Monday, 12 July 2010

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good bye

So far 2010 has been quite a year for endings. Labour left Downing Street after 13 years, Jack Bauer tortured his last terrorist of indeterminate Arab origin in the final series of 24, and Courtney Pitt bade the Abbey Stadium a fond farewell after five glorious years.

And now it is the turn of U's Blog to say adieu. I started this blog mainly because I enjoy writing about United, but also to give me some sports-writing experience in anticipation of getting a sport-related job in the future. It's paid off, though not quite in the way I expected, and as of this week I have started a new role as Sports Editor for Cambridge First. So if you live in the Cambridge area you'll still be able to read my ramblings, albeit in a more concise format with less lame attempts at humour.

Writing this blog has generally been ace, and I think the last three seasons have summed up life as a CUFC fan - and probably as a football fan in general - pretty well; fleeting moments of hope followed by ultimate crushing disappointment and bitterness. Hopefully that will all change this coming season, and I certainly believe we have the right man in place to do it - Lingy always gives the impression he knows what he's doing, which is a stark contrast to some of his predecessors, and the squad he has assembled should give us a fighting chance of a top-five finish.

So yeah, anyway, thanks to everyone who has read and/or contributed over the past three years, and I hope to make a return to blogging one day if circumstances allow. But for now it's cheerio, cheerio, cheerio.



Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Players we love to hate

One of the best things about being a football fan is that it's quite acceptable to be a brazen hypocrite.

I'm sure there are loads of people out who, like me, spend most of their lives wishing misfortune to befall the majority of the England squad. But come the World Cup we put our differences aside in the hope that they might bring glory to the nation, only to start hating the over-hyped scumbags again when they inevitably get knocked out in the early stages.

Similar rules apply at club level; you can hate a player who repeatedly wrongs your team throughout his career, only to forget his long list of misdemeanors when he dons your club's colours. We haven't signed one of these since the days of big Lemu Fortune-West, so it's quite funny that Lingy has picked up two in the space of a week: Long-haired playmaker Adam Miller and everyone's favourite camera licking flat track bully Daryl Clare.

Miller always struck me as a narky, if talented, sort in his Stevenage days, and I've never really forgiven him for his snarling celebration when he netted a penalty against us at their place in 2007. Clare's crime-sheet mainly consists of regular goals scored against us and a reluctance to stay on his feet for any longer than is necessary, but you can't really sniff at his goalscoring record, which has remained consistently good despite his advancing years and regular changes of employer.

There's no doubting that both are talented additions to an already solid squad. In fact I'd have to say this is probably the strongest, most well balanced, group of players we've had since relegation: There's a good mix of youth and experience and brains and brawn, and no one area of the pitch where we look particularly short of cover. Of course plenty can, and probably will, go wrong between now and the start of the season, but I'm beginning to get genuinely excited about our prospects. Who needs the World Cup anyway?


Sunday, 20 June 2010

This, that, and the other

(Pic (c) The Guardian)

Watching England labour to an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Algeria reminded me of the frustration I often feel when playing FIFA 09 on the Wii.

When the player I'm controlling in the game moves forward, he usually has no options on because his team-mates are standing, static and dis-interested, right next to an opponent. This kind of behaviour is perhaps excusable from the pixelated characters of a video game, but less so from England's mighty heroes, who are supposedly capable of bringing the World Cup home, but on recent evidence would struggle to win the Setanta Shield.

Plenty has already been written about the Algeria match, which in terms of entertainment and quality ranked alongside the United v Chester game last season as one of the worst 90 minutes of football I've ever seen, so I won't say too much more, except that it brought to mind a quote from Pete Davies in his excellent book on Italia 90, All Played Out. Following England's draw with Ireland in that tournament, Davies remarked that, while the rest of the world were trying to put on a show, the teams from the British Isles were "stinking the place out" with their terrible football. Twenty years on it seems little has changed - we still stink.

Back home, Lingy is back from his holidays, and as you will have seen, has completed the signing of Forest Green's Conal Platt. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about him, but on the surface he would appear to be a good signing; experienced enough to know what the Conference is all about, but young enough to improve as we progress. But as a left-winger with the initials CP, he has a hard act to follow, and I hope he is up to the challenge of filling Courtney's giant shorts. Not literally of course, that would be impossible.

Over in the village of the damned, JB is licking his wounds after being gazumped by the mighty, er, Halesowen in his quest to bring in a new centre back. He has apparently now turned his attentions to players from France in a bid to unearth the new Armand One.

"Using my contacts and managerial know-how, I jumped on a plane and went and saw some players at a showcase in Paris. A couple looked like they might be able to do a job for Histon Football Club, so we're looking at the logistics of bringing them over and having another look at them," he told the CEN. Sounds like a winner to me, anyone got Kingsley Mbome's number?


Sunday, 13 June 2010

AOB: Brave Lions of Ing-er-land 1 - 1 US Soccerball Kickers

I hope you're pleased with yourself Adrian Chiles.

Sure, £1million+ (allegedly) is quite a decent yearly salary for a rotund journo who occasionally sports questionable facial hair, especially when all he has to do to earn it is sit on a sofa and make small talk with Kevin Keegan.

But is any amount of money enough to work for ITV, an organisation so incompetent that they managed to play an advert at the exact moment England's brave Stevie G was slotting home the opening goal in last night's game with the USA? What price your journalistic - and broadcasting - integrity, eh Adrian? Chiles profusely apologised for the blunder during the half time break, but he might as well have been apologising for the existence of his employers, who should never be allowed to broadcast a sporting event again. Ever.

Anyway, England's 1-1 draw with America would have been painful viewing had been shown on BBC, CNN, or Al Jazeera. Not because we played particularly badly in my opinion, but because the result was so predictable. England never know what to do when they take the lead - we've seen it time and time again in tournaments over the last few years; they start faffing about, gifting the ball back to the opposition, or lumping it long in the direction of the big man up front, and before long disappointment ensues.

If the equaliser was predictable, the manner of it was less so. Nevertheless, I would stick with Green for the Algeria match, if for no other reason than neither of the replacements are a sure thing; Hart is completely untested, and James is over-the-hill and error-prone. Capello thought Green was the best option yesterday, and I would hope he has enough courage in his convictions not to change his mind after one (admitedly costly) gaffe.

After half time I thought we were much improved, and should have gone on to win the match. We kept the ball reasonably well against awkward opposition, and created plenty of chances. Heskey, Gerrard, and Johnson were the pick of the white-shirted bunch, and again I hope the manager sticks with Mr Em, who did a good job of linking play and was certainly more impressive for much of the game than Rooney.

It wasn't perfect by any means; Lampard was annonymous, the centre-backs look like a disaster waiting to happen, and the usually peerless Capello made two left sided errors, selecting Milner then SWP when Joe Cole should have joined the fray. But with two games against less capable opposition to come, England showed enough for me to remain confident we will top the group. What happens beyond that remains to be seen.


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Where there's a Will(mott) there's a way?

I usually find it difficult to muster up any sympathy for Rio Ferdinand, but even I feel a little bit for the England skipper, whose dream of leading the nation to quarter final defeat in the World Cup has been wrecked by injury.

Still, with no football to worry about perhaps the Man United defender can resurrect Rio's World Cup wind ups, the prank show filmed during the 2006 finals which involved such hilarious japes as, er, pretending to kidnap David Beckham. Every cloud, eh Rio.

Another player dogged by injury recently is Robbie Willmott, but the U's winger is now back to full fitness and gave a very frank interview to BBC Cambs last week admitting that he needs to up his game.

"[Last year] I let my standards drop and it wasn't the best season for myself," he said. "A few people were getting on my back, the injury was a bit of a blessing because it meant I could evaluate everything again."

It's good to hear such reflective talk from Robbie, and it's perhaps a sign of growing maturity in a player who spent most of last term looking grumpy and disinterested. But the proof of the pudding will be whether he can back up his words with action on the pitch. I remember last season he did an interview in the programme where he admitted he needed to play better, and that he switches off sometimes during matches, and there wasn't any discernible difference in his performances after that.

For me this will be a make or break season for Willmott. When he's on his game he's an exciting player, but I still harbour serious doubts as to whether he has the footballing intelligence to make the most of his gifts. Too often his decision making is poor, and it doesn't seem to have improved over two seasons of first team football. We all saw the difference that the far more dynamic Scott Neilson made when he came into the side last season, and Willmott could do with taking a leaf out of his book if he wants his career to progress to the next level.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

AOB: Warning, may contain traces of England-related optimism

There's nothing like listening to talkSPORT to boost your world cup fever. Except perhaps reading the Sun, or watching Sky Sports News, who have no doubt been covering the England squad's flight to South Africa in painstaking, high definition, detail. Multiple-camera-angles-of-blokes-getting-onto-an-aircraft ahoy.

Anyway, whatever your tabloid media of choice, it's hard not to get caught up in the hysteria currently being generated around the World Cup. The press went into overdrive yesterday when Fabio Capello named his squad for the tournament, with names leaking into the public domain via Twitter like a tap with a worn-out washer.

As is often the case, in my opinion it was a lot of fuss about nothing, because Capello's selection of squad players is completely irrelevant. I didn't agree with all his decisions - I would've taken Walcott and Parker, and would have left Wright-Phillips and Carrick behind for example - but either way it's unlikely to make much difference. Is there much to choose between Wright-Phillips, Lennon, and Walcott? Not really, they've all had decent games and shocking games for England, so you wouldn't want to rely on any of them to be the difference between winning and losing the trophy.

For me it boils down to this; As usual, England can win the World Cup, but as usual they probably won't. For us to win it, we need everything to go right, and that means all our big players staying injury free and in form. There's no point Lennon playing a blinder if Rooney gets sent off, or Gerrard goes missing, or Ferdinand and Terry doze off and make some kind of catastrophic elementary error. I know it's a team game and all that, but with the squad players being much of a muchness, I don't think the selection posers that Fabio faces will be make or break.

But as I say, I think we can win it. It's not always the best team that goes to the final - look at France in 2006, or Germany in 2002. You just need to get on a run, and have a bit of fortune with the draw, referees, etc. I don't think we have a Zidane or Ballack figure to inspire us on the pitch, but we possibly have one in the dug-out. Now, where did I put my St George's flag?


Friday, 21 May 2010


I'm surely not the only one who often has Mika popping into their head when they think of Brian Saah.

The thought process usually goes something like this; Brian Saah >>> full name Big Brian Saah >>> or just Big Brian >>> is beautiful >>> I start humming the Mika hit Big Girl (you are Beautiful).

Now that the former Leyton Orient man has penned a new two-year contract, I reckon Big Brian, you are beautiful could be a new terrace anthem. Make it happen Newmarket Road End, make it happen.

Anyway, it's happy, and perhaps surprising, news that Big Brian will be donning the amber and black next year. Of the three out-of-contracters, I think that in a way his would have been most damaging departure. Although it's probably more difficult to replace a 20-goal striker like the Crow, who today completed his transfer to Luton (hiiiiisssssss), Saah is a Ling man, so if he had left us it wouldn't have said very much about our promotion chances next year, or about our manager's ability to attract the players he wants.

The football being played at the Glassworld Stadium is likely to be considerably less beautiful than our number five now that John Beck is back at the helm.

"I don't think there's another manager in the country that can do this job and offer what Histon needs," said a typically bullish Beck, after signing a two-year contract at the Glassworld.

In a way he's right: there probably aren't many managers more suited to taking the bunch of young, inexperienced, players the Villagers are likely to end up with next year and turning them into an ultra-fit, well-disciplined, football machine. However, after his last, disastrous, spell at the helm of United, it remains to be seen whether he can be successful without the steadying hand of Steve Y'Know to keep him in check and stop him from going too mental. Should make for interesting viewing either way.


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