Tag Archives: Spurs

Tottenham as Champions? Even Leeds United Would be More Authentic – by Rob Atkinson

Spuds

Spuds – boiled twice until soft and mushy

If Tottenham Hotspur finish this season in a Champions League qualification place and – more importantly, in the eyes of many of their fans – above loathed North London rivals Arsenal, then this season will be deemed by the vast majority of those fans to have been a resounding success. This, despite the fact that, having failed last year to take their most realistic chance in over half a century to finish as Champions of England, they are about to repeat that failure. And that is why Spurs, despite their superficial glamour and appeal, cannot be regarded as a big club.

This might sound strange coming from a fan of 21st Century also-rans Leeds United. But, for all their recent woes and the chaos that characterises life at Elland Road under Bates, GFH and Cellino, Leeds remains a big club. The expectations are still there, the voracious hunger and imperious demand to be up there with the best. At some point, those demands will be met – because the expectations and desire of the fans are what, ultimately, define the size and potential of a football club. Leeds have all that – Tottenham simply don’t. A cursory scan of their Twitter feed, when Spurs capitulated last season, was ample illustration of this.

I was really expecting to find anger, dismay and deep, deep hurt among the Spurs Twitteratti, at the careless throwing away of a once in a lifetime chance. It wasn’t there. I thought too – equally erroneously – that there would be angst and an abiding sense of betrayal. I based this on an empathetic knowledge of how I or most other Leeds supporters would feel – how it would leave us bereft and fuming to see such a rare opportunity passed up. But then – we’re Leeds, and these people were merely Spurs. There’s a big difference.

Last time Leeds joined the big time, back in 1990 – and the time before that, in 1964 – the Whites wasted no time merely admiring their surroundings or being overawed by their new peers. They took a brief, almost scornful look around, allowed themselves the barest of minimum settling-in periods, won their opening fixture back at this new, rarefied level – and proceeded to dominate proceedings thenceforth. Don Revie’s wonders went within a whisker of the double first time out, and were the best team in Europe within five years. Sergeant Wilko’s Warriors were Champions inside twenty months. This is the mettle and appetite of a big club. “Keep Fighting” was and remains the motto. There is no fear and mighty little respect in the staff and players. There is an abounding self-belief and naked ambition among the fans. So it was with Leeds United. So it will be again.

There is none of this with Spurs, not last season and not this one either. Despite the excellence of their squad, they lack the inner conviction and the aspirations of Champions. At its heart, the club is effete and decadent, content to play pretty football while perceived lesser mortals – the Leicester City of last season being an excellent example – scrap and fight, working hard, giving no quarter, exerting every fibre of their being in the pursuit of victory. In a game of fine margins, it is this muck and bullets approach that can close the quality gap and make the difference when the prizes are handed out.

On the evidence of social media reaction, the Spurs fans are as much to blame as the soft centre of their club. It’ll be nice to finish second, they trilled last season (they actually finished third in a two-horse race, surrendering runners-up spot meekly to Arsenal with a thrashing at relegated Newcastle). We’d have snatched your hands off for the chance of finishing higher than Arsenal, they simpered (maybe this season then, lads). We’ll be favourites next year, they crooned, hopefully. But next year never comes – not when the real big boys can be counted on to wake up from their one season slumber.

Thinking back to the early nineties, when Leeds were the hungry new kids on the block – we hoped and craved for a chance to be the best again. Whether we really expected it to come along so soon is a moot point. But we were raucously demanding of it. And when that chance presented itself – especially at the expense of our most hated foes – there was no suggestion of “well, it’d be nice, but second wouldn’t be too bad either”. We’d have been gutted to the depths of our very souls, if our heroes in White hadn’t seized the day. It would have been impossible to express the wretchedness we would have felt.

The Spurs fans by contrast, with their mealy-mouthed acceptance of failure and honeyed words of congratulations to conquerors Leicester, betrayed their club and showed themselves, as well as their beloved club, unworthy of being regarded as champion material. It was a sickening sight to see, a betrayal of that competitive spirit that gives a vital edge to proper contenders.

In the end, any league gets the champions it deserves and, barring last-gasp miracles or Chelsea calamity, it’ll be no different this year. Spurs will have shown again why they haven’t been The Best since 1961, when JFK was president, the Beatles were playing beery dives in Hamburg and I was only just seeing the light of day. Chelsea, with their juggernaut self-belief and determination to make the most of every opportunity under the brilliant guidance of Antonio Conte, will thoroughly have deserved their Premier League Title. They will be deserving Champions, by far the best team in the land.

Leicester City, Chelsea, Leeds United – Champions of England. Each has a ring of authenticity to it that’s been hard fought for and deeply merited when it’s come about. Whereas “Champions Spurs”? – well, it just doesn’t sound right. It sounds instead faintly ridiculous, like cheap fiction; and, as long as the club and the fans retain their current losers’ mindset, that’s just how it will remain.

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Man U’s “Olympic Diving Trio” Fail to Deny Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

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That Moyes half-time team talk in full

It seemed as though the selection of referee for today’s Man U v Spurs match at the Theatre of Hollow Myths was spot on and just right for the job in hand.  Howard Webb is a man who has proved time and time again that he’s one referee who knows exactly how to deal with the acknowledged divers of the best Man U tradition. Howard does not shirk his responsibility, Howard acts decisively. Howard doesn’t even hesitate; he gets the whistle to the lips and blows shrilly for the statutory penalty.  We’ve seen it repeatedly down the years.  The man is Mr Consistent, and his collection of Premier League title winners medals have been due reward for this.

But clearly, something went badly wrong today.  A goal down at half time, and needing their main man on form in the second half, Man U increased their divers complement, using all three specialists at the club with Ashley Young joining Welbeck and the promising young triple-salko expert Januzaj.  Between them, these three gave Webb every opportunity to award penalties, with brilliant build-up play leading to immaculate finishes, landing on the face in the box in the approved fashion. Webb, though, appeared to have forgotten his lines completely, refusing to give even one penalty and actually booking the latest “New George Best”! His performance was disgraceful, and he is expected to be carpeted at Carrington later this week. On this performance, Webb’s place in Moyes’ matchday squad must be in doubt.

Looking at the displays of the three-man dive squad against Spurs, any and all of them could have had success on the day were it not for the official deciding to come over all impartial, in blatant breach of the standard contract.  Let’s take Danny Welbeck first:

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Welbeck’s matchday scorecard

Danny tried hard, but possibly a little too hard.  One of the tabloids, the Metro, has chosen to be a little treacherous and highlight one of the lad’s less subtle dives – and oh dear, it does look bad (see here). Overall, not one of Danny’s better displays. But, at the risk of straying into irrelevant areas, at least he scored.

Moving on, let’s check out the promising young Adnan Januzaj’s form:

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The Januzaj scores.

Young Adnan again is a trier and he shows real potential.  The fact is though that he’s been booked at least twice now, for “simulation” as they prefer to call it these days (cheating is such a nasty word). This may indicate that he’s perhaps not yet a true Man U class diver.  It’s a part of his game he’ll obviously be encouraged to work on – Moyes is on record as saying he’ll be having a chat with the lad, and there are good, solid examples of effective diving already at the club, from whom he can learn a great deal.  But for the moment, he’s flattering to deceive, and there are even suggestions that the blatant nature of some of his “precipitate descents to ground level” are threatening to blow the gaff on the very fabric of the club’s entire diving policy. This is something that should put all concerned on notice; the quality of diving needs to be addressed just as much as does the inexplicable form of the normally-reliable Webb.

Last, but by no means least, we have Man U’s main diver, usually benched until his particular gifts are needed – the one and only Ashley “Nautilus” Young:

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Ashley’s impeccable style and artistic interpretation

If there is one man who should shoulder no blame whatsoever for today’s defeat, it’s that man Young.  Always available to come on when required, his single-minded approach warms the hearts of every fan from Torquay to Milton Keynes and back again.  Such dedication deserves some reward; on days like this, Ashley could be forgiven for thinking he might as well go back to playing football.  But such a devoted practitioner of his art will not long be cast down.  You can guarantee that Ashley will be back, arms and legs akimbo, nose ploughing a furrow inside the eighteen yard box and that lovely, fluid motion as the dive turns seamlessly into a loudly-squealed appeal to the normally willing ref.  Looking at today’s match, Moyes was livid that one dive of utter quality didn’t result in a penalty. Unlucky, Ashley – don’t give up.

As for the rest of the match – Spurs even had the cheek to claim a penalty of their own.  But goals either side of half-time, both inexplicably allowed, were enough in the end to see them take the three points.  Sadly, it will have been an uncomfortable journey back south for the bulk of the Man U support, having to share trains with gloating Spurs fans.  It’s at times like these that the mettle of such faithful and dedicated gloryhunters is truly put to the test.

These are worrying times though for Man U.  Spurs have been nothing special this term, and the fact that they have been able to face Man U’s triple threat and not concede even ONE penalty is a matter of grave concern.  Some MPs in Home Counties constituencies are being asked to table questions in the House.  It’s that serious.  The problem, clearly, is with Webb – and you’d almost wonder on today’s performance if someone’s got at him? The Premier League Referee’s Panel, perhaps – though they’re normally very good at keeping their nose out of Man U’s private affairs.  Whatever has happened, something has to be sorted out, and soon – or it will be hard to see how personnel changes are to be avoided.  Several younger refs have put in promising performances for Man U lately, one even pulling a muscle in his eagerness to point to the spot.  It may even be time to think the unthinkable and act to replace Howard – even though there’s little doubt that he will go down as one of the true greats in the club’s history.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Webb is summoned to meet an irate David Moyes in the next few days. He’s likely to have to do some hard, fast talking to have any hope of retaining his squad number, and even then it’s likely that beady eyes will be watching him from the stand.  Yes, even his old mentor S’ralex is rumoured to be bitterly disappointed with Webb’s lamentable display today.  Things are getting serious – for sound marketing reasons, Man U simply must finish in the top four at the very, very least.  So could we really be about to see the end of a glorious Man U career?  The next few days way well decide that.

Sherwood an Aptly Mediocre Appointment for Fading Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

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Hmm, I’ve got the job, then. Now what?

The news of Tim Sherwood‘s appointment as Tottenham manager, some say until the end of next season, will come as a surprise to many, a shock to some and confirmation of Spurs’ continuing decline to the knowledgeable few.  To say that the response of the White Hart Lane faithful is unenthusiastic is to be extremely charitable.  The Spurs fans are trying to put a brave face on the whole matter, trying to understand what is going on behind Daniel Levy‘s petulantly dissatisfied expression – but you can tell that deep down inside, they’re glumly watching the big clubs disappearing over a distant horizon which, not so long ago, represented the tantalisingly attainable Promised Land for North London’s second club.

As I’ve previously written, the failure of Spurs to pip Arsenal to Champions League qualification was the death-knell to their immediate ambitions of being a truly big club themselves.  It wasn’t an easy opportunity to miss; Spurs had been in a great position – seemingly almost home and dry.  And yet, against the odds, they managed to achieve failure from out of the very jaws of success.  They contrived somehow to squander their best chance of dining at the top table, and thereby put the tin lid on any chance of Gareth Bale (or “Spurs” as he was widely known last season) wasting any more of his meteoric career yearning for a team to suit his talent.  So it’s likely to be a diet of crumbs for Spurs from now on, especially if they manage to miss out on Europe altogether next season – a distinct possibility for the envious mid-table outfit.  It’s this kind of losing habit that has seen an allegedly major club fail to win a League Title for over half a century.

There is, it appears, a subtext behind the appointment of Sherwood, and the gist of what’s to be read between the lines is: “Louis van Gaal (nod, wink) … after the World Cup, of course … keep it under your hat, old fellow.”  Quite why a coach with the reputation of van Gaal would want to move from a post with one of Europe’s better national sides, to take up the reins of a London club in the perpetual shadow of giants Arsenal, is not explained.  The additional niggle that Spurs will probably be Champions League onlookers again, with all the top players studiously avoiding eye contact when a move to N17 is mooted, is hardly likely to help turn fanciful ambition into blessed reality.  World-class coaches are hard to recruit for urchin clubs who have their noses permanently pressed up against the sweet-shop window, whilst the rich kids gorge inside.

Spurs may after all find themselves having to grant Tim Sherwood his desired longer-term contract, something that is currently causing Daniel Levy to wear an expression even more pained and long-suffering than usual.  Levy’s desire for a cheap stop-gap appointment, prior to a high-profile swoop after the summer’s shenanigans in Brazil, may well be thwarted by circumstances beyond even his control.  How ironic it would be if it turned out that AVB had been made to walk the plank, only for it to transpire that the newly-promoted 3rd mate can’t even navigate, causing the ship to founder for want of an experienced presence on the bridge.  3rd Mate Sherwood’s total lack of impressive top-level qualifications, or indeed any real experience, is worrying more than a few with the club’s best interests at heart – and I find it rather puzzling, too.

What seems certain is that Sherwood, for all his fighting talk of wanting to be at the helm for ten years, is in Levy’s confused mind very much of a short-term, dodgy quality option for the here and now – with the indistinct future more a subject for wishful thinking.  After all, a slightly scratchy win at Southampton seems an odd basis for what is a crucial appointment; there is an air of the knee-jerk about it, a feeling of sticking plasters being applied to an arterial gusher that threatens to bleed Tottenham’s season dry.  Arsenal’s current minor stumble is but cold comfort to any Spurs fan with clear vision and a nose for stormy weather approaching.   The Gunners still seem set fair for a continuation of their top four habit at the very least, whilst there is no sign of any significant improvement in Spurs’ own more modest possibilities.  Sherwood as boss is no more and no less than a chilling confirmation of those uncomfortable, unpalatable facts.  It’s not going to be a very Happy New Year for the fans of North London’s also-rans.

“Proud” Spurs Dad Gets Daughter to Thumb Nose at Suarez – But Luis Has Last Laugh – by Rob Atkinson

Luis Suarez - last laugh

Luis Suarez – last laugh

What does it take to make a Spurs fan’s day when you see your favourites getting thrashed 5-0 at home by Liverpool?  Arsenal’s defeat at Man City might have helped – but the Gunners only conceded as many as a hapless Spurs side at the Etihad, and at least they managed to score three where Tottenham managed a grand total of zero – so that’s a non-starter.  Fortunately, some Spurs fans have such low expectations of life at a post-Bale White Hart Lane – they can get an amazing amount of enjoyment from a jape you’d have thought was more to the taste of someone in his early teens.  Still, these are gloomy times around N17, and a chap has to get his laughs where he can.

So it was that long-suffering Spurs fan Des Brown – on hearing that his daughter Olivia was to be the home team mascot when Liverpool visited – persuaded her to pull a childish stunt on Suarez by thumbing her nose at the Uruguayan when he offered to shake hands.  It’s a thing that even the likes of Patrice Evra might have scorned as too embarrassing for words, but clearly it was all meat and drink to Mr Brown who was transparently thrilled.  To anyone who might wonder what’s missing in his life that he should take such delight in a trick worthy of a seven-year old, he observed: “Suarez isn’t the nicest character so I just wanted her to do it……..It’s made my day – it’s just hilarious.”

Perhaps it’s as well that the incident occurred so that something could make Mr Brown’s day – as clearly the football match that ensued wouldn’t have been palatable for him or for any other Spurs fan, Liverpool strolling to an easy 5-0 win with Suarez having the last laugh as he scored two of the goals.  Sadly though, even the consolation of his daughter agreeing to pull a playground stunt on her Dad’s behalf failed to be fully appreciated by Dismal Des, as he didn’t even see it happen.  “I said I’d give her £20 to give him the thumb to the nose and the twiddly fingers,” admitted the not-all-that-mature Dad. “Afterwards she came back to our seats and said ‘dad I’ve done it’ and I told her I didn’t see it and she said he just laughed and then she asked for her £20.”

It seems that young Olivia’s head is screwed on that bit more tightly than her silly-billy pop’s – at least she’s 20 quid up on the deal, after all – and she got a laugh out of a superstar.  Des meanwhile is £20 down, a 5-0 defeat sadder and wiser – well, sadder anyway – well, perhaps not even that given his pre-existing degree of sadness – and he didn’t even see his daughter’s fulfilment of his wishes.  Oh well, never mind.  Spurs have Southampton away next – maybe they could bust the form book and get a draw, or at least keep it down to less than five or six.  Then, even Mr Brown might be able to think about football again, instead of nursery games.

Suarez, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength despite the crushing blow of having a child thumb her nose at him because “he’s not the nicest character”.  Perhaps his season will survive such a mortal insult, perhaps, even, he might reflect that an alleged adult who bribes his child to act thus in front of millions on live TV isn’t actually the nicest character either – or the cleverest.  But Suarez has a 5-0 win to keep him smiling.  How do you like them cockerels, Mr Brown?

Leeds Remain “The Damned United” for Jimmy Greaves and the BBC – by Rob Atkinson

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Super Leeds – simply the best

A couple of weeks ago, I came not to bury Greavsie but to praise him.  The article I wrote was a thrilled response to the fact that Jimmy “Jimbo” Greaves – a known Leeds-hater from way back – seemed to have seen the light, acknowledging United legend John Charles as the greatest British footballer of all time, ahead of George Best, Bobby Moore and – well, everyone else on a list of fifty.  It was such a surprise, such a welcome oddity coming from Greaves’ usually poisoned pen where the Whites are concerned, that I failed to look beyond the headline. Silly me.

When I finally did read the rest, I was less surprised – but I was utterly disgusted and amazed that somebody who had the honour to share a pitch with (and be heavily defeated by) Don Revie‘s Super Leeds could be so bitter, such a small-minded little man. For genial Greavsie, that impish cockney bundle of fun, had included in his Top 50 British Greats not one member of that fabulous Super Leeds side which dominated football for a decade and which regularly finished above the teams for which so many of Greaves’ Chosen Ones had played.  And there I was, just a few short weeks ago, saying nice things about the little bugger.  Well, I take it all back. Today I come, not to praise Greavsie, but to bury the sod.

It simply makes the mind boggle.  Not one Leeds player from that Glory era of Bremner, Giles, Gray, Clarke, Lorimer et al.  Not a single, solitary one. John Charles, of course, the Jimmy Greaves choice for number one, played at Elland Road in his first spell with Leeds before the Revie years, making a brief but only moderately successful comeback in the early part of the Don’s reign, before heading back off to la dolce vita.   King John’s honours were won on foreign fields; he was not part of the Leeds success story.  Did this exempt him in Greaves’ tiny and still semi-pickled mind from the hatred and disrespect with which he has always referred to the great Leeds side?  Was there some envy there?

Greaves, let us not forget, for all the praise heaped on him as a natural finisher, didn’t win all that much in his career.  You could fairly say he bottled it.  No League Titles, just a cup or two.  He missed out on the World Cup Final in 1966 due to injury, making way for one Geoff Hurst, who fortunately had a fair old game that day. You have to admit that Leeds, for all their talent, were underachievers (largely due to some corrupt refereeing) – but Greavsie out-shone them in that. Perhaps this explains some of that elderly bile and bitterness?

It’s not an unknown phenomenon, this steely determination to ignore Leeds United when the plaudits are being handed out.  It’s sadly quite common and, despite the fact that it reflects ill on those who perpetrate the omissions, exposing them for the petty, shallow revisionists that they are, still they queue up to overlook that great side, and to be seen doing so.  It’s as if there are brownie points to be collected somewhere for the person or persons who can show that they possess the biggest pair of anti-Leeds blinkers in the whole media.  What a sad indictment of supposedly impartial coverage – and the ostensibly most impartial of them all, the good old BBC, are among the worst offenders.

A little while ago, I wrote – well, ranted – about the BBC’s determined stance on ignoring Don Revie when they put together a montage of legendary managers.  It was laughable.  There were managers in there who’d hardly won a bean – good sound men, but not in the same class as the Don, a man who built a European superpower from a provincial nonentity of a football club, scorned by many in a city devoted to Rugby League.  The worldwide fanatical following that United have, even today, have their roots in the miracle wrought by Revie, the greatest manager of all time.  So, I complained to Auntie Beeb, and got the standard fob-off response, naturally. The complacent pillars of the media don’t like being challenged in their cosy little ivory tower funk-holes, they would rather you just concentrate on what they’re saying and not try thinking for yourself too much.

There’s no need for me to start in on correcting Greaves’ list, or indeed the BBC’s laboriously-constructed montage of managers – either would be an exercise in the bleedin’ obvious.  I’m simply happy to get this off my chest, to point out what smug, self-satisfied hypocrites and charlatans these people are, who feel that they really can reinvent history and expunge a whole, massively-significant part of it from the public consciousness.  It’ll never happen, too many of us out here remember all too well who the top dogs were back in the day – and more and more of us are stomping our way into print, the better to emphasise exactly what was what.  So you may take your heavily-edited version of history, Messrs Greaves, Lineker, Hansen and Shearer, and you may stick it where the monkey stuck its nuts.

The truth after all is out there, the evidence is easy to find, and even though some of the men so cruelly overlooked – Bremner and Revie for very obvious examples – are no longer around to defend themselves, there are plenty out here only too eager to do it for them.  Say what you like, Greavsie, but we were there too, we remember and we know better.

England Internationals Should Play for Free – by Rob Atkinson

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Three Lions – all the incentive needed and more.

After England’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign, the dust is now starting to settle, and thoughts are beginning to intrude along the lines of: Oh, Christ, spare us another World Cup finals performance like the last one.  It’s a memory just too depressing for words as highly-talented yet grossly over-paid young players sulked around the pitch as if they’d forgotten exactly how lucky they were to be there at all.

The fanatical travelling army which follows England everywhere were shocked into spells of stunned silence at the lassitude and sheer incompetence of some of their so-called heroes in an England team made up, as is usual in these money-mad times, of multi-millionaires, millionaires, and perhaps two or three of the merely very rich.  The fans turned to each other and asked, what the bleedin’ hell is going on?  Well, situation normal, isn’t it?  What a load of overpaid rubbish.  We’ll stay at home and watch it on the box another time. It goes without saying though, that the fans will always be there.

With the money in the game, the long-established infrastructure, and the size of our nation relative, say, to a country like Holland which produces excellence as a matter of course, we should be doing better in these massive pan-global tournaments.  But however easily, or even gloriously we manage to get there, it always seems to go wrong – at least it has so far this century.  The relative glory days of Mexico ’86, Italia ’90 or even England ’96 are a long time ago now.  Something is rotten in the state of England.  What are the missing ingredients?

Allow me to propose an old-fashioned answer: Pride and Passion.  Those two words sum up the edge that England teams, maybe lacking in the technical gifts of continental and latin american players, used to possess; attributes that used to see us through against higher levels of skill and flair. These are the qualities our national team has shown too little of over the years, qualities the fans still possess in abundance.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the players who represent England are lacking totally in either commodity, but I would venture the opinion that they is no longer the over-riding motivation.  Money – oodles of it – always looms far too large within the game.  To clear the players’ heads, to rid them of competing considerations and leave them focused on the job in hand, to nurture the mindset that they are representing their country, and carrying the hopes of millions, I would propose – quite seriously – that we abandon henceforth the practice of paying players to play for England.

This is not a new idea, not by any means.  Before World War Two, players selected for England were invited to choose a match fee OR a souvenir medal – not both.  They invariably opted for the medal – and this in an era when professional football wages were capped at a level not far above those of a skilled worker.  But pride and passion motivated them.

Nowadays of course, footballers earn a vast amount, and some would say good luck to them – but do they really need to be paid over and above their club contracts for what is still a signal honour?  The playing employees of Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and the rest pull down many, many times the average wage and exist on an entirely different plane to those who shell out their hard-earned to watch them perform.  How does this affect the way we see them?

As things stand, the emotional distance between the crowd and the players is magnified by a patently enormous gulf in financial status, which breeds resentment among the fans when things aren’t going well on the field (look at him, fifty grand a week, and he couldn’t trap a bag of cement). Would the frequently toxic nature of that crowd/team relationship not be improved if the players were really playing for the shirt and the cap, and nothing else?

Removal of monetary rewards would not be universally popular among the players – but might this not help sort out the committed from the opportunist, and thus – to risk an archaic phrase – engender a more positive team spirit?

There would be no unpalatable need for the FA to profit by the players’ noble sacrifice.  The money that now goes on match fees and bonuses should instead be diverted to a charity of the players’ choice – and would this not only provide an additional incentive to win, but also enhance the team’s good-guy credentials?

They might feel, deep inside, that they’re a cut above the opposition – who are shamelessly, brazenly, doing it for the money.  It might even give them that crucial edge. Success is, after all, about the steady accumulation of marginal gains.

No match fees or any bonus, not a red cent – just an international cap.  No taint of lucre in the motivations of the players, who would in any case be set for life even if they never earned another penny.  No charge of “mercenary footballers” from a disgruntled crowd – rather it would be:  well done lads, you’re doing it for England and glory.  If you didn’t win – well, we know you were giving of your best, for love of the shirt and charitable causes.  Think of that.  Wouldn’t our England players rather be loved and admired, than just that tiny bit richer?

Can there really be a better incentive than national pride and sheer altruism, uncluttered by the financial bottom line?  Wouldn’t there just possibly be a whole new dynamic around the currently unfancied England setup that might even take us onwards and upwards? Am I being hopelessly idealistic or even naïve?

Well, perhaps I am – but I would humbly suggest that it’s got to be a better way, and is certainly worth a try.

New Fears for Gazza After Latest “Drunken Assault” Charge

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

There are uncomfortable parallels between the slippery slope Paul Gascoigne now finds himself on – a slope he started to slide down at a Wembley Cup Final in 1991 – and the decline and ultimately tragic death of another flawed genius, George Best. It’s not the happiest comparison to make, but perhaps it’s a message that needs to be spoken loudly and repeatedly, directly into the ear of the legendary Gazza, in the hope that he may yet be saved from the process of self-destruction he appears to be unswervingly set on. The news today that he’s been arrested over an incident involving drink and violence is no great surprise – but it IS cause for extreme concern.

Gazza was undoubtedly the finest talent of his generation, but like so many footballers and other artists gifted with supernatural skill of one sort or another, he seems fatally lacking lacking in anything approaching a safe level of common sense. Those identical words could have been written and published in the 1970’s, substituting only the legend of Gazza for the legend of Bestie. The similarities between the two are uncanny, both in terms of raw ability and irrepressible personality when things were going well. Sadly, the tendency towards addiction to factors which are the enemies of health and well-being seems another element ominously common to both.

George Best of course ultimately fell victim to his fatal attraction to booze and died an early and tragic death following the raising of hopes after a liver transplant. George was unable to leave the drink alone even after such a very final warning, and his demise followed as night follows day. There was a time when he had it all, of course – but it’s tempting to believe he might have wished to trade some of those trappings and achievements for a few more healthy years on the planet. Famously, a hotel employee once walked in to witness George surrounded by champagne bottles in his luxury suite, happily relaxing in bed with at least two Miss Worlds and the humble functionary sighed, without any apparent sense of irony, “George, George – where did it all go wrong?” It was funny at the time, as was Best’s quote when asked what he did with his money. “I spent loads on wine, women and song – but quite easy on the song – and the rest I just squandered,” he replied. Again, it’s pithy – but the humour shrivels away to nothing when you remember how he ended up in an early grave.

Is Gazza inevitably headed for a tragically similar fate? His health has been a matter of public concern for some time now, and again he seems totally unable to leave the booze alone despite repeated warnings that he’s drinking his health and possibly his life away. It’s not too difficult to pinpoint the start of Gazza’s descent – rewind back to the FA Cup Final of 1991, Spurs v Forest. A pumped-up Gascoigne had already perpetrated an ugly, early, chest-high foul on Garry Parker of Forest – a challenge which went unpunished by referee Roger Milford, but which could so easily have been a red card. Then, still high as a kite on Cup Final adrenalin, Gazza scythed down Gary Charles to concede a free-kick on the edge of the area. Forest actuallly took the lead from the resultant free-kick as Stuart Pearce hammered home – but the price for Gascoigne was even higher. He had ruptured knee ligaments in fouling Charles, and had to leave the field on a stretcher.

To many minds, he was never quite the same player again, even though his subsequent career still hit some major heights. Who knows what difference an early red card for the first foul might have made? Gazza would have avoided that calamitous injury and perhaps come much closer to fulfilling his outstanding potential – and maybe his life post-football would have been less of a horror show. No blame attaches to Roger Milford for his evident misjudgement – referees have no insight into the future.

Since his retirement, Gazza’s life has been a catalogue of calamity, culminating in this latest arrest and charge of alcohol-fuelled misconduct. That he is still drinking is a worrying signpost to the fate suffered by George Best, and if he fails to conquer this demon, it is difficult to see a bright future for the Clown Prince of the 80’s and 90’s. Daft as a brush, Bobby Robson called him, and there’s little reason to dispute that. But surely someone needs to take Gazza in hand and steer him away from a fate that Bestie could eloquently warn him all about, if only he were alive to do so. Someone, somewhere, has to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Someone has to save Gazza from himself.