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18 July 2008 ~

We’re only in mid-July but already the City of Manchester Stadium has been turned into “a hub of positive energy and harmony” with Man City’s new Thai board having applied the principles of feng shui to boost the team for the coming season. Magic crystals have been buried beneath the pitch while club offices are festooned with buddhas, three-legged money toads and lucky fortune trees, one of which, it is reported, still has its price tag – £24.95 from B&Q. Feng shui consultant Simon Brown had some wise words for the Daily Mirror: “If they really want to affect the players they should change the colour of the jerseys. Teams who wear red seem to win far more often clubs in blue.” City supporters will already be aware of this, of course, given that their team won three trophies – the FA Cup in 1969 and the League Cup and Cup-Winners Cup in 1970 – while wearing red-and-black stripes. But plain red would surely be even more effective. Go to it, Thaksin.

Badge of the week
FC KooTeePee play in the Finnish Premier Division. They may have a funtime club crest and a baby gurgle name but they are a proper actual club, involving real actual people (this is evidenced by a fan photo on their website of two isolated young men slumped against a wire fence, one halfway through a pint of lager while the other sluggishly consumes a locally available confection). Focusing on their badge, we are forced to witness what appears to be a psychotic grinning parrot, whose skull has apparently been cleaved in two, chasing down a long ball from defence in its final agonised throes. Right-thinking people everywhere were brought up to distrust any institution that hides behind an anthropomorphised object or animal, especially one that is largely aimed at supplying a product to the adult population. Football is not a children’s toy, it is a dire necessity. No amount of fun branding can change that. Cameron Carter

Spotting players

from Phil Ball
“July 14, 2100 hrs, San Sebastián, Spain. My wife is at the tennis club playing padel – a strange game imported from Argentina that is taking the Basque Country by storm. Between sets she phones to inform me that Xabi Alonso is playing on the court next to her. He’s still on his hols, staying at his dad’s just down the road from us. I tell my 12-year-old son, who grabs a thick felt-tip and his Liverpool shirt from his bedroom, jumps on his bike and high-tails it to the tennis club, some five minutes away, shirt flapping from the handlebars. An hour later he returns, with shirt duly signed in Basque. Above the illegible signature it reads ‘Harryenzat, besarkada bat’ which to the uninitiated means ‘To Harry, with a hug’.

‘Did you speak to him in English?’ I ask my son. He tells me that he only spoke in Basque to the great man. He also tells me that Alonso, apart from being a half-decent footballer, is also a consummate padel player – which is going some, since there can’t be too many places to practise on the Wirral. ‘So what did you talk about?’ I persist. ‘I asked him where he was going next season.’ ‘And what did he say?’ ‘He didn’t say anything. But I said to him “Liverpoolen geratu eh!” (Stay at Liverpool, eh!)’ ‘What? You shouldn’t have said that. What did he say?’ ‘He said “Noski” (Of course).’ So there you are. Juve might as well stop the bidding. WSC exclusive – Xabi Alonso says he’s staying at Liverpool, and he said that to my son outside the padel court in San Sebastián, which means that it must be true.”

Historic Football Websites No 13 ~ Scottish Football Ground Guide
Fancy going by train on a groundhopping foray to Forfar Athletic? Check this site out first. “Even though the ground is called Station Park, there is in fact no railway station in Forfar itself. The nearest stations are in Dundee or Arbroath... both around 14 miles away!” Despair not, though – after your 14-mile hike you can refuel because “there are also a number of bakeries in the area selling the legendary Forfar Bridies”. And no segregation either. If you feel that you’re never going to get the time to visit all (or any) of Scotland’s football stadiums, at least take the virtual tour instead. You can almost smell the Montrose basin. Ian Plenderleith

Tales From The Landesliga ~ No 11

WSC contributor Matt Nation’s series about watching lower-league football in Hamburg

Watching Turn- und Sportverein Hamburg von 1880 in the last game of the season fills you with a similar sort of impotent rage felt by an Ofsted inspector doing his rounds the day before the summer holidays. The team staved off relegation two weeks ago. They know the match against fifth-placed Sportverein Börnsen von 1948 is meaningless. They just want to muck about.

Even before the game, they’re like the Marx Brothers on a bad-joke day. They frolic, giggle, moon and spit ice-cubes at each other. They stick the ball up their jerseys and do Quasimodo impersonations. There’s more unnecessary arse-slapping than on the home straight at Aintree. Former Schalke defender Yves Eigenrauch was once hauled over the coals for claiming that he loved training, but hated actually playing. This is possibly what he was talking about.

Three o’clock comes, but the horseplay doesn’t let up. The visitors have ten shots in the first ten minutes, hit the post three times, yet the hosts don’t care. The left-back tries out a bit of seal-dribbling, the midfielders walk when they should be jogging and jog when they should be sprinting and the centre-half, although furnished with the fine-motor skills of a jumping jack with a broken string, is repeatedly caught in possession after showboating in his own half. At one point, somebody throws a mud pie at the dug-out.

As is often the case in such situations, TuS Hamburg take an undeserved lead. One of those ten-a-penny scampering midfielders – nine stone, soaking wet and with his socks around his calves – aims a jokey shot at his mates behind the goal and it’s deflected past the keeper. The scorer’s asked what the grey thing is next to the pitch that’s holding up the powerlines. When he answers, everybody whoops and duly piles on.

Mercifully, Börnsen remain in staunchly adult mode. They continue to focus on their strengths, playing accurate passes with the correct part of their foot up to the edge of the box and then letting the dangermen shoot. It takes them half an hour to pull one back, a pretty scrappy double rebound from the crossbar. TuS fail to notice, having embarked on an impromptu conga to celebrate the news that HSV have just gone a goal up against Karlsruhe.

Suddenly, the linesman starts arsing about, too, flagging for a penalty after two home players fall over themselves. Surprisingly, the penalty-taker opts not to get down on his knees and try to head it and it’s 2-1. Five minutes later, half a dozen home players are offside, probably on purpose, but the flag stays down. When the scorer slides on his back and ends up in a grin-encrusted heap close to where you’re standing, you’re that far away from flicking your fag into his mouth, putting on a nasal North Yorkshire accent and shouting: “Learn how to play football and you can have as many smiles as you want, young man.” Börnsen continue to dominate, but have given up tracking back. TuS Hamburg get a fourth, with a nauseating bout of after-you-Claudes between two forwards who have rounded the keeper and are standing a yard from the goal-line.

With the game sewn up, the hosts appear to be running a sweepstake on who can get sent off first, with the substitute winning thanks to a spiteful hack from behind in the centre-circle. He trots off, grinning, takes a bow in front of the dug-out and does that irritating finger-waggling thing to hoots of approval from the bench. You’d ask for your money back, only you know it’s already been invested in the end-of-season barbecue (home team and clubhouse regulars only).

At the end, the home team scrum down, start singing and prove that it’s possible to forget the words to Oggy Oggy Oggy. The visitors wait politely for a handshake that’s clearly never going to come and then walk off, shaking their heads at the gormlessness of it all. On the way out, you think of the flaws in Alan Durban’s line about going to see the clowns if you want entertainment; that only works when the clowns remember who it is they’re supposed to be entertaining.

WSC Trivia ~ No 24
In 2001, we published a reprint of Dave Hill’s biography of John Barnes, Out Of His Skin. To coincide with the launch, there was an article in WSC in which a few of John Barnes’s black contemporaries, all of whom were still involved in football in some capacity, discussed changes in the game since they stopped playing. Everyone we contacted, including Gary Bennett, Terry Connor and Paul Davis, was very helpful. Until we phoned BBC pundit Mark Bright. On being told what we wanted to talk about, he asked how much the fee would be. We said that it was only for a few minutes’ chat on the phone. “No, people get paid for things like that, you know,” he said. So we left it there. Mark Bright has often talked since about his experiences as a footballer, so either he has changed his mind about fees or he’s raking it in.

A mine of information constructed from sticker cards

Craig Brewster, Ionikos
Panini Greece 1997-98
In the mid-1990s, several British players went abroad on “Bosmans” – free transfers at the end of contracts which were initially restricted to moves between countries. Most returned within a year or two but Craig Brewster was an exception. The former Raith Rovers and Dundee Utd striker joined Ionikos in Greece in 1996 and went on to spend five seasons with the club – easily a record for any British player in Greek football. Rated by Ionikos fans as their best-ever foreign player, Brewster had discussions about returning to the club as coach in 2006. He is now in his second spell as manager of Inverness Caley having also had a spell in charge at Dundee United.

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