Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Mansfield Minx is getting married!

From the ‘Least Surprising News in Football & the World’ Dep’t, we bring you this joyous gem, an update to our earlier post about Mansfield Town’s shagtastic CEO/former call girl Carolyn Still, as delivered by The Daily Mail:

“The youngest woman to become the top boss of an English football club has got engaged – to the man who gave her the job just two weeks ago.

Glamorous Mansfield Town chief executive Carolyn Still, 29, is reportedly set to marry the chairman of the club, John Radford, 45, next year. 

When he made the hire, Radford would not confirm he and Still were a couple and said her appointment had nothing to do with their friendship.

However, a spokesperson for the club has now confirmed they were an item before Radford made her boss of the Nottinghamshire club.

The happy couple announced their engagement to friends and family at the weekend, after Radford proposed last week.”

So, how will the couple’s nuptials come out? We’re guessing she wants it to be like this, and he just wants it like this.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under English Football

Clubs Battle Back from the Ashes

As in other sports, the cliché of a “Cinderella story” can sometimes be irresistible to both football writers and fans alike.  It’s not just the play on the pitch and the final that bewitches us so… it is the human stories behind the matches, and our ability to relate to them.  As a fan, you feel good when your team comes from the brink to do well; it affirms your choice to support your club.  Likewise, the mourning that you feel when your club loses — or, heaven forbid, collapses — still allows you to feel part of something.  You share your pain with those who wear the same shirts and scarves.

Last week, I was sent an e-mail from one of my best friends, a Chester City fan who had to endure the ignominy of his team going into administration and then folding into oblivion.  In the note was a link to a mini-documentary done by the Guardian’s John Harris (see above).  He covers a battle between two clubs owned by fans who took matters into their own hands.  Chester FC was born out of the ashes of City’s demise… while FC United was formed by Mancunians fed up with the Red Devils’ American owners, who downloaded massive amounts of debt onto the club.  Both neophyte clubs are competing in the Evo-Stick Northern Premier League, the seventh tier of English football.

The piece shows the fans’ pride as they realize the fruits of their efforts to start the new clubs  (I also thought it was cool that you can have a pint with the players after the game).  Team representatives are realistic; they know their supporters will always be split in their loyalties between the small club and their favourite Premier League side (in the case of the Chester fans, it appears to be Liverpool).  But like any business, you tend to care more when it’s your name on the charter… and your money is at stake.

Of course, the ur-fan-based club in England is AFC Wimbledon, which came about after their original side — Wimbledon FC — was abruptly moved an hour north and renamed Milton Keyes Dons.  AFC has since climbed into the ranks of professional football and competes in League Two this season.

So in the spirit of supporting the underdog, I will provide regular updates on these three sides throughout the season.  Will they continue their rise through the ranks of English football? Or will the economics of the game finally catch up to them, weighing them down so they can’t rise through the surface of professional football?

You may not care about lower-tier football… but you have to admire these supporters’ pluck.

As of Monday, September 26, 2011:

AFC Wimbledon – 2-1 @ Bradford City — 7th (playoff zone) in League Two

Chester FC – 3-0 @ Stafford Rangers — 3rd (playoff zone) in Northern Premier League

FC United of Manchester – 5-3 @ Burscough — 9th in Northern Premier League

Brent Lanthier

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Another banner moment for Diego

You know Diego Maradona, and might well loathe him, for his infamous ‘Hand of God.’ Now the Argentinian has offered up a new appendage for abomination; his ‘Flying Foot of Fury.

Dirty Diego couldn’t contain his rage when a fan of UAE club Al Wasl kept pushing up a banner to catch a glimpse of the legendary striker, who recently signed a two-year,  7-million Euro contract to coach the Middle East outfit. Seems there was a bit of a communication problem, as the chubby coach wanted the sign kept down so he could have a photo taken next to it. The solution? Maradona mashed the man’s hand with a blinding left boot. From The Telegraph:

“The banner, sent to him by his daughters Delma and Giannina, read: ‘Babu Estoy con vos te amo –Benja,’ meaning ‘Grandfather I love you and I am with you’ and was signed by his grandson Benjamin.

Maradona later apologised to the Al Wasl supporter.

“I am emotional, this is my nature. I’ve always been like this as a player and coach. Sometimes I feel like I’m a player of Al Wasl.

“The sign was a message from my grandson and daughters in Manchester and Argentina and it means they support me in whatever I do. I apologise to the fan I hurt but I wanted the banner to be seen.”

Maradona went on to register his first competitive victory as coach with the Dubai club with a 3-0 home win over Emirates in the Etisalat Cup.”

Oh, Diego. You dozey dolt. This is the dumbest thing you’ve done since…well, since two days ago, when you told fans who might be “scared” after you lost two of your first three matches to “stay at home, watch some DVD or some comedy series.” As The Guardian suggested, “a dramatization of the Argentinian legend’s managerial career would fit the bill.” I think we just got a new episode.

Ian Harrison

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Inter Tinkers with their Manager… Again

Gasperini: Don't look back in anger

It took five matches for Internazionale to fire Gian Piero Gasperini… the fifth manager to leave the club in three years.  But only in the world of sport does a organization hire its leaders from a steady pool of failures.

The rumours are that Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri has been given a two-year contract to take over from Gasperini.  No stranger to football’s revolving door, Ranieri has managed 10 teams over the last 20 years; this will be his seventh Serie A club. In that time, he has only won two major trophies: a Coppa Italia with Fiorentina… and a Copa del Rey with Valencia.  Yet this is the man who has allegedly been chosen to lead one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Inter fans and management must be perturbed that their recent domination of Italian football has come to a jarring and screeching halt.  Long known as “the other Milanese club”, i Nerazzurri shook off its inferiority complex by winning five consecutive Serie A titles under Roberto Mancini and José Mourinho, topping off the run by winning the quadruple: the league title, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa, as well as being crowned both European and world champions… defeating mighty Barcelona along the way.  Life was good for Inter Milan. Then Rafael Benitez arrived.

Rafageddon unleashed again

Sure, Rafa led them to a World Club Championship. But they did it by beating club teams from South Korea and the Congo… one of the poorest nations in the world.  Not so fast, cry Inter fans.  They beat the world’s best to get there.  But Rafa’s infernal reputation of maniacal stubbornness is well deserved, and it didn’t sit well with the club’s superstars.  By Christmas, Inter would be down by 11 points from their San Siro rivals and Benitez was shown the door.  He has yet to manage in a single match since.

While not a bad choice, the Spaniard’s replacement was perhaps difficult for Inter fans to accept.  Not only did Leonardo play over a hundred matches for hated AC… he was also part of the Brazilian team that beat Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994.  No matter: the new gaffer lead Inter on a run that pulled them to the brink of another championship.  But in the end, the club failed to defend the league, and were laughed out of Europe by a mediocre German side. While Inter managed to hold onto the Coppa, the writing was on the wall.  Leonardo left Italy for the bright lights — and a big pay cheque — in Paris.

Enter Gasparini and an immediate cloud of suspicion. Rumours abounded that the former Genoa gaffer was only chosen because others refused the job.  Fabio Capello is still under contract to the England FA.  Young Andres Villas-Boas snapped at the chance to manage Cha-ching! Chelsea, after only one season at Porto.  Even Marcelo Bielsa followed up Chile’s impressive display at last year’s World Cup by signing up to manage the Spanish powerhouse… of Athletic Bilbao.

It all must have been secretly humiliating for owner Massimo Moratti.  If it was, it only got worse as the season got underway.  After succumbing to their hated rivals in the SuperCoppa, Inter emerged from the one-week players’ strike to lose to up-and-coming Palermo… one of the teams leading a Southern renaissance in Italian football.  That was followed by a CL league loss (at home!) to Turkish side Trabzonspor, who weren’t even supposed to be there.  A draw against Roma might have been acceptable, if it was not for a humiliating defeat Tuesday night to newly-promoted Novara.  Gasperini uscita… Ranieri entri.

Zanetti: Is it exit time for Inter's Iron Man?

There are some — including the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson — who argue that Moretti should never have hired Gasperini… not because he is a bad manager, but because his system doesn’t gel with Inter’s squad.  Gasperini favours variations of 3-4-3.  But at Inter, that meant using an ancient back-five of Samuel, Lucio, Maicon, Cambiasso and Zanetti as defensive anchors (the average age of the South Americans is 33).  Gasperini let his fullbacks roam just behind the wingers, and the aforementioned central players like to play up-field…. leaving Inter vulnerable on the counter.  Consequently, ball after ball has gone sailing over the heads of the defenders, with only an increasingly erratic Julio Cesar to stop it.

Offensively, the club is only marginally better off.  The “Will He Leave, Won’t He Leave” speculation surrounding Wesley Sneijder had to have been a distraction, considering the Dutchman’s pivotal role in the formation.  Plus, the fiasco signing of cup-tied Diego Forlan from Atletico Madrid is unforgivable.  If you believe in omens, it does not portend well for The Big Grass Snake.

Obviously, the scudetto is still too young to start picking out trends.  But with non-traditional leaders like Palermo, Napoli, Fiorentina and Udinese continuing where they left off last season, Inter may have to look deep within itself and try to decide what it needs to do to turn itself around.  Ranieri will likely perturb players with his constant manipulation of the side, not unlike Benitez.  We will see if The Tinkerman soothes or chafes raw egos at the club.

From my perspective, Inter fans can take solace in two things:

1) Super Sneijder and Forlan seem to be developing an understanding, despite the recent run of form.  Both players were magnificent in South Africa, with Forlan leading what could be considered South America’s new powerhouse.  If they can get service, look out.

2) AC Milan is only playing marginally better, stealing a draw last week against Barcelona in the CL.  Italy’s axis of power may be shifting.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Champions League, Copa America, Serie A, World Cup

Mansfield Minx is shaggadelic, baby!

Like most red-blooded males, we sat up and took notice last week when Mansfield Town made 29-year-old  Carolyn Still the youngest chief executive in English football. We’re bound to be a bit interested when the new bum in the director’s seat comes with these kinds of curves. In the lightly contested field of sexy female sports executives, Still crushes the Wicked Witch of West Ham into a putrid pulp and beats the balls off Jeannie Buss.

With this blonde beauty in charge, the Stags will surely have no trouble waking up their sleeping fan base, as the sultry Still has promised to do. Most supporters, I’m sure, will delightedly dream about waking up next to this lovely lass…gently rubbing her lovely (Ed.  Stop it, stop it! This rhyme is despicable!! This is a family-oriented blog with value… oh, ‘allo love, what’ s your name?) …  but I digress.

Still joined the Stags after working in the fashion industry for Bulgari and Gucci. And despite rumours of a romantic relationship with team owner John Radford, she insists her appointment was genuine.

That’s all well and good. The question is, before the 45-year-old Radford started ravaging her, how many other men were having a cuddle with Still’s buxom bum? Seems she was an employee of two escort agencies, (including the one patronized by Messers. Five-at-a-time Cristiano Ronaldo & Anderson) entertaining clients day and night.

My, oh my! Phwoar! That adds some extra spice to this steamy appointment. Wake up, sleepy Mansfield. There’s a Minx in your midst.

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AC Milan: Il Diavolo is in the Details

C'mon Thiago, give us a kiss...

One club is considered the best in the world; the other is a team that has found its way back to the top of its domestic league.  Both were surprised this weekend by so-called lesser sides.  Tonight, it was Barcelona that showed its quality over AC Milan.  Unfortunately for Barca, the scoresheet didn’t reflect it.

Two goals by Milan’s Brazilian stars bookended the game and stole a point for the Rossoneri.  The World Champions dominated up until that point: Barcelona had 80% possession at the 75th-minute mark… a calling card for the Catalonians.  Gaffer Pep Guardiola says he’s not worried… nor should he be.

It’s the Italian club that should be wringing its hands.   The consensus is that AC Milan will have a tough time defending the scudetto…  and judging by their last two performances, they may prove the pundits right.  Not only did Barca’s tiki-taka have Milan on the back heel for most of the match, but the Italian champs kicked off the Serie A season on Thursday by having to fight back against a new-look Lazio.  Add the Roman club to Milan’s growing list of league rivals:

– Internazionale is aging but still potent.
– Juventus may be an Old Lady, but she may find a sabbatical from Europe rejuvenating.  
– Udinese was the better team against Arsenal in CL qualifiers, and could build on last year’s success.
– The South seems to be rising again with Palermo beating Inter 4-3 (again, the Nerrazzurri looked slow and old)… and Napoli being picked as a dark horse for the title.

Zlatan the Terrible

And while he didn’t play tonight, Milan still has its good luck charm: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Every team he has played on since 2004 has won its domestic title (if you include Juventus’ revoked trophies).  He is a big, black belt-wearing nutter who has a goals-per-game average of at least 50% in the last six seasons.  Plus, NOW he’s eating his Wheaties.

Brent Lanthier

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Filed under Champions League, Serie A

Groan When You’re Winning

One more England miss, and they'll be stuck like that...

I’d like to put forth a very philosophical question that is almost Talmudic in the asking of it:

Is it right to criticize your team when it is winning?

I cheer for England.  I cheer for Canada. I cheer for Liverpool.  All three sides have taken myself and millions of others to the depths of despair… or at least, to the deep end of disappointment.  But all three have been winning lately.  So why am I seriously underwhelmed?

A fading member of England's "Golden Generation"

England pulled out the win on Tuesday and have almost booked their plane tickets to Poland/Ukraine.  But Wales could have beaten the Three Lions, as they played with purpose and aggression and without fear.  This was a different Dragons squad from six months ago, with Gary Speed giving the captain’s armband to 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.  Speed also had a fit Gareth Bale on the wing… and both players ran the hell out of the English backs all game.  My mate wondered aloud what the Welsh could have done if only Craig Bellamy hadn’t been suspended, and I had to agree.

England got the win but it wasn’t pretty: it was boring.  So I thought perhaps the country of my birth would play more exciting football than its colonial fathers.

How could I have been so naïve?

In fairness to the reader, I missed the first half.  In fairness to me… I missed nothing.  I turned on the match to see a Puerto Rican pitch that was in worse condition than the field at my under-funded elementary school.  Neither team could complete a relay of more than three passes, even if their lives depended on it (which in some nations, it would.  Colombia, I’m looking at you).  Canada went on to win 3-0.  But it still irks me that the Canucks have been forced to play tiny Caribbean nations in World Cup qualifiers while Third World backwaters like Honduras flourish internationally.

On the professional side, Liverpool has emerged from the financial ashes to spend over £100M pounds on fine young talent, most of it British.  Yet only two players — Luis Suarez and Charlie Adam — have been real game changers.  The club has no debt, they have a living legend as their manager, and the team has yet to lose a competitive match in this young season.  They have even won two major trophies in the last six years.  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe… but a drunk and bitter Jiminy Cricket sits on my shoulder, nagging at me with doubt.

The reason for my skepticism comes down to the words of the great, er, scholar Dr. Phil who espouses this idiom: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.”  All three sides have monumentally underwhelmed in the past.  Why should the near-future be any different?

Don Fabio: He no happy...

Volumes have been written about why England’s national side has not won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup.  Spoiled players.  Too much pressure from the support and media.  Too many club fixtures.  Too many friendlies.  Yesterday, the manager added mental fragility to the list.

Meanwhile, Canada’s problem is that the players are simply not good enough.  Don’t get me wrong: they try.  They try hard.  But when you only have three players on the pitch who belong to top-flight clubs, the writing is on the wall.

DeRo keeps his World Cup dream alive

It blows my mind that Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, yet it is still not competitive in one of the biggest sports in the world.  I don’t buy the “ice hockey is everything” excuse.  Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and the US are all hockey powers and have all managed to find ways to build successful national soccer sides.  Sweden and Russia have thrown the “cold weather” excuse out the window as well.  The Canadian Soccer Association has a lot to answer for.

As for Liverpool, the club is only now recovering from two decades of Rip Van Winkle-itis: not paying attention to the New Business of football until it was too late.  The once-mighty club was too loyal to managers and players who did not perform, while failing to keep up with the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Manchester Citehs until now.  Over the last eight months, Liverpool has spent over £100M.  Time will tell if it makes them a contender, or if it has bought more disappointment for their painfully loyal fans.

Perhaps I am being too persnickety, too willing to focus on the negatives in order to ease my mind when I am eventually let down.  But I’d like to think that I am making educated assumptions as I watch these teams play, seeing repeated errors and thinking,”this could be trouble.”

Maybe it’s just to cover my arse so when my team(s) finally lose, I can say, “I told you so.”   In the briefest of instances, I will have slid down the moral gradient from being “right” to just being “self-righteous”.

Because these days… isn’t that what being a football fan is all about?

Brent Lanthier

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