pride suffers, but United had lost because of his alterego’s performance, an alterego that used to play for his club no less.

He was the first manager in football history to have been beaten himself.

No amount of mental preparation could prepare one for such a scenario. Nothing can prepare you for shaking hands with yourself after you’ve beaten yourself in a football match.

As he was about to offer himself a platitude of congratulation when…….The rush of consciousness warmed him.

It had only been a dream.


Thankfully it had all been a dream!

A split second later he realised that he was awake in actual reality, that he could stretch out and feel the duvet, In a split second he realised that it was a Sunday, yes a Sunday.

Oh the relief, and it was a sunny day. A splitsecond later….



Last Sunday!

So it had only been a week since his old teammate Pete Davies had relegated him.

He may have been saved from the metaphysical nightmare of his dream but he had still been relegated in the penultimate game of the season by his old teammate, was there ever a time that we laughed together on the training ground?

There was nothing more wretched than that. JJ, the hero of the terraces, was the first manager to have relegated United for thirty eight years. He’d been told his job was safe but that’s just a collection of words at the end of the day.

John Jenkins, record appearance holder, remarkable goalscorer, relegated manager.

Then he remembered that there was a board meeting on Tuesday, would the board have had a change of heart?

At that precise post-dream second he wasn’t sure if he cared.

Another hobbytastic use for football.

28 12 2017

After I launched the phenomenon known as “Stickers on Street Furniture” the stickers literally made me the toast of Llandudno’s notoriously judgemental Cultural Quarter but I’m not one for resting on laurels.

This is very lucky because my mind is literally a continual artistic maelstrom and I’m continually formulating yet more artistic departures. My latest masterpiece is entitled…………Feet at the Football”.

The purpose of this continually expanding piece is to point out the continuity of the circumstances in which the self finds itself. In life the context around the self changes but the continuity remains the same. In short, we are all united by the presence of feet at football.

It doesn’t matter what sort of football you watch, or which level, or your location, there will always be a common detail; feet will be in contact with a surface, and it doesn’t matter whether the surface is natural or man made either. Let that sink in mate. Let that sink in.

Anyway, you can follow the action here.

Here’s a sneak preview of what will be on offer;

Well I wasn’t expecting that!

27 12 2017

Let’s imagine that people once predicted football results without the warming embrace of the thrusting venture science of looking at football-related numbers.

Honest guvnor it happened just like that, we didn’t have no venture science to fall back on, you can trust me on that guvnor.

People like me Nan predicted football results for forty years trying to strike it rich on the pools, even your humble narrator and his equally humble friends predicted football results on a fixed odds coupon from time to time, and none of us had no venture science.

Back then everybody predicted them results without no venture science.

It’s mad ain’t it guvnor, we still gave it a go even without them numbers of science behind us. 

You couldn’t keep us down guvnor, we was happy go lucky we was. We was all in the gutter but some of us was looking at the stars

Consider two things that happened in the last few weeks.

The first was the production of this tweet; “Arsenal Expected Goals 5.01 Man Utd Expected Goals 1.82″. I didn’t discover the tweet after the match but I still had the following thought “That’s uncanny!!! The final score was Arsenal 5.01 Manchester United 1.82. If only I could go back in time and put £100 on the result”. If only I could go back in time!

The second was the resumption of the social media debate between the proper football Neanderthals and the thrusting venture scientists that look at football related numbers. It was all Jeff Stelling’s fault because he had the unmitigated gall, if not sheer audacity, to be one of them typical proper football Neanderthal types. He doubted the efficacy of the concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” in a particular context.

Naturally like all other proper football Neanderthals I was aware that a concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” existed. I naturally presumed, like all other proper football Neanderthals, that it referred to the number of goals that one expected to see in a particular match. Presumptions get you nowhere so I fired up google’s banter engine.

It seems that Expected goals is……

“…a metric which assesses every chance, essentially answering the question of whether a player should have scored from a certain opportunity.

Put simply, it is a way of assigning a “quality” value (xG) to every attempt based on what we know about it. The higher the xG – with 1 being the maximum – the more likelihood of the opportunity being taken.

So if a chance is 0.5xG, it should be scored 50% of the time.”

Unless I have grasped the wrong end of the metric stick “Expected Goals” appears to be more than just a method of determining the number of goals that one expects to see in a particular match, it also involves the scientific knowledge of knowing whether a player should score when they find themselves in a position that appears to be a goalscoring position. What a breakthrough!

For a century and a half we proper football Neanderthals have been lumbering around in the dark distinctly unable to tell whether a chance should, or should not, have been scored. Now it seems that we had better pipe down because society finally has a scientific way of determining whether someone should have scored or not from a particular goalscoring position.

Mate, mate, mate, let that sink in, proper football Neanderthals have been quite literally wandering around in the literal darkness of literal football ignorance. Yeah mate let that fact literally sink in.

AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

For the last century and a half us proper football Neanderthals have allowed players to blithely run around without the correct knowledge, we simply have not been able to tell whether a goal should have been scored or not in a given situation.

Well begone thy darkness, begone!

For now we can see the light!! Rejoice!! Rejoice!!

If I weren’t a proper football Neanderthal I would be really, really angry at those bloody proper football Neanderthals for subjecting us all to the terror of their deeply unscientific football. If only they had been furnished with simple understanding, if only they had been able to assess whether a player has the ability to score goals or not.

I think I need to let that sink in a bit more mate, all those wasted years mate, all those years, wasted! WASTED! I definitely need to let that sink in a bit more mate.

I am telepathic so I know what you’re thinking

“Mate mate mate what do you expect from your proper football Neanderthals? Decisions have never been part of their job descriptions. They’ve literally NEVER had to make decisions about players based on a comparison.

They’ve literally never had to look into the eyes of young hopeful and literally say “I’m sorry Son but you just haven’t quite got it. We wish you all the best for the future.”

You start to ask yourself how could they literally be like that, then you literally remember that they are proper football Neanderthals and they literally can’t tell which players literally haven’t quite got the skills required for a career as a professional footballer.”

Do you know something mate? You’d be correct. Your proper football Neanderthal can’t make decisions based on judgement because they’ve only gained a lifetime’s craft knowledge in the specialised employment sector called association football.

Praise Be!

It’s only thanks to the scientists from the thrusting venture science of looking at football related numbers that we can now predict football results with any level of scientific rigour.

I look back at the time before scientific rigour and shudder. How did we have the audacity to try and predict results? How did we have the audacity to enter betting shops with just the hope of future riches to guide us? It fair makes my blood run cold. How did we cope with that darkest of dark places?

Predicting football outcomes!!! What a breakthrough!

Let us gaze at the glorious idea of “Expected Goals” and hail the breakthrough!

Let us hail all of them science type people mate!!


AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

Having said all that, knowledge in this area would be extremely useful for coaching staff, as the BBC article says

“To the naked eye they were struggling, but xG was identifying a team that would improve soon,” said Duncan Alexander, Opta’s chief data analyst.

“Lo and behold, around matchday 12, their fortunes changed, with the team starting to score at – and above – the expected rate. This led to them actually performing better than their xG said they should have in their eventual stroll to the title.”

The concept of “Expected Goals” could help player development. For example it could provide the pictorial tools to support coaching like “Have you thought about standing here instead of there?”. It’s an obvious thing to say but performance in a particular match situation could be improved by thinking about that particular match situation, especially when you may be able to call on data.

I can see how the data may inform tactical thinking. It is extremely difficult to control every aspect of a match but individual incidents in specific regions of the pitch, i.e. the penalty area, can help to determine a result. Relevant data about those regions of the pitch may provide insights.

While data is useful within the work environment of football but I am not sure it is much use outside that environment. Coaches have to analyse options and possibilities dispassionately but fans only need to hope for the best, in other words coaches can directly affect match situations but fans cannot.

Concepts such as “Expected Goals” have been sold as part of an analytical approach that will provide layman with a more refined understanding of football. On a fundamental level this idea has potential. The understanding gained through study allows human society to evolve, everybody is capable of understanding society through study, therefore everybody is capable of understanding football by studying it.

The academic study of football would probably require a level of time and effort that most people would be unable to devote but fans wouldn’t actually need to produce data because the media would probably digest and present research.

Therefore in principle the process of study would allow fans to understand more about football. I can see the potential in debunking commonly held attitudes about typical terrace scapegoats. Before we move on too quickly it’s worth considering whether the information provided data concepts actually adds anything worthwhile to a layman’s understanding of football, can fans benefit from data concepts?

Imagine your side lost 2-0. It won’t matter how much detail the stats convey, or how many times you look at them, your side would still have lost 2-0. The scoreline, and perhaps a brief match report, will tell you all that you need to know. There’s a choice to make; accept the score or howl at the moon as an appeal to the deity of football fairness on the basis of favourable match stats. Football has never been concerned about the fairness of outcome, somebody has to lose after all (unless there’s a draw).

Concepts like “Expected Goals” gild a lily that doesn’t need to be there. Aside from providing a slightly clearer view for betting purposes fans cannot do anything practical with the statistical knowledge.

Knowledge about what could, or even should, happen becomes pointless when a match ends with a different scoreline. The fact that scorelines often differ from predictions immediately calls the utility of a metric such as “Expected Goals” into question.

If the concept of “Expected Goals” had never been conceived it would not matter in the slightest, most fans do not need extravagant methodology to prove what they can recall from memory. Let us look at the following quote from the BBC article;

“So if your team is performing above or below expectations at the start of the new season, a look at their expected goals difference could tell you whether that run is likely to last.

And it may also be something worth thinking about the next time your striker misses what you always thought of as an easy chance.”

Fans will already know when their team plays well, whether a season has been below expectations, which players make a difference and which sides are the strongest in their division. These ideas are hardly new, they’ve been around since the 19th century foundation of association football. It’s not hard to pick theses insights up, you just have to follow football,

OOOOH SCIENTIFIC “Expected Goals”!!!!!! Get you, with your magical powers!!!!!

I’ve managed to notice that fans are also able to recognise what happens in individual situations, I haven’t done any research like, I have just noticed by looking.

Let’s imagine that a particular striker is standing in their typical sort of position, a similar position from which you’ve seen him score many times. You know that when the ball is crossed you could be milliseconds away from seeing a goal. You can picture him striking the ball cleanly and the ball flying past the keeper. The football dopamine factory is in full effect during the milliseconds of anticipation between the crosser’s leg moving backwards and the ball flying through the air.

Now imagine that just before the perfect cross lands on the proverbial pre-decimal coin the striker slightly loses his footing in the slippery conditions, so when he connects with the ball he scuffs it well wide of the goal. You don’t need an expert venture scientist to explain why the striker missed because you saw the striker slip. QED or something.

The naked eye can see the effect of a momentary loss of concentration, or when crosses are slightly too fast, or defenders are marking too tightly, or when strikers stumble slightly. Surely we don’t need a complicated theory to explain what we already know. Like I said earlier I haven’t done any research, make of that what you will.


I appear to have been light years ahead of the curve, I already knew that van Nistelrooy would score more than Gary Neville and Ian Rush would score more than Alan Hansen and Ian Wright would score more than Steve Bould. If I wasn’t so humble I’d ask the Nobel committee to consider my thesis entitled “Expected Passes That Set Up Goals” for next year’s Nobel prize in the thrusting venture science that looks at football related numbers.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here but I would be a shoe-in for the award for I doth have a PhD in thinking up stuff what is bleeding obvious. As part of my submission I will tell the Nobel committee about the people of Llandudno; they often crowd around me in order to touch the hem of my garments and tell me that they would love to have the level of intelligence and sophistication like what I have got.

Greater knowledge can lead to greater enjoyment but bare statistics only explain so much. A misplaced pass has the same statistical worth whether it happens just outside a penalty area or near the halfway line. Stats can tell us that a side with 75.4% possession lost a match by conceding injury time goals but they can’t tell us why did that happened, which is the most interesting bit.

The concept of “Expected Goals” appears to have more explanatory power than bare statistics but it still lacks utility for fans.

There are two main reasons, firstly it’s pointless to expect something in football because uncertainty lies at the heart of the sport and secondly, people are attracted to football by emotion not logic.

You can roughly predict general outcomes but it would take a genius with preternatural abilities to continually make correct predictions. A friend that regularly bets on horse racing once told me that football’s inherent uncertainty is the reason he didn’t bet on football results, there are just too many things that can go wrong.

The flow of matches is dictated by the fluid interaction of single events that can alter the course of a match in a split second. A player could slip, someone could pass the ball to the wrong player, a player could stand in the wrong place, a goalkeeper might fumble a cross, a defender’s concentration may wander momentarily. Football’s nature means that similar mistakes don’t always lead to goals.

Uncertainty sounds messy and random but the uncertainty created by football’s inherent drama is the thing that draws people to football, can you imagine how boring it would be if all matches ended in the predicted score?

The proponents of ideas like “Expected Goals” imply that greater enjoyment will come from greater enlightenment but an attachment to football’s vibrant culture is something that people feel on an emotional level and I doubt whether it is possible to explain an emotional attachment with data.

We know what we feel when we see flowing moves, superb skill, precision shooting, great comebacks, unexpected goals. Fans can get behind their side and roar them on, or make the opposition wilt, and we don’t need a detailed scientific outlook to do that.

We all know what it feels like to long for a result, or to taste the glory, or to feel mesmerised by history, or to feel a sense of belonging, or to enjoy the camaraderie, or to hear the stories. We know that the match will probably be dull but there’s always the hope that we could see something fantastic. A recording of a memorable match can enable you to relive the feelings, looking at data won’t elicit the same response.

Let us consider Wales in Euro 2016.

Let’s start with the data perspective. Ladies and gentlemen may I present the minutes in which goals were scored in Wales’ matches between September 2014 and July 2016.

Euro 2016 Qualifiers

Wales – 13, 22, 23, 26, 45, 50, 50, 77, 81, 82, 86
Opponents – 6, 36, 71, 90

Euro 2016

Wales – 10, 11, 20, 31, 42, 56, 67, 75, 81, 86
Opponents – 13, 50, 53, 56, 61, 90

Now let us turn to idea of an average score, the “Expected Goals” if you will, from those matches;

  • In the qualifiers the average score was Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 (10 matches, 11 goals for, 4 goals against).
  • In Euro 2016 the average score was Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 (6 matches, 10 goals for, 6 goals against).

According to the Venture Science of Looking At Football Related Numbers we should have been able to take the knowledge indicated by the above information and prepare ourselves for the unexpected joy dans la belle France, the average scorelines have a degree of similarity do they not?

The fact that we obviously didn’t know what was going to happen shows the limitations of concepts like “Expected Goals”.

Even a cursory analysis of the data tells us that most predictions would have been wrong; during the tournament Wales were not only more potent, playing four fewer matches but only scoring one goal fewer, they also conceded more second half goals. This impression is also reflected in the average scorelines.

All data has limitations, in football it is more useful as an indication of what happened rather than as a signpost of what will happen. But then football results of the past have never determined future football results.

In terms of Wales at Euro 2016 bare statistics cannot even begin to explain what happened because they cannot begin to explain what it felt like to witness the events. Watching Wales play in Euro 2016 was the sort of fantastically bewildering experience that any football fan would enjoy.

The utter joy of qualification did not transfer into expectation. Not even the most positive Welsh fan would have even been able to conceptualise what actually happened in France, and that includes those that bought follow my team tickets.

Data was useless for mental preparation. Wales’ pre-tournament form guide told us that they lost their last four matches, and one of those was a week before the first match yet they reached the semi-final. Hopes, dreams and general football knowledge would have been as reliable an indicator as the data. The only thing we could have expressed with any degree of certainty is the idea that Wales might score and they might concede.

Not even the simple knowledge what happened when Wales play against the same sides helped. The qualifiers against Belgium yielded an aggregate score Wales 1 Belgium 0, when the sides met in the Quarter Final Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in one of the most memorable matches Wales has ever played. The first two matches are unable to explain the third. I still feel warm and fuzzy when I picture Hal’s Cruyff turn.

Data can’t explain what it felt like to see Ashley Williams’ equaliser, or Hal Robson-Kanu’s skilful finish, or Sam Vokes’ late header and it certainly can’t explain the once-in-a-lifetime experience for those in Lille or the open mouthed joy for those that watched on TV.

To underline the point further let’s consider qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup as well. From Euro 2016 to Euro 2016 to World Cup 2018 qualifiers the average score only changed slightly; from Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 to Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 to Wales 1.3, Opponents 0.6. 

The similar average scores suggest a similar experience yet the three stages caused distinctly different emotions. The first stage had the glory of an historical qualification, the second stage had the glory of an unprecedented semi-final, the third stage had a very irritating defeat caused by Ireland in the most important match.

In other words the knowledge from the Euro 2016 qualifiers didn’t prepare us for didn’t prepare us for Euro 2016 and the knowledge from Euro 2016 didn’t prepare us for the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers.

I may believe that facts and stats don’t really add to a fan’s enjoyment of football but in our gossamer skinned times people actually enjoy using stats on social media to prolong pointless arguments. I quote verbatim;

“Mate mate mate, you can’t challenge me for I have the right to free speech. THAT’S “ME”, YES ME.  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. I’m entitled to my opinion mate and it happens to be better than your opinion mate. You know sod all about football. Get over it SNOWFLAKE. LET THAT LITERALLY SINK IN MATE”

Verbatim and ad nauseum, the reduction of football to a never-ending struggle to finally prove which judgement based opinion is the bestest ever mate. They’ll use anything in these social media spats; Net Spend, Shots, Possession. Look at me, Look at me, Look at me.

It’s like some people have forgotten that data does not predetermine the future. A player can play against the same club twice and play well in one match but play poorly in the other, or they can eradicate the mistakes from the first match by the time they play the second, confidence can be regained in the intervening period.

Anybody with a semblance of football knowledge can make rough predictions, fans don’t need data. Knowing that a side has error-prone keeper from watching Match Of The Day highlights is as enlightening as a set of data. Emotions and experience prepare fans for football outcomes rather than data.

If somebody wants to interact with football on the basis of a statistical relationship that’s fine and dandy, it’s between them, their conscience and their free time, it matters not a jot. I just wish they’d keep it to themselves. The thrusting venture science of looking at football numbers has become yet another example of football’s imperialistic tendencies.

Football should be a hugely enjoyable diverting pastime that’s reasonably important to those that are interested but it seems to have developed an extreme sense of self-importance.

I try to ignore the tedious flotsam and jetsam but other people won’t allow me and football continually encroaches too far into my peace of mind. Take last weekend, I was getting ready to go to Rotherham when I caught the short BBC Breakfast News report about the previous night’s Arsenal 3 Liverpool 3 match. The reporter told us about culpability, mistakes and pressure rather than a “clearly exciting and pleasant way to spend a couple of hours”. It was as if somebody needed to be held accountable and punished

As Thom Yorke once sang, I’m a reasonable man get off my case.

I read “Expected Goals” and foresee a new stick to beat a team with.

“I know mate, won 2-0 but our xG was 4.2. That’s not good enough mate! He’s gotta go!”

I foresee the whimpering of data acolytes.

“Mate, Mate, Mate, It’s not my fault the cretin scored in the 83th minute instead of the 9th minute. He’s a proper football man at heart and didn’t know that most of his own goals come from the 8.4-11.7 minute window within the hidden trapezium of max. goal scoritude.

Stats don’t lie mate. Stats don’t lie. He’s just a proper football Neanderthal mate, he’s basically a performing monkey, a lab rat.”

Mate mate mate football doesn’t really matter.

Isn’t it enough to know that football runs by the internal logic of its own nature? It’s like the man on the When Saturday Comes message board implied, you don’t need to know the serial number of pantones to be affected by the beauty of art.


It’s cliched to be cynical at Christmas

24 12 2017

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a half season ticket for MK Dons.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. tickets for a match where both sides wear away kits.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….three dog-eared protest placards written in felt tip.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. four deeply serious pundits around a deeply serious table.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….FIVE banter bus companies.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. six hundred people willing to buy the season ticket I relinquished in protest.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seven thousand clichés.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eight players tag team fouling.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nine insipid newbuilds.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. ten showboaters engineering contact.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eleven hours of build up.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….twelve away fans in identical baseball caps and khaki polyester coats doing the provocative outstetched arms dance they learnt from that you tube.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. attention fatigue.

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fourteen angry phone in radio shows.

On the fifteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fifteen hours of build up.

On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. sixteen rearranged matches.

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seventeen thousand tweets already tweeted.

On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a club with eighteen players out on loan.

On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nineteen HD views of a foul that wasn’t a foul.

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty hours of build up.

On the twenty first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty one needlessly judgemental commentators.

On the twenty second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a book about films.

That’s the thing about soul mates, they know exactly what you like.

Did you know that it’s been 27 and a half years since Italia ’90?

7 12 2017

Italia ’90 is probably my favourite world cup, read on to find out why.

My interest in tournament football began with inconsequential Espana ’82 details; the kit colour diagrams in Ladybird’s World Cup ’82 book, the multi-lingualism of Panini’s sticker album and the photos in the BBC’s preview guide. The page devoted to Chile contained a photo of footballers standing in front of the snow-capped Andes and it was one of the most strikingly exotic images I’d ever seen. I must add that I was unaware of Pinochet when I was five.

I say “my interest began” but I don’t remember much before 1990. There are fragments of Espana ’82; the draw’s metal cages and Czechoslovakians with badges in the middle of their shirts. There are larger lumps of Mexico ’86; Italy v Bulgaria’s vague outline, edited highlights of Maradona, Luis Fernandez’s shootout winning penalty against Brazil and our playground captain telling me that I was Jose Luis Brown the day after the final. Euro ’88 is in relative high definition; England v Ireland, England v Holland, the USSR v Holland group match but I still didn’t watch the final. I’m sure the increasing clarity had something to do with getting older.

Italia ’90 was the first tournament to entrance me. I suppose it came at the right time, I was the right age and most of it was on telly at a reasonable hour. I had also watched Hero, the official film of Mexico ’86, so many times the line “The day the dazzling Danes finally ran out of steam!” has a Harry Lime on the Prater Ferris Wheel resonance.

I was so besotted by anticipation I felt a frisson of excitement whenever I saw Ciao the stick man mascot. It could have been a Mars bar wrapper, a can of coke or a magazine advert for Fujifilm. Somebody brought an Italia ’90 coca cola miniball to school and we played with it every lunchtime until the synthetic green, red and white leather panels fell off. I knew I had to get one. In hindsight I may have been a willing dupe of the marketing industry.

I can’t say that there weren’t little disappointments like Ladybird’s decision to replace the charming utilitarian air of their world cup guides with the word processor chic of paragraphs at funny angles but little joys like the Orbis “World Cup ’90” binder restored my karmic balance.

The binder brought together a partwork and a sticker album. The different sections – famous goals, famous matches, world cup heroes, a history of previous world cup and a run down on the tournament’s organisation – were a treasure trove for the likes of me. It was exciting enough to see the grounds and other photos and visualise the historic goals from the diagrams but the stickers added a joy of their own.

The logical way they organised the group matches caught my eye. Each group was based around two grounds, the top seeds played all their matches in the biggest ground of the pair while all of the other matches were played in the other ground. I always remembered the pairings; Milan / Bologna, Turin / Genoa, Rome / Florence, Naples / Bari, Cagliari / Palermo and Verona / Udine. This system has the nice side effect of allowing locals to adopt a second team. It’s harder to do that with today’s random ground selection.

I was well briefed about the pundits’ potential dark horses and players of the tournament because I bought a few guides, I had hoped for posters and memorabilia but they were bereft. I knew that a hero would come from the pantheon of familiar names; Lineker, Barnes, Maradona, van Basten, Hagi, Careca, Butragueno.

In the time before Sky TV, you tube and the thrusting venture science of looking at football statistics “foreign players” were little more than names and photos. Even famous players were mostly known by reputation only. The lack of concrete proof wasn’t a problem because the atmosphere was far less oppressive.

Predictions could be taken at face value, opinion could remain unexpressed and you weren’t expected to feel personally let down. You could interact with football on the basis of the hope that moments of great skill would just happen. Looking back I’d say that everybody knew that it was more palatable to imagine than to know but I’m sure that a lot of people were more jaundiced than that, I was probably too young to have discovered cynicism.

For football experts and the forensic analysts from our football content creating milieu Italia ’90 is not exactly a classic world cup, these people are hardened cynics. Before we become bogged down in their semantics there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, words are just like, someone else’s opinion man. Secondly, football may have always looked backwards to a golden era that didn’t exist. Contemporary reviews of world cups, and official world cup films, often contain disparaging comments about “that modern football these days”, matches are now less thrilling, teams are now too defensive and the general style has become less attractive etc etc.

If football is about anything it’s about two teams trying to stop the other scoring, therefore it has always been largely humdrum, and that includes the supposed pinnacle called the world cup. For every Brazil ’70, Holland ’74 or Brazil ’82 there’s a Germany ’82, Bulgaria ’86 or Greece ’94. Don’t deliberately misunderstand or misquote your humble narrator here, I love to perpetually watch beautiful football as much as the next man but romance wilts when professionalism matters, it’s better to accept that beautiful football is a blip to be savoured.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked Italia ’90. I’m no iconoclast or arbiter of taste but I know what I felt and I trust my memories and feelings more than I trust than accepted opinion. In fact I didn’t just like Italia ’90 I loved everything about it.  It was the first tournament that I felt part of and I can recall virtually every detail with fondness. You can’t stop me having memories baby.

Wales had failed to qualify again but my friends and I still looked forward to the tournament. Before the tournament Pete, one of my Dad’s friends, came to our house, noticed the World Cup ’90 binder and proclaimed that he always supported Brazil. I noted the pedagogical tone in his voice but said nothing. I didn’t identify with Brazil, I’d wanted France to beat them in the last world cup.

My friends and I hadn’t thought about picking a side until we noticed the copy of William Hill’s world cup guide near the goal on The Oval (The Oval is a big field in the middle of Llandudno). We’d been playing football with some older lads, as was our want, so I reasoned that one of them had left it behind. Leaving something behind was a common experience as our pre-football routine usually involved chucking unwanted clothes on the ground as quickly as you could to get on with the game.

I flicked through the guide and saw that the older lads had chosen one of the six favourites, Paul suggested that we do the same and picked Argentina, Mark picked Brazil and I picked Germany. I knew Wales had been knocked out by Germany but so what, you couldn’t live in the past daddio. Stephen upset the flow of the idea by picking Ireland on account of his Irish dad, and Irish replica shirt. So we had sides to follow.

I loved the grounds. The photos made them look fantastic so they were the kind of location you could daydream about. The designs looked both futuristic and traditional. There was symmetry, curves, angular edges, arches, intricate steel work, giant girders, glass walls and above all pristine concrete. I didn’t know about the day to day problems – inconvenient locations, bad sightlines, glass screens obscuring the view – I just marvelled at the minds that designed them. I wondered why Britain didn’t have grounds that looked like that but I was too young to understand the machinations behind stadium construction.

Most of the kits looked great, especially the Adidas ones. There were some jazzy elements but it was mostly symmetry and diagonal lines. We were well used to seeing the shirts of the popular sides because there had been plenty of mail order adverts in Shoot and Match. I can still see the adverts featuring England, Scotland, Holland, Argentina, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, USSR and USA’s blue kit. Kit purists would have noticed a few problems with the advertised kits, Argentina’s kit was slightly different from the one they actually wore, the USSR didn’t wear the paint splattered design you could buy and the USA’s home kit was actually white.

Paul and I received the respective shirts but it was harder to source the replica shirts from outside the promoted world cup few so Mark didn’t bother with Brazil’s. I remember Llandudno’s sport shops selling the shirts, one even stocked that blue USA shirt, so I suppose that was where we got them. As already noted Stephen had the Ireland shirt, I don’t know why it was sponsored by Opel.

When I started to watch the world cup I quickly realised that I preferred the adidas designs that you couldn’t buy; Argentina away, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, USSR (Without CCCP). Romania, Cameroon, Egypt, Colombia. In 1990 a side could turn up in an unseen kit because there were no slow marketing reveals or November launches.  It felt exciting to see a kit on TV for the first time and it’s a shame that you can’t be surprised like that now. I could have taken all of them but Llandudno never saw kits like that, the closest I got was stroking the extortionately priced USSR kits in a Liverpool sport shop a few months after the world cup.

The less than stylish outfield kits were very much in the minority, the only one I didn’t take to was Scotland’s apparent tri-coloured tribute to a Breton shirt. The goalkeepers’ kits were a different matter, many of them were gaudy but the most heinous was Austria’s fluorescent stripiness, even the shorts were stripy.

Adidas had evidentially put all their style eggs in their outfield basket because most of their goalkeeping kits evoked the air of Campri’s dayglo ski wear, which was popular in my school at the time. Rene Higuita’s kit was a particularly abomination, it was so bad I can’t even begin to describe it. Having said that honourable mentions should go to the Jackson Pollack tribute worn by Czechoslovakia / Yugoslavia / USSR / USA and the colour panel design favoured by Michel Preud’homme, Thomas N’Kono and Thomas Ravelli.

The sides with the smartest kits were undoubtedly Italy and Brazil. They wore simple designs with classic styling, Zenga in Grey, Vialli in Blue, Taffarel in Green, Careca in Yellow. Continuity may have been key because Italy wore virtually the same design as they had in Mexico, a v necked / polo collar without manufacturer’s logos, and the only change from Brazil’s Mexico outfit was a collar change. I also liked the fact that shorts appeared to be getting baggier.

If I had been Biff Tannen, and foreseen the market for retro football shirts, I could be charging £300 for pristine examples of German or Argentinian shirts on e-bay but I am not, c’est la vie.

For years sportswear and equipment had exerted a fascination, the stylings, the marketing posters in sport shops, the packaging, the look of the labels, the embroidered logos, and the Italia ’90 equipment was very evocative too. Everything about the ball felt perfect. The Tango-esque design meant that it was going to look great flying through the air. The name, Etrusco Unico, seemed exotic, Adidas took the name and design elements from the pre-Roman Etruscan civilisation. Even the packaging was great, the usual blue and white Adidas creation. They were out of my price range but I already had a nice Tango so it didn’t really matter.

The ball had a namesake in a stylish revelation of a boot. It was one of the first boots that looked a bit different because the three stripes continued around the sole of the boot. While a lot of the top players seemed to wear them Puma Kings were also popular and a lot of the German side wore more traditional looking adidas boots.

I thought the adidas tracksuits looked great with their zig zagging lines. I looked at them from afar, like the shirts and balls I knew I’d never own something like that. Umbro advertised entire leisure wear ranges and both England and Scotland had bespoke collections that included shellsuits, Bermuda shorts, traning shirts, t-shirts. I remember the 5-IN-A-ROW Scotland T-shirt. I didn’t really want to own the stuff I could buy. I liked adidas’ Coppa Del Mundo jumper because it epitomised ’90s chic but I lacked the confidence to think about wearing it.

I found the football engrossing. I didn’t notice the lack of style or lack of quality but I wasn’t looking for faults and I was too busy rushing home to watch matches. The first three days set the tone. The Friday teatime opener, Argentina v Cameroon, took place in the San Siro. Apart from a general sense of excitement about the world cup finally starting Pumpido’s mistake and Caniggia getting cleaned out twice as he tried to hurdle Cameroonian fouls are the two things that stand out. I remember laughing at Paul because his team had lost.

On the second day Romania surprised the USSR in Bari and I dug football on a Saturday. Romania wore red, the USSR didn’t wear CCCP, Lacatus scored twice and the pundits felt sorry for Dasayev. I remember the Romanian fans waved flags that contained massive holes where Ceaucescu’s Neo-Stalinist symbol used to be. There was a metaphorical avalanche of matches in the first three days, Brazil v Sweden, Czechoslovakia v USA, Ireland v England, Scotland v Costa Rica, and the flow continued like that across the group stage. It was fantastic.

There were great stories like Cameroon’s fantastic run to the quarter final, everyone in my year enjoyed Milla’s celebrations and even Higuita seemed to want them to go through, sadly their run was ended by England on the Sunny Sunday evening I flitted between my house and Paul’s. Costa Rica was another of the surprises. USSR and Holland the biggest disappointments. I blame the guides, they told me van Basten was going to be a star, they forgot to tell me that he was injured, although they probably did and I just didn’t notice.

I remember feeling disappointed for Scotland, and especially for Jim Leighton, when they were narrowly defeated, and knocked out, by Brazil. I liked Skuhravy’s hatrick against Costa Rica and the balletic quality to David Platt’s swivelling volley. I remember hoping Ireland would win on penalties and feeling disappointed that Italy knocked them out in the quarter final.

My Germany were great. A great victory over Yugoslavia, a big victory over the UAE in the rain and a draw that allowed Colombia to qualify. A second round victory over Holland with some good goals, a comfortable 1-0 quarter final victory over the Czechs then the famous semi-final shootout with England. I may have been the only person cheering for Germany that night.

Paul’s Argentina were doing ok, a slip up against Cameroon then a win over the USSR and a draw with Romania. I missed Argentina’s victory over Brazil but I managed to watch their quarter final victory over Yugoslavia that featured what my Dad’s mate called the worst penalty shootout he ever saw, then another penalties victory over Italy.

So it was Argentina v Germany in the final. Me v Paul. Paul v Me.  I remember the morning of the final because I was watching a friend playing football when I overheard smug fat man opine; “Oh Argentina will just soak up the pressure”.

This may have been the split second that I decided to take against any and all football opinion smugness. I wanted to put him straight but I didn’t have the confidence. I don’t know why I took umbrage because Germany was only a passing crush. How can you say anything with confidence in football? Needless to say I had the last laugh after a soft penalty and Argentinian red cards. I had managed to pick a winner, and the rest as they say is history.

The matches return easily to my mind but I can’t recall much about the players. I can remember the glory boys like the scorers – Schilachi, Milla, Skuhravy, Careca, Brolin – and the thrilling runners – Matthaus, Caniggia or Baggio – and others that stuck – Cameroon’s Makanaky, Argentina’s Goycochea, USA’s Windischmann – but I don’t remember stellar performers standing out.

I can see glimpses of greatness – Prosinecki trying to belittle an Argentinian defender, Stojkovic’s deftness against Spain and one typical Maradona dribble against Brazil – but that’s it.  I don’t think I had the eye for that kind of detail but our galaxy of stars existed in a less heavenly environment. Football wasn’t massively important in 1990, there was no football PR industry turning footballers into gargantuan merchandise sellers and pundits didn’t forensically pore over minutiae from ten high definition angles. Then again I may not have been looking closely enough.

The world cup story didn’t end there. I bought official videos (highlights and every goal) as soon as they came out and shared them around my friendship group. Brain Moore added the commentary and one phrase; “The X-Factor was a cheeky backheel by Jara” became our phrase of choice for a bit.

In August we took our first family holiday abroad; Amsterdam by ferry from Harwich. We had to change in Liverpool Street and while we were waiting I bought World Soccer’s review of Italia ’90. It was filled by the stuff I liked, stats, photos and the chance to buy a porcelain statuette of Maradona flying over Harald Schumacher. I liked Amsterdam a lot, even if I had to settle for a Ruud Gullit postcard instead of an AC Milan shirt. I wore the German shirt on the way home and an angry ferry passenger shouted “ACHTUNG MESSERSCHMITT, PISS OFF!!!!!!!!” at me. My mum wasn’t amused but I was.

I have two abiding memories of Italia ‘90. The first was the feeling that every matchday was exciting, we didn’t know what would happen, we didn’t know if we’d see great goals. There were always things to say the day after; “Did you see that last night?”, “I’m Matthaus today”, “I’m Roger Milla today”.

The second is the feel of watching matches with a stylish backdrop. By the end of the world cup I could name each unique ground within seconds by the landmarks or the way the seats looked. There was Bologna’s tower, Udine’s arch, Genoa’s combination of terraces and red cubism, the Olympic Stadium’s running track, the subterranean corridor behinds the San Siro goals and the grassy areas behind the goals in Florence. My favourite was Genoa, I desperately wanted to go there. A couple of years ago the opportunity to visit arose and everything was just as I hoped it would be.

For me Italia ’90 feels like it was part of a golden period of football. Cynics could say that I only feel like that because I’m wallowing in the nostalgia of being a responsibility free teenager. They could quite reasonably point out that Havelange and his ideas had been in control of FIFA for 16 years so there was a long list of multinational sponsors connected to FIFA and the world cup.

While that’s all true Italia ’90 still has a watershed quality. It was the last old style world cup, the last tournament without names on the back of shirts and numbers on the front, the last world cup without whooshing logos in expensively designed bespoke fonts. We made do with 1 to 22 and the graphics that RAI used for Serie A matches.

Italia ’90 was also the last tournament to feature nation states from the Europe created by the October Revolution and post-World War One peace treaties. By the next world cup the multi-national nation states of Eastern Europe had broken up. Welsh fans have seen this effect at close hand, over the last three decades Wales have been losing to gradually shrinking countries; from Yugoslavia to Serbia & Montenegro to Montenegro (plus Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia for good measure).

The entire year had a watershed quality; we had entered the last decade of the twentieth century and the Cold War had ended. The triumphalism connected to victory over the “evil empire” produced the “End of History” thesis, which provided the intellectual legitimacy for the onward march of market capitalism.  Craven governments propagated the gospel of market economics under the benign guise of democratisation and liberalisation and lo, multinational companies did brazenly pursue their selfish economic interests. It’s difficult to deny the effect of this process on football.

I can’t help but miss 1990, football just wasn’t the bloated epidemic that we are now forced to tolerate. The Likely lads’ theme was right, the only thing to look forward to is the past.

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