Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Football Americana Week 15: High-flying Sounders gaining ground

Arlo White, Frasier Crane and other lazy Seattle name-drops are rejoicing this week as their Sounders are sweeping aside all before them. Looks like Eric Hassli's phenomogoal spurred them into action.

The week began goalless, with Philadelphia Union hosting Sporting Kansas City. Carlos Ruiz's swerving free kick in the first half went close and 20 minutes from time he came ever closer, heading against the crossbar from Sebastien Le Toux's cross. Le Toux had a late effort that just crept wide and Philly were left ruing missed opportunities.

The Union were in action again against Chivas USA over the weekend and this time the goals did come. Chivas' first goal, a Michael Umana was given away cheaply and gave the Goats a half time lead. The second half belonged to Philly and they quickly equalised through Veljko Paunovic, had a goal disallowed and then took the lead through Carlos Ruiz's flawless solo effort. Less than ten minutes later Justin Braun equalised for Chivas with a prod past Faryd Mondragon but parity would last just five minutes. Danny Mwanga's drive into the bottom corner from the edge of the area was well worth three points.

Sporting Club also had a second fixture, defeating Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 at Livestrong Sporting Park. Camilo's cheeky glancing header gave the Caps an early lead but Sporting kept their heads up and did the job. Omar Bravo was fouled by Jay DeMerit at the end of a delightful passing move and cracked in the penalty himself. Julio Cesar's winning goal also came in the first half, a poacher's volley from Bravo's nod down.

In midweek Chicago Fire also played out a goalless draw, theirs with Real Salt Lake. Sean Johnson's superb point-blank save from Collen Warner was the main match highlight and kept Chicago level in the first half. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando saw more action after the break.

The home of Seattle Sounders had its name changed to CenturyLink Field this week and the boys in rave green celebrated (?) with a 4-2 win over New York Red Bulls. A bending effort by Erik Friburg put the Sounders ahead and marked the beginning of an appalling performance by New York goalkeeper Greg Sutton, who should also have done better with Ossie Alonso's drive a minute later. 2-0 down after 12 minutes, it was always going to be tough for the Red Bulls to get back into the game but they gave it a good go.

On 30 minutes a lovely chip from Dane Richards, returning from the Gold Cup, found its way over Kasey Keller, and New York got their luck just before the hour when Zach Scott's deflection fizzed past Keller and into his own net. Step forward Roger Levesque, whose brace banked three points for the Sounders. His first was a near-post header, the third goal of the night that New York had conceded from a corner, and his second was Sutton's crowning unglory. With the goalkeeper dallying on the edge of the box, Levesque simply pinched the ball off him and knocked the ball into the net. I suggest you seek out his celebration.

On Sunday, the Sounders came from behind to beat New England Revolution. Sainey Nyassi took just two minutes of this game to open his 2011 account, driving the ball low from Benny Feilhaber's cut-back corner and watching on as it squeezed through a crowd of players and past Kasey Keller. Seattle's equaliser was a scintillating, bending left-footed free kick from 20 yards by Tyson Wahl, his first MLS strike almost inevitably also his best for some time into the future. Alvaro Fernandez quickly made it 2-1 to Seattle, taking advantage of a lovely link-up between Mauro Rosales and Roger Levesque to beat Matt Reis from close range.

The Fire and the Red Bulls met on Sunday, sharing a 1-1 draw in their respective second matches of the week. New York took a first place lead as Joel Lindpere finished coolly after a fortunate ricochet in the 40th minute, but Chicago equalised before the hour. Marco Pappa's long distance shot squeezed past returning goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, leaving the Red Bulls with huge goalkeeping problems.

Salt Lake's second match of the weekend resulted in a 3-1 victory over Toronto FC. They went in at half time with a 2-0 lead, Nat Borchers' header sneaking in at an unmanned post and Alvaro Saborio doubling the lead with a tap-in. The Costa Rican scored his second with another easy finish to secure the three points, rendering Maicon Santos' 66th minute goal nothing more than a consolation.

DC United tried in vain to avenge an early season defeat by Houston Dynamo, settling for a 2-2 draw this weekend. Chris Pontius' 31st minute opener was a superb powerful strike from 25 yards but the lead didn't last until the break. The Dynamo were awarded a penalty when Brian Ching tripped over his own feet with Bill Hamid going to ground near him, and Brad Davis equalised from the spot. Houston's Danny Cruz forced a brilliant save from Hamid before United took the lead through a simple Charlie Davies finish after Andy Najar's caused havoc. Houston got their second equaliser in the 89th minute, when Ching's header deflected past Hamid.

A California derby at Buck Shaw Stadium stayed goalless despite LA Galaxy playing the whole of the second half with ten men against San Jose Earthquakes. The Quakes hit the post after just 20 seconds and frustration was to become the story of their night as Donovan Ricketts put in a storming first 20 minutes in the Galaxy goal. He was then substituted after a painful clash (which broke his arm) with Khari Stephenson and replaced by Josh Saunders, who didn't see out the half. After having the ball headed out of his hands by Steven Lenhart, he picked up the ball again and jabbed out an ugly elbow, flooring Lenhart and leaving LA without a goalkeeper for more than half the game. Mike Magee, usually found at the other end, filled in in goal.

FC Dallas thrashed Portland Timbers 4-0 at Pizza Hut Park. Zach Loyd got the scoring underway with a far post header from a corner and George John quickly repeated the trick. Brek Shea swept in the third after Eric Alexander hit the post, and Jackson finally scored after hitting the woodwork twice, his shot creeping in after Troy Perkins failed to get enough on his save.

In the final game of a mammoth week, Columbus Crew demolished Colorado Rapids on an eventful evening for Conor Casey. He put the Rapids ahead early, heading in his fourth goal in five games, but he wouldn't see out the half. By the time he was sent off for piling into Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer, the Rapids were 2-0 down. Eddie Gaven took advantage of poor defending the beat Matt Pickens after 11 minutes and Andres Mendoza blasted the second in off the crossbar after another error. Mendoza scored again just after half time, capitalising on a third error and making no mistake with half a pitch to run into unchallenged. Tommy Heinemann's goal was just the icing on the cake and, inevitably, could have easily been avoided.

After all that, Philadelphia again top the East ahead of New York and Coloumbus, with Toronto and New England now propping up the Conference. In the West it's LA at the top and a rampant Seattle side in second, ahead of Dallas on goal difference. Vancouver and Chivas are still at the bottom.

You can see all the action here and see those tables here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #194

A change to the usual programme...
6 Strange And Unlikely Match-Day Programmes

1. Celtic v China, 1979

2. Chelsea v Italy Under-23s, Prince Philip Cup, 1975

3. Coventry City v Japan, 1978

4. England's World Cup Winners XI v Thames TV All Stars XI, 1979

5. The Three v The Six, Common Market Match, 1973

6. Tonbridge FC v Nadi Al Shabab, 1975

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TV Preview: 24 - 30 June

Friday 24th June

21:00 Argentina U17 v Japan U17, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
Japan seemed to lack ambition against the impressive but sluggish French team in their last match. Now they need to beat Argentina to guarantee a finish in the top two.
21:00 Jamaica U17 v France U17, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport 2
Two defeats for the Reggae Babyz leaves them heading home after this match. France's technical ability looks pretty scary and although I think they struggled in the afternoon heat against Japan, they should do enough to win. Victory should see them top the group.

Saturday 25th June

19:45 Spain U21 v Switzerland U21, UEFA U21 European Championship Final, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Fitting that the two best teams in the tournament should compete for the finale. Spain are as good as you would expect but some people may be taken aback to see Switzerland where they are. They won the Under 17 World Cup in 2009 and host an impressive array of talent. Particularly Nassim Ben Khalifa. A victory for the Swiss may be unexpected but it would not be surprising.
21:00 Uruguay U17 v England U17 FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD
Right, so a freakish equalising goal from Canadian goalkeeper Quillan Roberts prevented England from sailing into the next stage. Having said that they're pretty much through which is just as well as this Uruguayan team seem pretty tasty and determined. I've heard a few disparaging remarks about the English on Twitter but they are the European U17 Champions and in Raheem Sterling have a real talent. They may be dark horses.
21:00 Canada U17 v Rwanda U17, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport 2
An England defeat and a Canadian win by a few goals will see the Canucks through eh? Mind you, Rwanda are not useless and Canada really were quite lucky to get their point against England so how likely that scenario is open to question.
22:30 Flamengo v Atlético, Brazilian National Championship, Premier Sports
What's this? League football? Never heard of it. Flamengo's last four games have all been draws. If you think that's crap then you're right. But Atlético have lost four of their last five. Well worth staying up for then. Yes Sir!
02:00 (Sunday morning) USA v Mexico, CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, British Eurosport 2
Pile in early from the discotheque, crack open the tinnies, crank up Twitter and laugh your socks off at your American buddies as they angst lyrical while watching the USMNT get their butts handed to them by Mexico. It's the best fun you can have with your clothes on.

Sunday 26th June

19:00 New York Red Bulls V Chicago Fire, MLS, ESPN / ESPN HD
The Red Bulls are top of the Eastern Conference despite having won only one game in their last eight. Fortunately for them, the Fire have an even worse record. Such is the wacky world of MLS. I love it!!
21:00 Panama U17 v Germany U17, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD
As I type this, Germany are beating Burkina Faso 2-0 in the penultimate round. They'd beaten Ecuador 6 (SECHS) - 1 in the first match so by the time you read this they should be through.
21:00 Burkina Faso U17 v Ecuador U17, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport 2
The Africans had been on a decent run before they bumped into Panama in Round One. Ecuador may have had the stuffing knocked out of them by the Germans from the last match.

Thursday 30th June

22:00 TBC FIFA U17 World Cup Last 16, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD
A preview of this match will be added once we know who is playing.

Romanian dreams of a nearby land

The Europa League kicks off with the First Qualifying Round, seven days from now. This season the Football Fairground will be keeping a close eye on this much-maligned European competition.

Few could argue that Michel Platini has spent a good deal of his UEFA Presidency looking east to the nations that made up the former Soviet block during the Cold War. Next year the European Championships will take place in Poland and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.

In May, the brand new National Stadium in Bucharest, Romania will host the Final of the UEFA Europa League. However, this once great footballing nation appears to have struggled somewhat with the transition from Soviet Communism to a market-based society with once great clubs struggling to compete. The chance of any of the four Romanian clubs making it to the Grand Finale in Bucharest are extremely slim.

As with many clubs on the other side of the old Iron Curtain, Romania have suffered from the relative poverty of their economy and the league’s general inability to retain top class players. This has lead to a lack of investment and the almost inevitable suggestion that corruption and match fixing is never far away.

On the European stage the high water mark was Steaua Bucharest's victory in the 1986 European Cup Final when they beat Barcelona on penalties, in Sevilla. These days, the idea of a Romanian club ever coming close to such a feat is fanciful. CFR Cluj and Unirea Urziceni were recent participants of the Champions League stage (thanks in part to Platini’s promise to give clubs from the poorer leagues a bit of a leg up in terms of qualification). However, neither team have been able to build on that success. In fact Urziceni were relegated from the First Division at the end of last season.

Another club relegated last season were Timisoara who actually finished runners up but were denied a licence by the league because of the level of debt the club is carrying. The situation is very complicated and I’m sure that Poli fans believe themselves a victim of an injustice but the upshot of it is that everyone below them moved up one spot. Good news for Vaslui who now take the second Champions League spot. Good news also for the Transylvania club, CS Gaz Metan Mediaş who finished in seventh place and now find themselves in the Second Qualifying Round of the Europa League. They will play Kuopion Palloseura (KuPs to you and I) of Finland in mid July.

Prior to the revolution in 1989, Dinamo Bucharest were the club of the hated and feared Romanian secret police, the Securitate. Dinamo’s last title was in 2007 and have never made it into the group stage of the Champions League. They finished in sixth place in the League but have been bumped up to the Third Qualifying Round so their journey to the Group Stage of the Europa League is somewhat shorter than they had initially expected..

There are two other Bucharest clubs hoping to make the long trip back to their home city in May. Rapid Bucharest finished third and go straight into the Play Off Round. The three-times domestic champions may have a more modest history than their illustrious neighbours but in George Copos they have a wealthy owner. The former Government minister is a controversial figure but his club are the top dogs in the City, this year.

Liverpool fans will have seen Romania’s most famous club, Steaua, as recently as last year as the two teams faced each other in the Europa League Group Stage. After getting drubbed 4-1 at Anfield they managed to rescue some credibility at the Ghencea with a 1-1 draw. In fact, the former army club only managed one win in Group K last season. They finished a poor third behind Liverpool and Napoli. Steaua still remain the most successful League team in Romania but have not come close to winning a domestic title since narrowly missing out to Cluj in 2008. Former Urziceni boss Ronny Levy had been given the task of trying to revive this famous old club.

Realistically and with all due respect to Dinamo and Mediaş, it's probably Rapid and Steaua that represent the best chance of Romanian participation in the Group Stage by virtue of their presence in the Play Off Round. They will be hoping for a kind draw in the Play Off Round, perhaps in the form of one of the smaller teams that make it from the first or second round of qualifiers. However, there are some decent teams from the big western European leagues in that pot and if those balls are unforgiving, the dream of a Romanian club walking out for a Romanian Final in May will remain just that.

The Football Fairground is proud to be part of the Europa Legion, a network of Europa League bloggers. Follow the Europa Legion on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Panini and me

I’m hacked off. No really, I’m monumentally hacked off. All this recent talk about Panini stickers has reopened a wound of mine which had barely healed after almost a year.

In case you’ve been busy shredding Jack Warner’s bank statements for the last week or two, Panini football stickers have got tongues wagging again because the German public have gone mad over a new 2011 Women’s World Cup collection. Apparently Panini had to produce an extra million packets to satisfy demand in a country which has seen its women’s national team become one of the world’s best over the years.

All good news for women’s football and indeed Panini who to this day continue their battle for the hearts and minds of modern children more interested in pursuits such as Nintendo and under-age sex. The thing is, this story has sparked a collective reverie among those thirty- and forty-somethings who last year collected Panini’s World Cup 2010 stickers.

For a while last summer, it seemed as though some sort of clandestine society had been set up that I hadn’t been invited to join. I’d visit friends at their homes and find the topic of conversation quickly turning to the battered pages of the sticker albums they’d been filling. I’d attend a barbecue somewhere only to have thrust upon me a large wad of doubles, tightly bound in rubber bands, each sticker referred to lovingly in somewhat guilty tones.

And there was I utterly oblivious to the phenomenon that was unfolding. Worse still, I wasn’t even collecting those World Cup stickers myself, an ironic twist of fate which still rankles to this day. I say ‘ironic’ as I have something of a history when it comes to Panini sticker collections.

I first became aware of those hallowed compilations of self-adhesive wonderment back in the late-70’s. Friends of mine had owned the albums for Football ’78 and Football ’79, but my first collection was Europa ’80. With its black cover and copious spaces inside waiting to be filled with pictures of Bob Latchford, Mick Mills and other international greats of the time, this was where my addiction to sticker collecting began.

Alan Dunn was my schoolmate when I was only 8 years old. He was collecting Europa ’80 too and with him I first enjoyed that sense of justice you could only get by swapping those stickers you’d annoyingly ended up with more than one of. More annoying, however, was the fact that I’d followed Alan’s lead of colouring in the little outline drawings of football players that were on every page of that Europa ’80 album. Little was I to know the words ‘eBay saleability’ would take on greater significance thirty years hence.

Later that year came my first annual Panini collection, Football ’80, which I collected enthusiastically without ever coming close to filling the album, just like Football ’81. Actually sending off a postal order and a letter to buy any remaining stickers seemed like an incredible faff to me, so I never ever did it. The important thing to my mind was that I’d completed as much of the album as possible by buying my own packets (at a not-to-be-overlooked 5p each) and swapping my own doubles. That, in itself, was a lasting tribute to my persistence and patience, thank you very much.

As the years went by, more and more incomplete albums were added to my collection. In 1984, however, something truly wondrous happened. My Dad was a regular down at our local pub back then and he knew an elderly gentleman who would often join him for a pint of mild ‘n’ bitter on a Friday night. One particular occasion saw the old guy ask my Dad if his son collected football stickers. Having replied in the affirmative, he told my Dad he’d pop round to the house one night with something to give me as a gift.

A few nights later, the doorbell rang and there waiting on the doorstep was the old man clutching a Football ’84 album and a Golden Virginia tobacco tin. He explained that since his wife had passed away he’d become a little lonely and had decided to collect football stickers as a hobby to fill the quiet hours. This he had done, even going to the trouble of sending off for the last remaining stickers to complete his collection.

Having filled the album and written notes below some of the pictures to bring them up to date (“John Wark – Now Liverpool”), his work was now done. On that cold winters night, he’d come to hand over his completed sticker book and a tobacco tin full of doubles to a small boy who’d never even seen a full album before. Having told his story and seen the growing smile on my face, he bid me farewell and turned to walk back home again on that dark, cold night. Twenty-seven years later, I can still picture him in my mind, standing there on my doorstep. I also still have that album along with my own incomplete one. Don't even bother asking which one I like best.

A couple of years later, I found myself attending the offices of a non-descript building in Camden to have my photo taken for Issue 1 of Panini Magazine. Such was my dedication to the sticker-based pastime that I must have written Figurine Panini a letter at some point telling them how much of a fan I was. I can't actually recall doing so, to be honest, but no matter – I was just the sort of charming schoolchild they were looking for to be in their very first 'Collectors Corner' feature.

They told me to bring in all my albums, so with my friend Martin Lewis in tow, we hot-footed it onto the Tube one day clutching carrier bags stuffed to the gunnels with sticker-related ephemera. On arrival, a photographer began snapping merrily away at me, after which a woman from the magazine said: "So Chris, you've filled up all these albums of yours, have you?"  Ah. Not actually filled, no. Surely I’d mentioned that in my letter, hadn’t I?

Crestfallen, the woman went away to check whether I remained justified in having so much fuss made of me, but luckily she returned and the photo shoot was duly completed. Some weeks later, they sent me some photos from the day along with a copy of the magazine I appeared in. Aside from the fact that I looked a bit of a dork, I was quite proud of my achievements.

Sadly that magazine went the same way as my Football '80 and Football '81 albums, a casualty of my Mum's over-eager attempts to tidy up by bedroom cupboard. I have still got the photos, but trust me, the internet contains enough dubious photographic content as it is without me publishing them here.

In 1987, my school days came to an end and I started working in my first job. To find myself suddenly moving in more adult circles meant I would put away my childhood toys and become a man, albeit a very young one. Football ’87 was to be my last Panini sticker collection for thirteen years and in that time, Figurine Panini lost the rights to make stickers for top-flight football in England and more and more kids turned their attention to the much-maligned video game. Sticker collecting was fast fading into my distant past, but the chance to make new memories arrived at the turn of the millennium.

When Euro 2000 came along, Panini brought out a new sticker album to commemorate the event. Bright and bold with the official logo emblazoned all over it, it caught my eye and got me thinking perhaps the time had come to re-embrace the favourite pastime of my youth. And so it was that as a sheepish-looking 28-year-old, I wandered into my nearest branch of WHSmith and bought a Panini Euro 2000 album and a box of stickers.

That’s right – a box. Never before had I been so privileged but then I wasn’t earning a wage of my own before. The shop assistant seemed a little shocked, mainly because no-one ever bought a whole box in one hit before. Better that than being shocked at the sight of a 28-year-old buying stickers, I felt. Anyway, I took my merchandise home and one by one opened each packet before sticking its contents into the book. I didn’t finish off the whole box in one sitting – that would’ve been plain wrong – but I did heartily savour that long-forgotten feeling of ripping open each packet and pulling out a mystery selection of players, or better still, foil badges.

Sadly I had no-one to share the feeling of nostalgia with. Martin didn’t want to collect Euro 2000 stickers with me (or perhaps couldn’t afford it) and any open invitation to a wider social circle may have resulted in me being admitted to a mental institution. Still, collect those stickers I did, but this time I sent off a cheque in order to finish my album with the stickers I’d missed. Glory be.

I did the same again for Panini’s 2002 World Cup collection and their Euro 2004 collection, too. I even completed my Panini 2006 World Cup collection, but at that point I decided to call it a day and concentrate on buying old Panini albums on eBay. The internet truly is a wonderful thing sometimes.

And that would have been a happy ending to my story, except that many of my friends suddenly decided to jump on Panini’s World Cup 2010 bandwagon and delude everyone with their fair-weather
sticker worship.

Where were they a few years back? Why only come out of the woodwork now after all this time?  Call themselves Panini fans?

It really got my goat, but having missed out on all the fun I can say one thing for certain. If they ever come crawling back to me to collect Panini with them in future, I shall take great delight in telling them where to stick it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Football Americana Week 14: Thierry Henry sees rouge in the Rose City

It wasn't the worst (or indeed the best) weekend of Major League Soccer action. But worry ye not, for the vintage goals remain a fixture in this league and the Timbers and Red Bulls served up a treat to relight the dying embers of the weekend.

New England Revolution and Toronto FC played out a 0-0 draw to get Week 14 underway at Gillette Stadium. TFC's Doneil Henry headed over from a corner in the first half and Chris Tierney's drive at the other end forced a save from Stefan Frei, but neither side could break the deadlock. Gianluca Zavarise, on as a sub for Nick Soolsma for Toronto, was sent off for two bookable offences in the last five minutes, his first for standing over the ball with Shalrie Joseph attempting to take a free kick and his second for barely a nibble at the back of the Revs captain a few minutes later.

Toronto almost managed to get through another goalless 90 minutes - almost. Seattle Sounders went down to ten men just after half time at BMO Field when Jhon Kennedy Hurtado added a yellow for haulling down Alen Stevanovic to the one he gained for tripping Mikael Yourassowsky in the first half. Fredy Montero (pictured) made it a successful trip for the Sounders, though; with one minute to go he stepped up to take a free kick and curled it brilliantly into the top corner.

The Revs also had a second game, theirs a 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire. Dominic Oduro continued his uncharacteristically good scoring form for the Fire with a placed but deflected finish past a wrong-footed Matt Reis. Rajko Lekic equalised just after half time, punishing the Fire's defence for stepping up and leaving him onside and scoring easily from close range.

Sporting Kansas City won their second consecutive match, their first victory at the beautiful Livestrong Sporting Park. San Jose Earthquakes were the losers on Friday night, falling to a 1-0 defeat by dint of the first ever MLS goal there, by Sporting rookie CJ Sapong. The goal came after half an hour, and was an acrobatic poacher's finish from a Graham Zusi free kick.

Houston Dynamo went down at home to Columbus Crew, thanks in large part to the dismissal of Lovel Palmer. Andres Mendoza raced clear to slot home for the Crew five minutes before half time, and any hope of the Dynamo getting back into the game was foiled by Palmer's red card in the 52nd minute. Will Hesmer made some crucial saves and Bernardo Anor put the game beyond them with 13 minutes left, taking two bites of the cherry but finding the top corner to kill the game.

It was a tale of two penalties in Sandy as Real Salt Lake and DC United scored one each. Chris Pontius' early goal was disallowed because Josh Wolff was offside but RSL were awarded a first half penalty when a sliding Clyde Simms' arm was struck by the ball in the box. Fabian Espindola swept in the spot kick to put Salt Lake into the lead. If Salt Lake's penalty was a slightly harsh decision, there was a huge question mark over DC's. Charlie Davies went over like a sack of spuds under a challenge from Chris Wingert and found the net from twelve yards to earn a point for United. Chris Pontius hit the crossbar twice but a win for United would have been unjust.

LA Galaxy remain short-handed thanks to the Gold Cup, but came away from their game with Colorado Rapids with a 3-1 win. Drew Moor's own goal was drawn out by Chris Birchall, and Juninho's goal for 2-0 was a superb strike from 30 yards that beat Matt Pickens comfortably. The Rapids pulled one back after just over an hour, Conor Casey tapping in after Omar Cummings low shot came back off the post. Caleb Folan then spoiled Colorado's chances by picking up a straight red for a scissor tackle on Juninho, before Chad Barrett wrapped up the win with a nice finish on the break.

One goal was enough for Vancouver Whitecaps to defeat Philadelphia Union at home in an entertaining encounter, and it was a goal worthy of any victory. Davide Chiumiento found Alain Rochat in space on the left hand side after a fantastic run, and the shot across Faryd Mondragon and bending inside the post from 20-odd yards was wonderfully struck.

A late goal won it for FC Dallas at Chivas USA, where they won 2-1. Brek Shea put them one up mid-way through the first half, cracking Andrew Jacobson's precise ball into the bottom corner without giving Dan Kennedy (who had an excellent game in goal) the merest sniff of a touch. Michael Lahoud equalised for Chivas with 20 minutes left with a horribly deflected shot from miles out that left Kevin Hartman helpless in the Dallas goal. The winner came five minutes from time and was a beautifully controlled finish after Lahoud's error at the back.

Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls didn't hold back at Jeld-Wen Field, duking it out in a thrilling 3-3 draw. Austin Da Luz rolled the Red Bulls into an early lead but, with coach John Spencer serving a touchline ban, the Timbers came roaring back after half time. Jack Jewsbury got the first, driving it low from the edge of the box, and Kevin Goldthwaite made it 2-1 just a minute later with a cheeky finish after Eric Brunner nodded down Jewsbury's free kick. The Timbers had two great opportunities to double their lead and eventually did so when Stephen Keel slid the ball into his own net. Thierry Henry (that's him in the photo) fired in New York's second with an emphatic finish after a nice build-up.

If Portland were to regret not putting away their chances, they'll be mortified at what happened with 15 minutes to go. Awarded a penalty at 3-2 when Jorge Perlaza was fouled by Greg Sutton, Jewsbury's attempt hit the foot of the post. A stoppage time flashpoint saw Henry dismissed for his involvement in what can only be described as a nothing incident with Adam Moffat; even then the pair had sorted out their differences by the time the referee chose to interfere. New York made up for it with an even later equaliser, Dwayne DeRosario crashing in a penalty after Rodney Wallace's clear handball.

That draw for the Red Bulls takes them a point clear of Philly at the top of the East, with Columbus a point behind them in turn. Two consecutive wins for Kansas City have brought them right back up against the bottom of the pack.

With all three top teams in the West winning their most recent games, it's as-you-were: LA top by six points, Dallas second by three and Seattle in third. Vancouver made up ground on Chivas and Portland with their win over the Union. Those tables are here, and you can see all the Week 14 action at MLSsoccer.com.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

30 Years of Football Kit Production in the Top Flight (Part 2)

Our story concludes in the middle of the following graph.

As you can see, the start of the 1995/96 season heralded a period when Adidas and Umbro were no longer the kit manufacturers of choice for Premier League clubs. More competitors than ever before were wanting a piece of the action, and it very nearly wiped the three stripes of Adidas off the map in the English top flight.

The season before, it was only Roy Evans’ Liverpool side that were wearing apparel by the German sportswear giants, but Newcastle United signed on the dotted line and ended up with a now familiar strip that came complete with a ‘grandad collar’ shirt. A year later, Alan Shearer also signed on the dotted line and wore the shirt in front of thousands of delirious fans, but even that adulation wouldn’t be enough to raise the dwindling appeal of Adidas kits among Premier League teams.

Umbro were hanging on to five top team contracts but their share would also drop further over the next few seasons. At least they were providing the kit for Chelsea and Man United – two giants of the English game then and now – but even they were having to fight off the attentions of a new array of companies. Strangely enough, some of them had long and proud histories but were only now appearing in the Premier League spotlight.

Reebok were one such company. Starting life as the Bolton-based sports shoe company JW Foster and Sons in 1895, they changed their name in 1960 and went on to become Bolton Wanderers’ kit supplier from the 1993-94 season. They’ve been Bolton’s outfitters ever since and back in the latter part of the 1990’s were adding the likes of Liverpool and Aston Villa to their Premier League portfolio.

Pony were an American brand who were also better known for making sports footwear. They made a splash in the 1990’s football scene by making kits for several teams, most notably Tottenham, West Ham and Southampton. Their 1993-95 range for the latter pairing raised a few eyebrows by virtue of a large chevron pointing downwards on the shirts – a point used to indicate their direction of travel in the Premier League table by rivals up and down the country.

Bringing up the rear were Puma, the company formed when brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler went their separate business ways in the late 1940’s. While his brother forged a new sportswear identity under the Adidas banner, Rudolf formed Puma and the rest, as they say, is history. Of particular note here, Puma were the makers of football strips for Derby, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday and were very nicely styled indeed.

The arrival of a new millennium conveniently coincided with the arrival of Nike as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Since 1995, only Arsenal had gone where Sunderland had feared to tread in the mid-80’s, but that all changed in the 2000/01 season when they snapped up the contract for Leeds United and, once again, Sunderland. By the time Leeds fell from grace a few seasons later, Man United had already taken the Nike shilling and remain part of their stable of top international clubs to this day.

Le Coq Sportif were still very much in business, just as they had been in 1980/81. When Leicester City gave up on using own brand Fox Leisure, LQS took over the reins during the last days at Filbert Street and also provided the kit for Man City and Charlton Athletic too.

Sadly the death knell finally rang for Asics when Bradford City were relegated in 2000/01. It was the last time the Italian company’s logo was seen on a Premier League kit, but their place in the market would be filled by Kappa who hooked up initially with Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham thereafter. An acquired taste where kit design's concerned, you either love or hate that unmissable logo featuring a naked couple sitting back to back. Perhaps it's that which has prevented more clubs from signing up Kappa for their own kit contracts.

The 2004/05 season was a significant one in that we saw the highest number of different kit manufacturers used by Premier League teams. There were 14 in all, namely: Adidas, Umbro, Nike, Puma, Reebok, Errea, Hummel, Diadora, Kappa, Lonsdale, Joma, Saints, Xara and Pompey Sport.

While the combined share of Premier League kits for Adidas and Umbro was languishing at an all-time low of just 15%, Lonsdale were trying to increase theirs. The British firm, more widely associated with boxing than football, got the Blackburn contract and latterly the same for Sunderland, but this was to be a brief dalliance with football kit making and they, like Diadora, were soon to disappear from view.

In 2006/07, Adidas were starting to bounce back and even managed to gain more top flight kit contracts than Umbro for the first time since the 1982/83 season. Along with their long-running association with Newcastle United that had begun eleven seasons earlier, Adidas also lured Chelsea away from Umbro and persuaded Liverpool to end their run with Reebok.

Yet for all that, only one season later, Umbro came back from having only one team on their books (Everton) to having six. This was the time of yet another rebirth for Umbro, a time to reinvent itself with new ideas and new designs. The most noteworthy of them all was the reintroduction of a trailing diamond motif running down the shirt sleeves – a common sight in the late 1970's, rebooted for the late-2000s.

And so in the last few seasons leading up to 2010-11, a new order began to establish itself in the Premier League. Umbro, Adidas and Nike were the main players in the kit supply market with Le Coq Sportif not far behind and a small number of lesser manufacturers further behind still with a token strip here or there. Last year, though, the market expanded once again and the Premier League found itself awash with new names to conjure with – Burrda (from Switzerland), Xtep (the first Chinese kit manufacturer in the top flight), Macron (from Italy) plus Mi Fit and Carbrini from England.

Whether the diversity of kit companies on show in the Premier League continues to grow is open to debate. What is certain is that there are a number of collaborations we're yet to see. Will Tottenham, Chelsea or Liverpool wear a Nike kit anytime soon?  Will we see Man United return to Adidas? Will any of the big teams in the Premier League go for a left-field option like Kappa or Le Coq Sportif? The next 30 years of top-flight football in England will surely give us all the answers.

Friday, June 17, 2011

TV Preview: 17 - 22 June 2011

Saturday 18 June

15.45 Volga v Zenit St Petersburg, Russian Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
With the switch to an autumn/spring schedule for 2012/13, this season's Russian Premier League is 18 months long. We're approaching the halfway stage in the first phase of the competition (stick with me here) before the league splits in two in the manner of the Scottish Premier League. Here, newly promoted Volga face Luciano Spalletti's side who sit controversially two points behind CSKA at the top of the table. Controversially in that it follows the League's decision to award the Moscow side a 3-0 win in their 1-1 draw because Zenit failed to field a Russian youth player.
18.00 Lokomotiv Moscow v Spartak Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Probably not the best time for Lokomotiv to have two derbies in a row. The side are currently managerless after the club's president Olga Smorodskaya sacked head coach Yuri Krasnozhan on suspicion of throwing matches. They sit third in a tightly bunched table, three points behind the leaders and four points above today's mid-table visitors.

Sunday 19 June

19.45 England v Czech Republic, UEFA U21 European Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A must win for England if they are to progress through to the knock-out stage. As far as experience is concerned, Stuart Pearce's boys have already shown with two disappointing draws that they know how to play tournament football for England.
21.00 England v Rwanda, FIFA U17 World Cup, British Eurosport/HD
Eurosport are fully covering (so they say) the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico which kicks off on Saturday. A 24 team tournament, England will be taking on Canada and Uruguay in addition to today's opponents. I choose to believe that Rwanda's and fellow African qualifiers Burkina Faso's involvement in this tournament is the sign of an optimistic future for these troubled countries rather than anything due to a lack of reliable birth registry.

Wednesday 22 June

11.00 Urawa Reds v Avispa Fukuoka, J1 League, British Eurosport 2
Avispa bottom
Lost all of their first nine games
Reds not much better

17.00 UEFA U21 European Championship, Semi Final, Sky Sports 1/HD1
First semi-final: winners of Group A against Group B's runners-up. Most likely to be a strong looking Switzerland against England or the Czech Republic.
17.00 CSKA Moscow v Lokomotiv Moscow, Russian Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
With just four points emcompassing the top six it could be all change at the top after this tie; however, Lokomotiv haven't had much joy at the Luzhniki against CSKA or Spartak in recent years. With all the controversies surrounding these clubs recently, this game is probably best watched with a bit of added chin-rubbing.
19.00 Zenit St Petersburg v Kuban Krasnodar, Russian Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Chelsea fans will remember Dan Petrescu - well he's the manager of Kuban and not doing too bad either getting them promoted as Champions in his first season. Hopefully he didn't have anything to do with Nikola Nikezic being beaten-up by armed goons and forced to sign an agreement dissolving his contract with the club.
20.00 UEFA U21 European Championship Semi Final, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Second semi-final - probably Spain against the hosts Denmark.
1.50 (Thursday morning) Santos v Peñarol, Copa Libertadores Final 2nd Leg (0-0), Premier Sports
All still to play for in this after a goalless first leg. In the early 1960s, these two sides dominated the competition - meeting each other in the 1962 final which went to a third game. Pele scoring twice to see Santos win 3-0.

Thursday 23 June

3.00 (Friday morning), New York Red Bulls v Seattle Sounders, MLS, ESPN/ESPN HD
While New York lead the Eastern Conference on goal difference their 2-1 defeat of New England was their first win in seven games. Five of the games in that run were draws, a trend across the whole of the MLS this season: 40% of the games have ended in a draw.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #193

King Canaries
The First 5 Teams To Lead The Premier League Table

1. Norwich City
2. Blackburn Rovers
3. Coventry City
4. Queens Park Rangers
5. Arsenal

...but Norwich led the table from Day 1 (August 15 1992) and remained top for most of the period leading up to January 1 1993 and beyond. They eventually finished third behind Manchester United and Aston Villa.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cardiff City's recruitment process as a botched attempt to kill James Bond

Myself, m'colleague Graham and our mutual friend Martyn are big James Bond fans. Being of a certain age the Bond of our generation, is Sir Roger Moore.

It should be said that many (all) of his films were somewhat flawed. This was a period in the Bond canon where the producers got a bit carried away with the set piece action sequences. From Roger's stuntman skiing off a cliff face and unfurling a parachute adorned with the Union Flag in Spy Who Loved Me to Grace Jones' stunt er person hurling themselves off the top of the Eiffel Tower in A View To A Kill to three guys getting chucked out of an aeroplane and fighting over the two remaining parachutes in mid air in Moonraker, this was the stuff of Bond in the seventies and eighties. Extravagant, expensive and highly dangerous. Insurance costs and CGI graphics have pretty much consigned this sort of reckless stunt work to the archives and in truth that's probably a good thing.

One of the more barmy action scenes was in the aforementioned Moonraker when the script writer, one Christopher Wood, contrived a situation where Bond was travelling through Venice in a gondola. While our man surveys the beautiful Venetian architecture, his gondolier Franco, respectfully removes his hat as a slow moving hearse-boat carrying a coffin, passes by. But wait...

While Franco's head is bowed the coffin opens to reveal an array of throwing knives and a henchman that rises up, grabs one of the knives and, with deadly accuracy, slays Franco with a single throw of the arm. With the gondola now deprived of its driver the assassin turns his attention to his real target, James Bond. But Her Majesty's finest is too quick for him. He grabs the wayward second knife and throws it right back at its owner. In a moment of ham fisted irony, the killer is returned to his coffin for good.

At that point a gangster housed within the hearse-boat opens fire on Bond with a sub machine gun. He proves to be a useless shot and allows our hero to activate the gondola's speedboat conversion function. Bond speeds away from danger. However, the killers have a Plan B in the shape of their own speedboat hidden away, just in case the guy with the knife misses. This contains another gunman with another sub machine gun. A high speed chase ensues which ends with the speed-gondola converting into a hovercraft. To the bafflement of the baddies, the gawking tourists and delight of an eleven year old me watching in the cinema, Bond makes his escape through St Marks Square.

The flaw in this nefarious plan to cut down the World's Greatest Secret Agent is obvious: the knife thrower in the coffin was pointless. They should have gone straight to Plan B, the guys with guns, in the speedboat.

We've often tried to imagine the strategy meeting prior to the operation and wondered if, at some point, one of the junior bad guys at the back quietly piped up and said, "But surely, if we already have the speedboat and guns, we should just use them. Why use the knife thrower in the coffin? Seems a bit elaborate, to me... not to mention, expensive." If such a suggestion was ever mooted it was obviously dismissed, possibly with the suggester finding himself on the wrong end of a throwing knife. I have always thought that it was this scenario that among so many other elements of James Bond films, separates them from the real world. No one would do anything that daft in real life. That was until Cardiff City tried to hire Alan Shearer first and Malky Mackay second as the new manager of their club.

In Shearer, we have the knife thrower. A deadly marksman in his own right but a completely inappropriate choice for a club trying to get out of the Championship, a division that Shearer has never played or managed in. In fact, as a manager, his only experience is presiding over Newcastle's inevitable descent into that division, two years ago.

Mackay, on the other hand is the gunman speedboat. Simple, reliable, proven to work well in the past if somewhat inelegant. The Watford manager may not necessarily be the number one choice for an ambitious club like Cardiff, just as speedboats are not the best way to kill 007. However, he has demonstrated admirable poise in working with a club, in Watford that seems constantly on the brink of disaster yet each year, ably preserves their Championship status. While there are almost certainly more appropriate coaches for Mackay to be second choice to, he absolutely, positively, should not have be lower on a shortlist than the knife thrower, Shearer.

So there we have it: Football finally imitating Bond. Next week, Dimitar Berbatov apes Happy Days and tries to ski jump over a man eating shark. All being well, Mackay will have seen Moonraker, learned the life lesson held therein, got in his converted hover-gondola and speeded off to employers with more common sense like, oh I don’t know, Watford perhaps. As for Cardiff City, well if in a few days from now, you see stolen space shuttles launching from a retractable pitch within their stadium, just hope that James Bond is on one of them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Football Americana Week 13: Eric Hassli steals the show

In a week of great goals, big results, a hat-trick and even a new stadium, one expansion club designated player tore the headlines away and kept them all for himself with a goal already seen around the world.

Columbus Crew got the week going with a 2-1 victory over 2009 champions Real Salt Lake. Jamison Olave's seventh minute prod was somehwat fortunate to bounce up and past Will Hesmer, but it was Salt Lake's last luck of the night. The Crew's goals came late, and the first followed something of a domestic. They were awarded a penalty in the 74th minute when Justin Meram was tripped by Olave, and when Andres Mendoza stepped up to take it his team-mates made it clear that Jeff Cunningham should be taking the kick, as instructed by the coach, in his quest to topple Jaime Moreno's MLS scoring record. Mendoza thumped in the penalty, and a few minutes later a deflected strike by Josh Gardner turned one point into three.

Salt Lake had to settle for a point in their second game of the week, a 1-1 draw away at Philadelphia Union. The Union dominated the first half, running rampant as a headed goal by Keon Daniel was immediately preceded by a disallowed goal and followed by two strikes against the woodwork and a full-stretch save by Nick Rimando. RSL controlled far more of the play after the break, gaining their reward early when Jean Alexandre found Fabian Espondola, who used his strength to hold off his man and fire low past Faryd Mondragon.

Sporting Kansas City finally played a home game, opening the beautiful Livestrong Sporting Park with a goalless draw against Chicago Fire. In the 15th minute Graham Zusi found the net for Sporting Club but an offside flag against Omar Bravo robbed them of their first goal at the new stadium. SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was sent off in the 67th minute for handling outside his area when Dominic Oduro knocked the ball over him to go through on goal. Five minutes from the end KC were denied as clear a penalty as you'll ever see. Bratislav Ristic ploughed right through Bravo and was lucky not to do serious damage, let alone concede a penalty.

The Fire then secured a third consecutive clean sheet but took the full 90 minutes to beat the Crew. When the goal arrived it was a simple first ever MLS goal for Christian Nazarit, who took advantage when Will Hesmer parried Orr Barrouch's last-minute shot.

Sporting Club's second game of the week was a more productive affair than the first, as Peter Vermes' side rolled into Texas and gave FC Dallas a 4-1 hiding in their own back yard. Zusi finally got his goal, but not before striking the post after 16 minutes. Quarter of an hour later he cut inside the full back and fired inside Kevin Hartman's far post to make it 1-0. Brek Shea equalised with a wonderful solo goal but it was to be FCD's last moment of joy as three second half goals earned SKC the win. Aurelien Collin found the net from CJ Sapong's cut-back just after the break, and Zusi scored his second with a free kick from fully 45 yards five minutes later. Needless to say it won't make the Hartman showreel. Milos Stojcev was sent off for Kansas City with the score at 3-1, having been given a yellow card for a rash tackle in the first half and an idiotic trip in the second. Luke Sassano rounded off the action, popping the ball over Hartman as the two met at the edge of the box.

New York Red Bulls rediscovered their ability to win against New England Revolution, picking up a 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena. The Revs had a chance to take the lead with a penalty just after the half hour but Greg Sutton palmed away a poor attempt by Shalrie Joseph, and when Ryan Cochrane calmly passed Thierry Henry's low cross into his own net you knew it wasn't New England's night. A vintage Henry goal made it 2-0 just after the break and Zak Boggs' volley was nothing more than a consolation.

The goals were flying in for fun at RFK Stadium, where San Jose Earthquakes emerged as 4-2 victors against DC United. United drew first blood, Andy Najar stealing in at the back post to score his first of the campaign. A quick double from Steven Lenhart (pictured) turned the game on its head, his first a thumping finish after rounding Bill Hamid just seconds after Najar's goal and his second a tap-in as the former Crew man reacted fastest on a rebound. Blake Brettschneider then equalised for DC with a neat turn and finish, but the Quakes would go on to punish United's defending in the second half. Lenhart turned creator in a one-two with Simon Dawkins to make it 3-2, and then completed his hat-trick with a header over the stranded DC 'keeper.

Chivas USA took an early lead at Roberton Stadium against Houston Dynamo, but the home side went on to earn their first win since April. Bobby Boswell's third-minute header was disallowed for Houston and the Goats soon opened the scoring after Marcos Mondaini latched onto a shocking backpass from Hunter Freeman and coolly made it 1-0. Set piece expert Brad Davis sent in a free kick for Geoff Cameron to glance home for the equaliser, and the winner came early in the second half thanks to a Heath Pearce own goal, yet again the result of a superb delivery by Davis.

Colorado Rapids, the league's defending champions, defeated Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field but they left it late. Both sides had and wasted some good chances but it was Drew Moor who finally broke the deadlock for the Rapids in stoppage time with a scrappy goal to finish off a desperate scramble on the goal-line.

It was Cascadia Cup action in the northwest, where Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps shared the points at Qwest Field with a dramatic late flurry. The Caps held a lead for the majority of the game after Eric Hassli (pictured) scored with a lovely chip from the penalty spot after Camilo had been felled by Osvaldo Alonso, but looked to have won it late on with two goals in the last ten minutes. Mauro Rosales poked in the equaliser with time running out and it was quickly followed up by Alonso's powerful pea-roller to make it 2-1 to the Sounders. Hassli would have the last laugh, though - his equaliser was almost immediate. The Frenchman chipped a loose ball up to himself on the edge of the box and crashed a stunning goal of the year candidate past Kasey Keller.

The same result saw LA Galaxy and Toronto FC share the points at Home Depot Center. Chris Birchall started the scoring early, firing in the opener (his first ever MLS goal) in only the second minute. Former Galaxy man Alan Gordon grabbed a headed equaliser with 13 minutes left, and there was more of that to come. Juan Pablo Angel must have thought he'd won it when his volley found the net 10 seconds into stoppage time, but Gordon had one more trick up his sleeve. In the 94th minute he smashed in a wonderful volley of his own to steal a point for the Canadian side.

Having finally ended their winless run, New York edge ahead of Philly at the top of the East, with Houston and Columbus four points behind. Kansas City are closing in on New England at the bottom. In the West, LA are six points clear of Dallas, with Seattle and Colorado three points behind them in turn. Vancouver stay bottom.

You can see those tables here, and check out all the action here. Trust me, this is a good week to do so.

Friday, June 10, 2011

TV Preview: 10 - 15 June 2011

Friday 10 June

18.00 Spartak Moscow v Rubin Kazan, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN / ESPN HD
8th v 7th. Such is the closeness of the RPL at the moment that a win for either of these two clubs could put them in the top two. Sadly both teams have recently found wins as easy to come by as a universally respected superinjunction.
20.00 Colombia v France, Toulon Tournament, British Eurosport 2
Contrary to popular belief, some of you *have* been watching this tournament, and to prove it, here's someone that's even gone to the trouble of tracking France's progress to the Final.

Sunday 12 June

19.45 Spain U21 v England U21, UEFA U21 European Championship, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
The UEFA Under-21 tournament gets underway on June 11th and Sky Sports 1 are all over it. For the purposes of this TV listing, however, we'll be featuring the England matches only because let's face it - no-one does blinkered partisanship like us English. Runners-up last time out, our first match is against Spain who couldn't even get out of England's First Round group in 2009. Pah, lightweights...
23.00 El Salvador v Cuba, CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011, British Eurosport 2
Two of the lesser lights from Central America find an unlikely, if small, TV audience 6,000 miles away in the UK. Neither has a snowball's chance of getting through to the quarter finals, but enjoy the novelty value anyway.

Tuesday 14 June

15.45 Lokomotiv Moscow v Spartak Nalchik, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN / ESPN HD
Chances are you won't be bunking off work to get home early for this one, but if you do, expect to see a one-sided affair between Champions League-chasing Lokomotiv and bottom-dwellers Nalchik.

Wednesday 15 June

19.45 Ukraine U21 v England U21, UEFA U21 European Championship, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
The Ukrainians didn't even qualify for the last UEFA Under-21 tournament, but they topped a qualification group featuring France this time around so they can't be all bad. That said, this should be an easier opponent than Spain for Stuart Pearce's England team, so they should snap up all three points now while they have the chance.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #192

You've got beer on your shirt...
31 Beer-related Shirt Sponsors Of English And Welsh Football Teams

1. Ansell's (Stoke City 1991-93)
2. Bass (Blackpool 1988-90, Crewe Alexandra 1986-89, Derby County 1984-86)
3. Carling (Stoke City 1994-95)
4. Carlsberg (Liverpool 1992-2010, Wimbledon 1988-89)
5. Chang Beer (Everton 2004-)
6. Coors (Chelsea 1994-97)
7. Courage (Reading 1984-90)
8. Fosters Lager (Norwich City 1986-89)
9. Greenall's Beers (Huddersfield Town 1986-1991, Newcastle United 1986-91)
10. Greene King (Ipswich Town 1995-2001)
11. Guinness (Queens Park Rangers 1983-86)
12. Harp Lager (Notts County 1994-96)
13. Holsten (Tottenham Hotspur 1983-95)
14. Home Ales (Nottingham Forest 1986-87, Notts County 1987-89)
15. Home Bitter (Notts County 1989-93)
16. Ind Coope (Leicester City 1983-86)
17. John Bull (Leicester City 1986-87)
18. Labatt's (Nottingham Forest 1994-97)
19. Lees Brewery (Oldham Athletic 1982-88)
20. Mansfield Beers / Riding Bitter (Hull City 1987-89)
21. Marston's Ales (Wrexham 1985-92)
22. McEwan's Lager (Blackburn Rovers 1991-96)
23. Newcastle Breweries / Brown Ale (Newcastle United 1980-86 and 1991-2000)
24. Pedigree (Derby County 2001-05)
25. Shipstones (Nottingham Forest 1988-94)
26. Skol (Nottingham Forest 1984-86)
27. Truman (Wimbledon 1986-88)
28. Wards Ales (Sheffield United 1995-99)
29. Wells Ales (Peterborough United 1987-88)
30. William Younger (Fulham 1984-85)
31. Wrexham Lager (Wrexham 1992-2002)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Football Americana Week 12: Goals dry up in MLS

Are the injuries to flair players beginning to take their toll on Major League Soccer? Probably not. But Week 12 was a goalless wasteland full of draws and zeroes.

Two goals in quick succession saw Chivas USA and visitors Vancouver Whitecaps share the points in the first game of the week. The home side took the lead 21 seconds into the second half with a low shot from 25 yards, but the Goats' lead would last only a couple of minutes. Camilo's equaliser was beautifully curled into the top corner after good work from Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento. The French striker inevitably became the centre of attention in the 66th minute, picking up an incredible third red card of the season for scything down Ben Zemanski.

The Caps were in action over the weekend too, and slumped to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake. Jean Alexandre got the first just after the half hour mark, showing strength and guile before firing in the opener from close range. He was just in an offside position when Kyle Beckerman played the pass through to him initially but the goal stood. Fabian Espindola didn't seem to have his shooting boots on but he kept his composure and grabbed the second, latching onto Alexandre's through-ball after Vancouver gave the ball away and rolling it into the bottom corner.

Chivas won their second game of the week, edging out Portland Timbers on Saturday night. Marcos Mondaini scored the only goal of the game, marking his return to the line-up after a lengthy suspension for the tackle that injured Javier Morales. It was an easy finish and one perhaps that highlights the porous nature of the Timbers on the road.

There were no goals when LA Galaxy and DC United met. The United defence was made up of very inexperienced players so the absence of Landon Donovan will have been welcome. A deflected Chris Birchall cross was fisted away by DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid, and United skipper Josh Wolff almost turned home a brilliant cross from Andy Najar, and the best chance of the game fell to Wolff after a Chris Pontius long throw (fast becoming a theme for the Black and Red) caused problems at the back for the Galaxy. Charlie Davies should also have scored late on.

Sporting Kansas City finally ended their epic run of fixtures on the road in Canada, exchanging blanks in a 0-0 draw with Toronto FC. Both goalkeepers were worked at BMO Field but neither had anything particularly problematic to deal with. Ryan Smith's late header was one of the better chances.

There were goals at Red Bull Arena, but only two of them. New York Red Bulls took less than ten minutes to go ahead against Columbus Crew. Mehdi Ballouchy had already drawn a save from Will Hesmer when he dinked in the opener after a superb pass by Luke Rodgers. Columbus had a few decent chances and squandered some excellent ones, and it looked like the Red Bulls would hold on - they didn't. In stoppage time, Justin Meram stormed into the box and cut the ball back for Rich Balchan who couldn't miss. Thankfully for the Crew it didn't fall to Andres Mendoza, whose finishing was absolutely appalling.

It was back to the 0-0s at Toyota Park, where Seattle Sounders were hosted by Chicago Fire, who fired coach Carlos de los Cobos during the week. Sean Johnson's brilliant save on the Chicago line after five minutes was a vital moment but there were few other genuine close calls other than a slightly exaggerated save by Kasey Keller at the other end.

FC Dallas took advantage of an unprolific weekend by banking three points against New England Revolution. Schellas Hyndman will be delighted that Marvin Chavez (pictured) opted to decline a spot in the Honduran Gold Cup squad as the loanee won it with the only goal of the game, a cool finish from a horrible angle after rounding his marker. Dallas should have had three or four already by that point.

Colorado Rapids faced a Philadelphia Union side on a real run of good form and emerged with a creditable 1-1 draw as the teams exchanged blows in a three-minute period of the second half. Conor Casey put the Rapids in front with a trademark chipped penalty, but Danny Mwanga's strike from 25 yards was a fitting equaliser a few minutes later.

Houston Dynamo played like they'd seen a ghost when they returned to California to face the San Jose Earthquakes outfit that replaced the club after its move to Texas. The Quakes won 2-0 with a pair of second half goals from Steven Lenhart and Simon Dawkins. Lenhart stooped to put them into the lead with a fantastic diving header in the 69th minute, and Dawkins rubber-stamped it at the death with a simple finish on a one-on-one.

It's as-you-were at the top of the East with Philly and New York both drawing, while a point for DC takes them ahead of Houston into third. Kansas City's ten-match run of away games yielded just six points, and they'll be glad to get Livestrong Sporting Park open.

In the West, Dallas gained two points on LA to close the gap to five.

You can see those tables here, and view all the Week 12 action here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

TV Preview: 3 - 9 June 2011

Friday 3 June

19.30 Austria v Germany, Euro 2012 Qualifying, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's neighbour-on-neighbour as Group A returns this evening. Germany are cruising, with five wins from five so far and only one goal conceded. Austria have slipped down the group and need to get back to winning ways to retain any hope of success.

Saturday 4 June

16.45 England v Switzerland, Euro 2012 Qualifying, ITV1/ITV1 HD
England and Montenegro are already well clear in Group G, but a win for Switzerland would bring Fabio Capello's side back into their range. However, England are unbeaten and capable of remaining so for the rest of qualifying.

20.30 Macedonia v Republic of Ireland, Euro 2012 Qualifying, Sky Sports 1
Ireland go into the weekend top of Group B on goal difference, level on points with Russia and Slovakia. Two first half goals won it for Ireland when these two met in the previous qualifying game.

Sunday 5 June

23.00 Costa Rica v Cuba, CONCACAF Gold Cup, British Eurosport 2
Cowboys Stadium gets the Gold Cup underway as Costa Rica meet Cuba, who might even take a couple of their players home with them. Costa Rica's headline act is Alvaro Saborio, an experienced international forward now plying his trade with 2009 Major League Soccer champions Real Salt Lake.

Monday 6 June

20.00 Ukraine v France, Friendly, ESPN/ESPN HD
Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine get their eye in with a friendly against former European Championships winners France at Shakhtar Donetsk's Donbass Arena. Les Bleus have won six out of their last seven games, last losing at home to Belarus at the beginning of September.

Tuesday 7 June

19.00 Sweden v Finland, Euro 2012 Qualifying, ESPN/ESPN HD
Finland have lost three out of four games in a group dominated by the Netherlands, beating only San Marino. Sweden are a full nine points behind the Dutch with a couple of games in hand, and sit in the playoff spot ahead of Hungary on goal difference.

19.45 Italy v Republic of Ireland, Friendly, Sky Sports 1/HD1
No points on the line, no Baggio, no McGrath, no Houghton. Still, might be decent and this one's also on neutral territory: Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Belgium. Yep. Belgium.

23.00 Panama v Guadeloupe, CONCACAF Gold Cup, British Eurosport 2
These two share Group C with Canada and the United States, and meet on Tuesday at Ford Field in Detroit. Charlton Athletic's Therry Racon is the Football League's representative in a Guadeloupe squad plucked largely from France.

Thursday 9 June

20.00 Poland v France, Friendly, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's another friendly for France, who are doing their bit to test out the Euro 2012 host cities during this international interlude. On Thursday, Gdansk's PGE Arena Gdansk gets a run out.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #191

The Sand of God? The 10 Highest Scoring FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Games In History

1. Portugal 14 Uruguay 7 (2009)
2. Solomon Islands 4 Portugal 13 (2008)
3. Brazil 10 Portugal 7 (2007)
4. Brazil 11 Nigeria 5 (2009)
5. Brazil 10 USA 6 (2006)
6. Brazil 10 Switzerland 5 (2009)
7. Uruguay 10 Solomon Islands 5 (2006)
8. Spain 9 Ivory Coast 6 (2009)
9. Senegal 7 Uruguay 8 (a.e.t., 2008)
10. UAE 10 Cameroon 4 (2008)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

'Ligue 1: Season In Review' at The Elastico

It's been a busy old French football season for 'Yours Truly'. Not only did I start a series of Jeu Du Jour podcasts back in August 2010 where I waffled on endlessly about the latest goings on in the French game, but I also pitched in to co-present a new podcast with Andrew Gibney called French Football Weekly which proved rather more successful.

Sadly time has been all too lacking for me to throw my full weight into contributing to the show so the final FFW recorded on Monday was my last, but fear not - my finger will still remain firmly on the French football pulse next season with occasional blog posts scattered hither and yon!

My final contribution for 2010/11 was an article I was flattered to be asked to write for TheElastico.com which was my review of the Ligue 1 season, so feel free to get along and read it if you want my take on the campaign just ended.

Meantime, if you're a fan of French football and would like to contribute an occasional or regular article to Football Fairground's Jeu Du Jour feature, please feel free to get in touch with us. Either drop us an email to carnies at footballfairground dot com or send us a message on Twitter to @futblfairground. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Bundesliga Show Episode 25 - Season Finale & stats chat with Opta Franz

We've reached the end of an exciting Bundesliga season! What better way to sign off for the
summer than with a round up of the campaign?

Jon Hartley and Terry Duffelen talk about the relegation play-off between Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bochum, chat about the standout moments of the season and are joined by special guest Holger Ruhl from Opta Sports.

It is the final show of the season but do come back and check out the podcast at the beginning of the next campaign.

Click here to listen to the podcast or right-click on the link to download it.