Archive | November, 2007

The Treble

Posted on 28 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

Of course, it used to be the double. Between Aston Villa before the turn of the century (20th century) and Bill Nicholson’s Spurs, no side won both League and FA Cup in the same season. It’s become a little less remarkable since then.

But English clubs have been competing for the European Cup since 1956, with only the Heysel interval to interrupt. In those fifty-one seasons, only one team have managed a double-plus-European-Cup, Manchester United in the remarkable 1998-9 campaign. Critics of their performance in the 1999 Final forget that United had met, and beaten, every other major team in that year’s tournament – including Bayern Munich.

The surprising thing is that it took so long to happen. It’s a sizeable ask, as they say. But there have been quite a number of teams whose quality has been such as to make short work of League and Cup – as United did in ’98-9 – leaving them with the mental space to take on the biggest prize of them all.

Manchester United nearly did it at the first time of asking in 1956-7. Injury, and the only team in Europe that was truly more talented, did for them. What follows is really very violent:


Surely, given time, it would have come to that team, but time, of course, was precisely what they didn’t have.

Four years later, Spurs followed their double year with a European Cup Semi-Final against Benfica – losing narrowly to the trophy’s second “great” side, an FA Cup victory, and third place in the First Division, only four points behind shock winners Ipswich and one behind FA Cup rivals Burnley:

These early treble attempts presuppose one thing that no longer applied by 1998-9: retaining the League title. It’s a tall order, as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career aptly demonstrates. In 1965, Liverpool were perhaps fortunate to reach the European Cup semi-final, as their quarter-final against Cologne was decided by the toss of a coin. But once there, only sharp practice on the part of Inter kept them from the Final. The same year, Liverpool won the FA Cup; yet, in the League, they were well off the pace, finishing a mediocre seventh:

It was a similar story a year later for Manchester United. The Best-Law-Charlton side at its height reached the European Cup semi-final, to be denied by injury, weather and dogged opponents; a superb cup run was unexpectedly halted in the FA Cup Final by Everton, and the League… faded away long before the season’s end as Liverpool ran away with the title.

Such experiences leave you to reflect on the differences made by a modern squad approach, different from the first-eleven emphasis of the 1950s and 1960s.

The “other” double – League and European Cup – came close for United in 1967-8, but no near-treble, as Spurs despatched them in the FA Cup Third Round. The following year, both Manchester clubs were in the European Cup, but finished 11th (United) and 13th (City) in the League, results that would lead nowadays to the manager’s sacking and financial ruin. United did make it to the European Cup semi-final, where sharp practice etc.:

So we come to 1970 and to Leeds United. Theirs was, in my opinion, the greatest season ever produced by a club of the pre-Heysel era. It was done without money, in a rugby city, at a time when the talent available to the First Division was as deep and widely spread as never before. Six, perhaps eight, clubs were serious title contenders.

A European Cup semi-final:

A notorious FA Cup Final – and replay!

And second in the league.

There’s the sense of history going wrong here, isn’t there, in the year that the Beatles split up.

Two years on, Derby County made a rather shadow-boxed attempt at the feat, finishing in yet more dodgy Italian behaviour in the European Cup semi-final, reaching the FA Cup Quarter Final, and finishing a long way back in seventh in the League.

In the pre-Heysel era, Liverpool would come closer than anyone to bringing home all three trophies. The climax to a memorable season (certainly the first I remember clearly):

Even the ’85 Liverpool of Ian Rush couldn’t come close. Yet – defeat in the Heysel “final” coupled with defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final, plus coming a distant second to Everton’s second great post-war side – it all makes for a great season.

It wasn’t. Traditional values, the good old days, the working class game, uncommercialized football, people? Reflect for a moment that such series as “The Real Football Factories”, to say nothing of all those hooligan autobiographies, postdate these scenes. (Footage includes the dead – you have been warned).

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Donna e mobile

Posted on 27 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

Completely OT, but George linked to this video, and I’d like to raise him:


That’s all. Back to your pints and red-tops, gentlemen.

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Fabio Capello’s Greatest Hits

Posted on 26 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

From this morning’s Guardian:

“We coaches cannot understand how England, with the players they have, could fail to qualify for the European Championships,” said Capello, who has long been proud of the psychological work he does with his players. “How could players of such a high level perform so differently with their national team to the way they perform with their clubs? It is clear that they suffer a mental block. How else can you explain England getting knocked out? Wearing the England shirt clearly weighs heavily on their shoulders, even though they are champions [with their clubs]. In situations like this, the coach has a fundamental role to play, one that is more psychological than technical or tactical.”

He’s not ruling out technical or tactical issues, but stressing where the heart of the problem lies. I agree. Sport psychology boils down to one principle: externalizing failure. You learn to accept that you are a good, even great, player, but will always make mistakes and fail. These mistakes and failures don’t add up on some internal receipt roll to produce a bottom line of internal, personal, failure. They are what they are, no more, and no reason to doubt yourself or to play without freedom.

I don’t think many of the England side understand that. They care too much. If I make a mistake, it’s not just my team that I’m letting down – it’s my country. I’ll have to wear the white feather.. So do we. Who, in Britain, doesn’t respond to Stuart Pearce here at gut level? “Look at this for character. Time to cleanse his soul..”


The problem is deeper than just that of geeing up the players, or somehow “giving them confidence.” What happens to Pearce there is too personal, too much about him, too self-conscious, to work on a consistent basis. Shearer’s cool, or Owen’s today, is what works. But we don’t love it as much, and don’t recognize its value. Until we do, our players will play with fear and tension. Booing will make it more and make it worse.

If Capello succeeds, he’ll have to convince British fans, not only that it isn’t necessary for players to feel they way they feel in order to succeed, but that players feeling the way they do is actively counterproductive. That’s not likely to happen. Shearer is a front runner purely because men at the FA believe that feeling and passion is key, not skill, tactics, intelligence, coolness under pressure and quick thinking – what Sir Clive Woodward called “TCUP” – “Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.”

Club football success is not the same thing as international success. There’s a language barrier, and the deeper cultural problems to overcome. And Capello is a defensive manager, which isn’t necessarily what we need right now. Perhaps he sees defence in a positive light, as a craft and skill, to be performed with its own aplomb, not as a shameful retreat. Should Capello take the job, there are reasons for optimism:

AC Milan, in the 1994 Champions League Final:

Roma’s first Scudetto in a decade:

A Juventus Scudetto:

Capello makes better of his Beckham mistake than McClaren:

If he does it with England, though, he’ll have done it with English players. He seems to rate them. Perhaps he can.

I guarantee one thing. If he isn’t appointed, we’ll always be wondering what might have been.

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England’s Arrogant Primadonnas

Posted on 24 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

I’ve long fought against the idea that England’s top players are arrogant primadonnas who think they have a divine right to a
place in the national team. I’ve even resisted, from time to time, the idea that the English way of playing is irretrievably backward.

But the evidence of this clip is overwhelming. From 45 seconds to 2 minutes 20 seconds. He needs taking down a peg or two..


What we need is a return to old values and a complete change in our approach to playing football. At the same time as returning the game to its working class roots and bringing in foreign expertise. As Sir Geoff Thompson said, we have no right to a place at the top tournaments, and we should expect to be qualifying. (I’m being tongue in cheek. But seriously, in the light of Alan Shearer being seriously touted for the job at the FA – something he has treated in exactly the right spirit in my opinion – do we really think that anyone knows what to do to change things anymore? Or, on the other hand, that we’re going to get some perspective, calm down, and begin to enjoy our international football again? War is over if you want it, people, even if it’s only a footballing proxy).

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Choosing The Next England Manager

Posted on 23 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

He left with such grace, patriotism and politeness. The manner of Steve McClaren’s departure would make a proper Englishman proud, but there were none of those in the press conference.

I felt it was an error to let Ericksson go; now, here we are again amidst the tangled deckchairs as iceberg after iceberg slips through our weakened defence. If you see what I mean.

Last time, the following were the considerations:

  1. Only an English manager “understood” English players; only an English manager could “inspire” them.
  2. We needed a good old-fashioned English captain to gee up the players.
  3. The players were desperate to show their passion and commitment and needed someone on the touchline who would yell things and dance about like a puppet for this to happen.
  4. The players were also a bunch of primadonnas who didn’t care. Who were being let down by a cautious foreign manager.
  5. Beckham should go. “Bring in,” on some kind of footballing forklift truck, SWP, Aaron Lennon, etc. Ditto Andy Johnson, Jermaine Defoe; Michael Owen is past it.

You can tell from my tone what I think about all of that.

I’m still not sure that the real problems of the job are understood.

  1. International management is different in nature from club management, and success in club management does not run on automatically into success as an international coach. There are a number of “specialist” international coaches who manage country after country, rarely dipping into club management at all.
  2. An international manager, especially in the UK, does not have much time with his players, and long-term team-building skills are therefore difficult to apply.
  3. There is no transfer market in international football; an international manager has to do with what he has, and is rather more at the mercy of form and injury than he would be at a top Premiership club.

What this points towards is the appointment of someone capable of making a quick impact. There have been a fair few good “impact managers” in Britain in the last forty years. Brian Clough was not one of them: his teams took a good two years to get into gear. The greatest impact manager of all time was this man:


(There are three parts to this. Let’s forget current woes for a moment…)

Jock Stein managed three club sides, and won cups with two of them within six weeks of taking over. His first trophy at his other club took him entire months to achieve.

Arsene Wenger is another manager with a track record of quick results. He won the French League in his first year in charge of AS Monaco, and a League/Cup double in his second full season at Arsenal. Wenger is thought to have a very good idea of how to create a successful international structure within the existing set-up of English football, and is one of few men to have an optimistic view regarding young English players in the club academies. He is not interested in the job.

Perhaps the best candidate – on these terms – is Jose Mourinho. He is rumoured to have promised Frank Lampard an England team built around him should the job come Mourinho’s way. In his first season at Uniao de Leiria, he took them to their highest ever position, and within 18 months of joining Porto had won the Portuguese league title with a record points score. UEFA and Champions League success followed. His first season at Chelsea was marked by a runaway success in the Premiership, a League Cup, a Champions League semi-final and a famously brave exit from the FA Cup.

Fabio Capello has won league titles with every team he has ever managed, twice on two separate occasions in the case of Real Madrid. Only at AS Roma did he fail to achieve league title success in his first season in charge – that took him a full eighteen months. Given that he is actually interested in the job – a thing of wonder in itself – these are good signs. Less good is his devotion, latterly, to defensive, cautious football. England have a problem with fear – and have had since the breakup of the second great Alf Ramsey side in ’71-2. I doubt this is what we need.

Whoever takes over has one initial duty to fulfil. David Beckham has been left stranded on 99 caps. After his patient, professional and patriotic reaction to being dropped by McClaren, plus his wonderful first-time pass onto the chest of Peter Crouch leading to Wednesday night’s wonderful equalizer, he is owed his century. And an ovation to follow it. It’s a matter of deciding what kind of footballing country we are – either thuggish, stupid and lingeringly homophobic, or capable of recognising when talent’s among us, recognising when that talent has done its best for us in frequently outrageously ungrateful circumstances.

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Can Changing Your Food Transform Your Emotions? 2

Posted on 17 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

The emotions in question right now are those engendered by what has so far been a cack-handed performance by Scotland against Italy. I turned Radio 5 off in the car just after kick-off, sickened by all the “rain in their faces, cold air on their skin” comments from the BBC team. A pity: the Italian goal in the second minute must have shut them up quite superbly.

Well? Can it transform your emotions?

Thus far, two days out of five and three away from my trip to the White Bear… almost embarrassingly so, yes. But with side-effects.

The first impact came shortly after lunchtime on day one. I was halfway through the miserable, soul-destroying journey to my Surrey clinic, when I suddenly began to feel much better, without any particular reason for doing so. The daylight – grey from the wash these days – brightened, my vision sharpened. The latter was only so much of a good thing. My eyes have felt as if they’re trying to focus for a couple of days now, and it’s giving me a headache.

In an obscure way, things have begun to feel that bit more possible. I’m coming into this brief experiment on the back of a benighted year in which little has gone right and much disastrously wrong, and this is a welcome shift. It doesn’t have to be much to dispel a considerable amount of gloom.

Later that afternoon, I fell abruptly asleep in my office in an interval between clients. I am feeling alternately energetic and in-a-good-way sleepy. I fell asleep again today, but around that put in what might be my best day’s work for a year.

I’ve been feeling damned hungry before dinner, but that is really down to dinner having been very late (10.45, owing to work commitments), not any imbalance in what I’m eating.

I was up extremely early this morning, but despite a disturbed night, felt extremely refreshed. I’m curious as to how tomorrow morning will feel.

So far, my feelings are that I’d recommend some parts of the regime and not others. A breakfast of fruit in yoghurt and honey with some nuts tossed on top is no time to prepare, delicious, and there is the whole world of fruit and yoghurt flavours to play with to keep things varied. My family have had the same two slices of toast and coffee for breakfast for half a century. All that’s ever changed is the spread (1991, from St Ivel Gold to Anchor Spreadable..)

At this time of year, salad for lunch is fine for five days. I work with people who have the same Boots sandwich for lunch as they have had for five years, ever since they stopped making Chicken Tikka .. But over a longer period, I’d think about taking other routes to the same destination. Proper vegetable soup with home-made bread; Italian ways with roast vegetables and pasta; stews and salsas.

My gut instinct is to have the evening meal as the diet-free zone, a time, as I mentioned in the first post, for conversation, wine, flavour and warmth, life rather than attempts at life. But my steamed vegetables will be OK for five days.

Still 1-0. I think Britain will be sitting out Euro 2008, don’t you? But if it stays that way at Hampden, I hope the press and fans will remember a truly brave effort in an horrendous group. I know I will, and I’ll remember the delighted disbelief after victory in Paris. Happiness from quite unexpected places..

UPDATE: Israel appear to be winning. That’s really rather cruel of them, don’t you think?

UPDATE 2: Good for Scotland. Although it looks like defeat, it’s the right kind.

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Can Changing Your Food Transform Your Emotions?

Posted on 16 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

Of course it can: eat nothing but crisps and drink nothing but cheap lager for only one week, and you’ll see the world in an entirely new way.

I’m interested in the opposite direction, of course. And I’m turning myself into a guinea pig for five days to see how far I can go in that short space of time.

My consulting room experience has been that certain conditions – especially Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic – can be brought right to heel by a couple of weeks’ worth of fruit and fresh vegetables. Not in every case, and anyway, when you are lumbered with either of those, you don’t have very much mental space free to plan your way out of it food-wise. And many people don’t have the freedom – they have family and children to think of.

The experiment will last for five days and will be just food: no filling in of CBT forms, or self-hypnosis CDs or guided meditations or inspirational speakers or Happiness Projects. I’ll be taking no exercise beyond my usual.

And it’s purely for interest’s sake. I don’t really like the idea of using food as medicine: it’s to be enjoyed, preferably with friends and with wine and with variety and love and music and candles and late nights. I won’t have much variety over the next few days. (My hunch is that most people’s diets are surprisingly restricted, but habit hides awareness.)

My daily diet will consist of:

Breakfast: fruit broken up into plain yoghurt, with a dash of honey, sprinkled with flax seed and walnut pieces.
Lunch: Lettuce, spring onion, avocado, sweetcorn, tuna, cucumber, radish, with lemon/oil dressing.
Dinner: (I eat late most evenings, so this is always light) Steamed or boiled vegetables, emphasising broccoli and carrots.

It’s not aimed at specific nutritional balance, although it’s probably not too bad on that front. This is all about morale.

I’ll let you know what happens. And I’ll end it with a huge roast meal and an evening in the White Bear, like any sensible person would.

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Why Playing Away From Home Is Hard

Posted on 16 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

I was reading some newspaper or other on a late train home last week when I came across the opinion, expressed by an established football journalist, that all football pitches were the same and that home/away advantage was a mystery.

Of course, it isn’t so, and all the reasons why it isn’t so are fairly obvious. Here they are.


You have to get to the game. This is more tiring than not travelling. And home games usually mean not staying in a strange hotel away from everything familiar. There’s a lot of travelling in football at most professional and semi-professional levels, but top managers still regard it as sapping.

All Football Pitches Are Not The Same

The rules of football specify a range of pitch sizes, not an absolute standard, which is why a club will, for instance, widen or narrow their pitch to suit their style of play. Off the top of my head, I believe Goodison Park is currently the largest pitch.

What’s more, what surrounds the pitch – stands, running tracks, advertising bits and pieces – are all different. Footballers have to know exactly where they are on the pitch in relation to their team mates moment by moment. One way they do this is via the pitch markings, but familiarity with a ground enables them to use pitchside gubbins to place themselves more accurately. When Arsenal first moved to Ashburton Grove, Thierry Henry pointed out that the home team were every bit as unfamiliar with their surroundings as the visitors, and that he was having to work hard on his pitch navigation.


It goes without saying that you play more easily with support in the stands than with opposition. But the unwritten rule in football is that abuse from supporters is “water off a duck’s back”. Don’t you believe it. Even the most experienced and skilled of public speakers prefer an attentive and interested audience over a crowd of yawners and texters. Multiply that to a crowd of 40,000 and allow them to shout and swear at you, even to throw things at you, and see how you feel. Some players undoubtedly tune the crowd out – but it won’t be all.

There are other factors, but those will do for now. Here is a beautiful example of a stadium which, big when built, can only have become ever more intimidating over the years. It scarcely looks like a place for playing games these days. Some people will rise to the occasion of playing here – others will feel crushed and try to hide. Wait till we get them back to our place:


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Jackie Milburn

Posted on 15 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

In three parts, the life of John Edward Thompson Milburn. Before he became a football journalist on the fringes of the young Brian Clough’s circle, he could play a bit:


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Hitchens on Smoking

Posted on 13 November 2007 by JamesHamilton

There is something repellant about the idea of Christopher Hitchens, of all people, having to waste his time in the company of “stop smoking” companies and the rest of the self-improvement industry. Waste your time on his account here and here.

I spent a year of my life researching the smoking problem, and I was a smoker when I started. When I mean “research”, incidentally, I mean that I read every peer-reviewed article I could lay hands on, and interviewed something in the order of one thousand smokers and ex-smokers. I’ve worked with smokers for almost a decade now.

So I can say right away now why Hitchens came away still a smoker.

Because he was right, and his “helpers” were wrong. Cigarette smoking went around the world in forty years, not because it reduces its users to the status of sad addicts, but because the psychological advantages to smoking are real and considerable. But for the unfortunate (and only partial, and only relative) threat to health cigarettes pose, smokers, living as they do in the same vale of tears as the rest of us, have the advantage over non-smokers.

The hardest smokers to help are the ones who’ve lost sight of what they were getting out of smoking – the ones who insist on berating themselves as weak fools.

What I learned from all those interviews was that smoking cessation tends to happen when stopping becomes of greater psychological value than smoking, and that it is very much a personal matter. The reason techniques that I disagree with often work – especially the Allen Carr route, which has a genuine track record – is, I suspect, because they succeed in tapping into this.

On rare occasions, I even meet someone who succeeded in stopping permanently whilst using Nicotine Replacement Therapy. (The idea here, of course, is that nicotine is “addictive” and that the way to proceed is to slowly wean the user off it. It’s rare to come across a proper study – try a BMJ search and see what I mean – which doesn’t point up a failure rate in the 85-90% band over one year, more in seven. But then, I think the whole “addiction” idea is due a major rethink. There are only so many such studies you can read without realizing that it is only assumed that we know what we mean by “addiction,” that there are quite a few ill-thought-through definitions of it, and how badly in need we are of a working definition of the term that is agreed across the board AND evidence-based. But that’s a big subject, and this is scarcely the place.)

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