Retirement is difficult
14 April ~ I was bringing in the shopping on a Saturday afternoon in the rain when I heard someone cry out in pain. This was followed by lots of angry shouting and several blasts of a whistle. There was no mistaking the sound – it was a football match, sent on the breeze from the football fields of the local school. Standing on my driveway, with several carrier bags of shopping in each hand, I was catapulted into the action. I could picture the victim. No doubt a winger – often passengers in poor conditions, shinpads the size of tape cassettes, framed high up his shin by several layers of electrical tape wrapped around his socks.
Second semi-final, 4.07pm
13 April ~ Sheffield United head to Wembley today for their fourth FA Cup semi-final in recent times. The three previous matches have seen slim margins of defeat. There was a devastating 2-1 extra-time loss in the all-Sheffield semi-final of 1993 and 1-0 defeats at Old Trafford to Newcastle in 1998 and Arsenal five years later, both when the Blades were a Championship side. In the last 40 years, 41 clubs have played in a major cup final and that number will increase by one today whether it is the Blades or opponents Hull City.
Gradual overhaul pays dividends
12 April ~ Seven points clear of fourth place with just five games to go, even Rochdale manager Keith Hill has started to talk about promotion. For most of a remarkably successful season Hill has urged caution as his young squad competes with what he describes as the “money teams” in League Two. Now he reckons that two more wins will be enough. Getting one of those wins at Mansfield today won’t be easy. The Stags were on a terrible run when they lost 3-0 at Spotland on Boxing Day but they have only lost four of 19 games since and still have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs.
Hughton had lost support
12 April ~ Chris Hughton’s 22-month reign as Norwich City manager ended in acrimony but, the national media aside, there have been few dissenting voices. Hughton exceeded expectations in his first season as successor to Paul Lambert, steering the team to 11th despite a playing style that divided opinion early on. Last summer his brief was to strengthen the squad in readiness for a challenge for the top ten. To do it the board gave him £26 million to spend and, in short, he blew it.
11 April ~ There can't be many European cities with three dedicated football stadiums each with an all-seated capacity of over 50,000. If there are they will be in countries with far greater populations than Scotland. There has been historic lobbying against the need for a national stadium, Hampden, when Glasgow also has Ibrox and Celtic Park, all serving a nation of five million. Yet this weekend's Scottish Cup semi-finals would have you believe the SFA actually requires a fourth major football venue. All it took was the Commonwealth Games arriving in Glasgow and Rangers reaching the last four.
Keeper encroachment unpunished
10 April ~ In their 32nd Serie A game of the season on April 5, Inter became the last team to be awarded a penalty, their first in the league since May 8 last year. And when they got one it was actually no more obvious than a lot that they should probably have been awarded before. They join Atalanta, who have had one penalty in 39 league games, as the teams who have had the fewest spot kicks so far this season. And of course having waited for so long, Inter failed to take advantage of the kick, which would almost certainly have given them a 3-2 win over Bologna if they had scored.
League leaders have away goal
9 April ~ That tonight’s Champions League quarter-final second leg between Atlético Madrid and Barcelona is too close to call really is extraordinary. Last week’s first leg at the Camp Nou was a tight game, with Barça as expected having lots of the ball but Atlético making the best chances and then going ahead through Diego Ribas’s 35-yard strike. As the visitors tired some gaps finally began to open up, and Barça deservedly equalised when Neymar converted a superb Andrés Iniesta through-ball. That meant the two clubs have drawn in each of their four meetings this season.
Pelé erected most times
9 April ~ The world's first database of football statues has been created by researchers from the University of Sheffield. It includes over 350 statues of footballers, managers, chairmen and even fans, located in 56 different countries across six continents. Unsurprisingly, the most frequently portrayed player, with six statues and a seventh on the way, is Pelé. Here they are on a map.
Promising season fizzles out
7 April ~ Tim Sherwood did everything right following the sacking of André Villas-Boas and his own ascension to the position of Tottenham Hotspur head coach last December. He brought Emmanuel Adebayor back into the fold, gave the team more attacking freedom and was rewarded with five wins and a draw in his first six league matches in charge. His early success was not to last, however, and after four defeats in six, Spurs need a win against Sunderland tonight to move back ahead of Manchester United into sixth place. The top four finish that seemed a relatively realistic target at the start of the season is now all but out of reach.