Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Come one, come all!

Thursday night I will see my first footballing hero playing at Craven Cottage and I am nearly as excited as when he scored the first goal I ever saw my team score at Wembley.
Bryan Robson is turning out for England Legends and I would turn up just to support this player. As a manager he has been found wanting and there have been more than a few unsavoury stories about him as a man, but as player he epitomised all I admired in a footballer.
The closest I came myself as a player was to injure my shoulder, although with a broken collar bone rather than a dislocation. Even at the time as I was escorted off the pitch, I was kind of hoping it was a Robbo injury and I'd be back playing soon. He was that inspirational at his peak.
I am more than aware I will not be watching him at any kind of elevated level this week - hell he was pretty ropey in his last few seasons at United as the game got quicker while he simultaneously got slower - but that doesn't matter. It's Bryan Robson, Captain Marvel.
I kind of wish I had kids so I could take them to see someone who was once the best player in the land.
Some people see these legends matches as freakshows, laughing at how old and fat some of the players from some of their own team's hated rivals have become. They certainly don't come to watch a decent game of football or through any sense of loyalty to the arbitrary national teams that serve up the pretence of an important game.
However I, like many others I hope, am attending because I want to pay tribute to these great players of yesterday and reminisce on how they used to marshall games with aplomb. I guess it's the nostalgia factor, which is so prevalent in today's society. It also gives us a glimpse at what football in the early nineties was all about - a much more physical game, with very little diving. Any of these guys throw themselves on the ground and they'll be looking for a new hip.
The joy is that there are plenty of heroes to go around. Forest & Wednesday fans can laud Des Walker. Arsenal and Villa have David Platt. Liverpool Mark Wright and, along with slightly older Fulham fans, Ray Houghton. Man City have Niall Quinn. There is a good cross section for people to get excited about, as if it is 15 years ago.
The fact that this game is to be televised on ITV4 is somewhat puzzling to me, but I guess it's a relatively cheap way of providing 2 hours of exclusive 'dramatic' content for the channel in a week with no UEFA Cup games. Still, there's nothing like the real thing and I'll be shouting at the top of my lungs from the Johnny Haynes Stand, celebrating Robbo making yet another crunching tackle.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Barcelona 3 -2 Real Betis

Oh yeah, we're getting continental now. A business trip to Barcelona coincided with a fixture at the Nou Camp, so I took the opportunity to see a game played there. I'd been to the stadium before and had a tour, but it's obviously a different experience watching the Catalans play there.
Tickets via the internet were on sale to the public a month before the game, and I logged on the first day they were available only to find very few seats available. It took an hour to find three tickets next to each other. Oddly, when we got there, there were 30-odd thousand spare tickets. Go figure.
As I went to pick up the tickets at the little ticket windows, we were surrounded by ticket touts looking to pass off tickets for the game. No strange occurrence in the game these days, only these ticket touts were really old. We'd rebuffed one haggard old gent, when another even older bloke tried his luck. Then another even older man. To top it off this 70-year old crone sidled up to us and opened an envelope to show that she had about 30 tickets to sell. It was crazy. I'd forgotten my passport as ID to pick up the tickets, but fortunately the young lad accepted my PADI scuba diving card!
Inside the ground, the beer was zero alcohol and tasted like it. Before the match we had the odd spectacle of singa-longa-Barca, with the big screen showing the words for everyone to follow in traditional pre-match ditty. Unfortunately that tended to be the loudest that the crowd got.
It was eerie at times. Old Trafford can (rightly) get criticised for being quiet, but that's nothing compared to the stillness at times of Camp Nou. A resident bat had no problems getting around, despite its reliance on sonar. When the fans were noisy, it wasn't when Barcelona were good. It was when they felt the referree had cheated them but not giving afree-kcik or booking an opposition player.
On the pitch, Eto-o scored a quick fire double to put the home side firmly in control. His first in particular was impressive as he made himself a tiny bit of room on the edge of the box and blasted it in via the crossbar. It was almost all Barca in the first half, although you could see how poor some of the defensive cover was for the team.
This was highlighted after the break when Betis unexpecedly scored twice to pull level, with two excellent finishes. However Gudjohnsson, a player I always admired in England, managed to clip in the winner - perhaps not intentionally. Some highlights are available here and are worth a watch.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Aldershot 3 - 2 Bradford City

Ha! You weren't expecting that were you! I go to a few random games so I thought I'd add my thoughts on a couple of them. Not strictly Fulham, but there's nothing you can do about it.
A friend of mine is a Bantam (a term no fan of Bradford seems to use - are they ashamed of it?) and persuaded us all to go to the Recreation Ground to see his side play. I've seen Bradford before, at Maine Road of all places, so I was up for it. Unfortunately it seems the players weren't.
The Recreation ground is strange. You practically have to go on a hike through a park to get to the visitor's entrance. It's certainly a unique place. Not many football stadia have three or four trees growing around the pitch.
The stand we were in, which brings a new meaning to the term 'restricted view', actually had a birds nest in the rafters. The home fans, newly promoted, were full of gusto and had a drummer or two conducting the songs. Or should I say song. Aldershot is an army town, so it was plain where the drummers were trained.
The game itself was exciting, even if the quality was turgid. One aimless boot upfield from the defence and the strikers seemed to be one on one every time. There were some fine, crisp strikes that went in that day, but the difference had to be Omar Daley. If he hadn't been playing for Bradford, they would have won. Having said that, if Peter Thorne had scored his piss poor penalty at 1-1, Aldershot might not have registered their first Football League victory since August 1991.

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