Day: August 19, 2011

Match Of The Week Meets The FA Cup: Ascot United 1-2 Wembley

The story of how this evening’s match between Ascot United and Wembley FC has come to be shown live via the medium of Facebook thanks to the tournament’s sponsors, Budweiser, has, it could well be argued, had a positive effect for all concerned. The Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup – and, in turn, the tournament itself – has received a shot of publicity for a stage of the competition that usually receives next to none. The sponsors, meanwhile, have aligned themselves with what even the purest of purists might call “The romance of the Cup”, and the match itself, with local interest having been piqued by the hullaballoo surrounding it, will now be played in front of a crowd of at least ten times the size of what might have been expected. This last point is, perhaps, the most significant. Ascot United play in the Hellenic League, but they run a draw-dropping fifty-five teams of all ages, and have seven hundred and fifty registered players. This labyrinthine organisation is run by just over one hundred volunteers, of whom eighty have FA coaching certificates. This is grassroots football at its rootsiest. Furthermore, it’s an idiosyncratic venue for a football match. One could be tempted to look at the ground name of Ascot Racecourse and wonder whether this is some sort of pun but, sure enough, there is the...

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Rainbows, Wanderers & Hibernians: The Start Of The New Season In Malta

The new season in Malta is just about to begin, and Paul Grech is here to tell us all about what we can expect there over the next few months. When a league changes format, heated debate and criticism is likely to follow.  When the rules are changed midway through a season, you can also throw in a significant element of suspicion over what the motives for such a change might be. So it was in Malta when in January it was announced that the Premier league was being expanded from ten to twelve clubs, a decision which meant that one rather than two clubs would be relegated during the season that was underway, with three clubs being promoted from the First Division. Seeing that there were two big clubs – Sliema Wanderers and Hibernians – in serious danger of relegation, the initial reaction was that this was a move brought about to avoid seeing one of them go down.  Which, considering that Hibernians actually finished second off bottom, was a rather justified way of seeing things. In truth, it was a move pushed by Norman Darmanin Demajo who a few months earlier had won the right to lead the Malta Football Association after a long and bitter fight with previous president Dr. Joe Mifsud.  For Darmanin Demajo and the staff that he brought with him, the league needed...

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The Under-20s World Cup: And Then There Were Four

It isn’t anyone’s idea of a dream final – certainly not Eurosport’s Tim Caple. But this Under-20s World Cup hasn’t been a dream tournament. Defensive Portugal against counter-attacking Brazil is something of a representation of what we have seen in Colombia over the last three weeks. And the ball could – should, in theory – spend long periods of the final untouched and unloved in the centre circle, as both teams sit back for their contrasting reasons. It would still make for a better spectacle than Austria/Panama, though… or any England match. The final pairing replicates that of 1991. And Caple was quick to suggest, in the wake of Brazil’s entertaining but trademark slightly flattering 2-0 semi-final win over Mexico, that “it takes you back to 1991, doesn’t it?” Well… no. Caple’s co-commentator Matt Jackson had fear in his voice when he replied: “You’re going to tell me who was playing again, aren’t you?” Caple noted, correctly, that “we’ve already done that,” which didn’t prevent him starting to do it again. I didn’t get further than “Figo, Rui Costa…” before the contrast with the current side became too much to bear. Memories of Portugal’s ‘golden generation’ were just too bitter-sweet when faced with relative rust buckets like Pele, who would be wise to change the nickname. France would probably pay for a fraction of Portugal’s defensive organisation, though. There’d...

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Book Review: “Home and Away” by Dave Bidini

Far too often we take things for granted. This might sound trite and at times can come across as somewhat hypocritical depending on who is saying it, for it is usually referenced as part of a guilt-inducing prose by one who is afforded similar luxuries in life to those to whom they are admonishing. When it comes to the subject of the 2011 Homeless World Cup, perhaps what we will overlook is that the participants, just like those from previous tournaments, are real people with faces, names, personal stories that might never be fully told, and that their involvement is a testament to individual will and determination in an age where poor personal choices doom some of us to an eternal life lived outside the margins. Even the matter of this type of competition taking place–where 64 nations will have teams representing them for seven days of street soccer–suggests those who enact social services through the medium of sport and organize such an international event are not the stereotypical civil servants there just to do a job but people passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of others by going beyond the usual boundaries of their allotted time, talents, and sometimes bank accounts. Musician and author Dave Bidini highlights these particular aspects in his recent book, Home and Away: The Story of the 2008 Homeless World Cup. Having...

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Match Of The Midweek: Heart of Midlothian 0-5 Tottenham Hotspur

The phrase “European competition” had a somewhat redundant feel to it this evening, after Tottenham Hotpur cruised to a comfortable win against Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle in a match that felt at times like a training match for the visitors from the Premier League. It was a match that might, under a certain light, have had the feel of a possible surprise on the cards. Hearts, after all, have had three weeks’ worth of competitive football to get themselves into the rhythm of the new season, even accounting for the madness of Vladimir Romanov which led to the sacking of manager Jim Jefferies, while even Spurs’ opening match of the Premier League season against Everton last weekend fell victim to the recent troubles in London. On top of this, Spurs went into the match with a reasonably lengthy injury list and with the sneaking suspicion that this particular tournament might not necessarily be at the top of Harry Redknapp’s list of priorities for this season. Moreover, there is something fundamentally romantic about Hearts. The name Heart of Midlothian has a Shakespearian ring to it and Tynecastle, the club’s home ground, sounds as if it could easily be the home of an laird of the House of Stuart. Tonight’s match, though, was very much a product of the twenty-first century. Matches described in the press as “Battle Of Britain”...

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