Sunday, 30 March 2008

Polos at Princes Park

My eight year old son has, all of a sudden, discovered Polos. Round, minty, hole in the middle. Not that he leads a particularly deprived life, but he tried one last week for the first time when we visited relatives in South Wales. And he now loves them.

For some time my son has been asking if we can go back down to Princes Park, home of Dartford FC. Regular readers will know the circumstances surrounding my son's first ever visit to the home of the Darts. It was back in September when I was faced with a difficult decision; do I stay at home and tend to my wife after she had recently ruptured her ligaments in her right ankle, or do I go to the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round game between Dartford and Camberley Town? You know what I chose, and I took my son with me. He loved it, and has been nagging me ever since to return.

So yesterday I took him back. Some Dartford fans have kept in touch and have been encouraging me to visit again anyway, so we set off for yesterday's Ryman League Division One North game against Brentwood Town with my son shouting "Come on you Darts" as he clung on to a large packet of Polos.

Dartford fans were hoping for a record attendance at Princes Park. Saturday morning they sat top of the league, nine points ahead of AFC Sudbury and favourites to win the league. The previous best turn out this season had been 1579 for the encounter with Ware but yesterday a lower than expected crowd of 1309 braved the rain and the wind to see a surprise 1-0 win for Brentwood Town.

Those that did show up must have left feeling rather disappointed with the result. The game was by no means a classic. Little happened in a rain drenched first half in which Dartford resorted to long balls, and struggled with only one player up front. Any attempts to use the full width of the pitch were nullified by Brentwood's full backs, who both had very good games. Dartford hit the bar with a fine header from Jamie Coyle but that was their only real chance in a poor first forty five minutes.

By half time, by son was on his sixth Polo and enjoying the banter of the crowd more so than the match itself. He also learnt a new word, which I really hope he forgets by the time my wife reads this.

In the second half, with the introduction of the Dartford sub Phil Williams, the home team applied a lot more pressure and had some opportunities to score. These included a couple of sliding attempts to make contact with decent crosses, another header that struck the bar - this time form Jay May - and strong shouts for a penalty when Brendon Cass was tripped in the box. But once again, as in the first half, the Dartford midfield simply did not get into the game and the match bypassed them. That final bit of quality where it mattered most was lacking, and Brentwood took full advantage.

The only goal of the game with eight minutes remaining. The diminutive Brentwood midfielder Lee Noble picked up the ball just inside the centre circle with not a soul around him. With the Dartford midfield AWOL, he sprinted at the heart of the Dartford back line. This guy was like a whippet and before any Dartford defender could react he unleashed a screaming shot from outside the area that gave Tony Kessell in goal no chance. It really was an effort that deserved to win any match; local press described it as a "wonder goal".

As I recall, in Dartford's FA cup game back in September, Camberley's equaliser that day was from a wonderful long range effort, another goal where a midfielder had been given the freedom of Princes Park. Significant or just coincidence?

The Dartford fans were somewhat subdued yesterday. Maybe the weather, but quite likely the below par performance. Dartford have a cracking home record this season, and had not lost a league game since November, so I guess they were due for a dodgy result. Just my luck to choose this game. Brentwood deserved their win. The twenty or so travelling Brentwood fans, with their single light blue and dark blue flag, and drum, were in fine voice all the way through the game. They would have enjoyed their trip back to Essex.

This defeat has now reduced the margin between Dartford and AFC Sudbury to only six points; the chasing team have two games in hand so it will be a tense season's climax.

I think my son enjoyed the trip, although he did admit later that the game was a little boring. He brought home with him some Dartford tattoos from the club shop, but what he had enjoyed most were his Polos. And yesterday both the Polos and the Dartford team had one thing in common. Both had big holes in the middle.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Six of the best

I have always felt that FA Cup semi final day is one of the best days in the football calendar. For me there is so much excitement surrounding the semis, not only for fans of the four clubs involved, but also for neutrals. There is so much at stake, only one tie away from an FA Cup final appearance, and everything that comes with that. The nerves, the anticipation, the thrill, the excitement, the nail biting, the joy and the sorrow. A whole raft of emotions. For me, some of the best and most memorable games of football I have seen or listened to have been at this stage in the competition.

In an earlier post I bemoaned the choice of a Wembley venue for this season's FA Cup semis. But now I have to hold my hand up and admit that, as things have turned out in what has been a quite remarkable competition, I have had a slight change of heart. I can now accept that a visit to Wembley for all four clubs still involved is a marvellous thing. I cannot begrudge the supporters from Barnsley, Cardiff, Portsmouth or West Brom their big day out. Not in the slightest.

Of course, (the old) Wembley has hosted semi finals before. The first semi to be held there was in 1991, when Arsenal lost 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur and we witnessed that quality Paul Gascoigne free kick. The FA Cup semi finals have traditionally been held on neutral venues - Villa Park holding a staggering 55 of them - and up until the late nineties drawn games would have to be replayed. This is no longer the case - both games in just over a week will be decided on the day with extra-time and penalties. The last game to go to a replay was the classic Manchester United and Arsenal encounter in 1999.

And it is that game that kicks-off my "six of the best". My most memorable FA Cup semi finals, in no particular order...

1999 ~ Manchester United v Arsenal (replay at Villa Park)

The first tie ended 0-0, but was still a good game. Nelson Vivas had been sent off for Arsenal and Roy Keane had been denied a late winner for Manchester United after a close offside call. But the replay just about had it all. A trademark Beckham effort from twenty yards gave Manchester United the lead and set up a pulsating, end-to-end game. With twenty minutes to go Arsenal equalised when Bergkamp scored with a deflected shot off his Dutch compatriot Japp Stam. Sixteen minutes left, Roy Keane was sent off and the game swung towards Arsenal. Their dominance paid off with a penalty awarded in injury time. Up stepped Bergkamp but his penalty lacked any sort of pace and the huge Peter Schmeichal guided the ball around the post. Extra-time and the game was on a knife edge. Then on 109 minutes, one of the most magnificent FA Cup moments in the history of the competition. Ryan Giggs intercepted a sloppy Vieira pass in his own half and, at full steam, ran straight at the heart of the Arsenal defence. He weaved through the whole of the Arsenal rearguard before shooting high into Seaman's net. Absolute quality. Voted as the best FA Cup goal ever, the only downside was the sight of Giggs' hairy chest.

1975 ~ Fulham v Birmingham City (replay at Maine Road)

This has to be one of my earliest FA Cup memories. The game itself was not a classic, but I never forget the occasion. The first game had finished 1-1 at Hillsborough. Fulham were by far the underdogs and it felt at the time that the whole country (apart from Birmingham) were rooting for Fulham. It is the replay that sticks in my mind. I was on a school trip and remember listening to the second game on the radio on a coach. I couldn't even tell you now where we were or where we were going to or coming from. All I remember is that all the teachers and children were transfixed with the commentary being transmitted from the Maine Road replay. The young striker John Mitchell nudged Fulham into the final with the game's only goal in the dying seconds. When that goal went in the coach load of children erupted with joy. I was 11 years old. A bunch of kids from the North going crazy on a coach because the underdogs from London had done it. The beauty of the FA Cup. I remember that day so vividly it feels like only yesterday.

1990 ~ Manchester United v Oldham Athletic (at Maine Road)
and Crystal Palace v Liverpool (at Villa Park)

I watched both these games on TV. Two fantastic matches on the same day.

Oldham, with their artificial home surface, had already eliminated the likes of Everton and Aston Villa but were not expected to offer much against the favourites Manchester United. Goals from Earl Barrett, Ian Marshall and Roger Palmer put the Latics within touching distance of Wembley. The underdogs refused to lie down and Palmer's equaliser came late in extra-time. The replay (also at Maine Road) ended with a 2-1 extra-time heart break for Oldham. The Latics still managed to get to Wembley that year, losing 1-0 to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup final.

Under normal circumstances, that 3-3 thriller would have been the game of the 1989-1990 FA Cup. But up next was an even more thrilling match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool. Earlier in the season, the league game at Anfield had finished Liverpool 9, Crystal Palace 0. At half-time in the semi, Palace (who were missing the broken legged Ian Wright) were trailing 1-0 to an Ian Rush goal. Liverpool remained hot favourites to reach the final, but in best FA Cup tradition, Palace had other plans. After the restart, Mark Bright shot Palace level and all of a sudden Liverpool looked rattled. Gary O'Reilly then edged the London team in front. Liverpool upped their game and equalised on 81 minutes with a goal from Steve McMahon. Two minutes later Liverpool were back in control and seemingly going through when John Barnes slotted home from the penalty spot. But in a breathless climax to the game, and against all the odds, Andy Gray levelled with a header. The first half of extra-time passed without incident, both teams recovering from an enthralling first 90 minutes. Four minutes into the second period of extra-time, Palace were catapulted into dreamland. A training ground set piece delivered the reward. A corner from Gray, flicked on at the near post by Andy Thorn and Alan Pardew arrived unmarked at the far post to send Crystal Palace to Wembley. This was a huge moment for Palace. They had never played at Wembley before. They had never reached an FA cup final before. At the end of the game, a massive Palace banner read "Thank you God, I can now die in peace".

That season, the FA Cup belonged to Oldham and Crystal Palace, although neither team won it.

1995 ~ Everton v Tottenham Hotspur (at Elland Road)

I have to include this one, simply because it made me laugh so much. It still does. This is the season that had started with financial irregularities unearthed at White Hart Lane. Spurs were given a £600,000 fine, docked twelve league points and banned from the FA Cup. After appeal, the points reduction was lowered to six, the fine increased to £1.5 million and the FA Cup ban remained. The case went to arbitration and by the time the draw for the Third Round took place, the matter had not been resolved. Altrincham came out of the hat to face "Bye or Tottenham Hotspur". The FA eventually backed down, and Tottenham were reinstated. Tottenham fans were duly convinced that this was going to be their FA Cup winning season. But in the semi at Elland Road, it was Everton who triumphed. Everton were struggling to hold onto a 2-1 lead with twenty minutes remaining when the Everton boss, Joe Royle, decided to make a substitution believing that Paul Rideout was injured. By the time Rideout had signalled to the bench that he was fit to carry on, Royle had sent on Daniel Amokachi. The Nigerian scored two goals as Everton ran out 4-1 winners, much to the dismay of the Tottenham fans. Royle explained "what a good mistake" he had made. I laughed so much I almost cried.

1997 ~ Middlesbrough v Chesterfield (at Old Trafford)

Another 3-3 semi final classic. Middlesbrough would go on to win the tie in a replay at Hillsborough (3-0), but the first game at Old Trafford was the one to savour. This really was a glorious FA Cup spectacle. This game swung from one team to the other, there were plenty of goals and lots of incident. It will be remembered most though for a mistake by the referee, David Elleray. Chesterfield sprinted into an early two goal lead, Andy Roberts and Saun Dyche the scorers, the latter from the spot. Ravenelli pulled one back but then in the second half the top-flight team had Vladimir Kinder sent off. Chesterfield were by now hitting Middlesbrough on the break and it was this route that brought about the game's big talking point. On the counter attack, a shot from Jon Howard smashed off the cross bar and landed a good two feet behind the goal line. 3-1 to the Spireites and the underdogs had clinched it. Except they hadn't. David Elleray disallowed the goal for an infringement in the area. TV replays provided no evidence of a foul. Hignett went on to equalise for Middlesbrough with a disputed penalty. Gianluca Festa put 'Boro in front only for Chesterfield to pull level in the dying seconds with a diving header from Jamie Hewitt. Unbelievable stuff. This was Elleray's post match comment about the disallowed goal:

"I wasn't sure whether the linesman was indicating the ball had crossed the goal-line or whether he had spotted the same offence as me...although I can't remember what it was."

At the final whistle, there were mixed emotions from Chesterfield. Their manager, John Duncan, had his glasses knocked off in the celebrations. The moment was captured on TV; perhaps Howard should have offered his glasses to Elleray.

So there you are - my favourite FA Cup semi finals. Both the games on April 6th certainly have a lot to live up to!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Road to Wembley Diamond Car Wobbler

Try telling anyone in Cardiff or Barnsley that the FA Cup doesn't mean anything anymore. The Road to Wembley can start anywhere. It can be as long or it can be as short as needs be. But actually getting there is a huge achievement, so much more if it is totally unexpected. It is the arriving that means just as much as the journey, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Cardiff fans and Barnsley fans alike are living the dream.

In Cardiff and in Barnsley the message boards are buzzing. The club websites are failing to play it down, even though they are "taking one game at a time". The local press are loving it. In sharp contrast to Chertsey back in August, cup fever really has come to town.

And with cup fever comes the cup merchandise. For example, Cardiff are offering fans the chance to pre-order the FA Cup semi final programme. The £5 programme will cost £11 if you want it delivered to your door. That alone is double my entry fee for the Chertsey Town v Wick game.

The occasion is a money-maker's dream. You must make sure you have all the latest gear before the trip to Wembley. The Road to Wembley Car Window Flag. The Road to Wembley Diamond Car Wobbler. The Foam FA Cup. The Foam Wembley 2008 Hand. The Road to Wembley Mini Car Scarf Wobbler. The Road to Wembley Mini Hand Flag. The FA Cup 2008 Scarf.

Yet the best one has to be The Road to Wembley Tee Shirt. Sky blue. But then I guess I'm just being biased, as my wife kindly offered to model the top (see picture above). Looking good dear.

And to think I was worried about getting tickets for the big game - I now have other concerns. So I really must dash and order some merchandise for my trip. I'd be mortified if I left it too late to get my hands on a Road to Wembley Diamond Car Wobbler.

Let's wobble all the way to Wembley.

Monday, 24 March 2008

30,000 gaffers

One Wembley line-up has already been decided. This season's FA Trophy final (on May 10th) will be between Ebbsfleet United and Torquay United. For Ebbsfleet, it will be their first ever appearance at Wembley; en route to the showpiece final they have knocked out Carshalton Athletic, Dorchester Town, Weymouth, Burton Albion and Aldershot Town. The Kent club have been given an initial allocation of 15,000 tickets but are expected to sell more. But bizarrely, the one person who does not yet know what role he will play on the big day is their manager, Liam Daish.

Ebbsfleet have had an eventful twelve months to say the least. At the end of the 2006-2007 season Gravesend & Northfleet changed their name to Ebbsfleet United in an attempt to reflect local regeneration of the Thames Gateway which will see nearby Ebbsfleet Station - a stone's throw from the Stonebridge Road ground - become a focal point for international travel. Ebbsfleet are sponsored by Eurostar.

Then in February 2008 the club were bought out by the website venture "MyFootballClub" (MyFC) for the tune of £700,000. This has left Ebbsfleet with 30,000 new owners, each having paid £35 to join and claim a stake in the football club. That stake includes the right to vote on all the major decisions off the pitch, from ticket pricing to kit manufacturer to stadium development. Members will also be able to vote on team selection and player transfers. Full tactical control is due to be handed to MyFC on April 1st.

And many of the new MyFC owners of Ebbsfleet United are desperate to pick the team for the FA Trophy final at Wembley; if the MyFC owners get their way Liam Daish could become the first ever cup final manager to have his team picked for him.

So from April 1st, Ebbsfleet United will have 30,000 gaffers. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for the half-time team talk. I just hope the new Wembley dressing rooms are big enough

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Wemberleeeey, Wemberleeeey!

I'm off to Wembley on April 6th for the FA Cup semi-final between Cardiff City and Barnsley. And I can't quite believe what has happened.

What a roller coaster few days.

Let me tell you about one of the kindest and most thoughtful men one would ever wish to meet. His name is Ali Yassine. Ali is the stadium tannoy announcer down at Cardiff City. The first time I came across Ali was when we were at Ninian Park for the fifth round encounter against Wolves. Ali made an announcement about my (and my friend's) presence at the game and this FA Cup "Road to Wembley" journey. He gave this blog a good plug. Not only once, but twice - before the game started and again at half time.

I had also read about Ali when he got a credit on the BBC Sport website as part of their "Quotes of the week" feature:

"Before we kick off for the second half, I have a very important announcement to make: 'We're the famous Cardiff City and we're going to Wemberleeeey. Wemberleeeey!!! Wemberleeeey!!!'" Stadium announcer at the Cardiff City v Hull game.


Then on Tuesday evening I had the great pleasure of having a long and interesting phone conversation with him. He had contacted me to offer help with getting hold of tickets for the big game. I had already received a possible offer of help from someone associated with the club. I had some generous offers of help from a couple of Cardiff City fans, fans I had never even met. All this generosity was overwhelming. And then Ali, who has been keenly following my story, suggested that Cardiff City FC should be able to help with tickets. Ali then set about passing on my details to the Media Manager and the Club Secretary and low and behold I today received an offer to buy a couple of tickets.

Ali had also worked on a "plan B" which involved his brother who is a season ticket holder, but that was not needed in the end. He has quite literally gone out of his way to help. Just talking to Ali one can tell that he is absolutely passionate about the game and about Cardiff City. He had some amazing stories to tell me and I could have listened to him for hours. I am very much looking forward to meeting Ali at Wembley in April.

If there is one thing I have learnt on this FA Cup run it is the generosity and friendship that has been expressed from a whole range of people, from all walks of life. From the wonderful Dartford fans, the amazing club committee at Eastbourne Borough, the guys down at Sittingbourne, the great people I have met or been in contact with at Camberley, Cambridge, Wolves, Watford and Middlesbrough, and not to forget the press and media girls and boys along the way. Once again, at the risk of repeating myself, I continue to be amazed. In a world where the bad guy gets centre stage in the news, it is so refreshing to meet and talk to genuinely nice people who all have one thing in common. This beautiful game.

So a really big "thank you" to Ali and to all at Cardiff City FC. Now it is just the simple matter of waiting for the game. I'm not sure if I can. Wemberleeeey, Wemberleeeey!

I am now off for a few days for Easter. Wishing you all a Happy Easter and I hope, whichever team you support, you get to see some great football over the holidays.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Is this the end of the queue?

It is amazing how quickly opinions can change, not least one's own. After Cardiff City's great win at Middlesbrough just over a week ago, I stood in front of the ESPN-Star TV camera outside the Riverside Stadium and said, with an air of confidence, I had a reasonable chance of getting tickets for the semi-final at Wembley. I've seen the footage; I even had a wry smile on my face, that kind of smug look that suggested I knew what I was talking about; the look that suggested that I knew something everyone else didn't.

Watching that footage one week on I can re-evaluate the situation. What my expression actually said was "this bloke is talking a load of crap". A week is a long time in football and much has happened since our journey back from Teesside.

First up, as we all know, the draw pitted Cardiff City with Barnsley. Already confident of getting tickets because of the lack of any of the big four in the last four, this draw boosted my confidence even further. The new national stadium has an official capacity of 90,000. In my naivety I thought that both these Championship teams would get a fair wedge of the allocation. Take off a little for segregation and each team would be looking at around 43,000 tickets. I was already registered on the Cardiff City database and I actually felt quite pleased with myself.

That was on the Monday of last week. Two days later and my mood had changed markedly. Both clubs were having a planning meeting at Wembley on the Thursday to discuss, amongst other things, ticketing arrangements. But by Wednesday news had filtered out that Cardiff City and Barnsley were to get an allocation of only 33,000 tickets each. Confirmation from both clubs followed pretty quickly with additional information that suggested that at least 20,000 tickets were going to Wembley club members and corporate sales. If that is indeed an accurate figure, that is a staggering proportion of the total tickets that fans from neither Cardiff nor Barnsley will be able to get their hands on. Shocking news. My confidence was rapidly seeping from every pore.

The clubs then announced their own ticket sales arrangements. Quite rightly, both clubs are to sell tickets in a phased approach, providing the regular fans with first dibs. At Cardiff, Ambassadors and Season Ticket holders will be able to buy first, followed by Away Travel Members and finally holders of a ticket stub from last week's league game against Hull City. This incentive swelled the gate for Hull's visit to Ninian Park. Good marketing ploy. Additional incentives include extra semi-final tickets for Ambassadors or Season Ticket holders who renew for next season if they renew by the end of this week. Barnsley have a similar phased approach for their own ticket sales.

The worrying part for me is that I do not figure in the equation. I do not fall into any of the Cardiff sales categories. I will have to wait for the "general sale" phase, if there are any tickets left by then.

This gave me a glimmer of hope through a door that had been left slightly ajar. But then I heard an announcement from the Football Association that appeared to slam the door firmly shut in my face. With regards to general sales, it went something like this:

"The regulations for this game prevent any information regarding general sale being released at this time. The Football Association have stipulated that tickets may only go on general sale should both clubs involved in the fixture have tickets remaining".

This left a massive question. What if one or both clubs had tickets left to sell after their predetermined sales phases had completed? Where do these tickets go? Back to the FA for corporate guests? Back to the clubs for another sales phase? Questions that remain unanswered.

Whilst I was beginning to accept the fact that my chance of getting a ticket for the semi-final was virtually non-existent, I was confronted with another, more unexpected emotion. When I started this venture I knew it would be a struggle to get tickets in the latter rounds, something I have repeatedly acknowledged. I am even quite surprised I have made it this far; the draw has certainly been very kind to me. But in those early days I envisaged that, if I got this far, I would be competing for a ticket with supporters from the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool. Or any of the other top Premier teams. For some reason, the thought of a fan from one of those clubs missing out on a trip to Wembley, because I had managed to get my sweaty mitts on a ticket instead, didn't really bother me. I felt it was something I could live with.

But now, faced with a scramble for tickets alongside Cardiff and Barnsley fans, it has become something that doesn't really sit comfortably with me. It is an unnerving feeling. Listening to the fans from South Wales and South Yorkshire, it is evident that there will be genuine fans from both sides who will not be able to get tickets. Those who are not Season Ticket holders or Ambassadors or Away Travel members. Those who are exiled in different parts of the country or on foreign soil. Fans who have much more of a right to watch this game. And I find that quite sad. This will be a huge occasion for both clubs. Absolutely massive. An occasion that the bigger clubs and their fans are familiar with. But for these two second tier teams, something quite unique. An FA Cup semi-final. An FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Chances are that many fans of either club will not live to see anything like this happen again. What right do I have to a ticket?

Well, that is a much easier question to answer.

So what about that question I was asked in the post-match Teesside chill up at the Riverside last week? If asked again now, I would answer it quite differently. I would not have that smug look on my face. The answer could not be any more different.

But who knows? Ask me again this time next week. A week really is a long time in football.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Tykes

After seeing off Wolverhampton Wanderers and Middlesbrough, next up for Cardiff City is fellow Championship side Barnsley. Both clubs seem very happy with the semi-final draw having avoided the only Premier League team Portsmouth and the Championship's top goalscorers West Bromwich Albion. A Wembley date in front of the Sky TV cameras on Sunday April 6th, with a 4pm kick-off, awaits both clubs.

In the meantime, another new club to introduce. Here is an initial attempt to give you a bit of background about the club from South Yorkshire.

Barnsley FC were formed in 1887 as Barnsley St. Peters and plied their trade in the local Sheffield and District League and the Midlands League before they joined the newly created Division Two of the Football League in 1898. The Football League was split into two divisions that season with the election of four new clubs, Barnsley, Burslem Port Vale, Glossop North End and New Brighton Tower. Their first league game was a 1-0 defeat at Lincoln and Barnsley went on to finish eleventh out of eighteen in their debut season.

April 24th, 1912 was the date that Barnsley won the FA Cup, the only time in their history. They had made a final appearance two years earlier, drawing 1-1 with Newcastle United (at Crystal Palace) before losing the replay 2-0 at Goodison Park. The 1911-12 FA Cup was described as the "cup that bores". Both semi-finals and the final ended 0-0 and needed replays. Barnsley's cup run took in no less than six(!) goalless draws, most notably their quarter-final tie with defending cup holders Bradford City which went to four games after three 0-0 scorelines. Barnsley and West Bromwich Albion produced a stalemate in the final at Crystal Palace before Barnsley settled a drab affair deep into extra time of the replay at Bramhall Lane. This remains Barnsley's only major trophy. What are the odds of a repeat of the 1912 final line-up in 2008?

Runners-up in the Football League Division One in 1996-97 saw Barnsley promoted to the FA Premier League, the club's only foray into top flight football. They went up behind the high scoring Bolton Wanderers and were joined by Crystal Palace, who won the play-off. All three clubs were to be relegated the following season and it was a tough first season (1997-98) in the Premier League for Barsnley. Bolstered by record season ticket sales the manager Danny Wilson splashed out a record £1.5 million to Partizan Belgrade for Georgi Hrstov and also brought in a Slovenian (Krizan), a South African (Tinkler) and a German (Leese) to bolster the squad. But all to no avail. They finished second bottom winning only ten games.

Norman Hunter is one of a number of famous names to have managed Barnsley. The current manager is Swansea born Simon Davey, who will no doubt be looking for a win over Swansea's rivals Cardiff City. Davey made forty nine appearances for Swansea City and Barnsley is the first club he has managed. Other notable names to have taken the helm for the Tykes are Arthur Fairclough (three separate spells), Allan Clarke (twice), Danny Wilson, Dave Bassett and Andy Ritchie.

Strips. Barnsley have been playing in the traditional strip of red shirts and white shorts since 1901. Over the years their strip has had various styles but always red shirts with a white (and sometimes black) trim. Their most notorious strip was worn in 1989-90 which consisted of white stars on a red background and was voted as one of the worst football shirts ever, even though Barnsley fans remember it fondly. Barnsley's away strips over the years has been most commonly white, but other colours have been used ranging from yellow to blue and black to green. In 2001-02 their away strip bore the colours of Brazil which spurned the famous Barnsley associated phrase "it's just like watching Brazil".

Luke Steele is the on loan goalkeeper at Barnsley. He won the Man of the Match award in Barnsley's fantastic 2-1 win at Liverpool in the Fifth Round of this season's FA Cup. Steele was also voted as the FA's player of the round so he will be at Wembley in May whatever happens in the semi-final. That game was his debut for the Tykes having only signed on loan as emergency cover two days before the game. He also played a major part in the 1-0 defeat over Chelsea in the quarter-final. Unfortunately for Steele, the Peterborough born keeper will not be able to play in the final if Barnsley progress and they face West Bromwich Albion as the Midlands club are his current employers.

East Stand, Oakwell. Barnsley have played at Oakwell since 1887. The capacity is 23,009 and includes a redeveloped West Stand which is the only part of the original ground that remains. Only this month the club have announced plans to knock down the West Stand and rebuild. When the new two tier East Stand was built in 1993, partly funded by the football trust, it replaced a covered terrace. Capable of housing almost 7,500 supporters, its completion meant that Barnsley became the first football club in Yorkshire to boast executives boxes.

Yorkshire meets Hungary. One of the Barnsley fan's favourites is Hungarian born István Ferenczi who joined the club on 31st January 2007. Fellow Hungarian Péter Rajczi was also signed on the same day. Ferenczi's debut was against Cardiff City and he has gone on to score eleven goals for the club in forty four appearances. The Barnsley squad, like many in the English game, has a fair smattering of overseas players. Countries currently represented at Oakwell include Trinidad & Tobago (Tony Warner), Nigeria (Kayode Odejayi), Brazil (Anderson da Silva and Dennis Souza), Denmark (Kim Christensen), Jamaica (Jamal Campbell-Ryce), Germany (Heinz Müller), Netherlands (Marciano van Homoet) and Spain (Diego León).

So Barnsley will bring a little overseas flavour to Wembley on April 6th. For a town known locally as "The Tarn" and located in the heart of the West Riding, with a history of coal mining and glass making, the trip to the new Wembley stadium will undoubtedly be a "grand day out" for the Tykes.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Elvis Ain't Dead

Peterborough United were once again in town last night. Their third visit to London in a week. As reported previously on this blog, I was at their victory at Barnet a week ago with POSH mate, and he also saw them win (3-2) at Dagenham & Redbridge on Saturday. Last night, they won 2-1 at Brentford and being the sucker for punishment that I am, I was persuaded to spend another Tuesday night in the entertaining company of the POSH fans. The game was very similar to the Barnet match in that Peterborough didn't play particularly well but came away with all three points. Darren Ferguson, their manager, described the performance as "resilient". They once again sit at the top of the league having won eight league games in a row and have won seven away matches on the trot. An impressive record.

Last night's excursion to Griffin Park - famed for having a pub on every corner of the ground - serves to illustrate the appeal in going to watch football games at all levels. It was by no means a classic, but entertaining nonetheless. I have touched on this subject before when I wrote up the match report from the Camberley Town v Dartford FA Cup tie when I said that "I'd rather be at a bad game of football than dozing in front of Eastenders." I always find the whole experience of attending a game, not simply the football alone, enjoyable. And last night was no exception.

Here are some random reflections from my evening at Brentford.

1. Elvis Ain't Dead. On three separate occasions I heard someone do an Elvis impersonation. The first in the pub before the game; not obvious whether he was a Brentford supporter, a Peterborough fan or hired entertainment at the pub. I do hope it wasn't the latter, he wasn't very good. The second a guy in the gents toilet at the game ("I'm all shook up") and a third walking away from the ground. Why? Was it "National Impersonate Elvis Day"? I felt as if I had missed out on something. All very strange.

2. It's not only the players who get injured. Supporters do as well. It's a tough sport. I left the game limping. When POSH scored their first, I jumped up and whacked my left knee on the metal safety barrier. Not very safe if you ask me, but that's another story. Woke up this morning with a bruised knee and a throbbing sensation. And talking of injuries, there was a young girl stood at the perimeter fence on crutches. Her left foot was in plaster. She spent the majority of the game booting the fencing with her good right foot, in time with the away supporters' chants. I wondered if that was how she got injured in the first place.

3. These are hard times at Brentford. I know that Brentford FC are going through a tough time financially but I limped away from the game sensing that times were really hard at the club. The whole game was played out in what can only be described as gloom. See picture at the top of this post. The floodlights seemed very dim and any action at the opposite end of the ground was difficult to make out. The stand lights in all parts of the ground were extinguished when the football started, just like the cabin lights on a flight. An attempt to reduce electricity costs perhaps? And the home support was sparse, attendance was a little over 4,000. Empty seats and empty terraces in the half light of Griffin Park gave the whole place a rather morose feel.

4. Fans are so passionate about their clubs that they will do crazy things. In an attempt to raise money for the Supporters Trust "Bees United" a number of Brentford fans will be walking to Stockport where Brentford play their last away game of the season. A total of 176 miles. Just like Brentford, Stockport County Football Club is also owned by its supporters so the destination is fitting. It is great to see a community getting behind its local football club (and vice versa). The most telling quote in the match day programme about this walk game from Natasha Judge, the Fundraising Director at Bees United. "Together fans can make a real difference to the way football as an industry treats its customers". Regular readers of this blog will know how close to my heart that sentiment is. A massive "hats off" to all the walkers.

5. Opal Fruits and chips don't mix. Or should I say "Starburst" rather than Opal Fruits, as the chewy sweets have not been called that since 1998. I prefer to call them Opal Fruits, but that's another, different, story. I went to last night's game straight from work and managed to grab a limp pasty from the ground. By the end of the game I was so hungry I could eat a horse. The traffic away from the ground was heavy, mainly due to road works between Brentford and Isleworth. As I was sat in the jam edging forward a few yards every few minutes I remembered that there was a bag of Opal Fruits left over from the Middlesbrough trip. The long journey to Teesside on Sunday was bearable due in no small part to the Jelly Babies, Wine Gums, Liquorice Allsorts and bags of Doritos that were devoured throughout. We couldn't quite manage the Opal Fruits bag which was a relief for me as I didn't want anyone to be sick in my car. So last night, in the traffic jam, I started to tuck in. Once out of the jam I decided to stop for a bag of chips with lashings of vinegar and salt. It wasn't until I got home, having already pulled over to eat the chips, that I realised how many Opal Fruits wrappers were covering the passenger seat and therefore how many I had eaten. About twenty. Laying in bed trying to get to sleep on a stomach full of Opal Fruits and chips is not a pleasant experience. They don't mix well. And my car stank of stale spuds and acetic acid this morning. If you are ever tempted, just say no.

Last night proved once again that teams can play below their best but still grind out important results and that, sometimes, the actual football is a side show. As for Elvis? He's left the building. Thank you and good night.

Monday, 10 March 2008

The new top four

The draw of the semi-final of the FA Cup has been made:

Barnsley v Cardiff City
West Bromwich Albion v Portsmouth

Both games at Wembley on the weekend of 5th and 6th of April, 2008.

Now the hard part. Tickets. Gulp.

Game 14: Middlesbrough 0, Cardiff City 2

6th Round Proper
Sunday March 9th 2008

Kick Off 2:00pm

Attendance: 32,896
Weather: Cold, windy and sunny spells

Distance travelled: 522 miles

As I sit down to write this on Monday morning many parts of the country continue to be battered by storms. And for two days a maelstrom of sorts tore its way through the FA Cup leaving the form book in tatters. On a special weekend that will live long in the memories of football fans up and down the country and around the world, only one top division side is left standing in the competition. Up at the Riverside on a cold and blustery Sunday, Cardiff City produced a polished display to blow Middlesbrough out of the cup.

For me, and my fellow travellers - Mackem, PB and POSH mate (aka Fenlander) - it was a fantastic, tiring and somewhat surreal day. It started huddled against the elements at little after seven o'clock in the morning outside Chertsey Town Football Club. We were to be accompanied on this leg of the FA Cup journey by an ESPN-Star film crew and the day started with a quick interview where it all began back in August. The filming was to continue later in the day (before and after the game) and this added some gloss and sparkle to what was a marvellous occasion.

It was a long journey North but well worth it. We had no problems whatsoever in finding the ground and arrived nice and early. The Riverside sits alone in quite an open spread of a semi-industrial landscape. It dominates the horizon. It is an impressive sight and is by far the biggest ground we have visited on this run. The view from inside the ground, looking back out towards Middlesbrough and its famous transporter bridge straddling the River Tees, is also quite impressive. Parking was easy and getting away after the game (which included us being filmed as we walked off into the sunset) was a doddle.

The game was a sell out with an official attendance of 32,896; Middlesbrough have been striving for some time to fill the Riverside. There was a real buzz of excitement in and around the ground. Only one game from Wembley, over two hundred and fifty miles away but within touching distance. Cardiff City had brought with them a considerable following (just under 4,000) and their vocal chords were getting a good run-in well before kick-off. The home support had also been whipped into a frenzy by the stadium announcer. As the teams ran out to "Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag" an impressive 6,000 card display in the North Stand (home end) spelt out the words "Sporting Glory". The atmosphere was positively crackling and even as a neutral one couldn’t help but feel a real part of what was about to unfold.

And the crackling evolved into a shock. Another cup shock.

Middlesbrough simply failed to live up to expectations. In a game where it was difficult to identify the team from the Premier League, Cardiff put in a totally composed and professional performance that left the home team chasing shadows.

As in the Fifth Round game, Cardiff City found themselves nurturing a two goal lead long before half-time. Both teams started brightly and the atmosphere had obviously filtered through to the players. But it was Cardiff who pounced early. A ball was lofted into the Middlesbrough box which appeared to be brought under control by the arm of Stephen McPhail. With the Middlesbrough players appealing and the referee waving play on, Peter Whittingham ignored the protestations; with some extremely neat footwork and a sea of red shirts on top of him, Whittingham somehow dug the ball out from under his feet to send a glorious curling shot beyond Schwarzer and in off the post. A wonderful goal which stunned the home crowd; the away fans in the South Stand exploded with joy which prompted a rather comical "Keystone Cops" entrance from a number of sprinting policemen across and in front of the Cardiff support to prevent any pitch encroachment. Nine minutes gone and already theatre of high calibre.

If the home crowd were stunned, then so were the home team players. The goal visibly affected the Middlesbrough side. Their game plan seemed to involve hoofing one long ball after another up field. The intended recipients, Alves or Tuncay, are both gifted players but surely would have benefited with balls played to feet. I had been especially looking forward to seeing Tuncay as he had impressed me this season, but today the game bypassed him. Even the long twenty or thirty yard balls out to Downing on the left were ineffective and Middlesbrough had no outlet on the right as Luke Young frequently balked at stepping over the halfway line.

By contrast, Cardiff were assured and confident in their approach play. They showed better movement both on and off the ball and brought to the match more ideas and invention. The slicker movement heralded a second goal after twenty three minutes. Hasselbaink, who was roundly applauded by all areas of the ground before kick-off, won a free-kick thirty yards out after a clumsy challenge by the gloved Rochemback. From the dead ball, Whittingham curled in a pin point cross to the far post which was met beyond the last defender by a diving Roger Johnson to send a header back across goal and into the corner. Cardiff in control and the South Stand once again rocking.

Middlesbrough simply had no response. More long balls, more wasted possession and barely capable of stringing more than a couple of passes together. They had only one long range effort from Alves in the first half which was easily parried by Enckelman in the Cardiff goal. Any glimpses of danger from the home team were quickly and ably dealt with by Glenn Loovens and his defensive partners who coped with everything punted towards them. Loovens, for me, was the man of the match.

Middlesbrough had an opportunity at half-time to change their system. But all they did was bring off Alves for Mido and persist in playing the same long ball game that had failed them in the first forty five minutes. The home support were becoming increasingly frustrated and let their feelings be known. Cardiff City were now in complete ascendancy and there was no sign that Middlesbrough were going to break the Welsh team's stranglehold. The second half, although a little scrappy, was still good to watch. Middlesbrough were utterly disappointing and failed to give Enckelman a single test. Cardiff were content to sit a little deeper, pack the midfield and see out the game. The home fans started to drift out of the stadium with seventy minutes on the clock. For a game that promised so much for the Smoggies, one could sense that they felt totally let down.

Overall, Cardiff City were the only team that looked like winning this tie. The Cardiff fans made the most of the victory and celebrated in style, a cacophony of noise and a swarm of dancing bodies, Welsh flags, giant daffodils and even one bare-chested hardy soul wearing only a pink tutu. I'm sure that their long trip back home would have been one to savour.

Gareth Southgate, in his programme notes, had talked about the need to pass the ball and keep the ball on the floor. I think he forgot to tell his players. There was a huge "Spirit of Steaua" flag waved in one corner of the game in reference to Middlesbrough's famous UEFA Cup victory over the Romanian team. But this flag was rolled up and packed away long before the final whistle. Middlesbrough can now concentrate on the league whilst Cardiff City are off to Wembley, along with Portsmouth, Barnsley and West Bromwich Albion.

It is one hundred years since an FA Cup semi-final line up has included only one top flight team. This season has witnessed an extraordinary and quite remarkable FA Cup competition. We all left Teesside for a long Sunday evening car journey down the M1 sensing that we really had been, and continue to be, involved in something special. Something very, very special. For an FA Cup that people will talk about for years, I and my friends who have joined me already have our own little place in it.

And on a stormy March day, with Wembley in sight, the thought of it simply blows me away.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

The FA Cup is up for grabs

What a day for the FA Cup. Who would have thought that the remaining two "top four" Premier League teams, Chelsea and Manchester United, would bow out of the competition today? Fantastic results for Barnsley and Portsmouth who have now both booked a Wembley appearance.

The trip to Middlesbrough is almost upon us - it will be a very early start tomorrow as it will for all the Cardiff fans making the journey. What awaits the fans of Middlesbrough, Cardiff City and those of Bristol Rovers and West Bromwich Albion? Whatever happens, there must be a real sense amongst all fans concerned that the FA Cup is up for grabs. A top four team will not be taking the famous trophy home with them this year.

Another breath of fresh air in what has been an enthralling FA Cup competition this season. Let's just hope I'm there at the end to see the trophy being lifted.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Sons, fathers and football

The Middlesbrough tickets arrived yesterday. My son asked if one was for him. With the smallest pang of guilt I had to tell him no. He didn't look overly disappointed. He has no concept of the distance we will have to travel on Sunday. Not the best on long car journeys, my eight year old struggles with the eight minute trip to school so eight hours in the car in a single day would be too much for him. And for me.

My boy loves his football, more so playing than watching. Any father who is in to football takes great pride in seeing his child take up the sport. And many, including myself, can't help live their football lives through their child. It is difficult not to.

My son turned eight only recently. For his birthday he asked for a football shirt. A Tottenham Hotspur shirt. Living so close to London it was inevitable that he would end up supporting a London team. As sure as night follows day, he was never going to support my team. A League One team from up North, my team would always be way outside his radar in terms of geographical location and footballing quality.

An eight year old can be easily influenced. My son went through a stage of supporting the team of whomever he had seen most recently. If we visited friends from near Warrington, Cheshire, he would declare that he now supported Manchester United. If the son from a long-time friend of the family came for a sleepover, Liverpool would be his team of choice. One of his best friends at school supports Chelsea and my son, for a while, would follow suit. When he attends football courses with Fulham they become flavour of the month. From my own football trips he has grown up wearing a number of different football kits, ranging from England (all the white, red and blue variants) to RC Lens and PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona. My son even supported Dartford for a couple of weeks after I took him down to Princes Park on this FA Cup run back in September. And I plan to take him back. Kids of that age are fickle and understandably so. He is eight and following a number different teams is not an issue for him.

He used to tell people that he supported every team except my team.

When I myself was a similar age, I remember making a conscious decision about which football team I was going to support. That was a seminal point in my life. I had a choice of supporting my father's team, Manchester City, or a team that my best friend at school supported. I chose the latter. Only now do I realise how much that must have hurt my father. He used to take me to many games at Maine Road, and I hold dear those memories. My father is still a season ticket holder. If I ever said I never once felt slightly guilty about not choosing to support Manchester City, the team the rest of my family support, I would be lying. I harbour a soft spot for them still.

But I am determined not to influence my own son in anyway. He has to choose himself. But when he asked for a Tottenham shirt it arrived like a bolt out of the blue. Of all the London teams he could have gone for, this was the one I had hoped for least. Fulham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Charlton, Crystal Palace - even Reading. But Tottenham? Just like me a generation ago he was influenced by his best mate. His very best friend at school, who he has probably been friends with longest in his short life, supports Tottenham Hotspur and always has. Poor child.

When he asked for the shirt I was shocked. That initial response quickly gave way to a feeling of sickness - that awful stomach churning sensation that comes with the knowledge that you will have to do something you don't really want to do. Something unpleasant, but unavoidable. When I finally went to buy the shirt I asked the teenager behind the counter for a brown paper bag. She looked at me blankly. I couldn't be bothered to explain.

So now my son has another shirt for his collection. I cannot tell him not to wear it. I cannot refuse to take him to a Tottenham game, if he asks. The only saving grace is that if he becomes a true Tottenham supporter, he won't even want to go to watch them. He'll just sit at home and moan. But whatever happens, whatever football choices he makes now or at any point in the future, I will still love him more than I can ever explain.

I just hope this is a phase he's going through and it will pass. I really, really do.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Under the lights at Underhill

Another detour from the FA Cup for me on Tuesday night. I went along with my POSH mate to watch the League Two encounter between Barnet and Peterborough United. On a bitterly cold night - which included a few snow flurries - Peterborough deservedly won 2-0 which sent them to the dizzy heights at the summit of the league. Once again, an opportunity to visit a ground I haven't been to for a number of years.

And it hasn't really changed a great deal. The kindest way I can describe Underhill Stadium is that it is an "identikit" ground with no two parts looking the same. This gives the place a rather odd character. A mixture of terracing, the old Main Stand, a new orange, black and white South Stand, a tiny Family Stand and even a gazebo like structure with seating for away fans. No sense of uniformity, very unique indeed. The POSH supporters were a little more brutal in their vocal description of the ground.

As I struggled to keep warm on the East Terrace, from where it is impossible to get an unobstructed view of the entirety of the playing area, I couldn't help thinking that that the £15 admission fee is exactly the same that I have paid for a good seat at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday.

I'd forgotten how much the pitch slopes at Underhill, and it used to be a lot worse than it is these days. As it turned out this home advantage had little bearing on the game. Peterborough dominated the first half with some neat, on the floor passing and were able to get numbers forward very quickly. Barnet were very fragile at the back and the visitors looked like the only team that were going to break the deadlock. The goal arrived on thirty two minutes when Peterborough won a free kick on the right. Dean Keates whipped in a teasing cross which evaded everyone in the packed area, including Beckwith in the Barnet goal.

Two minutes later and the referee - Mr Kettle from Rutland - bizarrely sent off the Barnet number eleven Jason Puncheon. POSH had won another free kick in an almost identical position from where Keates had scored. In his frustration at the decision, Puncheon kicked the ball away. The ball hit the linesman, who was a good distance away, with some force. Credit to the linesman (or should I now say "assistant") who took it like a man and barely flinched. Mr Kettle decided that Puncheon had deliberately aimed his kick at the linesman and brandished the red card. Very harsh, particularly as Puncheon had not done anything in the match to suggest he was that accurate.

The second half was poor. Peterborough appeared to take their foot off the gas and allowed ten man Barnet back into the game. The second period was littered with errors; misplaced passes, mistimed tackles, air shots and scuffed kicks. Not pretty. In amongst all this our friend Mr Kettle continued to give out cards like confetti in a game that wasn't dirty. As my POSH mate said, Mr Kettle was very keen to whistle.

Peterborough really should have put the game to bed, but squandered possession so much that Barnet managed to delay the inevitable. The inevitable finally arrived on ninety minutes when Jamie Day scored with a well taken free kick.

Peterborough recorded their sixth win in a row and their seventh clean sheet out of eight and to the joy of the 1000 plus travelling support now sit above everyone else in the table. Barnet meanwhile must be disappointed with the lack of clear chances, and their poor goal scoring record must be a concern.

I sense it will be a tough end of season for the team from Underhill. As for Peterborough United the view from the top is one they'll want to enjoy for some time yet.

Monday, 3 March 2008


It was all a bit easy in the end. Logged on to the Middlesbrough website around about tea time yesterday (Sunday) and within a few minutes I had bought four tickets for the cup game against Cardiff City. I have become increasingly pessimistic as each round passes, about my chances of getting tickets, so I was rather chuffed that I got some for next Sunday. Which is why my wife caught me running around the front room with my shirt over my head and my arms outstretched early yesterday evening, à la Ravanelli. Not easy to explain that one away.

Fabrizio Ravanelli, once of Middlesbrough, made that particular goal celebration his own. Other MIddlesbrough players have had distinctive ways of celebrating. It was Jan Åge Fjørtoft that made the aeroplane celebration famous and James Morrison did a chest-slapping and shoulder-shaking routine in honour of the American professional wrestler Eddie Guerrero who died in 2005.

Everton's Tim Cahill was in the news after his goal celebration against Portsmouth yesterday. After scoring his first goal since the end of December, Cahill stood with his arms crossed at the wrist to mimic being handcuffed. His brother was jailed in January for six years for grievous bodily harm with intent. The media have picked up on this as being "controversial" although the match officials took no action and have not reported him to the FA.

All players have their own personal ways of celebrating a goal, and as long as it is not abusive or incites trouble, then I think they are great for the game. Some of my fondest footballing memories are of emotional, comical or bizarre goal celebrations.

Here's my top ten:

1. Marco Tardelli . This has to be my number one. After scoring Italy's second goal in the 1982 Wold Cup final against West Germany, this celebration was pure emotion. The "Tardelli Cry" involved him sprinting away from goal (and towards camera), tears in his eyes, screaming, arms out with clenched fists and head shaking wildly. This single celebration summed up, in a few glorious seconds, the unmitigated ecstasy of scoring a goal. Fantastic. And you can see it here

2. Roger Milla. Another World Cup one, this time from the Cameroon veteran. Milla famously danced around the corner flag after scoring each of his four goals in the 1990 tournament in Italy. A joy to watch it was also refreshing to see an African nation do so well in World Cup finals. Up until England knocked them out of course.

3. Aylesbury United. I had to include goal celebrations from a non-league team in the FA Cup. And this was a bizarre team effort. As part of their great FA Cup run of the 1994-95 season Aylesbury United celebrated with a "duck walk". After scoring, the team nicknamed "The Ducks" lined up behind each other on their knees and waddled with their arms flapping. Quackers if you ask me.

4. Paul Gascoigne. Euro 96. England v Scotland. Teddy Sheringham and Gary Neville and Gascoigne in the Dentist Chair. Iconic. Need I say more?

5. Peter Crouch. 2005 and Peter Crouch breaks into the England national team. As if that wasn't embarrassment enough, he decides to celebrate a goal in May 2006 (against Hungary) with a "robot dance" thing. The media loved it. It makes me cringe to even think about it. It makes it into my top ten just because it was so, so, bad.

6. Robbie Keane. As a player, I've always rated Robbie Keane. As for his goal celebration, I can't make my mind up. He scores some great goals, but what exactly is it he does afterwards.? I get the cartwheel bit, but finishing on his knee with one arm pointed out in front of him? What is that? Firing a rifle? A bow and arrow? I'm yet to be convinced.

7. Alan Shearer. The trademark Shearer celebration. Nice a simple; spin away from goal with right hand (palm open) raised to the heavens. Just to prove it doesn't have to be complicated to be a classic.

8. Robbie Fowler. This was a memorable one, totally unique. After scoring for Liverpool against local rivals Everton in 1999, Fowler dropped on all fours and "sniffed" the touchline, mimicking the snorting of cocaine. This was his response to tabloid accusations of drug abuse. He was fined £60,000. The the part that really made me laugh? The lame excuse by the Liverpool manager at the time, Gerard Houllier. According to Houllier, Fowler was simply pretending to be "a cow eating grass". Of course Gerard, that's what he was doing...

9. Eric Cantona. This is included for the sheer arrogance. After chipping the Sunderland goalkeeper Cantona simply stood still, with his chest puffed out, collar up and arms by his side, chin and nose tilted slightly upwards and staring into the crowd. A pose that said "I own this place". Damn arrogant; but he got away with it because he was a damn good player.

10. Fabrizio Ravanelli. I couldn't not include this in my top ten. The fantastic shirt over the head routine. Yes, I have used that one myself. Normally whilst in the park having a kick around with my son.

But most recently in my front room.