The Brave & Broken Hearted!

Wednesday 10th June 1998

What were you doing on the day above? I know exactly what I was doing. My little brother had just turned 4 a few days prior. After the birthday cake had been devoured & balloons deflated (or burst) it was time to look forward to the World Cup.

This would be my first, the first one I could recollect game by game. The first I would know exactly what was happening. I knew the players, the teams & the stadiums. Attracted by the kits, boots & balls. All now retro novelties worth a small fortune! I was obsessed by it all, caught up – all starry eyed & full of hope!

USA 94, was a vague memory – diluted by misty waters at the back of my head. I was 6 years old at the time – the stand out being Brazil winning on penalties as Italy’s Roberto Baggio launched his penalty towards the clear blue sky.

Euro 96 I will always remember, more so for Gazza’s genius against who else – Scotland! Then came Super Ally’s wonder strike with the outside of the boot into the top corner v Switzerland! Two stick out moments for me in that tournament.

So back to Wednesday 10th June, I was eagerly anticipating the first game of the World Cup. So much so that I think I may have bolted out the class room in excitement before the bell finally rang. In my mind I was like the Flash, leaving a wake of paper in a whirlwind as I took towards the door. Racing out the gates I dodged a few parents, dogs, cars & walls. A lung bursting run across the road, I knew the hill was coming but I took it in my stride. Head down I darted across the park, no time to hang about today lads – the game is on!

Past the shops I burst through the front door like a mad man, bag dumped at my arse, jacket in a heap – I reached for my football top & trackies. I was ready, in the melee of dancing through people I forgot about my mate, he wasn’t blessed with the pace & dancing feet that I had. He was a bit of a juggernaut so I imagine he left a few people on their bum on the way down the road. Finally – peering in anticipation he appeared.

All red faced & wide eyed he gave me the shout, again I wasn’t hanging about – I met him at the bottom of the stairs. We had approximately two minutes to make a decision on where we would watch the game. His house or mine, no pubs back then – we were 10 years of age.

Usually we would be seen strutting about on the field, kitted out for the kick about ahead but that could come later. We were about to watch the Mighty Scotland v the Boys from Brazil. We quickly decided on his, I grabbed some munchies & juice – there was no time to waste. I perched my derriere on the couch talking to his mum as I waited on him getting changed. The opening ceremony had just started, both of us shouting on him as he wrestled with his jumper. It’s bloody gorgeous outside and he’s wearing a jumper – still red faced from his 200 yard dash home from school.

For the next hour and a half we sat in silence – only cheering when John Collin’s, vintage predators and all stroked that ball into the bottom corner. We got beat 2-1, Tom Boyd scored an OG. I was fuming! 10 years old & fuming that Boyd scored that OG. For weeks I couldn’t understand why we came home early – a draw with Norway & defeat to Morocco. Heartbroken & fuming! It’s no secret I took it to heart.

The rest of my mates decided that they would support other teams, France, Holland & of course Brazil. I took to supporting the individuals – Ronaldo, Zidane, Del Piero, Denilson, De Boer, Veron, Ortega. I could go on forever.

I think it might have been round about this time I gave up the ghost with International Football, 10 years old & I had lost the romance that Scotland had to offer. Now more than ever I would support my club, Rangers.

For years I have stuck by my guns & shut out International football. It was too slow for me, no entertainment what so ever. Don’t get me wrong as I said above, I kept an eye on the Individuals & the Beautiful Argentina. The colours of the kit, the class they possessed as individuals & the man-like GOD that is Riquelme.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I switched on Sky Sports last Sunday & actually watched Scotland. Fearful when we conceded – I’m not going to lie about that but we done better second half & walked away from a potential banana skin with a 5-1 victory. Good start – well done lads.

The best things about the night was the return & performance from Robert Snodgrass. I was delighted for him. What a bloody tough time of it he’s had these last few season’s with injury. Great hunger, desire & let’s not forget he’s a talented lad. The boy from the East End of Glasgow was the shinning light, he gave me a bit of hope – he persuaded me not to reach for the remote to change the channel. Before his injury I enjoyed watching him and in some way missed him when he wasn’t playing. A real character.

We don’t have a World Class player to grab our nation or a game by the scruff of the neck & carry us through qualifications & tournaments, but we don’t need one. Some of our neighbours can vouch for that. I truly believe that if we were to keep Snoddy fit we are in with a fighting chance. Of course he can’t do it all by himself & if we get the right mix in the squad then we might just do it.

As I said I’m delighted he’s back in the game. Robert Snodgrass you beautiful hairy bastard!

So here’s to you big fella for giving this 28 year old a bit of hope. I’m not saying I’m going to jump on the bandwagon when things are going well & then take a nose dive straight off again when it hits the fan but you know what? I’m going to get behind the team & support them but lads – just don’t break my heart again!

 

 

 

 

 

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Light Nights, Worldies and Fisty Cuffs

What a night it is outside, the smell of the fresh cut grass – hayfever is about to take and absolute battering! Jumpers at the ready – goalposts, not your good jumpers though or you’d get a kicking. 

If you were lucky there has just been something on at Hampden or the road works have left behind a couple of cones. We’ll have 4 please – easily makes two sets of goals.

Got to chat with your mates, all blue tonight lads don’t anybody be a smart arse and wear white or any other colour. Down the field by 6. Who cares about homework that can be done on the walk to school, we can all chip in and help.

Who’s not making it? What do you mean they’re not making it? Grounded?! For what, ah okay fair enough. 

10-21ers, two 45s or play until the street lights go out. Take your pick, you knew you wouldn’t get the shout from your mum, tea time has been. The pre match meal of toast and whatever else you can grab has been.

You’ve won, some worldies, some good football and the bragging rights of the street until the rematch tomorrow night. Not to mention some crunching tackles, these games wernt for the faint hearted. Sly kicks, elbows, fights who cares we all wanted to win and win we had! Happy days man!

Those where the days, not a care in the world unless it was about beating the older kids on the field. We had the bragging rights, the field was ours and we would do anything to keep it that way. 

It kills me that you don’t see that these days, those days are long gone. Victims of the ever so popular growth of technology. 

The memories, the laughs, the goals and yes the fights. Great times with great people. 

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Creativity & the Killjoys 

Pass – Pass – Stop – Pass – Pass – Pass – Stop!

Pass – Pass – Stop – Pass – Stop – Stop!

Talk for a while and then do it all over again!

YouTube has polluted the minds of footballing connoisseurs world wide. Albeit for the good, the bad and the damn right ugly it’s a massive source of the game today. 

Young kids can watch the heroes of yester year, the older generations can reminisce – basque in the memories of what was and shake their heads in disgust at what it is now. It also allows me to see everything I can about the game I love, admire and share with everyone I meet. 

I enjoy the visionaries of football, young or old I just love them. I grew up wanting to be entertained, I grew up wanting to entertain, I craved creative players the ones who played on the edge and brought danger to opponents week in week out. 

You would be forgiven for thinking I only admire players who pass, that’s half the battle – I admire technicians but hard work comes first. I love players who excite me, ones who have the beauty of mind to unlock defenses and create something out of nothing. I don’t see why you would hinder or eliminate players who have those little moments of magic. I have to give coaches and managers alike massive praise who encourage creativity and freedom, the one who allow players to entertain and express themselves. 

Podcast after podcast I like to provoke people’s thoughts, pull them away from the tv screens, analytical reports and coaching manuals. I will make them think about why they love the game and how they first fell in love with the sphere. 

Being creative isn’t all about beating someone in a 1v1. Visionaries, a world I will repeat time and time again – players who can play 3 passes ahead of others, ones who see pictures and how they will develop. Space invaders who pop into areas and damage teams with a killer pass, movement or goal. I like seeing players who want that ball regardless of the players surrounding them, speed of thought is important and that is developed as time goes on. 

I want players to make the defenders think, give them decisions to make. Get them with their back to goal and drive at them with pace, it’s something defenders rarely want – a position they don’t like to be in and the closer you get to them the closer you get to their goal!

I’m a self confessed admirer of all of the above. I’m at home when I see composure on the ball, elegance in attack – creativity & imagination in possesion, clever movement off it. 

Don’t get me wrong I love the dirty side of the game, you heard guest of EP09 Matty Flynn giving me a little nod for doing his dirty work for years. I loved a tackle, like to read the game – break play up and move the ball. As the years went on I became a visionary, yes the ones I keep talking about, maybe round about the age of 11/12 I had a little dabbling in the more attacking side of the game and I liked it – from then on in I would play with some beautiful players, ones who would bring the best out in me and allow me to express myself on a weekly basis. I’m not sure what they thought of me but I loved playing the beautiful game with each and everyone of you!

So here is my plea to you, a parent, a coach, a team mate – please do not kill off a player who possesses the above qualities or skill set. They may not have it all but encourage them to enjoy the game, allow them to be themselves and show off what they have. 

Give the players the freedom to express themselves, show them you trust them and believe in their ability – if they make a mistake then help them, solve the problem, fix it and tell them to try it again. The rewards and emotions when it comes off will be priceless.

On that note I’m off for a sleep with one though in my mind, Damn I wish I was still playing! 

 

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Mr Analysis to Mr Manager

You’ve got to admit that we have had it good in the last few years when it comes to the punditry on Monday Night Football. Spoiled by the analytical guru that is Gary Neville. Who would have though the ex Manchester United full back would be captivating when talking about the beautiful game?! The show just won’t be the same without him, I have no issues with Ed Chamberlain or Jamie Carragher but lets be honest they are no Gary Neville.

I’m a fan of Neville’s, I wouldn’t be writing this post otherwise. Why? Because he talks sense, there isn’t many people who do when it comes to football. They just want to get on their soapbox for a few hours. He speaks his mind which doesn’t happen that often in football, people can often seem frightened to do so. His views, opinions and philosophies are always backed up with stats and facts..you can’t argue with them.

In a way you could say he has been revolutionary for the coaches of the world. I can’t imagine too many people or coaches who dislike him, it would be hard to disagree with him that’s for sure. Speaking of coaching – it is that he is going to Valencia for, I don’t think I would tire of watching his sessions.

There is no doubt it will be a massive loss for Sky they are going to find it very hard to find someone who can provide the in depth analysis of games, players and situations the way he did. I’m not sure of the ins and outs of the deal but surely he can’t be leaving his post at England? I don’t imagine them even entertaining his departure.

It’s funny when you read some of the comments on social media, it’s a little hystercial to say the least. Here he is in his first job as a head coach/manager and people are touting him for the throne at Old Trafford. Lets settle down a little and see how he does in Spain.

I’ve also seen comments about him having an impossible task..really??

That couldn’t be further from the truth, we are only 13 games into their league campaign. Yes they aren’t sitting pretty in the top four but in reality they are 9 points off Celta Vigo. That’s not impossible! Time is on his side, its just a matter of getting his team to play to the standard they can.

Of course Champions League Football is a must for next season and he has been tasked with that. Yes, he has a job on his hands and fair play to him leaving the comfort of a studio to go and get his hands dirty. I believe he will get them back on the right track..one that leads to European Football.

So far they have 19 points and a goal difference of 7. Shutting the back door would be a good start – 10 goals in 13 games isn’t great. Opening the front door would also be a delight, goals have been hard to come by. You’d imagine both issues will be his top priorities. He will also look to get them back to playing some exciting football but lets not forget they are a youthful squad who aren’t doing too bad.

They way things are put out there you would be forgiven for thinking they are in the relegation zone.

He more than anyone will know that in La Liga anyone can beat anyone and that includes Barcelona & Real Madrid. I’m looking forward to his new venture and hope he does well even if that does mean giving Monday Night Football a miss.

Craig

 

 

 

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So Let Me Tell You Something…A Diamond in the Rough

This will be the fourth and final part of my mini series, So Let Me Tell You Something. I’ve enjoyed writing the short posts, maybe we can come back for a second series? You never know!

The planning and prep is going well for the podcast, exciting guests from all walks of life have signed up for the first few episodes. After that we can decide if it continues, it will be free, no cost attached. We are looking at the first being available in 10-14 days time and let me tell you I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Speaking of which I became embroiled in a chat with a soon to be guest about some of the up and coming talent in World Football. There were a few others involved as we spoke over hot cups of tea and soft sponge cake. Can’t beat a bit of sponge cake, milk and two please. There was one name in particular who came up on many occasions, none of us could see a reason why not to speak about him.

I don’t like to tag anyone with “the next…” I tend to let them be their own player. Not that my opinion will count but I don’t like the idea of a player who is the next Ronaldo and so on. That’s just silly. It doesn’t seem right, its pressure on the player, unwanted pressure that isn’t needed. We need to stop comparing and start appreciating players for what they bring to the game. We are searching for something that isn’t there. You’ll be disappointed in what you do find, trust me. I’ll put it to the old firm fans, have you ever seen the new Henrik Larsson or Brian Laudrup? I’m confident I know the answer to that one.

Anyway, the player we spoke about is current England International Ross Barkley. He’s a player who has all the tools to make it to the top, hawk eye vision, feet riddled in magic, a goal scorer (one of spectacular efforts) not to mention the physique and athleticism to top it off. For the tools he possesses I’d love to seem him use his creativity and imagination to provide more assists on a consistent basis. On top of that a few more goals to his game wouldn’t do him or Everton any harm.

With that being said, I would have to say Barkley is a Diamond in the rough, a diamond that needs to be caressed, he needs to be loved. He needs to be taken care of and I think Martinez may be the right man. First of all he needs time to mould into the player that everyone has hopes for, there is no point in rushing his development, that will only hinder the him. Secondly – he has to play, there is no point in having a player of that ability and have them warming the bench, if fit get him in the team. Players of that nature have to play, in time they can become match winners. Just don’t pin all of your hopes on him yet though, he is still very young.

His size and stature allow him to power past players when on the move, he isn’t all hustle and bustle though. He has an elegance about his play, two footed – he can provide touches of magic, dancing his way through opponents, threading killer passes in behind the tightest of defenses. He plays with no fear – he has no issue with committing defenders and skipping past them. We haven’t seen a player like that in some time, we have plenty of players who can pass side to side, continually recycling the ball but where are the ones who want to excite us, the ones who can make you sit on the edge of your seat, the ones who can spark your team into life with a touch of magic. I’m pretty sure you will find one at Goodison.

I said that Roberto Martinez may be key in Barkley’s development and I meant it. He needs a manager who is going to take care of him, put an arm round him as well as nurture and appreciate his talent. He needs someone who will keep him level headed. Money and interest providing a big problem – money in football these days is sickening, sure it’s great if you can get it and all the credit to you if you do. It is bad news though if you want to keep away the vultures of world football who want what you have, most times they are impatient and want it now. It would be hard for anyone not to get carried away never mind Ross Barkley.

At International level he has been one of England’s shinning lights, why? Because he is willing to do what I’ve said above, he’s exciting. Football is all about show business these days, in a way it always has been. I’ve had the chance to see some fantastic footballers and hope that continues. Ross Barkley is next in line, hes the one who I can see keeping us entertained for years to come.

Can we unearth some more diamonds please? Yes coaches, I’m looking at you.

My one gripe would be that who ever his manager is in the future at International level they are brave enough to stick him in that number 10 position and allow him to roam free. Surround him with right players who will compliment his style of play, allow him to be creative, he is intelligent enough, his game intelligence will improve as he plays but as far as I’m concerned he is the man you begin to build your squad around for future campaigns. Don’t burn him out, don’t waste him, just allow him to play Football. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s not often we get to see a player like this so lets appreciate him, before we churn out another 100 over priced “average” players.

Hopefully next time you will be hearing my mumbling tones along with some pretty cool people.

CJ

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Jack the Lad : Heartbreaks & Promises

YESTERDAY marked a special day in the calendar of many football fans, worldwide. It was the day we had all been waiting on, all summer long and finally it was here, the Barclays Premier League was back.

Months of anticipation where about to come to fruition. The promotioneers would introduce themselves to the world, the big boys would stand up and flex their muscles (nice and early, let them know who’s boss). The rest? Well they would prepare for battle, prepare for survival – it would also be a stand off among the teams to see who would be this years surprise package, and guesses?

Money is still fluttering around as the transfer window remains open, ludricrous amounts thrown at players who are still to prove their worth, their quality at this level. 

Of all the new arrivals it is a veteran of the BPL I’m waiting to see. I say veteran but he’s only 23, seems like he’s been about a lot longer than he actually has. 

Plagued by injuries in seasons past, I honestly thought this would be his year. I thought this would be the season Jack Wilshere would re introduce himself and say yeah I’m Jack Wilshere, here’s what I’ve got to bring to the party!

Unscathed, unharmed and injury free throughout England’s International Qualifiers and his clubs pre season. Arsenal fans where breathing well, their number 10 was on his way to kicking off the campaign fully fit.

We shouldn’t have breathed so easily, last weekend I turned on the TV to cast my eyes on the Community Shields team lines, no Wilshere to be seen. Not even on the bench. 

That curse of injury had got him again, struck him down in training the day before. He’s been riddled by injuries for the last 6 years of his career, missing more games than he has played. I really feel for him. It must be so frustrating for a player of his talent and passion for the game to be on the sidelines once again.

Like many other youngsters who have broken through their clubs youth systems he has been branded with the tag of “the next big thing”. There have been glimpses of this, remember his starring role in Arsenals Champions League tie v Barcelona, yeah the one he dominated play from start to finish. Not many people are capable of that, he made football fans take notice and think okay, maybe this kid does have something special. 

Sadly we have yet to see him hit those heights again. I believe we will, I believe he can hit those heights again and show us once again he truely is one of he best English players around. If only he could shake off the dark clouds that follow him like he does opponents. 

On the injury front I was pleased to hear he would only be out for weeks as opposed to months. I mean I’d rather he wasn’t injured but beggers can’t be choosers. 

He is pivotal to Arsenal, yes he is cultured on the ball but it is his dig and work rate that I like most about him. His combative style of play may very well be the reason he is prone to the injuries he has suffered from. Crashing into tackles, breaking up play, bringing others into the game. Despite his stature he is sort of arsenals muscle in midfield. He plays like a dog with a bone and he’s not going to let it go, not that easy. Hounding and harassing opponents into submission, retaining the ball.

As well as his ever energizing work rate he’s is technically excellent. A left foot to die for, one that loves to find top corners now and then. Passing, tackling, reading of the game, energy, awareness, goal scoring, control – he has it all. (Prays for him to be injury free). 

He can hold his own with some of the best in the business at circulating the ball around the pitch, he never hesitates to drop deeper and pick up the ball before driving at opponents, taking the ball for a run before slpliting open a defence. 

Speaking of goals, he is no stranger to finding the net. Wether that be on the end of a typical choreographed passing sequence from his team mates or a bullet into the top corner from distance. Go onto YouTube I’m sure you’ll find more than a few to keep you entertained. 

He will be sorely missed by his Arsenal compatriots, Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsay and co. A huge influence when playing. 

I would give you a months worth of lunch money to see this lad, fully fit in full flow. For him, not for Arsenal – I’m not much of a Gooner, however I am a fan of their number 10.

I suppose you would’ve guessed that by now though.

CJ

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Jumpers for Goalposts

Let me take you back to my childhood, to the streets where I grew up playing on the south side of Glasgow.

It was nothing special, a bit of grass, 4 jumpers or traffic cones and we had ourselves a stadium (in our eyes).

I used to spend all my time outside mastering my skills (my trainers would vouch for me) wether it be kicking the ball off a wall (my gran used to chase me, I always used to wreck the pebble dashing) playing cuppy with my mates or playing against out local rivals on their patch or ours.

That was the life, nothing could beat it. We used to sit and decide what colour we would wear in the big games and plan our team the way we wanted to play.

Aw man, what a team we had, to be fair even our fiercest rivals had a good team. We used to play against the kids from everywhere around us, the games were fast, furious but also very technical. The surfaces made no difference, grass, red ash (the stuff that would wedge itself into your leg and could only be removed by a wire brush) and gravel. Where better to hone your skills and smash a few car windows!?!

If you could play on ash and gravel you could play anywhere. This stuff was ruthless it made you work on your touch, the ball would come at you from all angles. Touch, play, move..that’s how it was done.

The kids of today don’t know what that’s about. If it isn’t a 3G pitch, have a remote control or a touch screen then they aren’t interested.

Some will prove me wrong but a huge percentage wouldn’t even hesitate to stay in and mingle on social media than have a kick of a ball.

The kids of today have the opportunity to be the stars of tomorrow, they just don’t know it yet.

I used to love playing, I would be out all day since I woke up. Home, changed then off to training. Then I’d come back and play with my mates later on.

Youngsters who play on the streets around the world aspire to be the next big thing and believe it or not, long before your pro youth set ups and academies the streets are where players were made.

It’s something you rarely see now which is a shame for the game and the kids of today. The locals and neighbors will be loving it but still some of the older folks in my mums street still have fond memories of us playing in the middle of the street, even if it is a smashed window or broken plant pot.

Those where the days, back when we worshipped that very ground. It was our stadium, it was our patch and I had some of the best games of my life on there as well as a few bad ones but there was always tomorrow to bounce back. It kills me that no ones played on it since we did. They obviously couldn’t live up to the legend of past days (Haha).

Ps. It’s now used for people walking their dogs and other stuff.

CJ

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