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Friday

The Minute-by-Minute: As It's Happened

Hello, everyone. A 2011 study by language professor Gunnar Bergh of Mid-Sweden University hypothesised that "public football commentary is typically organised in accordance with the principles and parameters of warfare". In studying the Guardian's minute-by-minute coverage of the knockout stages of Euro 2008, Bergh found that Sean Ingle's report of the semi-final between Russia and Spain contained 117 "war-inspired expressions" in its 90-minute window. If, as Orwell once essayed, "sport is frankly mimic warfare" then the minute-by-minute report is its most faithful document.

Minute-by-minute football coverage (or MBM-ing) is the written equivalent of Soccer Saturday: reading someone writing what they see in a football match, as they see it. Bergh describes it as "a hybrid of oral commentary and written reports in newspapers". With its innate immediacy comes a certain informality that gets professionally sandpapered out of a "proper" match report. But just who's reading it, I found myself briefly wondering on my recent MBM-ing debutPerhaps minute-by-minute reports might have been better suited to Ceefax's heyday, before unpoliceable internet live-streaming opened up the 3pm Saturday kick-offs to anyone living in Derby as well as Dubai.

The coverage was pioneered by the Guardian's website during the 1998 World Cup. It's an intense format - there's essentially a deadline roughly every 90 seconds - and an uneventful game is arguably just as challenging as a pulsating, end-to-end barnstormer. Bergh again observes: 
"The noted variation in word count is probably due to such factors as the length of the match...the character of the play...and the idiosyncracies of the commentator (e.g. his personal bent towards verbosity)."
And Gazza Misses the Final, a new book by seasoned (dare I say grizzled?) MBM-ers Rob Smyth and Scott Murray, seeks to revisit the most famous matches in World Cup history and present them again in real time and, crucially, at face value. Some of the most endlessly-replayed moments on football's greatest stage stand side-by-side with the gloriously mundane (23 min: The sun's out!).

Particularly for someone with my attention span, it's virtually impossible to read this book directly from cover to cover. You're drawn immediately to the game that most captures your imagination - England v West Germany in 1990, in my case. In turn, your eyes are irresistibly dragged towards the iconic incidents, which are identified by bold text and a suitable number of exclamation marks!!! These plot twists are well-worn nostalgia, but this format brings them back to life as unexpected moments of drama. These are convincing snapshots of quasi-immediacy that, despite being written decades after the event, convey the sensation of a World Cup moment that the diminishing returns of straightforward nostalgia cannot.  

Semi-forgotten close shaves, disallowed goals and other coulda-woulda-shoulda turning points, many of which have been glossed over by sheer time, are brought back into the equation. I would use the word "narrative", but there is no artificially added narrative here, no knowing foreboding of whatever was to unfold. As Smyth and Murray point out in the preamble, "even a match report hurriedly filed on the final whistle is viewed through the filter of the result...nobody ever goes back to rewrite a live report."

Nevertheless, this book faces a running battle against the insidious corruption of hindsight. The authors can't resist some dramatic irony as Hurst puts the icing on the 1966 cake ("I wonder what Wolstenholme's saying over on the BBC?") and there's some occasional poetic licence applied - Gordon Banks's 1970 wonder save from Pelé is afforded around 300 words. 1962's infamous Battle of Santiago, meanwhile, is depicted as an almost slapstick, put-up-ya-dukes scene. Perhaps quite accurately:


41 min: But here come dark clouds! WHAT A LEFT HOOK!!! You can get too pious about stuff like this, so let's just say that's the best left hook you'll ever see on a football pitch! Pow! Right in the kisser! Straight to the moon!


34 min: CHRIS WADDLE HITS THE BAR FROM 45 YARDS! It wouldn't have counted, as the referee had blown for a foul by Platt a split-second earlier. That was reminiscent of Pelé in 1970 but this time it was a bloody Englishman doing it.


83 min: With Anderton lining up a free-kick on the right wing, the camera shows Merson laughing. How can you stand there guffawing at a time like this, man?! Don't you know what we're going through?

The incredulous upper-case outbursts, shamelessly partisan asides and the delightfully convoluted similes ("Fenwick nearly sent Maradona's kneecaps whirling like Catherine wheels towards Guadalajara!") are vital ingredients in what make the format so worthwhile. Smyth and Murray are rightly proud of the reporting style that they helped to make so popular: "It's the most honest appreciation of a match you're ever going to get." In Murray's case, in a 2003 Cricket World Cup report, perhaps even too honest.

In the spring of 2014, one early symptom of World Cup fever is a craving for football nostalgia. Indulge it by firing up YouTube and getting hold of a copy of the most original way to relive the most well-documented World Cup moments (and some that you may just have forgotten after all this time).

Monday

UEFA Nations League explained (sort of)


You Really Couldn't Script it: Football on Film

Why has cinema found football to be such a tricky customer? Football scenes in film and television are traditionally very awkward affairs, with the "defenders" tip-toeing nervously around the "attackers" as they advance, the goal finally coming via the sort of impractical flying volley you just never see on a real pitch. It's clearly very difficult to let someone score a script-dictated goal while pretending to try to stop them but, at the same time, trying not to look like you're pretending to try to stop them. Perhaps they teach it at RADA, who knows?

Furthermore, filmmakers have the challenge of adding a fictional big-screen gloss to what is already an overwhelmingly camera-friendly and consistently dramatic spectacle in its own right. Real-life football already has its own "script" which often features players scoring against their old clubs, but which is occasionally torn up by giantkilling cup minnows who have refused to read it. With that in mind, some of the best football films ever made are narratives that require no fictional embellishment at all. FIFA's official World Cup films, notably Goal! (1966) and Hero (1986), have greater pathos and plot twists than anything created by scriptwriters. Away from the pitch, the minefield of clichés is such that anything other than caricature is hard to achieve - the players all drive flash cars, the managers are all dour disciplinarians and the fans are long-suffering sadcases with posters all over their walls.

But football's universal popularity (and therefore potential box-office appeal) is too great not be exploited. The genre of the football film has had its sublime highs and ridiculous lows, but has any movie ever quite managed to nail down the people's game? Here are some notable attempts:

Escape to Victory (1981)
The improbability of its context notwithstanding, the climax of John Huston's classic arguably features the most accurately-depicted passages of play in the history of cinematic football. Michael Caine passes quite well for a veteran footballer alongside Bobby Moore, Mike Summerbee, Russell Osman and a cruelly dubbed-over John Wark, while Ossie Ardiles and Pelé (as the confusingly-cast Trinidadian striker Luis Fernandez) add some exoticism to the forward line of the Allied POWs.



Even Sylvester Stallone's erratic goalkeeping in the face of the dead-eyed German attack can't spoil a pulsating, propaganda-destroying 4-4 draw in Paris, secured thanks to a last-minute bicycle kick from a wounded Fernandez. There's still time for the Germans to miss a penalty (yes, yes) and, as the Wehrmacht's top brass sit humiliated in the stands, Caine's men make a sneaky escape amid a gleeful pitch invasion. Victoire! Victoire!


Hotshot (1987)
Fiery young soccer player Jimmy Kristidis, left out in the cold by the New York Rockers, seeks out the retired and disillusioned Brazilian star Santos (played by Pelé, clearly in high demand in the 1980s) to coach him back into the big time. He initially refuses but, after some sub-Karate Kid persuasion, performs a rather convenient U-turn. The climax is predictable - Jimmy's disapproving family are inevitably won round - but the astroturf action is quite charmingly ridiculous

Two years after the demise of the North American Soccer League, and a year away from the United States winning the right to host the 1994 World Cup, it's tempting to curse the unfortunate timing of Hotshot's release, but it really is just bloody awful.


Goal! trilogy (2005-2009)
A FIFA-endorsed, rags-to-riches narrative, wrapped in a chaotic mess of product placement and star-studded cameo appearances - in many ways, the Goal! trilogy is an inadvertently astute reflection of modern football. In the first installment, Goal! The Dream BeginsSantiago Munez (Kuno Becker) defies his father - and, it seems, UK work permit criteria - to seek his fortune with Newcastle United. There are some setbacks (jealous teammates, tabloid misrepresentation) but Santiago finally makes his dad proud and his free-kick against Liverpool at St James' Park, ably stunt-doubled by Laurent Robert, takes Newcastle into the Champions League. 

In Goal II: Living the Dream, Santiago earns a transfer to Real Madrid, where his success makes him arrogant and selfish. Madrid reach the Champions League final, though, where Santiago climbs off the bench to help secure a 3-2 win over Arsenal (whose trophy drought even extends to this fictional universe). For all the galacticos on show, it's rather odd to hear Tony Gale describing the action. 

The straight-to-DVD Goal III: Taking on the World makes that step up to international level at the World Cup, but must make do without the big names of the first two films. The trilogy's decline is rubber-stamped with a brief, foul-mouthed appearance by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley. If modern football does eventually succeed in eating itself, Goal III was the warning we failed to heed.

When Saturday Comes (1996)
Celebrity Sheffield United fan Sean Bean is cast into his dream role as Jimmy Muir, a jack-the-lad Sunday league goal machine who loves his mum (but hates his abusive, alcoholic dad) and bags a trial with the Blades. United legend Tony Currie isn't sure about him, the club's captain (played, oddly, by ex-Sheffield Wednesday stalwart Mel Sterland) certainly doesn't rate him, but his girlfriend still believes.

Naturally, Jimmy lets everybody down by going out on the booze and sleeping with a stripper, before redemption arrives in the form of a match-winning penalty. On his debut. In an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. The match takes place at the distinctly non-neutral Bramall Lane, illustrating the sort of factual dilemmas that football films can pose for their producers. 

Fever Pitch (1997)
Nick Hornby's adapted screenplay from his original novel is, at the very least, one of the most underrated British romcoms of the 1990s and 2000s. It's also a faithful account of the ultimately futile absorption that is football fandom, from the trivial (Subbuteo squabbles, lucky Arsenal boxer shorts) to the serious (the Hillsborough disaster).

Arsenal's 1988/89 title-race exploits provide the undulating backdrop to the personal struggles of teacher Paul Ashworth, portrayed more than passably by Colin Firth. The anachronistic female characters, including Paul's girlfriend Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), are presented as eye-rolling football-haters, quipping wearily about "Wolves United" or "who Arsenal's best goalhanger is". Of course, by the end, Sarah finds herself inextricably drawn to TV sports reports on the match-fitness of David Rocastle.

"Oh, shut up Pleat!" spits best mate Steve (Mark Strong), as the ITV co-commentator tries to cushion the blow of Arsenal's seemingly-imminent heroic failure in the championship decider against Liverpool. By this stage, the script writes itself. At Anfield, Steve McMahon holds up a single finger to his teammates to let them know they're a minute away from the league title. Seconds later, Lee Dixon's hopeful long ball is flicked on by Alan Smith to Michael Thomas (already widely-denounced as "rubbish" after missing an earlier chance) who charges through the Liverpool defence to complete the unlikely tale:



A Shot at Glory (2000)
Casting directors have a unique quandary for football-based films. Should they plump for an actor who can play a bit or a professional footballer who isn't made of wood? 

A Shot at Glory saw the unlikely big-screen partnership of European Golden Boot winner Ally McCoist (then winding down his real-life playing career at Kilmarnock) and Academy Award winner Robert Duvall. McCoist had been a team captain on A Question of Sport for several years by this point, and was therefore fully banter-hardened for the cameras. Duvall's role as Kilnockie manager Gordon McLeod, meanwhile, required him to scrape together a Scottish accent using bits of old shortbread and bagpipes.

Kilnockie embark on a heroic cup run - despite the meddling of American owner Michael Keaton, who wants them to relocate to Dublin - where they meet Rangers in the final. I won't spoil the ending.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)
In their intimate study of the modern game's most graceful exponent, filmmakers Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno combined the narrow focus of Sky Sport's short-lived Player Cam gimmick and the art-installation pointlessness of Empire (1964), Andy Warhol's eight-hour unbroken shot of the Empire State Building. The Guardian's Philip French described it as "hypnotic, self-indulgent and lacking in context, rather like doting parents at a nativity play concentrating on their daughter's Mary or their son's Joseph to the exclusion of the other performers and the Gospel message."

It wasn't the first attempt at this, though. Hellmuth Costard's 1970 film Fussball wie noch nie (Football as never before) followed the equally mercurial George Best around the Old Trafford pitch in a match against Coventry City. Best duly indulges the voyeurism with a goal, rounding the Coventry goalkeeper so casually that you assume the referee's whistle had already blown for an offside. 

Back at the 
Bernabeu, Zidane glides and trudges around, sporting that mildly irritated grimace, for almost 90 minutes. Then, he's sent off in the dying minutes after a scuffle with a Villarreal player (the only time Zidane seems to break sweat) and it's a conveniently prescient moment. Weeks after this film had premiered at Cannes, Zizou once again summoned his inner street kid and brought his career to an ignominious end with that headbutt on the arch-villain Marco Materazzi. 

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)
One of the first films to base itself around the game of football. George Allison's Arsenal stage a friendly match against The Trojans (a fictional version of the famous touring amateurs Corinthian FC). The Trojans' star player, John Doyce, is established as having an affair with the fiancée of a teammate (imagine that these days, eh? Oh.) but his sudden death on the pitch, apparently having been poisoned, sparks a police investigation led by the eccentric Inspector Slade.

Another sinister plot to assassinate a player on the pitch featured in Danish political thriller Skytten (1977), in which the European Footballer of the Year, Allan Simonsen, quite literally goes down like he's been shot by a sniper. In their book Who Invented the Stepover?, Paul Simpson and Uli Hesse claim that Simonsen agreed to quickly stage his own murder for this scene during a World Cup qualifying defeat against Poland in Copenhagen. A forensic comparison of the YouTube evidence can't quite prove this sensational claim either way but you really, really want it to be true.

Other films have tackled rather more niche aspects of football. Hooliganism's box-office appeal is easy to understand, which led in the mid-2000s to the swaggering pair of The Football Factory (Danny Dyer, Chelsea v Millwall, proper naughty) and Green Street (Elijah Wood, West 'Am, woeful cockney accents) but the altogether more sinister I.D. (1995) eclipses both. 

A curious turn-of-the-millennium American obsession with football-playing dogs led to three such films in the space of five years, but audiences were less enthused - they boast an average rating of 3.5 out of 10 on IMDB. The latest foray into the genre-bending world of the football film is Goal of the Dead (2014), the forthcoming French production that's, yes indeed, a football zombie film. 

The wait goes on for football's definitive cinematic moment.

Thursday

In Memory of Legal Backpasses (1863-1993)

There are some things from ancient football history that seem unthinkable now - playing without crossbars, goalkeepers going bare-handedpredominantly black football boots or decent commentators.

Barely two decades ago, it was permissible for a goalkeeper to handle a backpass. "To handle", in football-speak, meant to pick the ball up, clutch it longingly to the chest while scouring the expanses of the pitch in front, bounce it a couple of times and, finally, to boot it emphatically as far into the opposing half as humanly possible. And none of these fancy, out-to-the-side, flat-trajectory, counter-attack-launching kicks that are so fashionable now.


For many years, this defensive panic-button was only rarely abused. In the 1966 World Cup Final the ball remained sportingly in open play, despite the knackered England and West Germany helping to mythologise the Wembley turf in a jelly-legged extra time that looked more like closing time. England led 3-2, thanks to the eyesight of a linesman whose nationality escapes me, but Moore, Charlton and the tireless Alan Ball still dragged themselves forward.


Gradually, though, the game evidently became more cynical. The anti-football nadir was reached at the start of the 1990s, as Jonathan Wilson writes:

 'A general rethink about the laws of the game had been promoted by the negativity of the 1990 World Cup and, in particular one passage of play in the group match between the Republic of Ireland and Egypt in which the Irish keeper Packie Bonner held the ball for almost six minutes without releasing it.'
                                                                                                                        Jonathan Wilson - The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper
After more timewasting shenanigans during the climax of Euro '92, the International Football Association Board's new directive came into force. The game would change overnight, indisputably for the better, but there remains room for nostalgia for football's pre-watershed state. A rather niche piece of nostalgia, in this case, as we fondly remember the backpass.


Graeme Souness to Chris Woods, 1987

Before going on to hack his way through Steaua Bucharest in the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1987/88, Souness was steering his Rangers side to safety in a tense first-round clash with Dynamo Kiev. After going down 1-0 in front of 100,000 in Kiev, Rangers stormed back at Ibrox to take a two-goal lead. With the clock ticking down, and Dynamo pressing for an away goal, Souness took the sting out of the game in quite brazen fashion. The Rangers fans had already, in the commentator's words, celebrated a backpass "as if they had scored a goal" as their player-manager received the ball, mid-way into the Dynamo half with thirty seconds left:


The pass from Davie Kirkwood, the turn from Souness, the look up and the carefully lofted ball over the top - it looks like a promising attack, until you realise that its Chris Woods on the end of it. Absolutely shameless.


Vinnie Jones to Dave Beasant, 1988


Seven seconds to sum up Bobby Gould's Wimbledon side. 



1-0 down to Watford in the FA Cup quarter-final at Plough Lane, with future backpass expert Brian Gayle having trudged down the tunnel for an early bath, Wimbledon's Vinnie Jones kicked off the second half in brutally simple fashion. All the way back to Dave Beasant, who wastes no time in punting the ball straight back where it came from. Ten-man Wimbledon came back to win 2-1, and the Crazy Gang would go on to shock the Culture Club in the final. It wasn't pretty, and neither was Brian Gayle.


Steve McMahon to Bruce Grobbelaar, 1989


Whichever way you slice this one - context, execution, arrogance, dramatic irony - it is the undeniable masterpiece of the backpassing genre. You know the story behind it - you could barely script it.

Steve McMahon, having sternly gestured to his Liverpool teammates that only one minute separated them from the league title, decided to run down a few seconds of it. Alan Hansen takes a free-kick short to McMahon, who has no interest in the Arsenal half. 



Keep watching the loop. Have you ever seen a player produce such a shimmy to get round an opponent in order to pass back to his own goalkeeper? The more you watch it, you start to convince yourself that McMahon is attacking the goal to our left, that he's slid Ian Rush through, one-on-one with John Lukic. In fact, Bruce Grobbelaar scoops it up, shares a gloriously pointless one-two with Gary Abblett, before punting it downfield anyway.


Exactly one minute later (one minute, Steve) Michael Thomas bundles his way through...


Klaus Augenthaler to Bodo Illgner, 1990

A grubby end to a filthy World Cup. Argentina, thanks in part to some pioneering work in the field of referee-haranguing, had already been reduced to ten men and conceded a late penalty, which the ambidextrous Andy Brehme had coolly despatched. 

With Maradona's men beaten, and ITV's Ron Atkinson laying into "the worst World Cup winning side ever", West Germany found a rancid cherry for their gamesmanship cake. 


As the world's TV audience began to switch off, Brehme casually passed to Klaus Augenthaler on the left. Faced with nine weary, resigned and aggrieved Argentinians and a veritable ocean of Stadio Olimpico space, the adventurous Augenthaler hesitated and turned back. And curled a glorious 40-yard through ball to the grateful hands of Bodo Illgner, clearly anxious to secure the first ever World Cup Final clean sheet.


"To win a World Cup with a team like this!", Atkinson sneered. FIFA took note, and started scribbling in their rule book.

Lee Dixon to David Seaman, 1991 

At the risk of getting all blooper compilation DVD on you, this piece would not be complete without a backpass-turned-own-goal. 

The Peter Enckelmans and Paul Robinsons of this post-1992 world deserve more sympathy. Before the lawmakers' intervention, there was a huge margin for error when attempting to return the ball to the sanctuary of your goalkeeper. To lob him immaculately from 25 yards, under no pressure whatsoever, requires something special. 
Ronnie Whelan's half-volleyed effort at Old Trafford in 1990 set the unenviable benchmark, but Lee Dixon would raise the bar a year later.


Coventry's Kevin Gallacher celebrates as if it was his own piece of impudence, while Dixon's teammate Andy Linighan seems to struggle to comprehend how this could have happened. David Seaman, meanwhile, would go on to experience more undignified, high-profile backpedalling at the hands of Nayim and Ronaldinho.


Gillingham defence to Scott Barrett, 1993

With the new rule finally in place, goalkeepers were forced into a hurried evolution. 

 'When the backpass law was introduced in 1992, it caused panic. Back then, any backpass drew an intake of breath, largely brought on by how uncomfortable most keepers looked with the ball trickling towards them and no option but to kick: would he slice it, would he whack it into the forward, would he miss it altogether?'
                                                                                                                   Jonathan Wilson - The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper
Clearly also struggling to adapt were lowly Gillingham. 



Having screwed a clearance from the first backpass, distressed goalkeeper Scott Barrett then had to deal with an inexplicable scissor-kicked follow-up effort from his centre-half, which he achieves quite heroically. 

The backpass rule remains an oddly under-regarded moment in the game's history. It's responsible for sweeper-keepers, for the the near-extinction of the agricultural centre-half and, in some part, for the relentless speed and intensity of football today. So, when you next hear a crowd applauding a routine header back to their goalkeeper, it's an instinctive echo from a not-yet-forgotten time when this was far from a formality

Friday

2013: A Year in Football Clichés

January
Transfer limbo
noun

An unpleasant existence between being frozen out at your current club and the successful negotiation of a move away.

The slamming-shut of the January transfer window is now prime-time (and, indeed, post-watershed) entertainment for football fans, and West Bromwich Albion's Peter Odemwingie provided the highlight that even seasoned cliché-spotters considered a novelty. The Nigerian forward turned up at Loftus Road, only to be denied entry because Queens Park Rangers hadn't struck a deal with Albion. Tail firmly between legs, Odemwingie returned to the Hawthorns to face a hefty fine and a bit-part role for the remainder of the season. He finally left the club in the summer, joining Cardiff City in rather lower-key circumstances.


February
Spit spat
noun
Mandatory description for the act of (but particularly the subsequent fallout from) spitting at a fellow professional.

Spitting reared its distinctly ugly head in February, as West Brom's Goran Popov saw red for launching his phlegm at Tottenham's Kyle Walker. Furious Albion manager Steve Clarke immediately listed all the people and organisations that Popov had let down, and the Macedonian's contrition was swift and sincere, but Kyle Walker failed to provide the customary confirmation of whether he would rather have been punched in the face than spat at.

March
Minnow
ˈmɪnəʊ

noun
Hapless (and specifically international) whipping boys who have an assortment of relatively ordinary day jobs, once looked upon with patronising curiosity but now with increasing irritation by advocates for World Cup pre-qualifying.


In the run-up to England's latest leg of the road to Brazil, it became clear that writing about San Marino was football journalism's equivalent of actually having to play San Marino - a procession through the motions (Steven Gerrard: "We don't look on it as an easy game"), while dusting off the Wikipedia page of Davide Gualtieri. Ultimately, the one challenge for the back pages was navigating the black hole of scoreline headlines - the eight-goal margin. There's FIVE STAR, HIT FOR SIX, SEVENTH HEAVEN and CLOUD NINE for all the other thrashings and capitulations, but we are yet to see any creative advances on GR-EIGHT.


April
Lengthy
ˈlɛŋθi,ˈlɛŋkθi
adj.

Curiously common alternative to "long", used exclusively to describe bans (or "spells on the sidelines")

Luis Suarez caught up with an old friend in April and committed not only the abhorrent act of biting Branislav Ivanovic but also the reprehensible opening of a subsequent floodgate of puns relating to fangs and champing at the bit. 



May
Build-up
noun

Ludicrously dragged-out pre-match coverage of the FA Cup Final, including crucial footage of the team buses arriving at Wembley.




ESPN broadcast only three Cup Finals during their brief foray into UK football coverage, but are still responsible for around 9% of all pre-match build-up in the last 50 years. This year's marathon began with a chat to Wembley's head chef at 8am, and the FA Cup Final cliché sponge was well and truly squeezed dry by the time plucky Ben Watson had pluckily headed plucky Wigan into Wembley folklore eleven hours later.

June
Unveil
ʌnˈveɪl

verb
To provide physical proof of a new manager's recruitment by presenting him at a press conference, but not from underneath an actual veil.

Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea and Roman Abramovich to claim the prestigious title of The Worst-Kept Secret in Football and face the inevitable retrospective "Special One" narrative. He was instantly rebranded as The Happy One, and now sees his moniker change on a weekly basis depending on his apparent mood.


José Mourinho's homecoming press conference, in pure words.

July
Spectre

ˈspɛktə
noun

The haunting (albeit very much still-alive) presence of a powerful predecessor, which casts a shadow over its unfortunate victim.

It was then David Moyes's turn to face the press, as he attempted to fill the shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. In other sartorial analogies, Moyes was continually boosted by the news that he was "cut from the same cloth" as Ferguson. 



August
Protracted
prəˈtraktɪd
adj.
Tedious, yet gripping; slightly susceptible to impasses, snags, stumbling blocks, hijacks and dramatic U-turns.

Transfer sagas begin with a hands-off warning and end with a nervous display of ball-juggling in front of a massed rank of camera lenses. In between, we must endure a tale of greed, posturing and bureaucracy designed to fool us all as it meanders to its mutually-agreeable conclusion. In 2013, the protagonist was a wide-eyed Gareth Bale, who sat innocently at the centre of the maelstrom of transfer silly season:




September
International level
noun
The step up from playing against star-studded, well-drilled top flight domestic opponents to facing largely mediocre qualification-campaign nuisances whose options are limited by sheer geography.

Everyman football hero Rickie Lambert's ascension from Premier League surprise package to facing all-conquering Moldova in a World Cup qualifier brought into question the concept of "international level" and all that it supposedly entailed. A goal on his competitive debut suggested it's not so much a step up - more of a barn door.

October
Crisis
ˈkrʌɪsɪs
nounA deliberately low-threshold state of relative emergency reserved for Champions League qualification-chasing clubs who have lost several matches in quick succession. Must be made conspicuous by its absence when form improves.

Moyes's United side, already stung by a derby day mauling at the hands of Manchester City, went down 2-1 at Old Trafford to West Brom to become the Premier League's latest Crisis Club™. The obligatory crisis-what-crisis response came in the form of a 12-game unbeaten run, which was halted by back-to-back home defeats. This, in turn, was followed by a string of six straight victories, which was ended abruptly by another home reverse on New Year's Day.

Crisis? What crisis? This crisis. What, that one? 


November
Goalkeepers' Union
noun
The world's busiest fictional trade organisation, set up to ensure the overprotection of modern custodians and encourage amusing punditry exchanges. Motto: Ædifica tu ipse magnus (lit: make yourself big)




Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, bound by the code of the Goalkeepers' Union, had to conceal his glee after hoofing his way over opposite number Artur Boruc and into pub quiz machines of the future. Begovic continued his mandatory sheepishness right up to his studio appearance on Match of the Day 2, at which point he was allowed a wry smile - the only sort of smile permitted anywhere in football.


December
Thick and fast
adj.
Scheduled in punishingly quick succession during the Christmas period for the amusement of fidgety, overfed British football supporters.


Festive football fixtures, including "Christmas crackers" and "Boxing Day belters", are a gloriously alliterative tradition. Own goals and suicidal backpasses that take place before the 25th may be described as "early Christmas presents", while the search continues for a referee that actually was on a manager's Christmas card list.

Roll on 2014.

Tuesday

Germany v Allies - as it happened!

Liveblogging the best football match that never took place: Germany v Allies, August 15th, 1943

3.15pm: Preamble

Greetings from the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris, venue for the 1938 World Cup final between Italy and Hungary, and host for this unprecedented clash between the German national team and an Allied XI. A sell-out crowd of 50,000 is expected, many wearing suspiciously 1970s-looking tracksuits despite it being 1943.

If they weren't already facing a formidable task, the Allies' preparation for this game has been far from ideal. Tony Lewis, the Irish goalkeeper, remains sidelined with a broken arm sustained in a training camp incident, so untested American Robert Hatch has been drafted in for his senior debut after making quite an impression at the Allies training camp:



Player-manager John Colby, once of West Ham United and England, will also skipper his charges in Paris this afternoon. In addition to Lewis's injury, the Allies' selection problems have been compounded by a raft of Czech and Polish withdrawals. Colby, however, has dismissed suggestions that his patched-together side will settle for a point against the might of the star-studded Germans, who include in their starting line-up such talent as Baumann, Reinhardt, Albrecht and goalkeeper Schmidt. The hosts are under the stewardship of Rainer Muller, a former international centre-half who played against Colby at Wembley only five years ago.

Kick-off is at around 4:30pm-ish.


3:23pm

3:25pm
John Colby (West Ham United and England) in deep conversation with German Director of Football Major Karl von Steiner.




3:34pm
Lengthy advert breaks are making this quite an easy task after all.


3:36pm
Despite having not yet made a senior appearance, American goalkeeper (but enlisted in the Canadian army) Robert Hatch is already agonising for a move away. His transfer request is being considered, officials say.

3:44pm
3:54pm
The protracted Robert Hatch saga continues, as he is welcomed back into the Allied fold as their physio/conditioning coach. Training methods have reportedly included elaborate sit-up routines.

3:57pm
Allied tactics leaked:




4:10pm
No stranger to controversy, Hatch (the Joey Barton of World War II) is now embroiled in a fake passport scandal. 

Team news (from this semi-official source):

With poor Tony Lewis ruled out with his broken arm, Hatch will start in goal for the Allies. Germany are unchanged (maybe).

GERMANY:


1. Schmidt

2. Kuntz
3. Reinhardt
4. Baumann (C)
5. Kuntz
6. Kuntz
7. Becker 
8. Kuntz
9. General Bronte
10. Strauss
11. Albrecht

ALLIES:
1. Robert Hatch (USA)
2. Michael Fileu (Bel)
3. John Colby (Eng) (C)
4. Pieter Van Beck (Hol)
5. Doug Clure (Eng) 
6. Terry Brady (Eng)
7. Arthur Hayes (Sco) 
8. Carlos Rey (Mex) 
9. Sid Harmor (Eng)
10. Luis Fernandez (T&T) 
11. Erik Borge (Den) 
subs
Paul Wolczek (Pol) 
Gunnar Hilsson (Nor)
4:47pm
Nice seat at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. The stadium is filling up quickly for this one-off propoganda exercise showpiece.


4:51pm
The teams emerge, led out by the in-no-way-swayable match officials:





4:54pm
Mercifully, no Andy Townsend in the gantry, because he hasn't been born yet.



4:55pm
All smiles at the coin toss:





GOAL! Germany 1-0 Allies (Albrecht, 14 min)
Awful start. Albrecht nods past a stranded Hatch.
GOAL! Germany 2-0 Allies (Strauss, 25 min)
It goes from bad to worse, as Strauss fires a shot under the despairing Hatch.

28 mins
Pieter van Beck goes off injured - looks serious. Hilsson on to replace him.

GOAL! Germany 3-0 Allies (Baumann, pen 31 min)
Baumann slots calmly past Hatch, who barely moved before it hit the net behind him. This isn't quite going to plan, is it?

32 mins
The Allies are struggling to cope with the Germans' physical approach and dazzling wing play. Hatch already looks out of his depth in goal and captain Colby needs to find a way of getting the mercurial talents of Rey and Fernandez into the game. Fernandez, in particular, is already a target for roughhouse treatment. The Allies need a goal, and they need it soon. One more for the hosts and it's game, set and match.


GOAL! Germany 4-0 Allies (Bronte, 41 min)
Well, this is dreadful. Just as the Allies had started to string some passes together through Rey and co, Bronte latches onto a spill from Hatch (who else) and the Germans couldn't be homer and drier.

GOAL! Germany 4-1 Allies (Brady, 44 min)

HELLO. With Fernandez off injured with what looks like a bad shoulder injury, and Hatch bleeding from a head wound, the Allies suddenly rally. Tackles fly in on the German midfield, and the ball finds its way to Terry Brady at the back post. He taps home. Scant consolation?


HALF TIME: Germany 4-1 Allies
Fernandez looks like his afternoon is over. The Allies limp back to the dressing room to regroup. Brady's goal has given them something to cling on to, but the Germans' superior fitness will surely tell in the second period.




46 min
And we're off again! But not before a spot of mind games from the Allies, who kept the Germans waiting for a few minutes before the second half could begin. Not sure what happened there.

GOAL! Germany 4-2 Allies (Rey, 52 min)
This is a completely different Allies to the one we saw in the first half. Rey slaloms his way through, past Schmidt, and slides it home. Game on?
GOAL! Germany 4-3 Allies (Wolczek, 76 min)

Amazing! Wolczek  pounces on a loose ball and it's suddenly anyone's game!
80 mins:
Champagne stuff



84 min: GOAL DISALLOWED! 
Clure taps home for a dramatic equaliser....but it's ruled out! Chaotic scenes.
GOAL! Germany 4-4 Allies (Fernandez, 88 min)
It was literally in the script. Fernandez, nearly crippled with injury, slides the ball out to the right to find Brady. The cross is a little behind the Trinidadian, but he produced an unbelievable bicycle kick to hammer it past Schmidt. RIDICULOUS.

90 min: PENALTY! SAVED!
This is absolutely absurd. With seconds left, Rey upends Baumann in the area. A stupid challenge, and the referee had no hesitation.

Baumann, who had hammered a penalty past Hatch with ease in the first half, stepped up to take. Hatch eyeballed him, and the referee had to step in and send him to his line. The psyching-out clearly worked because Baumann's weak kick was at the perfect height for the American IN HIS FIRST EVER FOOTBALL GAME, and the clutched it to his chest. Baumann is on his knees!



Full-time - Germany 4-4 Allies

The crowd are on the pitch, and it's not a minority of idiots either. They've swamped the heroic Allied players, who are nowhere to be seen.


They'll make a film out of this.

So there we have it. A ramshackle bunch of POWs have out-Radforded Ronnie Radford, 30 years before he even got the chance, against a German side who were playing at the World Cup finals only five years earlier. The scoreline reads 4-4, and a share of the spoils, and this tells either the whole story or none of it at all. Four goals down after 41 minutes, and being kicked from pillar to Parisian post by their adequately-nourished opponents, the Allies staged a miraculous second-half revival, led by the English lions of Terry Brady and captain John Colby, and aided by the the magic of Mexico's* Carlos Rey and Trinidadian genius Luis Fernandez.

Fernandez, clearly hampered by a shoulder injury that had temporarily forced him to the sidelines, produced the game's defining moment when he flung himself at Brady's cross in the 88th minute to spectacularly hammer a bicycle kick past Schmidt in the German goal and send the 
Stade Olympique de Colombes into raptures. If that wasn't enough drama, rookie goalkeeper Robert Hatch atoned for a catalogue of positional errors by saving a last-gasp penalty from the normally cucumber-cool, talismanic German skipper Baumann.

It was a draw that felt every bit like a victory for Colby and his spirited side, who looked down and out at half-time, with Dutch veteran Pieter van Beck already stretchered off after a brutal tackle. German football supremo Major Karl von Steiner will likely consider the future of manager Rainer Muller after this humiliation, while the likes of Hatch, Rey, Scottish midfielder Arthur Hayes and Fernandez's tireless foil Sid Harmor have surely put themselves in the post-war shop window.

Victoire! Victoire!

Monday

The Rise and Hilarious Fall of the Football Blooper DVD

The comedy football video represents (apart from @FootballFunnys) the game's lowest common denominator. The hipster antithesis. This is "footy".




In the age of gifs, memes, Sulia links and internet streaming, the comedy football DVD is leading a charmed existence. In the 1990s, it was enough of a challenge to find footage that hadn't already been guffawed over by John Parrott and Ally McCoist on Question of Sport. Now these beleaguered producers must unearth footage that hasn't already been guffawed over by @BBCSporf, Paddy Power, Soccer AM and Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell on Question of Sport. As a rule of thumb: if a bloopers DVD includes Peter Devine's penalty, it's probably not going to be a groundbreaking hour of your life.

On the other hand, this sordid corner of the market has been boosted by the fact that football is now apparently more hilarious than ever. Top-flight supporters are now hooked on high-grade schadenfreude, as their rivals' expensive flops struggle in the high-pressure bundle for Champions League places. The unstoppable rise of statistical analysis has spawned jokes actually involving statistical analysis, with endless variables. The cult footballer used to be either a rubbish but well-meaning midfielder (John Jensen, Phil Stamp) or a supremely talented but little-known maverick (Robin Friday). Now, to be cult means to be a slightly unconventional player, of any ability, upon whom a godawful parallel universe of hilarity can be constructed - see Zlatan "Zlatan" Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli or Nicklas Bendtner for examples.

If we are to insist on football being a source of unsophisticated humour (rather than sheer joy, frustration, anger, relief, escapism or whatever it's supposed to be for), then we must return to the blooper, the gaff, the blunder, the ricket and the 'mare.



Much like football itself, the blooper video's Big Bang came in 1992. Danny Baker's Own Goals and Gaffs (above) is, to be frank, the genre's immediate zenith after which the returns have been diminishing ever since. Baker's habit of going completely silent, and letting the bewildering goalkeeping errors speak for themselves, is a far cry from the sound effects and pop-rock soundtracks of later, paler imitations. The original OGandG revels in its pre-multimedia age - Gary Crosby's artful dodging at the expense of a furious Andy Dibble is already two years old by this point - breathing space that YouTube would never allow nowadays.

After a digression of Danny Baker's Right Hammerings (1993), a 1994 sequel - Own Goals and Gaffs 2 since you ask - sticks to the same formula. Still the archive 60s and 70s footage keeps coming and, still, the lack of competition kept it fresh. 1995's rather more turgid Fabulous World of Freak Football signalled the end of Baker's mid-90s stranglehold on the bloopers video market. Segments shot on location in local recreation grounds were a foreboding nod to low-budget productions for the next two decades. Baker, like an over-the-hill Mark Spitz trying to qualify for the 1992 Olympics or the straight-t0-TV Home Alone 5, just couldn't resist one more flog of a dead horse, resulting in 2009's chaotic Glorious Return of Own Goals and Gaffs.

Nick Hancock's Football Nightmares (1996 - eventually lumped together in 2000, in an irresistible DVD deal, with Nick Hancock's Football Hell and Nick Hancock: Football Doctor) was notable for footage of Linsey Dawn McKenzie, wearing only a thong and high-heels, strutting across a non-league football pitch to kiss Jarvis Cocker. The football blooper had gone all certificate 12. Oh, and there's Noah Hickey.


Into the new millennium we went, and Rory McGrath was dragged in to replace Baker as the larger-than-life-hairy-funnyman figure for Own Goals and Gaffs - The Premiership (2002) and More Own Goals and Gaffs (2003)The series' confusing quasi-sequel of Johnny Vaughan's Own Goals and Gaffs III (2009) marks the point at which the whole thing was finally put out of its misery.

The floodgates were now creaking open and, as the number of blooper DVDs increased, a clear formula for their presentation emerged. The low-budget covers predominately feature the semi-famous presenter (often holding a ball, and occasionally also pointing to it) standing in front of a computer-rendered goalnet. To avoid product placement, there's a heavy reliance on the classic (but now obsolete) hexagonal ball design. 

Older VHS efforts would boast on their cover about how many minutes of action they contained. In the DVD era, this would graduate to vague claims about being the "ultimate" or "top" collection of football mishaps. More Own Goals and Gaffs, for example, claims to feature "NON-STOP FOOTBALLING INSANITY", which is not so much a promotional tag-line as a collection of thrown-together words.

Production companies started looking beyond jobbing panel-show comedians and tested the ex-player waters. A perma-chuckling David Seaman fronted the quickfire brace of Goalkeeping Nightmares (2003) and Jeepers Keepers (2004)which both capitalise on the well-worn caricature of the lonesome goalkeeping fall-guy. Responsibly, though, the latter effort is also punctuated with genuine coaching tips for budding custodians. David James would tread the same path a few years later with the existential thriller Who Would Be A Goalkeeper? (2009).

Unintelligible Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard then took on the Football Nightmares franchise from Hancock, who has barely been heard of since. Meanwhile, a casually-dressed, pre-hairplugs James Nesbitt rode the wave of his Cold Feet fame by presenting Eat My Goal (2004), which sold itself with the indisputable reasoning of "Eat My Goal...because football can make utter fools out of anyone."



In 2005, Chris Kamara Presents: UNBELIEVABLE! attempted to rely on a single season's-worth of inanity, but perhaps history may one day adjudge that 2004/05 was one of the most unhinged Premier League campaigns of all. Nonetheless, the slim pickings are padded out with cameos from "Kammy's" Sky Sports cronies Alan McInally and Rob McCaffrey, and the viewer suddenly starts to feel a bit left out of the in-jokes. Actually, this DVD is a complete figment of my imagination, but it's a measure of the uniform ridiculousness of the genre that you can barely pick it out among the dross that actually made it to market.

If a panel-show comedian or recently retired player aren't available, Plan C is to rope in a celebrity who sort-of likes football. The first heinous crime of Gordon Ramsay's Football Hell (2005) is that the cover art appears to show him flambéing an Adidas Tango on a bed of rocket leaves. As is always the case when trying to shoehorn a non-footballer into a football context, some clumsy comparisons are required - "Gordon proves he's just as much of an expert on the pitch as he is in the kitchen. He's also just about as intolerant of mistakes, which makes watching this carnival of the terminally stupid even funnier."

Amazon customer Alastair Murdoch, however, is unamused: "This was bought for my son by his brother and it is okay, however if you want an exciting football video, this is not for you."

The most scathing Amazon reviews are saved for the decidedly no-frills Football Follies (2005), which just about scrapes into the top 300,000 bestsellers due in no small part to its bargain price of £15.49 (with free delivery). "Unlike the Ronseal advert," one customer laments, "this dvd has probably the most misleading title ever released. If there is an option to purchase and watch this or insert hot needles under your finger nails, the needles would give you a more enjoyable experience." Ouch.

Moving on, and another example of some if-it's-broke-fuck-it-just-do-it-again marketing strategy. Ian Wright, whose post-retirement media career appears to be going in slow motion, fronted It Shouldn't Happen to a Footballer in 2006 and, a year later, It Really Shouldn't Happen to a Footballer. A third edition, No Seriously, This Really Oughtn't Happen to a Footballer was presumably shelved.

Next to ham-fistedly try and marry footballing clumsiness with mental illness was Bradley Walsh's Soccer Shockers (2006), which promises "the ultimate collection of football insanity." And look! Fans dressed as Elvis! Mascots waving at the camera! Referees getting in the way! Gary Lineker's Action Replay (2007) took a more measured approach, and ends up being one of the most bland productions of the lot.

2007's lowlight was surely this: 
Paddy McGuinness All Star Balls-Ups (2007) - "probably the best footy bloopers in the world!". Note the lack of the possessive apostrophe on the surname, which I like to think was McGuinness belatedly trying to distance himself from the finished product. Viewers are not let down on the "All Star" side of things, though - Graham Taylor, John Aldridge, Alan McInally and a climaxing Paul Merson ably assist McGuinness in padding out the DVD with bawdy sketches, in between footage of little-known European goalkeepers conceding rib-ticklingly unorthodox goals:



Lovejoy and Redknapp's Best of Football (2007) earns a mention in passing here for both its laughably vague title and the inevitability that it contains an unhealthy dollop of banter. The football blooper landscape would seem empty without one of its most enduring clown princes. 

2008 saw more non-footballers muscling in on the lucrative Christmas stocking market. Ubercockney Ray Winstone's Football Blinders and Blunders (2008) admirably manages to find hitherto untrademarked wordsin its title to describe its arse-over-elbow football content. Phil Daniels' Football Match Day Madness (2008) is yet another bloopers-by-numbers Christmas compilation of action "from the world's favourite game, featuring the world's favourite stars." Ricky Hatton's Hotshots (2008) sees the weight-gaining boxer go twelve rounds with the autocue, backed by a soundtrack that is dreadful even by the subterranean standards of the comedy DVD genre.

It's hard to establish the alignment between irony and Danny Dyer's career path, so you can't be sure exactly how seriously he takes himself at the helm of Danny Dyer's Football Foul-Ups (2009). It currently retails on Amazon at 88p, but purchasers may yet feel short-changed when they see that the good stuff was clearly kept back for Danny Dyer's Funniest Football Foul-Ups (2010)

Speaking of actors inextricably tied for eternity to a single character, 2010 brought us Ricky Tomlinson: Football My Arse! This claims to be "the funniest football DVD you'll ever see", a groundbreaking cover-mounted boast that extends itself to both the past and future.

Robbie Savage: Football Howlers (2011)
In When Saturday Comes No.322, Cameron Carter rips apart this effort from the (oh god, I'm going to have to say it) outspoken BBC pundit: "Savage does not so much deliver lines as survive them". A 10-second trailer is all a potential customer should require in order to make an informed choice here.

Olly Murs: 7 Deadly Sins of Football (2011) features arguably the lowest-budget artwork of all. A stripy goal, two misshapen footballs and a gurning Murs is all we get. Press play, and it's even more disappointing than it originally threatens:




Finally, one of the final death knells for the football blooper DVD. Skin-crawlingly tacky TV celebrity? Check. Microsoft Paint artwork? Check. Vague superlatives about the "greatest moments from the beautiful game"? Check. Mark Wright's Football Saints and Sinners (2012) epitomises a once-flourishing genre of light sporting entertainment that is patently no longer trying. Perhaps football just isn't funny after all.