Book Review: Clive Allen – Up Front with James Olley

A career in football is hard enough to achieve on your own, but when you are from a football family, then the pressure must be immense. For Clive Allen, that must have been monumental, with his father, Les, part of the Tottenham Hotspur’s team that did the ‘double’ in winning the First Division title and FA Cup in 1960/61, and a younger brother, Bradley and two cousins, Martin and Paul, who also went on to have professional careers in the game.

Clive though played for 17 years at home and abroad, scoring 49 goals in all competitions during the 1986/87 campaign and as a result claimed both the Professional Footballers’ Association Men’s Players’ Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, earned five senior caps for England and finished with a scoring ratio of a goal in every two games.

And in Up Front, the majority of the book looks at this journey from his professional playing days as a teenager at QPR, chronologically following his career, including his Million Pound transfer to Arsenal (where he failed to make a first-team appearance), taking in his time at Crystal Palace, a second spell at QPR, Spurs, Bordeaux, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham United, Millwall and Carlisle United. Also, included is his time coaching at Spurs and stepping in as caretaker manager at White Hart Lane in both 2007 and 2008, his media career and his single season as a kicker in American Football (NFL Europe) for the London Monarchs in 1997. As such these are fairly traditional biographical content, but make interesting reading, nonetheless, with some honest opinions of certain situations and characters he came across in his football life.

Indeed, the title Up Front seems an apt choice working as it does on two levels. Firstly reflecting Clive Allen’s playing position, leading the line as a forward, and secondly in the phrases definition of someone who is ‘up front’ in being, bold, honest, and frank.

These qualities come to the fore and where the book shows real insight is with respect to Allen’s relationship with his famous father Les. Indeed, the book begins and ends with the pair being presented to the Spurs faithful as part of the celebrations to mark the final fixture at the ‘old’ White Hart Lane and leaves the reader in no doubt as to the significance of Clive’s view of his father, “I’m grateful for his guidance but pained by his parenting.” This seems to pervade the book, with the regret and the damage their uneasy relationship has caused, always appearing to be there under the surface. Further, James Olley who worked with Allen on this book, is able to extract a real sense of the much-travelled ex-strikers character, a man who hated losing, typified by the bust-up Allen had with Arsene Wenger and which appears not to have been resolved to this day, and despite all his success, still wonders ‘what might have been’ if he had scored on his England debut. In some ways the book is an interesting for what it implies and doesn’t say, as that which it does.

(deCoubertin Books, October 2019. Hardcover 300pp)


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Book Review: Aguero Goal King: Official Manchester City FC Celebration Book by Manchester City

On 12 January 2020, Man City’s 6-0 win over Aston Villa may have seemed like just another day at the office for Sergio Aguero, but it marked an historic moment in the history-maker’s already dazzling career. Aguero’s second goal of the afternoon saw the Argentinian hero reach 176 Premier League goals – a feat that took him above Thierry Henry in the Premier League’s all-time scoring records to become the most prolific international striker in the League’s history and the fourth all-time leading scorer, with only Andy Cole, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer with better figures, though Andy Cole with just seven more goals than Aguero is clearly in the sharpshooter’s sight. A further goal piled on Villa’s woes but, more importantly for the Premier League history books, handed Aguero his twelfth league hat-trick and cemented a second momentous record in a record-breaking afternoon, overtaking Alan Shearer for the most league hat-tricks. Aguero’s goals per game record and efficiency are similarly second to none, and already this season he’s bypassed 250 total goals for Man City in all competitions, with, at the time of writing, 16 league goals to his name, and 24 in sum.

Aguero’s arrival at the Etihad in 2011 from Atletico Madrid coincided with Manchester City’s change in fortunes. Just twelve years ago they’d been struggling in the third tier of English football, but today they are one of the biggest names in the global game, and the enigmatic Argentinian has been at the forefront of this success. Indeed, whilst other strikers have come and gone at the Etihad, including Jo and Roque Santa-Cruz, Aguero has led the line for nine seasons. Though, in truth, he has not just led the line, he has dominated, taking The Citizens to a fourth league title and record 100 points haul last season and the cusp of European greatness. However, recent developments leave City’s future hanging in the balance and despite continuing to find the back of the net with enviable regularity, at the age of 31, Aguero’s reign in English football will not last forever. Whilst this will be a blessing for opposition fans, in truth, the Premier League without Aguero will be devoid of one of its all-time stars and for the blue half of Manchester it will mean saying farewell to a club record-breaker. For in 2017, Aguero’s unparalleled feats saw him break the club’s goalscoring record, which had stood for 78 years and was held by Eric Brook.

For fans wanting to reminisce and relive Aguero’s rise to the top of English football, the aptly titled Aguero Goal King underpins this modest striker’s achievements. Published after his record-breaking moment in 2017, the book takes readers through each of Aguero’s 178 goals, from his first against Swansea on 15 August 2011, to his 178th against Napoli on 1 November 2017. Split into seasons, each goal is marked by a brief description and an accompanying photo image.

The book kicks off with an introduction from the man himself, in which he acknowledges his own footballing role models, thanks his team-mates and expresses his desire to win the Champions League with City – a desire which, depending on the outcome of the current UEFA ban, may rest squarely on the current campaign if he is to fulfil his dream. Sadly, that is really as far as it goes with Aguero’s contribution, aside from brief pull-out quotes at the start of each season’s section. To my mind, it would have enhanced the book in having some additional quotes, even if only in the form of previous post-match comments from Aguero, dotted throughout, particularly charting important goals or moments.

Instead of Aguero’s first-hand commentary, the goals are described with standard journalistic vision. The descriptions are largely run-of-the-mill, after it all it’s fairly difficult to capture a goal in prose, but they all provide the basic information. This isn’t a gushing commentary or sycophantic hero-worship, but generally an objective account of each goal with some much-deserved praise thrown in where it’s due. Each goal is given the minute in which it was scored, the date and the opposition, as well as a trophy to indicate the competition, and although the summary explains how each was scored and score-lines in the match, a note of this information outside of the main text would have been nice to easily identify these matters. Similarly, pull-out facts about the goals would also have been a welcome addition. However, there is a very clear sense of a sleek and minimalist design to the book, and the emphasis is much more on imagery and iconography than text, which is understandable.

Supporting images, therefore, get pride of place in the book and readers can see Aguero grow up in front of their eyes across the pages from a fresh-faced Premier League unknown to one of English football’s most-feared marksmen. The imagery itself is a mixture of Aguero’s celebrations, action shots and goal snapshots, but in a sense, these too fail to really give the story of each goal. Indeed, single images cannot always capture the moment in full, and I did feel that montages of time-lapse imagery would have been beneficial at least for some of the goals. Indeed, each goal is given fairly similar treatment. Aside from double-page spreads for some of the more significant moments, sadly there is nothing that really gives those more important goals greater recognition or further exploration. Of course, all goals are important, but to paraphrase George Orwell, some goals are more important than others. Few would argue that amongst Aguero’s most important goals was the final one and thirtieth of his opening campaign with Manchester City against QPR on the last day of the season to clinch the club’s first title in 44 years and snatch the Premier League trophy away from rivals Manchester United, but this goal is not really given much more focus than any of the others. In my opinion, it would have been better for some goals, including those which had greater significance, to have had more pictures and information dedicated to them.

At the back of the book, there is a nice, if condensed, tribute to Eric Brook, but a few images of his goals would have been a welcome addition, although, admittedly, for a striker whose City career ran from 1928 to 1939, such images may have been hard to come by! The book concludes with a double-page spread of Aguero’s statistics, with breakdowns of those who assisted his 178 goals, how they were scored, and an interesting graph from 1 to 90 to show in which minute they were scored. Looking at the bar chart, the only hope for any opposition is that Aguero makes a three-minute cameo in the 55-57th minute or a two-minute cameo in either the 11-12th minute or 38-39th minute – the only times in a match during his 178-goal spree that he didn’t score. However, fans beware of the 69th or 90th minute when Aguero bagged seven goals apiece. Although, in truth, at his glorious best, Aguero possesses the ability to score at any time, by any means.

One stat that is missing from these pages is his breakdown of goals per opposition, which I suspect some teams may be thankful for – aside from Bolton, who, at the time of writing, of all Premier League opponents he has faced, are the only side he hasn’t scored against. What is all the fuss about Sergio Aguero, they may wonder. Whilst it wouldn’t perhaps be the easiest of reading for opposition fans, it would have been useful and interesting to have this breakdown. Similarly, there is no breakdown of goal hauls, i.e. the number of single goals, braces, hat-tricks, and (sorry, Newcastle fans) five-goal hauls Aguero scored. Other things that I felt were missing and which would have added value to this book, in my opinion, were quotes from teammates and managers and possibly team line-ups. The emphasis, though, is very much on a sleek, concise style and that is certainly achieved throughout, whilst successfully documenting Aguero’s feats.

Overall, this is a great premise for a book, although, arguably, the publishers went a little early with it, given that Aguero is still banging in the goals and has the three players above him in the all-time-goalscoring standings in his sight – though Rooney and Shearer may be out of reach even for the Argentinian striking sensation. But this is specifically a celebration of his achievements in England, so it’s a nice touch to acknowledge that particular history, though I suspect a further edition may be warranted when Aguero does finally call time on his stay at the Etihad. In terms of this book, whilst I really appreciated the sentiment and ethos of it, I did feel that a few additions could have really made this a standout offering. As it is, it’s a commendable tribute to the prolific marksman but perhaps not quite as spectacular as the player deserves. There is certainly inspiration to be taken from this book, however, and I could see it working in a similar format for other players and teams as well (although I suspect neither the aforementioned Jo or Roque Santa-Cruz will be getting their own City chronicles any time soon). But for now, the title of Goal King has already been claimed by the record-breaking South American and, whatever the future holds for Aguero at the Club, that can never be taken away.


Jade Craddock

(Trinity Mirror Sport Media, December 2017, 240pp)


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Book Review: Ask A Footballer – My Guide to Kicking a Ball About by James Milner

First things first, as James Milner is keen to point out in the book’s introduction, this is NOT an autobiography, rather, as the title suggests, Milner opens the floor to questions from the Twittersphere, a somewhat brave (or perhaps foolhardy) move, and this book comprises a selection of those questions with Milner’s answers.

Unsurprisingly, the questions included in the book revolve around football, covering everything from breaking through as a youngster to life after the game. There are sections on team-mates, what happens on a matchday and the experience of playing home and away, amongst other topics, but essentially all of the main components of life as a footballer are examined.

Anyone hoping to find Milner’s thoughts on matters outside of the game will be sadly disappointed, but as the full title, Ask a Footballer: My Guide to Kicking a Ball About, makes clear, this isn’t an open-all-areas Q&A. It does seem a shame that a brief chapter wasn’t included at the end for some more miscellaneous questions just for fun, but, on the whole, it’s a welcome premise that the publishers have pursued in this book by granting fans the opportunity to be involved.

Naturally, the questions that are included are generally somewhat predictable and fan questions are accompanied by questions from those involved in the book which clearly ensure that no football-related stone goes unturned, but generally they are the sort of questions that football fans would want to ask given the chance, and what is great about the book is the sense of interaction and access for supporters. There is a lot of criticism nowadays about this side of the game and the divide between fans and players, so this book is a pleasing antidote and there’s definitely much more of a sense of engagement and interaction than your typical sporting autobiography.

As for Milner himself, he is unquestionably a good sport for agreeing to the project, although in many ways he’s a rather safe choice – I’m not sure such a book would be possible with a number of Milner’s former team-mates, for example, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy or Mario Balotelli! And Milner’s clearly well placed to be a spokesman on all things football, having played in the Premier League for almost two decades now and in that time witnessing the revolution that has virtually changed the face of football into the professional machine that it is now.

In his time, Milner has played for Leeds United, Swindon Town, Aston Villa, Manchester City and his current team Liverpool and has experienced the lows of relegation as well as the highs of FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League glory. In many ways an underrated and oftentimes overlooked player in teams which have boasted the likes of world-beaters such as Aguero and Salah, Milner has been a model of consistency and reliability. Off the pitch, Milner, too, seems to be as far removed as it’s possible to be from the pretensions of fame, which has inspired the emergence of the infamous ‘Boring James Milner’ caricature.

Indeed, there is nothing explosive or controversial about Milner (although fans of former clubs may say otherwise, he’s hardly a disruptive or unruly influence in the way that other footballers have made a name for themselves), so, unsurprisingly, there is nothing explosive or controversial in this book. As Milner himself explains, he was often the go-to player in the England camp, put out in front of the media to straight-bat away any difficulties.

As such, his answers in the book are all very straightforward and safe. Even when the questions enter slightly more precarious territory, Milner’s answers are always restrained, somewhat frustratingly often not naming names or giving more detail than is necessary. But, on the other hand, his answers are also considered and honest.

Milner’s professionalism and reliability shine through in this book. It’s clear that he’s the ultimate professional, as his eighteen seasons in the top flight prove, and certainly anyone wanting to know what it takes to achieve success at the top of the game need look no further than Milner and his answers in this book. However, anyone wanting the dirt on the beautiful game, or the alternative side to being a professional footballer, may just have to wait to see if the publisher chooses to roll out the project again. Are you free Mr Balotelli?

Jade Craddock

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Book Review: Caught Beneath the Landslide – Manchester City in the 1990s by Tim Rich

Looking at today’s roll call of talent, the impressive Etihad Stadium and the record-breaking feats and trophy hauls of the last few years, it is almost impossible to conceive of a time when Manchester City weren’t at the height of English football.

But yet, somewhat unbelievably only a couple of decades ago, it was a very different story for the blue half of Manchester. Despite a veritable thrashing of their nearest neighbours and greatest rivals, Manchester United, in September 1989, 5-1 at Maine Road, the game signalled not the start of the glory days but rather the beginning of a downward spiral that would see them, at their lowest, languishing in the third tier of the English game in 1998/99, and it is these dark days of City’s recent past that Tim Rich chronicles in Caught Beneath the Landslide.

The success of the club’s youth team in 1986 and that victory over United three years later could have seen City dominate in the way that the Class of ‘92 did in the nineties, but behind the scenes unrest and mismanagement saw a very different outcome.

Rich’s tale of City’s fall from grace charts some of the key figures, decisions and players in these uncertain times and it is a fascinating reminder of just how far City fell in the mid-nineties – when their neighbours were celebrating an historic treble, Manchester City were celebrating winning the Play-offs in a dramatic game against Gillingham to be promoted after finishing third in the old Third Division.

However, their decline also highlights just how far they’ve risen from the ashes since then. It really is incredible to read the authors narrative of the City of old in the context of the City of today.

Manchester City fans, especially those who remember and were witness to, the turbulent years of the nineties, may not want to be reminded of this uneasy past, whilst the new generation of Cityzens who have grown up with a City side at least competing in, if not dominating, the top flight of English football are likely to find the history unthinkable, but either way it’s a significant backdrop to this club’s past and its present, a reminder that success is not a given, it is earned and can just as easily be lost.

Jade Craddock

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2015/16: Capital One Cup Fifth Round – Manchester City v Hull City

Manchester City moved into what was, pre-sponsorship by Etihad, the City of Manchester Stadium for the start of the 2003/04 season. City had spent 80 years at Maine Road prior to that and fans down the years would have had their pre and post-match rituals down to an art, a tradition passed down the generations – same place, same time, same friends and family.

In moving ground losing those rituals for some City fans would have been unbearable and for those businesses that relied on match-day trade in Moss Side, financially catastrophic.

Those days getting to the ground amongst the back-to-backs in south Manchester have been replaced with a journey whether on foot, tram or car to a vast expanse called Sportscity, which includes City’s ground, a velodrome, an athletics stadium, the National Squash Centre and a link to the Etihad Campus (housing City’s Academy Facility).

It is an impressive site, yet what has this meant for the fan experience? With City drawn at home to Hull City in the Capital One Cup Fifth Round, it was an ideal opportunity to see for myself.

The Etihad Stadium sits to the east of the city centre and is easily reached by tram; tonight a £3 ticket provided a return ticket from Manchester Piccadilly to the Etihad Campus. It was then a short walk up a flight of stairs up to the exterior perimeter of the ground.

Given the space available, Manchester City have created various buildings and areas allocated with certain functions. So for instance, fans have the choice of the club shop, food and drinks outlets as well as City Square around the ground. This last space has a stage and is dedicated to providing pre-match entertainment, with interviews, competitions and live bands, which are beamed out on big screens around the stadium.

With the game being played on 01 December, it was a chance for the club to start the countdown to Christmas and had even installed an ice-rink outside the Etihad. Having arrived early it was a chance to experience the entertainment and facilities on offer. It was evident that City have put a great deal of time and effort into making sure that those arriving early are engaged, whilst of course ensuring they are spending money.

It may be a very different pre-match routine to that which many City supporters from the Maine Road era remember, but the reality is that for a new generation of fans, this is the norm – something the West ham faithful will have to come to terms with once they move to the Olympic Stadium next season.

Once inside the ground, you are struck by the fact that the concourses are bright and roomy with plenty of food and drink outlets and various television screens to continue the countdown to kick-off. As you would expect in a modern stadium, the seats are comfortable with plenty of legroom and a view free from any obstruction. They are facilities that are a lifetime away from those encountered in my early years of watching football around the country. However, there still remains a question as to whether these fine amenities in our fleet of all-seater stadiums have lessened the atmosphere in the game today.

On the pitch, it was Manchester City who triumphed 4-1 over Hull City in a score line which flattered them. When Wilfred Bony slotted home after twelve minutes, one wondered if the game was going to be killed off by the Premier League side quickly. However, despite David Silva making his first start since early October and Belgian international Kevin de Bruyne being in the side, chances were few and far between in a low-key game.

With just ten minutes remaining The Citizens were still ahead by a single goal as a few people started to head for the exits. Those leaving early missed four goals – on eighty minutes substitute Kelechi Iheanacho finished Raheem Sterling’s cross for City’s second and a third goal followed just two minutes later from De Bruyne. The Belgian added his second of the night on eighty seven minutes from a free-kick, which just left time for Andrew Robertson to score a consolation for The Tigers in time added-on.

At the whistle the 38,246 crowd dispersed into the cold December Manchester night, satisfied with a City win and progress into the Semi-Final. Whatever grounds have in terms of experience and facilities for fans in the future, some things they want will never change – a winning team.

2013/14: Barclays Premier League – Manchester City v Fulham

Saturday 22 March 2014 (11:00)

It’s almost ten years to the day since I last watched Fulham at Manchester City. Back then, on 27 March 2004, it was a very different scenario to the one today. With eight games to play, Fulham still harboured ambitions of a getting into one of the European spots, while City were only 4 points off the relegation zone. How times have changed. However for all that was riding on the game, the Fulham website summarised the subsequent 0 – 0 draw as, “a game sparse of quality”. At the end of that 2003/04 season City finished 16th in the Premier League with 41 points, whilst Fulham ended seven places higher and with 11 more points. The teams that day were:

Manchester City: D. James, Sun Jihai, S. Distin, R.Dunne, M. Tarnat, S. Wright-Phillips, A. Sibierski, P. Bosvelt, C. Reyna, N. Anelka, R. Fowler. Substitutes: A. Arason, T. Sinclair, J. Barton, J. Macken, P. Wanchope.

Fulham: E. van der Sar, M. Volz, C. Bocanegra, Z. Knight, A. Goma, M. Djetou, S. Malbranque, L. Boa Morte,  S. Davis, M. Pembridge, B. Hayles. Substitutes: D. Beasant, Z. Rehman, J. Inamoto, F Sava, B McBride.

Today, as ten years ago, the fixture is important for both teams, but for very different reasons. City are looking to maintain their challenge for the title, whilst bottom of the table Fulham are hoping to build on their 1 – 0 win at the Cottage against Newcastle United last Saturday. Would I settle for a 0 – 0 today? Of course. But how realistic is that? Can the miracle of the ‘Great Escape’ of 2007/08 be repeated? WE STILL BELIEVE

Saturday (22:30)

The fact is that nothing was going to be decided today, in that win, lose or draw, Fulham would still be in a relegation battle. However, another battering in conceding five goals does nothing for the morale of the players or the fans.

cityHowever, when you are struggling, nothing goes your way and so it proved today. As expected City dominated the opening period of the first-half, but Fulham coped fairly comfortably. Then on twenty six minutes a long ball by James Milner saw Negredo get beyond the Fulham centre-back Amorebieta. As the defender stretched to reach the ball, there was contact with the City forward, who theatrically went down. After consulting with his assistant, referee Moss pointed to the spot and booked Amorebieta. Yaya Toure converted leaving Fulham feeling that the ‘big’ club tag of City had earned them a most dubious penalty. That was enough to give City the lead at the break, but how different would the game have been had it remained at 0 – 0? Would City have got frustrated and could Fulham have nicked a goal on the break? We’ll never know.

Into the second-half, the game was effectively over on fifty three minutes. This time even from the away section of the ground, there was no doubting the decision, as Amorebieta crudely brought Silva down. The Venezuelan defender was shown a red card and Yaya Toure did the rest from the penalty spot. Following this, Fulham reshuffled as Kacaniklic and Richardson were replaced by Roberts and Holtby. However, the substitutions were merely attempts at damage limitation.

Nonetheless, it didn’t stop Yaya Toure completing his hat-trick, as on sixty five minutes he was left with time and space to curl in a brilliant third goal for City. With the Manchester ‘derby’ on Tuesday, City manager Pellegrini looked to rest some of his players as Silva, Yaya Toure and Nasri were replaced as the game entered the last twenty minutes. City went in search of further goals and they came up with two more on eight four and eighty eight minutes. Fernandinho scored City’s fourth, after cutting into the box and firing home, with Demichelis getting his first goal – a tap-in – to complete the 5 – 0 rout.

The Manchester grey skies and the torrential rain that had been a persistent backdrop to this game made for a weary and draining exit for the Fulham faithful from the Etihad Stadium. The joy and the sunshine of the victory last week over Newcastle seemed a lifetime away. Thankfully results meant that the gap of four points to safety was unchanged and as Fulham boss still maintains, avoiding relegation is all about winning the home games. Everton visit Craven Cottage next Sunday, and anything less than a win surely means that Fulham’s thirteen years in the Premier League will be at an end.

Soccerex European Forum: Manchester (March 2012) – Opening Ceremony

Day 1: Wednesday 28 March 2012

09:30 – 10:00            The Soccerex Opening Ceremony

  • Matt Lorenzo (Head of Media, Soccerex) [Host]
  • Sir Howard Bernstein (Chief Executive, Manchester City Council)
  • Tony Martin (Chairman, Soccerex)
  • Dennis Law (ex Manchester United & Scotland player)
  • Mike Summerbee (ex Manchester City & England player)

    L to R: Sir Howard Bernstein, Dennis Law and Tony Martin.

The 2012 Soccerex European Forum at Manchester Central ‘kicked-off’ with an opening address from Sir Howard Bernstein, the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council. In welcoming all the delegates to the event he stressed the importance of how sport, including football, can be at the very heart of regeneration up and down the country. Manchester he said, had benefited and been left with a tremendous legacy from the 2002 Commonwealth Games, with investment improving and contributing to culture and community across the city and significant partnership working between the Council and Manchester City FC. Sir Howard added that a key to the success of the 2012 London Olympics would be the legacy it leaves.

Tony Martin, Chairman of Soccerex, was able to announce to the audience that Manchester had secured the right to host the Global Soccerex Event (covering 5 days) from 2014, taking over from Rio de Janeiro.

The Opening Ceremony closed, with an appearance from two of Manchester’s footballing legends, Dennis Law and Mike Summerbee, who talked about how this seasons Premier League challenge between City and United reminded them of the 1960’s when both clubs battled in a similar fashion for the title. Host Matt Lorenzo, quizzed the legends on who would take the League trophy and it was no surprise that the ex-players stuck with the teams they played for!

2011/12: FA Cup 3rd Round – Sheffield United v Salisbury City

Friday 06 January 2012 (01.00 pm)

So here we are in 2012  and the FA Cup 3rd Round which extends to four days, starting tonight with the North-West derby between Premier League Liverpool and League One Oldham Athletic, ending on Monday with the game at The Emirates between Arsenal and Leeds United.

Liverpool last met Oldham in the Cup at Anfield in the 5th Round in the 1976/77 season. Liverpool made the Final that year, only to lose to Manchester United. With the Reds already in the League Cup Semi-Final, Kenny Dalglish will be relishing another Cup run. Oldham beat Burton 3-1 in the 1st Round and after a replay, overcame Southend United 1-0 at Boundary Park. Just as Liverpool have progressed in the League Cup, The Latics have had a good year in the knock-out competitions, having made it to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy North Final against Chesterfield and are just one match away from a Wembley appearance.

No doubt the Reds will juggle their pack for the game, but they will have to be wary of an Oldham team that manager Paul Dickov will have fired up for the occasion. It could be quite a tie tonight.

Friday 06 January 2012 (11.00 pm)

Liverpool (2) 5 – 1 (1) Oldham Athletic

Football is a game riddled with clichés – and there is a reason for this, they are invariably true. Take the Cup-tie this evening. Let’s start with, “…you have to take your chances Oldham started the game brilliantly and had three excellent goal scoring opportunities in the opening twenty minutes. None were taken and instead of having any sort of lead the game remained at 0-0. However, the Latics did eventually score through Robbie Simpson, with a stunning thirty yard strike on twenty eight minutes. “…Teams are at their most vulnerable just after they have scored…” Oldham didn’t take heed and Liverpool were level just two minutes later through Craig Bellamy. “…The worst time to concede is just before half-time…” With time added on at the end of the first half Oldham gave away a penalty and Steven Gerrard did the rest to send the home team in with a 2-1 lead.

The visitors came out fighting the second half but were killed off on sixty eight minutes when Shelvey slotted in to give Liverpool a 3-1 lead. Finally, “…the score-line didn’t reflect the game…” To rub salt into the wounds Oldham conceded two late goals to Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing; 5-1 was harsh on The Latics. So Liverpool are through and the they can put their feet up and watch the rest of the Third Round unfold.

Saturday 07 January 2012 (10.00 am)

It’s a return to Bramall Lane today as The Blades face Blue Square Bet Conference South  opposition (and lowest ranked team in the Third Round), Salisbury City. The Whites have hardly set their League alight this season and currently sit in the lower half of the League table. However, the FA Cup has been a real adventure for the team from Wiltshire. City entered the FA Cup at the Second Qualifying Round stage, beating Southern League Premier side Swindon Supermarine 3-0. Poole Town were demolished 6-1 by Salisbury in the Third Qualifying Round and entry into the First Round was clinched with a 2-1 away win at Bishop’s Stortford. Arlesey Town were no match for The Whites as City won 3-1 and earned a Second Round tie at home to Conference Premier side Grimsby Town. The tie went to a replay after a 0-0 draw at The Raymond McEnhill Stadium. The replay at Blundell Park turned out to be a night of drama. Dan Fitchett gave City the lead in the second half and it looked enough to take The Whites through. However, in time added-on Rob Duffy headed Grimsby level. In extra-time Duffy scored again to put The Mariners ahead, but back came City and Brian Dutton brought the scores level at 2-2. The Cup upset was complete with eight minutes to go, when Stuart Anderson converted a penalty to put Salisbury into the FA Cup Third Round for the first time in their history.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for The Whites in recent years. In 2007/08 City were promoted to the  Conference Premier Division and in their first season finished a creditable 12th. In the following season Salisbury finished 16th but off the pitch all was not well as financial problems hit the club. City completed the 2009/10 season in 12th place, even after being deducted 10 points for entering administration. Further punishment came The Whites way when they were demoted two divisions (to the Southern League Premier Division) for breaking Conference finance rules. Despite this set-back, last season City started the climb back up the Leagues after gaining promotion to the Blue Square Bet Conference South following victory over Hednesford Town in the Play-Off Final.

The Cup is full of superstition and coincidence and for The Blades there has been a bit of a pattern in their two FA cup fixtures this season. In both games Sheffield United have been at home, have scored three goals in each game, with Ched Evans scoring two goals in each fixture. The Blades opponents in both Rounds have been from the Npower League One, both Oxford and Torquay wore all yellow strips and both clubs like Sheffield are ‘United’s’. Many of these coincidences are broken today by the visit of Salisbury City, but will Sheffield United manage three goals today? Will Ched Evan’s bag another brace?  

Saturday 07 January 2012 (11.20 pm)

Sheffield United (1) 3 – 1 (0) Salisbury City

Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause as a mark of respect at the death last week of Gary Ablett. He was known predominantly for his time at Liverpool and Everton, but Gary Ablett also had a loan spell at Bramall Lane in 1996. Both sets of supporters observed the tribute respectfully.

Of the game itself, this was always going to be a difficult one for Salisbury given the recent good form of The Blades and the difference in league status between the teams. Sheffield United dominated from the outset, never allowing the visitors to settle on the ball. Within the opening fifteen minutes United had created a number of excellent chances, with Neil Collins header superbly saved by Mark Scott, the best of the opportunities. The Blades were patient in their build-up and were using the wings and switching play to drag the Salisbury defence out of position. This ploy paid off on eighteen minutes when a cross-field ball by Kevin McDonald was picked up by Lee Williamson who drove at the City defence. His pass found space beyond the Salisbury back-line and Chris Porter slipped it in under the advancing Scott to put United ahead. The Blades continued to press and City were thankful that keeper Scott was in such good form as he saved well from Ryan Flynn and Chris Porter. However, United couldn’t increase their lead and went in at the interval just one goal to the good.

In the opening fifteen minutes of the second half, Salisbury had a sustained period of possession, without really creating a guilt edged goal chance. However, the game swung firmly in favour of the home side, when on the hour mark after a goal-mouth scramble, McDonald’s shot was fortuitously deflected in by Ched Evans, to maintain his record of scoring in every round so far. United were now comfortable and continued to create chances. One such opportunity included a scramble which saw efforts by Ched Evans, James Beattie and Michael Doyle all repelled in a frantic passage of play. Eventually though The Blades scored again. On seventy two minutes the ever dangerous Evans cut inside and drove a cross shot into the Salisbury penalty area, which Danny Webb deflected into his own net. With the game won, The Blades intensity dropped and Salisbury enjoyed more possession in the last five minutes. The travelling City fans were rewarded for their excellent support of their team when substitute Lloyd Macklin fired in on eighty six minutes. Salisbury buzzed around for the closing minutes, but were unable to trouble The Blades defence further.

Another Cup win for United and their record of scoring three goals in each Round continues. Will the draw tomorrow see The Blades at home again? For now one half of Sheffield can look forward to the draw. The blue and white half has their chance to progress on Sunday with a difficult looking tie with West Ham to come. This is one of four fixtures on Sunday, which also includes, the Manchester derby (City v United), a repeat of the 2010 FA Cup Final (Chelsea v Portsmouth) and The Posh against The Black Cats (Peterborough v Sunderland).

Sunday 08 January 2012 (6.00pm)

In terms of the other Cup “trail” fixtures, there was little romance or Cup magic. Aston Villa won comfortably at Bristol Rovers 3-1. A Marc Albrighton goal on thirty five minutes gave Villa a half-time lead. Gabriel Agbonlahor (a second half substitute) doubled the lead just after the hour mark and Ciaran Clarke added a third on seventy eight minutes. Rovers got a goal back on ninety minutes through Scott McGleish and he could have brought even more respectability to the score-line, but McGleish had a penalty saved in time added on. Premier League Fulham overcame League One leaders Charlton Athletic with a convincing 4-0 win. Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick with Damien Duff scoring The Cottagers final goal. League Two Macclesfield sniffed an upset in their tie with Premier League Bolton, when Arnaud Mendy put them 2-1 ahead with twenty two minutes remaining. However, David Wheater headed Wanderers level after seventy seven minutes to take the game back to a replay at The Reebok Stadium.  

The games today started in dramatic fashion with an incredible first half at The Etihad Stadium. Debate will rage over whether the sending off of City captain Kompany was the right one. However, United lead 3-0 at the break with a Rooney double and a well taken Danny Welbeck volley. Credit to City who reorganised in the second half and not only stifled their Manchester cousins, but clawed their way back into the game with goals from Kolarov and Aguero. 3-2 the final score in an incident packed derby.

With their city rivals already through, Sheffield Wednesday had a difficult home game with high-flying Championship team West Ham United. However, The Owls came through after keeper Nicky Weaver saved a second half penalty from Sam Baldock. With a replay looming, Chris O’Grady struck for Wednesday on eighty eight minutes to clinch a 1-0 win and create a Cup upset.

Portsmouth held Chelsea for the first forty five minutes at Stamford Bridge, but two goals from Ramires, and one each from Mata and Lampard ensured the London club went into the Fourth Round draw. Also going through are Sunderland with a professional 2-0 win at Peterborough. Sebastian Larsson put the Black Cats ahead on forty eight minutes and the game was wrapped up just ten minutes later with a goal from James McLean.

For the Fourth Round, the “trail” fixtures are as following:

Arsenal/Leeds United v Aston Villa

Everton v Fulham

Macclesfield/Bolton Wanderers v Swansea City

Sheffield United v Birmingham City/Wolves

Monday 09 January 2012 (7.00am)

The last game of the FA Cup Third Round takes place later today in North London between Arsenal and Leeds United. These two teams have met on sixteen occasions and have produced some memorable matches.

The first meeting was back in the 1949/50 season in the Sixth Round at Highbury, when First Division Arsenal took on Second Division Leeds United. United acquitted themselves well, but lost 1-0 to a goal from Reg Lewis on 52 minutes. The Gunners went onto the Final that year at Wembley where they beat Liverpool 2-0.

The next meeting for these teams was in the 1972 Centenary FA Cup Final, when Allan Clarke scored the only goal which meant the Cup went North to Elland Road for the first time in their history, with the clipped commentary of David Coleman declaring, “…Clarke…One Nil…” sweet music to the ears of Leeds supporters.

By the time these teams met again in the Cup (1982/83), Leeds had once more been relegated to the Second Division. A Peter Nicholas own goal just after the hour gave Leeds the lead, but Arsenal were level within a minute as Alan Sunderland sent the game to a replay. In the game at Elland Road, an upset looked on the cards as Aidan Butterworth put Leeds ahead in the last minute of extra-time. However, Graham Rix dramatically scored an equaliser with seconds remaining to force a Second Replay. A coin was tossed to see who would host the Second Replay and it fell in favour of the Londoners. Tony Woodcock put The Gunners ahead, only for Terry Connor to bring the game level. However, with eight minutes remaining, Graham Rix proved to be the Arsenal saviour as he scored the winner to take them through 2-1.

Given the change of rules regarding replays, the events of the 1990/91 ties will never be repeated. Arsenal and Leeds needed four games to settle this Fourth Round tie. Sadly today in the current FA Cup competition, all teams get is a replay, extra-time and the cruelty of penalties. Those epic ties were part of the history and tradition of the FA Cup – and people wonder why some magic has gone out of the competition. The original tie at Highbury ended 0-0 and the replay at Elland Road resulted in a 1-1 draw. Lee Chapman put United ahead, with Anders Limpar replying for The Gunners. Back at Highbury in the Second Replay, the stalemate continued with a goalless draw. The tie was finally won by Arsenal 2-1 at Elland Road, with Paul Merson and Lee Dixon on the score sheet.

The Fourth Round game at Highbury in 1993 once again proved to be classic. Lee Chapman and Gary Speed had given Leeds a 2-0 half-time lead and seemed to be enough to send them through to the Fifth Round. However, Arsenal clawed their way back with goals from Ray Parlour and Paul Merson for a 2-2 draw. The replay at Elland Road proved to be just as memorable. Alan Smith put Arsenal ahead, but goals from Carl Shutt and Gary McAllister gave Leeds a 2-1 advantage. It looked all up for The Gunners as full-time loomed. However, Ian Wright levelled to send the game into extra-time and he grabbed his second and the Arsenal winner with three minutes left on the clock.

By comparison the next two FA Cup meetings between these rivals were tame. In the Fourth Round of the 1996/97 competition, ex-Arsenal boss George Graeme returned to Highbury with his Leeds United charges. In a well organised display a goal on 12 minutes from Rod Wallace was enough to sent Leeds through. Seven year later, Arsenal travelled to Elland Road for a Third Round tie. Mark Viduka gave United an early lead, but goals from Henry, Edu, Pires and Toure gave The Gunners a comfortable 4-1 win in a season which saw also Leeds relegated from the Premier League.

So to the most recent Cup encounter, which took place last season at The Emirates, Leeds took the game to Arsenal and lead 1-0 through a Robert Snodgrass penalty. With ninety minutes on the clock, and the Leeds fans whistling for full-time, Arsenal were awarded a penalty of their own. Up stepped Cesc Fabregas score and set up a replay at Leeds. At Elland Road, The Gunners got off to a flying start and were ahead within five minutes through Sami Nasri. Arsenal seemed to be cruising when on thirty five minutes Sagna doubled their lead. However, within two minutes Bradley Johnson dragged Leeds back into the tie. On this occasion there was no comeback for United and a Robin Van Persie goal with just less than fifteen minutes to go, sent the team from London through. There has been some drama over the years, will the 2011/12 tie live up to some of the classic encounters?

Monday 09 January 2012 (10.00pm)

So what a way to end the Third Round action. The game overall could not be considered to be a classic, but in “Roy of the Rovers” fashion, Thierry Henry returned to his spiritual footballing home and scored the winner against Leeds. The first half had few highlights and it seemed as though the second half was going the same way. However, on sixty eight minutes the home crowd came to life when Henry came on for Chamakh and within ten minutes the fairy-tale return was complete as he scored from Alex Song’s through ball.  Leeds never really threatened to spoil King Henry’s return as the final minutes ticked away.

Arsenal loves Thierry Henry and Thierry Henry loves Arsenal.






2011/12: FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round – Hyde v Bradford Park Avenue

Another weekend in October, more blue sky and another round of the FA Cup. For the first time in this seasons Cup adventure I’m leaving the confines of Yorkshire and am heading over The Pennines to Hyde FC. There is still a Yorkshire connection as Bradford Park Avenue are the visitors to Ewen Fields for this 3rd Qualifying Round tie.

Hyde currently sit top of the Blue Square Bet North Division having made an unbeaten ten game start to their League campaign. However, coming into this fixture, The Tigers have had a mixed bag of results in their last four games. In the Cheshire Senior Cup (Preliminary Round), Hyde lost 2-0 to Chester and drawn League fixtures against Eastwood Town and Nuneaton Town. In fact The Tigers only victory came in the last round of the FA Cup against Northern Counties East League side Staveley Miners Welfare.

Avenue whilst not boasting the unbeaten League start of Hyde, have had a good start to their League campaign and before kick-off sat in 5th postion in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League. Bradford came into the FA Cup at the 1st Qualifying Round stage and demolished Harrogate Railway Athletic 8-0. Avenue were drawn at home again in the 2nd Qualifying Round, winning 3-1 against Warrington Town.

Given Hyde’s League form, a home draw and their higher position in the football pyramid than Bradford, The Tigers are favourites to progress today.

As a train traveller, Ewen Fields is an easy ground to get to. For me it was a train across from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly and then a local service out to Newton for Hyde. The ground is then a comfortable 10 minutes walk away. It is a stadium that has undergone change in recent years. In July 2010 Manchester City through their City in the Community (CITC) scheme became the club shirt sponsor and gave the ground a make-over. In simple terms, what was once red is now blue. This season Ewen Fields hosts the Manchester City Under 19’s team, who are taking part in the NextGen Series, a European wide competition which includes sides such as Ajax, Barcelona, Celtic, Inter Milan and Marseille.

The influence of Manchester City is certainly evident as you enter the ground, since the City crest is side by side with that of Hyde around various parts of the stadium. This ‘branding’ is extended to the advertising within the ground, as the roofs of the various stands are adorned with the logos of Manchester City’s sponsors and partners. Even the perimeter advertising is in the matching blue combination of the stands and again only carries details of the City’s sponsorship deals. For me whilst the ground is all very tidy, it is a bit clinical. Even the wonderful gables of the seated area and pyramid style floodlights seem swallowed in the corporate conversion that City put in place.

However, today isn’t about Manchester City, it is about Hyde and Bradford Park Avenue and their quest to continue their FA Cup journey. Avenue have brought a good following and the ‘Green Army’ is in full voice as the game kicks off. The opening ten minutes is played at a bit of a frantic pace with neither side settling and too often possession is easily given away. However, the game does settle down with the visitors more than holding their own. Much of the action is centred in midfield and clear cut chances are few and far between in the first half. Indeed Avenue have the best opportunity just before the break when Richard Marshall finds himself in on goal, but fires weakly at the keeper. Tiger’s manager Gary Lowe looks an agitated and frustrated figure during the opening half, and I’m sure he reads his team the riot act at half time.

Indeed, Hyde come out much more positive in the second half and leading scorer Scott Spencer threatens to add to his tally for the season on a couple of occasions. However, the tide turns fifteen minutes into the second half when Chris Worsley is sent off for a second bookable offence. Bradford grab the initiative and create a number of decent chances. The best of these falls to Avenue substitute Billy Law who finds himself one and one with home keeper David Carnell. The youngster rounds Carnell but his weak shot is cleared off the line by Adam Griffin. That looks to be it and a replay looms, when in the dying minutes, Carnell can only parry Law’s shot and Tom Greaves gleefully slams in the winner. There is no way back for the home team and at the final whistle, the visitors, players and fans, celebrate a genuine Cup upset.

For Bradford, the Cup draw awaits on Monday. As for Hyde, their recent stutter continues, but as the football cliché goes, they can now ‘concentrate on the League’.

Postscript: FC Halifax Town had a comfortable 3-0 win at the Giant Axe against Lancaster City with goals from Renshaw (3 mins), Garner (33 mins) and Gregory (85 mins). However, the victory was marred by crowd trouble which meant the game was held up for 25 minutes until order was restored. Frickley Athletic’s Cup run came to an end at Gainsborough Trinity, with two goals in a ten minute spell in the second half ensuring progress for Trinity.

FA Cup Final 2010/11: Sweet dreams are made of this….

And so the 2010/11 season comes ever closer to finishing, with the FA Cup Final this weekend. A reassuring date in May that sits there in the football calendar and marks the passing of time. An event that has always for me had the, “…I remember where I was…” tag-line. Something that grows up with you, a constant that is there as you go through life.

In the year I was born 1962, the FA Cup Final was between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley. In a game that has become known as “The Chessboard Final” due to the tactical and cat and mouse nature of the play, Spurs emerged winners 3-1 with goals from Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith and a Danny Blanchflower penalty. The Clarets had equalized with a goal from Jimmy Robson on 50 minutes, but the North London team went ahead 2-1 within a minute and sealed Cup Glory with just ten minutes remaining.

However, it wasn’t until 1970 that I have any recollections of watching my first FA Cup Final and then it was the replay at Old Trafford and not the first game at Wembley. The picture of being sat at home with my dad watching that game on 29 April 1970 is still a vivid one in my mind. We didn’t have a colour television, so it was black and white images that we watched that night. I remember my mum coming into the room just as Leeds scored through Mick Jones on 35 minutes and in typical football superstitious style, she was banned from coming into the room until the game was over. These days that Replay is viewed as something of a brutal encounter, but 1970’s football was a very different and physical beast to that of the game today and so watching that night it didn’t seem as though this was a “dirty” game. Chelsea got back into the game in the second half but left it late with a Peter Osgood header just 12 minutes from time. Extra-time followed and for some reason we didn’t put the lights on, so black and white shafts of light flicked across our faces as in the last minute of the first period of extra time, a long throw from Hutchinson caused confusion in the Leeds defence and Dave Webb headed home what turned out to be the winner.

Subsequent years and FA Cup Final days are linked in with my dad’s and my passion for cricket. This meant that for a number of years, any glimpses of the Final “live” were restricted to the tea interview in between innings. Even though I loved playing cricket, when Cup Final day came around I invariably prayed for rain! If the gods of precipitation had done their work I could sit myself down and take in the full glory of the BBC’s coverage (I was and am a BBC man!) that included down the years special editions of Mastermind, Question of Sport and It’s a Knockout all featuring fans of the Cup Final teams. It was a real marathon which featured players at their team hotel, their journey to the ground and more analysis than you could care to take on. It was a feeling of real excitement once the game started. It was only once the game was over and the Cup was presented (barring replays in those days), that you could rise from the sofa, head muzzy from 8 hours in front of the television and stomach full from snacking during this period to get back to the rest of Saturday.

With the knees having called time on my cricket career, this weekend as the City’s from Manchester and Stoke battle for the Cup, I’ll be once more adorning a sofa to take in the action. More likely though I’ll settle down to watch 30 minutes or so before kick-off, but it’ll give me the chance to reflect and savour the memories of Cup Finals past and toast the winners and losers.