Tuesday

"Deep in conversation with his assistant there..."


The Bench. Like all things football-related, there are rules that all participants follow, seemingly subconsciously.

Firstly, the bench itself. Of course it's not actually a bench and probably hasn't been so since about 1955. I will concede, however, that it would sound a little ridiculous if Tyldesley said "…and Real Madrid do have options on the Recaro race seats". Not that Red Clive seems to have anything against sounding ridiculous - he just wouldn't say it.

The Recaro seat option is just a natural progression of the trend started by perhaps the greatest of all the football innovative thinkers, Graham Taylor. Yes, some may remember him as the man who played David Batty at right wingback, allowed Carlton Palmer to play for England and took off Gary Lineker against Sweden when all we needed was a goal. This, I think, clouds the great man's greatest achievement - which was to start the long road to lovely Recaro seats by sitting by the side of the pitch on plastic chairs nicked out of the canteen. Hats off to you, Graham.

Although it seems that every man and his dog gets a seat on the bench these days, it really is only open to a select few. The Angle... analyses the characters typically found in the dugout:

The Manager

Recently, managers have chosen to leave the sanctuary of the bench to stand in the technical area. This seems to be very handy for berating the fourth official - an example of a completely worthless protest, as it can't affect the game and is most likely to lead to the manager being "sent to the stands". A strange punishment, given that many modern, forward-thinking managers (like, erm, Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce) opt to begin the match in the stands anyway. They revert to the more traditional dugout position only in the second half, or when their team goes 2-0 down inside ten minutes, or just when the chairman's wife starts annoying them. Until then, they must communicate via mobile phone with their assistant, foiling Sky's attempts to eavesdrop by putting their hand over their mouths.

Managers will use the technical area for a variety of reasons. Jose Mourinho will use it to slide fully ten yards on his knees, Glenn Roeder will stand, arms crossed, providing a calming influence on his players - which panics them into conceding a late goal. Meanwhile, Stuart Pearce will charge round it like a retarded child, throwing the ball back into play in the vain hope that the bigger boys will take pity on him and invite him to join in. Oh, sorry, we mean "he kicks every ball".

When the use of the technical area has been exhausted, the manager will return to the bench and hopefully whack his head on the roof of the dugout. If his team are winning he will laugh, despite the pain, and the rest of the bench will laugh with him. If they are losing, the bench will pretend they didn't see it and the manager will pretend it doesn't hurt. It does.

The Assistant Manager

I'm sure there are assistant managers (or No. 2s as they are, perhaps unfairly, also known) that are absolutely integral to the coaching set-up within a club. These men, even if they spend season in, season out with successful managers, will eventually pluck up the courage go to a club to manage in their own right - and be out of a job within 6 months. They will then be labelled a No. 2 for the rest of their life, unable to release themselves from the shackles of the failure at the big time. Examples can be seen from Manchester United: Brian Kidd, Carlos Quieroz and, most topically, the balding, plastic toothed, red faced, deluded, incompetent buffoon that is Steve McClaren, have all tried their hand as the figurehead elsewhere. If you are an assistant manager, there is only one way to survive - and that is to become a slightly less concentrated version of the "the gaffer". Of course, not in a pathetic, Phil Neal, let's-just-repeat-everything-Graham-Taylor-says-and-hope-nobody-notices kind of way. No, for perfect examples of this we need to look at two of the masters of the art: Steve Clarke and Pat Rice.

In his playing days Steve Clarke was a committed, but average, defender. Not too controversial a figure, quite an anonymous character, in fact. Compare that with the Steve Clarke who sits on the Chelsea bench, all wagging figures and histrionics, passing himself off as a significantly less charismatic and much more Scottish Jose Mourinho. He knows the value of being a yes man and he's kept his job because of it.

Pat Rice is the ultimate "cone man". He collects the footballs, probably takes down the nets at the end of training and shouts pointless instructions such as "Go to the ball, Go to the ball" and, erm, that's it. He has perfected the art of outwardly replicating Wenger's mood, whether he actually feels the same or not. "Patrice" very nearly let the mask slip against West Ham this year when the cameras caught the sheer panic on his face as he tried to decide whether to shake Alan Pardew's hand after Wenger had refused to do so. Still a little way to go there, Pat.

Sammy Lee at Bolton has taken this one step further by aping every physical movement Sam Allardyce makes and wildly gesticulating to the pitch. Rumours that Lee actually died a number of years ago and that Allardyce is operating him, Weekend-At-Bernie's-style, from the stands, remain unconfirmed.

Substitutes

No matter what the game, or the importance of it, as the camera gazes upon the manager barking out instructions, his assistant trying manfully to convey the same message using only his eyebrows, there will be a group of people nearby who are barely watching the game. I am, of course, talking about those that have either been dropped, rested, are coming back from injury or, as in the case of Sheffield United's army of unused strikers, simply not very good.

At least once during the game, the bench will be in fits of laughter or just generally sodding about like the kids at the back of the school bus. The one exception to this will, of course, be the goalkeeper. It has long been received wisdom that goalkeepers are a bit mad, their case not helped by their insistence on "concentrating" for the whole game, despite there being approximately a 2% chance of actually getting on. As well as doing absolutely everything, including the "concentrating", while wearing their gloves.

At some point, the freezing cold sub will be summoned from the bench. To do so requires the reading through of the Assistant Manager's magic notepad of instructions, which no doubt includes gems such as "Use your fresh legs to run at them" or, more likely, "Get out there, make a nuisance of yourself and try a nick a goal. Then, ensure that you mention this in your post-match interview".

The Physio

The physio, or the "trainer" as people like Jimmy Armfield insists on calling him, cuts a very lonely figure at the end of the bench, looking somewhat like a roadie who has just realised he's not actually regarded as "being in the band". He sits with a concerned look on his face. This may be interpreted as concern for the players. In fact, he's wondering why there is always a spare seat next to him. We'll tell him why - most people feel uncomfortable sitting next to man wearing latex gloves, that's why. The look on his face could also be interpreted as the look of a man primed to sprint into action. No physio has ever been officially timed at full speed, but head injuries often cause them to reach velocities unattainable for the average man.

"Who are ya?! Who are ya?!"

It is stated in the Premier League's rules that one obscure member of the backroom staff has to sit on the bench, so that one spectator will ask: "who's that?". The person who instantly answers with "That's the Assistant Kit Man" or "That's Les Reed" will therefore be deemed to need to get out a bit more and be a little less anoraky.

That person needn't mind. He's one of us.

Coxie.

Thursday

"Dodgy."

The Twelve Rules of Goalkeeping

It is generally accepted that goalkeepers have to be a bit mad. This is not actually true - there are indeed some dreadfully dull and uncharismatic custodians out there. Elsewhere, however, the received wisdom about goalkeepers (propagated, as usual, by commentators, co-commentators and pundits) can be detailed quite definitively. Since no other media outlet has either the foresight or the inclination to do so, The Angle... gladly obliges:

1. Make yourself big.
A method mastered by Neville Southall in the 1980s, and made popular by Peter Schmeichel in the 1990s, making yourself big is not a complicated concept. By maximising one's surface area, one can minimise the likelihood of the ball going past. The frequency of references to making yourself big, however, appear to be on the wane. It is another cliche that has been forced to defend itself against the all-conquering co-commentary of Andy Gray. Gray often attempts, quite admirably, to apply some sort of narrative (complete with dialogue) to a slow-motion replay. This device is often used by Gray when the goalkeeper is shown to have made himself big:
Martin Tyler: ...and Saha couldn't find a way past Peter Cech.

Andy Gray: Great goalkeeping Martin. Cech just hasn't committed himself there. Saha's waited for Cech to make a decision, but he's said to Saha: "I'm not going to ground, son - you've got to try and beat me."
2. Do not wear tracksuit bottoms.
Goalkeeping is a thankless task. The last line of defence, the 'keeper needs all the assistance he can muster. Which makes the occasional donning of tracksuit bottoms all the more mystifying. The sight of an opposing goalkeeper in such attire is invitation to shoot from all angles, as it is a clear sign of his inadequacy. From Dmitry Kharine's black leggings to Gabor Kiraly's grey pyjama bottoms, goalkeepers in trousers have a long tradition of pantomime-level clumsiness. The odd bit of camera-friendly acrobatics only serves to exacerbate their image as flaky goalkeepers that simply cannot be trusted with backpasses or crosses.

While The Angle... doesn't wish to dwell too long on international football stereotypes, we believe that the pan-continental penchant for tracksuit bottoms is the sole contributor to the image of African goalkeepers as "erratic".

A distant cousin of the tracksuit bottoms-clad goalkeepers is the goalkeeper in short sleeves. This has a significantly less negative connotation, but remains the hallmark of a maverick goalkeeper that has ideas above his station, much like short-sleeves standard-bearer Fabien Barthez. This brand of goalkeeper may be referred to as "eccentric".

3. Englishmen catch, foreigners punch.
Dwelling further on international football stereotypes, The Angle... calls upon one of the more lazy cliches attached to the art of goalkeeping. Along with diving, alice bands and wearing socks above the knee, the influx of foreign players to our shores has also brought with it the ugly art of punching clear. An almost total refusal to catch the ball understandably registers with English supporters as rather a handicap for a goalkeeper. Nonetheless, the foreign custodians will always choose to punch. Actually, no goalkeeper ever chooses to punch the ball. No, they will always be said to either elect or opt to punch.

The Angle...
is quietly compiling a list of words and phrases that football people only use in, and indeed only know from, a footballing context. Electing to do something is one of them, as is lack(s)adaisical, but that's a story for another day...

4. Be brave. Everyone likes a brave goalkeeper.
Putting your head where the boots are flying is the timeless benchmark for goalkeeping bravery. Any goalkeeper that dives at the feet of an approaching striker will have his bravery applauded by the co-commentator, despite the fact that if he hadn't have done so, the striker would have scored easily and made the goalkeeper look unquestionably foolish. In the event of injury in such circumstances, it is more admirable to hold on to the ball rather than throw it out before receiving treatment.

5. Have your goalkeeping ability measured in minutes.
Going 9 games without conceding a goal is a superb achievement. Somehow, though, going 756 minutes without conceding appears more impressive. Breaking the 1,000-minute barrier could be considered the holy grail for a modern day goalkeeper.

6. Play until you are 40.
Goalkeepers, presumably due to their perceived "madness", simply do not know when to hang up their gloves (a misleading cliche, perhaps, as gloves are surely stowed away or packed up in some way, be it temporarily or permanently. But never hung.) This longevity may also be attributable to the dubious "fact" that goalkeepers, we are told, "do not reach their peak until their early thirties". How, for example, a 32-year-old goalkeeper is able to perform better, on average, than a 28-year-old one is not immediately clear.

7. Become a Third Choice Keeper
Third choice goalkeepers face a continuous battle with 4th officials over the dubious honour of having the easiest job in football. Often either a 19-year-old rookie, or inexpensive European journeyman (Chelsea's Hilario, for example), the third-choice goalkeeper is called into action only in emergencies. Lower-league clubs, who cannot afford the luxury of having a third-choice goalkeeper on the payroll, may find themselves begging the Football League for special dispensation. Despite its lofty, rather dismissive terminology, this permission is always granted, however.

Probably the only type of footballer that is not likely to say "at this stage in my career, I need to be playing first-team football." They will have given up on any hope of that long ago.

That is not to say there are no prospects for a third choice goalkeeper. If you are deemed to be the third best available goalkeeper in your country every couple of years, you may find yourself jetting off on a free holiday with your mates. All that is required of a World Cup third-choice goalkeeper is to:

1) half-heartedly join in the warm-up before games. The odd drop-kick will suffice.
2) Join in the celebrations/protestations that involve the entire bench.
3) Assist second-choice 'keeper in offering advice/encouragement to first-choice keeper before penalty shoot-out.

8. Go Up For Corners in The Last Minute
An absolutely delightful phenomenon. His team desperately requires a goal, the game is in its dying moments, and a corner is won*. The goalkeeper races towards the opposition area, to the delight of the crowd and the commentator. Somewhere in the official Laws of the Game it states the following:

If, in the event of a corner being won in the final minute of the game, the goalkeeper of the team that requires a single goal must enter the opposition area. The goalkeeper, despite the fact that he is indeed a goalkeeper, must then become the sole focal point of that team's attack. The corner must be delivered towards him, and he must strain every sinew to reach the ball, regardless of his ability to head the ball.

As if he has realised that there is no point in coming up for a corner unless he, and he alone, connects with the cross, the goalkeeper causes absolute havoc. Who should mark him? Should a defender be riskily sacrificed to deal with this curious attacking threat? Why is he more dangerous than the goalscoring centre-back or the 30-goals-a-season striker in this situation?

Despite the drama, a goal very rarely results. We are then treated to the secondary spectacle of whether or not the defending team can take advantage of the open goal left at the other end.

But when a goal does result...



*Given the alarming frequency of last-minute corners awarded to teams that desperately require a goal, one wonders if supposedly impartial referees actually want to see a goalkeeper come up for a corner as much as the rest of us.

9. Overprotection
Goalkeepers, as we are constantly reminded, are overprotected these days. Referees, concerned at having to face a whole team's wrath if allowing a goal after the goalkeeper has been challenged, will always blow for a foul. Once we all realise that it's the same for both teams, we can all move on. But not until the commentator has grabbed his opportunity to tell us how overprotected goalkeepers are these days.

10. Be Dubbed "The Cat"
An important and valuable part of the goalkeeper's repertoire is to have cat-like reflexes. No goalkeeper in history, be it Lev Yashin, Peter Schmeichel or Perry Digweed have qualified for fly-like or mouse-like reflexes. Those capable of reaction saves, often from point-blank range, qualify for "Cat" status (even if, when making such saves, it is deemed that "they didn't know too much about it"). The most famous "Cat" was Peter Bonetti, but others include Sepp "Die Katze" Maier and František Plánicka, the "Cat of Prague".

11. Relish Penalties
Goalkeepers often whinge about how their mistakes prove more costly than an outfield player's. They get their own back in penalty shoot-outs, when a straightforward save of a shot hit at a good height for the goalkeeper can make them an instant hero.
Penalty saves in the 90 minutes are equally heroic. Penalties that are dubious or downright scandalous are often saved, so that justice is served. Goalkeepers that save penalties have a pre-programmed "celebration". Once the ball is out of play or cleared, the goalkeeper is ready to receive the acclaim of his teammates. But he must not appear too ecstatic - there are opponents to mark and a match to be won, and he will over-earnestly remind his colleagues of this. It is very similar in nature to the goalscoring centre-back's goal celebration.

12. Dive for Everything.
If humanly possible, it is recommended that a goalkeeper dives for everything, for three reasons:

1) He may make a save. Boring, but rather important.
2) No goalkeeper wants to be labelled as "statuesque" when a goal goes in.
3) If the shot is going just wide, and the goalkeeper tries to save it anyway, the television viewer is ensured the following disclaimer from the commentator about the unnecessary piece of goalkeeping:
Commentator: That shot might just have been creeping wide, but he wasn't to know that.
Goalkeepers. They're mad, you know.

Adam.

Pundit Trumps


Inspired by the classic playground game of Top Trumps, The Angle... has devised its own version. Pit the Andy Grays and Alan Hansens of this world against each other in a titanic battle of...

Pundit Trumps

(Yes, it looks a bit ropey, but it should work perfectly...)

Adam.