It ain’t over til it’s over…

and other sporting cliches such as it’s only yet half-time, all to play for in the second leg, the lads needed just a bit more luck in front of goal, etc. etc…

Travelling back from Belfast yesterday from a pensions seminar with @porawe and others, I finally pitched up for the game (or, at least, the second half of the first half) at the Sports Bar in Stirling, a late-running train having made me miss a connection for Perth. This was a slightly surreal experience since, despite the name, and no less than at least 300 TV screens scattered around the pub,* the staff were getting ready for Stirling’s Friday night disco crowd and all the sound from the TVs was off in favour of some bangin’ tunes. Still, at least that meant I missed the probably rather inane ramblings of Neil ‘Colin’ Warnock and Aidy Boothroyd (and where indeed, @kmflett, was rising star Robbie Savage?), to say nothing of the Sky commentary team (whose cliche-ridden post-match interviews (which I heard via the technological magic of my son’s mobile phone pressed up close to his TV set) owed all to standard pre-prepared patter rather than the evidence of the game just witnessed). Safely esconced in a more or less private annexe I could, and indeed did, supply my own commentary where there was no need to apologise for language used in the heat of the moment… (And a serious ‘thanks’ to the staff and other customers for their indulgence of the madman in the corner!)

It is indeed only half-time and, while we may yet come to regret missed opportunities, especially in that first half period subsequent to Bellamy’s departure when we had something like 70% of the possession and Cardiff could barely get out of their own half, I’m confident enough about the performance the mighty Royals put on to think we can do a job down in Cardiff: certainly the Cardiff players know they took a beating last night and, although they may well play better at home – they surely couldn’t play any worse – I reckon we should still have their measure. Certainly the start will be absolutely critical: a good one will add to the existing pressure on the Cardiff players who will have to come out and play a bit of football on Tuesday night rather than hold out for another 0-0. And the prospect of the god-like genius that is Jimmy Kébé finally being unleashed in those circumstances in this year’s play-offs is a mouth-watering one (as well as his replacement, @Hal_RK played last night).

I’m missing the second leg, too – another story involving a train and a work trip. It’s probably a good omen – and I’m definitely hopeful.

* I may be exaggerating a little

FA does, well, sweet FA

So QPR have been declared champions following a steady drip-drip of poorly-timed information today from the FA that, no, there would be no points deduction; and then, oh actually, there’ll be an £875,000 fine. Bearing in mind that the club is owned by Bernie Ecclestone, Lakshmi Mittal and a further billionaire whose name escapes me offhand, the fine is very small indeed: akin to a mugger leaving you with your spanking new smartphone but nicking your small change to make a phone call.

Fair enough, QPR have been a decent side this season, and worthy of promotion on the basis of the on-the-pitch stuff, even if they’ve been pretty average over the second half of the season. And I really don’t know whether they’re guilty or not over Faurlingate.

Of the seven charges they faced, to be found guilty of using an unauthorised agent and of bringing the game into disrepute, with the rest of the charges not proven, is pretty small beer compared to the points deductions that were being spoken about, and from serious sources too. Conspiracy theorists might well debate the role of the depths of the pockets of the FA and of the owners of QPR in the decision, as well as the role of the apparent leaking of the FA’s view as to what might happen if the club were guilty, and conclude that football wants to have in the top division those clubs whose owners have deep pockets, especially given the treatment of Luton for a similar offence (although the two situations are not really analogous). Money talks – and welcome to the money game that football has become.

But here’s what I don’t understand – bringing the game into disrepute is surely a back-up charge: it follows on from the others. Being found guilty of only that is, in the context, a little like being charged with shoplifting from Tesco but only actually being found guilty of stealing the carrier bag you took the goods away in. Surely, there can be no question of the club having brought the game into disrepute unless they were actually guilty of having committed at least some of the other charges on the sheet. Publicising having spent £3.5m on a player but with the player’s club not having received a penny seems to resemble ‘Entering contracts assigning rights to or making payments to a third party in connection with a player transfer’ pretty closely.

Otherwise, the inescapable conclusion is that the only organisation having actually brought the game into disrepute in this whole sorry episode is the sweet FA itself.

Football will eat itself…

So, it’s perfectly OK for one well-known footballer to bring a gun into his workplace and fire it at someone, because the club concerned has ‘dealt with it internally’ while it’s perfectly OK for another footballer to forearm smash a fellow professional and escape further action because the ref – having said that he had seen the incident at the time – insists that a free-kick was sufficient punishment.

Looks like one law for the strong, to me. When football gets this much out of control because the authorities are quite simply afraid to upset the powerful – and for fear that the rich will take their cash somewhere else – the whole game suffers. The (sweet) FA needs to realise that money is making a mockery out of football, that discipline is becoming very much secondary to personalities and that it needs to take steps to control this charade if the game is not to give up its credibility entirely.

Meanwhile, the two clubs involved meet each other tomorrow night – and what a right little nest of vipers that will be. They absolutely deserve each other. Even if the mighty Royals weren’t playing tomorrow night, my attention would be absolutely elsewhere.

[Edit 1 March: I don’t agree with the whole piece, but Henry Winter makes some of the same points in today’s Torygraph]

A lesson in nationalisation

The players of Stirling Albion, a supporters trust-owned club, have agreed to go without wages for the month in support of the fans’ attempt to support their club, which has gone without revenue for some months on account of the adverse weather which has led to games being postponed.

An interesting contrast with the position of bankers on their bonuses – not even wages – in the state-held banking sector.

Looks to me a prime justification for the value of full nationalisation and workers’ control over this country’s banks…

Спасибо, г-н Блаттер. Ваши деньги в конверте

Gutted. Obviously.

Given the public desire for a hanging so as to allocate blame for the failure of the England bid, Panorama and the Sunday Times look to be first up against the wall. There are evidently a lot of angry people about – but the point of a free press is that it’s able to say what it wants to, when it wants to, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable. Which is kind of the point – and, I suspect, not quite the case in a couple of other countries I could name. Stories emerging about Blatter reminding FIFA executive committee delegates of the ‘evils of the media’ just indicates that there is something to hide and reinforces the view that Panorama and the Sunday Times were right to act as they did.

What is interesting in this context, however, was the decision by FIFA first not to declare the round-by-round voting details, just an overall winner, and then to decide to do so. I do wonder how much of a role in this decision was played by England coming, well, last out of four and a desire to stick one back: a sort of two finger salute in return for the two votes the bid won and the quickest possible early bath.

At least Russia does have a footballing tradition.

As for Qatar in 2022: a  country with no footballing tradition (and therefore no-one to bring the game to), where homosexuality is illegal (football doesn’t exactly have the best of records here but at least awareness of the need to do better for gay footballers is improving) and where games may well be played in 50 degree heat is clearly more than just a ‘high risk’; it should never have made it to the voting floor. Evidently, a somewhat naive view. Neither can I see the country’s success doing much for the environment: the stadia may be zero carbon despite all that air con and, while the need for mega blocks of construction only to dismantle the new grounds for export to developing countries has an appeal at one level – well, it would have won a few more votes – it does defeat the object of having something sustainable in place after the event. And just where is all that new transport infrastructure going to take people once the stadia have all been dismantled?

Football is an international game and the media frenzy is such that it probably increasingly doesn’t really matter where the World Cup is hosted (other than where respect for human rights is evidently lacking). Indeed, there’s probably some truth in the rumour that Sepp Blatter is, as I write, checking out NASA’s research into alternative biochemistry make-up to see whether Mars can host the World Cup in 2050. Only time will tell, but the desire to extend football’s influence into new places seems at this stage already to have reached its apotheosis with Qatar.

Final word to @kmflett:

England World Cup bid- Dave Cameron & Boris Johnson confirm that John Major’s King Midas in Reverse Syndrome is back.

Nice one!

Back from the game – Boro

Boro is the furthest game away for the mighty Royals this season – but it’s the nearest thing I get to a home game and with the Rz unbeaten in five, I set off with a quickness of step yesterday morning to the game, and one which wasn’t affected by National Rail’s habitual autumn shut-down of the rail line between Edinburgh and Newcastle, and the subsequent diversion via Carlisle, making a one-way five-hour journey of the trip.

The return was a different story, though: a 3-1 defeat meant that the miles back hung heavy. The lads gave themselves a mountain to climb after conceding a goal after 24 seconds (it was our kick-off too, which meant that we’d kicked off twice within 1 minute and 2 seconds of the start of the game 😦 ) and Brian McD was probably right to criticise the ‘flat‘ nature of the performance. Truth to tell, the second and third Boro goals came somewhat against the run of play and we didn’t play that badly. We were punished heavily for mistakes, though, and never turned a significant lion’s share of the possession into meaningful sustained attack which put pressure on the Boro goal. And a game plan on keeping Boro quiet from the off – well, that worked well and, as a reuslt, the Blue Army never really got goingeither.

With three goals leaked and a three-game suspension after a straight red (it’s not clear from this that it was a sending-off) to provide the opportunity to swap things around, we can expect some changes for Barnsley at home, including Khizanishvili for Pearce (who was horribly at fault for that first goal), and probably Church for the suspended Howard. Get Tabb and Griffin back from injuries and I don’t think we’ll be far off. Still, this was indeed a bitter pill to swallow (as my iPod on random shuffle gave me at one point on my return).

More reaction to the game from the HNA? back to the game thread here.