Leicester City for the league

Leicester City for the league?

Regular readers must be wondering if I’ve lost my dobbers. Have I gone over to the soccer dark side?

leicester cityWell, actually, I always had one foot in the soccer dark side. I’m one of the sad triumvirate who not only support Scunthorpe United but actually travel there to shout for that most mediocre of clubs, who have disappointed us yet again this season by threatening to get into the play-offs for promotion. It’s not right. They should know their place in League One, or as all right thinking people know it, the Third Division, or as some people call it, the future home of Aston Villa. Stay there at mid-table, going neither up nor down but remaining dour, miserable and stolid.

That’s what we love about Scunthorpe. They’re useless, but not bad enough to disappear forever. With any luck, they won’t try to improve, although this season they show a troubling inclination to get into the next highest division where, of course, they will experience only humiliation and defeat. Much better for our heroes to remain drab and only defeated occasionally.

On the other hand, who doesn’t love the underdog?

Well, it appears that everyone in the whole wide world loves Leicester City, including the clubs they’re trying to beat and that’s why I’ve been following them for a while, though not as long as the man in the UK who put a £30 bet on them at odds of 5,000 to one.

I don’t know how accurate  this is, but someone on the radio said it, so it must be true. Apparently, these odds are the biggest any bookie has ever offered. (Or something). Apparently, the next-longest odds are 2,500 to 1 and that’s the odds against the Pope playing for Italy. Now, to be honest, provided that’s not a contradiction in terms, if I happened to be the Pope and saw those odds, I’d be straight on the phone to the Italian manager.

Hey! I see those odds. Why you not let me come on for two minutes? We split the money. Ok?

Ok. He’s the Pope and they never do anything dodgy with money.

Isn’t that right?

Of course it is, Mr Calvino.

You agree, Archbishop Marcinkus?

Sure thing. Leave the bag on the steps of the church and walk away.

We could yet see the Pope playing for Italy. Who’s to say he won’t, if the money is good enough? But if the odds against the Pope playing for Italy are 2,500 to one, what on earth was going on in the mind of the bookies who offered 5,000 to one against a Leicester win?

Answer: greed. That’s what was going on in their minds, and panic is what launched them into a stampede of ticket-buying over the last few weeks, offering anything up to two-thirds of potential winnings for Leicester bets.

Don’t you love it? And don’t you love the idea that somewhere out there is an ordinary bloke, much like you or me, holding a ticket that will be worth £150,000 if Leicester win the League? An ordinary lad who didn’t cash it all in for a sizeable inducement but who decided instead to ride that wave wherever it takes him.

It’s for him we should all be shouting over the next few weeks. For him, for the fans who have never won anything before now and for the players who somehow have created a cohesive team, beating the best in spite of the difference in price-tags.

Who doesn’t love an under-dog? Especially when that dog is just about to piss against the biggest lamp-post on the street.


Stop Press!


Leicester have just won the League after Tottenham drew with Chelsea 2-2 and nobody anywhere is sorry. Not even the Tottenham crowd, although they must be feeling a little sick.

Nobody begrudges Leicester this title.

It can only be good for sport.



Soccer is not a new word for football

Some people can get very sniffy if you use the word soccer. Very sniffy indeed. And there’s no point trying to tell them that the game you played as a kid was called soccer and not football.

It’s American, they’ll tell you. American soccer moms and hot-dogs on the bleachers. Before you know it they’ll want four quarters in our game of, that’s right, Football.

There’s no point in suggesting that the word soccer has the same linguistic origins as the word rugger, originating in English public schools as contractions of rugby football and association football.

No. It’s American. Nobody ever called Football soccer before the Americans started doing it.

Oh, really?

Nobody at all?

How about Jimmy “The Chin” Hill, presenter of Match of the Day and champion of professional footballers’ rights?

soccer jimmy hill

How about Kevin Keegan, captain of England, star of Liverpool and Scunthorpe?

soccer kevin keegan

How about Raich Carter, who played his first game for Sunderland in 1931?

raich carter soccer star

All American soccer moms, no doubt.

But if you don’t believe Jimmy Hill, Kevin Keegan and Raich Carter, do you think a company like Subbuteo would have marketed a board game based on the name of a sport nobody recognised?

soccer subbuteo

All right. It’s still a conspiracy dreamed up by people who wouldn’t know a soccer ball from a burst ball-bag.  Maybe we should turn to historical documentaries.

Here’s one from British Pathé newsreel of the Irish Soccer Derby of 1927.

Pathe Irish soccer derby 1927

British Pathé, you say? British? But … but …


Let me leave you with this clip from a newspaper I found recently when a friend was renovating an old building.

This 1935 article is in the Sunday Pictorial, as the Sunday Mirror used to be known.

Sunday Pictorial 1935 soccer

American, you say?



soccer jimmy hill


soccer by searchlight 1920

Politics Soccer

Ireland – England game passes off peacefully

Why should it be news that an Ireland-England sporting event passed off peacefully?

Don’t we play them every year in the Six Nations?

Didn’t they come to Croke Park in 2007? Didn’t we all listen respectfully as they sang God Save the Queen and didn’t we all shed a manly tear when we beat them 43-13?  The only trouble I can remember at that match was some fool protesting outside the ground in a Celtic jersey.

Every time they play us at Lansdowne Road, don’t their supporters fan out around Dublin and join our people in celebrating our shared love of sport?

Of course they do, and we welcome them into our hearts, just as they welcome us when we go to Twickenham.

What’s more, don’t we play them sporadically at cricket, and even win occasionally?  Is there ever any trouble at those matches?

Of course not.

So what was all this talk about possible riots at Lansdowne Road today? Listening to the hysteria, you’d nearly imagine we were expecting some sort of Nazis to be following the English soccer team.

Oh, wait.

england supporters lansdowne road riots 1995


Germany 1 – Ireland 1

It has to be a night for the pundits.

Lots of talk about de Jairminns, and to a man, Gilesy, Dunphy and Chippy deliver their laconic, weary, been-there-seen-that verdict on Jairminny but who could blame them?  After all, they had to endure 90 minutes of George Hamilton’s my word and goodness me, not mention his mangling of Gelsenkirchen, while the rest of us could walk away and pound our faces against a pebble-dashed wall when we needed relief from his inanities.  Half time, said George at the break, with the score 0-0, and the job is half done.


Little did George know that the job was far from half done, but in the second half Kroos left him in no doubt, with a savage drive to the bottom left when defender Quinn stood too far off.

Gutted, innit?

Who could have known that the man to rescue Ireland from disaster would be John O’Shea, only this week at the centre of much mirth when Roy Keane credited him with bringing Ronaldo to Manchester United by playing like a clown?  He’s not noted for scoring goals, but in true Man U style, O’Shea dragged the game out of the shit in the final minute of added time by slicing a killer ball into the net to destroy de Jairminns’ hopes of a home triumph.

They must be feeling sick as a parrot after a 2-0 defeat to Poland followed by the theft of two points by the Paddies at home.

As Kevin Keegan once memorably remarked, You can’t do better than go away from home and get a draw.

Well, actually you can, as Gilesy glumly pointed out.  If you can score one goal, you can score two and win the fucking thing.  It’s only if you’re beaten 7-0 like poor old Gibraltar, that you’re completely fucked, but at least Martin O’Neill has brought that sort of ambition back into Irish international football.  The last time an Irish player or official thought we could actually win something was when Roy Keane lost his head at Saipan, and look how he was treated for being so uppity.

It’s all good.  We have to applaud them.  We have to celebrate their guts and determination, especially when we remember that this is a mixed bunch, from the mid-range of the English league, playing against the country that won the World Cup not too long ago, even if Jairminny was missing many of its top players.

I can’t speak as somebody who knows much about soccer, except as an occasional follower, so I’m hardly in a position to offer a view on the technicalities of the game, but O’Neill and Keane certainly seem to have resurrected a team spirit from the shambles left behind by Trapattoni.

The proof is in the pudding, Trevor.  As Steve Lomas once memorably remarked, Germany are a very difficult team to play – they had eleven internationals out there today.



Roy Keane Biography Leaked

I woke up the next morning. I kind of vaguely remembered the fight. My hand was really sore and one of my fingers was bent backwards.

So says Roy Keane about his fight with Peter Schmeichel in a Hong Kong hotel, but he thinks there was drink involved.  You reckon, Roy?  Seriously?  Drink?

Of course, Keane was no stranger to taking on guys twice his size, as he showed when Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira had a go at Gary Neville in the tunnel while the two teams were leaving the field at Highbury in 2005.  If it had come to a fight, Patrick could probably have killed me, says Roy, and he’s right.  Who’s going to tangle with a man the size of Vieira, or with Schmeichel for that matter?  Well, Roy Keane would, and to their credit, Schmeichel admitted the fight was his fault, while Vieira laughed as he and Keane talked over the incident in a TV programme last year.

That’s Roy Keane.  He doesn’t back down, and as he admits in the new book, The Second Half, he’s usually the loser in the long run, something Vieira pointed out when rejecting Keane’s barb that he should have declared for Senegal, not France.  As a man who had walked out on his own country, Keane was in no position to comment on other people’s international commitments, Vieira observed.  That must have hurt.

Can anyone deny that Keane was a great player?  I think only the most curmudgeonly begrudger would suggest that he was anything other than a great of the game, even though he might not have possessed the smooth wizardry of another great such as, for example, Eric Cantona.   Keane was all about determination, control, domination of the midfield, tenacity, driving his team on, never quitting.

You might not like him very much, but the fact remains that he was and is a significant figure in English and world football.  Yes, he was a thug, and some would say he’s still a thug, but soccer is a much harder game than people sometimes realise.  A violent game, very often.  Johnny Giles was a thug and yet he’s a national hero.  Vinnie Jones was a complete thug but everyone loves him because he stopped shaving, bought a leather jacket and went into acting.  Back in the 70s, Liverpool fans idolised their terrifying sweeper, Tommy Smith, the Aintree Iron, because he was an absolute thug.  Norman Hunter.  Claudio Gentile.  Even the wonderful Zinedine Zidane.  None of them strangers to a spot of thuggery, and besides, Keane isn’t even a cannibal like Luis Suarez.

While I’m on the subject, let’s nail the myth that Keane ended Alfie Håland’s career with that tackle in 2001.  He did not.  Håland finished that game, played an international for Norway and played most of the next league match after Keane’s supposed career-ending tackle.  What forced Håland to retire was an old injury to his other knee.

Keane was still a thug of course, and the tackle was savage, but he didn’t end Håland’s career.

Now, what about the Second Civil War?

I’d better be honest and say that I was on his side in the Saipan debacle.  I think he calculated correctly that the World Cup was there for the taking and I think he went there to win it.  As later events showed, when Ireland lost to Spain 3-2 on penalties, progressing to the knock-out stages was a tangible possibility and if Keane had been playing, we would probably have won the match.

Was it Keane’s fault he wasn’t there?  Yes.  But it wasn’t solely his fault, because the clue is in Mick McCarthy’s title: Manager.  McCarthy failed to manage the resources available to him.  He failed to field his strongest possible team.  By publicly humiliating Keane in front of his party-mode fellow players, in front of the FAI freeloading blazer-wearing chancers who had flown first class while the players went economy and by dressing him down in front of the ball-boys, McCarthy failed to understand how man-management is supposed to work.

McCarthy, as manager, should have known what made Keane tick.   He should have known that presenting the squad with an iron-hard, grassless training pitch, baked in the sun, with no kit preparation and in an obvious party atmosphere, if anyone was going to object it would be Keane.  He should have known that, just as he should have known before the Spain match that penalty preparation was essential, even if that preparation amounted to no more than an agreement on a strategy.

Keane’s loss was due as much to McCarthy’s managerial failure as to his own short fuse.

I personally find the new messianic Roy Keane even more frightening than the old skinhead, with the wild grey prophet beard, the mad staring eyes and the fixed frown.  He’s not getting angry to get even any more.  Nowadays, it’s all righteous wrath, as Jose Mourinho found out last weekend when he tried to commiserate with Roy too soon, but there seems to be a new streak of honesty in the reconstructed Moses-like figure he’s becoming.

That’s the self-destruct button. I don’t know if it’s low self-esteem. Things might be going really well, and I don’t trust it: ‘It’s not going to last,’ or ‘Why am I getting this? Why are things going so well? I’ll fuck things up a little bit, then feel better myself.’ I might be buying a car: ‘Who do you think you are buying a new car?’ And I’ll fuck it up. I’ll drag things down around me.

Keane’s writer, Roddy Doyle, seems to have drawn out these new insights in a way we haven’t seen before, but since very few people have read the book yet, it’s probably time to withhold judgement on that.  However, even if we are looking at a new, softer, more reflective Keano, I still wouldn’t want to be the Tesco executive who prematurely stocked the shelves with The Second Half.

Excuse me?  My name is Roy Keane and I’d like a word with the manager, please.




Luis Suarez : The Real Victim

No.   I refuse to do silly Luis Suarez puns about biting.

After all, what exactly did he do?


So he sank his teeth into Chiellini.  What about it?  Chiellini spent the whole game waving his shoulder provocatively in Suarez’s face, the very same way Ivanovic gave him no choice, flaunting that tasty forearm in front of the goal and Bakkal failed to cover up his perky little ear when everyone knew the Beast of Ajax had a weakness for a nibble.

Suarez Ivanovic

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes. And arms.  All out there on parade for a blameless cannibal to lose control over.

Have these people no shame?  Don’t they realise that by their brazen behaviour, they left Suarez with no option but to attack them?

Luis Suárez bites Otman Bakkal

What will happen next?  You know and I know what will happen.  Instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs: with the so-called victims, the do-gooders will attack Suarez, even though he has no control over his urges.

If they had covered up properly, Suarez wouldn’t have been so severely tempted and a good man’s name would not have been dragged through the gutter press.

PC gone mad.




World Cup 2014 — Let’s Just Enjoy It.

Some people might expect me to be negative about the World Cup, but they’d be wrong.  I’ve loved the World Cup since I was a child.  How  well I remember my dad pointing at the wireless set in 1950 and saying, Look, son, that’s Stanley Matthews there, somewhere, in his baggy shorts, smoking a fag and sharing a bag of chips with his faithful whippet, Welding Rod.

How well I remember replying, Dad, it’s your round.

Fast forward 52 years to a pub in the Aran Islands, with myself and my own young son staring dumbfounded at a television as Ireland went down to a mediocre Spain because the manager had failed to notice that we were a man up for the last  ten minutes of the game.  My son was very young, but still, despite the shock of defeat, despite all the tears, the tantrums, the rolling around screaming, he still managed to say Dad, it’s ok.  Calm down.  Stand up and I’ll take you home.

I love the World Cup.  For all its faults and for all the prima donnas we’d love to punch for their grandstanding.  It’s a marvellous spectacle and a wonderful showcase for the best of footballing talent.

Let’s not forget that every single one of these lads is better than anyone you’ve ever seen in your school, in your club, in your home town and possibly in your national side.  Every single one of these players is exceptional compared to the rest of us, no matter how good we believe we are.  The least of these players is better than any local hero you can think of.

That’s what we’re looking at right there on the TV, in the World Cup.  We’re looking at the best of the best, and it’s truly a privilege to see it.

As a kid, I had this sheet that came with some comic, and I stuck it to the wall.  Every week, you could get stickers of country flags and players and you could keep track of the results.  You could write in the scores and arrange the countries in the league table.

They’re probably not doing that  today, but I’m fairly sure kids have found other ways of retaining ownership and that’s what it’s all about.

It’s time we stopped talking about Pelé and Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Muller, Eusebio and Maradona.  You can think of a hundred great names and I can think of a hundred more, but this competition is of the modern age.  It’s World Cup 2014 and we should enjoy it by those standards.

Let’s just enjoy it for the moment.  Let’s be kids for a month.



Martin O Neill and Roy Keane to Manage Ireland Football Squad

roy keaneDo you remember the second civil war?  Of course you do, unless you’re under the age of 14, and even then, you still probably know all about the events in Saipan that divided the country down the middle, with half of the Irish people rallying behind Mick McCarthy and the rest behind the upstart Roy Keane.

I was on the Keane side because I thought the entire fiasco represented a monumental failure of management.

Ultimately, McCarthy failed to put his most influential player on the pitch.  He handled the entire affair in a clumsy way and he backed Keane into a corner with his ludicrous carpeting of the player in front of everyone from the first team to the ball-boys.

And what exactly was Keane’s crime that led to McCarthy’s very public scolding?  Simple: he believed.  He was in Saipan with a view to winning the World Cup, and while you might think his ambition was ludicrous, at least he took the trip seriously, unlike many of his fellow players who were there for the party, and unlike most of the FAI blazers, who couldn’t care less if Ireland won or lost once they managed to get themselves on the junket.  These were the characters who flew first class while the players had to endure cramped, bargain-basement seating for the duration of the enormous journey.

When the squad arrived in Saipan, their training ground was made of hard-baked clay where a fall meant injury, and where the very act of running damaged knees, hips and backs.  The bumbling FAI couldn’t even manage to deliver footballs to the players for the training sessions, and to make matters even worse, many of the players thought the Saipan sojourn was a holiday and took the opportunity to go on the piss and sample local hospitality of every variety.

Keane blew his top because he was there to win  the World Cup, absurd as that ambition might have seemed to everyone else, and he couldn’t see any intention on the part of the management to strive for that goal.

Keane didn’t share the view of the management, the blazers and many of the players, that getting to the knock-out stages would be Ireland’s World Cup.  He wouldn’t settle for second best and when he let the management know just how shoddy their arrangements were, he was punished.  Of course it was wrong of him to give an interview to the Irish Times, but it was born out of frustration, and McCarthy’s response simply exacerbated what was already a tense situation.

The very public carpeting of Keane was a humiliation he could not tolerate.  He exploded in the most predictable way, as anyone but Mick McCarthy would have known , and at the time I agreed with his point of view, even though I hoped he’d change his mind.

It’s this simple.  The manager failed to deal with a difficult situation, and by that failure, set in train a series of fully foreseeable events that resulted in Ireland losing its most influential player.

Well, he’s back, and I can’t wait to see what the reaction is.  He’s back in partnership with Martin O Neill, and now we have two Cloughie alumni managing Ireland.

Can it be worse than the stultifying Trappatoni regime?  Hardly.  That old guy took the money but didn’t run.  In fact, he barely rose out of his armchair for his entire tenure, not even bothering to watch the players in action.  I suppose he was laughing so hard all the time, when he wasn’t counting his wages, it wasn’t easy to book a flight to London or Manchester or – Heaven forfend – Liverpool.  And for the insanely huge money, Trappatoni produced the most boring, unimaginative football ever.  He wouldn’t try new players.  He wouldn’t diverge from his rigid game plan, to the extent that on the one occasion the players rebelled, in 2009, they ran rings around France and only lost the World Cup qualifier thanks to cheating by Thierry Henry.  Ironically, Roy Keane defended Henry’s hand ball, saying that anyone would have tried it.

Who came before Trappatoni?  The Gaffer, that’s who.  Steve Staunton, one of the players who publicly defended McCarthy’s actions at Saipan was rewarded with the manager’s position, though the ham-fisted FAI, as usual, couldn’t do it properly and appointed Bobby Robson as mentor to the new boy, forcing him to announce publicly, in one of the most cringe-inducing moments ever, that he was The Gaffer.

The Gaffer done bad, poor Bobbby got sick, and that was that.

Before The Gaffer?  Brian Bleedin’ Kerr. A decent man, an earnest enough manager and a good thinker of the youth game, but more suited to the Faroe Islands than Ireland.

So, what of the future?  Over dinner this evening, the subject came up, as these things tend to do, and my beloved son made it clear that he hates Roy Keane.

Fair enough.  Being the reasonable, rational young man that he is, he went on to say that he was delighted with the appointment because at least, if it all ends in disaster, at least they’ll do it with style, and I know what he means.  Are we going to spend the rest of eternity creeping to ignominious defeat or will we go out battling?  Will we cling to the Trappatoni style of cautious, boring, miserable and mechanical system-football, or will we see a re-energised Irish squad, out there taking chances, giving vent to their creativity and actually, for once, enjoying themselves?

We’ll be hearing a lot about the good-cop – bad-cop double act that Martin and Roy engage in, but  let’s not make any mistake.  Martin O Neill is a tough operator when he wants to be, and Roy Keane, for all his many faults, is somebody that young players look up to.  I think the dynamic of this pairing is just about right, and I think they might manage to change the game.

These two boys both came through the Brian Clough academy and, you know, if the ghost of Cloughy lingers over this, there’s bound to be fun.



Trappatoni Can Hold On To Management Role

Let’s not write off Giovanni Trappatoni yet.

If Ireland beat Germany and Kazakhstan 20-nil each, we’re still in with a shout.  All it takes is a rousing team-talk before each game, which means that the answer is simple.  The FAI must hire a world-class interpreter, a sort of multilingual Davy Fitz, somebody prepared to jump up and down and call the players  obscene names in a language they understand.

No.  Forget it.  Trappatoni is gone.  I don’t even know why I suggested it.

I recommend Davy as the Irish manager.  That’s passion for you.

Davy Fitz

After the replay of the All-Ireland, they should send Delaney on his knees to beg Davy.  Please take the job, Davy.  Please.

And they should send some other FAI boodie to beg Brian Cody.  And another to crawl before Jimmy Barry Murphy.

They should, because these guys understand real raw passion, unlike Trappatoni’s ilk, who understand nothing except money.  And while they’re at it, they should beg all the amateur hurlers to sign up for Ireland.  They’re as fit as a butcher’s dog, and they all play soccer anyway when they’re not on the hurling field.

Let’s see a real revolution and hand Association Football over to the GAA.

They could hardly do a worse job than the donkeys who run it now.

Favourites Limerick Soccer

Annual Grudge Match 2013

You might remember my exposé of Mister Big, last year after I probed the murky underworld of Limerick inter-pub football.

Here it is.

This year, 2013, an intrepid reporter infiltrated the mob with a hidden cameras, barely escaping with his life after a descent into savagery and drunkenness.

Nancy Blakes vs Tom Collins's 2013