In all the excitement of the play-offs and the anniversary of Heysel, I forgot to mention that this little blog passed its first birthday on Monday. Time, I think, to thank you lot for bothering to read it. It has been, I have to say, quite a year. Your votes helped to send me, of course, to Japan (for which you will all have my eternal gratitude), and this place has turned up in some fairly unusual places – The Sun (and they even managed to mention what a massive geek I am) and The Guardian (no picture of that one, but I’ll dig it out at some point) amongst others, and I get an average of just over five thousand people reading this at some point each month. How rare.

I would like to express my gratitude to everyone that links to and reads this place, but I would also be interested to know what you want more of and less of on here. I like to think that I try to cover stories that aren’t being covered elsewhere on here, and that will always be a feature of this particular site, but I’m always trying to think of ways in which to change this blog to suit you guys, so your input on this subject would be most welcome. Also, I’d like to take the opportunity to extend an invitation to you that I offered several months ago – if any you would like to contribute to this blog, just email me, and I’ll get straight back to you. The same goes if you want to be linked from the right hand side of this page – I’m going to have a root through the links over the next few days and pull out all of the dead wood, so anyone that I have overlooked (and I have to say at this point that this is almost always accidental on my part) can feel free to leave their links in the comments or mail them to me, and I’ll put them up as soon as I can. Anyway, briefly to business. Here’s a quick round up of the news over the last few days.

Transfer Fever – To be absolutely honest with you all, I very seldom notice the performances of individual players when I’m watching a match. I don’t know why this is – I’ve always assumed it to be some sort of blind spot that I suffer from – but one player that I did notice earlier this season was Gareth Bale, during a Southampton match on the television that I happened to catch. The press have made quite a lot of him over the last year or so, and when I did finally get around to seeing him play, he was at a different level to everyone else on the pitch. I am, therefore, delighted to be able to confirm that Spurs have signed him for £10m. Spurs, usually notorious for buying completely the wrong players in the transfer markets, finally seem to be getting these decisions right. Bale reminded me of nothing less than the young Ryan Giggs, which is high praise indeed.

Quitting Gigging – After just 64 caps in sixteen years, Ryan Giggs announced at the start of the week that his appearance for Wales against the Czech Republic on Saturday will be his last for the national team. Giggs has always been pretty transparent about his feelings towards the Welsh national team, and his regular absences from their line-up because of suspicious “injuries” have almost become a cliche in themselves. He has, of course, been a fantastic player for Manchester United over this period of time, but he never really cut it on the international stage and, if I were a Welsh supporter, I wouldn’t be missing him that much. The middle of a qualifying campaign seems, even if it’s a disastrous one, seems like a strange time to quit, and I have seen whispers that the whole thing might even be a ruse to get a boost to tickets at a time when crowds for matches at the Millennium Stadium have plummeted through the floor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in a year and, if I was to be honest, I wouldn’t much want to give a big send off to someone who always seemed to put his club before his country, and who didn’t do much for them when he did deign to put in an appearance for them.

Between A Rock & A Hard Place – It’s not really necessary to read too much into the headline of this article in The Times the other day – it’s mere conjecture and I can’t find anything from FIFA to back it up. John McBeth’s comments have an element of truth in them, but were cloaked in the sort of language normally reserved for old colonials and the Daily Mail. There is widespread corruption in the handling of ticket sales. Jack Warner, the president of CONCACAF, the Central and North American FIFA confederation, is no stranger to taking a back-hander, but to single out associations from the Caribbean and Africa as being corrupt, when these sort of antics are endemic throughout the game on a world-wide scale. How do you think that so many tickets for major matches end up in the hands of ticket touts? Warner is not afraid to play the race card when criticism is thrown at him, and this sort of comment only adds fuel to his fire.

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