Sunday, 25 November 2007

Match 9 - Crystal Palace

After a suitable period of mourning for the national team it's back to the real action of Championship football. Not that I'm mourning for the players in the England team of course, or even the manager, it's the state of English football that I care most about. I blame the F.A. Yes the Fat Asses who control the game and who know sweet F.A. about football. Oh yes, they might know a lot about business, and what they will call the 'business of football' but none of this can translate into a passion for the game.

When was the last time they all stood on a terrace for over two hours in the middle of winter with nothing to show but
Frozen Assets at the end of a match. I know I'm one of the softies who has a regular seat at Layer Road, but that's on account of my Flippin' Arthritis and I like to think I've done my time at the real end of the game. When have they ever sat at a match where they cared about watching some Ferocious Action and prayed for help, and I mean put their hands together and asked Him to grant their wishes. Except of course it probably did happen last week when they realised that there'd be Falling Advertising revenues from sponsors who were banking on a profitable Euro 2008 campaign.

Sad to say but this sense of grief returned early in the game against Palace, just six minutes into the First 'Arf' and we were one down. Worse was to come a minute later when Baldwin Flapped his Arms and Ifill Fell About as though he'd been shot. But somehow from that point it became a match worth saving. The boys slowly clawed their way back into contention. It wasn't pretty, but we don't ask for that. We just ask that they try, and try they did. By half time things were looking positive and you could tell we were on the up because our Favourite Announcement told us that Ipswich had lost earlier.

The half time entertainment had a mis-match in 'Over-The-Wall'. One very young contender was barely taller than the ball, but he surprised everyone by winning the contest and may even be in contention for the Wickes DIY Vouchers at the end of the season. The Palace supporters were delighted and cheered him back to his place on the terraces to the tune of 'Sign him up, sign up, sign him up'. Let's hope he's a Free Agent?

In the second period it looked like we wanted to salvage something and a superb piece of Footie Action resulted in the equaliser. At this point Palace were expected to Fall Apart and gift us the game. But no, they hadn't read the same script and Neil Warnock's men decided that a draw wasn't enough for them and they upped their pace and took the lead once again.

Despite the reappearance of our Fallen Angel, Teddy Sheringham MBE (Mischievous Bl**dy Elbow) and some Frantic Activity in the remotest areas of the field the result was to be the same as the corresponding fixture last season.

I have to say that the lads battled marvellously throughout the last eighty three minutes, but in the Final Analysis, we lost 1-2, and we scored no points, and it Felt Awful trudging down Layer Road with nothing to show for our efforts.

I blame the F.A.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Armchair Coach

Another away game today, so time for a little more reflection on the state of football at Layer Road. Following the theme of the last couple of postings here I thought it might be useful to document some further thoughts on how the U's might improve on their recent performances. I'm going to suggest something quite radical, mainly because most people think it's obvious. It's a tricky technique which only a few players seem to have mastered sufficiently to display it with confidence in front of the home fans.

These observations stem from a number of years of experience of playing football at various levels from playground and street soccer, school teams, youth leagues, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning local leagues, a bit of experience at Intermediate level, and work based teams, to six-a-side, coaching youth teams, refereeing at Junior and Intermediate levels, and most importantly studying thousands of matches on TV from the comfort of my armchair. I have even experienced the joy of this technique while listening to the radio. So you can see I have an impressive pedigree which, for the record, includes watching the 1966 World Cup Final on TV, and 'I Was There' when we beat Leeds in 1971.

So please believe me when I say 'it works'. It works because it's so simple. In fact everyone who watches football knows it works. They know it's really the only way to win matches. I have a sneaking suspicion that professional players know it works, but I guess it's the embarrassment of doing it in front of thousa
nds of fans at Layer Road in that intimate atmosphere of drama, dreams and desire that makes grown men crumble.

What I'm talking about is - passing the ball to a team-mate....

Seriously folks,
no-one is going to laugh if you get it wrong or it doesn't work every time. We just want to see you trying it out regularly. Practice makes perfect so they say. Doing it on the training ground doesn't count. There aren't any opposing teams there. You know each other so you get fooled into thinking it's too obvious, too easy, too straightforward (hey, there's another coaching technique!).

What we see all too often is the almighty 'hoof' up the field to the other team's defence. We've been blessed with giant centre forwards in recent years and what we see is them rising above the rest, getting their delicate hairdos to the ball, the deftest of flicks, and ... what? The ball disappears into no man's land or to an opposing player. Why not head it deliberately to one of your team mates? Why not bring the ball under control (we are talking professional footballers here, aren't we?) and look for a team mate t
o pass it to. Don't put the ball into space and shrug your shoulders cos' no-one can read your mind. Don't put a long ball over everyone's heads and then look amazed at how small the pitch is. Look for the blue and white striped shirt if you can't recognise your mates' faces. Away matches are trickier of course, but let's start with the easy option and try to win some home games.

Just imagine stringing several passes together between players of the same team. You know what happens when you get beyond 5 passes. The fans lose count and start to treat it like a bullfight spectacle - cheering every pass as the bull (I mean the opposition) goes mad trying to get a sniff of the damn ball. Tease the other team for a few minutes, make them forget what it's like to touch that magnetic rolling ro
ck that sticks to our feet, show it to them at just beyond their reach, then snatch it away at the last moment and pass the cape to a team mate. They won't like it, they can't cope with it and they have to resort to a rash tackle in that area of the pitch that has become known as Yeates' Alley. And we know what we expect to happen then. Different ball game!

So come on lads, start performing like 'Yeates and his Mates', the 'Teddy Boys', the 'KKK' (that's Karl to Kevin [W] to Kevin
[L]), or dare I say it ..... Colchester United.

So what happens then? As I'm writing this the lads have just been to church (Vicarage Road) and have been absolved for all their previous sins and have come away with a cracking result. Sadly just the one point, but against the table toppers Watford and we did scare the pants off them for a while with a 2-1 lead and Deano saving a penalty. Great stuff.

We now start the next game with a clean sheet so come on lads, try out this passing stuff in front of the home fans. Amaze us with your team spirit. Pass the ball to your team mates. The rest will happen naturally. You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Match 8 - Plymouth

Football lesson number 2 - this is a goal. It's where you need to get the ball to rest, as often as possible in the course of each game (preferably the opponents goal - it's getting tricky this coaching lark, you have to be so specific with players these days).

There isn't much to say about the actual football in this match - there wasn't much at all. Stringing passes together was beyond the reach of most players. Yeates (note - not 'Yeatesy') was playing is own game as usual and shrugging his shoulders every time a bad shot at goal didn't connect with anyone. He was lucky the goalkeeper parried his only shot on target into the path of Lisbie for our only reward of the game. We had a back-pedalling defence, a midfield that didn't want to challenge for the ball and forwards who couldn't make the ball stick to them. It was really hopeless tonight.

The half-time entertainment was dire with no-one hitting the bar in the head to head between supporters and 'Over the Wall' was so slowly played that the safety announcement was quickly interrupted by the return of the bit part players.

And what on earth what Kevin Watson on about in his post-match interview when he criticised 10 or 15 fans for their adverse reaction to the poor performance? Actually he was well wide of the target - it was 200-300 disgruntled fans who appeared to reflect the abysmal performance of the team on the pitch. Watson should concentrate on what WE are paying him for. He's supposed to make an effort, not chicken out of every tackle, or straighten his shirt sleeves before every half-hearted attempt at not heading the ball. He might think he looks good at distributing the ball sideways from time to time, but that's not enough.

Get stuck in! Show us some passion and we will also show some passion. The fans behaviour reflects what's happening on the pitch. After losing two games and scraping two home draws there's a reason for the fans being unhappy. You have made us appreciate the good life and we want to see something better. The players still get paid (far more than most of their supporters) even when they play like this. Watson should listen to the post-match interview of his manager and try to learn how to behave.

(And this is the edited version of my post-match interview with my son.)

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Match 7 - Leicester

Football lesson number 1 - this is a ball. It's what you need to play with. Use your feet to kick it.

The defeat at Ipswich has been followed up with another away defeat, this time at Coventry where a couple of deflections summed up our day - the first being deflected shot that became the only goal of the game and the second being Sheringham's elbow that he couldn't control as it deflected off an opponent. It's funny how we start to refer to players just by their last name when we are upset with their performance. In previous posts here it's been Teddy this, Teddy that. Not now. A moment's madness and he's another one consigned to the rogue's gallery for a while.

So the Leicester game wasn't going to be much of an affair. In the end the result was a close repeat of last season's encounter with yet another score draw. The only differences compared to last year were that we equalised just before half-time (instead just after last year) and Doogie didn't get sent off (see what I mean - I'm using a friendly name at the moment).

The highlight of the game though was the interplay between the two sets of supporters. I have to say that the opposition got the better of us today. This time it was a Fat 'Les' Leicester bloke with a big drum who led his brave army into vocal battle against our 'Tambourine Man'. I normally enjoy our drum beat charges, but today we were really left wanting more. I wont bang on about it any more.

We aren't doing ourselves any favours at the moment and we are now starting to occupy a regular spot in the bottom half of the Championship table. We aren't used to this and it's going to take some serious effort ont he part of the players to reverse the trend. I'm finding it difficult to list some positives here. Never mind, there's always Tuesday evening.