Parping

It started with the World Cup, and has become incessant and annoying as time goes by. I thought that after the opening match that the protagonists would get it out of their systems and it would die down, but if anything it’s growing worse and worse with each game it seems to. People simply don’t seem to be able to stop themselves from making this awful noise and reducing the fun for everyone else. It’s time a stop was put to it!

I’m not talking about the vuvuzelas, I’m talking about the moaning about the vuvuzelas. Yes, it’s a buzzing sound all the way through the games. Yes, it’s not what we are used to when watching football. And yes, it may be dulling the atmosphere a bit. But on the other hand it is how South Africans watch their games, it is certainly unique to this World Cup, and after a short while you get used to it.

I’ve seen claims that it drowns out other crowd noises. Not for me it doesn’t. I could hear the England fans’ band, I’ve heard cheers and jeers in other games, and on the radio you get used to it as a background, similar to the hiss of a bad reception. In fact, I seem to recall most of Mexico ’86 tv coverage being accompanied by buzzing due to poor transmission, and the picture quality then was awful when you see the old footage.

Like Anton of Enemies of Reason, I also noticed that there are a lot of people angrily calling for a ban on vuvuzelas from England. The same place where many people were angrily denouncing a (largely fictitious) ban on England flags or shirts on the basis that people in their own country should not be stopped from supporting football as they wish, even if it may offend others (not that I think the flag or the shirts do, it’s the behaviour that sometimes comes along with it that’s offensive). Well, just as it would be wrong for a blanket ban on English people flying their flags or wearing their shirts, I think it’s equally arrogant to call for a ban on South Africans in South Africa doing what they do for football.

Not a complete disaster

I thought I was doing well on my predictions. France and Uruguay ended up goalless and a Uruguayan saw red, Greece lost to South Korea… and then Argentina were annoyingly good against Nigeria. From what I saw Etuhu and his teammates did pretty well, but unfortunately Argentina somehow managed to keep them at bay. Dickson did put a ball in that could well have resulted in a goal though.

Of course the real disappointment was England failing to beat the Americans. There were plenty of chances, and certainly when Lennon and Johnson got behind the defence the US looked vulnerable, but the luck just wasn’t there at times. Of course at the other end Rob Green had no when he fumbled Dempsey’s speculative shot into the goal. So I got one thing right, dammit.

Still, Gerrard’s goal was classy, and England did look very good going forward. The midfield did track back when needed, and for most of the game the possession play was pretty solid. I don’t think we need to worry too much about the other two in the group on that basis, and as long as Green maintains his confidence I reckon England can too.

Anyway, at the risk of getting these horribly wrong..

Sunday 13 June

Algeria 1-1 Slovenia (a tight game with rubbish defending exposed, please)
Germany 1-0 Australia (Germany very lucky to nick one from a wicked rebound after Schwarzer locks them out for most of the game)
Serbia 2-3 Ghana (a proper knockabout end-to-end game at last?)

Picking a winner

This week two things started properly. One was the Labour Leadership elections, with five candidate qualifying for the final round. Alas, John McDonnell didn’t make it, but at least people stopped nominating Millibands for the other two to get in. I’ve yet to decide who to support. I would put Diane Abbott in as my no1, but my girlfriend has told me I’m not allowed to (so much for sistahood, eh?). All I know is that Balls is no5 in my book and nothing’s likely to change that unless it turns out that Andy Burnham is even worse.

But for now we have the really important competition down in South Africa. This time I will be backing seven teams in the World Cup:

England
USA (Clint Dempsey & Carlos Bocanegra)
South Africa (Kagisho Dikgacoi)
Nigeria (Dickson Etuhu)
Ghana (John Paintsil)
Australia (Mark Schwarzer)
Japan (Junichi Inamoto)

Obviously England are the main team I’ll be supporting. Not with silly flags or by wearing the shirt, let alone with face paint, but in the time-honoured tradition of watching them on the telly with beers in hand. But all of the others have current or past Fulham players in their squads, so I’d want to see them progress. Besides, Ghana and Australia doing well means Germany doing badly, Nigeria are up against Argentina and South Africa are in a group with France so that’s the main rivals covered. None of those teams are ones that I wouldn’t want to see do well anyway, they are all reasonable footballing sides, with a fair amount of underdog status.

If Fulham had a Uruguayan or Italian international I’d have been mightily torn between backing a Whites player and my loathing of negative sides that cheat their way through. When England play the USA tomorrow I certainly want England to win, if for nothing else other than to shut the Yanks up about 1950. But as long as England look good to get through the group, I will want the Americans to do well against Slovenia and Algeria before shockingly putting the Germans out in Round 2.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the games where Whites players feature. I was at work for the opening game of the tournament, which saw Dikgacoi in action against Mexico, so I am reliant on the highlights and web-reports. 1-1 is a good result for the hosts, and while they were lucky not to concede in the first half they could have nicked the game at the end. The Mexicans are usually a very good side, and are often underestimated at the World Cup. They’ve have made it to the knockout rounds in the last four tournaments, and each time fallen at the first hurdle.

Our lad Kagisho made his mark on the game: booked midway through the first half for fouling the rampant Giovani, failing to convert a headed corner at the end of the first half, and then being involved in the build up play for the South Africa goal in the second half.

I’ll be making with more frequent posts (‘onest!) on how my favoured seven teams and the Fulham contingent are getting on. In the meantime, here’s how I hope the next few games go:

Tonight
Uruguay 0-0 France (with several players sent off and loads of bookings. Any Uruguayan who commits a foul to be injured as a result)

Tomorrow
S Korea 1-0 Greece (The Greeks beaten when their offside trap fails)
Nigeria 2-0 Argentina (Maradona turns purple as Etuhu gets an assist)
England 3-1 USA (Rooney and Defoe goals win the game after Dempsey opens the scoring)

Hodgson for God!

I’m still recovering from last Thursday night’s win over Hamburg. The whole thing is unbelievable. The comeback from a goal down was more than just dramatic. That the scorers were two of the unsung heroes of the squad made it seem more Fulhamish to me – Gera has been working solidly with Zamora this season, and Davies is one of the longest serving players who survived the arrival and departure of Lawrie Sanchez and fits in well with Hodgson’s system.

The noise in the ground was brilliant – the supporters were behind the team and in good voice (I’m still a bit hoarse). The memory of the “Stand up if you still believe” chant starting near the green pole and spreading out along the Hammy End brings a chill to my spine.

The odd thing is, Fulham could qualify for next year’s Europa Cup even if they don’t win next week – If England holds it’s place in the top three of the UAFA Fair Play league, Fulham is the top placed club in the English Fair Play table that hasn’t already got a place in the Champions League or the Europa Cup already. If we beat Athletico Madrid, then we will be given a place in the Group Stage of the Europa Cup and Burnley could end up getting the Fair Play place.

All of which is a testament to the team and the manager. Roy Hodgson hasn’t just gotten the team playing well enough to push for a top-half place in the Premiership, they’ve put together two cup runs and have been doing it through positive football and not dirty play.

No fooling

The magic 40 point barrier was breached at the weekend, with a 2-1 win against Wigan – Fulham’s first league victory in six weeks – and as my theory predicts, the even-numbered month of April is proving a better one so far.

I was at the Wolfsburg game last week, and they were definitely tough opponents. It took a long time to break them down, and they were well organised, but finally they seemed to collapse and Zamora and Duff were able to score in quick succession. However, instead of pressing the advantage, it seems that Fulham went onto the back foot, and allowed Wolfsburg to come back into the game, which is dangerous. In the first leg, any goal counts, not so much the end result, and the last minute header from their towering centre-back Madlung left a bitter taste. For the Germans, it was a way back into the tie with an away goal (which doesn’t ‘count double’, but is pretty important) and leaves the Whites in a similar situation to the one against Shaktar Donestk. Mind you, Wolfsburg are not the same as those Ukrainians – where Shaktar played a flowing, fast, skill-driven game, Wolfsburg are more like a traditional English side built on strength and tactics.

Oh, as I was writing this, the away leg started and Bobby Zamora scored after 21 seconds. COYW!

March Madness

It’s been an odd month for Fulham. On the one hand, they beat Juventus to get to the last 8 in the Europa League. Wolfsburg are up next, and the ticket is already secured for the Cottage game on Thursday night.

On the other hand, that is the only game that Fulham have won since February 21st. In the league Fulham have lost the last three now that they have fallen to Hull City today. Spurs edged them out of the FA Cup thanks to a superb comeback in the second half of the replay (and a loss of momentum from Fulham after a great start in the first 45).

Bizzarely, it seems to be that Fulham’s form varies by month this Season. In even-numbered months they do well, and in odd numbered months they slump:

August: Won 3, Lost 3, Scored 7, Conceded 6, Qualified for Europa Groups
September: Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 3, Scored 5, Conceded 7, Knocked out of the League Cup
October: Won 3, Drew 3, Scored 11, Conceded 6
November: Won 1, Drew 2, Lost 2, Scored 6, Conceded 5
December: Won 4, Drew 2, Lost 1, Scored 10, Conceded 5, Qualified for Europa KO rounds
January: Won 2, Lost 4, Scored 6, Conceded 10, Only wins in FA cup against lower division sides
February: Won 5, Drew 3, Scored 13, Conceded 3, Busiest month by far, and beat UEFA Cup holders
March: Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 5, Scored 7, Conceded 14, Out of the FA Cup, but still in Europe

The last few weeks will have taken a lot out of the squad, and there’s more to come with the Wolfsburg games and the rescheduled game against Stoke to play in the midweek. Away form is pretty poor still. All season, Fulham have won in only four games on the road, and only one of those has come in the Premier League (Portsmouth, on day one). Looking at the remaining away games (Wolfsburg 8 April, Liverpool 11 April, Everton 24 April and Arsenal 9 May), I can’t see that changing much.

And so Fulham find themselves in 11th place in the table. 38 points so far renders them pretty safe and the last home league games are all winnable (Wigan 4 April, Stoke 14 April, Wolves 17 April, West Ham 1 May), so while there’s not many ways to climb much above 9th or 10th, the Whites should not slip back much further.

Still, at the beginning of the season, the worry was that Europe would prove such a drain that Fulham would struggle. Getting to the Quarter Finals in the Europa and to the same round of the FA Cup shows that the club has the quality of players and the management to move forward, and so next season they should really be looking at a solid top-half finish.

They’ve only gone and bloody done it! Fulham 4 – 1 Juventus

Fulham win 5-4 on aggregate.

Who’d have thought this would be happening after last week? Or five minutes into tonight’s match even?

The past few weeks have not been brilliant for the Whites, with 0-0 draws away to Hull in the League and at home to Spurs in the FA Cup. The game at Turin was characterised by fairly poor defending from Fulham – each of the Juve goals came from errors. Even the away goal was a but of a fluke, with Etuhu’s shot going well wide before spinning and bobbling off a defender.

But for the home leg, even after the conceded goal early on, Fulham never gave up, getting one back within minutes with Zamora allowed space in the middle of the box to slot one in. The Juventus defence seemed to rely more on shirt-pulling and holding than on legal methods, but the officials seemed oblivious to several clear penalty offences. Even so, Fulham got two key decisions perhaps unfairly in their favour – Cannovaro was sent off for a foul that was marginal and was not at a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and Diego gave away a penalty through handball at very close range (mind you, I think this was an ok call, as he did go in with his hand moving up and out). Still, Fulham hit the woodwork twice in the first half, and were making use of the extra man.

Zamora had an outstanding game, setting up the second goal with a deft chip to Davies who was able to put it across for Gera to knock in from 4 yards. Gera also took the penalty from Diego’s handball that put the tie level.

The latter part of the second half was in danger of petering out a bit, as Juventus pulled back and tried to defend, hoping for a chance on the break (pretty much textbook Italian play). But when Dempsey came on as an attacking change for Kelly, the pace of the Fulham team did lift, and the American – who was at one point thought to be injured for the season – was in a great position to score the winner. And it was a classic goal, a deft chip past the keeper into the corner. He’s going to be a bit of a handful if he plays like that in the World Cup.

Juventus were the better team by far last week. But Fulham excelled tonight, and Juve were their own worst enemy. My head is still spinning. Two years ago we were dead certs for relegation, and now we’re in the Quarter Finals of a major trophy.

Football and economics

For the benefit of the reader who complained to me that they don’t get my posts about football, here’s something to tie the game up to economincs.

It’s a tale of two football clubs. The first is Portsmouth. Pompey went into administration last week. That was the end of a process which started a few years back when they started to borrow lots of money in order to try to compete with the big Premiership sides. The borrowed money was spent on buying and paying players – quite a few of them are still there, and still need to be paid. The main sources of income for the club were ticket sales, TV fees, prize money and merchandising. Success on the pitch would being more income from all sources. But in the end, they over-extended themselves. One FA Cup and a few season in the middle of the top division did not increase income by much. But the debt was still there.

Now, let’s compare Portsmouth with the nations of Iceland and Greece. In both cases, ambitious gambles on foreign assets were placed, based on debt. In both cases, those gambles failed. In both cases, the assets themselves became a drain on the revenue budget, and so the debt spiralled up. When the repayments came due, they ended up having to take radical steps not to be completely wound up.

Now consider Man Utd. Man Utd has £700M of debt. That’s about 10x the level that Portsmouth can’t deal with. But Manchester Utd can deal with it. Why? Well, before the debt was taken out, the club was profitable. Indeed, if you remove the payment on the debt, the club is operationally profitable. It has the advantage of a larger stadium, a greater pre-existing fan-base, and a very good means of producing decent players through the youth system. It was already successful, and while it was banking on continuing that form, it has to be said that there was less of a risk that Man Utd would fail to consistently finish in the top 3 of the Premiership and do well in national and European competition than that Portsmouth would fail to establish themselves as a major player. So the debt is higher, but it is manageable

So which country or countries would be analagous to Man Utd? Well, maybe the US or UK are a stretch, but they certainly have large debts, but at the same time both have major resources and are able to keep repaying on the debts even in dark times.

Not that Man Utd (or the US and UK) do not have challenges to meet, because they do. Clearly increasing that debt is not a sustainable policy. Clearly external factors can change their positions. Clearly bringing in incompetent managers that can’t maintain performance would be a risk. And of course there will be good seasons and bad ones.

But just because Man Utd has more debt than Portsmouth (or the UK has similar national debt to Greece) does not make their situations the same.

Shaktar Donetsk 1 – 1 Fulham (2-3 on aggregate)

I just managed to get home in time for this one on ITV4, and spent the first half an hour wishing I’d stayed at work. Donetsk came out with their tails up and threatened from the start. Schwartzer had to make quite a few saves, and the Ukrainian team seemed to have solid control of the game. The home side only needed to win 1-0 to win on the ‘away goals’ rule, and it looked like they could get that and more.

However, with what was Fulham’s first proper chance of the match, a Duff free kick was met by Brede Hangeland’s head and the ball ended up in the net. With that, the tie was 3-1 in Fulham’s favour, and the away goal had been cancelled out. Shaktar had to score three in order to win outright, and two to force extra time. They could feel aggrieved perhaps at the seemingly innocuous challenge that led to the free kick in the first place, but Fulham had some pretty bad luck with officials in the games against Roma last year.

The goal seemed to wake the Whites up a bit, and the play then became more even, as the midfield were able to close down the game a little more. for the remainder of the half.

For the second half, the pattern of play was for Fulham to defend as deeply as possible, while Shaktar tried their same methods over and over to try to score. While the visitors were well organised in defence, and had the odd break, they could not stop Donetsk from pulling a goal back halfway through the second period. Zamora was replaced by Elm for the last 20 minutes, and he did seem to lift the Fulham play a little, as he and Gera were able to jink forward every now and then. The midfield and defensive lines held well too, and were soaking much of the pressure up.

With five minutes to go, and after a period fraught with danger, the pressure suddenly dropped, and Fulham finally got to put in some possession play as they tried to hold the aggregate lead. When 90 minutes had gone, and as four minutes of time to play were indicated, Gera got hold of a misplaced pass and came within inches of slotting in a winner. Ilsinho was lucky to get away with only a yellow card for a foul on Duff that was a kind of body check combined with a cuff to the head. Then Murphy was sent off for a pointless foul in the corner on a different Donetsk player, meaning his influential leadership would be missing for the next game.

With only a minute or so left, Shaktar didn’t have time to make the extra man pay, and so the tie ended 3-2 on aggregate. Fulham had knocked out the holders, a team with prodigious skill and pace, and held them off in a ground where they’d beaten the likes of Arsenal in previous years.

I don’t yet know who the next opponents for Fulham will be. Chances are it’ll be Juventus, who are a goal up with home advantage against Ajax. Either way, it will be a fantastic opportunity for the Whites to show their mettle against one of the most famous clubs in Europe.

COYW!

Fulham 2 – 1 Birmingham City

A win pulled at the brink out of a possible disaster. Baird conceded an own-goal on three minutes, which is probably had luck on a player who’s been playing out of position to cover for the loss of  Pantsil and Konchesky in defence for a while now.

Birmingham are a tough team to beat, and being behind makes the task even harder. It seems that hard work in breaking down one of the better defences in the league was what paid off, although the equaliser came from a superb Duff strike.

I’m sure that City will feel hard done by about the nature of the winner – a Zamora free-kick after three minutes of added time – but the lad is really on fire at the moment. Whether he’s good enough to get a place in the England World Cup squad remains to be seen, but he’s carried on the form that he had before he was injured after Xmas. 15 goals already in the season, some against European sides. The last two goals were the ones that made the difference between a draw and victory.