Thursday, 23 December 2010

Happy Christmas from EFW

Feliz Navidad

European Football Weekends HQ has shut down and decamped to Spain for the festive season.So Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us to you. Eat, drink and be merry and that.

We'll be back early doors in January with a report from Real Valladolid v Tenerife, and then it will be pretty much more of the same for the duration of 2011. I hope you've enjoyed some of the stuff on these pages throughout this year (get on with it - Ed.). In truth, I've been a bit bewildered by all the accolades that came our way in the awards season, especially given all the great stuff that's out there, but I'm absolutely delighted with it all the same.

You can keep up to speed with our movements over the Yuletide on the EFW Twitter feed.

I'll leave you with a phrase coined by a chap you'll be reading more of here next year, Andy Hudson, who said this week "We'll never say no to football again". Expect that natty little slogan appear on a new range of EFW merchandise any-time soon.

Yours in Sport


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Dave Lamb interview


Dave Lamb is fantastic. I used to roll my eyes and lower my bottom lip when my wife would flick over to Come Dine With Me after the football on a Sunday. And then I actually watched it and had to stop myself from giggling at the chap doing the witty and sarcastic voice-over. That chap is of course Dave Lamb, and he's fantastic.

Lamb has more strings to his bow than CDWM. He's appeared on a plethora of television and radio programmes and is, as you might expect, a comedy genius. He is also a regular on the terraces of the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC - and that is all the excuse we needed to get him onto the pages of European Football Weekends.

How come you've ended up supporting The Mighty Rooks? As a life-long Manchester United fan born and raised in the south east, I've taken a fair amount of stick over the years. It's got to me if I'm honest. I now agree completely that it's vital to support your local team. So whilst I won't be giving up United - you can't just give up your allegiance even if you suspect it may be wrong on many levels, I made a decision in good faith as a six year old and I'll stand by that - my passion has been localised. When I had this revelation I was living in Dorset so became a Weymouth season ticket holder for two years. As a Weymouth fan I developed a taste for relegation battles, financial difficulties and defeat. So when I moved to Brighton just over two years ago The Rooks and me were clearly going to be a perfect match. Also my good friend and ex-writing partner Ben Ward is one of the directors and he made me come.

The Dripping Pan is a majestic place to spend an afternoon watching football no? The Dripping Pan is simply the finest place I've ever watched football. I am an absolute bugger for a pint of Harveys, and to be able to sup a pint whilst breathing in the air and taking in the South Downs is spectacular. Sometimes I get so caught up in the experience that I forget there's a game on - but not for long.

Are you fully supportive of the new board and its 'Community Club' ethics? Very much so. I think what they are doing is beyond reproach. Their determination to ensure that the club survives first and foremost and then finds a natural level for itself is admirable and wonderful. Theirs is not an ego thing, it's a love thing.

You've been working with Alistair McGowan recently which must have been a giggle? Yes I have. "Sports Mash" on ITV4 hopefully soon to be repeated on ITV1. I've worked with Alastair many times over the years and it's always an absolute pleasure. It's like being at your own private gig. He is so bloody good at voices I spend most of the time watching and trying not to laugh on mic. His David Vine in this latest series we've been doing is sublime.

We interviewed Kevin Day on these pages not too long ago. He's someone else you've been working with right? Yeah, Kevin's one of the A-list writers on the series. I don't think an ITV 4 series has ever had such a talented writing squad. Basically it's the "Have I Got News For You" team doing it for peanuts because they love sport and love the idea.

Talking of Kevin Day, he just called to ask if you remember the Neville Brothers sketches you did on his radio show and how they portrayed Sir Alex? I do. Me and Lewes director Ben Ward wrote and performed a whole bunch of them in which we played Gary and Philip as a couple of tiny children with very squeaky voices (they were young at the time). And I fully realise why Kev is asking about Sir Alex Ferguson because we wrote him as Father Christmas and he was played by Kev. Interestingly Eric Cantona was portrayed as the French policeman from "'allo 'allo". Ben reminds me that we once had him uttering the immortal line: "I hot the woodwork with one of my shits". THAT, is comedy.

You've been sprinkling Come Dine With Me with your magic for the thick end of a decade now. Is that something you still love doing? It's all right.

What is your signature dish? Anything with Lamb in it is literally my signature dish.

Do you ever commentate on the Lewes games in your head in the same bitingly sarcastic manner as on CDWM? No. Because Lewes are brilliant, unlike most of the people on CDWM.

I'm glad I don't have to edit that show, there must be hours of footage to try and squeeze into such a short space of time? Absolutely. The CDWM crew has to be one of the hardest working in British television. Every half hour show is something like 23 minutes of actual air time and has to be cut down from about 75 hours of footage.

Right, be prepared to roll your eyes at this next question: who would be your dream four guests at a CDWM dinner party? Henry the eighth, Gillian Mackeith, Wayne Rooney and SuBo.

Have you ever tried your hand at stand-up comedy? I used to be in a double act with the excellent stand-up Gordon Southern (we got to the final of "So You Think You're Funny" at the Edinburgh festival in 1993), and I've compered a few times, but I've never really had anything I want to say. I think you should have something to say as a Stand-up, I saw Bill Hicks live, in a tent in 1993 and thought, "right, I'll give up then".

You've got a huge amount of followers on Twitter. Does that eat up much of your time? I spend a ludicrous amount of time worrying about what to put on twitter. So much so that I end up paralysed by the worry and hardly post anything, ever.

Who else would you like to see interviewed here on EFW? Former Eurotrash presenter Antoine de Caunes.

Heh, well consider that done. And finally, Christmas is fast approaching - anything you'd like to plug? Not really. Oh, I'm in "Rock and Chips" over Christmas, the "Fools and Horses" prequel with Nicholas Lyndhurst. A tenner for anyone who can spot me. (Not really. No prizes will be given, I want to make that absolutely clear).

- Feel free to comment below -

Monday, 20 December 2010

NOPA awards

European Football Weekends trouser prestigious prize

We are not ones to blow our own trumpet here at European Football Weekends*. *We are. But last week saw the inaugural NOPA awards take place in London village. It was the best award ceremony I'd ever been to - in Hoxton, and was designed to acknowledge the cream of football blogging and podcasts. And EFW. Oh, and we don't like to talk about it, obviously, but it was all for charity. So dig deep this Christmas time and donate what you can to DSActive.

European Football Weekends was nominated in three categories; the best contribution to a blog, best blog and the people's choice award. It was hard to keep a straight face for the first of those, because I was up against Sid Lowe from The Guardian. Hardly fair sides. As it happened Iain Macintosh walked away with that prize for his splendid contribution to In Bed With Maradona.

The night was hosted by Welsh wizard Tim Morgan. I don't belong to the school of thought that labels the Welsh lazy, because they don't cross their i's and dot their t's in their language - which is full of ll's. Morgan was actually the perfect host, shoe-horning in jokes, better than that one, willy nilly throughout the evening.

The real stars of the show though were the lads from the Football Ramble and Barry Glendenning from The Guardian. They waged a (phoney) war on each other all night. Glendenning waltzed up to the stage flicking v's at the Ramblers as he collected the award for best football podcast, and moved the microphone over to their side of the stage to mock and milk them for all he was worth. He was to pay for that later as the Football Ramble collected the people's choice award, "the people have spoken" said Lukey Moore as Barry tucked into his humble pie.

As well as filling up on free beer and food, it was a great opportunity to put a face to all those people I spend talking to on Twitter and perusing their respective websites. Michael from Zonal Marking, Kieran (Swiss Ramble), David (The Seventy Two), James Appell, Magic Spongers, The Gib Football Show, The Equaliser, Two Footed Tackle, Two Hundred Percent, Tim Hill, Girl that loves the Gunners, Ubecha blog. Hell, even Clive Tyldesley took time out from discussing that night in Barcelona to put in a show.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when EFW received a huge cheer upon being read out amongst the nominees for the best blog award. Barry Glendenning then proceeded to bring the house down with a few funnies, opened the envelope in the style of Sepp Blatter, and uttered the words "And the winner is Danny Last and European Football Weekends" - just how I dreamt it. I rocked back in my chair, gulped down a bit more red wine, shuffled up to the stage and mumbled something or other about Qatar before retaking my seat.

The rest of the night was a drunken blur, obviously.

There's so many people to thank; Ana who is my long suffering wife, Stuart Fuller, Big Deaks, Cynical Dave, Andy Hudson, Dan Richardson, Nick Ames, Ulas Gürsat, Lewes FC, Michael Hudson, Garreth Cummins of the FSF, the lads at the Guardian and so many more. And to you the reader, you are lovelier than lovely.

For the record, the full list of awards were as follows:
  1. Best Young Blogger – Sian Ranscombe for From A Girl Who Loves the Gunners
  2. Socrates Award – Ian King for Two Hundred Percent
  3. Best New Blog – Michael Cox for Zonal Marking
  4. Best Contributor to Blog or Podcast – Ian McIntosh for In Bed With Maradona
  5. Best Podcast – The Football Weekly
  6. Best Blog – Danny Last & European Football Weekends
  7. Peoples Choice award – The Football Ramble

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Bursaspor v Kasimpasa

Christmas Turkey without the trimmings

Bursaspor 2-1 Kasimpasa (13:12:10)

Following the violence that marred the Besiktas v Bursa game last week, Ulas Gürsat reports on a match that, as a consequence, took place behind closed doors. Ulas is a football reporter for the Turkish daily Haberturk Newspaper.

The upshot of last weekends match at Besiktas, in which three people got stabbed, was that Bursaspor had to play their next two games behind closed doors. This, despite Bursa fans protesting their innocence at the unsavoury events at the Fiyapı İnönü Stadium.

Snow had descended on Bursa and temperatures had dipped below freezing. But it felt even colder than normal in the Bursa Atatürk Stadium, because of the lack of fans. It's weird, sad and eerie to witness a game of football taking place in Turkey without the usual backdrop of a crescendo of noise.

It's a well-worn phrase on European Football Weekends, but football is nothing without fans.

Crocodile blues. The lonely croc without his thousands of buddies, for once.

Enjoy the silence? There's nobody there.

A frosty reception for the two teams.

Both teams were punished after last weeks hooliganism. As well as the ban on Bursa fans, Besiktas will play their next two home games outside of Istanbul, and without any fans present. I think it's a stupid punishment, not least because fans of the opposing teams are also banned, and for what? They're are being punished for having done nothing. Logic and football rarely go hand in hand in this country.

Bursaspor fans were still determined to show their support for the team. Hundreds of fans still braved the elements to welcome the team bus to the stadium. The players loved this and took time out to show their appreciation back to the supporters. After this, the fans turned their anger towards the national press, who had wrongly labelled them troublemakers. They started to burn newspapers, and not just to keep warm. After the protests they made their way to the local bars and restaurants to watch the match on television.

Bursa won the game 2-1 with a little bit of help from the Kasimpasa goalkeeper, who with a last minute blunder, handed the three points to the home side. There were only 100 journalists (including me) and 50 club officials in the stadium. Brilliantly, the Bursa directors were trying to chant during the match. Can you imagine Gold and Sullivan starting songs in an empty Upton Park? Actually, I wouldn't put anything past those two jokers.

Come on feel the noise? Bursa directors do their best to notch up the atmosphere.

Snow joke. A goal for Bursa.

Meanwhile outside....

...fireworks and protests. This type of punishment will solve nothing.

For more photos of the day CLICK ME

Have you ever seen a game behind closed doors? Feel free to comment below.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Andy Brassell

Top Brass

It wasn't all fine wines and canopies at last nights NOPA awards. In between hobnobbing with Barry Glendenning, the chaps from the Football Ramble, Zonal Marking, Swiss Ramble and virtually all of Twitter, I managed to grab a few words with European football freelancer, Andy Brassell.

Since you ask, European Football Weekends went home with 66% of the trophy for best blog during the aforementioned ceremony. The other 33% of the award currently resides under the floorboards of Hoxton Hall. After Glendenning and Luke Moore from the Football Ramble had brought the house down with a plethora of funnies, I shuffled up to the stage, mumbled something about Qatar, and back down again to be met by bear hugs from the equally shocked Cynical Dave and Mr Fuller from the Ball is Round. In the ensuing melee, the award was knocked to the floor, and the glass globe rolled comically along the ground and into a hole never to be seen again.

Anyway, back to the issue in hand. Andy Brassell is a bit of hero of mine, not least for his unrivalled knowledge on European football. So it was about time we dragged him on to these pages to share some of his pearls of wisdom:

We're fairly partial to a European Football Weekend on this site, and boy, you've been to a few. Which city would you recommend as the perfect EFW destination? It has to be Marseille's Stade Vélodrome. Football is a central part of the city's personality and that really comes across. It's a rough and ready town, and they're so passionate. The Vieux Port is great for going out, a really lively hub, and it's not expensive to get tickets. The noise is extraordinary in the stadium, and not just for the big games. I was speaking to Habib Beye about it recently and he was pointing out how noisy it must have been before the roof was removed in the renovations for World Cup 98, given what it's like now. It's one of those rare stadiums where the atmosphere comes across really strongly on TV too, and quite a few people tweeted me after the Chelsea game saying how great it looked and would I recommend a trip there.

Athletic Bilbao's San Mames has to get a mention as well. I've been to around 15 grounds in Spain but nowhere else in the country has an atmosphere like it. A fair bit of that comes from the pride of the Basque people of course, but the stadium's always almost full, the stands are nice and tight to the pitch and the fans are noisy, despite there being lots of women and children, as opposed to that typically English demographic of all blokes between 10 and 65. You can make a good weekend of it with mates; bus it to Mundaka, about 45 minutes away on the bus, which is one of the prime surfing spots in Europe. An Aussie guy runs a shop hiring gear and giving lessons, and for history buffs, you go through Guernica on the way.

You spent a couple of seasons watching Lyon. Where does their match with St Etienne rate in the great derbies of Europe? It doesn't have the extent of historical context as, say, the Old Firm, but its newness is what gives it its edge. St Etienne's chairman from their glory years in the 1970s, Roger Rocher, once famously said that "in football, St Etienne will always be the city and Lyon the suburbs", as opposed to the other way round as the cities themselves are, but that's all changed since then. St Etienne are really sore about a nouveau riche club (as they see it) that doesn't have a smidgeon of their history lording it over them, whereas older generations of Lyon fans love getting their own back on the golden boys of the '70s who laughed at them as small fry.

The April 2006 derby at the Gerland (Lyon's home ground) marked the first home game since Lyon had won the title that season and they showboated to a quite ridiculous extent, dyeing their hair in the club colours and celebrating the goals (they belted Sainté 4-0 that day) extremely ostentatiously, running to the corner flag and letting off streamers and the like. St Etienne are still fuming over that one and it shows the mutual enmity there.

You are a regular down at AFC Wimbledon. How far can they climb up the leagues and are they any close to a dream move back to Merton? I always said from the start that I'd be happy with being in the fourth tier for forever and a day, and not much has changed there. The size of the club means much higher isn't realistic, and you could argue that Wimbledon punching above their weight was what left the club so vulnerable to opportunists in the first place. The Conference is great fun and having long-distance away games again is great, but ideologically getting back into the Football League is important. Our league place was stolen from us and to get it back is the major thing.

Merton is a tricky one. I really want to believe it's possible, though I'm not prepared to cede supporter control for that to happen; we've been down that road before. What concerns me a little is that supporters younger than me, who never saw Wimbledon play at Plough Lane (they left when I was 13), don't feel the pull of the area as keenly as the older ones, and fans who've started following in the AFCW years won't get it at all. It's always been a waiting game and will be for a while yet. It's much more important than relentless on-pitch success to me, but I accept that others don't feel the same way.

Any other clubs tickle the Brassell fancy aside from AFC Wimbledon and Lyon? I have admiration for a lot of clubs - I'm a lover, not a hater, Dan - but I can't help but have a bit of affection for Valencia. Great city, great stadium with tons of character, and their bat mascot has to be seen to be believed. It's like something from Hitchcock on acid. I bought a small replica, whom I named Joaquin, and after I flippantly mentioned having a pet bat in some potted bio that I dashed off, rumours about me being some sort of European football Ray Reardon spread like wildfire.

I've read All or Nothing: A season in the Champions League by Andy Brassell a couple of times now. That must have been huge fun to put together? Blimey, that's more than my wife's read it! It really was. The idea struck me when I'd already started doing the research; that I could do some sort of rolling travel narrative of the season as I was getting about to these places, so I just went with it. It would have been a heck of a lot harder but a lot of great people showed real kindness and gave me some brilliant help along the way - the likes of Phil Ball, Xavier Rivoire, Guillem Balague and Sid Lowe.

When I was a kid, I lapped any bits to do with European football as they were so few and far between, especially with the Heysel ban. If I saw a snippet of a team on TV or in the newspaper, I always used to run and fetch the atlas and look up where I might find Lech Poznan or Red Star Belgrade. I never could have imagined going to half of these places (I think I went on an aeroplane twice before I was 18) so it was something for nine-year-old me as much as it was adult me.

To pen the book, you travelled 20,000 miles, through 8 countries in 18 different stadiums. Just like heaven. Which was the best and worst of those 18 (eighteen) different stadiums? So many fall into the best category. The Vélodrome was the first one on the list and (as mentioned above) that's pretty special, but then you have the European night atmosphere at Celtic Park, the biggest standing terrace in Europe in Borussia Dortmund's Sudtribhune, Deportivo La Coruña's Riazor right next to the sea on the end of the beach...the list is endless.

I'm not sure I'd go as far as 'worst' for any of the stadiums; I genuinely enjoyed every one. Although I did briefly question my vocation in Moscow, sat on the coach's bench the day before the match in a minus 15 February watching the Monaco team do light training. Though any chill was alleviated at the match by one of my mates texting me "Alright mate. Looks a bit cold there." Do you think so?

Are there any plans afoot for another book? There's always a few irons in the fire. The difference now is that I have to think about the dreaded 'sell' to make it worthwhile time-wise, whereas for the last one I just did what I wanted. I'm busy enough that it's hard to find the time to sit down and write a coherent draft too.

There will definitely be another one along at some point though. The actual writing (as opposed to researching) of 'All Or Nothing' took ages and for a long time the thought of doing another book made me want to throw. I'm over that now though! The feeling of satisfaction when you've got the first copy in your hands makes it all worth it. As you'll find out. So when's yours out, then?

It may be all singing, all dancing as far as UEFA are concerned. But the early rounds of the Champions League can be a bit dull can't they? You could say that for a lot of cup competitions, really. It's natural that a competition should get more exciting as it goes on and gets to the latter stages. As far as the first half of the Champions League goes the organisers can't win; you either have competitive groups with the same old names, or reorganised qualifiers that give lesser lights their chance but ultimately end up serving up the likes of Zilina as cannon fodder for Chelsea and company.

If, as would be utopia for many, it reverted to the old European Cup straight knockout, the stakes would be so high in every tie nowadays that I couldn't see it producing much other than very cagey, negative football, with both teams scared to make the mistake that would finish a large part of their season.

Richard Keys and company will continue to have kittens when AC Milan draw Chelsea, but is the increasingly regularity of those games decreasing the value of the Champions League? In other words, are they still special? Just about. The problem is the competition has to hit such a fine balance between what's befitting the history of the cup as the very pinnacle of European football and what makes the big boys the most money - because if the second clause isn't fulfilled, then the giant clubs will just break off and form their own European Super League. Obviously the upshot of that would be even more of the biggest clubs playing each other all the time, and the domestic leagues' worth drastically decreasing.

The other point to note is that the same clubs often dominated in cycles in the European Cup days - Real Madrid won the first five, Benfica were in four of the next five finals, Ajax and Bayern both won three in a row in the '70s. It's just we're more conscious of repetition now because this is the first generation where we have all of the live matches at our fingertips, so we naturally have less patience and get bored more quickly.

The Europa League is a long draw out competition which very few people give a rats arse about and should revert back to a straight knock out competition to generate interest. Discuss. Again, a tricky one. People were complaining about the UEFA Cup being worthless for ages, and the same people jumped on the new format and ripped it to shreds within weeks of it starting. It's only in its second season now, so to write the new format off already seems very premature to me.

In the medium/long term, I'm hopeful that the format will help bridge the gap with the Champions League, which is definitely something that needs to happen. That a club as rich as Shakhtar Donetsk has taken this long to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League shows how important that prep is, and hopefully it'll lead to both competitions being even more competitive.

You're an expert in, amongst many other things, Spanish and Portuguese football. Where did their World Cup bid go wrong? Even given the view of the rather murky bidding process, the talk of collusion between the bid and Qatar didn't do them any favours. The fact that the bid leaders didn't get after this as a major PR issue betrayed a certain arrogance, but the bid team didn't have too much public confidence anyway. The FPF (Portuguese FA) have had their hands full dealing with the Carlos Queiroz situation in the World Cup, and there's a strong body of public opinion that president Gilberto Madail should have gone after that.

The fact that the two countries are on their uppers economically can't have helped either. Even bearing in mind that the facilities are already good in both, it's hard to escape the feeling that improvements in infrastructure, security etc would have placed an intolerable burden on the public purse. Some things, like health and education, are simply more important than football, and most football fans realise that. Especially in Portugal, where public cash went on white elephants like the stadiums in Leiria and Coimbra for Euro 2004, many feel that the bid missing out is actually best for both countries.

Qatar was the natural choice as a venue for the 2022 World Cup was it not? The tradition factor isn't something that bothers me that much. It's what seems to be the horribly vague attitude to the bid's shortcomings and supporters' comfort that gets me. The idea that air conditioning is the solution to all the climatic problems is simply laughable. Remember Ricky Hatton's performance against Juan Arango in his first fight out in Vegas? He got a stinking cold from the air-con, and anyone who's worked or lived in it constantly knows how hard it can be on the nose and throat.

Of course, this doesn't cover the other 21 hours of the day that the fans won't be in the stadium either. That we're already hearing talk of moving it to winter shows how little attention was paid to whether the logistics of the bid. It's not even going to leave a legacy there, with the stadiums being dismantled and shipped off. For me, the idea that we'll be going into the most ecologically unfriendly sports tournament of all time over a decade from now is negligent beyond belief.

Did it bother you that England spent millions of pounds to secure just two votes in their 2018 bid? I'm probably not the person to ask. I always thought the FA should have spent on youth development rather than doing up Wembley. The best thing about the construction phase was when England were 'on tour', around Old Trafford, St James's Park, St Mary's etc. There are huge swathes of English football's heartlands that deserve the opportunity to host the national team, and I think I'd feel pretty pissed off if was from the north-west, or north-east, and had to get down to an obscure part of north-west London to see England all the time. Of course if Wembley hadn't been constructed, it may well have been that all big qualifiers would just default to Old Trafford, but the plan is a good one in principle at least.

Going back to the 2018 bid, I accept that you have to speculate to accumulate in this situation; that's simply part of any bidding process. What I found a far more upsetting prospect is the FIFA standard of them not being charged tax on any World Cup profit. It's nothing new, but something that I find very hard to stomach. Who do they think they are? They won't accept political interference but they can interfere with politics? I'm glad that didn't happen to us, however much I would have liked to see the tournament here.

Who is to blame for their failings in bringing football home? The idea that the media should have kept schtum about FIFA throughout the bid process is absolutely ludicrous, as is the suggestion that Panorama or the Sunday Times broke the bid; it's their right and responsibility to do as they did. That the British media is nosy is no news to anybody, and the idea that FIFA was blissfully unaware of this before is simply untrue. It's unlikely that they would have wanted the extra scrutiny of their activities for the next seven years or so that would have gone hand in hand with it being on English soil.

Clearly the voting procedure is fundamentally flawed, though why this couldn't have been addressed before now, especially by a football market as strong, influential and lucrative as England's, is a mystery to me. But the bid team glad-handing, withdrawing complaints about Russia's comments, and disassociating themselves for the media only to turn around and cry foul afterwards takes the edge off what are mainly legitimate complaints about transparency and procedure.

The World Football phone-in with Tim Vickery has a large following, and is a tremendous listen. Would you like to see that brought forward in the 5 Live scheduling, 8-10pm on a Thursday night for example? Thanks! The creation of a podcast has really made it blow up (as Jay-Z or Kanye might say), which is great and something I'm grateful for, but it does make people forget sometimes that its context is that of a late-night show. Much as getting to bed at a more civilised hour has its attractions, the timetabling gives us the chance to not have to be so mainstream, wander off topic in whichever way suits and create a more intimate setting with the listeners - all things that give the show its charm.

Which players are currently catching the Brass eye that we may not have heard about? I'd heartily recommend watching Alexandre Lacazette. Yes, he plays for Lyon, but his career highlight thus far is probably scoring the winner for France versus Spain in the summer's European Under-19 Championship final. That was on the Friday, he got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, made it to London where Lyon were playing in the Emirates Cup and made his first two first-team appearances on Saturday and Sunday to make it three games in three days! Jumpers for goalposts! He's quick, intelligent and a tidy finisher too. France is still great for producing talent and another young one to look out for (though older and a slightly later bloomer than Lacazette) is Lynel Kitambala, who's banging them in for Lorient this year.

I should probably pick a defender too, so I'll plump for Yaroslav Rakitskiy of Shakhtar Donetsk. He's been very impressive in the Champions League this season, having got a chance when Dmytro Chygrynskiy went to Barça last year. He's proof that you don't need to be a six-and-a-half-foot brute to be a good centre-back, and you should get to see him in the latter stages of the CL this season, as well as with Ukraine in Euro 2012.

Do you get time to read any football blogs? Yes, although not as often as I'd like because I'm pretty busy doing my own stuff most of the time. I don't really want to single out individuals because there's an enormous amount of quality and enthusiasm out there. I feel encouraged that there's more and more recognition of that, not just with stuff like the NOPAs but from the mainstream, with Michael Cox of Zonal Marking's column in The Guardian for instance, which shows what's out there and what a public appetite there is for it. Great football bloggers are great for football writing as a whole, raising standards and keeping the traditional outlets honest.

Who are your favourite football journalists? From the European angle, it's hard to look beyond Sid Lowe. He's been doing it for years, but his column is still exciting and action-packed. There's always a breathlessness to his stuff that tells of someone who still loves what he's doing. The best - for me - are the journos who can put football in a wider human context. I'm lucky enough to have my work published at ESPN Soccernet now alongside some people that have a always set a gold standard in writing about European football in this way, like Phil Ball and Uli Hesse.

I don't always read the British dailies from cover to cover as my focus is mainly on continental Europe, but I always really enjoy reading Rory Smith. Not only is there real wit and insight to his writing, but he has a great sense of the ridiculousness of the whole roadshow, which I think is really valuable in a context where some people in and around the game take themselves far too seriously.

I've heard you're a bit of an actual footballer yourself. In fact Luke Moore from the Football Ramble has just described you as Zlatan-esque, in that you don't run anywhere, but score some decent goals. Guilty as charged? I'll take that. Though I'm of a much sunnier disposition than the great man, so I'd describe myself as Zlatan after a week at Club Tropicana. Though last time I turned out for the Ramble, I played more like Zlatan after a week in mid-Britpop Camden Town....

Talking of the Football Ramble. Those boys must be on a high after all the critical acclaim that rightly comes their way these days, no? They're doing things the right way, trying to expand into new areas - with the new website etc - without moving away from what they're good at. Even allowing for the egalitarianism of the Twitter and Facebook age, they're brilliant at connecting with genuine fans just because they're so incredibly enthusiastic about the game, as well as knowing their onions and being very, very funny.

And you're contributing to their success with a series of articles on their blog as well? It seemed a natural enough thing to do; I already knew them and what they were about pretty well, so I was pleased to be asked. I really believe in their values (well, apart from those involving drunken exposure) and what they're aiming to do. The quality of writing on the blog is absolutely phenomenal too; Chris Nee, James Appell, Chris Mann, Jim Campbell, Rupert Fryer, Steve Grant and co are as good as you'll find anywhere, which is good to be part of. You also get the recognition that there's football outside Europe and the Americas, like with the reports from Pyongyang and Pete Josse's piece from Nepal.

You've got upwards of 4,000 followers on Twitter. Does that eat up much your time in between radio shows, penning articles and tv appearances? I try to respond to every question, though time sometimes holds up responses and I imagine I miss the odd one or two. Tweet Deck is a godsend, as I can dip in and out while working. I've had a few people say thanks for responding, to which I always wonder - why wouldn't I? If people weren't interested in reading or listening to what I have to say, then I wouldn't have a job. So thank you.

And finally, who else would you like to see interviewed on EFW and why? Paulo Futre. An absolute legend and you'd be able to bust it in Spanish, of course! He still lives in Madrid, where his son plays for the Atléti youth team, and does co-commentary for Al-Jazeera. And who better than you to ask him about the famous 'Futre 10' moment in the dressing room at West Ham?

For more of Andy's work, head to his website HERE, and follow him on Twitter there.

With Christmas just around the corner, you could do worse than to treat yourself with a copy of his excellent book. Go mad and buy it HERE.

Andy's sidekick on the World Football Phone-in, Tim Vickery will be interviewed on the excellent In bed with Maradona website next week.

- Feel free to comment below -

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Newcastle United

Football Fantasy Owner

Andy Hudson, editor of Gannin' Away has been on these pages before, but it has to be said, in happier circumstances. Hudson has written about the joys of watching football at FC St Pauli, FC United of Manchester and SV Austria Salzburg. Now, with a heavy heart, he talks about the goings on at his own club, Newcastle United:

Fantasy Football Owner allows you, a reckless maverick, the chance to take over your very own football club.

Turn despair to delight as you sack the incumbent manager for the princely sum of £4 million, bringing back a much loved former boss as part of your vanity project. It’s your club; why not employ your friends? Done. Give one total control over transfers (for full disclosure this idea is a rip-off of Fantasy Music Mogul, where you can send Katherine Jenkins to get singing lessons from your close friends the Cheeky Girls) then leave the squad depleted by only making signings he recommends - you can hardly expect a football manager to know what players he needs, can you?

Don’t worry as you draw the season opener at Old Trafford; you have a successful season planned. Sell another player and sign some guy on loan as a favour to an agent who promises to give you first dabs on some top, young South American talent which never actually materialises. It’s ok, the manager can see him in action on a YouTube clip to see how he fits into his team.

When the manager walks out because he can’t manage the club then just blacken his name and lie to the fans. You know someone with a heart problem and a destructive relationship with the media? He’ll keep the team in the league. He’ll do as a replacement.

The fans shout at you. Maybe the best option is to sell the club. There’s technology there to help; it’s called shiny new email. Let people bid using that. And you can have a jolly to Dubai and flog the club in hotel bars. Just set a ridiculous asking price. Someone will be drunk enough to agree, except you can't find anyone as drunk as you.

You decide to keep the club. That manager with the dodgy ticker is having a few problems. It’s ok, his assistant will do. Just tell him he’s covering for a bit. The players can’t be bothered playing but you don’t panic; just bring in a club legend. He’ll save the club. Just don’t leave it too late. Eight games to completely stop the rot will do it. Well, it was worth the gamble. You can tell everyone that he’s the right man for the club. Then just ignore him.

The assistant will have to do for the new season. You need promotion and he’s doing a pretty good job. The players are happy with him; the fans are happy with him; hell, the fans even seem happy with you. This isn’t right. You’d better try and sell the stadium name. The fans will be against you but it isn’t as though you care what they think. They’ll only protest for one game and you can always choose the name of another of your business interests to use. You don't even need to pay for it.

Give the assistant a new contract; appoint him as full-time manager. He probably won’t become popular with the fans. The fans chant his name as he gives you the league title. It’ll never last; you’ll never give him another contract. Best to leave him hanging. After all, it's stability you need.

The newly promoted club slaps some teams aside. There are a few losses but that’s to be expected, right? You’ve got away wins against big teams, battered your local rivals and beaten Aston Villa 6-0. The fans and players love the manager and finally there’s some stability at the club. You give the manager a rollicking for milking the crowd's applause after a 5-1 win. How dare he become popular and make it more difficult for you to give him the sack! You don't know much about football but you do know exactly where the team will finish this season. You know where points will be won and lost, because the best thing about football is it's so simple to predict in advance. You know whatever you do, the fans will still turn up. Protests against you will only last for one game. And this guy has no experience. If only you knew someone who has experience; someone who has delivered silverware before. That’s who you should get in as manager. You know that you always make the right decisions; history tells you that, right? You just can't fail.

Read more of Andy's work on the excellent Gannin' Away blog

Sunday, 12 December 2010

FC United v FC Halifax

FC make some noise

FC United 0-1 FC Halifax (11:12:10)

There is no government health warning printed on match day tickets at FC United of Manchester. And there should be. I suffer from terracechantitis; a disease whereby if I hear a natty terrace ditty on a Saturday, it's liable to rattle around in my head for days, weeks and, I'm looking at you here Royal Antwerp, months later. Be forewarned: FCUM have become the kings of the natty terrace ditty.

EFW has covered most aspects of the rise and rise of FC United here, there and everywhere. The one thing missing is a report on a matchday experience on their (sort of) home turf. So I rolled back the years and journeyed north for a 540 mile round trip, something I used to do every other week following Brighton, before I became obsessed with, ahem, European Football Weekends.

Under the boardwalk, watching FC.

What's not to like?

First port of call upon arrival into Manchester was the Waldorf pub. It probably doesn't rank too highly on, but time wasn't on our side and it's only a goal kick away from Piccadilly station. I'm not too sure if any new bands have emerged on the Manchester scene in the last decade, because the pub was still pumping out tunes by The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets on loop. Still, that suits me fine and it proved an inspirational backdrop as Cynical Dave, City Dave, Mr Fuller, Christa and I made notes on the EFW divisional ready reckoner.

Despite the knock on effects of a devastating crash in this area last week, the tram service from Manchester to Bury was running as smooth as a pint of Boddingtons. It was hard not to rubberneck as we eased our way through the carnage left behind on Coronation Street. Our thoughts are of course with Ashley Peacock and his family at this distressing time.

Bury tram station pumps out Abba tunes on a Saturday morning. No, me neither, but Dancing Queen seemed fairly apt as Mr Fuller was still sporting a spot of mascara from his previous nights entertainment - part of a bet on a work night out in Denmark by all accounts. Those Danes eh? What are they like?

The hospitality afforded to the EFW team at the Stade le Gigg, Bury was of the highest possible order. A chap called Swampy took us under his wing and - after negotiating the crystal maze of the Bury main stand, with doors and stairways everywhere, like a deluxe edition of Cluedo - we finally ended up in the Course You Can Malcolm (CYCM) bar. Here we knocked back an ale brewed to commemorate FC United's FA Cup run and listened to some quality, and very funny, speeches by the home (team) manager and his trusty assistant. A bit different. A bit brilliant, actually.

She wore, she wore, she wore a Scarlet Ribbon.

I say Ottershaw, this Barnstoneworth United can play a bit lad.

Heavy duty flagage.

The highest compliment I can bestow on this match, is that it felt like a game in Germany in terms of the atmosphere. And lets not forget to mention FC Halifax fans part in all this. They travelled in great numbers - 5-600 or more - and gave their team tremendous vocal encouragement as they celebrated their 100th game as the club who replaced Halifax Town A.F.C. a c0uple of seasons ago.

In truth, there wasn't too much high fiving between the two sets of fans. This was Yorkshire v Lancashire, and a battle of the roses, after all. A couple of FC Halifax fans had caused a bit of northern uproar by referring to FC United as ESPN United, and a few more chanted USA, USA during the game. See what they did there? Ouch. The home fans also insisted on singing anti-Leeds United songs. I don't get that, I don't get the songs about Eric Cantona either, but - for me anyway - 90% of everything they do makes sense.

We were plenty surprised by the high skill factor and flair from both teams during the match, which was befitting of such a large crowd. FC Halifax deserved their victory though. A small section of the travelling Shaymen put the stewards to the test by trying to encroach on the pitch at the end. This was swiftly dealt with, and within a couple of minutes both sets of players took applause. A great advert for the Evo-Stick League, in the seventh tier of English football? Yes Sir. The return fixture is on New Years Day back at The Shay. I can think of worse ways of starting the year.

Time to wheel out the 'Stairway to heaven' caption again, tick.

Simon Garner (former FC United player, no less) and friends salute the travelling Shaymen after notching the winning goal.

A mover and shaker.

For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME.

- Feel free to comment below -

Saturday, 11 December 2010

EFW divisional ready reckoner

What division are you in?

Football's just a branch of science, no? Well, after meeting our good friend Dave this morning in a pub in Manchester, yes that Dave, we decided to draw up the definitive EFW divisional ready reckoner: a list of the 92 clubs and the division, we think, they belong in. Admittedly, everyone involved in this experiment had indulged in a few lunchtime range finders, but hey, worse things happen at sea, don't they?

So, football fans of the top four tiers of English football, listen up. This is how it feels to be lonely,(Wigan), this is how it feels to be small, (Barnet). This is how it feels when your club means nothing at all, (MK Dons).

The Premier League (Division 1 in old money)

Aston Villa
Manchester City
Manchester United
Newcastle United
West Ham United
Tottenham Hotspur
Leeds United
Derby County
Nottingham Forest
Ipswich Town
Sheffield Wednesday
Coventry City
Blackburn Rovers

The Championship (Division 2 in old money)

Birmingham City
Bolton Wanderers
Stoke City
West Bromwich Albion
Queens Park Rangers
Leicester City
Norwich City
Preston North End
Notts County
Brighton and Hove Albion
Crystal Palace
Sheffield United
Hull City
Oxford United
Charlton Athletic
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Cardiff City
Swansea City
Bristol City

League One (Division 3 in old money)

Doncaster Rovers
Scunthorpe United
Stockport County
Peterborough United
Wigan Athletic
Carlisle United
Swindon Town
Plymouth Argyle
Bristol Rovers
Tranmere Rovers
Oldham Athletic
Bradford City
Port Vale

League Two (Division 4 in old money)

Hartlepool United
Dagenham and Redbridge
Colchester United
Yeovil Town
MK Dons
Exeter City
Leyton Orient
Shrewsbury Town
Cheltenham Town
Accrington Stanley
Burton Albion
Torquay United
Lincoln City
Macclesfield Town
Aldershot Town
Northampton Town
Wycombe Wanderers

So, what do you think? Agree, disagree? I fear we may be turning into Talk Sport with this one, but we're going with it anyway.

- Feel free to vent your spleen/agree with us below -

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

NOPA awards

Football, comedy, beer and charity.

A fun evening, filled with tons of booze, lots of nice food, a chance to meet or catch up with fellow bloggers and it's all for charity you say? Guests to include Barry Glendenning, Luke Moore, Clive Tyldesley and - to reiterate - it's all for a good charitable cause? Where do we sign?

It's not often I pull a suit of the peg, but this has to be worth putting in an appearance for, no? Furthermore, European Football Weekends has somehow managed to shoehorn its way onto the list of nominees. In fact, if you're at a loose end, you can vote for whoever tickles your fancy here:

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The inaugural NOPA awards , hosted by PickLiveFootie and designed to celebrate the best that the football blogging and podcast world has to offer, take place at Hoxton Hall in London Village. Tickets for the event can be purchased HERE. All food and drink is included in the price of a ticket. All proceeds go to the charity DS Active.

With all the furore surrounding Fifa and their World Cup bidding shenanigans, it probably isn't the best time to tell you that EFW have also been nominated for another award as well. So, in no way will I be asking any of you to head over to the Soccerlens Awards page for best niche website and put a tick in the box for us there, not on your nelly.

- Feel free to comment below -

Monday, 6 December 2010

Besiktas v Bursaspor

Turkish eye of the storm

Besiktas 1-0 Bursaspor (05:11:10)

Three fans were put in hospital with knife wounds following the Besiktas v Bursaspor match on Sunday, meaning every news agency reported on it for all the wrong reasons. EFW Turkish correspondent Ulas Gürsat was at the match reporting on what really happened. Ulas is a football reporter for the Turkish daily Haberturk Newspaper:

A small bit of history was made on Sunday at the İnönü Stadium, because for the first time in seven years away fans were allowed to travel to a match involving Beşiktaş and Bursaspor. What could possibly go wrong?

These two teams have become huge rivals following events surrounding the finale of the 2003/04 season. Bursaspor were fighting relegation with Akcaabat Sebatspor and Rizespor, both of whom had to play Beşiktaş as the season drew to a close. Beşiktaş lost those games, and in the eyes of Bursa, did so on purpose - therefore relegating them to the second division, and thus the newest football rivalry in Turkey was born.

It took Bursa three seasons to regain their spot in the Süper Lig. Upon doing so the Turkish FA instructed both clubs not to allow away fans into their respective grounds for this fixture for fear of crowd trouble. Neither team were happy with the ruling, but after today, it will probably be back for some years to come.

This match kicked off at the unusual time of 14:00. It's quite rare for matches involving 'big teams' to kick-off in daylight. Beşiktaş had played in Europe on the Thursday beforehand, and Bursaspor are due to play Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday. Therefore - in the interests of both clubs - the authorities settled on an afternoon start, which isn't something we're used to, but everyone seemed to like it - to begin with, anyway.

Beşiktaş is a district of Istanbul, and almost everybody in that area supports Karakartallar (The Black Eagles). But they also have fans from all around Istanbul and indeed the whole of Turkey. I started my short journey to the stadium from Kadıköy, a large, populous, and cosmopolitan district on the Asian side of Istanbul. I took the ferry with the other BJK fans from Asia, and even though it was early, their fans were not only in high spirits - they were drinking spirits, and the singing had already started.

Sunday morning worship. The Black Eagles take to the streets of Istanbul.

The ferry pulled in just 500 metres from the ground. Upon our arrival, there was a heaving mass of excitable fans. The reason? Well, my appearance had coincided with the 1200 visiting fans and shouts of pleasure and confusion were raining across the streets. The BJK fans approached their rivals, but had three of four lines of police in their way. By way of a greeting, the two sets of fans exchanged pleasantries in the form of beer cans, glasses, stones and small bombs.

Beşiktaş fans were very determined to get to their rivals, but the police were equally intent on stopping them. Bursa fans, for their part, threw everything they could lay their hands on to defend themselves whilst trying to gain entry into their section of the stadium. This continued inside the İnönü, but this time seats were the weapon of choice.

Beşiktaş fans gather to welcome their rivals.

Bursa fans make their way into the stadium.

Pleasantries are exchanged.

Fighting, that's done. Now to support the teams.

Tensions continued to rise throughout the match, not helped when a Bursa fan ran onto the pitch with a green flag. He knew he couldn't gain entry to the pitch from the away sector, because of the fences, so he posed as a BJK fan, and ran onto the field of play from the home end. Beşiktaş fans are famous for their noise, today was no different, and if anything they were louder than normal. It's an incredible experience to watch a match here.

It was a tough game played out in front of a full stadium. The home side won it with a Filip Holosko strike. Bursa blamed the defeat on the sending off of their star man Volkan Şen. He was showered with missiles as he left the pitch for his troubles.

Bursa fans fenced in to their section.

So this chap invaded the pitch from the home section. Mentalist.

Volkan Şen is not alone as he exits the pitch after his red card.

My view from the press box.

Happily, there was no further trouble after the match, but I learned later that three people had been taken to hospital with knife wounds during the violent scenes before it. Beşiktaş took the all important three points, but they won't be taking any of their fans to the return fixture if this was anything to go by.

For many more photos of the day CLICK ME.

Further reading: EFW visit to Besiktas. And the video of their fans.

- Feel free to comment below -

Monday, 29 November 2010

James Richardson

We belong to Jimbo

Cast your eyes skywards on a clear night and, if you're lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of a small pod circulating in near earth orbit. Contained within that small capsule is a group of people who - twice weekly - produce a master-class in football punditry, namely, The Football Weekly.

Rallying those troops together in an attempt to reawaken Blighty with some European footie news interspersed with the odd welcoming pun is James Richardson, AC Jimbo to his mates. He brought us gold with Football Italia in our teens, delivered frankincense with the aforementioned podcast and European football newspaper round-ups, and completed the hat-trick with a long overdue presenting stint on Match of the Day ITV4 darts.

I wanted to do something special for this: the holy of holies. So, in a nod to Cash for Question in Q Magazine, but without the cash bit, I asked some friends of EFW to pitch the great man a question. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me no greater pleasure to welcome James Richardson to European Football Weekends:

Sir, as a young(ish) journalist, I was once deployed to ask you questions about the forthcoming World Cup. Instead, we ended up nattering about Serie A for 45 mins and I ended up with a tape full of fascinating, but ultimately useless material. Firstly, does this happen a lot and secondly, how do you maintain your passion for Italian football in the face of so many scandals? (Iain Macintosh,football writer and author) First question; not as often as it should. Second question; if football leagues are like girls, Serie A was, back in the 90’s, the one we all desired but thought was way out of our class. That she then turned out to be a bit of a tart underneath made her, for some of us, all the more intriguing.

How did you pitch up at Football Italia for Channel 4? (Footie and Music)
Funnily enough there was an actual girl involved. I met a young lady from Rome, as the old limerick goes. This lead to me learning Italian, which led to a desperate tv exec calling me in a couple of weeks before the show launched to have a go at being a football reporter. Doesn’t scan very well, does it?

I've heard that you didn't care for football until you got the Football Italia gig, is there any truth in this? How long did it take for you to fall in love with the game, if at all? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) I’m not sure I am ‘in love’ with the game. Sometimes its unpredictability can take your breath away, sometimes it can feel like history unfolding before your eyes, but sometimes it’s FIFA world cup 2010. So I like it - love it on occasions - but not always.

From your time covering Italian football, what was your most memorable match? (Swiss Ramble) Sadly, Genoa – Milan in 1995. A Genoa supporter was murdered, the game was suspended and an angry mob took over the streets around the Marassi. After we filmed a bit of the disturbances we were surrounded by Ultras, causing my film crew to drive off at high speed and me to get a genuine black eye. Jimbo on the front line! However, so abject did I look to the burly fellows responsible that one of them was delegated to escort me out of the area, which he did, conversationally pointing out the fleeing police cars and burning vehicles as we passed. A very singular afternoon.

For on the pitch business, I remember doing a Sampdoria Milan game with Ruud Gullit turning out for ‘Doria that was a bit of a cracker. Then that Milan – Verona match in 90-something when George Weah went off on his pitch-long scoring run, and Inter Brescia at the start of Ronaldo’s first season there, when Alvaro Recoba made his scene-stealing debut in. Plus Roma – Parma, when Roma won the title and Channel 4 cut to a black and white film before the match ended.

In recognition of your legendary "duet" with Elvis Costello on Football Italia, what is your favourite Costello album? Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits. Failing that, Armed Forces or This Year’s Model.

Is there any chance of a reunion with Elvis Costello on the Football Weekly pod? Elvis, I’m ready to ditch our current grumpy irishman whenever you give the word.

When Gazza moved back to the UK did you think "Well that's the end of this cushy number?" (Stuart Fuller, The Ball is Round) Actually no; Paul hadn’t been involved too much in the show anyway through his injury-ravaged final season at Lazio. Plus Paul Ince was just arriving.

There are huge cultural differences across Italy, so when you had to present the show outside the northern "heartlands" were you treated with suspicion like us southerners are when we go up north? Not in the least. Almost everyone was very welcoming.

Do you see Serie A having a renaissance period in the UK? Similar to the one we saw from '92 onwards. Or, what's stopping that from happening? (Tim Hill, Talking About Football) Not in the next decade. Why? Money.

What's your favourite cake? (Andrew Gibney, Gib Football Show) A proper home-made Panettone, or anything with chocolate.

Do you ever actually eat the cake/ice cream? (Jacob Steinberg, Guardian, Football Weekly) Do I ever!

What one lesson could the English Premier League learn from Serie A? (Ollie Irish,Who Ate All The Pies) Oh dear. At last a huge opportunity to answer back all those jingoistic premier-centric English clichés about the Italian game. Open net! Must. Not. Miss… Er, home grown owners?

Who are your favourite group of fans in Italy and what sets them apart from English fans? (Andy Hudson, Gannin' Away) I don’t have one to be sincere. Perugia supporters are a decent bunch, as can Neapolitans. Any support with a healthy dose of self irony, basically.

Do you still get a Christmas card from Gigi Casiraghi after eulogising him on Football Italia? (Andy Brassell, All or Nothing TV) Gigi was my love that dare not speak its name. The time I asked him to rub my face in a plate of cold spaghetti, and he complied! Do it again, Gigi! Do it!

During your time as anchor of Football Italia did you interview anyone who was visibly inebriated? Or did you encounter any particularly annoying/awkward guests? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) In answer to your first question; visibly, no. But I worked with gazza for 3 years. Annoying guests were few and far between, although I remember Alen Boksic being rather difficult. And Christian Vieri used to refuse to speak English to me.

Italy were effectively eliminated from the World Cup by a Marek Hamsik-led Slovakia. I was wondering what that result did to enhance Hamsik's reputation in Italy and what effect did it have on his popularity throughout the country? And how is he doing at Napoli this season? (Dan Richardson, Britski Belasi) There was no Ahn-type backlash at all that I’m aware of (the south Korean who scored the penalty that put Italy out in ’02). Still, it was an entirely different set of circumstances; Italy were so abject this time that they barely noticed who put them out of their misery. Wasn’t that the best 10 minutes of the Cup though – when Italy suddenly decided to go for it at the end of that game and Quagliarella scored that blinder? Frustrating.

Just how bad is the violence and racism in Italian football? (James Boyes, Lewes Football Club) Ugh. Bad enough. Still waiting for the happy ending on this one.

You continue to be a big influence on The Football Ramble. We all remember your Gazzetta Football Italia stint with great fondness. What we'd most like to know is, which player from your time reporting on Serie A would you most like to share an ice-cream with, and why? (Luke Moore, Football Ramble) Beppe Signori. Just an all-round star, on and off the pitch.

In your opinion who was the better side - Arrigo Sacchi's Milan 'Immortals' of 1989 & 1990, Fabio Capello's Milan 'Invincibles' of 1991 to 1994, or Jose Mourinho's treble winning Internazionale of last season? Oh, and could you have a look at this? (David Hartrick, I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was) Sacchi’s side! Woof!

Why do we see so little of you? Does being so well know as the Football Italia man hamstring you in terms of mainstream presenting gigs? (Dan Brennan; World Soccer magazine, Libero Language Lab) It must be that. It’s really putting my Hollywood career back too.

For many years I've considered it one of life's travesties that you don't present Match of the Day, and I know I'm not alone in thinking that. Have you been offered the chance to present the show and is it something you'd like to do? (Jeff,In Bed With Maradona) I would absolutely love it. LOVE it!!!

If you got the *whispers* MOTD gig, how would you change it and who would be your wingmen? (Damon Threadgold, The Real FA Cup) Adebayor and Shearer. And it would be all about Serie A.

Were you flattered by the Internet campaign to get you the MotD2 gig earlier this year? (James Maw, Four Four Two magazine) I was very flattered.

What were you thinking letting me in the pod bay doors that time James? Anyway, would you consider giving up waiting on British TV and coming overseas to host a North American targeted show on ESPN? (Richard Whittall, A More Splendid Life) Come back Villasupportgroup, by night known as Richard; you were excellent. All well in Toronto? Give me a bell when this ESPN thing is sorted, it sounds like fun.

Have you ever considered going into radio? Have 5Live or the geezers on Talk Sport ever come knocking? Ok, let’s just simplify this: I’m available and will often work for cake.

You sing (arf!) the praises of some 80's bands on the pod. Did you ever want to be a music journalist or is football your first and only passion? When I was little, I very much wanted to be a Dee Jay.

Do you have a favourite football league team or any fond memories of watching any football outside of the Premier League? (David Bevan, The Seventy Two) I remember going to see Swansea City at Spurs on – I think – boxing day in 198-whatever it would have been for Swansea to be in the First Division. Not a particularly fond memory though, compared to some I could mention.

The thick end of 10,000 people sign up for your monthly tweet. Twitter is not really for you is it? I genuinely would like to tweet more but I have the twitter version of stage fright.

How do you keep Barry Glendenning awake during your Serie A round-up on the pod and what was it like sharing a room with the 'rebels choice' at Euro 2008? Electrical currents. Far be it from me to shatter illusions, but Barry is no rebel in the domestic environment. Despite his punishing schedule of bar-frequenting in Vienna he would squeeze time in between hangovers to keep our apartment spick and span. Until I destroyed the place by accident on our final night, that is.

Have you ever actually seen/met Sid Lowe or does he exist in your world solely as a voice from yonder like Holly (the computer) from Red Dwarf? What a silly idea. That’s Jonathan Wilson.

Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water? (Beat The First Man) Time actually passes faster in water than it does in air, so what you’re actually witnessing is old age in preview. Fact.

Do you?

You'd be mad as a box of frogs not to download the Football Weekly podcast from The Guardian.

Follow James and European Football Weekends on Twitter

Like this? Then you'll probably like other EFW interviews with; Barry Glendenning, Sid Lowe, John Ashdown, Sean Ingle, Jacob Steinberg and Raphael Honigstein.

- Feel free to comment below -

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Brighton v FC United of Manchester

Category C, You're Havin' a Laugh

Brighton 1-1 FC United of Manchester (27:11:10)

Brighton and Hove Albion have three options when it comes to attracting the eye of the national press; Flirt with extinction - and be rescued by tireless efforts of its supporters, race clear at the top of League One with a colourful boss at the helm - and a shiny new stadium to move into, or draw FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup.

One argument levelled against FC United is that they get a disproportionate amount of press coverage considering they ply their trade in the Northern Premier Division. This is undoubtedly true, but it's because they're so newsworthy. And their fans have certainly struck a chord with us here at European Football Weekends.

Unfortunately, the hype and hoopla of this match got the better of the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) who - in their infinite wisdom - decided to grade this a Category C match, meaning that, in their view, it carried the highest risk of disorder. This was the first time this had occurred in five years, since Crystal Palace rocked up to Withdean. That I could understand. This, less so.

Initially, on internet forums (I know), both fans went in swinging virtual windmills and accusing each other of all sorts of nonsense. A resemblance of calm was eventually restored when those fans took a step back and realised they had a lot of common ground; neither of these two clubs would exist if it wasn't their supporters - two of the best sets of fans in the country when it comes to campaigning and tackling the issues of mod£rn football.

The FC United fans arrive. Did they rampage through the streets of Brighton beforehand? Did they 'eck as like.

Up for the cup.

When the seagull follows the trawler......

Ultimately, this fixture was drawn out of the hat a year early. Had it arrived 12 months later, then FC United would have been afforded the luxury of a 3,500 away allocation - instead of the derisory 845 - and we'd have all been moaning about ticket prices instead. £10-12 for this game by the way - no own goal there. Incidentally, a ticket to football in 2010 shouldn't cost more than £15. If you think that's bonkers, then tap 'Germany + football + supporters not customers' into Google.

So, what should have been a football fiesta celebrating FCUM's biggest game in their short history had kicked off on a sour note. In my view, what puts the magic in the FA Cup is the fact that grounds can teem with away fans on days like these. Football without fans is well worn cliche, and with good reason. Those empty seats at Withdean on Saturday should have been filled with the FC United fans whom had to be content with a seat back at the Flixton Cricket Club, where the game was beamed back to.

There is some good news though; FCUM can rejoice in one decision this week, that of Manchester Council City's Council Committee (MCCCC!) whom approved planning permission for the club to build a new 5,000 ground and community sports complex at Ten Acres Lane, Newton Heath (Newton Heath!). Brighton fans, for their part, have enjoyed a season in which the Gus Bus has chugged through the gears nicely, and arrived at the top of League One. Thousands of Seagulls have flocked to recent away games; 3,394 at Charlton, 2,519 at Peterborough and 3,105 at Southampton. Woof!

Time for a beer I think don't you? I met up with a few old faces in the pubs of Brighton prior to the match. A few pangs of guilt about not attending Withdean for a while were dispatched with every passing pint of Harvey's, and anecdotes of following the blue and white wizards home and away for over 20 years: we were up for the cup - and ready to witness some tippy-tappy football in the Albion's (not quite) Olympic stadium. £10 for a waft of magic from Elliot 'Benno' Bennett's boot anyone? - rather.

Cries of "Bring on United" rang out across the ground for five minutes or more before the match kicked off. Part of the appeal of FCUM is their vociferous supporters. Karl Marginson - the clubs one, and only manager - described FC United as a 90/90 club, where 90% of fans sing for 90 minutes. Today, they were a 100/96 club. To the tune of Anarchy in the UK then: I am an FC fan, I am mancunian, I know what I want, And I know how to get it, I wanna destroy Glazer and Sky, Cos I wanna be at FC. The songs came thick, fast and loud. The only ditties I didn't quite get were ones related to Eric Cantona. Yes, he endorsed the club, but why not sing about the players in your own team now?

The Theatre of Trees.

The ultra club.

Keep of the pitch IN THOSE TRAINERS.

Sorry, I couldn't resist this snap.

For new readers: this isn't really the site to head to for an actual match report. Others do that much better than I ever could. I will say that FCUM stopper Sam Ashton chose arguably the biggest day in the clubs history to play an absolute blinder between the sticks. A performance in which he added the icing to his cake by saving a last minute penalty, thus securing an unlikely draw for the away team - who were positioned 120 places further down the football pyramid than their table-topping opponents.

It was also so cold that the Albion substitute, Spaniard Franciso Sandaza, took to the field of play sporting a pair of black tights. That wasn't the worst fashion faux pas though; one of the linesmen had a pair of trainers (trainers!) on. Letter of complaint to the FA on it's way as I type, obviously.

At half time I met with Andy Walsh, FC United Chief Executive. Earlier in the week, he was afforded just four minutes to put forward the club's case for that new stadium in Newton Heath. "Everybody took the piss" he said "It normally takes me four minutes to say my name." We all laughed. I was particularly interested to talk to Walsh, because he'd helped sell the notion of a community club - and gave a morale boosting leg up in the process - to Lewes FC. This community, co-operative club football lark could well catch on you know.

I ended up tapping my foot to the ground, not only to keep warm, but - along with a bit of hum - also to join in with the songs of the travelling support. "I wish I was in their end" said my good friend Mr Cherry. We're both Brighton fans, but it was hard not to get swept up in the mood emanating from the away seats - seemingly several hundred yards behind one of the goals. Best and loudest song of the day (to the tune of the Beach Boys, Sloop John B): Hoist up the John B sail, see how the mainsail sets, call for the captain ashore, Let me go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go hooo-oo-ome, this is the worst trip I've ever been on, Doo doo doo dooo (repeat to fade).

So, the mockery of the Category C grading had been turned on its head. Best away fans we've had at the Withdean? Probably. Certainly, they were the loudest since Stoke City came to town around six years or so ago. There will be better days for the Albion. Promotion would be rich reward for the Brighton fans whom have fought tooth and nail to keep their club afloat in more trying circumstances. A final thought to the Safety Advisory Committee: Football is nothing without fans.

Cat C - unfair. Tick.

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