For Away Fans

Falmer has been coming for so long, that most of us (away fans) have despaired of it ever becoming a reality – even the Seagulls home announcer. I still dislike modern all-seater stadia, and I seriously miss the away end terraces at Chesterfield, Colchester, Cambridge, anywhere beginning with C, but Brighton’s Withdean has to have been the pits of the pits.

Well you can see the future for yourself now. Now if (if ? when !) Brighton get promoted, and we don’t …

No Messi’n

Lucky enough to see FC Barcelona with 91,000 others under the stars at the Nou Camp on Saturday evening. With Barca clear of Real’s galacticos and both well clear of the rest we weren’t sure if they would field their star team against lowly Getafe, but we needn’t have feared. Starting line-up included Messi, Iniesta, Villa, Xavi, Alves, Macherano. Iniesta had an off-day – so many incomplete passes – David Villa showed how frustratingly one-footed he is for a winger, but the rest did not disappoint. Xavi and Macherano ran the show, Alves and the other full-back-winger ran miles (with the ball); Alves and Bojan scored, but Barca should have had 5 or 6 if they’d bothered to shoot and a couple of pens before Getafe’s consolation made for an unexpectedly exciting final ten minutes. Mostly felt like an exhibition match, despite the 2:1 result.

The great thing about seeing a game like that live is the venue and event itself, choosing what to watch – unlike the editorial “action” as seen on TV – or the thick of the competitive action watching the team you actively support – and it was hard not to watch Messi. Plenty of other “tourists” taking photos, wearing the No.10 shirt and doing the same.

Messi is one of a kind. There were periods of many minutes at a time where he barely plodded three paces in any direction, others when you’d notice he’d apparently sprinted / ghosted into another position. Always receiving passes from team-mates already surrounded by three or more opponents, and always stumbling effortlessly free to find three more to beat before getting bored and either passing or returning to take on the first three again if no opportunity presented. Childlike, almost comedic bright orange feet and baggy shorts on the little man. Deceptive.

(As well as minute’s silence for the Japan earthquake fall-out, a full three minutes pre-match applause for Abidal undergoing three-hour surgery on a liver tumour in the same week.)

Weird, after being mesmerized by Messi, I don’t have a single shot of him in the 20-odd pics I took. Still, a good weekend to lose yourself at the Nou Camp instead of the Stadium of Light ? Coincidentally, lots of Liverpool fans on the A19 driving south from Sunderland on our way home from NCL airport.

Interestingly last time I mentioned Messi was a reference to this piece by Robbo. Worth a read.

Sense May Yet Prevail

It seems the West Ham proposal for the Olympic stadium does now include Man City style retractable seating. Still not sure how this can be retrofitted to a design that didn’t originally allow for it, but great news if true. Give them the benefit of the doubt on that “misleading” artists impression.

Strip Out The Emotion

Not been following all the details of the Spurs vs Wet Sham vs UK Athletics on the “legacy” use of the new Stratford Olympic stadium, but I have to say.

  • Football should not be played in athletics stadiums – not for fans who want to watch how the game is played; not for players who need to remember whose game it is. The dead space kills the real game.
  • Tearing down the purpose built athletic stadium and replacing it with a football stadium and an upgrade to Crystal Palace, is not at all in the spirit of the Olympics. Why didn’t they sort this out the same way Eastlands did before the Manchester Commonwealth games – and create a proper dual purpose stadium.
  • Why don’t Spurs (and West Ham) ground share the new athletic stadium for (say) two years, whilst they redevelop new modern football stadia on their traditional sites ?

Aha, so here is the problem … Spurs chariman Levy wants to:

“Strip out the emotion.”

Such people should be banned from sports management.

The Real Joke

I’m a big fan of Howard Webb (defended him over the world cup final Dutch fiasco, for example) and in fact in the offending game here, he got both the controversial decisions right – Gerrard sending off and the Berbatov penalty – in our opinion. Anyway, after Kenny branding the latter decision a “joke” and Ryan Babel tweeting his photo-shopped image of Webb in Man U colours;

Priceless irony that a commenter on the BBC news page on the story, going by the handle of “Victory Through Harmony” should comment:

How sad have things got that now the players aren’t even allowed to have a pop at refs?

Harmony / Pop does not compute, mate. In the heat of competitive battle, refs handle plenty of “pop” with minimum sanction – but pre-meditated high-profile post-match public channels – they don’t have to take it.

Great Defending

In the absence of easy access to a game involving any club we actively support, we made the short trip to The Stadium of Light to see Sunderland versus Premiership underdogs Blackpool on the bank holiday. Ian Holloway’s management ethic is easy to like, and the Tangerines are living a dream, a bubble they hope will never burst, and of course Sunderland have been having a great season so far, particularly invincible at home.

Great prospect. And the best game we’ve seen in a long time. (Since Leeds won at Boro, or Reading won at Anfield.) End to end passing and running from both teams for all but 15 mins towards the end of the first half. Sunderland had 30 odd shots and Ian Evatt the Blackpool No.6 must have calmly stopped more than half of them himself. Sadly for Sunderland, all of those attempts on target that eluded the defence seemed aimed close to keeper Kingson’s body. The seasiders passed the ball and ran to make themselves available for forward passes everywhere on the pitch – you could almost hear Jack Charlton screaming at them to just hoof it out of defense once in a while, but no, not until the final 10 minutes did they resort to that. Even Evatt’s headed clearances were more often than not passes to feet. In fact both teams passed and ran in attacking directions throughout, Gyan, Bent, Elmohamady, Wellbeck, plus Richardson and Malbranque when they came, on all “looked dangerous” but failed to convert the Sunderland chances they created.

Conversely the lively DJ converted half of Backpool’s mere 4 chances.

Who are ya ? Twice people around us without match programs leaned across and asked, “Who is that No6?”. Well player of the season twice at Chesterfield under Roy MacFarland, and in his 4th season in the Blackpool defense, he’s not exactly unknown outside the premiership. The 29 year old Evatt made his first full 90 minute debut for Derby on the last day of the 2001/2 season … at The Stadium of Light.

Irony was the bumbling Titus Bramble making a return from recurring injury at the other end for Sunderland alongside the other Ferdinand boy. Never impressed with Bramble since the Ipswich fans were raving about him wayback, when Reading visited Portman Road. Actually, I reckon Sunderland having to replace the excellent Onuoha with Bramble after only half an hour was probably the difference between the sides. Evatt for England ?