Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Transfer Deadline Day Template

It is Wednesday 31st August 2011 – the first ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ of the 2011/12 football season. It’s a day that I’ve come to appreciate about as much as a satellite TV channel dedicated to 24-hour coverage of rotting fish, and yet now I feel ready at last to embrace it fully for all its virtues.

Maybe I’m getting soft in the head as I’m getting older but I now see Transfer Deadline Day for what it is – a comedy festival for the culturally blinkered. I used to get worked up by the hoards of fans wasting their time over so many irrelevances, but now I realise I was missing the point. Thanks to the advances in modern technology (© BBC Tomorrows World 1981), everyone can chip in with a jolly joke, a shaggy dog story or, heaven forfend, report an actual sighting of a player arriving at his new footballing home.

To guide you through this momentous day, there are several options available. For those of you wanting the televisual equivalent of Red Bull being intravenously fed into your bloodstream while your nether regions are stung by a thousand scorpions, there’s Jim White on Sky Sports News, a man who starts his shift on Deadline Day like someone who believes the Lord Jesus Christ himself is returning to Earth for the second coming. And then increases his enthusiasm tenfold every hour from that point onwards.

For those that want to avoid a TV-induced cardiac arrest before lunchtime, there’s a vast array of news websites that truly come into their own on such occasions. Auto-refreshing minute-by-minute coverage ticks over from first thing in the morning ‘til last thing at night in an attempt to cover all the breaking news from every angle. An anachronism of itself it may now be, but you do at least know what you’re going to get when TDD finally rolls around.

As if to prove it, here’s a template for anyone wanting to recreate the joy of Deadline Day on their own website with full guidance on how to apply it:

08:00 Cheery introduction. Greet your transient, bewildered audience like you’ve just sat down at your desk with nothing but the provision of a personal, dedicated news service on your mind. No-one, of course, will believe you.

08:02 Tell people what they can expect over the next 15 hours, even though no single human being remains on the planet that doesn’t know the drill by now. This includes lost tribes of Amazonian forest people, high court judges and cast members from The Only Way Is Essex.

08:15 Admit that things are obviously very quiet so far and take the opportunity to remind your visitors how they can get in touch with you, ensuring at all times to spell your Twitter, email and Facebook details correctly (unless you want a quiet day ahead of you, naturally).

08:19 First message from a chancer subtly advertising his own website on yours. Message usually says something like: “I’m really looking forward to the day ahead and will certainly be keeping my eye on for all the latest information.” Git.

08:22 First message from a fan hoping that his team buys someone quickly for fear of seeing their season fall apart before their very eyes. Hardly original.

08:38 First reminder to fans of all the deals that are expected to be finalised today, what with it being so quiet still and all.

08:52 Inaugural appearance of an old favourite – the (ho ho!) sighting of a football player at an airport located near to a club he couldn’t possibly be going to. Such fun.

09:05 Quick mention of all the main transfer details completed during the last 72 hours. It is still very quiet at this time of the morning, after all.

09:16 Various reports from clubs across Europe about enquiries received/not received for players who “weren’t for sale anyway”.

10:04 League Two club sends out a message to say they’ve not yet received an offer for their top player while secretly hoping this prompts the exact opposite to happen.

10:22 First receipt of a message from a fan trying to show his far-sightedness by saying “If Team A sells Player B, how likely will Team C be to release Player D so that Team A can sign him as a replacement?” Makes you think…

10:40 Latest batch of joke ‘sightings’ arrive, with fans now taking up the ‘play-on-words’ approach, i.e. ‘Welsh player Dai Annudyr-Day seen arriving at The City of Manchester Stadium’, etc, etc.

11:11 Initial instance of a player trying to whip up a sense of frenzied excitement among his followers on Twitter by saying “You’ll never guess who I’ve seen in the club car park!” Oh the anticipation!

11:35 CONFIRMATION OF AN ACTUAL SIGNING… and it involves a 20-year-old one-time young offender signing for a Conference club only a short drive from his old club.

11:40 David Moyes confirms Everton won’t be buying anyone. Tick.

11:56 Details arrive that a club has enquired about the availability of a player at another club. Watch this space…

13:00 Remind visitors to your site that THE TRANSFER WINDOW SHUTS IN TEN HOURS.

13:21 Arsenal fans start getting angry at the prospect of (a) their club not buying anyone, (b) their club not firing their manager, (c) their club selling everyone, or (d) all of the above.

14:44 Tell your website visitors that they’ve really kept your spirits up with their funny messages all day, despite the fact that you’re actually on the verge of having a total psychotic breakdown.

15:12 First mention of a former legend of the world game signing on for an Arab minnow.

15:23 Fans start to realise the sheer futility of what they’ve experienced over the last seven hours or more before a reminder that there’s still another eight hours to go before the transfer window closes.

15:48 Stop to ponder whether the people spreading rumours about player sightings on Twitter are actually the same people that spread malicious rumours about riots breaking out across unaffected parts of the UK recently.

16:33 Time for a recap on the number of deals actually completed since the start of play this morning. Two.

16:50 Someone from Opta chips in with a statistic that is neither useful, interesting or funny about the amount of money that’s changed hands in today’s transfers. Still six hours to go before the transfer window closes.

17:40 Express bewilderment that the proposed transfer of Player A to Club B still hasn’t gone through yet.

18:14 Use bold and capital letters to say that Player A’s move to Club B is NOW OFF before blaming Sky Sports for making you believe it could happen in the first place.

18:53 Attention turns towards confirming that specific players are now staying put at their original clubs. No reference to barrels or associated scraping noises, strangely.

19:27 Report the return of an English player from the continent that’s quoted as saying “living on the continent wasn’t really for me” which everyone predicted would be the case except the individual concerned.

20:31 Inevitable sighting of the old ‘Russian team looking for a perestroikas’ gag. Tick.


21:46 Time to trot out the old chestnut about football agents needing to check their mobile phones to make sure they’ve been switched on all day. Some traditions should never be overlooked.


22:26 Late breaking news… a Premier League club have urgently contacted the FA over their faulty fax machine which is preventing the pending transfer of a little known Japanese triallist / desperate last-minute punt.* (* delete as applicable)

22:53 Various reports of lights being visible from the offices of at least 70 clubs across the UK, thereby indicating deals are still being thrashed out or someone with access to Sky is seeking salvation in the 900+ channels.

23:00 Tell the world that THE TRANSFER WINDOW HAS CLOSED. You can now go to bed, call The Samaritans or drink copious amounts of strong alcohol, depending on your level of abject desperation after today’s events.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Football Americana Week 24: Sounders thrash Columbus

Irene, regardless of hurricane or tropical storm, knocked out a couple of East Coast games this weekend, but elsewhere there were goals galore.

Portland Timbers got the action underway, beating Chivas USA at home by a single goal. John Spencer's side certainly seem to have found their set-piece mojo again, with the goal arriving thanks once more to an Eric Brunner header from a corner.

The Goats were back on home soil over the weekend but the result was no different, Real Salt Lake benefiting this time from a 1-0 win after Alvaro Saborio rounded Dan Kennedy in the 11th minute to slot in an early winner. Juan Pablo Angel hit the crossbar and then Nat Borchers was sent off for Salt Lake a little over ten minutes later for hauling down Nick LaBrocca in a goalscoring position, but Chivas couldn't make their man advantage pay.

The performance of the week came from in-form Seattle Sounders, who stuck six past Columbus Crew with only two in return. Lamar Neagle's shot squirmed past Will Hesmer in the fourth minute and set the tone for a goalfest. Number two came from the spot courtesy of Mauro Rosales, who took the kick after a handball, and the third was volleyed in by Neagle (pictured) in just the 21st minute. After playing a big role in the first half it was Mike Fucito who grabbed number four, turning cleverly to score his first MLS goal of the year.

The second half was arguably marginally better for the Crew, and they pulled one back from the penalty spot through Jeff Cunningham, the penalty being awarded for Jhon Kennedy Hurtado's foul on Emilio Renteria and making him the standalone all-time top goalscorer in MLS. Neagle completed his hat-trick 20 minutes from time, cutting inside his full back and crashing a brilliant strike far beyond Hesmer and in off the crossbar - despite protests, it was a good foot over the line and the officials had no doubt. Josh Gardner's powerful free kick made it 5-2 but just a minute later he undid his good work with an unfortunate own goal.

Toronto FC and San Jose Earthquakes shared the points north of the border, drawing 1-1. Eric Avila's first half goal started to look like the winner until Chris Wondolowski got in on the act late on with a tap-in from Bobby Burling's flick-on.

Vancouver Whitecaps bagged an all-too-rare three points by beating Houston Dynamo at Empire Field. It took until the final five minutes for Shea Salinas to find the winning goal, but when it came it was a tidy finish at the end of a lovely passing move by the Caps.

First half goals from Dominic Oduro and Cory Gibbs secured a 2-0 home win for Chicago Fire over Colorado Rapids. Oduro poked in the first inside the first 20 minutes after out-pacing his markers, and Gibbs followed up before the break with close-range header that should have been defended much more effectively by the champions.

Sporting KC hosted FC Dallas but slumped to a 3-2 defeat after going down to ten men in the midst of a comeback. Kei Kamara gave them the lead by drilling home after a defensive error, and Omar Bravo made it two in the middle of the second half with a tap-in from Teal Bunbury's mis-hit effort. Daniel Hernandez scored a fortuitous goal for Dallas before Bunbury picked up his second yellow card to continue Sporting's collapse. Maicon Santos equalised with a header from Brek Shea's cross and the winner came from Bobby Warshaw in stoppage time, Shea again the provider for an almost identical goal.

Seattle's win takes them within three points of LA at the top of the West, although the Galaxy have a game in hand. Dallas are in third, while the Whitecaps pass the 20-point mark but stay bottom. In the East, nobody seems interested in topping the table. Despite their defeat, Columbus remain top by four points ahead of Sporting, and five ahead of Houston. Philadelphia have enough games in hand to go top.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

Midweek TV Preview: 30 August - 1 September 2011

Tuesday 30 August

19.45 Bradford City v Sheffield Wednesday, Johnstone's Paint Trophy 1st Round, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It seems like only yesterday we were watching the final of this competition, but the Freight Rover Trophy is back with us once again. Wednesday reached the Northern area semi-final last season while Bradford did the same the season before. Peter Jackson resigned as Bradford coach last Thursday. The Bantams' loss is cinema’s gain, you might say.

Wednesday 31 August

01.15 (Thursday) Lanus v Godoy Cruz, Copa Sudamericana Second Stage (First Leg), Premier Sports
Club Atlético Lanús is where you’ll currently find Mauro Camoranesi plying his trade following his move from Stuttgart in February. For the record, both teams are separated by only two places in the Argentinean Primera Division table, but though Godoy Cruz are the higher of the two, Lanus are in the better form of late.

Thursday 1 September

19.30 England U21 v Azerbaijan U21, UEFA U21 European Championship 2013 Qualifier, ESPN/ESPN HD
Incredibly the 2013 qualifying competition is already underway despite the 2011 Final having only taken place in June. This is England’s first game in Group 8 which also features Belgium, Norway and Iceland.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shamrock Rovers cap off a night of Europa League drama

Few would have blamed Pat Sullivan for being happy with his League of Ireland winners' medal and three Setanta Cups in his career. At 28, it’s fair to say that the tap on the shoulder from a scout from Merseyside or Glasgow is not forthcoming. But on Thursday the 25th August at Stadion FK Partizan, he hit a long range screamer to put the Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade out of the Europa League at the Play Off stage and more importantly, Shamrock Rovers into the Group Stages.

I’m exaggerating slightly. In fact it was Stephen O'Donnell's extra time penalty that did for the Belgrade club. But it was Sullivan’s thunderbolt which prolonged the tie after Partizan had gone ahead with a goal from Vladimir Volkov. Rice’s spot kick eliminated a team that was playing Arsenal in the Champions League, only last year. This was an astonishing result and means that, according to the ever succinct OptaJoe "Shamrock Rovers are set to become the first Irish team to play a European match in December since Shelbourne in 1964."

The result rounded off a grim night for Serbian football. Partizan’s City rivals, Red Star Belgrade, were seen off by Ligue 1 side Stade Rennes 6-1 on aggregate. However, if any football nation has cause to think carefully about what it has done, it is Scotland.

Celtic’s record in Europe is a proud one. However, they travelled to Switzerland to play FC Sion with nothing but a 0-0 home draw to take with them. They lost 3-1 with goals from Pascal Feindouno and Giovanni Sio. Rangers fared no better after only managing a 1-1 draw at home to the Slovenians of Maribor, losing out 3-2 on aggregate. With Hearts dead and buried in the first leg against Tottenham Hotspur that’s Scotland out of all European competition before it has really had a chance to get going.

There were some other notable upsets. Serie A giants Roma were knocked out by a glorious strike from Peter Stepanovsky of Slovan Bratislava. That goal cancelled out Simone Perrotta’s opener and meant that the Slovaks won 2-1 over the two legs. The 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup winners Sevilla were also eliminated in a tense 1-1 draw with Bundesliga club, Hannover 96.

The Germans have only ever played once before in a European competition and that was against Werder Bremen, of all teams. They took a nervous 2-1 lead to Spain but managed to negotiate their way through to the Group Stage.

Comeback of the round goes to Hannover’s fellow Bundesliga club, Schalke 04 who had to turn around a 2-0 deficit at the Arena Auf Schalke against HJK Helsinki. They did so with style. 6-1 was the final score. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored four on the night.

All the English clubs are through including Birmingham City which means that a Championship club will be playing in the Europa League. Spartak Moscow did not make it. A last minute Janusz Gol goal saw Legia Warsaw through 5-4 on aggregate.

Finally, the holders, Atletico Madrid had no problem against the Portuguese Vitória Guimarães, winning 6-0 over two legs.

So the teams have been decided. Now all that is left is the draw which takes place on 26th August. The matches kick off on 15 September.

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

Weekend TV Preview: 26 - 29 August 2011

Friday 26 August

19.30 Hertha Berlin v Stuttgart, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
The weekend's TV action begins in the German capital. Hertha fluked their second point of the season at Hannover last Sunday after a goal from Christian Pander was inexplicably ruled out. Markus Babbel will, however, have been encouraged by parts of their performance and hope to build on that tonight.
19.45 Fleetwood Town v York City, Blue Square Bet Premier, Premier Sports
Pundits' favourites Fleetwood and fancied outsiders York go bonce to bonce in the Conference this evening. The hosts haven't quite made the start expected of them, picking up just seven points from 12. York, meanwhile, have won three out of four.
19.45 Barcelona v Porto, UEFA Super Cup, Sky Sports 1/HD1 and ITV4/ITV4 HD
It's Champions League winners versus Europa League winners as UEFA congratulates itself on another successful season of homogeneity. Still, should be a pretty one, this.
01.15 (Sat morning) Racing v Arsenal, Argentina Apertura, Premier Sports
With Racing one of five clubs locked on seven points after three games (along with Boca Juniors, Velez Sarsfield, Colon and Lanus), Arsenal are already playing catch-up. Sound familiar?

Saturday 27 August

12.05 Aston Villa v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Alex McLeish faces his first West Midlands derby in the claret and blue of Villa, with buoyant Wolves heading to B6 aiming to assert themselves over a Villa team that remains subject to more than a few question marks. Sounds like just the kind of game Mick McCarthy loves.
17.30 Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
All's good in the hood for Liverpool, who host Bolton on the back of a morale-boosting victory at Arsenal. Luis Suarez has started the season in goalscoring form, and that doesn't bode well for a Wanderers side that conceded three in their previous match, albeit against impressive opponents.
17.30 Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Last season's top two meet in Germany, with the pair level on points after three games. After losing to Mainz, Bayer have beaten Werder Bremen and Stuttgart, while BVB's surprise defeat by Hoffenheim was sandwiched by six points against Hamburg and Nurnberg.
19.45 Cagliari v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
(NB: This match is likely to be postponed due to a player strike.) Italian champions Milan begin their defence with a trip to the Stadio Sant'Elia in Sardinia. Having seen the Rossoneri in some downtime earlier this summer, I can report that the air of confidence and calmness about the squad is positively blissful. Underestimate their chances of a repeat at your peril.
21.00 Granada v Real Betis, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Granada were promoted to the top flight in June thanks to a victory over two legs against Elche in the second division playoff. It's their return to the first division after 35 years, and their first challenge is to host Betis.
22.00 Fluminense v Botafogo, Brazilian Championship, Premier Sports
Fluminense and Botafogo meet in the Brasileiro on Saturday with O Glorioso well positioned to improve on last season's sixth-placed finish. Champions Fluminense, meanwhile, languish in ninth and are already 12 points behind leaders Corinthians.

Sunday 28 August

12.45 St Mirren v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Having already lost to a team that isn't Rangers this season - I know! - Celtic could be playing catch-up to the tune of four points when this clash kicks off, with Motherwell playing earlier in the day. Rangers follow with the visit of Aberdeen.
13.15 Nottingham Forest v West Ham United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Neither of these sides have quite had the starts to the season they would have hoped for, but it's the Hammers who have the edge as they head to Nottingham, with two wins in the bag so far compared to Forest's one.
13.30 Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Lean times in North London. With Arsenal suffering their most demoralising spell under Arsene Wenger, neighbours Spurs follow a heavy defeat to Manchester United with a visit from rivals City. With a tricky trip to Wolves up next, Tottenham could do with springing a surprise in their first home league game of the season.
15.45 Hearts v Hibernian, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Having been conquered by Spurs in Europe, it's back to SPL action for Heart of Midlothian, and Sunday is derby day. Paulo Sergio's men may be encouraged by Hibs' poor start to the campaign but, as the cliche goes, the form book goes out the window in games like this.
16.00 Manchester United v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Spurs dealt with comfortably, it's Arsenal next for Alex Ferguson's United and their North London double-header. The Gunners shook off a little of the dust of summer in midweek but one can't help feeling they could be in for a beating here.
19.00 Sevilla v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A 1-1 draw in Seville against Hannover left Sevilla without European football this season, having lost out 3-2 on aggregate to the German side. They regroup with a home clash against star-studded Malaga, who will be watched closely by many as the delayed season gets underway.
19.45 Udinese v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
(NB: This match is likely to be postponed due to a player strike.) Arsenal's afore-hinted win in the Champions League qualifiers leaves Udinese licking their wounds as big-spending Juventus come to Udine for the Battle of the Bianconeri. The home side arguably have match fitness on their side, but in the literal heat of midweek the defeat in Europe won't have done them any good.
22.00 Santos v Sao Paulo, Brazilian Championship, Premier Sports
Consecutive draws against Paranaense, lowly America Mineiro and Palmeiras have seen Sao Paulo slip back at the top, leaving them three points behind Corinthians. If they're to get their challenge back on track they will have to be wary of Borges, who's fired in 12 goals even as Santos struggle to get to grips with the campaign.
00.00 (Mon morning) New York Red Bulls v LA Galaxy, MLS, ESPN/ESPN HD
As we all know, there are only two teams in MSL: the one Beckham and Keane play for, and the one Henry plays for. They meet at Red Bull Arena. Fill your boots.

Monday 29 August

20.00 Barcelona v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Yes, Spanish football is back if you're into that sort of thing, and what better way to end your Bank Holiday weekend than by sitting in front of the telly and watching Pep Guardiola's side knock your socks off? You may remember them from such La Liga titles as last season.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #203

Unconvincing champions?
The 8 Winners Of The World Soccer Player Of The Year Award That Won With The Lowest Share Of The Vote

1. Roberto Baggio, Juventus - 14% (1993)
2. Ronaldo, Barcelona - 17% (1996)
3. Gianluca Vialli, Juventus - 18% (1995)
4. Marco Van Basten, Milan - 19% (1992)
5. Michel Platini, Juventus - 21% (1985)
6. Lothar Matthäus, Internazionale - 22% (1990)
7. Paolo Rossi, Juventus - 23% (1982)
8. Zinédine Zidane, Juventus - 23% (1998)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Super Soaraway Thun

Like a bar of Toblerone that’s past its sell-by date at the back of the cupboard, FC Thun are a Swiss entity that have been overlooked for a very long time. Despite being around for well over a hundred years, the club from the Bernese Alps have failed to pull up too many trees in their time, but this season they enter the Europa League in a rare moment of glory that their fans have desperately longed for.


Located 30km south of Berne, Thun is a town of around 42,000 inhabitants. Few, if any, will look upon their local football team as anything other than minnows in the grand scheme of Swiss football. For decades, FC Thun languished in the lower tiers of the Swiss game without any fear of troubling the history book writers.

Come the 1950s, things started to look rosier however. A single season in the top division was followed in 1955 by an appearance in the Swiss Cup final, their only appearance to date. A 3-1 defeat to one of the big Swiss clubs of the era, La Chaux-de-Fonds, denied them an early addition to the trophy cabinet and in so doing signalled the start of another long period back in the Swiss football doldrums.

It was only in 1997 that Thun made the breakthrough that brought about their recent place in the sun, and it came two years after the appointment of former Swiss national team defender Andy Egli as coach. Earning promotion to the Regionalliga B (2nd tier) was only the entree as it turned out. In 2002, promotion was earned again, this time under the leadership of former Thun player Hanspeter Latour. A third-place finish was good enough to get Thun back in the Swiss Super League again, but the fun didn’t end there.

In 2004-05, a near miracle happened when they miraculously finished runners-up to FC Basel – an achievement rewarded with a place in the following season’s Champions League. Here, too, they weren’t happy to rest on their laurels, first defeating Dynamo Kiev 3-2 on aggregate in the 2nd Qualifying Round before trouncing Malmo 4-0 on aggregate in the round after that. Unfortunately their marauding run came to an end in the Group Stage where Arsenal, Sparta Prague and Ajax proved too tough to overcome.

Since then, Thun have struggled to retain their place in the top flight and were relegated to the Swiss Challenge League at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. It was a bad season for more than just football reasons when twelve players at the club were questioned by police on suspicion of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl. Though the police said that the girl in question had consented throughout, the crime was still punishable under Swiss law. Five players were ultimately fined for their indiscretion.

The scandal was serious enough to throw Thun into something of a tailspin and the club remained in the second division until they won the title in 2009/10. Last season was their first back in the Swiss Super League and a remarkable fifth-placed finish was rewarded with a place in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League in 2010/11 where they'll begin life at a new home, the 10,000 capacity Thun Arena.

Team Spotlight

Thun’s coach is Bernard Challandes, something of a journeyman coach who managed the Swiss Under-21 side between 2001 and 2007. Among the many Swiss clubs he’s been in charge of are the aforementioned La-Chaux-de-Fonds (1985-87), Young Boys (1994-95), Servette (1995), Zurich (2007-10), Neuchatel Xamax (2011) and Sion (2011). He joined Thun in June 2011.

Current Form

Thun are on sparkling form at the moment. Since the start of the season, they’ve played 11 games and have lost only one so far - the first leg of their Europa League tie against Stoke.

In the Swiss Super League, they’re on top of the table after six games with 14 points, two ahead of Luzern (with whom they shared a goalless draw at the end of July). On Sunday they inflicted ta first league defeat of the season on Young Boys and in the match before that, they added more pain to an already poor start for Lausanne Sports, winning 5-2 at home.

Top scorer for Thun this season is midfielder Stephan Andrist with four (one of those coming at the weekend against Young Boys). Christian Schneuwly and Mauro Lustrinelli have three goals each.

The Road to Bucharest

Thun left it late to win their Second Qualifying Round match in this year's Europa League where their campaign started. The first leg away to Albanian side Vllaznia Shkoder finished goalless, but the second leg saw Thun's opponents take an early lead which wasn't equalised until the 89th minute through Milaim Ramer. A miraculous winning goal came two minutes into injury time thanks to Benjamin Lüthi.

If Thun thought that was difficult, the following round saw them pitched up against Palermo. The Swiss side led twice against the Italians in the first leg but had to settle for a 2-2 draw. In the second leg the tie looked to be heading Palermo’s way wen Pablo Gonzalez scored after 49 minutes, but Dario Lezcano equalised 16 minutes later to hold on for an unlikely away goals victory, 3-3 on aggregate.

Finally to the Play Off Round where Thun played host to Stoke City last week in the first leg of the tie. Tony Pulis’ men had the novelty of playing on Thun’s artificial playing surface and undoubtedly found it a little tricky to play on despite Danny Pugh giving his side a 19th-minute lead.

Thun, for their part, seemed a little overawed by the magnitude of the occasion and offered little in the first half. After the interval, however, they appeared much more willing to attack and came close to scoring through Luthi and Christian Schneuwly.

In the end, Thun were lucky to keep the scoreline to just 1-0 when goalkeeper David Da Costa was sent off for bringing down Jon Walters two minutes into injury time. With all substitutes used, defender Nicolas Schindelholz replaced Da Costa between the sticks and pulled off a wonderful save to deny Walters from making it 2-0 to Stoke. Ultimately Thun held on to the one-goal deficit and in so doing have given themselves half a chance of winning the tie at the Britannia Stadium in the second leg.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Badge Protocol

Designing a football club badge is a bit like making love to a beautiful woman. First, be respectful, if necessary make use of a reliable old device or two, add a little bit of charm and if everything goes to plan, you’ll have your target audience gushing with excitement.

If only it were that simple. Over the last four decades, football clubs around Britain and beyond have struggled with a corporate identity crisis. A constant battle to convey the perfect message or a mot juste for the ages, football club badges have moved beyond the realm of archaic heraldry. They have become the tool of marketing men, sales executives and industry strategists.

Once upon a time it was all very simple. Having established a football club, you’d create a club badge; a symbol to represent your team’s ambitions, background and ethos. If the club represented an entire town or city, it would typically adopt the coat of arms from its location and adapt it accordingly to suit. If that wasn’t possible or appropriate, it would create a bespoke original badge that embodied the same ideals. Chances are, it, too, would make use of the component parts upon which heraldic crests are built – shields, ribbons, animals of one sort or another and, if you were very lucky, a tokenistic football or two.

And that was the approach taken for years but the dawning of a modern, commercial age was to provide the trigger for a few well-established clubs to embrace contemporary design and a forward-thinking eye for marketing.

That new age began in the early 1970’s where Derby County and Nottingham Forest were among the first clubs to adopt an all-new club badge. In Derby’s case, they threw out the rather drab-looking ‘shield with ram’s head’ and replaced it with a beautiful depiction of a ram drawn with flowing, harmonious lines. Forest’s stylised tree above watery, wavy lines is equally as easy on the eye and a more accessible alternative to the coat of arms previously worn.

What’s brilliant about both badges is that they’re clearly modern yet aren’t trapped forever in the amber of 70’s styling. Both have shown their natural quality by remaining practically unaltered to the present day and rightly so. They are, in their own way, design classics.

Other clubs, however, were less successful in adopting a new symbolic identity. When Don Revie’s Leeds United famously (or perhaps infamously) sported their new circular badge based on the club’s initials in the early 70’s, one could foresee a potentially short shelf life for it. By the time the 1980’s rolled around, it quickly looked as out of place as flared trousers and platform shoes. It was replaced with something altogether more conventional in 1981, thereby maintaining a Leeds trend for changing their club badge almost as often as some clubs change their manager.

Another club that liked to tinker with their badge was Wolverhampton Wanderers. In 1970, their famous old gold shirts featured the classic badge of a single wolf leaping over a bold ‘WW’. In 1974, they opted for a trio of wolves in full gallop, one above the other, but even this didn’t last long as in 1979 it was replaced by an angular wolf’s head. Fast forward to 2011 and the badge remarkably remains in place. Proof that you really can stop tinkering with a little bit of will power, although there didn’t seem much wrong with the original 1970 badge in the first place.

Having made the decision to change the badge, some clubs have struggled to find that perfect balance between tradition, modernity, relevance and simplicity. One can argue that Arsenal have done that with their current badge - introduced in 2002 - which stripped out a lot of the fussy detail of the old design to leave a modern logo that works well in pretty much any situation.

Aston Villa, however, appear to have got things a little wrong. Having adopted the ‘rampant lion’ as their main symbol from the late-50’s, they decided to adopt a circular version of the same, complete with club name, in 1973. Their simple, pleasing badge was highly visible during Villa’s league- and European Cup-winning triumphs of the early 80’s and even featured as a background motif on their yellow Third shirt in 1991.

Yet in 1992 they reverted to a smart shield design which in turn was also changed in 2007 - unquestionably for the worse - to something described by one visitor to this website’s predecessor as ‘looking like a secondary school kid designed it’. Even the full name of the club had disappeared with only a set of initials being added to a staggeringly weak symbol.

It wasn’t even the only badge likened to something from a junior school art competition. Fulham attracted a higher than average amount of negative feedback when their current badge was unveiled ten years ago. A simple shield in black and white sections with interlinked red ‘FFC’ lettering was deemed too amateurish for some and it’s not difficult to see why. If you pay a lot of money to a graphic design company, you’d probably expect something with a bit more detail and interest. Sadly they didn’t get it here.

The trend for reverting to old-fashioned crests is well and truly back on the menu - QPR, Sunderland and Manchester City being recent examples of the need to get back to tradition - and others have followed suit too in recent years. Some clubs, however, never lost the tradition in the first place and have no intention of changing. Step forward Manchester United, Everton and Blackburn Rovers.

So what can we expect in future? Presumably a continuing polarisation in the way clubs gravitate towards the new-traditional style or the super-simple corporate logo-style of badge. What must remain the top priority for club officials and the designers working on a new badge, however, is the need to avoid bringing ridicule on the club in question. There is, after all, only one constant for every football club, and that’s the fans. Though club officials and players come and go in time, the fans remain and should always be able to take pride in their team’s badge, no matter what.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Football Americana Week 23: That guy scores on his debut for the LA wotsits

Perhaps not a vintage MLS weekend, but an exciting and engaging one nonetheless. Here's what went down in Week 23.

We start at Gillette Stadium, where New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo shared the points after a 1-1 draw. Ryan Cochrane's tap-in at the end of a scramble put the Revs ahead in only the fifth minute and they very nearly held on for the win, thanks in large part to the goalkeeping of Matt Reis. Houston finally equalised in the last minute when Bobby Boswell forced the ball over the lane after the Revolution failed to clear a corner.

On Saturday, it was two goals and one red card apiece as the Revs drew with New York Red Bulls. Hans Backe's side had to come back from 2-0 down after new DP Milton Caraglio (pictured during an abortive trial in England) had scored twice for New England. His first MLS goal was finally finished after a huge amount of good fortune in the build up but his second was more a reflection of New York's total inability to defend set pieces. Just before half time, Dax McCarty looked to have been fouled by the Revs goalkeeper but instead of a penalty and a dismissal, the signing from DC was booked after the referee consulted his assistant.

It all went wrong for the Revolution in the ten minutes after the break - Dane Richards pulled a goal back from a one-on-one after a ball over the top, and then Kenny Mansally got a second yellow card for leading with the arm in an aerial challenge. The Red Bulls lost a man too, Teemu Tainio earning his second yellow for a petulant hack on Shalrie Joseph. It was Richards who finally equalised for New York, turning in from close range in the 87th minute after the referee had turned down decent penalty shouts at both ends.

Houston's second game of the week saw them defeat Real Salt Lake 3-2. Salt Lake took the lead just seconds after Carlo Costly's goal for the Dynamo had been disallowed for offside. Fabian Espindola's finish was as neat as ever, and took RSL into half time in front. Brad Davis' work to set up Brian Ching's equaliser in the 47th minute was nicely executed but the lead didn't last long, Luis Gil restoring Salt Lake's lead with a lovely header from Espindola's pinpoint cross. Bobby Boswell's brilliantly glanced equaliser (again assisted by Davis) came less than ten minutes after Gil's goal, and Alex Dixon won it for the men in orange with a superb curling effort with the last kick of the match.

Portland Timbers headed for Sporting Kansas City, who handed out a 3-1 beating to John Spencer's expansion side. Two goals from Graham Zusi took Sporting in at the break with a 2-0 lead, his first a stupendous strike from 35 yards across the goalkeeper Troy Perkins and into the far corner, and the second altogether scruffier. Soony Saad made it three on his MLS debut with the most fortuitous goal he'll ever score. As he chased down a through ball, the Timbers defence could only clear it against him and the ricochet lobbed a stranded Perkins. Bright Dike's first MLS goal was scant consolation.

Portland did get a win when Vancouver Whitecaps came to town for a Cascadia derby. Diego Chara drilled Portland into the lead in the second minute, and half an hour later Jorge Perlaza doubled their advantage with a poacher's goal. The Caps did get on the scoresheet in the dying minutes, Camilo curling the consolation past Perkins.

Masters of the draw Chicago Fire were at it again on Thursday, tying their game with DC United with a goal apiece. DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid injured himself taking a free kick in first half stoppage time with the score at 0-0, and it was Sebastian Grazzini who broke the deadlock against his replacement, Steve Cronin. Josh Wolff equalised with just under 20 minutes to go, thrashing the ball in off the crossbar after exchanging passes with Santino Quaranta. That's a record-breaking 15 draws in a season for the Fire.

DC's second game of the week ended in defeat away at Kansas City. One goal did it for KC, Kei Kamara grabbing it in the 19th minute. Having hit the crossbar with a header just minutes earlier, Kamara composed himself well on the edge of the box to drill home his seventh of the season.

On Sunday night Chicago did finally get a win, defeating Toronto FC 2-0 at Toyota Park. Dom Oduro scored the first after quarter of an hour, cleverly flicking the ball past Milos Kocic - boom goes the Dominic, apparently. Dan Gargan sealed it 20 minutes from time with a poorly defended but well taken header against his old side.

At the top of the East, Columbus Crew stretched their lead by beating Philadelphia Union 2-1. The teams exchanged goals at the end of the first half, Emilio Renteria guiding Robbie Rogers' cross into the net for the Crew, and Veljko Paunovic's header punishing a flapping Will Hesmer for Philly. The winner came just five minutes after the break and came from the spot after Sheanon Williams blocked another Rogers cross with his hand. Andres Mendoza's penalty somehow crossed the line after Faryd Mondragon had gone the right way but failed to grasp the ball strongly enough.

Juan Pablo Angel's debut for Chivas USA was a visit to the defending champions, Colorado Rapids and the Colombian scored in a 2-2 draw. Caleb Folan put the Rapids ahead early, towering high to head home after an impressive passage of possession play from the home side. Angel broke free in the 36th minute and looked just like his old self as he raced clear and powered his shot low into the bottom corner. Jeff Larentowicz scored with his head to make it 2-1 to Colorado in the 69th minute but they couldn't see out the game. Laurent Courtois equalised late for the Goats, poking Michael Lahoud's pass beyond Matt Pickens and into the net.

One early goal was enough for Seattle Sounders, who beat FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park. Fredy Montero's clever pass found Mauro Rosales on the edge of the box, and he smashed a low shot past Kevin Hartman. Dallas lost a man early in the second half. Daniel Cruz had scythed down Ossie Alonso in the first half, and in the second he was punished for a dive.

Angel's replacement at LA Galaxy also scored this weekend; Robbie Keane opened his account on his debut against San Jose Earthquakes with a composed finish after making Jon Busch look silly in the Quakes goal. Steven Beitashour was sent off in the last ten minutes for an ugly stamp on former Earthquake Landon Donovan, and Mike Magee's tap-in put the cherry on the icing.

With that, LA maintain their lead at the top of the West and are now followed by Seattle in second thanks to their win over third-placed Dallas. In the East, Columbus and Sporting continue to go stride for stride, with four points between them at the top. Houston move into third.

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

Midweek TV Preview: 22 - 25 August 2011

Monday 22 August

20.00 Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Tottenham's domestic season finally kicks off. The last mention of a Spurs win at Old Trafford is somewhere near the back of the Old Testament - so anything other than an unlikely win for Harry's side can't be seen as any guide as to what this two sides' season ahead will be like.

Tuesday 23 August

19.45 FC Zurich v Bayern Munich UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (0-2), Sky Sports 2/HD2
After a comfortable, if efficient, result at home against the runners up in the Swiss League, Bayern are perfectly placed to ease through to the group stage.
19.45 Villarreal v Odense BK, UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (0-1), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
A late winner in the first leg sees OB carry an unlikely lead to Spain. With the disruption to Villareal's preparation caused by the player strike in La Liga the Danes could cause an upset here.
19.45 Malmo v Dinamo Zagreb, UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (1-4), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Malmo may have nicked an away goal but they have it all to do against the Croatian Champions. Given their defensive display in the first leg you can't see the home side overturning this.
19.45 Genk v Maccabi Haifa, UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (1-2), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Maccabi were cruising in the first leg - two goals up within half an hour. Elianiv Barda's second half goal for Genk however sees this Champions Route match finely poised.
19.45 Apoel Nicosia v Wisla Krakow, UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (0-1), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Apoel will fancy themselves to overturn Wisla's slender lead to qualify for their second group stage place in three seasons.

Wednesday 24 August

11.00 Urawa Reds v Sanfrecce Hiroshima, J1 League, British Eurosport 2
Two sides are sitting
Either end of mid table
Not much on offer

17.00 Rubin Kazan v Lyon, Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (1-3), Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Rubin's hopes probably rest on their chances of keeping a clean sheet against a side with a lot more Champion's League pedigree.
19.45 Udinese V Arsenal, Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (0-1), ITV1 / ITV1 HD
Look, Arsenal are a goal up and Udinese didn't get an away goal, OK. Now shut up.
19.45 Benfica V FC Twente, Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (2-2), Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Twente relied on Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz to spare their blushes at home in the first leg. His equaliser ten minutes from time still leaves the Dutch team having to at least score in this tie.
19.45 Viktoria Plzen v FC Copenhagen, Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (3-1), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Viktorian Plzen won their first domestic title last season to get here and with a fantastic second half performance in Denmark, are favourites to take their place in the group stage. A fantastic achievement against a side that regularly gets through this knockout phase.
19.45 Sturm Graz v BATE Borisov, UEFA Champions League Qualifying Playoff 2nd Leg (1-1), Sky Sports 2 Interactive
BATE had to come back from a goal down in their bid to qualify for the group stage for the second time (they were Belarus's first representatives at that stage in the 2008/09 season). Sturm have the advantage though and could be Austria's first presence in the group stage since 2005/06.
19.45 Exeter City v Liverpool, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Liverpool's first 2nd round match in this competition for many a year has potential banana skin written all over it. Exeter haven't had the brightest of starts to their season in League One, having registered just one point so far in four games.
01.50 (Thursday am) Sao Paulo v Ceara, Copa Sudamericana 2nd Round 2nd leg (1-2), Premier Sports
If this game's anything like the first leg it should worth staying up for. Rivaldo (yes, that Rivaldo) opened the scoring for Sao Paolo only for the home side to equalise before half time. Sao Paolo had to hold on for the entire second half after on-loan Arsenal midfielder Denilson was sent off for a second yellow immediately after the break, only for Ceara to snatch a goal in the third minute of injury time.

Thursday 25 August

19.30 FC Sion v Celtic, UEFA Europa League Playoff 2nd Leg (0-0), Premier Sports
Could be a very dark night for Scottish football in Europe; already tumbling down UEFA rankings it could get much worse if both of the Old Firm fail to get though their play-offs.
19.30 Rangers v NK Maribor, UEFA Europa League Playoff 2nd Leg (1-2), ESPN/ESPN HD
Rangers let a lead slip against the Slovenian Champions, though will hope they won't have to rely on their away goal to progress to the group stage
19.45 Tottenham Hotspur v Hearts, UEFA Europa League Playoff 2nd Leg (5-0), ITV4/ITV4 HD
What do you do if you're Harry? Give everyone the night off ready for the weekend and a mind towards a long season ahead or do try and regroup after a second half mauling in the league against United. My money's on the former - nothing to see here.
19.45 Scunthorpe United v Newcastle United, Carling Cup 2nd Round, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Maybe just give football a miss tonight, yeah?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Weekend TV Preview: 19 - 21 August 2011

Friday 19 August

19.30 Borussia Monchengladbach v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
A wrongly disallowed Patrick Helmes goal had Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath hopping mad on the touchline, last weekend in the game against Bayern. He was positively green with rage when the Bavarians popped up at the death to sink the winner. ‘Gladbach are already in the We Beat Bayern Club, already after an outstanding holding performance at the Allianz, on Matchday 1. Lucien Favre’s team may be dark horses this season.
19.45 Lincoln City v Wrexham, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
A draw and a defeat for Lincoln, demonstrate that things have changed in the Conference since last they were there. Wrexham, on the other hand were supposed to be out of business by now but are still stumbling along. In any other business, they would be toast but football, thank goodness, is not like any other business.
01.10 (Saturday) Arsenal v Velez, Argentinean Apertura, Premier Sports
The first of two appearances on TV this weekend for Arsenal (aha-ha). Both teams have won one of their first two games so an evenly-matched affair should be on the cards.

Saturday 20 August

12.45 Arsenal v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Liverpool haven’t won any of the last seven meetings between these two teams. Liverpool’s last win *at* Arsenal? February 12th 2000. Not that we wish to affect the way you put your bet on or anything.
15.45 Bala Town v Carmarthen Town, Welsh Premier League, S4C
Both teams finished in the bottom three of the WPL last season. Bala (who finished 11th of 12) would have been relegated were it not for the fact that Connah’s Quay Nomads (Tier 2 champions) were denied a licence to play in Tier 1. Neither team will be hoping for that kind of excuse to stay up this season.
17.20 Peterborough United v Ipswich Town, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
That impressive win at Asthon Gate seems a distant memory for Ipswich, especially after getting honked at home by Southampton. Much more is expected from Paul Jewell’s team this season. The bad news for them is that Posh have a solid home record.
17.30 Chelsea v West Brom, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
After a decent performance against one title contender in the first weekend of the Premier League season, Albion face a daunting visit to another. Chelsea’s competitive start under Andre Villas-Boas was less than exemplary, but his introduction at Stamford Bridge should see his side victorious this weekend.
22.00 Corinthians v Figueirense, Brazilian Serie A, Premier Sports
Corinthians lead the table by three points ahead of Flamengo and have lost only two of their last 17 matches. Plenty good enough form to beat the mid-table Fig Tree.

Sunday 21 August

13.15 West Ham v Leeds United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Probably the last thing the Metropolitan Police need after the recent riots in London. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we get to focus totally on the terrific football match these two teams are capable of producing.
14.15 Motherwell v Rangers, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
It’s first v third in the Scottish Premier League, with the Gers heading for Fir Park hoping - expecting? - to restore order to the top of the division. Leaders Motherwell are unbeaten so far, but if you think the top two is going to be anything but Glaswegian come Christmas, I want some of what you’re smoking.
16.00 Bolton v Man City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
One of the Premier League’s most exciting players made his mark with a characteristically brilliant goal on the first weekend of the season, helping his team defeat a promoted team 4-0. Yes, Gary Cahill will be on TV, folks! Whether it’s in this game, though, remains to be seen.
16.30 Hannover 96 v Hertha BSC Berlin, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Thanks to a brace of delightfully deft finishes by Jan Schlaudraff, Hannover pinched a 2-1 win over Sevilla in their Europa League qualifier on Thursday. Their next league foes are Hertha, looking for their first win of the season after a defeat and a draw so far.
22.05 Newells Old Boys v Boca Juniors, Argentinean Apertura, Premier Sports
Worthy of inclusion in this weekend’s TV Guide purely because of the home team’s badge.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #202

Piccoli locali
14 Cities That Have Hosted One Italian International Football Match And One Only

1. Ascoli Piceno (Friendly v Portugal, 1985)
2. Avellino (Friendly v West Germany, 1986)
3. Brescia (Friendly v Wales, 1988)
4. Campobasso (Friendly v Northern Ireland, 2003)
5. Cosenza (Euro '68 qualifier v Cyprus, 1967)
6. Cremona (Friendly v Belgium, 1996)
7. Foggia (Euro '92 qualifier v Cyprus, 1991)
8. Livorno (Friendly v Croatia, 2006)
9. Messina (Friendly v Finland, 2004)
10. Piacenza (Friendly v Morocco, 2001)
11. Reggio Emilia (Euro '96 qualifier v Lithuania, 1995)
12. Siena (Friendly v South Africa, 2007 - see below)
13. Taranto (Friendly v Hungary, 1989)
14. Vicenza (Friendly v Algeria, 1989)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Football Americana Week 22: Columbus extend lead in the East

With apologies for an absent Week 21 (data loss is a b*tch - back that sh*t up, yo), here's the lowdown on all of the Week 22 action in Major League Soccer.

The weekend's matches began with a goalless encounter between Seattle Sounders and Chivas USA at CenturyLink Field. The hosts had an early chance to take the lead after a brilliant piece of control took Alvaro Fernandez into the box, drew a handball and earned the Sounders a penalty. Fernandez undid all his good work with a penalty that struck the foot of the post and then cannoned wide off the back of goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. A minute from the end Seattle thought they'd been awarded another spot kick when Lamar Naegle was clearly upended in the box - an unbelievable decision.

North of the border, Real Salt Lake were shocked to the tune of 1-0 by Toronto FC. The goal came inside the last fifteen minutes courtesy of the exciting youngster Joao Plata, who punished RSL for countless squandered chances by scuffing a shot from a narrow angle that squeezed through to win the match.

Youthful DC United put in the performance of the week by beating Vancouver Whitecaps 4-0. After rookie goalkeeper Joe Willis had made a couple of great saves to keep United level, Chris Pontius (pictured) turned in Dwayne De Rosario's cross to put them ahead in first half stoppage time. After the break Andy Najar quickly made it two, his shot squirming underneath Jay Nolly. De Ro hit the post in the 66th minute but Pontius soon made up the difference by sweeping a loose ball in off the bar after a clever move by United came to a scruffy conclusion. Stephen King put the cherry on the icing, placing another shot underneath a struggling Nolly after receiving a pass from De Rosario.

The season's going from bad to worse for New England Revolution, who could only watch on as Robert Warzycha's Columbus Crew used them for a leg-up at the top of the East. The Revs did take the lead through Benny Feilhaber, who smashed in a nice opener just before the break. The second half was all yellow, beginning with Kevin Alston's Dixon-standard own goal. Julius James made it 2-1 with 15 minutes to go, predictably a strong header from a corner, and Emilio Renteria completed the victory with a tap-in in the 81st minute.

New York Red Bulls failed to win and struggled with pace once again, having to settle for a how draw against Chicago Fire. After they were denied a clear penalty, Thierry Henry continued his own vein of goalscoring form, putting his side in front early with a beautiful side-footed curling shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards. Patrick Nyarko then set up Dominic Oduro to flick in the equaliser, and Sebastian Grazzini followed up a saved effort by Oduro and powered his shot off the ground and into the roof of the net. New York's equaliser came midway through the second half, Joel Lindpere saving a point with a stunning finish across the goalkeeper.

On Freddy Adu's debut Philadelphia Union also had to settle for a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas. Maicon Santos pounced on an error by Carlos Valdes to lift the ball over Fardy Mondragon to put Dallas in front after 15 minutes but the lead didn't last until the break. The equaliser came from the spot after Ugo Ihemelu had fouled Justin Mapp, Sebastien Le Toux dumping in a no-nonsense penalty for 1-1. In-form Brek Shea restored FCD's advantage in first half stoppage time, clipping in from the rebound after Santos' effort came back off the woodwork. Late in the game, they lost George John to a red card. Having been booked for a pointless first half body check, John earned a second yellow for ploughing through Danny Mwanga. Five minutes later Philly won another penalty and Le Toux went the same way and got the same result.

Saturday ended with Colorado Rapids coming from behind to beat San Jose Earthquakes on the road. The Quakes opened the scoring through Joey Gjertsen, who stooped to head in an open goal after Chris Wondolowski's effort was blocked by Matt Pickens. Towards the end of the second half, Pablo Mastroeni's pressure on the officials paid off, as they awarded a penalty for handball that they hadn't originally given. Caleb Folan scored from the spot, and the Earthquakes fell apart. After the break, Sam Cronin was dismissed for a pretty untidy two-footed tackle and the winner became almost inevitable. Jeff Larentowicz scored it with a low drive from a set piece.

And on Sunday, Houston Dynamo stuck one on Portland Timbers with a 2-1 win. The Dynamo made home advantage count early, grabbing a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes thanks to Adam Moffat's incredible 40-yard half volley and Brian Ching's crisply taken one-on-one finish. Jack Jewsbury dragged Portland back into it with a deflected volley in the second half, but Houston held on to take all three points.

Columbus are now three points clear of Philadelphia and six clear of New York and Houston in the East, with Chicago's woeful run continuing at the bottom. In the West, LA lead Dallas by five points and Seattle by six. Vancouver are well adrift.

Don't believe me? The tables are here and the highlights here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Midweek TV Preview: 15 - 18 August 2011

Monday 15 August

20.00 Manchester City v Swansea City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
The pressure is all on Manchester City, as Roberto Mancini's side clearly fancies a tilt at the title. Visiting them on the first weekend of the season will be a stern test for promoted Swansea, and anything more than a loss would be a bonus.

Tuesday 16 August

19.45 Arsenal v Udinese, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Arsene Wenger's ailing Gunners could hardly have been handed a worse draw for UCL qualifying. But with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri on their way, and points dropped in worrying circumstances against Newcastle United, Arsenal face an Udinese side that has also lost key players. As well as Alexis Sanchez, who joined Barcelona, Udinese are now without Gokhan Inler.

19.45 Twente v Benfica, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Benfica got their domestic campaign underway on Friday, throwing away a 2-0 lead at Gil Vicente. They face a Twente side that has won two out of two so far this season - only Feyenoord sit above them in the pointlessly early league table in Holland.

19.45 Lyon v Rubin Kazan, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
This fixture looks more like one you'd expect to see deeper into the competition, which is testament to Rubin's progress in recent years. At present they are eight points behind CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League (in fourth place), so qualifying for the Champions League is imperative. Lyon, however, will be a formidable opponent.

19.45 Copenhagen v Viktoria Plzen, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Czech champions Viktoria, edged out Sparta Prague by a single point to win their first league title. Their first Champions League adventure has already taken them to Armenia and Norway, and they will now face FCK in Denmark. With Rosenborg already on their list of victims, Roland Nilsson's side would do well to respect them.

19.45 BATE Borisov v Sturm Graz, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Belarusian giants BATE have been carving out a successful European tale lately, reaching the group stage of the Champions League in 2008/09 and of the Europa League in both seasons since. Graz will be looking to qualify for the Champions League proper for the first time in over a decade.

Wednesday 17 August

19.45 Bayern Munich v FC Zurich, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, ITV4/ITV4 HD
Domestically, it's been an unimpressive start for Bayern. A first-day loss to Borussia Moenchengladbach did little to suggest their expected title charge is forthcoming, and taking 90 minutes to score at Wolfsburg won't have helped. FC Zurich, meanwhile, have turned their form around. After losing their first three in Switzerland this season, Urs Fischer's side have won two on the spin.

19.45 Odense v Villarreal, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Villarreal finished fourth in Spain to earn the right to play OB, who finished second in Denmark and were fully 26 points behind champions Copenhagen. A dramatic 5-4 aggregate victory over Panathinaikos will give the Danes hope of an upset.

19.45 Dinamo Zagreb v Malmo, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Rangers fans, here's what you could have won. See that? That's nostalgia-driven observational comedy, that. Anyway, Malmo's prize for dumping out the Gers is a trip to Croatia to face Dinamo Zagreb - you may remember them from such group stages as 1998/99 and 1999/2000.

19.45 Maccabi Haifa v Genk, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Haifa's domestic campaign begins with a trip to Maccabi Netanya on Friday, but first they must make home advantage count in the first leg against Genk. After being crowned Belgian champions, Genk took the not inconsiderable scalp of FK Partizan in the previous round.

19.45 Wisla Krakow v Apoel Nicosia, Champions League Qualifying First Leg, Sky Sports 2 Interactive
Wisla are unbeaten in the first three games of the Polish season, and continue their Champions League journey against the Cypriot champions Apoel after knocking out Litex Lovech of Bulgaria in the last round, and Skonto Riga in the round before that.

22.00 Barcelona v Real Madrid, Spanish Super Cup Second Leg, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The big guns did the job up front for Barca in the first leg, with David Villa and Leo Messi on the scoresheet, crammed in between goals from Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso in a tasty 2-2 sandwich.

22.45 LDU Quito v Yaracuyanos, Copa Sudamericana, Premier Sports
Mauricio Chalar's late equaliser for Venezuela's Yaracuyanos cancelled out a Hernan Barcos penalty in the first leg of this first round tie. Quito have plenty of pedigree on the continental stage, while their opponents - formed just five years ago - have none.

01.10 (Thu morning) Racing v Godoy Cruz, Argentine Apertura, Premier Sports
Racing and Godoy Cruz both drew their opening matches in Argentina, but then almost everybody did. Match two pits them against one another after a point each against Velez Sarsfield and Tigre respectively.

Thursday 18 August

19.45 NK Maribor v Rangers, Europa League Playoff First Leg, Premier Sports
Having consulted the Football Fairground European Football Travelguide (available in all good imaginary bookshops), I can tell you that Maribor is in Slovenia. I can also tell you that Maribor are champions of Slovenia and, like Rangers, went out of Champions League qualifying in the third qualifying round.

19.45 Hearts v Tottenham Hotspur, Europa League Playoff First Leg, ITV4/ITV4 HD
Ut's the Battle of Britain! No, not Rangers v Manchester United. Or Liverpool v Celtic. This time it's Tottenham's turn, and they face the Midlothian basket case that is Hearts, with the prize of a Europa League spot on the line. To the winner, the spoils of the longest football competition in Christendom.

02.00 (Fri morning) DC United v Chicago Fire, MLS, ESPN/ESPN HD
DC United are in fine fettle at the moment, riding the good form of Dwayne De Rosario back into contention in the East. Last weekend saw them thump Vancouver 4-0, while Chicago became the latest team not to be beaten by the porous New York Red Bulls.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Colours Clash: Red Bull and Austria Salzburg

Sociologists will no doubt have committed many a tree to the study of colours in social groups. In sport, they can be extremely important.

One of my rare moments of sporting success came at Primary school when my team, the Blue Team, beat the Red, Yellow and Green Team in the annual Sports Day. But the moment was sullied by the Deputy Head (who I will not embarrass by naming him) who announced the Red Team as the winners while handing the cup to the Blues' captain. While the error didn't spoil the moment it did illustrate that colours are both important and perhaps a little silly.

Many football supporters find colours an essential part of their club. Few clubs change them drastically and as the game continues to age and mature, the more established clubs would never countenance a change of hue. Colours, of course, should not be mixed up with brands which are a commodification of colours. Colours are social, brands are marketing and when the two clash, things get nasty. One of the most infamous examples of this is when Red Bull bought SV Austria Salzburg in 2005.

Those of you from a certain vintage may recall this club as Casino Salzburg who competed in the Champions League in the mid-nineties, however Austria Salzburg is the club’s original name and was founded in 1933. While not as big a name as its rivals in Vienna, the Salzburg club has history and no shortage of success. The Violet-Whites won three domestic titles and finished runners-up in the UEFA Cup in 1994, losing 2-0 to Internazionale over two legs.

Financially, however, the club have struggled and when the Austrian energy drink concern moved in, they were initially welcomed. However, once it became apparent that the club was to be made over in the style of the Red Bull brand, the supporters protested. The club changed its name to Red Bull Salzburg but the real sticking point were the strip colours. Austria Salzburg played in violet and white and not the red, white, blue and whatever else is going on there.

There were protests, negotiations, more negotiations and an offer from the club to change the colour of the socks to purple. In the end a large section of the supporters base decided to do one and form their own club. Later that year SV Austria Salzburg was formed and have been making their way through the lower leagues ever since. They now compete in the Regionalliga (Division 3).

While the Violet-Whites dream of a return to the Austrian Bundesliga, the Bulls continued with a new livery, a renamed stadium and success. Three domestic league titles followed, but what has eluded them, so far, is European glory.

The Austrian Bundesliga is not the strongest or most lucrative in Europe so you can imagine that Red Bull see the Champions League Group Stages as where the real money is. However, on the three separate occasions that they claimed the solitary qualification spot, they have failed to make it through the preliminary rounds, denied by Valencia, Donetsk and Maccabi Haifa respectively.

The Europa League has been a little kinder. Last season, FC Salzburg as they are known in UEFA competitions, managed to qualify for the group stages but finished bottom of a group they shared with Manchester City, Lech Posnan and a thoroughly disinterested Juventus, amassing two points, all campaign.

This year, Red Bull have appointed a new coach in the shape of Ricardo Moniz, a Dutchman who you may recall was caretaker for Hamburg when Bruno Labbadia was sacked in between the two-legged Europa League semi-final against Hamburg in 2010.

Their start to the 2011/12 Europa League campaign has gone pretty smoothly. The Bulls joined in the Second Qualifying Round and swept past Liepājas Metalurgs from Latvia, 4-1 on aggregate. The Third Qualifying Round was also pretty straightforward as that dealt with the Slovaks of Senica 4-0. The Brazilian striker Alan has scored five goals over the four matches.

This Thursday, the Salzburg club enter the Play-Off Round in, ahem, bullish mood. Their opponents are the tough but beatable Omonia. The Cypriots are experienced European campaigners but on balance the draw could have been worse for the Austrians. Qualification will be seen as progress from last year and another step foward in the development as a European force which will, one day, finally lead to the Champions League. Then Red Bull may start to get a return on their investment.

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #201

Satisfied with a point
13 Recent Instances Of A Club Going Through The Whole League Season Unbeaten

1. Al-Ahly (Egypt 2005/06, W23 D3 L0)
2. Al-Ittihad (Libya 2007/08, W26 D4 L0)
3. Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus 2007/08, W20 D12 L0)
4. Arsenal (England 2003/04, W26 D12 L0)
5. Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan 2009, W28 D2 L0)
6. CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria 2007/08, W24 D6 L0)
7. Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine 2006/07, W22 D8 L0)
8. Flora Tallinn (Estonia 2003, W24 D4 L0)
9. Hearts of Oak (Ghana 2003, W18 D12 L0)
10. Partizan Belgrade (Serbia 2009/10, W24 D6 L0)
11. Pyunik Yerevan (Armenia 2003, W23 D5 L0)
12. Sparta Prague (Czech Republic 2009/10, W16 D14 L0)
13. WAPDA (Pakistan 2007/08, W16 D10 L0)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Weekend TV Preview: 12 - 14 August 2011

Friday 12 August

19.45 Forest Green Rovers v Stockport County, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
County's first match in the Conference and they're up against a team that escaped relegation by two points. Both clubs are still making signings ahead of the game, although it remains to be seen whether any of them figure in this curtain-raiser to the campaign.

Saturday 13 August

12.45 Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Rangers, SPL, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Assuming the tax man hasn't shut down Rangers by the time you read this, Ally McCoist's men should have ample opportunity to extend their unbeaten run over Caley to eleven games.
15.45 Bangor City v Llanelli, Welsh Premier League, S4C
Hardly the best of starts to the season for Bangor. Last week's 10 (TEN)-0 Champions League whipping at HJK Helsinki brought about an aggregate score of 13 (THIRTEEN)-0. City boss Nev Powell described both ties as 'good team building exercises'.
17.30 Newcastle United v Arsenal, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Blah, blah, new Premier League season, blah, blah, blah, etc...
23.00 Portugal U20 v Argentina U20, FIFA U20 World Cup Quarter Final, British Eurosport 2
Portugal have scored no more than a single goal in each of their four games thus far but haven't conceded any yet either. Argentina, despite being held to a goalless draw against England in the group stage, are scoring rather more freely and should, Portuguese defence permitting, book their place in the semis.
22.25 São Paulo v Atlético PR, Brazilian National Championship, Premier Sports
Third-placed São Paulo are easily the favourites for this match despite Atlético PR's recent new-found form. They do, however, remain second from bottom in the table.

Sunday 14 August

12.15 Kilmarnock v Hibernian, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
Hibs have just snapped up Newcastle striker Phil Airey, a one-man answer to the question "What was the first thing Dr Jekyll said after he turned into Mr Hyde?"
13.30 Stoke City v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The first bona fide game in charge of The Blues for André Villas-Boas who will no doubt be given a boost upon hearing the news that Fernando Torres is unlikely to start against Stoke.
14.30 FC Kaiserslautern v FC Augsburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Augsburg got their maiden Bundesliga season off to a solid start with a 2-2 draw against Freiburg last week. It also finished a draw - 1-1 - in the equivalent fixture of last season's 2.Bundesliga campaign.
16.00 West Brom v Man Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Shame to see West Bromwich was the scene of mass looting this week and the trophy room at The Hawthorns was no exception with everything being taken. Apparently Police are on the look-out for anyone carrying a navy blue and white striped carpet.
16.30 Bayer Leverkusen v Werder Bremen, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Werder’s win over Kaiserslautern last week was their first season-opening victory for five years and understandably there was much unbridled joy among the green and white support. With Leverkusen going down 2-0 at Mainz, Werder might fancy sticking the boot in this week while last season’s runners-up are down.
21.00 Real Madrid v Barcelona, Spanish Super Cup 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Imagine if our Community Shield match was played over two legs. There'd be uproar! The only circumstances under which that'd be tolerated is if you had the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona playing. Oh, that's handy.
21.00 France v Nigeria, FIFA U20 World Cup Quarter Final, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
Both teams won their Second Round matches 1-0 to get here. In Nigeria's case, that was against a rather poor England side while France knocked out Ecuador. The winners of this match are likely to play Argentina in the semis.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beating the blogger blues

Well done for finding this article. No really, well done. This is just one of over 250 articles on Football Fairground and one of millions upon millions of blog articles being published on the web each and every day. How you found this piece is anyone’s guess.

Actually, it’s worth having a guess. Perhaps you reached this page via a message on Twitter? Maybe you had Football Fairground on your RSS Feed list? Could it be conceivable that you found it via a Google search? However you found this page, it’s fair to say you did so against all the odds. With every passing day, more and more blog posts are being written and more and more blog sites are being created.

And that’s rather troubling. Troubling in the sense that as the creator of a new or recently-created football blog site, you’re probably finding it difficult to get your own blog pages on other people’s screens. Troubling, possibly, because as an avid reader of football articles, you now have so much choice that you hardly know where to start.

Either way, you’re probably falling victim to information overload. Nothing to worry about, of course, if you’re behind one of the bigger football blog sites of this world. Reputation alone ensures your audience figures remain consistently high through all the hard work you’ve previously invested in your project.

Similarly, as a reader, you might be a subscriber to one or two football blog sites that you particularly like, in which case you have all that you need. It’s a bit like buying your favourite newspaper from the local corner shop every morning. No need to waste time infuriating the shopkeeper by browsing through the other papers on the counter if you know they’re not quite your cup of tea. If you always go for the reliable option, you barely even notice the alternatives.

Unfortunately as a blogger myself, I have the upmost sympathy for anyone that’s only just getting on the football blogging ladder and hoping for a moderate number of visitors to their site. Once upon a time, it was de rigueur to simply write posts and wait for Google to add them to its search index or for people to start leaving comments on your articles. The information super-grapevine was good enough to see your blog’s popularity steadily grow. Nowadays it’s the done thing to force-feed details of your output down the throats of anyone that will listen until they spew up your barely-digested online utterances and those of several other bloggers besides.

For new football bloggers, the news is not good. Google is now clogged up not only with the indexed posts from other people’s blog sites but also personal blog sites and blogs set up explicitly to drive people to money-making entities on the web.

But what about Twitter and Facebook, you may say? Surely they’re the perfect tools to publicise and promote your blog writing? Of course they are, and that’s why millions of other football bloggers are currently doing just that. Not only are you competing against the world and his wife on the blogging front, but also on the social media front too, somewhat depressingly.

So what to do? Well as a writer you could always join one of the growing number of football ‘super blogs’ to get your posts out to a wider audience, but you’d be sacrificing your own individual blog identity by doing that – a very valuable thing worth nurturing, believe me. You could also offer your services as a guest writer to any number of other football sites, but there again readers won’t find it easy to keep tabs on all your work as it gets scattered around the web.

You therefore have to ask yourself whether it’s actually worth blogging at all these days for all the competition you’re up against. Aren’t there too many blog sites already? Well not necessarily. Some people might counter that remark by saying that perhaps there are too many books already, and they’d be right in many ways. The key is making sure your book is the one that people want to find amongst the millions of others that are out there, and you can’t do that unless you have original, well-written content that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Get that right, and you’re well on your way.

Oh sure, you can promote your writing on Twitter and Facebook if you like. You might even increase your blog audience, but be under no illusions – people will quickly see your weaknesses if you don’t have a decent end product to promote in the first place.

And if you’ve got a niche subject on which to base your football blog, so much the better. The more obscure the subject, the more likely you are to be viewed an authority on it. You’ll also be seen as less boring and mainstream than many of your peers which can only be a good thing.

Here endeth the lesson, and frankly I’m a fine one to be giving it. Just lately I’ve been getting more and more disillusioned by the ever-growing mass of football-related information being pumped out via blog sites and social media outlets. How the hell are you supposed to process it all, let alone read some of it at length or get your message heard above it? The key, as I’ve found, is to know what’s worth reading and forget all the rest. There simply isn’t the time to bother with everything else.

So if you’re a football writer or blogger, let this be your mantra - write well, promote if you must, but above all do the best that you can. If your work is of an excellent standard, people will want to read it.

Oh, and as I’ve been telling myself, don’t give up. Someone somewhere likes what you do.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Midweek TV Preview: 9 - 11 August 2011

Tuesday 9 August

19.45 Leeds United v Bradford City, Carling Cup 1st Round, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
As the years pass, I've become more cynical about mainstream attitudes to unpopular cup competitions. As unwelcome a distraction as it may be to the suits at the Premier League, England's second domestic knockout competition has thrown up some great matches and exciting finals in recent years. So the campaign to rehabilitate the League Cup starts here with a cracking Yorkshire derby. Game on!
22.45 FIFA U20 World Cup Last 16, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD
According to FIFA's website, the kick-off times for these games don't start at 45 minutes past so I would take all times as approximate. Usually Eurosport cover matches on both of their channels so you'll probably have a choice between Portugal v Guatemala and Argentina v Egypt.

Wednesday 10 August

19.45 Germany v Brazil, International Friendly, ESPN / ESPN HD
UK-based German football fans have something of a bone to pick with ESPN after they bumped Friday's Bundesliga season opener between Dortmund and Hamburg for pre-season egg chasing. They missed a virtuoso performance by Mario Götze of Dortmund who may well feature tonight against Brazil. One of many reasons to watch this game.
19.45 Scotland v Denmark, International Friendly, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
International friendlies are a waste of time, right? Wrong, as Norway's top seeding in the qualifiers will testify. Wins mean ranking points which FIFA partly use to determine qualification seeding. So while Scotland's chances of qualifying for Euro 2012 are slim, there's still an opportunity to climb further up the ladder and have improved prospects for future qualifiers.
19.45 Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands, Euro 2012 Qualifier, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Northern Ireland have played two fewer games than second-place Slovenia in Group C, so qualification is not as remote as it looks. Traditionally, the Faroes are no great shakes although Ireland have failed to beat them on two of their last three meetings.
19.45 Republic of Ireland v Croatia, International Friendly, Sky Sports 3 / HD3
Neither team are quite what they were but should find in each other ample preparation for the Euro 2012 qualification end game.
19.45 Wales v Australia, International Friendly, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
A chance for the Socceroos to get together in Europe. The Asian Cup runners-up meet a Welsh team for which transition seems to be an ongoing state.
20.00 England v Holland, International Friendly, ITV1 / ITV HD
A blue ribbon fixture which could be tasty if the players are up for it. The Premier League season is almost upon us although all the English players plus a few English-based Dutchmen may have Saturday on their minds. I wonder if Wesley Sneijder will be one of them.
22.45 FIFA U20 World Cup Last 16, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD
Nigeria v England or Spain v South Korea with the other on British Eurosport 2.

Thursday 11 August

19.45 Sheffield Wednesday v Blackpool, Carling Cup 1st Round, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
The reduced circumstances of the home side serves as a cautionary tale for newly-relegated Premier League clubs like Blackpool. The Tangerines were so frugal with their wages, last season that they didn’t need a relegation fire sale. Wednesday, on the other hand, are financially borked.