April Part Two

 

 THE CARDIFF IDIOT WHO HIT THE REF WITH A COIN during their game with Swansea reminded me of a conversation I had with a steward at Arsenal on the day of our Cup game there. It was before the game and we chatted away. He said the Cardiff fans were the worst he had ever encountered and their behaviour was so bad and so threatening that the stewards were withdrawn from the away end for their own safety. He described the damaged seats, the drunkenness, and how they even fought amongst themselves. 


     Why are they like this? The thought of a play-off game against them is not one to look forward to. It is the only one of the last ten games or so that Mrs T and I will have kept clear of.


     Sub-standard fans in a sub-standard stadium; will their new and better ground with civilised facilities raise their standards of behaviour, or will they just throw 50p coins instead of 10p?  SECOND PLACE WOULD NOW SEEM IMPOSSIBLE after Birmingham beat Wolves last night. Had they lost it would still have been there to play for especially with a Good Friday game of Sheffield v Reading. It was an awful game with barely a pass to feet all night, and a sorry advert for Championship ‘football’. Well it wasn’t, there wasn’t any football. It was biff, bang, wallop, kick, hoof, and punt, with the big guys 6’ giants outnumbering the small.


     Even down to ten men when Carsley was sent off for a leg breaking tackle on Eewellhoomo… Wolves were so bad that Birmingham went on to score two soft goals. Heaven help either of these two teams should they make it to the Premiership.

DID YOU WATCH MAN U & ASTON VILLA? What a game this was. It was Prem football at its best with the game looking to be heading towards Villa until Ferguson gambled on the young 17 year old Italian kid near the end. The ending was pure fairy tale as from 2 – 1 down to 2 – 2 and then the kid takes the ball in the box in the last minute, spins, beats his marker and curls the ball into the far corner. It was a sensational moment almost as huge as the moment Rodriguez equalised against Tottenham in the Carling and we all went berserk. From the power of that pulsating game to the ghastly dross of the Birmingham-Wolves game was a quantum leap. I don’t really care who wins the title, Man U or Liverpool, even Chelsea are not quite out of it. But if that moment wins the title for Man United you can’t begrudge them. It was a stunning, worthy, fabulous goal and a great football moment.


     Of course what made the story all the more romantic is the fact that this is a real rags to riches story with an impoverished family from Rome suddenly saved from penury and little food on the table by the phone call that took Macheda to Old Trafford. He’s on £73,000 a year says the Mirror since he signed as a 16 year old. His dad (heroically sacrificed everything to take his young son to football matches) no longer has to stock supermarket shelves for a living.
     The whole family “lives in a modest house in Sale” and United “promised to find his father work although Pascuale is understood not to have taken the club up on the offer.”

     Forgive my enquiring mind but is Pascuale now claiming benefits as well? Who can blame him if he is? Every other foreigner who lands on our shores seems to. And if Jacqui Smith can claim 88p for a bathroom plug amongst all the other thousands of pounds of expense claims, who can blame any innocent newcomer to our shores for thinking this is indeed the land of milk and honey?


      And another thought: If £73,000 a year is what they offered to Macheda, it’s a fair bet that’s what they will offer or have already offered to John Cofie, the young lad who was on Burnley’s books, and who Man Utd spirited away a year or two ago. How on earth do we compete with that?
 
I RECEIVED MY INVITATION TO THE GALA DINNER at the club on May 29th. I was so pleased to be invited. I thought ey up, an invitation… that’s good of them… but then I saw there was a catch… I read on and saw it was £100 a pop. I felt better when I saw I was £950 for a table of 10 and you could save £50.


     £950 would get me and Mrs T two weeks in Greece… or three weeks in the caravan in the Dales we go to… four weekends away with the Supporters Club… season tickets for the next two seasons… five nights in New York… get a pro decorator to do the house from top to bottom…
     But I’d love to go… anyone with two complementary tickets give me a call…
    
AND MODUS HAS RUN OUT OF CASH:
      “Manchester developer Modus is negotiating a £250million refinancing package,” says the Manchester Evening News.  Well it would be a miracle if Modus was unaffected by the current recession and credit crunch. And presumably there ain’t been any miracle.


     “The Cross Street business, whose development programme was said to be worth £4.5billion at the height of the finance boom, and includes Wigan’s Grand Arcades shopping centre; is understood to be in talks with an investor who will buy into the business.
     “Last month one of Modus’s projects – a £150million shopping centre scheme in Wakefield – collapsed after Anglo Irish Bank insisted on an additional £30million cash contribution from Modus and its partner. Modus is now in talks with Bank of Scotland – now part of Lloyds – with an unnamed ‘core’ investor.
     “Modus is now likely to be split in two, with managing director Brendan Flood taking the development business and fellow director and minority shareholder Mike Riddell forming a new retail consultancy.
     “Modus was expanding as late as June last year when it splashed £100million on shopping centre assets, in a deal funded by Bank of Ireland. The deal, one of the largest since the credit crunch began, was hailed at the time as a sign that banks were starting to fund major deals once more.
     “A spokeswoman for Mr Flood declined to comment on the refinancing deal. Fellow director Mike Riddell said: ‘Brendan and I are parting – we’ve differed in a significant way over the last few months, but this is an amicable split. We are, and always will be, old mates: we just have different ways of doing business, and Modus has run out of cash.
     “Development isn’t a good game in property these days, and property isn’t a good game in business, so I’m seizing the opportunity. Modus grew fast, from Brendan in his back bedroom with a credit card to two floors of city centre offices with a fish tank. For seven years we rode the crest of a wave, but the credit crisis and the property crash means that everything you thought was an asset has turned into a liability.” 
   
  
     Brendan Flood responded in the Lancashire Telegraph: His personal business will be restructured; his investment business is unaffected, but these are difficult times and the new deal will help him ride things out. He plans to reduce the size of Modus development interests and concentrate on smaller projects away from shopping developments. None of this, he said, would affect his role at Burnley. Modus has a strong investment portfolio of close to £1billion, so it is a very healthy position.

 

     Maybe I’m a bit on the simple side when it comes to the world of big business and these mega figures but how do you equate guy number one, Mike Riddell, saying that Modus has run out of cash, and guy number two, Brendan Flood, saying that there is a portfolio of £1billion.  AND WHAT HAS SALSA GOT TO DO WITH ALL THIS?


     You may well ask. Well dear readers Mrs T and I go Salsa dancing every Wednesday. Takes our minds off things like will we get in the play offs or not? It’s good fun with the two teachers Ces and Kerry. Ces is a West Indian guy, lithe, slim, slick dancer, always smiley, mild mannered, gentle teacher, and looks about 30 till you see all the grey hairs. Kerry has one of those tall slender figures that other women hate. 

     Anyway we went to our neighbours (Bradford John) for dinner the other night and of course Bradford John is currently well cheesed off with Stuart McCall and Bradford’s poor form. They had lost yet again, this time 2 – 1, away at Morecambe.


     Anyway we got talking about how good we are at Salsa (ho ho) and that all the best dancers have names like Julio, Serge, Alfredo, or Guillermo, and I mentioned our teacher was called Ces (not a common name) and John’s ears pricked up and he said, “That will be Ces Podd I bet?”


     John went to fetch two of his Bradford City books, thumbed through them, and there was a picture in each of our man Ces in his younger days with obligatory 1970s big Afro hair-style.


     Well, it was indeed Ces Podd, a Bradford City legend, record number of games, over 500 for Bradford, and then more for Halifax town, one of the first ever black players and generally good egg. Funnily enough in a school where I did a couple of years supply work after I’d finished headmastering, I worked with his sister who was a teacher there (infants not Salsa).


     As far as I can work out, the paths of Burnley and Ces crossed in ‘83/84 when both Bradford and Burnley were in the Third Division and Burnley lost both games 1 – 2. Our manager then was John Bond. 

  

A GOOD DAY ALL ROUND: With Preston losing at home to Blackpool, Birmingham only drawing, Bristol City losing, Reading losing the day before. Then this was a good day even before Burnley kicked off. 

     Somehow we won and despite the stats saying we had 24 shots it was not entirely convincing. A decent crowd of 15,000+ (very few from QPR) pretty much chewed their nails until the final whistle as just the one goal separated the two teams. In truth QPR were dire, but still contrived to give us several hairy moments during the final 15 minutes or so although without having a shot. Jensen had just one save to make all game, but their approach play to the edge of the box, was frequently sharp and impressive. From that point though, they were dismal.


     I highly recommend a QPR fans’ site called Loftforwords… just do a google and up it will come. The reports on here are rich in gallows humour and all that is wonderful about glum fans and their views on clubs run so badly you wonder how they continue to exist. Certainly QPR at the moment vie with Manchester City as the Theatre of Base Comedy. And, the guy who writes about them clearly has a soft spot for Burnley and how well they are run and managed. 

  
     Rodriguez was preferred to Paterson and if there is one thing that Rodriguez can do better it is win the ball in the air. The lad grows by the game and his performance merited a goal at least.


     Eagles too played well, hungry for the ball, beating his man several times, getting crosses over, but then just as often losing it. Elliot I will maintain to the bitter end is wasted in midfield. His place is wide right… but then the eternal conundrum… what then do you do with Eagles? Robbie too was quiet although the main cause of that was that the ball was played mainly down the right. Gudjonnsen replaced him… and then I am never quite sure exactly what it is that he offers.


     Owen Coyle says (and we agree) that at this stage it is points rather than performance that matters. That was abundantly clear in the last 15 to 20 minutes when from a nervy defence the ball was cleared literally anywhere and hoofed upfield. Not quite panic stations but almost. Anywhere will do, as the saying goes. Of course it came straight back and restored the pressure. Yet still Jensen had nary a save to make.


     It was a game in the sunshine (with the pitch slightly improved) where as well as all the shots on goal, Carlisle hit the post with a smacking header from a Blake corner, another header looked over the line from where we sit right on the goal line before it was cleared, in fact there were a dozen corners, and the QPR goalkeeper made a number of good saves. It was fitting that the goal we did score came from one of the corners. Blake wickedly put the ball over, Carlisle thumped the header goalbound again, and Eagles in a flash sent it over the line from close range. It all happened so fast that all of us thought it was Carlisle’s goal. Temp manager Ainsworth claimed it was handball by Eagles. I defy anyone to have seen it clearly it was all so fast. Any anyway… so what… makes up for good goals we have had disallowed – like Paterson’s at Charlton which would have given us all three points.


     And so we go seven points clear and although it is not an unreasonable assumption to think that we will lose at Cardiff, we can in fact afford to lose there; the following thought grows. If we win and PNE and Swansea lose, (both of them with away games); then we are ten points clear. Then with just three games then remaining we are IN the playoffs. I shouldn’t think such things, it is fanciful thinking of the highest order, maybe we will have a little dip; maybe it will then go to the final game… but it’s a funny old game and maybe we deserve something nice to happen to us. We could be in the playoffs with three games to spare… surely not?  


     The Sheffield United match might then be just an exhibition game; football and skill against brawn and muscle. I watched the Reading versus Sheffield game the other day and it was just wretched, with barely a decent passing move the whole game. It was another biff, bang; wallop game with most of the biff from Sheffield. 


     Cardiff meanwhile were awarded yet another penalty in their win today. Even their own fans comment on how many they have been given this season, something heading towards a record for the Championship. Take them all away and they would not be doing so well. Memo to the lads for Monday, don’t give a penalty away and you have a fair chance of winning. While I’m on about pens, time we had one as well; when was the last one? A winning pen for us at Cardiff would be ironic.

 

IN THE OLDEN DAYS we would play three games over the Easter period. This was the time when it was 2 points for a win and titles and promotion and relegation issues were often sorted over the Easter period. This was the era of course when men were men; they didn’t wear headbands or ear rings, or pluck eyebrows or wax their skin. They had names like Alf, Sid, Maurice and Bert. Players like Jimmy Scoular and Eddie Clamp were made of cast-iron. Players then would have taken one look at someone like Ronaldo, asked him did he want to live, and if he gave the wrong answer kicked him black and blue. There were no Cisses then.  
     It was Eddie Clamp who solved the problem of Jimmy Mac wasting time by the corner flag. Jimmy was there one day with just a few minutes to go up to all his old tricks. The clock ticked down. Clamp took a run up from 20 yards away, launched himself horizontally and took Jimmy, ball and corner flag and landed them all in the back of the stand. That was 45 years ago and Jimmy still has the scars. Tommy Banks was asked by his Bolton manager to put one of the opponents one day out of the game. “You mean just this game or permanently,” asked Banks. Roy Hartle once said to John Connelly, “I’ll let you go past me, the ball can go past me, but not both together, na think on lad, do you want to walk off the pitch or be carried off?”  Ay lad, men were men in them days and when Billy Elliot lit up a fag he used to strike the match on ‘is chin.

     We stood on the terraces, smoked, had hip flasks, and the wit and repartee that rained down from terrace to players on the pitch was cruel and merciless. There was no such thing as political correctness or asylum seekers; there was no need for any war on terror and you could fill your tank with petrol for a pound. Credit crunch, recession, what were they – we were all poor in the 1960s. 
    
CARDIFF THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE WANTED:
Burnley lost.
Cardiff collected their 9th point in just 6 days.
Swansea and Preston won.
Football does this – does just what you don’t want it to do. With just minutes remaining we had just equalised and all of us, wherever we were, must have been over the moon, and thinking we were going to go away with a precious point. And then down go Cardiff and score an immediate second, the result of switching off and naïve defending, claimed Coyle. Then they score a third in injury time with just about the last kick of the game as we pressed for a second equaliser. For Cardiff it was Bothroyd and McCormack, a £120,000 bargain buy from Scotland, for his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season. What a difference it makes when you have a player who can score 20+. By all accounts we outplayed Cardiff in the first half. The second half was scrappy, and a ten minute spell when the referee gave everything to Cardiff and nothing to Burnley disrupted us, and gave the momentum to Cardiff.


     Cardiff fans were complimentary saying that we were all over them in the first half and what a good game it was. Some even had mixed feelings about the win. It gave an advantage to their hated rivals Swansea slowly closing the gap. There was not even a hint of the trouble that there usually is at this primitive ground. Two days earlier against Crystal Palace all hell had broken loose on the pitch and both managers had been sent to the stands.


      Probably most of us were resigned to a defeat today, but few of us would have put money on both PNE and Swansea winning away from home. So, the points cushion is down to just four; and with both Paterson and Thompson missing, things look threadbare up front.


     Following today’s results winning against Sheffield becomes a must, but Rodriguez playing a lone striker role against such a robust, muscular team is worrying. An away game at lowly Southampton, fighting for survival, will be no easy fixture. This could yet go to the very last game of the season – Burnley at home to Bristol City, Preston at home to QPR and Swansea at home to Blackpool. 


     The messageboards generally remain upbeat with the optimists still seeing us reaching the playoffs. But, a couple of dissenting voices saw something more in this defeat and raised the question of a small squad, lack of investment and loans back in January, injured players, ‘spare’ players being sent out on loan, tiredness now setting in, and “just where are the next points going to come from?”


     I don’t quite share that view but the next two games are tough ones and one or two players do seem to be running on ‘reserve’. At seven points clear I was certain we would do it. Now I’m not so sure.

 

Dave Thomas April 14th 2009