Archive | April, 2007

Monday 30th April 2007

Posted on 30 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

Apologies for the lack of posts. Professionally I have been very busy indeed for the last couple of months and will remain so as I build towards opening a new office in central London. Incidentally, if any of my readers use private dentistry in west or central London and are pleased with the service they receive, please let me know about it by email or in the comments.

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce’s resignation has been debated widely in the short space of time since the announcement. He’s widely held to be frustrated with the lack of opportunities at Bolton Wanderers, and there are rumours that he is being lined up for jobs at Manchester City and Newcastle.

This is all likely to be true or close to the truth. But there’s another, alternative view. What if someone slightly more interesting and powerful has been talking to Sam?

England have two internationals looming: a friendly against Brazil to launch the new Wembley, and an away qualifier against Estonia. The nature of that friendly, and its context, take it out of the normal run of “unserious” matches. England under Eriksson had a habit of raising their game against top opposition, and this is the first match of that kind since the victory over Argentina in 2005. Something tells me it won’t be like that this time. After that, Estonia need to be beaten, and beaten well.

If England are humiliated by Brazil, and come away from Estonia with only a one-goal margin of victory, McClaren will have an unemployed and motivated man breathing down his neck. And the press will be on that man’s side in a big way.

Whether it’s fair or unfair, I suspect Steve McClaren has lost the confidence of the FA in his year in charge. I think they would replace him if they could. Or if they had the courage. With Allardyce free from other ties, they’ll need just that little less courage than before. Much will depend on how seriously they take bung allegations, and on how much those allegations are felt to have faded over time.

Season’s Predictions
At the start of the year, I made a number of predictions. Now might be a fair time to review how they are doing.

In terms of the title race, I backed the young Arsenal and Chelsea, with a nod at Liverpool. Manchester United’s success has been a complete surprise. In particular, I, and no one else outside Old Trafford, foresaw the season Cristiano Ronaldo has put in. Nor did I foresee the failures of Ballack and Shevchenko. Arsenal’s frailties were hidden from me by the sheer beauty and skill of the team.

No quality crystal balls into the box from me, then.

I picked Manchester City, Sheffield United and Charlton for the drop. My big failure has been Watford. Aidy Boothroyd didn’t keep them up as I was expecting. Sheffield United aren’t staying up yet, but probably are, and I didn’t think they had the team to do it – wrong again. Manchester City are – but largely because of the failures of others. They’ve had a wretched season, and won’t rescue it with a win in the Manchester Derby.

My big “success”, as it were, was in picking Charlton for the drop, which wasn’t a popular choice at the time. The talk last August was in terms of their “pushing on” from where Curbs had left them. I felt this kind of talk to be dangerous, and so it proved. They might yet survive, and in fact, given their performances under their new manager, probably deserve to in some way. I trust Bolton fans won’t fall into the “push on” trap.

More Than Mind Games Manager of the Year
There’s been a lot of good management this year – Mourinho’s handling of the Chelsea power struggle; Jol’s proper revival of Spurs; Neil Warnock’s performance at Sheffield United; Ferguson’s nurturing of another winning team, if that’s what it turns out to be. But I’m handing the award to Roy Keane, who took over an utterly demoralized Sunderland side at the bottom of the Championship and took them to automatic promotion. Insider accounts of his approach to management show a man taking to management as to the manor born, and adapting his persona to the demands of his new position in an admirable way.

More Than Mind Games Meet-Up
If any readers or fellow bloggers would like to get together for drinks and chat about football, other sport, anything else indeed, in London or Cambridge, let me know by email or in comments. The idea would be to find a traditional pub or wine bar, perhaps with large-screen action on in the background, and kick back for a couple of hours.

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Wycombe Wanderers v Kingstonian 1958

Posted on 25 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

A thing of beauty:


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Laudatio Funebris

Posted on 24 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

In Fond Memory of Alan Ball:


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1939: A More Than Mind Games Film

Posted on 23 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

In memory of, and in tribute to, Humphrey Jennings, the great British film maker, some of whose work is excerpted here.

Amongst the psychologically significant events of September 1939, including evacuation and call-up, was the abrupt closure of public sport (alongside cinema and theatre). Government’s later change of heart on this issue have obscured its initial impact. At the time of the ban, no one would have known for sure if any part of the ban would ever be rescinded, let alone under what circumstances.

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1888: A More Than Mind Games Film

Posted on 16 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

And a rough, experimental one at that. The sound in particular will be a great deal better next time..

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Two New Links

Posted on 12 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

Two fresh and welcome additions to the blogroll: The Sixth Day is for Football is a new project covering historical and sociological sides to football, whilst Just Like My Dreams is that rarest of things, a worthwhile team fan blog. It’s a West Ham blog, moreover, and, IMHO, shows how this kind of thing should be done.

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Posted on 11 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

I can’t help thinking it’s significant that we’re not shown or told what happened after this, or what brought it about in the first place… nevertheless, it’s what a lot of people want. If I were one of the men in vests, I’d assume that we were in a lot of trouble and that the shouting was to conceal the coach’s own panic and indecision. Anyway, enjoy:


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Intermission and Classic Derby County

Posted on 03 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

I’m going to be away for a week. You can spend it watching Derby County:

versus Real Madrid, European Cup 1975

versus Manchester United in the snow in 1970

versus Nottingham Forest in 1971

versus Arsenal in 1972

versus Burnley in 1975

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What is Football?

Posted on 02 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

Football is a beautiful game, both balletic and combative, calling on the very highest levels of physical awareness, quick thinking, intelligence, courage and guile.

Paul Scholes epitomized everything that is best about it in turning around Manchester United’s match against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Afterwards, Mark Hughes said of him:

In those situations he has a very cool head and great technical ability and awareness.

Somehow, don’t ask me how, football has become mixed up with other things. In Britain, it’s something of a proxy for civil war, and the local team (to say nothing of the national team) are the “champions” of their area, taking on opponents on behalf of the fans. Alongside that, groups of fans use their team as a standard to raise above them as they take on other teams’ fans in streetfighting and, still, the occasional stadium battle.

These other things have thoroughly confused the common British idea of how football is best played. The most valued qualities in footballers in Britain have relatively little to do with sport. They are: loyalty to the cause, wearing that loyalty on the sleeve, physical courage, a never-say-die attitude, and unbreakable geographical ties, a sense of belonging. Excellent qualities in a local militia in the medieval Welsh Marches or the borders in Tudor England or post-Merovingian France, of course. But short of some of the things that help win matches.

These qualities are all indirect equivalents of sporting ones which our culture has given the same names to – for want of imagination as much as anything.

Take courage, for example. I’ll draw a veil over the name of the English batsman who, heavily and worthily decorated in the Great War, was seen shaking with fear before taking to the crease against Warwick Armstrong’s Australians in 1920.

George Macdonald Fraser understood the difference, and put it into his anti-hero’s mouth in “Flashman’s Lady”: the difference between going into battle and going into sport is that, in sport, you know you are going to survive. You are definitely going to face your own headlines.

Fans don’t face headlines, however. Anyone who says that they are “West Ham till they die” and regards that as in some way a moral statement is guilty of cant more than loyalty. Depression at bad results is as bad as it gets. Beyond that, absolutely nothing is at stake. Real risk would empty stadia instantly. People go to football – I go to football – to be entertained and to feel part of something, but aside from the cost of travel and the ticket, those things have to come easy.

I keep reading comments by former players from earlier generations to the effect that modern players don’t have to “fight for it” in the way they had to in their day. And I keep reading biographies of former players from earlier generations and they are chock-full of anecdotes about drinking, womanising, clubbing, fashion and the Kings Road. Professional footballers have always been wealthier than their peers, and have always had too much time on their hands, and have been prone, some of them, to abusing it.

Football is a sport – the most glorious, spectacular, exciting sport ever devised. In Britain, it’s still treated as proxy civil war, and the players as are our champions, cut to shreds if they let us down. It’s the wrong metaphor – at least if you want your team to be successful. The players of the season have been quiet, publicity-shy Scholes, and cunning, skillful Ronaldo. It hasn’t been a year for eleven roaring lions, but that’s because this isn’t a game for roaring lions. It’s a game needing skill, quick thinking, cleverness, imagination, teamwork and knowledge. (I dealt with the “wanting to win” aspect last week). Developing good players for it is a long-term project, one we keep postponing.

I suspect we keep postponing it because, underneath it all, we like it as it is. We’d enjoy watching a subtle, intelligent, coolheaded England team win tournaments, but there’d be a yearning for the old values. Look at what people think the likes of John Terry and Stuart Pearce are, and then look at what they really are. Not the ferocious bulldogs of legend. And, recent experience shows, not the “inspirational leaders” of legend either. Excellent players, yes, Good with people, yes, good with players, yes (Pearce gets strong reviews from the Under-21 squad) – but that’s not enough for us – they can’t just be what they are: they have to live up to this daft British soccer mythology.

Football is a game needing skill, quick thinking, cleverness, imagination, teamwork and knowledge. And we think the Americans don’t get it. Honestly.

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Just For Sunday..

Posted on 01 April 2007 by JamesHamilton

..and to bring some fresh air in after the last post –

Denis Law, the greatest Scottish striker of the post-war era, the best until Dalglish, and a proper human being by all accounts too:


Clough v Nicholson: Derby County’s greatest team come back from the dead against one of my favourite Spurs line-ups (follow the link – it’s worth it):

And a long… two-parter of Chelsea v Manchester United, season 1968-9:

And the same fixture, 16 years later, in even longer format.

All told, an hour’s football, better – with the glorious exception of Crouch’s hat-trick – than anything you saw on yesterday’s Match of the Day.

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