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'.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

RIP Puss-Puss (Paolo di Cattio) 1998 - 2014

Known to followers of the Blagg blog back from the old days on the 'Ironworks' site, Puss even got a mention on the dust jacket of 'Nightmare' so he will be immortalised in some small way, I guess.

Thanks for the happy memories. I'm gonna miss you, little fella!

Monday, 14 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 32 The Final

Today's World Cup Menu
Bratwurst with German mustard, German spicy salami, Frikadellen meatballs, Viento Sur Argentinian Malbec

Germany win it!

Germany justifiably won the 2014 World Cup with an excellent team performance topped by a superb winning goal in extra time from Mario Gozte. After 113 minutes of quality football that Argentina shaded on chances alone, the deadlock was broken in sublime fashion by a substitute who managed to score one of the goals of the tournament too in the process.

Argentina were understandably broken at the end as they knew that at least two chances that fell to Messi and Higuane that saw them clean through with only the keeper to beat. But when that keeper is 'only' Manuel Neuer and he is generally recognised as being the best in the world then it puts a bit more pressure on and neither chance was even on target with Messi's rolling just wide. I wonder how much the build up of invincibility that Neuer has garnered led to those missed opportunities in the final? I expect a lot.

There's little point in discussing the final at length; there are places galore to do that. All that needs to be said is that the best team won, Neuer rightly won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper and Lionel Messi was - incorrectly in my view - named as Player of the Tournament. In the sense that, without the Barcelona player, Argentina probably wouldn't have got as far as they had, could then I guess, make an argument for him. However, for me, he failed to make his mark on the big games and was virtually anonymous in the semi and final. For that reason alone he would not be the best player for me. Germany must have had four or five players better or, for an outside runner, it could have gone to Colombia's James Rodriguez - although it would be unusual for the best player to be someone who has gone out in the quarter-final.

Generally the 2014 World Cup has been seen as a major success although I have felt it hasn't always been as scintillating as those sitting in Brazil itself would sometimes have it. Personally, I've enjoyed the tournament immensely although I'm not sure the experiment of the referee's keeping their cards in their pockets really worked - there could have been a sending off or two in the final - but it was a shame that player's couldn't have taken the opportunity to at least try not to cheat and foul as a result. All this proved to me was that it isn't the official's fault that games are decided by cards and ten or nine man teams.

Some of the later games became dull as fear crept in and I think it would be worth trying - at International level at least - perhaps changing the rules for substitutions during the extra time period. Although the final thankfully proved otherwise, too often extra time is merely a prelude to a penalty shoot-out and something needs to be done to make extra time a viable opportunity to win the game. It would be an interesting experiment to see if the opportunity to bring on two extra subs in added time forced more teams to try and win the game during the allotted period. It may not work but something needs to be done.

Similarly, as in the league and continental game, it is sad to see the return of the 'professional' foul, which seems to have crept back into the game. All the foam lines in the world won't help if this continues and there needs to be some extra punishment for blatant fouling elsewhere on the field when normal convention suggests it 'doesn't mean as much'. Perhaps a further ten yards from where the foul took place would cut it out.

However, it does seem to be flowing against the tide to suggest that things aren't top notch when pretty much everyone is back-slapping over a successful tournament so I'll just put it down to the late nights and the World Cup menu and bid you all farewell from another World Cup blog.

Without the continued input into ESPN as I've had in previous years, it's been quite hard to keep this up and it may not be something I'd try and do in the future..but hey!  that's four years away now (Gulp!) so I think I'll leave it all at this point and just thank everyone who has joined in the hoopla.

The Premier League starts in just over a month.... Ho-hum!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 31 3rd / 4th Place Play-off

Netherlands get the bronze
There was no redemption for Brazil in the 3rd / 4th Play-off match as Robin van Persie put the Netherlands ahead from the spot after two minutes; with Blind adding a second after 17 minutes and Wijnaldum scoring late on, the home side trooped off to another chorus of boos.

The question isn't so much what happened to the host nation at the end but, rather, how did they get this far in the first place? Just a few weeks ago we were expecting great things - or so the pundits told us anyway - from the men in yellow, and now they look terribly mortal. There were some players out there tonight who looked mentally shattered and I'm not sure some will really find their way back.

When Brazil beat Colombia in the quarter-final, one pundit opined that  the Colombian's played the shirt and not the team. I'm sure many have done that in the past - I've certainly witnessed it on many occasions with Brazil teams I wasn't sure were really that good but went on to win the trophy - but I think this week may have shattered that forever.

Even when not at their best, Brazilian teams have always had something in reserve; an extra bit of mental pressure that usually tells - particularly in the big competitions. Now that has gone and players like Hulk, Fred, Paulinho and David Luiz not only look ordinary but also terribly vulnerable. Worse still; Jo - one of the players bought in to try and ensure Brazil at least got something from this World Cup - looked even worse than the players already in the team. The suggestion that there is nothing coming through for Brazil is unmistakable.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't detract from the performance of the Dutch who looked bright, lively and inventive. It's just a shame they seemed to lose their way in mid-week against Argentina as a Germany v Holland final would be much easier for an England supporter to stomach.

Friday, 11 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 30 Friday on my Mind

Third - Fourth place Play-off tomorrow and the final and Sunday and then it is all over. Where did it all go, eh? While you contemplate it, here's a cracking tune - and a video I've never seen before too! - to while away the hours.

Monday I'll have Friday on my mind... If you like it then I urge you to find 'Hello, How Are You'. Thank me later.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 29 Football's Chaos Theory

My Big Boy’s Book of Science tells me that the Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including meteorology, sociology, physics, engineering, economics, biology, and philosophy.  Nowhere does it say it applies to football too but, as we approach the end of another World Cup, I think it should be added. For there is surely nothing that indicates more that small initial conditions can produce widely diverging outcomes, than a game that involves a sphere, 30 or so men with their own issues and a game built around  a 90 – 120 minute random period of time.

Because for everyone who can point to the organisation, confidence and inner-belief of Germany, the skill of Lionel Messi and the spirit of the players around him, there are a dozen examples of men and teams no longer concerned with the World Cup who have gone out for a variety of reasons, but with no discernible explanation for why they have behaved as they have done. Random decisions, chance elements  and incorrect choices have been made at critical times and who knows what might have occurred without that ‘butterfly effect’? Of course, the prime example in 2014 will always be that of Luis Suarez and his legendary bite, but there are dozens and dozens of equally interesting examples elsewhere.

In real terms, simply saying ‘England [or insert country of choice] are rubbish’ or a random player ‘isn’t good enough’ is nonsense. In other scenarios, at other times, at other levels, England [ditto icoc] and its players are obviously more than good enough. It will be interesting to see the hundreds of thousands of fans, many of whom could barely bring themselves to utter  the names of several of the England squad a few weeks ago, welcoming their heroes back to the Premier league when it starts in a month’s time. My guess is there will be few calling for Wayne Rooney to retire  because he isn’t deemed ‘world class’ when he nets a brace against West Bromwich Albion one rainy night in November.

Much as many of us might like to deny it, reality has a habit of rearing its ugly head. A few short weeks ago, the English nation was wringing its collective hands, bemoaning the state of affairs that not only saw the national team dumped out in the group stages at the bottom of the table, but also saw an unfancied Costa Rica top the other nations. Of course, we sympathised as the South American’s went out in the quarter-final on penalties – but now?

Leaving aside the machinations of the importance of club football over the International side – a major factor in the make-up of the England mentality but barely ever discussed anywhere - the fact is some of those players who have been feted over the past weeks playing for lesser-known South American, Asian or European  teams would not get into the England side simply because they would never be picked at club level. Interesting to consider why when you look at the impact some of those players have had.  Even in the attritional and turgid semi-final between Holland and Argentina, did the final accolade not go to a goal-keeper who had barely played all season?

Put all illusions aside for a moment and consider any universe in which any England manager – past, present or future – would pick a player like Sergio Romero knowing full well he’d barely figured in a first team game all season. That manager would be pilloried by public and press alike. Yet on Sunday, this discarded keeper could be holding the World Cup. National trait or random element? You decide.

Apart from individual performances – and really, whatever your allegiances,  you can pick your own favourites out and debate them all day – there is the collective will of the group. Germany is naturally a fine example, as the squad mentality barely seems to be any different regardless of the decade of the competition or the make-up of the individuals of that group. Despite concerted efforts by everyone from the gentleman of the quality press to the lowest of the humble blogger, the World Cup does annoyingly seem to throw up national stereotypes that it’s difficult to ignore.

Even so, I’ve not seen it noted elsewhere but did no-one spot how the Germans not only appeared calm and collected within the framework of the team but also physically looked more composed? While the Brazilians – in conditions that should suit them better at home – looked sweaty and dishevelled, the Germans appeared as if they hadn’t run at all. Was it the Cooling Glove used by the team at half-time? If so, it seems to work, as none of the players looked as if they perspired. If, as one TV commentator had it “They let the ball do the work” then shouldn’t all other nations copy that? Of course, they would if they could, but put another European nation– Italy or England are obvious examples – a South American or Asian country there and see what happens. The result would not be the same -regardless of the paucity of the opposition.

And lest this be seen as a criticism of the insularity of the English or the shortcomings of other countries, lets make one thing clear; the World Cup only comes round every 4 years and there is an awful lot of football played between that period.  Example? Well,  good as this World Cup has been for goals, I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing how poorly the ball has been struck from wide areas; the quality from corners, free-kicks and open play crossing has been simply abysmal (Oddly, I’ve noticed few pundits mentioning this on TV or in the press). I wouldn’t recommend anyone watch the shocking semi-final between Argentina and Holland again – not unless you’re trying to get an early night anyway – but if you did, note the appalling crosses from Dick Kuyt that not only eluded his own forwards but also the opposition goalkeeper as they bounced behind closer to the corner-flag.

In a month’s time, my own club West Ham will kick-off a new season spearheaded by a 6’ 4” (1.91m) striker called Andy Carroll. Sam Allardyce – a manger who was under pressure for much of last season because of his direct way of playing – will ensure that every free-kick and corner will be met by the head of Carroll as he attempts to cause carnage in the penalty area in a welter of elbows and knees. Carroll will win most of these headers – we know this because he always does – and some people will moan and talk about the Premier League’s lack of finesse etc. But it’s effective and I’d much rather see the head of a huge Centre-forward finding the ball from his own team mate than watch the aimless crossing from a large percentage of the passes I’ve witnessed in this World Cup.

Of course, there will be Germans and Argentines reading this who will think “Ha! This is why the English have won nothing since 1966” and they may be right too. But ultimately, when Sunday is done and dusted there will only be one team holding the trophy and the rest will be nowhere. I’ve seen nothing in all my years of football to convince me that the winners will have conspired to do much more than bring together a random number of elements that have combines to produce an ultimate victory.  Good luck to the winners – I’d hope to see England emulate the feat of ’66 again one day – but don’t believe it ever does happen that it isn’t just another turn of the wheel; another result in the chaos in which football lives.

World Cup Diary - Day 28 No Dutch Courage

Tea break over!
That reminded me of the old joke - 'Tea break over, back on yer 'eads' (Ask your parents!)!

After the astonishing events of the previous evening, dull semi-final football returned with the Netherlands and Argentina fighting out a turgid 0-0 war of attrition in which neither side looked much interested in doing anything bar taking it to penalties. Although perhaps that is a little harsh eventually on the Dutch...

For in extra time, Louis van Gaal did bring on Klass-Jan Huntelaar for a misfiring Robin van Persie in an attempt to beef up his front-line and the men in Orange did look the more likely to score as Argentina simply shored up their midfield. But in a game in which Lionel Messi went missing, nobody could do much. However, van Gaal's decision to try and win the game rather than bring on substitute keeper Tim Krul as he did in the previous round did seem to impact on the eventual penalty shoot-out.

In fact, harsh though it may seem, there's a good argument for saying the Dutch got this penalty competition as wrong as they got the previous one right. In sending up Ron Vlaar to take the first penalty, the Netherlands sent out a signal. Segio Romero saved Vlaar's spot kick before Messi stepped up to coolly put his penalty aware despite Jasper Cillessen trying to do what his compatriot Krul had tried to do against Costa Rica last weekend.

It was noticeable that the referee stood before the penalty spot and waved away Cillessen's attempts to get 'in the face' of the Argentine takers and - though it's unlikely it may have made much difference - there was a definite sense that the Dutch keeper was not likely to save any well hit spot kick. Apparently, he had never save a penalty in his professional career and Cillessen could only watch as each penalty flew past him and Romero saved another from Wesley Sneijder.

It was the seemingly dull substitution of bringing on Maxi Rodriguez for Levezzi after 100 minutes that proved to be the masterstroke - the former Liverpool player hitting home the decisive penalty to put Argentina through.

The Dutch once again then come up short - proving how hard it can be to actually win this competition regardless of how many good players a country produces - and Argentina go on to face Germany in Sunday's final. See! They all laughed when Spain, Italy and England limped out but now look what we have!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 27 Sensation!

Did I really just see that?
Football was back and how!

The first semi-final of this year's World Cup and the score was Brazil 1 Germany 7. I suspect I can return to look at this score many times over the years and it will still look like a dream. 

Seven to Germany and it could have been many more, Mesut Ozil was clean through and beat the keeper with a couple of minutes to play, but saw the ball roll agonisingly wide when he really should have scored. Brazil struck their only goal from the moves resulting from the goal-kick and it was far, far more than they deserved.

Germany were clinical and played some excellent football but Brazil.. they were just awful. Seriously, I've been watching football a long time and I've never seen anything like it at the top level. BBC pundits were talking about previous records where Saudi Arabia conceded eight etc. but this was a World Cup semi-final and this was Brazil we're talking about. It was utterly astonishing. Some of the Brazilian players - Fred, David Luiz, Hulk - were worse than ordinary, their performances so wretched it was actually painful to watch at times.

Oddly, it was so unutterably astounding I can't think of anything else to say.

*Mouths like a fish but nothing comes out* 

Monday, 7 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 26 Tour de France

Sporting Monday
Well, here's something I've not done before. The Tour de France is due through Essex today and I could - if I so wished - drop down into Town and watch it, or indeed stop off at a large number of points throughout the county to watch it. But, of course, I'm a London boy by birth and in heart so I'm off to the Olympic Park to watch the riders go through there. It's all very 2012.

And what else could soundtrack the day but...No! Not Queen's 'Bicycle' but...

World Cup Diary - Day 25 Wimbledon & the British Grand Prix

Sporting Sunday
I was going to go to the British Grand Prix this year but somehow never got around to booking tickets. Shame as it was won by a triumphant Lewis Hamilton who took the chequered flag with some ease. Later it was the WImbledon final with Novak Djokovic beating Roger Federer in five sets with the Swiss player showing exactly what that extra edge is that the very top sportsmen possess; facing Championshoip point Federer won five games on the trot to take the match to a final set. Federer eventually come up short against the Serb who - six years his junior and trying to break a recent run of Grand Slam defeats - just seemed to have a bit more on his side. Terrible thing, age.

Sunday night was interminable with no football - you actually forget what it is like for the other three years and eleven months, don't you. So here's something Sunday related to sooth the evening away.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 24 It's Argentina and Holland

Today's World Cup Menu
Belgium Waffle, Cuma Organic Argentinian Malbec, Costa Rica Fair Trade Coffee

60 Years On
Is there really a change taking place? For the first time in 60 years are England fans prepared to move on and support Germany against Argentina in next week's semi-finals? That's the situation following the South American's 1-0 win over Belgium who - when it cam down to it - just didn't have that bit extra required to go further. When Higuain put Argentina ahead after only 8 minutes, it suggested that it might open up the game and make it an exciting encounter with plenty of chances but it didn't really turn out like that. 

Similarly, in the later game, it was all rather cagey between the Netherlands and Costa Rica and extra time couldn't separate the teams, with the Dutch manager Van Gaal causing a sensation by substituting his goalkeeper with the last kick of the match. Madness or genius? The result is all, of course so it turned out to be a master stroke as Newcastle's Tim Krul saved two penalties to send the Orange shirts through. 

So it's Argentina v the Netherlands and Brazil v Germany in the mid-week's semi-final's and this is actually quite hard to cal,l but it would be amusing to see an all-European final when most everyone is expecting the match that was predicted before a ball was kicked. Much will depend on if Brazil can get over the loss of Neymar - out for a month with a vertebrae injury sustained in the closing minutes of the Colombia game - and if Messi can inspire Argentina once more.

Me? Awww...all right then. Pass me the bratwurst and the lederhosen. Sorry Nan - wherever you are! 

Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 23 Quarter finals: France and Colombia go out

Today's World Cup Menu
Bavarian Smoked Ham, Bratwurst, Brahma Cerveja do Brasil, Mentzendorff Kummel, Colombian Percol Fair Trade Coffee

Quarter-final Day 1
I wonder what it would be like to get to a World Cup quarter-final, get all worked up, analyse, pontificate, debate, discuss tactics and team selection, bite your nails and then find the whole thing has been for nothing 'cos the other team hasn't bothered to turn up. That's how Germany must feel this evening after a nothing game in which France fell behind after Mats Hummels' headed in after 14 minutes; Les Bleus barely broke sweat after that.

Germany were obviously good at  pretty much killing the game without really threatening again and France...well, France seemed to think it was all too much for a hot day in Rio and barely did anything except, inevitably, in the last few minutes. Even then, Manuel Neuer in Germany's goal was hardly bothered and he had the air of a man who doesn't expect to pick the ball out of the net again this tournament. 

All very well if you're German but tedious for the neutral.

A different affair in Estadio Castela where Brazil overcame Colombia 2-1 and James Rodriguez joined the pantheon of those who have shed Gazza tears; the poor lad getting scant protection from the referee in a match littered with fouls that went unpunished. It's good for a ref to let a game flow but this got left to the stage where players realised they weren't going to see a card and just carried on with the alehouse stuff. Nevertheless, it was rip-roaring fayre, with the crowd roar creating a great atmosphere that easily transferred itself to the TV and the game became unbearably tense once Rodriguez pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 after 80 minutes. The hosts hung on but Colombia looked the equal of the men in yellow throughout.

The result was that, once again, you're left wondering if Brazil really are any good. I suspect the Germans will tell us.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 21 and 22 Time for a Breather

Well, I was just pootling around and I found this; an unofficial song from the 1962 World Cup 'El Rock del Mundial' by Chilean band Los Ramblers.

It rocks! Why have i not heard of this before?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 20 Game of the Tournament?

Today's World Cup Menu
Kentucky Fried Chicken with Jeremiah Weed Kentucky Cider 

Game of the Tournament?
I may return later to remove that question mark but I doubt the superb game between the USA and Belgium will be bettered in this World Cup. Incredible to think it was 0-0 at full time and the 2-1 score-line at the end of extra-time did rather flatter the Americans for whom Tim Howard was immense. Belgium now go on to meet Argentina who secured a late win with a solitary goal in a shocking game that was as bad as the Belgium / USA one was good.

Elsewhere, Luis Suarez has apologised for biting the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini, prompting fans everywhere to go "Ahhhh, what a nice bloke!". The President of Barcelona went further saying that the apology showed how 'Humble' Suarez was. Within an hour, Liverpool opened talks with Barca over the possibility of the Uruguayan joining the Spanish giants for a stupid fee.  You gotta love football politics, ain't ya?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

World Cup Diary - Day 19 Order is Restored

Today's World Cup Menu
Cotes du Rhone, Chicken with Brie and Bacon in a White Wine sauce, Frankfurters with German mustard. 

Order is Restored...
....In all senses, I've started watching the World Cup again and Germany got past Algeria 2-1 while France beat Nigeria 2-0 in the Round of 16 to set-up a tasty quarter-final. Both matches were tough on the favourites who hardly stamped their superior tournament experience on the games and the African teams can point to plenty of chances of their own in two exciting games.

Algeria even took Germany to extra time but when Schurrle scored two minutes later and Ozil scored a minute before the whistle, there was a sense that the European side had always had an extra something in the locker. Fortunately, Algeria scored on the very last kick giving the score-line a look that better reflected the play. If Algeria continue in this vein they could very well be the first African team that is able to make that extra step next time.

So a quarter-final tie between two old foes; "Germany and France have history going back to '82" said wise old Glenn Hoddle. I think it may go back a tad before that actually...!