THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

30 November 2009 ~ In case any of you are wondering what former Wimbledon and Newcastle Utd defender Warren Barton gets up to these days (What? Not a single one of you?), he's somehow landed a gig in the US, where he punishes television viewers on a weekly basis with his desperate punditry. Patronising, banal and deeply in love with the sound of his own voice, Barton leaves no cliche unflogged in airing his apparent belief that North American football fans still need to be talked down to so that they can understand the game seen through the sophisticated analysis of a seasoned ex-pro Brit.

The weekend before last he put his head on the block by bravely forecasting Chelsea as champions, before shaking his head in a bemused manner that poor little Gianfranco Zola, misguided by alien values, might try to force West Ham to play their way out of the relegation zone. There's no use doing that according to wise Warren. Results are what count. The 5-0 lead that West Ham raced into against Burnley at the weekend, as they played what looked from the highlights like suspiciously good football, presumably had Barton tutting in disapproval. Their failure to grind out a 1-0 win and Burnley's three late goals probably confirmed Barton's view that Zola's approach is naive. No doubt he's thinking of West Bromwich Albion's last doomed Premier League campaign, when they were denounced by pragmatists while defiantly trying to entertain. But if you accept Barton's view that the only way for lesser teams to survive in the top flight is to play gritty, results-oriented football, then you're left with a surfeit of games like Saturday's game between Fulham and Bolton.

In case you've already forgotten the game ended in a 1-1 draw, which was pretty much the result it deserved. If you had the good fortune to miss it completely, congratulations. This was Warren Barton's Survival Football at its absolute nadir. Bolton had a single idea that involved knocking the ball long and hoping for the best. When Fulham went 1-0 down, they pretty much adopted the same approach. Back and forth went the ball, slapping central defenders on the forehead with depressing, brain-shaking regularity. The astonishing thing is that anyone who paid £40 to watch this dross would want to come back the following week.

Sure, at the end of the season both sides could well find themselves with enough points to play yet another season in the fantabulous, world-conquering Premier League. They may sacrifice progress in the cup competitions to ensure that place. It's the static marine life approach to professional football. It's not much fun observing a family of mussels attached to the side of a rock, but if you swim away and then return several months later for another look, they will probably still be there, stuck in the same place and looking exactly the same. And they will still be more inspiring than any team managed by Gary Megson. Though to be fair to Fulham they don't always look this bad, even if their top flight sojourn over the past few years hardly evokes a flood of excited memories.

Meanwhile, the reviled West Bromwich Albion, who won impressively 4-0 at Sheffield Wednesday this weekend, sit comfortably in second place in the Championship. They may have been relegated last spring but at least life's interesting. They go up, they go back down, they do it all over again and their fans get to see lots of different towns and stadiums. Old Trafford one season, Glanford Park the next (apologies to Scunthorpe, inevitably cited whenever it suits any writer to make the Second Division look unglamorous). At least they know that they're alive. They're less like mussels and more like gazelles on the African savannas, experiencing the elation of high-speed living, even as cheetahs snap at their heels.

Of course, there's an economic argument that says a club needs the stability of playing at the same level year after year so that it can better plan its budget. It's an argument you usually hear from football's neo-realists who advocate abolishing relegation. As a solution to ridding the game of turgid encounters that offer grim, nihilistic ball-slinging in exchange for 40 quid, it's unsatisfactory. Instead, club accountants at teams like Bolton need to factor in the possibility of relegation and directors need to factor in the need for some risk, adventure and tactical imagination when they appoint a manager. Thankfully for football (though sadly for those tuning into Fox Soccer Channel), Warren Barton seems happy enough right now sitting safely behind a desk over 5,000 miles away, pontificating on how Gianfranco Zola should do his job. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (15)
Comment by stuart77 2009-11-30 12:34:30

love live the West Brom way

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2009-11-30 13:17:15

Excellent analogy. It is one of the (many) sad things about the modern game that so many clubs prioritise safety over actually playing football and trying to win games. I think the problem was worse a couple of years ago when nearly all sides outside the top few were resorting to 4-5-1 away from home. Though it seemed to take a while for managers to realise that one win and two crushing defeats was actually better for your points tally than two hard-fought draws and a narrow defeat.

I think the nadir was perhaps Dave Kitson's remarks about 'not giving a toss about the FA Cup', Bolton's and Villa's throwing of a decent shot at the latter stages of the UEFA Cup. Still, as Reading did stay in the Premier League that year and Villa did secure the Champions League spot, you can see the benefits of getting your priorities right in football...oh.

Comment by sampson 2009-11-30 14:36:48

A couple of points.

Firstly you are completely wrong to just dismiss the financial pressure that comes with relegation. Let us not forget the lesson of Leeds United. Leeds needed to spend big to compete at the top table, but failed to make the grade and are now in the third tier (for a third season). The results are what counted and they have paid a very, very harsh price for providing "entertaining football" to their supporters, at the very highest level.

As for West Brom, they did not play "great, entertaining football" last season, they were, put simply absolute rubbish. They also played one of, if not the most boring negative game I have ever witnessed when they drew 0-0 with West Ham away (another so called "Footballing side"). 90 minutes of side and back passes, without 1 serious attempt on goal. But don't let that get in the way of you using lazy stereotypes to make your "journalistic point".

To put it in the simple terms this slightly sad debate deserves West Brom lost out on at least 20 million pounds of income, and they lost games, lots of them. This is surely the point of the game to win.

Another point that seems to pass so called "football purists" by is the fact that football is a results based game. Last season I was on the train home from victory over West Brom (as is always the case for the Mighty Potters) and was told by a couple of Baggies that they would not pay to watch Stoke week in week out. The same Stoke side that had just played there tippy tappy side off the park. We'll I asked which game they had watched because both of our goals were scored in open play and from neat passing moves, but these two "footballing purists" insisted that Stoke are a "big boot team".

Well in my opinion that is simply not true. Last Saturday Stoke were guilty of trying to walk the ball into the back of Blackburn's net. Those of us in the away end could see that we would have won the game if someone had just put their foot through the ball we would have won. Again I am sure all of the "football purists" will simply ignore this fact, as it does not sit well with your stereotype about how the game should be played and the way you think certain teams play (from 5 minute highlights on Match of the Day now less!!!).

As for the style of football certain teams adopt, this is usually down to the squad available and the opposition of the day. A long ball game works very well against the lightweight's of Arsenal, but simply plays into the hands of the thugs at Chelsea, who are usually undone by quick passing and movement off the ball. Horses for courses. You will no doubt have seen Manchester United adopt such tactics against these two teams. Except you probably won't, as again it does not fit the nice, neat stereotype of Manchester United s "expansive attacking game".

As you may have noted "football purism" and people who say things like "play the game in the right way" get up my nose. To those people I say look at the history of the game. Pre-Herbert Chapman football was played with very little passing. 4 attackers and only 2 in defence. The players simple ran with the ball until they could shoot, hoof the ball forward, or lost out to the opposition players. This is "pure football" what you are referencing is a Dutch/Brazilian style of play not seen until the 1970's.

My final point is this. As a supporter who pays 30-40 quid to watch my team play I would far rather walk away with three points after a "boring negative game" that zero points after watching my side play nice football with no end product. I'm sure deep down all off those people who turn their backs on their local clubs to support Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc understand this, as they have chosen glory over loyalty and made winning the be all and end all of football support.

To put it in the words of ex-Stoke manager Alan Durban "If you want entertainment, go and watch some clowns". I suggest you start with a side managed by Martinez, Zola or that Fruitcake Mowbrey!

Comment by imp 2009-11-30 16:22:26

Well, there’s the case in defense of Stoke City. A few straw men to burn, though.

Nowhere do I say that West Brom played “great, entertaining football”, as suggested by your quotation marks. I only said they tried to. And I don’t fault them for trying.

Neither did I “dismiss the financial pressure that comes with relegation”, I wrote that relegation has to be accounted for as a future possibility. Leeds indeed serve as a valuable lesson in that respect.

I commend your loyalty for paying £30-40 every week to watch Stoke, and accept that you’d prefer to see your team take three ugly points rather than watch a decent game – there are plenty of times I’ve felt the same way. But every week? Your defensive disdain for “football purists”, whoever they are, suggests you’ve heard enough of people complaining about your team’s lack of style. But if they’ve paid £30-40 to watch the same game, you can see why they might be bellyaching.

Comment by bigcatasroma 2009-11-30 19:33:35

Can someone PUH-LEASE get that joke of an analyst/pundit Warren Barton off of my television screen!!! Please, England, I beg you, take him back home. He exemplifies what's wrong with sports television personalities in all sports - because they played, they spew cliches that mean nothing and don't offer any analysis whatsoever. He's terrible.

Comment by sampson 2009-11-30 23:06:04

"3 ugly points", well you have illustrated the "lazy stereotype" I referred to in my post.

The people complaining about Stoke's "style" are people in the media, we all know who they are so I won't give them any more publicity, not the supporters who pay to watch the side week in week out. As is the case with all supporters (including the big four fans I know) we can and do complain at times about how the team performs, but only when we are playing poorly. Very few Stoke supporters are daft enough to complain about the manner in which 3 points have been provided. We leave that to you purist types.

But whats the point, you will always believe that teams like Stoke are big boot sides no matter who much evidence there is to the contrary. I'll try again though. At times Stoke play the big boot, at times they play, what you seem to believe is the right way. In this respect we are no different to Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool. The players are less talented on the whole, and much, much cheaper. The "quality" is therefore below that offered by these squads.

One thing though, you have just flogged the opposing set of tired cliques to Mr Barton. Like I said you both lazy journalists.

Oh the irony.

Comment by ian.64 2009-12-01 08:59:48

"Another point that seems to pass so called "football purists" by is the fact that football is a results based game. Last season I was on the train home from victory over West Brom (as is always the case for the Mighty Potters) and was told by a couple of Baggies that they would not pay to watch Stoke week in week out. The same Stoke side that had just played there tippy tappy side off the park. We'll I asked which game they had watched because both of our goals were scored in open play and from neat passing moves, but these two "footballing purists" insisted that Stoke are a "big boot team"."

I hate Stoke anyway (perhaps that not getting a result from them in years may have built up this anathema, or 'Delilah' which isn't a terrace song but a sonic weapon of ugly sound, stripping life of beauty and turning it into ordure - or maybe it's just that black hole of laughlessness, Nick Hancock, who bestrides existence like a damp cowpat), but I'd be the first one to declare that they've found the key to staying and existing - if not thriving - in the top flight, by making themselves a tough proposition that's hard to beat, with shrewd signings over the shop.

It's not pretty and they're not pretty, but they're doing the right thing by ensuring that they're neither pushed over or easily dictated to by Premiership opposition, which is where West Brom went wrong under Tony Mowbray last season. Those Albion fans that the Stoke correspondent met on the train were probably the ones that clapped and hoorayed like happy sheep as we went down without a whimper to Liverpool on the official day of relegation. Or, like Mowbray, found positives in games where none existed, or, even worse, attained the veneer of snobbery towards other teams by thinking that being walloped while using the middle third of the field to pass ourselves to death with was not just the future of the club but a feat to be celebrated. Those who gradually clawed themselves out of the relegation area through any means necessary (obviously not wielding Uzis or chainsaws) were denounced as barbarians by Albion fans who sided with Mowbray who announced that 'teams worse than us were above us in the table'.

And some morons in the press went along with it, with even one blogger on the Independent site giving a Manager Of The Year award to Mowbray for his 'principles' after we'd got relegated. Jesus H. F*cking Christ.

Roberto Di Matteo, for his brief managerial career so far, has actually addressed those concerns that Mowbray couldn't give a monkey's about - passing with clinical skill whilst going forward with a drive and momentum behind it, ensuring team resilience and, at the same time, and more importantly, making things tougher defensively. It's all going exceptionally well and I hope that RDM's progress improves even more - he's going beyond expectations so far, and although rockier roads for him and us must surely arise, I hope he can overcome them.

"One thing though, you have just flogged the opposing set of tired cliques to Mr Barton. Like I said you both lazy journalists."

That could be 'cliches', and, no, Plenderleith is not lazy journalist. He very good journalist. He write superb. You blinkered. You no read good his text.

Jesus wept.

Comment by kbmac 2009-12-01 13:37:29

"One thing though, you have just flogged the opposing set of tired cliques to Mr Barton. Like I said you both lazy journalists."

That could be 'cliches', and, no, Plenderleith is not lazy journalist. He very good journalist. He write superb. You blinkered. You no read good his text.


Class. Pure class.

Comment by sampson 2009-12-01 13:53:48

ian.64 nice to see at least one pragmatic Baggie.

I have a question; How galling do you find Mowbrey suddenly compromising his "footballing principles" now he has joined Celtic?

If I was WBA supporter I'd be ready to burn his house down about now (in case it passed you by, Celtic play a very varied style and don't shy away from the long ball when it suits them).

A couple of points from your post.

Firstly Stoke are not an ugly side, my Wife thinks Beattie is a dreamboat, just for starters. They do not play ugly football. They play in whatever way gives us the best chance of beating the opposition at hand. We completely out-footballed West Brom at the Hawthorns last year, with some lovely passing moves, by the same token we used the long ball, physical strength and Delaps throw-in to demolish the light weight team Arsenal sent to the Britannia. Both of these games were exciting to watch and both showed Stoke and football in a good light.

The second regards your correction of my English. Well done for noticing my mistake, but you have made some mistakes of your own (quite a few to be honest). "You no read good his text" being a prime example. Dear me, how poor.

Lastly, the article simply turns one set of lazy stereotype against another, whether you like it or not. Yes Warren Barton is wrong to slag teams off that try to play the game a certain way, but so is Ian Plenderleith an this is exactly what his article does. Let us not overlook the title of the article "The static marine life approach to professional football". If that is not a lazy stereotyping I don't know what is. Ian repeated his lazy stereotype, by assuming the "football purist" I refereed to were unhappy Stoke fans (must be watching that hoof ball every week surely). They are not. These people are lazy journalists that use old, tired, stereotypes to describe teams/games rather than the evidence of the games that have taken place.

Would Ian care to tell us the last time he actually watched Bolton, Stoke, Blackburn or one the other so called "static marine life" teams play for 90 minutes? I suspect the only thing he knows about any of these teams is what he has seen on Match of the Day. I would suggest that our 0-0 draw with Blackburn was as exciting to watch as any of the games appeared to be on Match of the Day (although I saw the whole 90 minutes of the Stoke game, which was much more competitive and exciting than the one sided dross served up by Arsenal and Chelsea the next day).

Ian I suggest you get some tickets and come and watch us play at the Britannia. You can rediscover the local pride and passion that comes with supporting a good, old fashion, win any way we can club like Stoke. It's the way all clubs used to be.

My final point though is this. It does not matter how a team sets out to play. The only thing that matters is the result. Teams must play to their strengths. If you don't like watching a certain team, then change the channel, don't go to the games. You would not be missed in Stoke, but for goodness sake stop slagging teams off for playing to their strengths, its just lazy. There is far too much at stake for most clubs to emulate West Brom under mad Mowbrey, or indeed West Ham under Zola. In the end 99% of supporters pay to see their club win, not to lose well.

Fin.

Comment by imp 2009-12-01 21:23:16

It's fairly pointless engaging with someone who clearly didn't read the piece properly, but I do "care to tell you" that I watched every painful minute of Fulham v Bolton. I had Stoke v Blackburn on tape, but as I didn't bother watching it, having found out the score, I didn't make any comment on that game. I'll take your word that it was a classic.

So you speak for 99% of all fans, eh? Is that figure based on thorough research, or was it plucked out of mid-air, like a goalkeeper grasping at a Rory Delap long-one? Though I'd hesitate to fall back on that ubiquitous adjective of the internet comments box, starting with an L.

Comment by Max Payne 2009-12-02 01:27:58

Screw WBA. that fucking ballsack of a club had the fucking gall to label Exeter's visit up there in 1990-91 after our promotion from Division 4 as "Their Cup Final". Fucking knobs.

Comment by Max Payne 2009-12-02 01:31:35

actually it may have been 1991-92 after they got their asses relegated into third tier footy....fucking yo-yo dross.

Comment by ian.64 2009-12-02 08:09:46

Max, Max...not every West Brom fan is that bleedin' fickle and, besides, what football supporter hasn't had the 'their Cup Final' crack levelled at their club somewhere along the line? We certainly have. Loads of times. Deal with it. We've had to.

As for Sampson, I can't really get over his 'oh, dearie me' style of languid dismissiveness, as if he were Sir Clayton Ffoulkes of the country estate of Ferneyhough D'Amage holding back the serfs while smoking his Meerschaum. I mean, he's from Stoke, for god's sake.

A pretty good article, Ian, and there's not much to add (apart from the fact that Barton sounds even worse than Rodney Marsh - if that's possible) except to reply to t.j.vickerman's feelings on safety football. T'J's right to criticise club's refusal to play adventurous football and rigorously prioritise survival at any cost, but I can understand such feelings when the financial costs of relegation are stressed in some quarters to such nightmarish levels that, in the minds of some, to fall would be the end. So to some, however wrongly it may seem to others, scrapping it out seems to be the only way. Fear is behind the relinquishment of skill or style.

But, as Ian says, sometimes you have to make room for the possibility that you'll drop. Or find a manager with a better outlook on how to play the game.

As for Sir Clayton from Stoke, well, strangely enough, seeing that Stoke weren't mentioned as guilty parties in the above article, he got pretty heated and defensive about them anyway, and Ian hit a nail on the head (and the correspondent's nerve) when alluding to the 'purist' critics. To be honest, and pardon me if I'm wrong, but Stoke's distinction in the lower leagues for many a long while was a reputation for brusque physicality and rough-arsed play that sometimes yielded effective results. The trouble is now that many of its supporters now have the job of defending the way they play in the light of more intensive criticism, as if its past has caught up with it and they have to fight off accusations of simplicity and 'strengths'. I can see why Sir Clayton is aggreived. His club has created this history of 'mixing it' and now he's got the lengthy task of putting up a defensive front whenever its called into question.

But, even if he's a shoo-in for Condescending Berk of 2009, I wish his lot well.

Comment by sampson 2009-12-02 10:40:58

Well I seem to have caused quite a stir, despite, it would seem none of you really reading my posts.

I was simply trying to argue that clubs are and should be allowed to play any way they want to and that, in most cases the labels attached to these clubs by so called and self appointed experts are based on lazy stereotypes. If you don't like watching certain teams play you simply turn over. I don't enjoy the X-factor, so I don't watch it. I do not write articles suggesting that the X-factor is bad for music or the wrong way to go about finding new talent.

A case in point is ian.64's comment "Stoke's distinction in the lower leagues for many a long while was a reputation for brusque physicality and rough-arsed play that sometimes yielded effective results" perfectly illustrates my point (thanks mate) he reverts straight to a lazy stereotype banded about by people who did not watch the team play. Note the word reputation. This "reputation" was based on certain times in Stoke's history, but as with all clubs the approach Stoke teams have taken to the game have been very different with the different managers we have had (obvious really, but seemingly beyond the comprehension of most football supporters). At times Stoke sides have been physical, so what, Chelsea are the most physical side in the Premier league and no one seems to have a problem with their "style of football". Oh and Ian, Ian, Ian are you too competing for "Condescending Berk of 2009" because your clearly the better man for that title.

As for my defence of Stoke, I only used my club as an example as this is the team I am most familiar with. I will not stoop to the level of other commentators and slag sides off that I have rarely, if ever watched. The points are not solely about Stoke and I can't see why defending a clubs right to play the game in the manner that fits them causes so much controversy.

Finally I would just like to point out that Manchester United, the club so beloved by the media, journalists and pundits and by far and away the worst team for "grinding out a win" in the whole of the football league. How many times have we sat through a United game on Sky that has consisted of 89 minutes of very little effort, other than to stifle the ambition of the opposition, followed by a goal or two in injury time. But I suppose that O.K., you need to grind out a few victories to win a title, just as long as no one grinds out a win to avoid relegation, er!

Comment by ian.64 2009-12-03 08:12:33

That's the problem, we actually have read your posts and they seem to touch upon the same points with repetition (and a smugness that could warm toast):

1. Stoke are terrific.

2. Let underwhelming teams play as they like to accrue points.

3. Anything anybody else says in criticism about Stoke is 'lazy stereotyping'.

And that's it. It's actually interesting to type in 'Stoke City playing style' on Google and to read the capsule excerpts which, taken out of context as they may be, are interesting to note: 'anti-football', 'ugly style of play', 'up and under' and so on, not to mention, once again, angry defence against accusations on the aforementioned character of Stoke's play given from what must be a sizeable legion of 'lazy stereotypers' and 'journalists'. Even down to an angry Ashley Williams of Swansea City who addressed a bad game with Cardiff with the description of his opponents "I don't know when they turned into Stoke City" (when you’re the basis of an insult to be thrown in at the other side in the toxic context of a local derby, that's when you’ve reached a highly bizarre milestone of sorts). Even correspondents of widely varying publications like the Times and The Telegraph who write about Stoke have to use the reference of 'ugly football' as a starting point before moving onto more positive aspects. You yourself hint at this non-existent 'reputation' by referring to it as 'certain times in Stoke's history', thereby inferring some basis. So, unless a cadre of particularly shrewd Port Vale fans have manipulated documented material enough to make Stoke City's history of one-trick-pony aggressiveness a fallacious invention, then there does seem a whiff of your reputation having preceeded you. Not all fans who react strongly against your side (and none too appreciatively) are of the 'purist' camp you so heartily despise.

And, in any case, your stout and somewhat limiting allegiance to Stoke's style of play is making you narrow-minded enough to negate and look with comical tunnel-visioned disdain at the other teams efforts. Anyone who rates an efficient 0-0 draw with Blackburn as an example of classic football above an astonishingly stark display of attacking power by Chelsea against Arsenal, for example, or even looks huffily, dumbly superior, down on Manchester United’s attempts to win yet another Premiership title loses the option to be taken seriously. But then, as you suggestion, we dastardly purist demons have the choice not to see teams like Stoke and, instead, attend to our own teams' efforts. Consider it not just a suggestion, but an invitation, warmly and gratefully accepted.

From one condescending berk to another, all the best.

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