Thursday, 5 August 2010


I’ve not written on here for what seems like an age and for that I’d like to apologise. It’s been a really busy time of late: I’ve now got a full-time position at one of the best football clubs going that is allowing me to put my training and journalism skills to good use. It’s going fabulously and life is good at the moment. But I will try to keep this updated as often as possible as it’s been my ‘baby’ since I started it back at university.

It’s been an eventful old summer. The World Cup (only just) kept me entertained; I know it’s a cliché but summers without football are so boring and tend to drag disturbingly. Whether it’s the Euros or the World Cup, it’s exciting and always great to pick out the ‘ones to watch’. I won’t even mention England’s dismal showing (oops, too late), but the team I was probably most impressed with was Germany. The organisation and commitment they displayed was superb considering it was quite a young team. Mesut Ozil really caught my eye along with Thomas Muller, both of whom are 21 and 20 years-old respectively. Okay, so Germany didn’t win it, but they finished third and certainly look a top prospect for the future.

Much talk was made of Paul the psychic octopus too. The unusual star of the tournament made headline news worldwide for accurately predicting every winner of every game through the South African tournament. Didn’t see that coming! Other elements of the World Cup I enjoyed were: the presence of Diego Maradona on the touch-lines (yes he’s controversial, but he’s also full of passion, England could have done with some of that), the South Africa team’s dancing to the pitch (genius), U.S.A. raising eyebrows with their run of form (The David Beckham Factor perhaps) and Ghana being the last home nation team standing (valiant effort). One thing I didn’t enjoy- the vuvuzelas. The less said about those the better.

But the World Cup seemed to be over as soon as it had begun and now the new 2010/11 season is upon us. It’s time to pick the fantasy football teams, lay your bets and buy the latest club shirts because Premier League football (and lots of others besides) is back. Who’ll get relegated, who’ll make the Champions League, who knows. Rumours abound that Blackpool haven’t prepared properly for what lies ahead and they could be the worst Premier League team ever. I don’t care too much for that. I’m just looking forward to having an away-day near the Golden Mile. But it’s definitely the novelty factor that I like about Blackpool and Ian Holloway is going to make Match of the Day a Saturday night must (but they could do with a ‘pundit’ clearout on there, most of them are misery personified).

A lot has been made recently of Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona. The Arsenal star was pictured in a Barca shirt during Spain’s World Cup celebrations and he’s made no secret of his desire to link up with Pep Guardiola. I understand that he’s a fan favourite and Gunners everywhere are hugely reluctant to let him go, but if a player really wants to leave them there really isn’t much you can do. Seven years is a good duration and the money received by Arsene Wenger can be put towards investing in the future. Heroes are made, they come and go, but there will be another one for the Emirates Stadium to celebrate soon enough. Perhaps Wenger would be wise to use some of the potential money to purchase a goalkeeper...

I can’t really talk about City too much. Let’s just say that I’m incredibly excited for the new season and the potential it holds for the Blues. Summer purchases so far have all been players that have been involved in the World Cup, which speaks volumes and throws out a huge message of intent to the ‘top four’. To be honest, I don’t particularly think there is a top four anymore. I think this season will see a huge shake-up of the old order. I remember teams used to be fearful of playing Manchester United- that fear has subsided. They aren’t the team and club they used to be and there may be a window of opportunity for teams, the likes of City, Spurs, perhaps even Everton, to seize the chance and just go for it.

The interesting one may be Liverpool: with Roy Hodgson, fresh from the Europa League final at the helm, new signing Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres pledging their future, who knows where the Anfield lot are heading. Last season was a huge disappointment for all concerned, but a new manager brings both a new perspective but also a fear of the unknown. How will it go? Good or bad? The Liverpool fans seemed to greet Hodgson’s appointment with a mixed reaction, I just wonder if the job is a little too big for him. He massively over-achieved with Fulham last season, will it be the opposite this time?

If you want to get in touch, go for it, my email address is on here so don’t be shy.

Here’s to the new season and everything that comes with it. It’s bloody good to be back.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Day of destiny for England’s 2010 World Cup arrives...will it be Triumph or Disaster?

Most schoolboys dream of becoming a footballer. They idolise their heroes on the pitch and attempt to emulate them in the playground at break-time. It’s a fantasy that refuses to die and, when the schoolboy makes the transition from boy to man, the dream usually turns into devout passion and fierce loyalty for their chosen football team. That pride and passion can translate through to the national team too, with support being proudly demonstrated for a nation or country in equal measure.

Why is that pride and passion not being displayed when England take to the pitch in South Africa? Why are some of the supposed ‘best players in the world’ taking to acting like schoolboys themselves, having drawn two of their three group games in the 2010 World Cup? The England performances against the United States of America and Algeria have been below-par, lacking invention, conviction and confidence. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney have under-performed on the biggest stage in world football. And they know it.

The British author and poet Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem ‘If’ is almost a prophecy that sums up every aspect of England’s 2010 World Cup so far. The infamous verse, written in 1899, can be dissected and linked to aspects of the majority of the Three Lions’ South African story to date.

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”

There is no blame game. Nobody has stood out so far as excelling but no one player can be depicted as the villain. Not even John Terry, whose candid press conference openly implored Fabio Capello’s methods and encouraged the Italian to pick Joe Cole. Nobody has so far stood up to be counted, although Manchester City’s Gareth Barry put in an impressive shift during the Algeria game on his return from his ankle injury. It is now time for calm and deliverance.

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;”

The country is full of hype, the clichéd ‘a nation expects’ rings clear throughout offices, hospitals and classrooms. Proud and loyal fans display St. Georges’ flags on vehicles, houses and clothing. Memories of painful penalty shoot-outs are all too recent, begging to be a forgotten nightmare by the team that, as individuals, prove so capable and talented at club level.

So far, the World Cup has been nothing short of disappointing for England and I’m sure they would acknowledge this. It has raised doubts over both the managerial style of Capello and the dedication of the England players to their international duty. Is it because, whilst playing in the Premier League, the players are surrounded by other talent from across the globe? Does this improve their performances domestically and leave them exposed when playing together for England? The doubters are quite right to be fearful on the basis of their current form going into the final game against Slovenia.

“Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise”

The Italian duly responded to Terry, saying his former captain, dropped from the title after his alleged debacles with Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend, had made a ‘big mistake’, but has since insisted that Terry is ‘one of the most important players for the team’. The media seem to have been a communication tool for the England squad, despite Capello insisting that ‘his door is always open if people need to talk’. Of course, the press is full of speculation, lies and inflated stories, but it doesn’t look good when petty squabbles and disagreements are played out in front of the microphones/cameras (France take note). It is humiliating to say the least. Terry hasn’t been ‘talking too wise’ by undermining the head coach and was even criticised by his fellow Chelsea team-mate Frank Lampard for doing so.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;”

This is where the experience of the relatively older and more experienced players comes into play. David James, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard should be setting an example and encouraging the others to follow suit. Is there too much expectation and pressure on the squad as a whole? It surely doesn’t help matters when Rooney is depicted as an all-conquering warrior hero in a high-profile sports brand advertising campaign. Great expectations are encouraged. The team should be proud and victorious in the face of success, yet gracious and understanding in the arms of defeat.

Much has been made of the presence of David Beckham on the touch-lines. Unable to take part in the chosen 23-man squad due to his Achilles injury, Beckham has been a coach and experienced presence in the England camp, although sometimes it seems the World Cup cameramen spend more time filming his reactions than the Italian head coach himself. But Beckham is one of the most-respected, lucrative and commercial footballers of our time and, despite what the critics may say, is right to be present in South Africa. He’s been there, seen it, done it and can offer advice and guidance where possible.

“If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,”

I’ve no doubt that, if England progress and turn it on against Slovenia, the niggling doubts, the plethora of questions, will disappear. The mere suggestion of a resignation from Capello will be scoffed at and the team will continue on their intrepid World Cup journey. But, dare to even think about the possibility of failing to qualify. Will there be implications? Who will the fickle finger of blame point towards? Who should it? It will without doubt be a media feeding frenzy.

“Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:”

You only have to look to France for an example of what a broken nation and lack of respect and understanding can do to a team. Their final group game against South Africa was a disaster, albeit with the help of a dubious red card to Yoann Gourcuff. Things haven’t been pretty for England, but the time is now to change that situation. The past two performances will be all be but forgotten if a convincing victory against Slovenia is registered. The fans’ disappointment can be transformed into jubilation if England’s World Cup dream is kept alive today. The players have the skill and capability of delivering individually at club level- can that be moulded together to produce the result the nation so desperately craves?

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”

This is it. It’s the 90 minutes that will decide whether or not England progress through to the knock-out stages in South Africa. There isn’t much to lose and everything to gain. This is where Capello has to make changes to the starting 11 that just haven’t been working so far. The Italian has admitted that he has made ‘mistakes’ so far. I begrudge admitting that he is, but Terry is right, Joe Cole should have had a chance already. Will Capello bow to the ‘pressure’ and start him on the left? If so, who will make way? Does he have the capability to drop one of his big names, like Lampard? A lot will be made of Capello’s big choices today, it is make or break. But the players must deliver. The time is now.

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

'Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,”

Post Algeria, the media spotlight on the national team has been blinding, with Wayne Rooney increasing the voltage due to his post-match television camera rant. Criticising the fans, who have saved and planned to travel to South Africa for years, is nothing short of embarrassing and demonstrated a total lack of respect. It wasn’t the appropriate thing to do given the performance he had just delivered. Bite your lip and keep your thoughts to yourself Rooney, you’re a role model to millions and it does your already-dubious reputation no favours. Look at David Beckham, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst if you need any inspiration.

“If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;”

There are many examples of character and pride so far in South Africa. Diego Maradona and his Argentina team look to have an enviable harmony and understanding within their camp, with the players hugging him after scoring a goal and Maradona’s eccentric behaviour and celebrations attracting the media’s attention. The dearly departed South Africans dancing their way from the dressing room to the touchline, epitomising the spirit and energy of the 2010 World Cup and reflecting the personality of their lively and vibrant fans. The underdogs like Switzerland and New Zealand, digging in their heels and giving their all to be rewarded with shock results against the so-called big guns Spain and Italy. Various players crying during singing their national anthem overcome by the occasion and what it means. Have England demonstrated anything remotely similar to any of this? Not so far.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!”

The time is now to stand up and be counted: to sing the national anthem like you actually mean it without looking like you can’t be bothered, to play like those schoolboys dream of playing in the white/red shirt, to demonstrate a physical prowess worthy of at least one of the three lions on the shirt. Look like you want it. You could be heroes, just for one day. The clichéd hopes of a nation rest on the players and coaches’ shoulders. Make no mistake; it will either be Triumph or Disaster by 5pm in England today. There is no in-between. Let’s just hope whichever way the result goes that we remain the Land of Hope and Glory. Anything is possible.

Extracts taken from the poem ‘If’, by Rudyard Kipling.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

We're Not Really Here...

People who are unfamiliar with the Manchester City chant ‘we’re not really here’ often eagerly ask what the meaning is. I was asked to partake in some private research for the club last summer and that very question was asked of me. Why are City fans the fans of the invisible man? Why aren’t you really here?

The answer probably differs for each and every blue who has their own memories and take on their history of supporting the club. It is inevitably different for fans that span various generations. But for me it’s pretty simple. It’s a representation that I can’t quite believe I’m here compared to where I’ve been in the past as a City fan. The memories are colourful, plentiful and special. From every fan along the way, they are part of what it means to have been there, seen it and bought the shirts along the proverbial roller-coaster ride.

For me, memories are all about parking up on a side road with my brother Simon in deep Moss Side to be greeted by an exuberant child asking if they can ‘mind the car please’. After advising the youth we would pay up post-match if the car was still intact, we would head into the Beehive pub for a couple of sneaky pre-match drinks before setting off on foot to the ground. The walking consisted of turning down a man selling jerk chicken off a makeshift barbecue outside Buntys off-licence to opt for sausage, chips and gravy from the Blue Moon chip shop on the corner of Maine Road.

Recollections of queuing up to get in the club shop on match-day (which was flanked by bouncers), walking around the back of the North Stand, past the away support to the Kippax turnstile, guessing which number game it would be out of my season-ticket book along the way. Once inside, heading up the concrete steps to my seat in Kippax CC Lower and reading the match-day programme while the two teams warm up on the pitch. The congregation of regulars that surround you slowly occupy their seats in anticipation of kick-off with the away day visitors filling up the North Stand to the right.

The clock ticks down and before you know it its Saturday, 3pm. The teams emerge from below the Main Stand to the guitar introduction of Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ and a mighty cheer goes up. Whether it’s Brian Horton or Joe Royle on the touch-line, Tony Coton or Eike Immel in goal, the loyalty never wavers, refuses to falter. The Kippax seagull blows wildly in the breeze and Helen’s bell rings consistently. The minority that occupy the ‘Gene Kelly’ stands shiver in the rain as the Kippax tannoy states that Mr Banks is on Level One. Chants from the North stand urge the Platt Lane stand to give them a song and an almighty roar engulfs the ground as Uwe Rosler volleys home. The scoreboard still stays on 0-0 but the City faithful know they’re ahead. Some things never change.

A vast multitude of moments drench the memory banks. Too many to distinguish between: Uwe Rosler chipping Peter Schmeichel at Old Trafford after a sublime through-ball by Georgi Kinkladze. The Georgian’s tears on that dark day against Liverpool in 1996 but his unequivocal brilliance and ingenuity lighting up my season-ticket single-handedly. Steve Lomas, Garry Flitcroft, Peter Beagrie, Niall Quinn, Tony Coton and Paul Walsh. Gerry Creaney’s last minute winner against Charlton, a disastrous own-goal by Tranmere at Prenton Park handing us a point from nowhere and watching Bolton win the First Division title on our own turf. Barry Conlon getting a standing ovation during a 6-0 demolition of Swindon Town, a 28,000 set of collective tears during Lakey’s testimonial and being forced to leave St. Andrews early after Murtaz Shelia scored only to find out on the M6 that we lost the game. Richard Edghill, Kit Symons, John Burridge, Martin Buster Phillips (the first £10 million player, allegedly) and Kevin Horlock.

Leading the team out as a mascot at Maine Road in October 1997 against Oxford United at home only for the Blues to lose 2-0. Jamie Pollock’s own goal adding to Vinnie Jones’ post-match celebrations for Queens Park Rangers as storm-clouds literally gathered after a penultimate ominous result. Playing Blackpool the first day of the season in Division Two to a sell-out crowd of unbelievable believers and getting soaked to the bone at Springfield Park when the Goat scored the winner. Watching Millwalll tear the North stand apart while police helicopters circled in the sky. Jeff Whitley, Andy Morrison, Paul Dickov, Nicky Weaver, Michael Branch and Terry Cooke. Taking to my seat in the Kippax to watch the play-off screening at Wigan only for City to concede within the first couple of minutes then witnessing the hand of Goat before running onto the pitch in sheer ecstasy having reached Wembley during the second leg.

Going to the Twin Towers, Wembley, and singing Blue Moon at the top of my voice. Feeling the disappointment, anguish, agony, amazement then utter disbelief and seeing Dickov sliding on his knees. Holding my head in my hands when every penalty was taken, crying throughout. Watching Weaver do his unpredictable run. Jumping on my seat and bouncing to M People’s ‘Moving On Up’, realising the great escape really was possible. Only a season later, Ewood Park full of City fans celebrating back-to-back promotions.

Travelling to Gillingham in the hot sunshine for a pre-season friendly with my mate Spenny hanging out of the car window while we played ‘Blue Moon’ excessively over Tower Bridge, a Gerard Wiekens wonder volley giving City three points at Elland Road and substitute Shaun Goater earning a standing ovation when replacing the substituted George Weah. The Ipswich Town Cup game postponed due to a waterlogged pitch after a sporadic ten minute spell of torrential rain, being affected by smog inhalation after visiting the Riverside and being spat on from the tier above at Anfield. Carlo Nash’s first four touches of a game being picking the ball out of his own net four times against Arsenal at home.

The Goat’s hat-trick being almost marred by Spenny getting head-butted outside Turf Moor, coming back from the Hawthorns depressed after a 4-0 drubbing and travelling to Highfield Park to be impressed by a new signing called Ali Benarbia. Making the journey across the Pennines with six thousand other Blues to watch an incredible team performance during a 6-2 away victory, only for City to lose 4-0 against Wimbledon at Maine Road the next week (the joys of the Kevin Keegan era). Paulo Wanchope, Eyal Berkovic, Stuart Pearce, Lucian Mettomo and Steve Howey. Travelling to Oakwell on Hallowe’en to get stuck in terrible traffic on the M62 and arrive at half-time, having missed all three of City’s goals. Darren Huckerby applauding an empty away stand, New Year’s Day hungover at Bramhall Lane. Topping the First Division, signing a French player by the name of Nicolas Anelka to partner the Goat upfront then going to Villa Park only to reach Hilton Park service station and realise we’d lost our four match tickets. Going to Highbury and leaving empty-handed but leaving St. Andrews with all three points. Driving to Gresty Road with no ticket and sitting outside listening to the cheers only for the City team coach driver to invite me aboard to listen to the game with him.

Wigan fans coming up to me after their Cup victory at the then-JJB Stadium claiming revenge for the ‘Hand of Goat’ incident. Being knocked out by Wigan only for Gary Neville to feed the Goat in a 3-1 final derby at Maine Road victory and the Bermudan hero equalising at Old Trafford during the return fixture. Having to pay a tenner for two drinks in a pub outside Stamford Bridge before witnessing Chelsea’s 5-0 drubbing of City after four hours of driving, then encountering a horrific eight hour drive back from St. Marys after Southampton beat us 2-0. The final game at Maine Road against Southampton, with City typically getting beat 1-0. As if the end of an era wasn’t hard enough to stomach, the horrific and unexpected tragic passing of Marc Vivien Foe on June 26th 2003.

Driving to Ewood Park to witness Michael Tarnat’s wonderful free-kick before embarking on the epic journey to Lokeren via Luton, Heathrow, Brussels and a two hour taxi journey. Spenny’s luggage only turning up when we checked in for the flight back to England. Sitting in the home end in Deepdale and getting ejected for singing Blue Moon and having missiles thrown at me. Sylvain Distin, Mark Bosvelt, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Darius Vassell and Andrew Cole.

It’s these collective, eclectic and stupendous array of memories that have helped define my personal ‘we’re not really here’ stance. It’s being aware of the past when I dare to dream in the present and for the future of the football club I support. More memories will be created along the way, but for now I’ll treasure the ones I have in the hope that my heart remains intact along with my sanity. It’s never been easy but then nobody said it would be when I pledged my sky blue allegiance all those years ago. If it was easy, would that be my team that I know and adore? I don’t know, but being a fan of the invisible man means the blue moon for me will always be steadily rising. I’m an optimistic realist, for me we aren’t really here, but we should be really glad that we are.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

My memories of the Hillsborough tragedy

A personal account of my memories of the Hillsborough tragedy

It was 15th April 1989, the day before my seventh birthday and a gorgeous Spring day. The sun was beaming down and my street was filled with my neighbour’s children playing out with me on their bicycles. The age of innocence was high. I fell off my bike a couple of times onto the moist, warm grass of my front garden and I looked up at the bright blue sky, littered sporadically with cumulus clouds. My friend Kerry ran over, offering me a daisy chain for my calamitous fall. We laughed and giggled and continued our hazardous bike adventures up and down the street. It literally was a perfect day.

I noticed my brother, Simon, playing football with his friend not far away from us. He was nine years old at the time and obsessed with the sport, sharing a love for Manchester City. But he will watch any game at any time. I looked up to Simon, I still do. I see him as a role model and when I was younger I was heavily influenced by his interests and hobbies.

We had watched Grandstand that day, the old BBC Saturday sports programme and they reviewed the F.A. Cup semi-final, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest that was taking place at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough. Simon always got excited about the F.A. Cup and the semi-final tie was the motivation for his kick-about, visualising being John Barnes and scoring the winning goal.

It was just minutes before kick off; mum was inside doing her ironing and I was skipping outside. My carefree moments were about to come to a sudden halt. Amongst the tranquillity outside, my mum’s panic-stricken shouting echoed around the street. She was urging us inside, pointing at the television, open-mouthed, her eyes frozen in terror.

I think with the beauty of hindsight she called us in because my dad was at work and she had nobody to share her shock with. Simon and I were only young and didn’t really know what was going on. But I can relay the images of a crowd almost swaying, a mass of people crammed into a stand with some of them attempting to either climb over the perimeter fence or up onto the next tier at the ground.

Unbeknown to me, what I was witnessing were the tragic events unfolding at Hillsborough. Simon sunk to his knees, glued to the television. This wasn’t football, this was people dying. People who had travelled from Liverpool to Sheffield to watch their team participate in a respected and traditional competition were being suffocated, their lives abruptly ended. I couldn’t understand why and how it was happening. I just recall thinking about the fences, the enormous crowd and the faces. The faces will haunt me forever.

John Motson’s voice delivered details of a helpline number set up for families of potential victims to call for further details. I was crying, sobbing uncontrollably. It was my first real memory of football, yet it didn’t involve a ball being kicked or a player sent off. It involved fans and trauma. The images on television were real and raw, they were happening live. Nobody could have forecast what happened that fateful day.

Since that day I have suffered from nightmares regularly. The images of that day, from the overcrowded Leppings Lane end have forever stuck in my mind and I pay my respects on every anniversary of Hillsborough to the 96 innocent lives that were lost in such an unnecessary manner. I went to Hillsborough for an away match with my own team, Manchester City, in 2002. Despite our 6-2 victory, all I could think about was that tragic April day. I went to the toilets at half-time and they were empty. I felt an eerie uncomfortable sensation in the darkened room and I hurried while washing my hands. The toilets were old and I was constantly thinking about just what happened above my head that Saturday, what sights the toilets could have seen during that despicable day. I was alone in the toilets yet I felt eyes on me. I was completely spooked and felt nauseous.

It may well be 21 years since the event but I will never forget Hillsborough. The families that the victims left behind face their own personal hell each and every day of their lives. It is so tragic, so baffling that such a loss of life could possibly occur at a football ground. It inexplicably affected me more than it should.

It may well be a cliche but we are all part of the football family; people whose lives are driven by the sport and we hurt when events like the tragedy in Sheffield occur. The victims were united behind their football team but should never have lost their lives supporting them. Events like Hillsborough, the Heysel disaster and the Bradford fire highlight the dangers that can occur at football, but are thankfully few and far between. Occasions like this are where Bill Shankly’s famous football/life quote proves to be vacant, meaningless, without substance. It's hard to believe that justice for the 96 fans who lost their lives still hasn't been achieved so many years later. It's about time the truth from the most horrendous of days was unmasked, for both the victims and the families who waved their loved ones goodbye and never got to welcome them home.