Book Review: Is it Just Me or is Modern Football S**t? – An Encyclopaedia of Everything That is Wrong in the Modern Game by Jim Keoghan

Jim Keoghan is a freelance writer who has for over thirty years been an Everton supporter. He has written three books about his beloved Toffees, Highs, Lows & Bakayokos: Everton in the 1990s, Everton Greatest Games: The Toffees Fifty Finest Matches and Everton: Number Nine: Nine Players, One Iconic Shirt. In addition he has produced two other football titles, Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football and How to Run a Football Club: The Story of Our National Game.

In May 2021, he added to his bibliography with Is it Just Me or is Modern Football S**t? – An Encyclopaedia of Everything That is Wrong in the Modern Game. Given his years supporting the side from Goodison Park he is old enough to remember football before the Premier League came into existence and gave us what we now regard as ‘The modern game’. Keoghan acknowledges though in the books Introduction, that, “for all its ills, the game today, at almost every level of the sport, is technically and tactically better than it was in the pre-1992 age”, but that, “there’s undoubtably a sense that modern football comes at a cost.”

This book lists on an A-Z basis a selection of those things as chosen by the author which challenge the reader to judge whether indeed Modern Football is S**t. Every aspect of the game comes in for scrutiny, whether that be the media, The FA, pundits and presenters, players, fans, competitions and the like. As a result amongst the pages there a number of the obvious panto-villains of the modern era such as VAR, half and half scarves, and the Champions League, as well as others such as the yearly introduction of new kits and the proliferation of betting sponsors.

However, the major overriding factor is the introduction of the Premier League and the Sky influence. Pundits at Sky and indeed BT get their comeuppance as Michael Owen, Tim Sherwood, Jamie Redknapp, Jamie Carragher and Steve McManaman all get called out by Keoghan. Whilst the increase in ticket prices and rise of Corporate Hospitality are also seen as unwelcome consequences of life post-1992 and a result of the influence of the satellite company.

Each of Keoghan’s entries are short and sharp with a mixture of tongue-in-cheek comedy and sarcastic sideswipes at what the ‘People’s Game’ has become and just keeps on the right side of not becoming too preachy. Not every reader will agree with his choices, as he states himself. However, it would be interesting to see what twenty-something fan of a Premier League club would make of it. As a reader of a similar age to Keoghan, this book resonated with me.

The Premier League has brought money sloshing into the game, but as the rich get richer, those further down the food chain have to increasingly survive on scraps and with it traditions and history, like the ‘Magic of the FA Cup’, are tarnished and side-lined for ever. With recent news of a proposal for a World Cup every two years instead of four, the rumble of the money machine continues its relentless march. Just another example of Everything That is Wrong in the Modern Game.

(Pitch Publishing. May 2021. Paperback 256 pages)


To find out more about Jim Keoghan visit his website:



Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: A Tournament Frozen in Time – The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup by Steven Scragg

The European Cup Winners’ Cup (ECWC) competition came into being in the 1960/61 season, and as its title suggests qualification was attained by being the winners of a countries domestic cup. Despite its creation after the first European Cup competition in 1955/56 and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which also began in 1955 (before it morphed into the UEFA Cup in 1971/72) and therefore being the youngest of the three competitions, it was though seen as the next most prominent after the European Cup. It continued until the 1998/99 season with the final playing of the tournament between SS Lazio and RCD Mallorca at Villa Park, home of Aston Villa, the last of the 39 Finals.

If Willy Wonka did football tournaments, then it would undoubtedly be the ECWC, a competition that was a fabulous mix of the eccentric, the magical, the unexpected and the sometimes bizarre, which is brilliantly captured in Steven Scragg’s book, A Tournament Frozen in Time – The Wonderful Randomness of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Rather than take the chronological route within the book, Scragg creates chapters which look at the history of the competition in terms of the countries or regions that took part in the ECWC, so for instance, Italian clubs participation is captured within the chapter titled, Forza Italia, whilst Robbie and the Purple and Whites, Plus Other Adventures Through the Low Countries, looks at how the sides from Belgium and the Netherlands fared during the thirty-nine seasons of the tournament. The exception are those which look at the 1980/81 campaign, Everton’s triumph in 1984/85 and Sir Alex Ferguson’s two cup wins with Aberdeen (1982/83) and Manchester United (1990/91). What this allows is that the story of the ECWC is able to be told in its own right, but also intertwined to the wider footballing context, so that its relationship with both the European Cup (and later the Champions League) as well as the UEFA Cup is presented.

What the reader is also given are stories that justify part of the author’s subtitle for the book, The Wonderful Randomness. Even from its inaugural season, there was something ‘different’ about the ECWC, in that for that 1960/61 the Final between Fiorentina and Rangers, was played over two-legs and was never to be repeated with all subsequent Finals a one-off at a neutral venue. Additionally, the trophy presented to the first winners, Fiorentina, was replaced by a different design for the remainder of the tournaments existence. Unlike the other two European competitions, there was never a period during which a team came back and was able to successfully defend the trophy and indeed never had a Final in which both sides were from the same country. It was a tournament littered with teams from all corners of Europe, some unlikely due to the current UEFA formats, ever to get near a European tournament again.

But readers may ask, if this was such a wonderful competition, why was it ended? Scragg addresses this by detailing how the change in status of the European Cup to the Champions League, was part of the process, as was the breakup of the former Communist bloc, necessitating the introduction of a Preliminary Round to the competition, as well the fact that attendances for the Finals were invariably poor. This included just 3,208 witnessing the 1963/64 Final in Brussels, 4,641 for the 1973/74 Final in Rotterdam and in 1992/93, just 37,393 strewn around the ‘old’ Wembley in its 100,000 capacity days, as Parma beat Royal Antwerp.

As a football fan, my view is that the demise can be traced back to when the so called ‘big-clubs’ in Europe, unhappy with the European Cup knock-out format, wanted a change so that they would be not only be part of an expanded tournament but of one bringing increased TV revenues. For me, there is nothing special, season-on-season, of another Champions League tie featuring Barcelona v Real Madrid (or indeed any combination of the repeat qualifiers) and as for the farce of the 2018/19 Final in which neither of the finalists (Liverpool and Spurs) had won the League – well just don’t get me started. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the greed and money that has infested our game both at home and abroad and at the cost of the romance that the ECWC gave us, such as Italian giants Napoli up against the Welsh minnows Bangor City in 1962, in a tie which required a replay in a time before the away-goals rule was introduced. That game is though just one of the many wonderful stories to be found within the pages of Scragg’s homage to the tournament.

What more can be said? Well, to paraphrase the words of Willy Wonka, “If you want to view paradise, simply look at this book and view it.” It is without doubt a wonderfully researched and written book and is a rightful nominee in The Telegraph Sports Books Awards 2020 (within the football category), and is a must read for anybody wanting to discover about a lost treasure in the football world or for those of us of a certain age, a most magical trip down memory lane.

(Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2019. Hardback 288pp)


Book Review: Here We Go: Everton in the 1980s – The Players’ Stories by Simon Hart

(NOTE: This is the [revised and updated] paperback version, published in 2019, of the hardback edition which was published in 2016. 270pp)

To get the major (and perhaps only) criticism out of the way from the start, the book is written in the miniscule font 8! That is way too small for a comfortable read and it is great pity because the content is excellent. One can only conjecture that some financial constraint dictated the small font but, for whatever reason, it’s a shame!

Simon Hart’s book is a really enjoyable read and has an obvious audience of mature Evertonians who look back dewy-eyed at the successful years in the mid-80s. Its appeal is much wider, though, and ought to provide good reading for any (mature) football lover. It would be a waste of time trying for a younger audience, anyway, as few under 25 can probably be motivated to reading anything where you are required to actually turn pages.

The subtitle tells the necessary information about the book. It deals with Everton in the 1980s, told in a series of interviews with many but not all of the major players. Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Trevor Steven, Gary Stevens, John Bailey, Alan Harper and Kevin Sheedy are all absent. Their input would surely have added much. Part of the appeal of it covering the whole decade is that some very drossy years sandwiched some exceptional ones where Everton were the best team in the land – and the club was the major sufferer from the European football ban imposed on English teams following the Heysel tragedy.

There are many hidden gems which Simon Hart patiently and skilfully reveals that would almost certainly be missing in a book about a decade of remorseless success. For example, having played football in North Wales in the same era as Neville Southall, I tend to believe his claim that, amongst all the football pitches covered in sheep, cow, dog shit, there was one with a telegraph pole in the middle, which they, presumably, treated like a roundabout.

A recurring feature of the story is how many footballers missed many games and/or shortened their careers by playing despite being injured; Mark Higgins and Paul Bracewell being among the number. The sharp contrast is made between those days and the modern era where players are simply not risked in the same way. The sheer variety of different characters and backgrounds allows Hart to build up a layered picture where everyone featured has an observation or anecdote of their own to add.

Under Howard Kendall’s inspired management, Everton won the FA Cup (in 1984), the League Championship twice (in 1985 & 1987), plus the European Cup Winners’ Cup (in 1985) beating Bayern Munich in the Semi-Final on the way to victory. Their win at Goodison Park was, by common consent, THE performance of the decade, after Kendall told the team who were losing 1-0 at half time to get the ball forward and the Gwladys Street would ‘suck the ball into the net.’ They did, three times.

The various contributions build up an affectionate picture of the inspired management team of Kendall and Colin Harvey that brought out the best in such a diverse group of players and, having actually seen Pat Van den Hauwe play many times, after reading his contribution, I am drawn to the conclusion that his nickname ‘Psycho Pat’ is probably a little on the understated side.

There is so much to like about the book and the ones who might have been deemed bit-part players often make the most telling contributions. The key factor is the feeling they all had or found for the club, none more so than the much-loved Harvey. Yet players did not need to have been Evertonians born and bred. That was encapsulated by Adrian Heath’s words. The bond was so strong, he felt, that they became ‘blood brothers’ and there was a love of club and a love of each other.

The only one who does not show that affectionate feeling, and never felt it, is Gary Lineker. Everything he says is fine and at least he was good enough to contribute at length, but it comes across unmistakably that, uniquely in this book, the pull of Everton which made a special mark on so many, for once did not work.

Graeme Garvey


Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

Book Review: Lost in France – The Remarkable Life and Death of Leigh Roose, Football’s First Superstar by Spencer Vignes

In the modern age football feels like it is at saturation point in terms of coverage. Every detail about a player, manager or club is scrutinised to an infinite degree, so much so that nothing feels new, fresh or indeed inspiring.

Therefore, it was a joy to read, Lost in France – The Remarkable Life and Death of Leigh Roose, Football’s First Superstar by Spencer Vignes. Here is a story from a very different age, a game in which amateur players still had a place alongside professionals, when football itself looked different to that we watch today and a world unknowingly stumbling towards the First World War.

This is the story of a man described by the author as, “playboy, soldier, scholar and maverick”, and one that had been lost in the annals of time, until now. The book proclaims that Roose was, “football’s first genuine superstar”, and on the evidence presented, it is difficult to argue otherwise.

The reader is treated to tales of Roose’s exploits on and off-the-pitch, where his popularity with the crowds as a player, was matched by that with women up and down the country, including a dalliance with the famous music hall star, Marie Lloyd.

However, to classify Roose as merely a showman and womaniser would be an unfair one, here was a player who was regarded as one of, if not the finest goalkeeper of his era, and went on to play for Wales on 24 occasions, and included amongst his clubs, Stoke City, Everton and Sunderland. Indeed, his style of keeping really was pioneering and has to be the precursor to the way that current custodians such as Manual Neuer the German national goalkeeper, act as a sweeper for his team. Vignes argues justifiably that Roose’s style even instigated a rule change, which in June 1912 saw Law 8 change from, the goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball to, the goalkeeper may, within his own penalty area, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.

It is said that goalkeepers are born not made and have a bravery that outfield players don’t possess. Roose was undoubtedly was one such case, in an era when goalkeepers were not afforded the protection they have today. However, he was not just brave on the field of play and in the later part of the book the author skillfully puts together the story surrounding Roose’s service and subsequent decoration in action during the First World War.

This book maybe only be 192 pages long, but it is an absorbing story of a larger than life character and innovator in the football world and is indeed a poignant and timely tale given that it is 100 years since the Battle of the Somme.

Forget the 24/7 banal and inane coverage of the satellite age of pampered players, sound-bite management and corporate chairman, where the losing of a game is a catastrophe; instead be transported to an era where amateurs played for the love of the game and expenses, and of men who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives in the suffering and real tragedy that was the First World War.


Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

2011/12: FA Cup Semi-Finals

Friday 13 April 2012

When the FA Cup reached the Semi-Final stage it used to be said that the teams were just 90 minutes away from Wembley. However, that all changed in the first weekend of April 2008 when the games were no longer played at neutral venues. The FA in their wisdom, ensured another tradition was removed from the World’s Oldest Cup competition, and found another method of taking yet more money from fans. It doesn’t enhance the Cup and in fact creates a massive dilemma for supporters. A friend of mine (a Stoke City fan), last season had to decide whether to go to the Semi-Final or take a chance and see if they got to the Final, as they were simply not able to afford attending both games. Is this what The FA see as improving the fan experience? My hope is that in the near future, Semi-Finals will return to neutral venues. With stadium improvements in this country, we have enough suitable grounds that can host large crowds. However, the sound of ker-ching as coffers grow at The FA is probably set to continue to drown out the voice of tradition.

So this weekend the pockets of fans particularly from Liverpool and Everton, and also Chelsea and Spurs, are severely stretched as Merseyside and London derbies take place at Wembley. Everton and Liverpool have meet on four occasions in the FA Cup Semi-Finals. The first meeting was in 1906 at Villa Park, when Everton beat Liverpool 2-0. The Toffees then went on to overcome Newcastle United in the Final. The Reds had to wait until 1950 before the next Semi-Final meeting with Everton. At Maine Road, Liverpool triumphed 2-0, but were unable to overcome Arsenal in the Final.  Old Trafford was the venue for the next meeting of the Merseyside giants in 1971. Everton lead at half-time 1-0 thanks to a goal from Alan Ball, however back came Liverpool and goals from Alun Evans and Brian Hall sent the Reds through. However as in 1950, Arsenal were waiting in the Final and as then, The Gunners took the Cup in 1971. The last Semi-Final meeting took place in 1977. It turned out to be a bit of a classic in which Liverpool went ahead twice through goals from Terry McDermott and Jimmy Case, with Everton equalising through Duncan McKenzie and Bruce Rioch. With the game at 2-2 and less than five minutes to go, Everton thought they had won the game when Bryan Hamilton scored, however referee Clive Thomas disallowed it and the replay was more of a formality as goals from Neal, Case and Kennedy saw Liverpool romp to a 3-0 win. The Reds took the League title that year and their first European Cup, but they didn’t add the FA Cup to that list, as Manchester United won 2-1 in the Final.

Liverpool have already secured the (Carling) League Cup this season after a penalty shoot-out win over Cardiff City, but their recent form in the Premier League has been of real concern. Of their last 10 League fixtures, Liverpool have won only two. Prior to the win this week at Blackburn, their last victory ironically was against Cup opponents Everton. The Reds will go into the Semi-Final on Saturday with third choice keeper Brad Jones likely to play in goal, as both Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni are suspended. Is that an FA Cup story in the making? By contrast, Everton have only lost two in their last ten games and are riding high after a comprehensive 4-0 win over Sunderland in their last Premier League outing.

The second Semi-Final takes place on Sunday when North London meets South West London. Chelsea and Spurs have never met in the FA Cup at the Semi-Final stage, although did meet in the 1967 Final when Tottenham emerged winners 2-1. Chelsea have gone through a mini-resurgence under Roberto Di Mattaeo, progressing through to the Champions League Semi-Finals, although they looked a little leg weary in their Easter Monday draw at Fulham and were fortunate with decisions in their 2-1 win over Wigan. Spurs lost at home in their last Premier League outing to Norwich City and the North London club have only won two of their last ten fixtures. Has all the talk of Redknapp’s departure for the England job unsettled Tottenham? They have some talent in their squad, but it’s a bad time to hit a rocky patch as the business end of the season approaches.

To the fans of all four teams, enjoy the game and the occasion, even though for two clubs their FA Cup dream will end this weekend. My kiss of death (I mean prediction) is for an all-Blue Final with Everton and Chelsea to come through and set-up a repeat of the 2009 Final. But with my lack of tipping skills, expect Liverpool and Spurs to take to the Wembley turf in May for the Final!

2011/12: FA Cup 6th Round

Tragedy, disaster – words too easily and oft banded about by the football media, managers, players and fans alike on the occasion of a single mistake, in connection with a single match or perhaps when reflecting on a season. Every now and again an event happens within the football world that does truly justifies their use.

This weekend, the FA Cup Sixth Round should have been remembered for the matches played – from the rousing atmosphere at Goodison Park as Everton and Sunderland played out a draw, to a brace for Torres at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea brushed aside Leicester, via Anfield and a Liverpool team chasing a domestic Cup double after victory over Stoke. Instead, the abiding image will be that of Fabrice Muamba surrounded by paramedics at White Hart Lane as they batted to save the young Bolton players life.

All we can hope is that Fabrice Muamba pulls through. For now the only fight that matters is not about Bolton making it through the FA Cup, or battling against relegation, but simply sustaining the greatest prize there is – staying alive.

2011/12: FA Cup 4th Round – Sheffield United v Birmingham City

Friday 27 January 2012 (07.00 am)

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur  (7.45 pm)

Everton v Fulham (8.00 pm)

When the 2011/12 FA Cup Fourth Round begins on Friday night there will be two fixtures taking place. The first of these will see Watford take on Spurs at Vicarage Road. These two sides have met on four previous occasions in the FA Cup and Spurs have triumphed in all of them. Interestingly, the first two ever games between these clubs took place in the FA Cup. In January 1922 in the Second Round, Tottenham triumphed 1-0 at White Hart Lane and in 1939 an emphatic 7-1 win for Spurs in the Third Round. The most famous of the FA Cup meetings came in the 1986/87 season when the teams met in a Semi-Final tie at Villa Park. Tottenham finished comfortable 4-1 winners with Steve Hodge bagging a brace to add to goals from Clive Allen and Paul Allen. Malcolm Allen scored The Hornets goal. The last meeting between these team came in the Third Round in 1999 at Spurs, with the home side convincing 5-2 winners.

The other game will see Fulham travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. For Fulham fans of a certain age this fixture will bring back memories of the Fifth Round tie that took place back in February 1975. A game which pitched then Second Division Fulham against the First Division leaders. It was to be an epic game that was part of an incredible 11 game journey by the men from Craven Cottage that took them to the 1975 FA Cup Final against West Ham United. Coincidentally, as was the case with Watford v Tottenham, the first two occasions Everton and Fulham met was also in the FA Cup. Everton first hosted Fulham in January 1926 in the Third Round. After a draw at Goodison, Fulham won the replay 1-0. It was over twenty years before these two clashed again, and on this occasion it was a Fifth Round tie in London in 1948. The game went to a replay and Fulham emerged 1-0 winners. In February 1975 and again at the Fifth Round stage, Fulham travelled to the North West and came away with a 2-1 victory courtesy of two Viv Busby goals. The last meeting was in the Fourth Round in 2004. The game at Goodison looked to be slipping away from Everton as they were behind 1-0 to a Sean Davis goal. However, in the dying minutes Francis Jeffers scored to ensure a replay. As in the first game Everton went behind and again Jeffers equalised in the dying minutes. However, Steed Malbranque was the Fulham hero as he scored to sent The Cottagers through 2-1.

Tonight then, two games where FA Cup history says that the winners will be Tottenham and Fulham. If only it were that simple.


Friday 27 January 2012 (11.00 pm)

Watford (0) – (1) Tottenham Hotspur

Everton (2) – (1) Fulham

Abba famously sang in their hit “Waterloo”, “…The history book on the shelf, Is always repeating itself…” Now, fine exponents of the pop song they may have been, but as for football pundits, well, the jury has to be out tonight. History said Tottenham hadn’t lost to Watford in the Cup and so it continued as Spurs came away from Vicarage Road with a 1-0 win. Rafael van der Vaart’s long range effort just before half-time gave Spurs the lead, but The Hornets provided their Premier League opponents with a real test in the second period. After the game Spurs manager Harry Redknapp acknowledged that his team had indeed ridden their luck to make it through to the Fifth Round. Unfortunately for Watford it was a case of “So Long” to this years competition.

Meanwhile on Merseyside, Fulham were at Goodison with their unbeaten FA Cup record over Everton at stake. It all looked good for The Cottagers when they went ahead through a Danny Murphy penalty. However, The Toffees worked their way back into the game and were level before the half-hour mark. Everton emerged the better side in the second-half and a header from Marouane Fellaini ensured their progress and Fulham’s exit.

“Hasta Manana”


Saturday 28 January 2012 (10:00 am)

Sheffield United v Birmingham City

It’s a case of back to Bramall Lane for the ‘trail’ game later today. January has been a mixed month in the League for The Blades, with two convincing wins, against Yeovil and Bury, offset by two losses to Carlisle United and last weekend at League leaders Charlton. Birmingham have gone unbeaten this month, drawing with Peterborough (1-1), followed by wins against Ipswich (2-1), Millwall (6-0) and Watford (3-0). Both clubs have to date had good seasons and they both occupy a play-off place in their respective divisions.

In terms of the FA Cup, this will be The Blades fourth tie this season and in the last round Sheffield United put an end to non-league Salisbury City’s adventure 3-1, whilst Birmingham put out Midlands rivals 1-0 in a replay at Molineux. These clubs have met previously in the FA Cup on three occasions and on each occasion Birmingham City have emerged as winners. The Blues won 2-1 in 1933/34, 3-1 after a replay in 1952/53, with the most recent tie in the 1983/84 season. In a Third Round tie at Bramall Lane, then Third Division Sheffield United held First Division Birmingham City to a 1-1 draw, before The Blues emerged 2-0 winners in the replay.

This is The Blades toughest test in the Cup this season and will be a good chance to compare themselves against Championship opposition.


Saturday 28 January 2012 (07:00 pm)

 Sheffield United (0) – (4) Birmingham City

The Blades FA Cup run came to an emphatic end at the hands of Birmingham City today. To an extent the score-line doesn’t reflect the part United played in this game, although they did at times contribute to their own downfall today. The Blades opened the game very positively and dominated the opening fifteen minutes. Ched Evans, Lee Williamson and Stephen Quinn were causing problems for Birmingham and with over 18,000 in the ground their was a terrific atmosphere inside Bramall Lane. However, with their first corner of the game, Nathan Redmond was picked out and his shot flashed into the net to give The Blues a lead against the run of play. Birmingham suddenly looked a different side, who seemed first to every loose ball and eager for more goals. The Blades were now playing far deeper and allowed The Blues space in midfield. On a couple of occasions Redmond drove at the United defence, but shot wastefully wide. Chris Burke too was coming more into the game and getting dangerously down the flanks. On 38 minutes Burke was involved in getting wide again and his cross was efficiently swept past Simonsen by Adam Rooney to put City 2-0 up, as they cruised towards half-time.

The Blades were first out the blocks in the second-half and dominated the opening ten minutes. Lee Williamson was again a threat to Birmingham as was the experienced Richard Cresswell with a couple of attempts on goal. However, Birmingham weathered the storm, and scored a third on 58 minutes. As they had done in the opening period The Blades backed off and backed off and Wade Elliot took advantage by firing home to put City 3-0 up and send the 4,000 travelling fans delirious. United continued to press, but could find no way past the City custodian Colin Doyle who was to keep a clean-sheet, despite some nervous looking handling all afternoon. With less than fifteen minutes remaining, a period of sustained Birmingham possession saw the ball switched into the six-yard box, where Adam Rooney tucked home his second and a fourth goal for The Blues. As some Blades fans drifted away at the last goal, so the match lost its earlier intensity and after 3 minutes of time added-on the referee blew for time.

On reflection, United will know they had their periods of pressure, but Birmingham were clinical and scored at crucial times. The Blades were somewhat unfortunate to play Birmingham at this point, as the side from St Andrews are running into a bit of form latterly. Danny Wilson will not have the Cup as a distraction now and instead must look to focus his side and ensure they are ready to battle for promotion. City will look forward to the next round and keep their own chances of promotion on the boil.

I’d like to put on record my thanks to Sheffield United as a club for their pricing policy throughout the FA Cup this year. The total cost for the four games I have seen at Bramall Lane has only been £45 and it has been a privilege to have witnessed the four game adventure. Good luck to The Blades in their promotion push.


Sunday 29 January 2012 (7.00 pm)

Sunderland (1) – (1) Middlesbrough

In the first of the two final games of the Fourth Round, the Wear-Tees derby took place at The Stadium of Light in front of a crowd of over 33,000. It proved to be a no-nonsense game that you would expect from such close Northeast neighbours. The visitors struck first when on 16 minutes, Barry Robson brilliantly gave Boro’ the lead. However, hero turned villain, when Robson gave away possession which lead to a goal for substitute Fraizer Campbell who made a goal-scoring return after 18 months out injured.


Arsenal (3) – (2) Aston Villa

At half-time this game seemed only to be going one way and that was a Cup exit for Arsenal. Villa had gone ahead through Richard Dunne on 33 minutes and were seemingly cruising at 2-0 when Darren Bent scored on the stroke of half-time. However, the game all turned in a frantic seven minute spell. On 54 minutes Aaron Ramsey was brought down by goal-scorer Dunne and from the resulting penalty Robin van Persie gave The Gunners a way back into the game. Three minutes later and the game was all square when Theo Walcott was credited with a scrappy looking goal, not that the Emirates faithful cared. The comeback was complete on 61 minutes, this time the other Villa scorer, Bent conceded the penalty, and Captain Fantastic did the rest from the spot. They always say you need a bit of luck to win the Cup. Arsenal will certainly hope so.

In the remaining “trail” game not covered so far, Bolton Wanderers made it through to the Fifth Round after a 2-1 home win over Swansea City. Luke Moore put the visitors ahead on 43 minutes, but The Swans couldn’t hang on to their lead until the half-time whistle. In time added-on, Darren Pratley headed in from a Martin Petrov free-kick. The game was won on 56 minutes when Gerhard Tremmel, the Swansea reserve keeper couldn’t hold a Petrov shot and Chris Eagles gleefully slotted home the loose ball.  

After the draw the Fifth Round “trail” fixtures are as follows:


Everton v Blackpool/Sheffield Wednesday

Chelsea v Birmingham City

Sunderland/Middlesbrough v Arsenal/Aston Villa

Millwall/Southampton v Bolton Wanderers


So Wembley is a step closer and as those football pundits from Abba once said, “…the winner takes it all, the loser has to fall…”

Plain Strains & Auto-biographies (Act III) – Pap Fiction

He has a lot to answer for does our Roy, and that extends down the football food chain to biographies about lesser lights because what we can’t really forgive in a footballer any more is that he’s just like us. Take Gary Imlach’s My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes and I do mean that. Please take my copy. Such a tiresome book. He didn’t bother to get to know his dad properly when he was younger and so chose to reinvent him after his death. It is an odd piece of writing; part of it is sentimental, dutiful son stuff with a bit of hagiography thrown in. All that really shows is how a son can be both too close to his dad and yet, at the same time, too remote from him. Other parts of the book are simply unconvincing because he never fully justifies the biggest part of the title. John Charles was and still is a working class football hero, Stewart Imlach never was, underappreciated footballer though he might have been.

It is all about perspective. When Gary was old enough to remember his dad, Stewart was coaching at Everton, his playing days long gone. I remember watching THAT Imlach in action in the early seventies as he sprinted on to the field with his medicine bag to administer first aid to an injured player, and I can remember the Evertonians urging him to run faster. ‘Hhum on Stewy Ladz, gerrim bachhhh on his feeess querchhh, or gerrim off and give someone else a shance!’ To them, Stewy was by no means a working class football hero and was only as good as his next sprint’n’sponge.

It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2005. Ah but wasn’t that the year that only lasted 9 days? Must have been.

Continuing with the theme of perspective, Stewart Imlach was a Scots international and there is no doubt that Scotland has produced some wonderful footballers down the years, all working class, many being true heroes. Billy Bremner, Bill Shankly, Jim Baxter, Denis Law, Hughie Gallacher, Matt Busby, et al. I was looking at the long list of football biographies and autobiographies now available on What struck me was that far more Scots were having books churned out about them than could possibly be merited even given the great pedigree. Some of the immortal names were; Gary MacKay, Brian Irvine, Dave McPherson, Gavin Peacock & Alan Comfort, Ian Ferguson, Jim Craig, Jim Leishman, Jim McLean and John Brown. These might be household names in the Irvine and Comfort households but hardly on the lips of children even in distant England. Then I checked the company address; Football Heaven, Unit 2, Insch Business Park, Insch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Say no more, give them an Insch…

They did actually have some books about people we have heard of ‘south of the border’ and that brings up another issue; why are there 5 books on Eric Cantona, 8 on George Best and 10 on Alex Ferguson? Can there be that many angles? The more you look at the ‘biogs and autobiogs’ business, the more mysterious the whole thing becomes. Meanwhile, I’m ghosting a semi-fictional autobiography ‘Roy Rush and other heroes still mooching about on Benefits’.


Graeme Garvey

2010/11: Speed discards Blades for Dragons

Presumably having watched and being an avid football fan for 38 years counts for nothing. Why do I say this? Well because the older I get the less I am able to understand the decisions that are made at football clubs.

As an example, let’s look at Championship side, Sheffield United. Back in August this year The Blades hierarchy decided after three games of the 2010-11 season that it was time for Kevin Blackwell to depart. Surely getting rid of the manager during the summer would have made more sense, so allowing a new man time to settle in and make their mark on the team. In came Gary Speed, an experienced international player and good pro at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. Despite his lack of managerial experience he was given a three year contract. Under Speed’s leadership, The Blades have failed to find any consistent form and after defeat at Barnsley on Saturday find themselves in 20th place, just three points away from bottom place Preston. In 18 games in charge the rookie manager has orchestrated just 6 wins and 21 points in total. However, this seems to be enough to convince the FA of Wales that this is the record of a man they want in charge of the national team.

From Gary Speed’s point of view, where is the loyalty of sticking with the club who gave him the opportunity to manage? Where is his professional pride in wanting to get The Blades out of relegation trouble? Is the lure of the coin too great? Can he simply not resist the call of his country? Or is he rushing for the exit as he doesn’t feel he has the ability to get Sheffield United out of trouble?

If Speed is indeed to be the next Wales boss, then the man I feel sorry for is Brian Flynn. Flynn like Speed is another ex-Leeds United player who has moved into management. Unlike Speed his record is a decent one. Brian Flynn took up the reigns at Wrexham back in 1989. During his 12 years at the club and in difficult financial circumstances, Flynn achieved promotion in 1992/93 and got the club to the FA Cup Quarter Finals in 1996-97. His next post was also in Wales as Flynn moved to Swansea City in 2002-03 who had been bottom of the League before his arrival, yet on the final day of the season managed to keep The Swans up. He left in the following season and in 2004 took up the position of Wales Under 21 coach. Flynn came incredibly close to taking the Welsh team to the 2009 UEFA Under-21 Championships, guiding the side to the top of a strong group containing France and Romania, including a superb away win in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, competition rules stated that even Group winners had to go through a two-legged play-off round in order to Qualify, and Wales were knocked out 5–4 on aggregate by England. When John Toshack left as Wales Manager, Flynn came in as Caretaker Manager. However, it appears that his experience and success at club and country level will count for nothing and he’ll be passed over for Gary Speed.

To misquote the lyrics of Delilah by Tom Jones…”Why, Why, Why Wales FA?”