The Transfer Window – 06/01/15

The 1st of Jan saw the opening of the eagerly anticipated, 13th edition of everybody’s favourite overzealous soap opera, the January Transfer Window. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of ney one caring anymore!

2002 – The compulsory introduction of the Transfer Window by FIFA. Great! Fair trade, cited as a level playing field for clubs across the footballing world, to spread the footballing monopoly, whereby major clubs cannot cherry pick talent as and when they wish, keeping a lid on finances in an attempt to cap the absurd fees paid and minor clubs losing their main players. A vision that all clubs would have no option once the window closed, but to rely upon home-grown talent, nurtured through regional academy’s, and blood the future prospects into our national leagues. Sound a bit daft yet? Good. Here’s why I hate Transfer Deadline Day;

• Inflated transfer fees -. £35,000,000 Andy Carroll? Yep.
• A fire sale mentality – We must spend in order to stay in the division!
• Panic buying – Facundo Ferreyra anyone? No? Me neither.
• Harry Redknapp’s crack on repeat. “I’m in for Kaka”, “I’m in for Crouchy” Shut up.
• Jim White – Like a kid on a cocktail of skittles, power rangers and cocaine.
• THE TOTALISER – The death of any romanticism in transfers. FACTS, FIGURES.
• Gary Cotterill’s teeth – Smashed grave stones.
• Newcastle United – We need a Striker, we need a Striker, we need a Striker. Shefki Kuqi.
• Peter Crouch’s estate agent – His lass must be sick of moving house.
• Big Ben – Never liked that imposing nob jockey anyway, with his chimes and dongs.

Apart from the side show antics, Jim White’s hyper shenanigans, Natalie Sawyer’s flirtatious pouting, flying dildos, opportunistic swearing and reporters being piled upon. The Transfer Window is dead and has to be abolished. It doesn’t work. It’s broken. Not only does it not adhere to any of the prior ideas or actions outlined by FIFA, it actually makes things 10x worse. Financial fair play has recently been breached, resulting in fines and transfer bans on those inclined to not follow rules such as Man City and PSG, but we have had 13 year of this. Major clubs spend huge figures on bolstering their squads; hanging League hopes and Champions League qualification on speculative mercenaries willing to move to any club willing to pay the biggest wage. In fairness, how can well thought out business be conducted in 1 month? A scouting network you say? Perhaps 80% of transfers happen in the last week of the window, thought out? Nah. rushed and irrational. Football agents are the real winners, prospering from the fee’s that clubs are willing to pay to jump the queue and do the deal ahead of rivals. Transfer fee’s inflated tenfold, as demand is high, and time is low!

Football is nothing without youth. The next generation of players and fans are entrusted with carrying the traditions of our game, dreaming the impossible, re-writing history, but most importantly standing united against commercialism, profit culture and SKY. Ticket pricing and a day out at the football has become far too expensive for the working class. It is however encouraging seeing clubs like Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea organising their own price sharing scheme to keep prices reasonable, however ask any Arsenal fan or an away fan to Chelsea, and they will tell you the scale of inflation in the price. Sickening.

Clubs have a huge responsibility in educating youth team players through careful introduction and drip feeding experience by way of League Cup appearances and inclusion in first team squads, maybe a trip down on the bus with the seniors. The idea of ‘more exposure for youth team players’ due to the transfer window is a myth. What actually happens is a young lad is thrust into a situation that doesn’t suit development or longevity. Case and point Jak Alnwick; a keeper crisis at Newcastle with Tim Krul and Rob Elliot being injured, Jak was next in line for the jersey, 3rd choice as Karl Darlow is on loan to Nottm Forest, and Freddie Woodman is 18. Fair enough. In an ideal world with no window, Newcastle would have brought a more experienced keeper in, either on a short term deal or a loan. With the window being in place, the pressure put onto Alnwick was enormous. Key games against top clubs such a Spurs in the League Cup Quarter Final and high magnitude games v Arsenal away and Sunderland at Home, there has been no respite, or time for reflection for the lad, instead a heavy Christmas schedule which he was neither ready, or prepared for. The constant hounding on Twitter that the lad has received is bordering on bullying to be honest. A sad shame to see your own fans berate a fresh faced, youth product with no other option but to front it up and take the situation on the chin. Hat’s off to Jak Alnwick in my opinion, not heard him sulk once. Obviously has a back bone, unlike a lot of NUFC fans out there.

FIFA need to re-think the transfer window from top to bottom, their corrupt organisation from top to bottom actually. It no longer works as a way of channelling order in terms of transfers and youth development. Instead, the transfer window drives up fee’s, poor quality imports, car-crash television and ignores core responsibilities that clubs have in nurturing fledgling talent. As long as Sep Blatter is at the helm of this pompous, hedonistic, shady administration then unfortunately I cannot see any change. It is up to our major clubs to take accountability, for the future of our game, and the next generation.

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The Underdog – 23/12/14

This year has seen some amazing performances by less fancied teams and players, knocking world greats off their perch (bye-bye tika taka, hated that). It’s something that we all love to see; an underdog, determined and dogged, no care for reputations, characters or history. I guess it starts when you’re young. Perhaps you play a school match against a more reputable team, and come away with the win. Or, taking in your first FA Cup 3rd round game (play Ronnie Radford clip now). Little folk winning is blockbuster.

Hollywood is full of the working class hero rising above, defying the odds. Few of the best; Rocky 1-5 (Rocky Balboa doesn’t count – too far), Invincible (The story of Vince Papale), The Karate Kid (hated those lot from the Cobra Kai gang! Mugs), The Greatest Game Ever Played (Film based on Francis Ouimet played by Shea LaBeouf(Frank’s brother) – the first amateur to win a US open), Mighty Ducks (a bunch of geeks, turned into a team of champs by Emilio Estevez). Films that you become emotionally attached to, stories of struggle and adversity, overcome by a drive and ambition to succeed. It feels like you have been on a rollercoaster when the credits roll. I have always found myself enthusiastically supporting the underdog, problem being my own team are always un-fancied, except they never upset the odds! The yearly struggles of a Mag, we’ll never make it to Hollywood or Wembley for that matter.

2014 saw the first Australian winners of the AFC Champions League crowned with Western Sydney Wanderers lifting the trophy, defeating two time champions Al Hilal 1-0. San Lorenzo of Argentina ended a 4 year spell of Brazilian dominance in the Copa Libertadores by beating Nacional of Paraguay in the final, the 3rd time in consecutive years the competition has been won by a new champion. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil saw Colombia, Costa Rica and Algeria grab the competition by the scruff of the neck, disregarding protocol and producing impressive moment’s through-out (James Rodriguez’s volley man, Jesus wept!). Athletico Madrid under Diego Simeone won their first La Liga title since 95/96, amassing 90 points, topping the table ahead of Real n Ronny and Barca n Lionel, with only 4 losses to their name. Athletico also reached the UEFA Champions League Final, meeting their city rivals Real Madrid in a battle they should have won. Athletico were 1-0 up until Sergio Ramos scored a 93rd minute equaliser taking the game to ET. The wind was well and truly knocked from Simeone’s men as they finally succumbed to a 4-1 defeat after 120 minutes of football. A step too far maybe, for a team that exerted everything in 2014. Hull City reached the FA Cup final, not a minnow as such, but a remarkable feat for a club like Hull, a recent Premier League team who have jumped up the divisions after a lengthy spell in the Football League doldrums. Arsenal eventually ran out 3-2 winners AET with a goal from Aaron Ramsey.

The 3rd round of the FA Cup is nearly upon us, what a competition man! Don’t get me wrong, I hate the saying ‘That’s the magic of the FA Cup’, but I do look forward to it every year with false hope that Newcastle might go on to achieve a cup win. Not since our 2-0 loss to Man Utd in 98 have we looked anywhere near. Pathetic. It’s quite obvious to see that Newcastle do not hold cup competitions in high regard, nor feel the need to field strong teams to give us the best chance to progress. Whatever tripe Pardew comes out with regarding cup competitions, you only have to look at our League Cup quarter final performance this season v Spurs and previous seasons FA Cup ties to see a distinct lack of motivation, no clear tactical plan and approach to the game or for the players to actually have the will to achieve anything in their careers. You have to ask yourself, would you be happy with a career in football, no matter how lucrative or comfortable a career it is, if you achieved nothing? Why play the game? I don’t understand. Are these players genuinely disappointed with their performances in the cups, do they analyse and scrutinise the fine details in order to improve? Practice long and harder? Or do they rock up to training and move on to the next game, listen to feedback from the manager, then wash their hands with it? I do wonder whether players are too reliant on coaches and managers, as a professional you should also take responsibility for your own improvement and development. When we witness a giant killing (every season, FA Cup 3rd round), heroic performances by lower league teams, players producing the game of their lives, it is rather humbling. Here’s to the lad’s playing lower league, semi pro, grafting full time and fitting training in between work, family and normal life, relishing the prospect of slice of history, a moment in their lives unlikely to be presented again. Only the 90 to 120 minutes of opportunity and potential, blokes with self-belief and pride, families and friends watching from homes and pubs, carrying the torch for their areas and estates.

Motivation counts for a hell of a lot in football. There is no question that ability more than not, does prevail. It’s the occasions that it doesn’t I relish. The moments where professionals and high end talent trudge back to the changing rooms, sulking head in hands, reputations in tatters, whilst shed like grounds explode with celebration and disbelief. We all love a David v Goliath, and I believe the gap is narrowing. They say every dog has its day, it proves to be the case season after season. When posing the question to any amateur football; Do you think you can beat them today? 100% of the answers will be yes. No uncertainty about it. I wonder if you asked some of the Newcastle players whether they fancied their chances v Leicester this January the percentage would be the same. I doubt it like.

Derby day – 15/12/14

I’ve been trying to write this bloody blog for over 2 weeks now. At first I wanted to portray a negative feeling towards the fixture, after the fiasco pre and post-match last season, with grown men acting like Gorilla’s throwing their own shit all over their own enclosure, and the unnecessary clamber for match tickets that is tarnishing the sport. Viagogo, disgusting! Not to mention a catalogue of bad personal experiences on this particular day. Then I got caught up in the romantic historical reasoning behind the Derby and rivalry. It’s safe to say my emotions have been all over for this one, I’m the equivalent of a heavily pregnant neurotic hypochondriac, thinking every fart is a contraction. An image I’d like you to hold for a second… Thanks. So here’s just a few derby day musings instead.

After a conversation and an agreement with my brother, we decided to treat each other to a derby day ticket for Christmas (basically an excuse to buy a ticket for ourselves, cleverly disguising it as a festive exchange). Great (cheeky smile, wink), one to look forward to, a date for the calendar, and a chance to take in my first derby at St James’ since 28th August 2001, Bellamy equaliser after Phillips opened the scoring. A little antidote for you here, in August 2001, me and my cousin Antony queued at the old box office under the Milburn stand from 4am for our tickets, think we were about 10 people deep, there was the sleeping bag brigade at the front, proud of their ‘Bear Grylls-esq feat’. Idiots! There was a side door to these box office windows, and at around 9am just before the box office opened for business, like a Greek god glistening in the summer’s morning light, walked Alan Shearer. I kid you not. I don’t think a soul in the queue could believe their eyes, you could hear a pin drop. After a long wait in the queue and no breakfast, this was the perfect pre match gee-up, a story I forgot about until recently. Al only spoke a few words, ‘Alright lads’, then made his way down the steps, skipping off into the day like Mary Poppins. It was like that scene from Purely Belter, when Gerry and Sewell are at the training ground, except neither of us were fat or a Mackem disguised as a Geordie. I thought life couldn’t be better, 14 year old lad, off to my first derby, jobs a good’un.

Working where I do, we are offered ‘Corporate tickets’ at discounted prices. I know, I know, sell out yeah? Wey I can be bought right, no shame, especially nowadays when tickets cost an arm and a leg and a bollock. Anyways, rule is first come first served, usually a maximum of 2 can be purchased, and you must pay on the day for your ticket, no reserving. I can follow rules, this sounds easy enough, I’ll wait until the email for the tickets is sent I thought, and reply stating my intentions and provide money the following morning. WRONG. What a farce. I’m lead to believe that all 30 tickets were sold within an hour of the email being sent. I find this hard to believe as firstly I’m not a complete glip, and secondly 30 people do not carry £45 on their person on a daily basis. So either a large quantity have been given to people, who will in turn sell on for profit, or tickets have been promised to people, on the sly, under the table, behind the bin shed, in the toilet, calm down George Michael. I pushed the organiser of the tickets on this, caught her red handed, because not only did I email her 2 minutes after the initial email went out, and got no reply, but because she reacted to me like a guilty ticket tout being taken down by Northumbria’s finest. Think I was born yesterday pet? Anyways, I’ve let this slide, clearly don’t hold any grudge. First negative leading up to this weekend’s derby, tick!

I was sent a video about a week ago by a friend of mine. It’s a short film taken from derby day at St James’ last season, and has no narration or speech, only crowd noise and footage of around the ground pre and post-match. It’s a brilliant film, fantastically edited, here it is;

http://vimeo.com/m/108891490

I found the film rather shocking to be honest, and I’ve seen some crazy things in my time attending football matches (specifically someone relieving themselves on a disabled fan at Old Trafford, sickening), and even guilty of a few incidents myself, but this struck a chord. Maybe because I was watching from afar, but I felt deeply embarrassed. This is not how football is meant to be. This is my own interpretation of the film; I guess you’ll have yours, and that is maybe the film’s purpose. I don’t know the author, or the intentions behind it, but in my opinion it doesn’t reflect well, exposing caveman like behaviour, tribalism and a bitter rivalry amplified through 6 minutes. Noticeably there are quite a few under 18, who probably weren’t even attending the game, there’s a lad with a Staffy for crying out loud. There’s something about the derby which draws out the scum of the earth. Lads who aren’t even aware of the history behind the rivalry, just hatred passed down by scum bag to scum bag within their rotten families. Don’t get me wrong, without rivalry football would not be the same. I’m not one who wants derby’s dampened down, or watered through. The intensity is riveting, and being amongst it, electrifying. You feel alive, part of a collective force against the world. The beauty of derby’s cannot be understated, The Tyne Wear derby, El Classico, Milan derby, Rome derby, Boca v River, these four the obvious ones, there are many more that inspire supporters to produce their all, bubbling atmospheres, unbelievable visuals and high energy. However, if I see a Mackem in the street, I’m not gonna set about them with my Greggs sausage roll or rock their Robyn Reliant on to its side. It doesn’t make me that angry.

The talk before Sunday’s derby is about the Police, or lack of them. There won’t be the usual police escort for the Sunderland fans from Central station to St James’. In 2014, there shouldn’t be a reason to. It’s no good hanging the hopes of calm on the great work by the Sunderland fans, organising and raising an amazing amount of money on behalf of John Alder and Liam Sweeney either, because the lad’s that will cause bother, don’t have any emotions or feeling of sentiment. It’s down to the experienced older fan to lead by example here. Rivalry can remain without violence. It would be ideal for our derby to keep the intensity, preserve the passion and tradition, but end the trashing of our city and rioting in the streets. It’s boring man, and I for one am proud of our city, and don’t want the streets to look like a shit hole.

My hope for this Sunday is for the talking to be about the game. A free flowing, end to end, blood and thunder, ding dong victory for the Mags! A game made for Geordie Jack Colback to wave his wand of a left foot against his previous employers, providing Ayoze with the ammunition to make a huge statement. I love Ayoze Perez, such a clever little intelligent player. You can see his mind ticking over, 5 yards ahead of the rest. Long way to go Ayoze, but we’ll have a bit of you fella. An opportunity for Tiote to win back some support, it seems a long time ago since we saw anything near his best football produced, with the Man Utd/Arsenal/Chelsea interest seemingly a long time ago. A dominant performance against Cattermole might kick start his season. Moussa’s return will be a huge boost considering we lay down and took a pasting against Arsenal on Saturday evening. Sissoko should bring a drive and purpose we clearly lacked with Sammy, who was given a role too big for his current capabilities. The whole Jak Alnwick or Freddie Woodman decision, apparently one of the hardest Pardew has had to make. For me it’s easy, it has to be Jak, he can’t be blamed for Saturday, a chance for him to produce his best between the sticks and push for a new contract. There are lots of interesting sub plots, duels and match ups, with both sides desperate for the win. I predict a 2-1 Newcastle win, with a sending off or 2. I’m hoping for stunning headlines about an absorbing game up in the north-east, with the country watching, it’s a showpiece for our region. HTL!!

Africa’s Greats – 21/11/14

Colourful, flamboyant, hostile, wild, pulsating, fanatical and traditional. When I think of Africa these are the things that spring to the fore of my mind. It is a continent I am fixated with, and one I long to visit. From the mystical Moroccan mazes of Marrakesh to the monstrous mountain Gorillas in Uganda, Safari’s in the Serengeti and the natural stunning wonders of Victoria Falls and Kilimanjaro. It’s safe to say Africa has everything. The nature of each country it seems has a direct effect on its people, and they embrace their roots entirely. Africans seem to have a lust for life, a zest to enjoy each minute, smile, laugh and celebrate. One of my favourite sights in football is when the cameraman pans around to the fans of African teams, and you’re struck, opened mouthed watching them dance, usually painted fully green or orange or white, any colour but their own skin! They wear masks, head decorations, play instruments and party for 90 minutes. Africans know how to support their team, in the most enthusiastic and affectionate way (imagine rocking up in the middle of the Gallogate painted fully black and white, wearing a NUFC nappy, playing the Greggs stottie with your stuffed Monty the magpie) normal behaviour Jackie lad.

1996 was my first exposure to African football during the Olympic Games in Georgia, USA. Nigeria finished runners up to Brazil in Group D, winning 2 out of their 3 matches, only losing to Brazil in a tight game, Ronaldo the difference. Nigeria were huge underdogs at the tournament, but with a squad bursting with talent, a brand new generation was rising through. In the group stages Nwankwo Kanu and Jay Jay Okocha took centre stage, dazzling the States with their flair and skill. Nigeria progressed past Mexico in the quarter finals 2-0, setting up a re-match from the group stages with Brazil in the semi-final. Some of the players involved in the tournament across the nations involved became synonymous with the footballing world for years to come. Players such as Hernan Crespo (Top Scorer, 6 goals), Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti, Nuno Gomes, Robert Pires, Mark Viduka, Raul, Ivan de la Pena, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, I could go on naming players, but you can look for yourself! However, it was the Super Eagles that caught my attention. Nigeria’s mix of team spirit, raw natural ability and flashy skill provided the Games with a real highlight and showcase for the American audience, who let’s be honest, had little interest in the game of soccer.

The semi-final was set, the colossal footballing gods of Brazil versus a young exciting Nigeria. Captaining the Super Eagles through the tournament was a 19 year old Nwankwo Kanu, Ajax’s gem at the time. A young spearhead to Nigeria’s thrilling new style. The game could not have started any worse for Nigeria, with Brazil taking the lead in the 1st minute through Conceicao. The score was levelled 19 minutes later, the great Roberto Carlos turning the ball into his own net. Brazil took a further lead, Bebeto making it 2-1 after 28 minutes. 7 minutes before half time, disaster for Nigeria, Brazil took a 2 goal lead, Conceicao bagging his 2nd of the game after an amazing chest flick-on by Bebeto and Brazil’s 3rd of the game. Normally what ensues following a 2 goal lead for Brazil is exhibition football, a display for the possession textbooks. Fortunately Nigeria refused to roll over and just over half an hour into the second half Ikpeba scored with a strike from just outside the box to make it 3-2. The game was heading for a frantic finale and Nigeria’s talisman and leader Kanu stepped up to the plate. With Brazil trying to run down the clock in Nigeria’s corner, possession was won back, and Nigeria broke winning a throw in deep into Brazil’s half. A long throw by Okocha was eventually bundled to Kanu, and from no more than 3 yards he flicked the ball into Brazil’s net. 3-3!! What a game! An equaliser in the 90th minute, a footballing classic, nothing better than a last minute goal to earn a draw or a win! Nigeria now had their tails up and could taste the Brazilian tears. 4 minutes into Extra Time (golden goal rules) Nigeria played a hopeful ball into their front line, it fell to Kanu who dropped a shoulder so low it felt like the whole stadium hit the deck, turned the Brazilian centre half inside out and fired a carefully placed shot over the keeper to win the game and take the Africans to the Olympic Final v Argentina. Kanu’s celebration was legendary, grinning from ear lug to ear lug, spinning away in realisation of his team’s magnificent feat, beating the world champions and a team of megastars to progress to the final. The whole of Lagos must have shook at that moment, with a night of relentless revelry enjoyed.

The thing is, to me, semi-finals are way more exciting than finals. When the aim is to reach the final, and you have reached that goal, finals can often turn into a damp squid, nervy tit for tat encounters, tactically played through changing systems and carefully planned substitutions. This can’t be helped though, with the size of the achievement and pressure to succeed, finals will always have this exterior of anxiety. Nigeria broke the mould in Georgia. They played without fear, performing without any restrictions and enjoying the moment. When a team has the right mix of talent and desire, it is a deadly combination. Boundaries are pressed, and giants fall. Nigeria bounced into that final with Argentina along with their adoring fans on the crest of a wave, hungry for another upset, fearing nobody. Another late goal won the tournament for the Super Eagles, Amuneke scoring in the 90th minute to make it 3-2 to Nigeria in front of a capacity of 86,000 spectators. Argentina took the lead twice in the game, to which Nigeria had the answers for. La Albiceleste engulfed by an African force of nature.

Plaudits have to also go to the manager, Jo Bonfrére, a Dutchman whose coaching career has been more than nomadic post 96. A second spell in charge of Nigeria from 99 to 01, before bouncing between Africa and the Far East. Interestingly a direct opposite to his playing career where he was a one club man for MVV Maastricht playing over 335 games over 23 years. Managing this precocious group of players, and enabling them to shine and produce their best would not have been an easy task. Hats off to you Bonfrére fella!

Since that Nigerian whirlwind I experienced as a 9 year old, there has been a constant flow of African superstars into our game. Many have taken the longest of routes to the top, but that’s the point, they made it to the top, the journey has not been an issue. Whether they’ve had to develop and learn their craft in the Belgian second division or the Israeli Premier League, the dream of playing in an elite league in Europe never fades. Yaya Toure, Man City & Ivory Coasts dynamic midfielder’s journey a classic example of this mantra. Kolo Toure the elder brother of the two was picked up by Arsenal as a young lad, developed within an established leading European club. Yaya was not afforded the same luxury, even undergoing a failed trial at Arsenal. Although greatly talented, his game was first educated professionally at Beveren in Belgium, before moving to Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine. With a 100 career games under his belt a move to Greek club Olympiakos was next, exposure to Champions League football and a set of passionate fans evolving his hunger for the top. A brief stint in Monaco followed before the big move to Catalan giants Barcelona that Yaya earned and deserved. Now at Man City in the premier league and a multi trophy winning, 3 time African Footballer of the year (2011, 2012, 2013), established world performing Ballon d’Or nominee, Yaya has arrived at his level.

Although countless similar routes have been taken, familiar roads trodden by fellow African footballers; it is the will to succeed and passion for the game which stands above all. The overall dream never fading from thought. It would be very unlikely to see 18 year old English players who find first team football blocked by average foreign imports, take a leap of faith in search for development and consistent first team football. Why would they? Sitting on £2,000 a week, luxury pad’s in the trendiest spots, not a worry in the world. The European game can learn a lot from the African footballer’s mentality. If you love football, and have the will to succeed, take that leap. Travel and learn your trade elsewhere.

My 10 favourite African footballers;

1) Taribo West – Absolute legend-(ary hair), career never really went the direction it should have, but he is probably the most memorable Nigerian footballer in recent times. Sign him on a free transfer on Champ Man 01-02, certain to be your defender for 10 years! Was given Taribo’s Nike Tiempo boots with red trim by my mother and fatha for Xmas as a nipper.

2) George Weah – That goal! If you have ever seen the goal Weah scored for AC Milan v Verona in the 96-97 Serie A season, then you will nod in agreement and mouth the words (f@*k me George, that was canny).

3) Jay Jay Okocha – So good they named him twice. Unbelievable talent, a moment in his earlier career with Frankfurt saw him take the absolute Micky Joseph out of Oliver Kahn. MERKED.

4) Nwankwo Kanu – Unpredictable, erratic, impulsive with flair in abundance. Kanu graced the premier league for 13 years,enjoying prior stints at Ajax and Inter Milan. Amazing considering it was a well-known fact he had a heart defect uncovered at an Inter Milan medical post Olympics. Arsenal fans will remember his famous 15 minute hat-trick v Chelsea, when they were 2-0 down.

5) Samuel Eto’o – Arguably the deadliest African striker that’s lived. The Cameroonian star has amassed 118 caps for his country, scoring on 56 occasions. With an equally impressive club career Eto’o ravaged Spanish defences in La Liga, and ripped apart Europe’s elite in the Champions League. Initially a Real Madrid youngster, his biggest impact was at rivals Barcelona, 108 goals in 145 games is a remarkable tally. Currently an Evertonian, helping guide Robbie Martinez youngsters, namely Lukaku to stardom.

6) Sunday Oliesh – Physical on the pitch, technically gifted, Sunday played for some top European teams such as Ajax, Dortmund and Juventus, all recognising his talents. Probably best remembered for scoring a screamer against Spain in World Cup 98. Sacked by Dortmund in 04 for punching Vahid Hashemian’s lights out whilst on loan at Bochum. NUTTER.

7) Lucas Radebe – Initially signed by Howard Wilkinson for Leeds as part of the deal for Masinga, Radebe gained recognition as Captain for Leeds under George Graham’s stewardship, sturdy, powerful and deceptively quick, Lucas caught the attention of the top clubs due to his consistent performances, reportedly turning down moves to Man Utd and AC Milan. The only Leeds fan I know Matt Crawley loves him!

8) Yaya Toure – Athletic goal scoring midfielder that dominates games when he fancies it. Yaya has fashioned himself into one of Europe’s finest midfielders, playing a vital role in Man City’s title success’. Tall and gangly, but with the vision to thread the ball through a hula hoop, he can destroy teams single handily. Not since Patrick Vieira graced the premier league has one midfielder controlled and bullied the centre of the park like Yaya.

9) Papiss Cisse – Unbelievable start to his Newcastle career, smashing in 7 goals in 7 games. Some real memorable goals too, including an unthinkable strike with the outside of his boot v Chelsea and a deft lob over Michel Vorm v Swansea. Papiss has taken some stick more recently, especially when Demba Ba jumped ship, but what I like about Papiss is his willingness to help his team, his work rate and he’s a proper nice chap, frequently engaging with young fans. Top bloke.

10) Steven Pienaar – This little lad is a right footballer. Magic feet, great link up play. Everton fans have undoubtedly seen and benefitted from Pienaar’s best years. Although a move to Spurs didn’t work out (nothing new there, Spurs doesn’t work out for a lot of people) he returned to Everton, where the Goodison fans love him. Scorer of spectacular goals and dazzling assists; he’s a true creative force.

Be Immense – 11/11/14

Football, to me is above all passions, a sport that grabs you as a nipper and free from fashions.
The beautiful game played in all its glory, a spectacle to behold, a never ending story.
Legends are born, heroes are made, glimmers of hope that never fade.
Talk of the town, cavillers of the city, players guard that badge, dare they pity.

Glorious, gorgeous, gracious and gallant, goals created by wizards, and scored by raw talent.
Allegiance passed down from father to son, flesh and blood, a ritual dad’s cherish, as they would.
The roars of the crowd, the buzz from the pitch, give your all son, graft through that stitch.
Tears of joy and pain, sweat blood and energy, we’ll hold you dear, worship that effigy.

This lad’s in form, he’s a real find, keep his feet firmly on the ground, and get him signed.
Potential for greatness, destined for the top, hopefully his education is worthy, we don’t want a flop.
Give him the backing, tailor his needs, he’s from our neck of the woods, nowadays a rare breed.
Sing his name proud, make him feel celebrated, a symbol for the club, Newcastle incubated.

Its swings and roundabouts man, you win and lose, keep the faith though, dont get caught in the boo’s.
We’re untied together you see, for the good of the cause; we’ll back you to the hills, non-stop applause.
We’ll sing, we’ll shout, support you forever, respect the fans with your incessant endeavour.
“Fortiter Defendit Triumphans, Triumphing by brave defence, carry this tradition with you, be immense.

Don’t think too much fella! – 06/11/14

At the risk of sounding like Louis Armstrong and break into a rendition of ‘What a wonderful world’, life is not that complicated is it? You’re born, hopefully into a loving family, you’re educated if you’re lucky enough to have access to it, someday you might find a companion to share your existence with, to respect, love and cherish. You may even reproduce. Congratulations on the bairn lad and doing your business. 60-70 you’ve had a canny life, 70-80, you’ve had a cracking innings, 80-100 is unbelievable, you beat life. Any success along the way, money earned, possessions gained, memories created are a bonus. Religion, war, disease and crime, a cruel hindrance. Simplistic, stripped down, life laid bare.

On that note, I saw the most remarkable thing this morning on my way to work. On my usual commute I jump (more of a sluggish step) onto the 309 cobalt clipper (evidently Go-Ahead naming the service due to the number of clips that get on). £12.50 weekly pass, free Wi-Fi, occasionally pick up a complementary paper, usual stuff you know. My bus associates heavily engrossed in their phones, Facebook or twitter, catching up on the night’s worth of child/cat/food/quote/fitness posts that they missed over the 5-6 hours they’ve had their eyes removed. Approaching Battle Hill shops (the equivalent of London’s Oxford street or New York’s 5th Ave), peeking between the old people’s home, and the Chinese was the most breath-taking view of a winter sun rise I’ve ever seen. The sun on the horizon looked like a giant ball of fire, hurling its colour of reds, oranges and yellows all over the place like a courageous child with a bowl of Heinz tomato soup. It could have been confused with a scene from the Serengeti National Park, with the coast road replacing a majestic Umbrella Thorn Tree (Google it if you have to, just an African tree like, you’ve probably seen it on the Lion King anyway). Exaggerating you say? Me? Never! I’ve been round the world I’ll have you know (12 planned months, turning into 3 lavish ones, and an early return home). I’ve seen some stuff. Yet, the best part of it, I was the only person to see the splendour of this sunrise, I had a sneaky peek round afterwards, not one person looked alive. Idiots I thought, before returning to my twitter feed.

This experience naturally, got me thinking about football. I generally don’t indulge in over thinking or strategically analysing games, whether I play or watch. To me, football is 11 blokes v 11 blokes, or 11 women v 11 women. Depending on the level of coaching available, which is the only real difference, offering footballers a better chance of progression, skill improvements and tactical education. Effort is often over-looked, yet is an essential attribute all sportsmen and women require. You can have all the skill and technique in the world, but without effort, hard work and dedication, you’ll get found out, quickly. There are many players that have toed this line. Players that show glimpses of natural street-learnt ability, only to fall short of big transfers, great clubs and international recognition.

One that immediately springs to mind being a Newcastle fan is Hatem Ben Arfa. Genius on his day, but a nightmare more often than not. Many an argument over the little lad has taken place on Tyneside. Some fans support him to the hills blaming Pardew for his inactivity or creative curtailment. Others side towards his inconsistencies, lack of desire and regular tantrums. All of the above correct accusations. This is it. Question marks remain. Don’t forget Ben Arfa had a fantastic upbringing, being nurtured and coached through the French national school of excellence with the likes of Nasri and Benzema. Ben Arfa has the talent in abundance; he could play at the highest level, for the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. To play for, and build a career at the 3 clubs mentioned, you have to show an unrivalled commitment, work harder than any other in your position in the world, just to warrant your place at the club never mind the first 11, otherwise you’ll be quickly shown the door. Ben Arfa currently plays at Hull City. Anyone been to Hull before? Certainly isn’t the South of France, Cataluña or Bavaria. It’s not even Whitley Bay. Harsh on Whitley Bay, I used to love Spanish City.

On Tuesday’s I organise 5 or 7 a side for the work lot. We crack on down to a local pitch and have a kick around for an hour. Numbers are great, they are an enthusiastic lot. 13/14/15 people regular. No standard necessary, players of all abilities. This week one of the lads shone out like a beaming light of sweat and energy. I’ll not embarrass the lad by naming him, but he obviously has no real football experience besides kick-a-boots with mates. Immediately from his first touch of the ball, it was plain to see. Blocking passes to him with the outside of his foot, rather than trapping the ball with his instep. Basics. Wild passes and zero positional sense. One thing stood him out above all others. The lad loved it. He was enjoying every minute of the game. Never stopped running, caused havoc closing people down, the lads with ability were getting sick because they were being tackled with ease. If he never made the first tackle, he went again, persistent like a terrier. Usually in my experience, when you come across a lad like this, it goes the other way, players stop passing to them, or including them in the group. Football can be like that;happens weekly on Saturday and Sunday morning’s. It was refreshing to see, rekindled my hunger even. And what was more, the game was simple to him, 7 lads v 7 lads, nothing more. No apprehension and no over thinking. It could have been a training match against 5 lads from North Shields F.C. and he still would have applied himself in exactly the same way.

Life seems overly complicated sometimes. Whether you have family issues, financial instability or health concerns, it’s understandable. Life is hard. Hoy the news on at night, it’s enough to depress the happiest of Larry’s. But it’s undoubtedly only as hard as you make it. I don’t claim to be free of any stress or problems, but I try to appreciate everything on its merits. Just to mirror this with football for a second. A Minority of football fans think they are owed an explanation for everything, jumping on every band wagon going. A few games lost on the trot, the manager needs to go. A player doesn’t score or perform for 10 games, he needs to go. Footballers and managers are human, so they will make mistakes. There’s a huge difference between passionate support for your team and expecting to win every game, turning the blame any which you can. The abuse footballers and managers receive via social media or even a trip to the supermarket is unacceptable. The majority of abuse undoubtedly from arm chair fans. Just because you’ve bought a ticket once a season for £20 or purchased a club pencil from the official shop does not entitle you to act in such a way. Nothing does. Luckily the majority of fans are not this sort, and get behind the team and manager in every way possible, travelling home & away, season tickets, pre-season tours and games, spending their hard earned money. When your team gets beat, don’t over think things, its swings and roundabout’s. A month’s poor form can be quickly turned into an unbeaten run. That’s football. It changes daily.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”, said Bill Shankly, tongue in cheek, half-jokingly. The social media fans, especially on twitter seem to take this mantra to heart. Relax. Stop whinging. Get your leg over. In football you win, you lose, sometimes draw (draws are rubbish). Your team has spells at the top, flirt with relegation; sometimes drop as far as Portsmouth encountering financial problems. Your time will come again. Enjoy the rollercoaster. Don’t think too much man!

Golazo! – 27/10/14

You’re bang in the middle of a goal mouth scramble, added on time, the game has been a ‘slobberknocker’. Losing balance you’ve managed to stick out a very lumbersome right leg, the ball ricochets off your shin pad, it’s bobbled and spun under the weighty keeper who seems to be diving (falling) in slow motion, the net is tickled. You’ve scored! Shite, what now? Your mates are rapidly approaching, your audience are watching from the side line (Awld Bob and his Border Collie). Right, I’m going to do something everyone will remember for years to come, this will go down in this club’s history, the Chronicle might even pick this up, could even make it onto MOTD. Too late, handshakes ensue, maybe a pat on the arse, and a long run back to your own half. Next time, I’m going to celebrate, next time.

Tap in’s, screamer’s, diving header’s, RABONA’s, free kick’s, pen’s, what’s better than scoring a goal? No matter how it looks, or goes in, the feeling is the same, and never dampens. From your first inflatable football goal set, toe poking efforts past your dad, to smashing shots past your cousin at the garages which was usually followed by Mrs Keilty the ginger tyrant screaming at us to shift, something about the noise echoing into her living room and she was going to call the cops. Aye aye Mrs Keilty, calm yourself down pet, you’ve just missed goal of the season, and cops? Relax NYPD. Scoring goals is what it’s all about from being a nipper to a gadgey, the high is felt.

Edison Cavani’s sniper celebration caught my attention last week. PSG were 1-2 up away at Lens, Cavani himself won a penalty, converted making it 1-3, then wheeled away to celebrate using his trademark sniper celebration in front of the Lens fans. He was shown a yellow card by the referee and in protest and verbal’s received a second yellow and a red, to see his joy turned to a likely suspension. Whether or not the red was shown for the type of celebration (In a PC world, maybe a sniper celebration is off limits?) or for provoking the Lens fans, it isn’t clear, perhaps the referee saw it as a mixture of the two. However, this cannot warrant a yellow card? Ever!

I refuse to accept that in today’s current climate, with the soul of football being trampled on by obscene rising ticket prices, greedy foreign investment, and non-stop profit driven sponsorships, that a player is not allow to show his emotions when scoring a goal. A moment that a player has treasured since childhood, practiced with their friends down the park, dreamed about doing in a professional arena, cup finals and world cups, being curtailed and censored. First it’s the yellow card for removing your shirt (Giggs 1999 FA Cup semi-final, Villa Park), then a yellow card for players leaving the field of play to celebrate with fans (Hreidarsson, Ipswich, 2001 stage dive into stand). Maybe in the next few years, you’ll not be allowed to celebrate at all, as this might be considered goading your opponent? As you can see from the examples of Giggs and Hreidarsson, celebrations create memories. They stick in your mind. They become part of the footballing folk law. They are exciting. I’m sure you have your own unforgettable celebrations to memory.

In Cavani’s case, it was maybe this particular referee – a Nicolas Rainville, probably a right pillock (just googled his face, he is indeed a pillock) probably a Marseille fan, not too up on my French referee’s, let’s assume he really doesn’t like Uruguayan’s and see’s similarities in Edison’s lovely locks with his lasses, who he despises because she snapped his Football Manager disc, but I think the consensus is these sorts of limitations are becoming more frequent. Players are allowed to express themselves on the field, showing us glimpses of magic and enchanting their respected leagues. Celebrations are a part of that, an expression of sheer happiness. The pitch is their domain, their stage in which to perform. In some cases they become legends, a signature that over shadows the goal itself. Shearer, Robbie Keane, Klinsmann and Ravanelli, all celebration creators, moment makers, artists in their own right. It is imperative the celebration remains free, for our kids, our kids’ kids, the next generation of world beaters and stars. THEY MAY TAKE OUR LIVES, BUT THEY’LL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEEEDOM!
Can’t resist it. My own top 5 celebrations.

1, Gazza – Euro 96, dentist chair recreation after what was an absolute worldy. Colin Hendry might still be on his arse now.

2, Lee Sharpe – Elvis hips at the corner flag, entertaining as Sharpe was, the limelight got the better of him.

3, Alan Shearer – Simple, legendary, easy to recreate, seeing Shearer spin away with his hand in the air is one of the best sights in football.

4, Faustino Asprilla – When Tino scored against Metz in 96, he ran over to the corner flag, took his shirt off, put it on the flag, and waved it with pride. Haware man! Legend.

5, Shefki Kuqi – Hahaha