Extracts of Blagg's football blogs as he follows West Ham United and England through the usual series of near disasters.

Featuring links to the Annual Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

Also featuring guest appearances by 'Captain Olympic'.

Monday, 30 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 18 Elton John

Not much Football Today
Feeling better but a family function and another concert meant I only got to watch the last 30 minutes, extra time and penalties of the Greece v Costa Rica game which the South American's won when Theofanis Gekas's kick was superbly saved by Kaylor Navas.

Costa Rica should have had a penalty when one - nil up, with what looked a fairly obvious handball that no-one seemed to spot but, despite that, I felt sorry for the Greeks who looked more likely to go through when they scored their injury time equaliser from Sokratis. Costa Rica had been on the ropes from just after the hour mark when Oscar Duarte was sent off for two bookable offences and looked all-in during extra time. The shoot-out was a fine example of under-pressure penalty taking from both sides though.

Earlier on, I'd been to see Elton John - who'd I'd never seen live before - as he was playing just 15 minutes walk from where I live and it would have been rude not to have gone. Fizzled out a bit before the end for me but while you contemplate that, here's another tune...

World Cup Diary - Day 17 Cockney Rebel

As Morrisey once said...
...I'm still Ill but that's not the reason I won't be seeing any football today, but rather I need to drag my fever'd overrun body to the Royal Albert Hall in England's wonderful capital to see Cockney Rebel. Well, they're there and it would be rude not to go.

So you enjoy the music and in the meantime, here is another tune

Friday, 27 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 16 No Football Today!

Today's World Cup Menu
No football, it's Friday so it's Fish & Chips and Mushy peas - Yee-har!

No Football Today
I'm ill - seriously and there's no football today so talk among yourselves while I play you a tune...

Thursday, 26 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 15 The Group Stage Ends as FIFA Bite Back

Today's World Cup Menu
Lamb Tagine with Pulled Pork Parcels, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Belgian Triple Chocolate dessert, Californian Zinfandel, Roast Dog (just another example of my irrepressible humour there) and Vodka (Come on Capello, I've got a bottle to sink here!).

Another Blagg blog
ESPN FC Blog 26th June
In which our hero complains about that bloody National Anthem and points out England are quite good at a few things but not great at any.

The Group Stage Ends
Germany beat the USA 1-0 but both went through thanks to Portugal's 2-1 win over Ghana which did nothing for either side. In the later games, 10-man Belgium beat South Korea 1-0 while Algeria drew with Russia to ensure the African side qualified for the Group of 16. This means I had only two shots of vodka but I can have some more Tagine.

Nine international games, £100,000 Swiss dollars and four months from all forms of football; the punishment for the Luis Suarez bite on Giorgio Chiellini. Yes, it's deserved of course but isn't this an interesting precedent here? 

The referee didn't see the incident so Suarez has been convicted on TV replay evidence. Nothing wrong with that, of course if the evidence is conclusive - but then isn't that what TV evidence actually is? FIFA paid a lot for goal-line technology but didn't we all know Frank Lampard's shot was a yard over the line four years ago? After all, we all saw it on TV and it was being shown to millions even before a baffled Lampard had managed to run up the referee in real time. 

In short, use TV evidence if you must but let's also use it for when a player is sent off for smacking an opponent in the face when TV clearly shows his elbow was nowhere near the man rolling on the floor in acute pain. Use it for poor tackles that the referee misses. Use it for offside.

In the Suarez incident, the issue is magnified by the fact that the resulting ban means Suarez's club side - currently Liverpool, but it may not be after this - lose their player too. There will undoubtedly be those who even argue that this is unfair. Should a club be punished for a misdemeanor carried out on a football pitch thousands of miles away?  Let's be clear here; leaving aside the incident - difficult I know but try - a massive line has been (or should have been anyway) drawn in the sand here by FIFA. 

Retrospective bans? No problem at all but let's make sure it is used fairly.

And another thing!

Uruguay and Suarez are to appeal. On what grounds can they possibly appeal? That the TV replay doesn't show the real truth? Failure to come to terms with this is making Uruguayan football a laughing stock. It's not down to the British press (If the press can coerce FIFA into doing something they don't want then the 2022 World Cup would be taking place in England!), nor the Italians and Brazilians but if the rest of the world thinks you are deranged then, just possibly, you are. 

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan speaking on ITV was superb as he pointed out we shouldn't be surprised by this attempt at claiming innocence, pointing out that 'football had no morals'.

"We give Uruguay stick about defending Suarez, but every manager defends his player"

"Over the years I have played there has been wife-batterers, drink-driving incidents, infidelity, Eric Cantona jumping into the crowd and kung-fu-ing someone in the chest. The clubs stand by them"

"The supporters themselves, when these guys come back they stand up and applaud them on the pitch. So don't anybody start talking about morals - we don't have any in football"

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 14 Night in the Big Top

Today's World Cup Menu
Swiss Chocolate dessert, La Francette Cabernet Sauvignon

Night in the Big Top
Punk poet, wit, raconteur and general bloke in amazing drain pipe trousers, John Cooper Clarke was playing in a Big Top in my local park this evening. It would have been rude not to go. As good as he ever was (keep this quiet but I first saw Clarke supporting Elvis Costello back in 1977) but reading rather too quickly to always get the full effect of the poetry. Still here's Twat from 1982

Supporting JCC was Mike Garry who was also excellent and I urge you to seek out his stuff. Here's 'St Anthony' - a tribute to Anthony Wilson (If you don't know who he i sthen google it!).

Meanwhile, back in Brazil, France and Switzerland qualified - thus making sure my required quotient of wine and chocolate is kept up - while Argentina qualified beating Nigeria 3-2. Fortunately, for the African side Croatia finally found their form and run out east winners over Iran ensuring Nigeria go through. Good stuff!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 13 England Catch the Bus

Today's World Cup Menu
Moussaka, Dolmades, Negroamaro Salento Italian red

England limp home
A tedious 0-0 draw with surprise package Costa Rica ensured England at least left Brazil with a point, but there was little else to enthuse about in a dull game that was the type of thing we expected at least once from the Three Lions - so we shouldn't be disappointed. When BBC coverage spends the first 30 minutes of their match discussing the Italy v Uruguay game that was being played simultaneously in Natal before mentioning the home nation then you know something must be amiss.

Mind you the Uruguay victory that sent the Italians home, did have one major talking about. Am I the only one who finds Luis Suarez biting people very funny? When I was a boy a First Division player biting someone's ear off only brought a quick word as the ref run past. Man up yer jessie's!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 11 Father's Day 2

Today's World Cup Menu
Duval Belgian Ale, McDonald's Quarter-pounder  - No Russian goals so no vodka 

Out with my daughter today, as I didn't see her last week for Father's Day, so I missed the Belgium v Russia game because I was driving for half of it and ..errr...kipping through the other half. It was a game I wanted to see but it was apparently very poor with Belgium snatching it late.

It's hard to assess the competition with England out; lack of even a promise of a last 16 place means viewing the rest of the tournament as a neutral and - good as some of the teams look - there is an inevitability that many of them won't be worrying the quarter-finals. This makes the entertainment quotient somehow diminished and I'm not sure why this is. I've watched World Cups where England haven't even been represented and enjoyed them immensely, so perhaps this is just a fleeting feeling. Or perhaps I'm just tired of the whole thing - I have to admit there are elements of 21st Century football I find really tiresome.

Last night's Germany v Ghana was a cracker though and I've really enjoyed tonight's Korea v Algeria game too, although I'm still concerned that the Africans are merely a France 'B' team because a lot of the player's came through the French nursery system, playing for France for the Under 19's before switching to Algeria. This is a nonsense, is happening everywhere and now affects quite a few national sides and it should be stopped immediately. Incidentally, I say that as a fan of English cricket which has had more than it's fair share of South Africans and Australians in; there should be no residential issue at all - At least not until the first batch of Poles, Germans and Rumanian's start playing for England. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 10 Media reaction is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Blagg rant
Here's the ESPN link to the rant about the media.
Englands failure hardly a surprise

And here's the unedited version that also mentions the sainted David Beckham who seems - for reasons I can't explain (perhaps it's a Government plot?) - to be armour-plated.

Not with a bang, not with a whimper; it was worse than that. Germany and France hadn’t even played their second game as the English FA were checking flight times and booking tickets home. So the manner of the departure was hard to take perhaps, but was the eventual outcome?

Not a single England supporter I met, nor any comment I saw on the web suggested England would progress very far in this tournament; most thought the squad would do well to emerge from a tough group.  None of the professional predictions on radio, TV or web remotely indicated Steven Gerrard would be lifting the trophy either – so why is anyone surprised at how things have turned out? Considering expectations, it’s rather odd to see the outpouring of frustration and anger from the English media.

Perhaps it’s one of those things that can be said more easily beforehand than experienced after, but getting out of Group D always seemed a tall order for the Three Lions . The draw was not kind to an inexperienced side - how often do you get a four nation team containing three previous World Cup winners? – but the fact is though, even before the plane touched down in Brazil, it was known that England were suspect in defence, lacked tournament knowledge and - more importantly - couldn’t rely on any decent world-class players. Barring the addition of the usual suspects – think of him of what you will, but John Terry was sorely missed here and even Rio Ferdinand could probably have played had he wanted – it is difficult to see what Roy Hodgson could have done. It’s true that in the actual heat of the battle the general display and results have been extremely disappointing. But surprised? I think not.

What was particularly galling was the show of irritation and disappointment from those players who had failed before at previous World Cup’s but were quick to apportion blame on the current squad. Trending last night was an exasperated rant from Chris Waddle made on the radio, the former England winger bemoaning the state of English football with a ‘we never learn’ comment that seemed the type of thing plucked from the heart of every England fan. The condemnation though  -- described as ‘brilliant’ by many post-match – was actually a sad indictment of the English mentality.

If nobody expected anything of this current England side, that can’t be said of the Lineker and Gasgoine inspired 1990 squad. Desperately unlucky that side may have been, but the failure to put the ball into the net from 12 yards was the reason that team never progressed to a deserved final place. And who blazed another 12 yards over the bar in the penalty shoot-out in that game? Well none other than Mr Waddle himself. Stones and glasshouses seems the appropriate response here. 

Similarly, Rio Ferdinand is a fine defender by anybody’s standards but the player was also part of the ‘Golden Generation’ who never shone, while Alan Shearer and then manager Glenn Hoddle never got past the last 16 in 1998. Meanwhile, in-between the match coverage of the Italy and Uruguay games, UK TV viewers would have seen an advertisement featuring that great cultural icon David Beckham. The man may well be handsome and he certainly wears a suit well, also - as revealed in a recent UK travel documentary - the former England captain is known by some indigenous tribes in the central Amazonian rainforest too; but this most famous of players  appeared at three World Cup’s and barely – albeit with injury – never once shone as expected. What do we want from our heroes? Trophies held aloft or a fashion catalogue?   

The national team have been failing for decades and attempts to turn on current players, manager or tactics is utterly pointless. Those doing the shouting haven't been any more successful than those soon coming home. English football has long been in a mess;  the grass roots of the game are where the problems lie and even if this were to be addressed tomorrow, it would still be another two or three World Cups before England reaped the benefits.  

Rather than turning on yet another failing crop, those pundits might be better biting the hand that used to feed them. Only then might English football start to extricate itself from the mire it has wallowed in for so long.

Today's World Cup Menu
Bratwurst, Quilmes Argentinian Cerveza

Friday, 20 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 9 England sent home

Today's World Cup Menu
Costa Rican coffee, Gruyere and Bacon flan, Pizza, French Corbieres 

England sent packing
You know I even thought it wasn't all over last night. I thought Costa Rica's win over Uruguay was a fluke; that Italy would win their two matches and it would come down to if England could beat the South Americans and Uruguay could get something off of Italy... but this World Cup isn't like that. Either Italy or Uruguay will now go out and who could have seen that? 

There's nothing of any surprise here, I never saw a single blog nor spoke to anyone who thought England were going to progress in this tournament. Where I'm currently working, I've barely heard anyone talking about the football or if they watched the matches or not. The fact is most people have fallen out of love with English football and it would take an awful lot for that to change.

Nevertheless, the manner in which England have been sent home is desperately disappointing. I've been doing a World Cup diary blog for the last five World Cups but really my heart isn't in this any more. As I write this, Daniel Sturridge is on TV advertising Subway sandwiches while David Beckham is surely only five minutes away advertising Sky or something. Nothing changes. It's profoundly depressing.

I had plenty of World Cup heroes to do - many of them not English - and I've still got some food and drink to finish but really, like the English players, I may need to go away and hide for a few weeks. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 8 England v Uruguay

Not much time today so here's a link to the Blagg 50/50 challenge with Felipe Miguel and then I'm off down the pub

Blagg 50/50 v Uruguay

Today's World Cup Menu
Colombian coffee, kebab, retsina and two pints of Goal!!! ale.

Late update
England moratorium tomorrow if I can manage it...

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 7 The Champions go out

Turning out to be quite a tournament
There seems to be something special going on at this World Cup. We've just started the second round of matches and the general feeling is this is shaping up to be something of a golden tournament; very few dull draws, plenty of goals and attacking football and none of that 'grind out a result and see where it gets us' that normally strangulates the group stages.

Take the first match today between the Netherlands and Australia. After the Dutch thumping of Spain in the opening match this would seem to have been a mismatch; It was nothing of the sort. A wonder strike by Tim Cahill - try and catch Robbie Savage wetting himself over it on BBC 5Live - levelled the game up after an early opener by Holland and the Aussies could have been 3-1 up by half-time. 

In fact, the Socceroo's did get a lead albeit thanks to a dubious penalty award - another ball to hand that was apparently 'intentional' - but Van Persie pulled it back almost immediately and the Dutch found enough to get a winner eventually. Great stuff though and hard to believe the Australians have lost twice despite playing well in both matches.

Later on though, came the shock. There were obviously serious questions being asked about Spain after their first match, but most of us probably assumed they would have enough to struggle through the group. The champions looked entirely out of sorts though and Chile were worthy winners at 2-0 and Spain followed a recent trend where the defending winners go out in an abject way that doesn't really seem to correspond with their actual status. Not as good as they were? Perhaps. But the European equivalent of Togo? I think not!

In the later game, Alexandre Song managed to send millions off to bed with a big smile on their face after managing to pull off one of the more useless dismissals ever seen in a World Cup, elbowing his Croatian opponent squarely down his back for no apparent reason other than he just felt like it. It was so mindless, so bum-numbingly stupid, all anyone could do is laugh. Sadly, his team mates were unable to show how the game should be played succumbing meakly 4-0 to an impressive Croatian team in which Modric and Rakitic were outstanding. 

Today's World Cup Menu
Spanish Tapas with Parma Ham, Coopers Brewery Australian Pale Ale, Vintage Gouda Cheese, Croatian Sausage and Casillero del Diablo Chilean red

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 6 Brazil are Back

World Cup Heroes # 6
Martin Peters

Martin Peters was, of course, one of the ’66 World Cup heroes and a man described by Sir Alf as ’10 years ahead of his time’ although recent polls suggest he is now 40 years behind the times. Nicknamed the ‘Ghost’ because of his ability to drift unnoticed and unmarked into a dangerous area, Peters was a genuine World-class player and one of the greatest products of West Ham’s ‘Academy’ of the 1960’s. However, the former Hammers, Spurs and Norwich midfielder has another claim to infamy.

For on the night of 30th July 1966, Peters went to bed at 10 p.m. claiming the tournament had been very stressful, he had missed his wife  and he needed a good sleep. Whether our hero means ‘sleep’ in the biblical sense of the word and this says much for the allure of Martin’s wife, Kathy isn’t something we need to dwell on (At least, I don’t - but feel free if that is what floats your particular boat) but you have to admire any man who - having won the World Cup a few hours before – stifles a yawn, stretches his arms, looks at his pyjamas, plumps up his pillow and thinks “Yea, Sod this celebration malarkey, I can do that in another 4 years - I’m having some of that cocoa”

An apocryphal tale perhaps but as a counterpoint to Peters’ celebration; my Granddad went out celebrating that night and returned in mid-August just in time for the new season at Upton Park. Asked by my Nan – a  fearsome woman at the best of times - where he had been, he answered sheepishly ‘Well…It went to extra time’. 

Today's World Cup Menu
Algerian Tagine, Corona Mexican beer, Ardennes pate,  and as a nod to the Vodka I brought back from a trip to St Petersburg with Blagg Jnr. – one shot of Russian standard for every goal scored by the Russia side (Don’t worry as Fabio Capello is in charge of the Russian team I’m not expecting for it to slow me at work tomorrow).

Today's Matches
Belgium opened their campaign, depending on their substitutes to pull of a 2-1 win against Algeria after the African side led from the 24th minute. Goals from Marouane Fellaini (70) and Dries Mertens (80) ensured the 'dark horses' got off to a winning - if unconvincing start

Mind you, they were nowhere bear as unconvincing as Brazil who more than met their match against a plucky Mexican side who bravely battled the home nation every inch of the way in a 0-0 draw. Whisper this, but this Brazil side don't look very good at all.

Later, Russia and South Korea drew 1-1 in a match best remembered for the brave job done by the BBC commentator who did superbly in quickly picking out the Korean and Russian names. Only one shot of vodka on Kerzakov's equalising goal on 74 minutes but it was enough to send me to sleep and miss the closing minutes.

The late nights are catching up on me...

Monday, 16 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 5 Here come Germany

Germany off to a flier
The tournament's first dull game and it was the BBC who were cursing their luck. The 0-0 between Iran and Nigeria really had nothing to recommend it at all barring the fact the fact that Iran's Football Association is in complete disarray and has no money, and this draw is therefore something of  a result. 

Germany got off to a fantastic start in the earlier game, trouncing Portugal 4-0. Once again, you have to hand it to the Germans who don't really have anyone of the class of Cristiano Ronaldo, but who somehow make everything look easy regardless. Leading scorer in the 2010 World Cup, Thomas Muller started this tournament off with a hat-trick and a bit of play acting that so incensed Pepe that the Portuguese player bent down and told him so, pushing his forehead into the face of the Bayern Munich player. Muller - who later insisted he remembered nothing of the incident after the 'blow from Pepe's fist' - yea right! - suddenly found the strength to leap from his prone position and jostle his opponent before the players interrupted and the ref waved the red card to the dismiss Pepe. There is no defence of Pepe who deserved his marching orders, but you can see why players get annoyed when a trailing arm that barely brushed Muller's chin apparently has him clutching his nose. Germany never used to get involved in this type of rubbish and it was a shame to see. Retrospective yellow cards are the answer here and it's about time they were introduced.

The game was over by half-time with the Germans 3-0 up, which was a shame for the neutral as a spectator but great for the watching German Premier Angela Merkel who has seen more World Cup games live than I ever will. How odd her diplomatic missions always take her to the country hosting the World Cup.

Final word goes to Jurgen Klinsmann who seems to have developed an American accent; he saw his USA side squeeze past Ghana 2-1 with a late strike from John Brooks. "AWESOME" it sounded like he said.

Today's World Cup Menu
Piri-Piri Chicken, German Peppered Salami, California Zinfandel

World Cup Heroes # 5
Tofiq Bahramov
For decades known simply by Germans and English alike as 'The Russian linesman', Tofiq Bahramov was the representative from the Soviet Union who awarded England the controversial third goal in the 1966 World Cup final. 

After the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent demarcation of eastern Europe, Bahramov was found not to be 'Russian' at all but an Azeri in what is now known as - and strictly speaking always was - Azerbaijan.
There are no definitive angles to prove now - let alone then - that Geoff Hurst's shot did bounce over the line but consider this; Bahramov was born in 1925 and would have been 16 on 22nd June 1941 when Operation Barbarossa begun and the Nazi's crossed the border into the USSR. He was 41 on that June day in '66 and he was certain he saw another line crossed but this time it was a German one. Without a doubt he was right - because, even if he was wrong, he was right.

Rather quaintly, the Azerbaijan national stadium is known as the 'Tofiq Bahramov Stadium' and the 'Russian Linesman' is something of an Azeiri hero whose accredited quote that "[Football is made up of]  duels.. full of unforeseen turns and even real miracles. And who does not want to be a magician if even for just 90 minutes?" should make anyone warm to him even more.

Bahramov passed away on 26th March 1993, aged 67 and when England and Azerbaijan were drawn together  for the qualifying group of the 2006 World Cup, a special ceremony was held before the game in Baku to honour the only referee to have  a stadium named after him. His Son Bahram met representatives of the visiting fans after the game and touchingly expressed his pleasure that the famous 'Russian Linesman' of 1966 had finally gained his true nationality. "Now that Azerbaijan is independent it's very right for him to be remembered as a member of the Azeri nation. People like Tofiq Bahramov are only born once in a hundred years.

It's rare that we can say: "Two nations salute you, Sir!"

Sunday, 15 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 4 Father's Day

Pirlo Masterclass Shows Gulf

England fans have a right to be encouraged by the performance, if not the result, of their opening Group D match against Italy, but the undeniable truth is many of the old problems are still apparent. More depressingly though, is the very likelihood that this may never change.

Roy Hodgson’s men had more shots overall, more on target, forced more saves from the Azzurri’s 2nd choice keeper Salvator Sirigu, forced more corners, conceded fewer fouls and nearly equalled Italy’s possession percentage – always a hard thing to do against a side that retains the ball until they know exactly what they want to do with it – but they still lost mainly due to the greater skill of individual players.

For anyone who loves football, it’s hard not to purr with pleasure when Andrea Pirlo has a ball at his feet. It is astonishing how the 35-year-old playmaker seems to find so much room and is always able to play the most dangerous ball; but what isn’t always clear is just how little energy the Italian expends in creating the most damage. Slow-motion replays of Pirlo at work in TV’s post-match analysis, highlighted how the Juventus midfielder was able to find the maximum space and prompt the next attack. What wasn’t made clear though was how often Pirlo then trotted or slowly drifted into another space created by himself, to be available for the next decisive move. It looked as if he barely broke sweat all night – and considering the sweltering heat of the Amazonian rain forest, that takes some doing. It was great to seem Raheem Sterling running full pelt towards the opposing defence and watch the normally obdurate Italians struggle to deal with the frightening pace, but watch Pirlo and you can see it is not all about speed and agility. Considering all the pre-match talk was about what England were going to do to nullify Pirlo, it is extremely depressing to find that either there was no plan or – more likely – it was decided there was little could be done to stop him dictating play.

Where then is the English equivalent of Andrea Pirlo? A player perhaps not blessed with speed or strength but one just able to find room, create and be virtually unplayable. The truth is there is no-one now, none on the horizon and there hasn’t really been any of note over the last 40 odd years either. English football just doesn’t seem to produce them. Worse, it’s not just a Pirlo equivalent that’s missing. What the Italians had in spades was the ability to get a job done; keep calm and find a way to win. It’s something that builds in successful sides and runs through Italy as a unit – even noticeable when new players are drafted in to replace old. Germany have it too; France and Spain are learning how to do it. England? 1966 was a long time ago now and it shows. The men wearing the Three Lions – young, old, retired or not – simply seem to have a different mental approach.

As a fine example, in Wayne Rooney’s third World Cup, the Manchester United player somehow seems unable to do what he does regularly for his club side. He wasn’t as bad as some are suggesting against Italy – the cross to Daniel Sturridge for England’s goal may have been worth his place -- so this isn’t just another knock for the maligned player who looked uncomfortable in his wide left position against Italy. But for a ‘disappointing’ Rooney consider others. For all his high-profile statesmanship and chequered career, David Beckham came to three World Cups and never contributed as much as Pirlo in a couple of matches. When Beckham pops up in some far-outpost to see an indigenous tribe who have no concept of what a TV is, he is instantly recognised – I doubt Andrea Pirlo would be. But in football terms, who has achieved the most?  There are two differing concepts of football here and England’s sadly isn’t based around winning tournaments.

This isn’t the end of this World Cup for England -- the Costa Rica result may have given them an unexpected lifeline – but for those thinking of further glory, either this year or going forward, another crop of exciting youngsters still may not be enough because the change required is in the head not in the feet.

World Cup Heroes # 4

Pierluigi Collina

Never showed a red card; his eyes just flashed red and the player walked off.

Father's Day all-dayer

The 2 a.m. kick-off for the Japan v. Cote d'Ivoire game meant an interesting late night / early morning for all in the Hardcore Club. I managed it right through to the end of the ITV coverage - by which time if I'd had a gun Glenn Hoddle would have had to take cover - but I'll admit to drifting off during the second half (those reclining sofa chairs have much to commend them).

And that Cote d'Ivoire malarkey. What the feck is that about? I asked on Twitter as I couldn't be bothered to Google it and someone said "It's the French translation, Blagg" Well....derrrr! Thanks for that! It's been a French colony since 1893 or something though - have they only just spotted the men in striped T-shirts smoking Gauloises? (I'm sorry if that is national sterotyping but it's the French so I'm allowed).

Anyway, it's Father's Day and although my kids all live too far away to see me (plus their Father is too zonked out on food and booze to go see them himself) my Daughter-like-thing is taking me round to a local restaurant for an Argentinian Steak.

Today's World Cup Menu 

Japanese Kirin Ichiban beer, Swiss Le Gruyere Cheese, Argentinian Steak with Parra Alta Mendoza Malbec, Honduran Prawns, Pain au Chocolat

Saturday, 14 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 3 England expects

World Cup Heroes # 3

Bobby Moore

We all know he's the greatest defender the country has ever produced and the only English captain to lift the World Cup, but what's seldom mentioned is how great he looked in white. 

England out-Pirlo'ed again

England 1 Italy 2: A tough defeat to take as England were well worth a draw against Italy and it was difficult after the game to realise that the Italians had scored in that second period and the men in white hadn't. 

Rooney wasted a glorious opportunity late on in a night when he didn't look comfortable again, but the little shredded wheat headed one did lay on a superb cross for Daniel Sturridge's well-taken goal that allowed England to go in level at half-time.

I thought that would be enough as Italy had exploited problems on the England left flank and I was sure Hodgson would sort that out at half-time but five minutes after the break - after an excellent start by England - Balotelli headed Italy in front following a serious of defensive errors and that was pretty much it; Italy do what they always seem to do and just found a way to win. In fact, Andreas Pirlo probably came closer than anyone with a dipping free-kick that hit the crossbar with Joe Hart well-beaten.

Outstanding player was again Pirlo who is so commanding in central midfield that you can only watch and wonder. Showing key moments on TV replay post-match all you noticed was how Pirlo played a ball to start an attack and then jogged into position to follow up or pick up the ball again should it come back. It really is a masterclass and - when all is picked apart by the pundits - the simple fact is England have no-one who can do the same thing and haven't had anyone like that for a long, long time.

It ain't over and if England play like this again they will cause most teams problems. The sad fact is though is that when they come up against a side like Italy they will probably be found wanting again.

Costa Rica's shock 3-1 win over Uruguay has certainly put the C among the P's and this group is going to get very interesting over the next couple of weeks.

Colombia's comprehensive 3-0 win over a lacklustre Greece earlier on in the day was memorable for the opening goal by West Ham's Pabol Armero, a stunning goal celebration and a backdrop of a sea of yellow.

Despite England's defeat it was another good day.

Today I shall mostly be drinking...

Earl Grey Tea, Adnams Broadside, Adnams Ghost Ship, Kourtaki Retsina, Negroamaro Salento red wine 

Today I shall mostly be eating...

Cream Tea, a Greek Dip Selection of Tzatzike, Houmous and a roasted red pepper and feta dip, Greek Olives and Pitta Bread, Lasagne. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 2 Arriba!

Goals Galore

Well, who saw that coming? Not even that bloke painted orange wearing the Red Guard style hat would surely have had that score at 500/1. Spain 1 Netherlands 5 in a cracking game that astonishingly could have produced another five or six goals for Holland and another two or three for Spain. It's kick-started the World Cup anyway. What with me dribbling over the football and the Mrs drooling over Thierry Henry, it was a good - if damp - night.

Elsewhere, Mexico rightly beat Cameroon with a winner from Orib Peralta after the Mexican's were incorrectly denied two clear goals for offside. This issue with the poor officiating is going to end up like Frank Lampard's non-goal against Germany in the 2010 tournament; one day there is going to be such a collective outpouring of disbelief over a decision, FIFA will be forced to act.

Still, that goal-line technology thing is great - great to see how clear it was of the line when the ball is nestling beside the back stanchion. "We paid a lot for this technology so we're gonna make sure you see it" a FIFA official didn't say this evening. And that white paint! I love the way Bruno Martins Indi complained when his sponsored boots were given a white strip when he only moved nine yards away. I think refs should employ a spray can for sending off's too. I look forward to seeing John Terry trooping off with a big red splodge on his blue shirt.

The later game between Chile and Australia was a cracker too! Fun seeing the Twitter comments coming up as the Aussies fell two behind after only 15 minutes and it looked as if it was going to be a long night for the men in yellow, but Cahill's superb header really made a game of it and Chile can consider themselves lucky to run out 3-1 winners, although they probably deserved the victory with their striking options.

Interesting how the third goal was scored by a Chilean who plies his trade in Wigan. Whoever thought we'd live so long, eh?

World Cup Heroes # 2

Sir Alf Ramsey

Of course, he managed England to World Cup glory in 1966 - but forget that! Listen to him speak and then remember he came from Dagenham. 

What is also interesting is that - far from having a fabulous blueprint for his 'wingless wonders' - Alf tried three wingers in the group games of the tournament proper, dropping and reinstating Alan Ball along the way; a current England manager would be pilloried for that. 

His best striker, Jimmy Greaves was injured early on, but he found himself in the quarter-final, Geoff Hurst scored against Argentina, Alf labelled the Argentinians 'Animals' and a legend was born.

Today I shall mostly be drinking...
'Desperados' Tequila Cerveza - a faux Mexican beer brewed in Holland - and a can of Foster's

Today I shall mostly be eating...
Sizzling Prawn Fajitas, Dutch Gouda

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 1 Brazil Open Up

Yay! Feeling those Latin rhythms? 

Moving yer fat arse to the Samba beat? (Let's see how often the word 'Samba' gets mentioned over the next few weeks eh?) 

Well, great! Welcome then to the Blagg World Cup Blog - all the stuff you used to enjoy on the old Soccernet site brought to you on a yellow and gold platter, surrounded by gratuitous photos of scantily-clad young ladies.

Like this.

Or indeed this.   

All done in entirely post-ironic way, just like the cameraman at the BBC or ITV. It all starts today, so stick around and feel free to join in.

World Cup Heroes # 1

Pickles the Dog

Pickles was awarded £6,000 for finding the Jules Rimet trophy - that's one feck of a lot of Bonio's for one dog. What is often forgotten though is that poor Pickles met an untimely end just one year later when he throttled himself chasing a cat.

That six grand - worth well over £170,000 at today's prices - must have set his owner, David Corbett, up for life... And - No! - I am not suggesting anything at all. Awarded the National Canine Defence League Silver Medal for services to the dog world, Pickles went on to star with Eric Sykes and and June Whitfield in the 1966 film 'The Spy with the Cold Nose'.

Pictured is Pickles getting his cheque from 'Our 'enry' - Heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper for the uninitiated - I wonder if he opened an account at Barclays? (See what I did there?)

ESPN Blagg Blog

There was a Blagg blog on ESPN FC today too, asked to write a piece about Danny Welbeck's fitness, I looked online and was astonished to discover that Wayne Rooney was now an fully-fledged MD - Who knew? That sorts his career out post-football, I guess. Plus he can do his own hair transplants. Anyway Dr. Rooney has stated that Welbeck is 'fine' so we can all rest easy. 

So with not much to write about I decided to investigate the mosquito situation in Manaus and was surprised to note that the situation isn't that bad in the area as the River Negro has a high acidity quotient and few of the blood-sucking pests live there. 

With the summer we've had here in Blagg Acres in Essex - more bites, rashes and itches I've ever had in my life in any country I've visited (and that include the Florida Everglades); stop me and ask me about the Caterpillar form of the Brown Tailed Moth sometime - it's comforting to know that all I need to do is throw a few gallons of acid into the local pond and me and Lady B. can sleep in peace. 

You can find the blog here: Blagg ESPN Blog 12/06

Today I shall mostly be drinking...

Fausto de Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Vinho Tinto
from the Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil
(from http://woodbridgewines.co.uk/

Today I shall mostly be eating...

ACARAJE - Black Bean Fritters

  • 2 x 400g cans black eyed peas, rinsed, drained and dried
  • 1 scotch bonnet chilli, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • Approx. 2 tbsp flour
  • Extra flour and polenta, for coating
  • Oil to deep fry
For the filling
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 300g jumbo shrimp
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
To serve
  • Mayonnaise mixed with hot sauce and yellow mustard
1. To make the fritters, puree the peas, chilli, garlic and onion until smooth.
2. Fold in the flour until the mix holds it shape. Add a bit more than 2 tbsp if necessary.. Shape into about 12 balls or ovals.
3. Roll in a mixture of flour and polenta. Deep fry for 3 minutes, drain, then cut in half.
4. To make the filling, gently fry the onion, garlic and chilli for 12 minutes until golden.
5. Add the shrimp and lime, then cook for another 3-4 minutes.
6. Spoon the mix into the middle of the fritters (like a sandwich) and serve with spicy mayo.

** Thanks to Simon Rimmer for this recipe. For more of this type of thing visit Sunday Brunch Recipes

AND  - Croatian Sausage from 'Taste of Croatia', 71 Crouch Hill End N8

Goes bloody well with the wine too - Result! 

Brazil 3  Croatia 1
World Cups come and World Cups go but some things remain the same. 

When Japanese referee Yuici Nishimura pointed to the spot after 71 minutes to indicate that Fred had been fouled by Djan Lovren despite their being barely any contact - at least none that would otherwise mean a penalty would be awarded every two minutes in every game in every league - we knew that controversy had again won over pure football and everything was as it has always been.

Neymar's subsequent penalty together with the 29th minute strike that pulled Brazil level after Croatia had been given an early lead by Marcelo, meant the Brazilian had got his team off to the start they wanted. But Oscar's late goal with Croatia pushing for an equalizer, gave the score-line a gloss it didn't really deserve. The Croatians had run the men in yellow close, and this might have been a different result but for poor decision making by the official. 

Still, the competition is up and running and we're all arguing over cheating footballers and incompetent refs. It's probably what we've been waiting four years for. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Travelling Light

There is a slight irony in the fact that the England football team could learn from a quotation from one of Scotland’s foremost novelists, in order to fully appreciate their relationship with the World Cup in recent times. For, since the seventies at least, Robert Louis Stevenson’s edict that “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour” really sums up the endeavours of the men wearing the Three Lions.

For perhaps the first time since the days of  the 1966 triumph, England arrive at a World Cup virtually unheralded and with a general consensus that the national team will probably do well to emerge unscathed from the group. Not only is everyone aware of this, most are comfortable with it. 

This is a situation so alien to most England fans brought up on a diet of jingoistic fervour every four years, some of us have had to revert to type and assume the attempt to downplay the team’s chances are merely to lull the other nations into a false sense of security when playing the national side. Why there’s even been a psychology coach – Steve Peters and his ‘inner chimp’ – brought in by Roy Hodgson to further confuse opponents. 

So subtle is this ploy, some rumours have  suggested England may even have the mental capacity to deal with a penalty shoot-out should they manage to get to the knock-out stages. It is indeed a cunning plan.

That the ‘thirty years of hurt’ – it will be half-a-century soon and they will have to write a new song just to fit it in -  looks unlikely to be unchallenged again in 2014, isn’t really the surprise; After all, everyone is used to that by now. What is shocking is that everyone is just so resigned to joyful travelling, happy that the real success is just being in Brazil at all.

It’s rarely been so.

My first blog as England correspondent for ESPN was for the 2002 competition in Japan and South Korea where England arrived off of the back of a last minute wonder free-kick by David Beckham against Greece – a victory that consigned Germany to the Play-off’s, lest we forget – and a tournament where bitter rivals Argentina were also despatched en route to a quarter-final spot against Brazil. 

With Sven Goran Eriksson in charge, Beckham as talisman and the memories of a glorious 5-1 win over Germany in Munich in the qualifiers, England started the match with high hopes, but they were dashed by a 2-1 score line in an insipid performance against a Brazilian side – a match in which England  lead and Brazil played with ten men for 30 minutes – where it almost seemed as if the team in white were just happy to have  a close game against the eventual winners.

With the tournament petering out in such a poor semi-final match-up that England fans were even willing Germany to get past South Korea and Brazil to beat Turkey so some semblance of a final could be enjoyed, it all became a rather familiar feeling; one where opportunities had been lost

In a glorious tournament in Germany in 2006 – the only World Cup I’ve ever been lucky enough to attend – England again flattered to deceive, emerging  as group leaders and defeating Eucador before once again slipping out at the quarter-final stage on penalties against Portugal with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all missing from the spot in a ‘Did that really happen?’ moment that looks more unbelievable now than it did at the time. In this match, it was England who finished with ten men as Wayne Rooney was sent off after a famous tussle with Cristiano Ronaldo and his wink. Eriksson resigned as manager and Fabio Capello was eventually named as his successor.

In South Africa in 2010, goalkeeper Robert Green’s astonishing blunder which allowed a speculative Clint Dempsey shot to slip through his hands, gave the U.S.A a 1-1 draw with England and thus saw the Americans qualify as group winners , forcing the Three Lions to face their old foe Germany in the Group of 16. 

In the seemingly  inevitable result – and as if the 4-1 defeat wasn’t enough - the match was marred by an obvious ‘goal’ by Lampard being ruled out as ‘not crossing the line,’ despite the ball being at least a foot over. This was a decision that would have seen England go in level at 2-2 at half-time and, so seismic was the error, so loud the intake of breath from the rest of the football world, even Sepp Blatter was forced to concede that goal-line technology was required.

This time around though, the expectations are different as, frankly, there are none. Roy Hodgson’s intriguing blend of youth and experience has one eye on the future; the senior players can have a last hurrah and the younger ones can just learn and step up in Russia or Qatar. Of course there’s nothing to see here: move along please! 

And yet…and yet… IF England were to emerge from the group, a quarter-final place would look a good possibility. But is there a need to fall into the old way of thinking? That we’re England and we should do well because we invented the game and were probably better at it than anyone for half-a-century but we were so arrogant we never thought it worth proving? Perhaps it’s better to accept that this is a clean slate, enjoy the journey and not worry.

In fact, forget the Scotsman - let’s go with the old Japanese proverb that says ‘It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive disenchanted”. Now that is a mantra any England fan can understand!

World Cup 2014

Thanks to the large number of people who've emailed me requesting an Old Skool World Cup Blagg Blog, I'm going to try and resurrect the old hoopla and irreverence and do a daily diary here for the next few weeks.

Yea, I know I should have better things to do - but what the hell...

I doubt I'll be able to top the 2006 campaign where I ended up having an argument with a Harvard professor about whether or not Charles Bukowski qualified as a beat poet; a discussion bought about by a poor David Beckham corner incidentally (don't ask!)  - but I'm trying to get Lady B on board for the competing game recipes that proved so popular in 2010 and I'll be posting unedited versions of the blogs that find their way onto the ESPN World Cup pages. I may even bore you with old tales of past World Cup misery. And if anyone wants to suggest an appropriate meal and drink for each highlighted game then I'll be truly indebted.

It'll all end in tears so let's just enjoy the journey, eh?