Continental shelf

Ian Plenderleith goes looking for the best in English-language coverage of European football on the web and shares the anguish of the Portuguese public over the latest career move for Phil Collins

Although most of the major web­sites now pay lip service to the burgeoning interest in European football with scores from, and columnists in, a variety of foreign countries, there are a number of English-language on­line locations that devote themselves to one country alone. Two of the best cover the Iber­ian peninsula.

First, footballportugal should prove invaluable in keeping us abreast of the build-up to Euro 2004, and if everyone’s as enthusiastic as premier Durão Barroso then the country’s already raring to go. He told the Portuguese parliament his government was committed to seeing through the championship, but added: “If I had been prime minister [at the time], there would be no Euro 2004 in Portugal.”

And if you recoiled at UEFA’s recent an­nouncement that Phil Collins will be com­pos­ing the theme song to the tournament, you weren’t the only one. According to the website, the decision was met “with some discomfort” in Portugal as they were not consulted and the song is “not likely to reflect Portuguese cul­ture or tradition”. Popular singer Pedro Ab­runhosa went further, calling the choice “an insult” (wait until he hears the song).

Other typical pre-tournament obstacles in­clude the now statutory race to have the stadiums finished on time, with only half of the ten grounds having so far received the prom­ised state money “mainly because of bureaucratic obstacles”. However, the former Scottish FA boss Ernie Walker and his UEFA inspection body are on regular beanos (sorry, fact-finding missions) to keep an eye on the progress of construction, so we can feel secure that noth­ing will go wrong.

The site’s helpful phrase book warns you against using “filho da puta” while watching a game, unless the bar has a handy back en­trance. It means “son of a whore”, but weighs alongside “fucking bastard” in terms of em­phasis, although if you watch closely on TV you will often read it on players’ lips. The phrase “Seaman has committed a few chickens of late” doesn’t mean the Arsenal goalie has plan­ned for his retirement by founding a lunatic asylum for poultry, he has merely been guilty of “um frango” or two.

At the fine English-language site for Span­ish football, Soccer Spain, there is a helpful explanation of the vagaries of Spanish kick-off times and how to purchase a match ticket, both complicated enough to make the site worthwhile for this exercise alone if you’re planning a football tour of the Mediterranean.

Also worth a look is the transfer rumour page, where the probability of coming transfers is rated on a scale of one to five. For ex­ample, Tenerife’s Argentinian striker Mar­ioni is rated a high “four” to head to Mexico’s Tigres because he’s been “banned for a year for using a false passport, and could go west”.

The White Stick Award keeps a close eye on refereeing transgressions, “Villains” mon­itors the dirtiest players in La Liga, and “Pichichis” provides a handy overview for Ron­ald Koeman to assess which Dutch striker is currently top of the goalscorers’ list. “Chief’s Notepad” follows the weekly fortunes of the league’s most promising play­ers, such as Barcelona’s Riquelme and Joa­quin of Betis.

Channel 4’s Football Italia site is comprehensive, but more conventional, repeating sel­ected material from its respected print ver­sion – both survive for the moment, even though the TV coverage has ceased. For example, the section on dodgy foreigners who have failed in Italy, featuring players like the German goalie Jens Lehmann (sent home after five games for Milan when he gifted a hat-trick to Gabriel Bat­istuta) and the Brazilian Luis Silvo Dan­uello. He failed at Pistoiese in the early Eighties, but “fell in love with Tuscany and has stayed in the region. He is often seen selling ice creams at Pistoiese home games.”

The German Football Association’s English version of its official site is about as thrilling as a dinner date with Berti Vogts, and suffers from clumsy translation (“Speaking now­adays of the Bundesliga means speaking of a big boom”). Your pulse won’t accelerate much more if you click on a link to its sister site devoted to the 2006 World Cup, and it’s difficult to see them selling the championship on their chosen racy slogan: “The tournament of short distances.” They’d be better hiring some­one else to do their PR – like the Port­uguese prime minister.

From WSC 191 January 2003. What was happening this month