Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Talking Points - December

Chewing the fat for the final time in 2009 - here's what the lads have been talking about in December:

Plymouth rock the boat
Nobes reports as Championship strugglers Plymouth replace Paul Sturrock as manager with assistant Paul Mariner.

Bye Laws
After Brian Laws departs Sheffield Wednesday, Nobes discusss the importance of finding the right long-term appointment at Hillsborough.

Forest vs. Preston
As Nottingham Forest and Preston get set to clash, Lakes and Turls preview the big Soccer AM/MW derby.

A Right Royal Mess
Four Championship managers sacked in a week, Nobes on how the dream of having patience with bosses is over.

Christmas Features
Christmas offerings from Soccer AM/MW. The lads review their teams' past ten years, their favourite game, and what they'd do if in charge of FIFA.

The John Barnes Story

During its time on the airwaves of Lancashire, Soccer AM/MW became infamous for many things.

Cheating during trivia quizzes, Lakes failing to turn up on time, doing features off the cuff instead of planning, oh, and one anecdote.

The tale of how former Liverpool and England star and ex-Tranmere manager, John Banres, "saved the life" of Nobes is much feted.

However, despite several promises, the story of how it transpired has never been told. Until now.

In an exclusive for this blog, Nobes takes up the story.

"I must have been only five years old at the time, so we're talking 1992ish. Barnes was still at Liverpool and a big name in English football. So anyway, imagine our surprise when we believed we'd spotted him taking a break at Center Parcs in the Suffolk countryside.

After a quick debate, one of my brothers and I decided it was and cautiously approached the star, who was with his children at the time. He must have noticed us coming as the next thing we heard were the words, 'Don't be afraid' in those unmistakable dulcet tones.

On reflection, it sounds like the sort of thing Angels are supposed to have said in the Nativity story. However, those were his exact words. His kids were around the same age as my brothers and I, so we quickly hit off and were playing in the play area - and yes, we did get John's autograph too.

John explained that they had been planning to go on holiday abroad to Spain, but his wife had become pregnant and could not fly, so they had taken a break back home instead. Later, he bought us an ice cream. I honestly can't remember what type, but I can safely say it must have been the best I've ever had.

Soon we had arranged, as families, to go swimming. The swimming pool, as anyone who has ever been or knows anyone who has ever, is a central feautre of Central Parcs. We all loved swimming too, albeit I wasn't particularly good at it.

So, it was with great then that I attempted to go down one of the biggest, quickest slides in the pool. Now, this slide was a from a great height - pretty daunting for a young kid. However, both my brothers and Barnes's children had done it, so I had to.

Anyway, down the slide I went, it plunging me deep underwater before I began to surface. Then, disaster. My head was trying to emerge above the water but for some reason it wouldn't. Something - a big infaltable pool partioning device (for short) that was floating on the water - was stopping me.

This was it, I thought. The end of the Seb Noble story. Cruelly cut short at such a young age. Never truly being able to show the world my wit and punning ability. Then, from out of nowhere, I found myself being lifted from underneath the water by two arms.

Yes, it was John Barnes. He had been waiting at the bottom to make sure we all came down safely. I can't recall the exact words he said as he completed his life-preserving action, but it was something like: "There we go."

Such understatement for a man who had just 'saved' a life. Then again, that's the humility of the guy. My lifesaver."

Lakes: Incidentally, I used to have a Panini sticker of a similing John Barnes on my bed headboard when I was a kid, and once, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I thought he spoke to me. I haven't quite got over that.

Nobes: Haha. What about other anecdotes about meeting footballers/people in football? I did once meet a former, and widely loathed, Skyrockets chairman came and shook my hand and had a word in the car park at Stockport at an away game.

I had arrived early on the train from Preston and I think he was trying the old 'caring chairman bonding with fans' routine, only I was the only Boston fan there at the time!

Turls: When I was about 16 or 17 I served Gary McAllister when I was working in the fish and chip shop [the infamous George's Traditions Fish & Chip Shop.] Asked him how his wife, who was ill, was doing.

Macca's dreaming of a chippy tea after the match

I stole Paul McKenna's mobile number off the Rock FM database when I was on placement there. Phoned him once, heard him say "Hello," shat my pants and hung up. No idea where the number is now.

Nobes: I saw the former Lincoln and current Macclesfield boss Keith Alexander in reception at BBC Lincolnshire when on work experience there.

He's a former Boston player too, but I didn't have the bottle to congratulate him on his successes at Sincil Bank.

Turls: I saw Michael Dawson at Nottingham greyhounds for my brother's Stag Do, and I also saw Steve McManaman at Selfridges in Manchester - didn't say anything to either of them.

Nobes: How about this for not saying anything? I once shared a three hour train carriage journey from Nottingham to Stoke with former Boston striker Anthony Elding.

I was there wearing my BUFC hat, him clearly noticing it. He must have been thinking, "Why the hell is he not coming up to me and saying something." I was too scared. You never know how they might react.

Turls: My brother got a thumbs up from Marlon Harewood as he was driving into the City Ground car park and I once bumped into Muzzy Izzet while doing some food shopping with my mum.

One time I was in Preston I was behind David Moyes in the queue at Tesco Express. He lives round the corner from my mum still. He had two boxes of Lemsip Max! I thought he was going to OD.

I daren't say a word, but the guy at the till was quite chatty with him. I guess he had an excuse.

Oh, and I fixed Rob Kelly's laptop free of charge at PC World. Got told off for that. Told him I expected a win against QPR. We drew.

David Moyes finds out they've sold out of Lemsip

Nobes: I used to have the mobile number of our former manager when he was at the club. Always resisted the temptation of texting him some suggestions for substitutions on a Saturday afternoon. Probably why we were relegated.

I also saw the current Cambridge and then Orient boss Martin Ling in the VIP lounge at York Street once ahead of a game - obviously doing some scouting.

He was enjoying a cup of tea - on a saucer. Can't recall whether he was enjoying a biscuit too though. That's showbiz.

If you've any anecdotes of your own of occasions you met people within football or footballers themselves - you might have even had the courage, unlike Nobes, to speak to them. Email us at soccerammw@gmail.com or leave a comment.

Turls' Forest Decade Review

Last up in our reviews of the decade, Turls takes a glance back at how the Noughties have been for Nottingham Forest.

How's the decade been?

The decade has been nothing short of atrocious for Forest in my opinion. Not a single season in the top flight. Not a single thing to crow about - although you could argue that promotion from League One to the Championship was a happy time.

We've made two play-off appearances and been beaten disgracefully both times. The season we lost to Sheffield United was a good year but it's been all down hill from there.

Thankfully, the club looks like it is heading back in the right direction under Billy Davies so the next decade could be one of real promise.

Highlight of the decade?

Erm, give me a second on this one. It has to be the year we got to the Championship play-offs. Or when we hired Billy Davies.

I'll have to go with the play-off season because it was a team of promise and real ability - Michael Dawson and Andy Reid went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur.

Paul Hart had trained these players in the youth team and he was reaping the benefits as first team manager. We should have got promoted that year but a dodgy sending off in the first leg cost us big time.

Neil Warnock celebrates Forest's play off defeat to Sheffield United

Low point of the decade?

Relegation to League One followed by three seasons in the division. Becoming the first Champions of Europe to get relegated to the third tier of their respective division is not the type of record any football club wants.

How we didn't get promoted first time round I'll never know. Oh wait - yeah I do - Gary Megson. The guy was an idiot and seemed to blame everyone but himself for our crapness.

Did he ever stop and wonder why Frank Barlow and Ian McParland did so well when they came in as caretakers?

Forest's best manager of the decade?

It's a shoot-out between Paul Hart and Billy Davies and I think Hart has won it by a whisker.

He managed to get us to the Championship play-offs and, although you could argue we should have done better given the team, I think we over-achieved.

It was a tough league at the time: Portsmouth were spending money left right and centre, Leicester were a dangerous outfit, Sheffield United, Wolves and many more made it a difficult division to get out of.

It's just a shame it ended with a whimper.

Forest's worst manager of the decade?

David Platt? Joe Kinnear? Gary Megson? To have three abysmal managers in the space of a decade is embarrassing for Nottingham Forest, but to see them go on and manage at a higher level is embarrassing for the state of English football

Platt [left] went to manage England's U21's, Kinnear later became Newcastle manager, and Megson has only just been sacked from Bolton.

However, forced to choose between who was the worst, I'd have to go Platt. He started the decade, and century, in charge at the City Ground and it has taken nearly 10 years for the club to turn itself round after his disastrous reign.

You can't blame him for everything, but he is partly responsible for the financial problem - spending a shedload of money on a group of crap Italians will do that - and that's where all our problems started.

The guy was a tool of epic proportions and, as has been mentioned previously, he is a dismal manager with the tactical knowledge of a drunk cow.

Best Forest player this decade?

This is a tough one. Not because we had a host of great players. Not because we had no great players. Simply because whenever someone looked like they were playing well for Forest, he was then sold on.

Andy Reid, Michael Dawson, David Prutton, Jermaine Jenas. All good players who went not long after bursting onto the scene. For this reason, I've decided to give it to Kris Commons.

He isn't as good as any of the above but he served the club well for four years - three of which were in League One. He could have left at any time but he decided to stay.

He single-handedly, in my opinion, took Forest back to the promised land and for that, I can forgive him for moving to Derby. He may not have been the most svelte of players but neither was Matt Le Tissier!

Kris Commons - Turls's choice for Forest's player of the decade

Worst Forest player this decade?

It would be easy for me to reel off a list of crap players that were signed by David Platt, so I

Carlos Merino, Salvatore Matrecano, Moreno Mannini, and Gianluca Petrachi are just a few of the inspired signings that saw Forest take their first steps towards the abyss. However, I've chosen to cut Platt some slack.

So my nomination for worst Forest player of the decade goes to Danny Sonner. Having played 32 games for the club, all I remember him for is being an idle waste of space in the middle of the park who couldn't pass, shoot or tackle.

An absolute disgrace and typical of the level of dross that the club was fielding in the last decade.

Hopes for the next decade for Forest?

A lot depends on the antics of Billy Davies. He is renowned as much for his fiery temperament with the board then he is with getting Championship sides into the play-offs.

Can current Forest boss Billy Davies make the next decade a good one?

I think that with him at the helm, promotion will come next year. Can the club stay in the Premiership? Who knows. However, the ambition has to be to get to the top-flight and stay there.

A decade is a long time for a club of Forest's stature to be outside the top-flight and although not many people like our supposed "we-deserve-to-be-in-the-Premier League arrogance", few would argue that the club is a Premier League club in all but name.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nobes' Boston Decade Review

The second of our reviews of the decade focusses on Boston United. Nobes tells us how things have been for his club at the start of the new Millennium.

How's the decade been?

Tumultuous, to sum it up in one word.

A rollercoaster ride of emotions where the club, illegally, reached the highest points in its history before coming close to coming out of business and then dropping down to the nether reaches of Non League is the longer answer.

On the face of it, we end the Noughties a level below where we started it, so you could class it as a failure - we're no further up the pyramid. I prefer to see it as almost our teenage years - it's been full of angst and we've learnt a lot of harsh lessons.

Now we're building solid foundations on a sustainable base to hopefully lead to some comfortable relaxing years. Just have to hope we don't suffer a mid-life crisis. Perhaps we needed this decade to realise just what's important though.

Highlight of the decade?

It's difficult to describe a promotion, won on the back of cheating and tax fraud, as a highlight. It kind of sours the whole experience knowing that any achievement was not fairly earned.

So, I will go for one match in particular. A 2-0 home win against Workington in the Conference North in the opening game of the 2007/8 season. It was a match I never thought I'd see after we came perilously close to going under during the summer.

Relegated at Wrexham - but the fans were back to see Boston play Workington

It was genuinely the most emotional match I'd ever been to. Forget tears of joy or anguish at any promotion or relegation, this was pure relief. You honestly don't know how precious and important something is until the prospect of it not being there confronts you.

We realised that it isn't the division you're in, or the opposition you're playing that's important. No, it's having a club to go and support and watch week-in-week out, whether they're successful or not, that really matters.

As some football fans this decade have found when they couldn't do just that anymore.

Low point of the decade?

In a decade of so many low points, this one is surprisingly easy to identify. June 17, 2007. Father's Day. A public meeting was held at York Street to discuss the future of the club. Well, to save the club actually.

I felt absolutely sick. Looking around the ground thinking it might be the last time I was there. That I had already seen us play for the last time and not even realised it.

I have to admit, I walked away along with the 800 others who had given up their Sunday lunchtime to stand on the terraces thinking that all hope was lost.

Our General Manager, John Blackwell, and the man who played a huge part in saving my club - Barrie Pierpoint [right], had delivered an impassioned plea and set out their dream of the community and local businesses saving the club, but I never thought it possible.

As it was, it turned out our current owners, Chestnut Homes, were at that meeting that day and decided they had to act. They saved the club and are now making it stronger every day.

We owe them, and Barrie, a lot. I hope Pilgrims fans will never forget the part he played in calling the town to arms.

Boston's best manager of the decade?

I'd like to say, in a few months time, that it's the current managerial duo we have - Rob Scott and Paul Hurst. They won promotion from our league with Ilkeston last season and we are on course to at least finish in the play-offs again.

However, other than the current duo, I'd have to highlight the work of Neil Thompson in keeping us in the Football League in our debut season. He came so close to getting the chop and some fans were after his blood when we lost eight on the trot.

He turned it around though and did brilliantly to recover from a -4 deficit and £100,000 fine to stave off immediately dropping back down.

As for including Steve Evans - just not possible. Promotion to the League was done through illegal means, he divided and lost huge parts of the fanbase, and left the club on its knees, dying, when he upped sticks to Crawley.

Neil Thompson helped keep the Pilgrims in the Football League in 2003

Boston's worst manager of the decade?

In terms of actual managerial ability, Evans wouldn't be the worst. Indeed, some could argue he was the best. He took us to our highest ever League finish and a few points off the play-offs in 2006.

However, all that counts for nothing because he dragged the good name of the club through the mud, and some of it will probably stick for eternity. He created a poisonous atmosphere on the terraces, splitting our support.

The club almost died in 2007, and he had a huge hand in that. I dread to think what would happen if he ever returned to the club in the away dugout.

Best Boston player this decade?

I'm not going to go for the most gifted or talented player. I'm not going to go for our best goalscorer or our first ever Full International. I'm not even going to go for Paul Gascoigne.

No, my choice is Paul Ellender [left]. Record club signing from Scarborough in 2001, he was a key part of the team who promotion to the League and stayed throughout our time in League Two.

He was your typical lower league centre half - big, strong, physical, cumbersome. He often got on the scoresheet from set-pieces, but he always gave it his all and would have died for the club. He also went weeks without pay during our financial crisis.

He remained with us after demotion to the Conference North, and then in the Unibond last season, he returned on loan to help inspire the team to avoid yet another relegation.

Affectionately known as 'Gypo' because of the way he looks, but a firm terrace favourite and my personal Boston legend.

Worst Boston player this decade?

I could be really cruel here and single out Graham Potter, without a doubt the worst signing Neil Thompson ever made at the club. He only ever had one good game - against Macclesfield - and they were so impressed they went and signed him!

Slow, ineffective, he was a left sided player who couldn't defend strongly or attack with any dynamism. I'm not sure where his best position was, or if he even had one.

However, I'm sure he always gave his all, so I can forgive him for his lack of ability. I can't forgive the bunch of wasters who turned out for us last season. Most were completely gutless and almost conspired to see us drop down four levels below the Football League. Worst team ever.

Hopes for the next decade for Boston?

I'd love to be able to say restoring Football League status and, although that isn't out of the question, it's not my number one hope.

York Street - enterting its last decade as Boston's home

After the last decade we must aim for a period of greater stability. Having built regimes on sand we now need a firm foundation to help establish ourselves back as one of the top teams in the Conference.

That's eminently achievable, but getting things right off the pitch is just as important as on the pitch. We will be moving ground some time in the next ten years, so a smooth transition to a new stadium is also high up on my wishlist.

Most of all though, we must make sure that the prospect of us not having a club to support in future decades never returns.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lakes' Preston Decade Review

As the Noughties draw to a close, the lads look back on how the last ten years have been for their respective clubs.

First up,
Preston North End, and Lakes's take on how the past decade has been for the Lilywhites.

How's the decade been?

Let's face it, the decade has been an absolute joy for Preston North End. It's been a really, really great decade to be a Preston supporter.

We've been on the up the whole time and, apart from a couple of scares, have always been pushing for promotion. We've been absolutely spoilt wrotten.

Highlight of the decade?

Getting into the play-offs in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2009. The fact that we actually made it into the final in 2001 summed up to me what was a dream season and it had all of the hallmarks of a miracle football moment about it.

I just wish we'd gone a step further, but it was probably too soon I'm honest.

Billy Davies led North End to the play-offs in both 2005 and 2006

Low point of the decade?

Sinking in what seemed to be our demise from the Championship under Paul Simpson. I really thought we'd have it for a while. Nobody brought more highs and lows than Simmo. A timely dismissal if ever there was one.

Preston's best manager of the decade?

It's a toss up between David Moyes [left] and Billy Davies. Moyes achieved the impossible and got us where we are today - a solid and reasonably consistent Championship club.

Davies, however, did something different. He got us playing like a team and put us on the best run I can remember seeing a Preston side on.

I remember at one point we conceded eight goals in 23 games under Davies. Carlo Nash had something like 22 clean sheets that season. Remarkable.

Preston's worst manager of the decade?

Craig Brown [right]. He brought boring, mid-table football that lacked initiative and any redeeming qualities, except for the occasional good signing.

Fans harp on about Brown's record of signing players, but the fact is that for every Ricardo Fuller he bought, there was a George Koumantarakis or an Omar Daley.

Best Preston player this decade?

Ricardo Fuller. Simply the best player I have ever seen in a Preston shirt. The man had it all.

He even became an internet sensation when he was put in a YouTube video showing the world's most outrageous skills - he achieved such a feat during a dull midweek fixture.

He scored goals for fun and when he ran with the ball I got so excited. I had chills every time I saw him running toward goals in a way that would only be approached later by David Nugent.

We've had some great players this decade - Fuller, David Healy, Jon Macken, Nugent, Eddie Lewis, Ross Wallace. It's been a great decade, it really has.

Worst Preston player this decade?

Andy Smith [right]. Another cracking signing from Brown, Preston fans. What's that? You've conveniently forgotten him?

He made about one appearance in a Preston shirt after being allegedly bought on the recommendation of David Healy, his mate from the Northern Ireland squad.

He ended up on loan in the Conference somewhere and still didn't score. I don't think he scored a single in three years in England.

Hopes for the next decade for Preston?

Obviously I hope we get investement, some great players, and really go for the Premier League.

If not, I'd be absolutely delighted to stay a Championship club. It really is one of the most exciting leagues in the world and I've loved our stay. I would be so sad if we slipped out of it at any point in the next few years.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nobes' Favourite Game

Our final look at the lads' favourite games involving their respective clubs looks at Nobes and the best Boston game he's seen.

Coca Cola League Two
Wrexham 3-1 Boston United
Valentine pen (56), Llewellyn (87), Proctor (90) - Green (39)
Saturday May 5 2007, Racecourse Ground, (Att: 12,374)

You have to wonder what possesses somebody to choose a game their team lost as their favourite. That's even more the case when it was also a game that ended with their team being relegated.

However, contrary to some people's opinion, the world doesn't implode, nor does it stop spinning on its axis when your team is relegated. In many ways, that was almost an irrelevance of the occasion.

First, some context. The Pilgrims were enduring huge financial problems, struggling to put any kind of team on the field of play, hardly training, and certainly not paying players who had remained remarkably loyal.

Somehow we took survival in the Football League down to the final game in what, more or less, was a straight winner-takes-it-all shoot-out between ourselves and Wrexham. Certainly the case was clear for us - win and survive, anything less and we were heading down.

I remember the day vididly - mostly because it was a lovely baking hot May afternoon. Travelling on the train from Preston I had to make a couple of changes and ended up meeting a nervous Wrexham fan at Warrington.

We ended up chatting over a drink and a bite to eat. I could tell he was petrified at the thought of his club dropping into Non League. I assured him that they wouldn't, that there was no way we were going to win. He didn't seem convinced.

However, on departing, we shook hands and wished one another well for the future. It was the kind of thing that makes the grassroots of English football special.

Perhaps I was so relaxed because I knew we were going to lose, and relegation didn't worry me. I was just proud of the fight we'd shown for the past few games.

Having met up
in Wrexham with a pal from back home, and sinked a quick pint in a jam-packed pub, we made our way up a hill to the ground.

It was at this point you could tell this was a big occasion with the activity around the ground. A 13,000 sell out, including over 700 from Lincolnshire. It felt like our small Fenland town was up against the whole of Wales on that day. On reflection, we were always onto a loser.

We got into the ground quite late, the away stand was packed and we had to make our way right to the very back to find seats. The place was a myriad of flags, balloons, and scarves - all black and amber. I actually felt pretty proud that so many had turned out for such a lost cause.

I picked this game mostly because it was such a vivid experience. The fans were in full voice, the colour, the emotion, and the heat which was - especially at the back of the stand - stifling.

As for the events on the pitch, I actually recall very little. It was very tight, tense, scrappy. You could tell there was a lot at stake - the SKY cameras were here, the BBC had done a preview that lunchtime on Football Focus. The whole country it seemed, for once, were interested in a game of ours.

We took a surprise lead just before the break, the unpopular, with me, Franny Green doing brilliantly to squeeze a shot in past the Wrexham keeper. I got a flurry of excited texts - they were believing. I might even have begun to for a few seconds.

Early in the second half though things began to go wrong - they won a penalty, a fair one, and converted it. We had to score or were going down. Our captain, Paul Ellender, blasted over with the goal gaping. That was our chance.

With the seconds slipping away, Wrexham got a second and then a third in stoppage time. That was it. The home fans invaded the pitch, the relief palpable. Little did they know it would be their turn to drop down a year later.

Most were very supportive though, recognising the fight we had taken to them. The United fans remained singing constantly for a full thirty minutes until the players came out - we wanted to thank them for their efforts.

It was like one of those funerals where people are happy rather than sombre. Perhaps relegation hadn't sunk in? It began to waiting at the train station on the way home. It had been an emotionally draining day, but that's why we love football - win, draw, or lose.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Prediction League - Week 21 continued

With Preston's Boxing Day fixture postponed, just the two games offered opportunities for the lads to increase their Prediction League points total.

It turned out to be a good round for Lakes, who correctly forecasted a Boston win and Forest draw to move a point closer to Nobes in second.

The last games of 2009 feature Forest at home and PNE returning to the scene of their play-off failure last season.

Later on in the week, Boston have an East Midlands derby on New Year's Day.

Nottingham Forest vs. Coventry City

Lakes: Forest 3-1 Coventry City
Nobes: Forest 2-1 Coventry City
Turls: Forest 3-1 Coventry City

Sheffield United vs. Preston North End

Lakes: Sheffield United 2-0 PNE
Sheffield United 2-1 PNE
Sheffield United 2-1 PNE

Hucknall Town vs. Boston United

Hucknall Town 1-1 Skyrockets
Hucknall Town 1-3 Skyrockets
Hucknall Town 0-2 Skyrockets

And stay tuned for next week's Prediction League special as the BBC's very own Mark Lawrenson joins the panel for the FA Cup Third Round.

Lakes' Favourite Game

Another tale of classic games enjoyed by the Soccer AM/MW lads, and Lakes tell us the tale of the best game he's seen live involving Preston North End.

Nationwide Division One
Preston North End 2-1 Birmingham City AET
(Agg: 2-2 - Preston won 4-2 on penalties)

Healy (23), Rankine (92) - Horsfield (59)
Thursday May 17 2001, Deepdale, (Att: 16,928)

This game had it all. We were the underdogs, we were behind and we were at home.

The easel was set, and as the Preston players moved the ball around the pitch, they dragged with them a line of magical paint that weaved its way across the canvas that was the Nationwide League Division One.

Football was watching, and everyone was rooting for the underdogs. David Moyes had done the impossible in getting Preston to the play-offs.

Why couldn't he go one step further and get us - this historic, unfashionable club into the final - and maybe back to top-flight football? It was an incredible achivement to even get to this game.

The game kicked off and it was a nervy affair. The Town End was in the process of being built, so we had two new stands, one old stand and a missing gap on the right hand side.

It was a strange backdrop to the game, but it didn't let the noise out. I've never before or since felt an atmosphere like that at Deepdale.

David Healy struck - and scored. We were level! 1-1 on aggregate and into half time. I remember thinking I'd take that result. If it went to penalties we'd be ready. It might be our best, and only, chance.

The second half kicked off and it looked like Birmingham were starting to get a grip on the game. In the 58th minute disaster struck when Geoff Horsfield scored.

But we weren't giving up without a fight. Soon there was a breakthrough - Sonner handballed it, leaving the cool-headed Graham Alexander to slot home from the spot. But he hit the crossbar! DRAMA AND DISASTER.

If anything, though, it gave us the impetus to go forwards. Too far forwards. Stan Lazardis had the goal at his mercy and almost scored. The ball rolled across our goal line!

But we went forward on the counter and Healy shot. Who was there for the rebound? Legend Mark Rankine [LHS, right]. GOAAAL!!!! We were level!!!

And we could have gone on to win it - two great saves from the Brum keeper saved their sorry asses.
So it was to penalties we went, and there was a bit of drama still to be enjoyed.

Trevor Francis - unhappy with the prospect of having the penalties taken at the demolished end of the ground rather than the Birmingham fans' end - marched his players off the pitch in protest. It left them unsettled and ripe for the raping.

Birmingham missed their first two penalties, and although Rob Edwards missed his, we were cruising. The ball was placed down, the player stepped up. Paul McKenna converted from the spot and the crowd went into hysteria.

We were there! We were in the playoff final! When will the dream end?
When Bolton dicked us in the final 3-0. That's when.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Turls' Favourite Game

As a festive treat, the lads take a look back through misty eyes and rose-tinted glasses as they discuss the favourite game they've been to involving their side.

To begin with, Turls talks about his favourite game watching Nottingham Forest.

Nationwide Division One
Nottingham Forest 2-2 Leicester City
Johnson (76), Lester (90) - Deane (23), Dickov (41)
Saturday October 26, 2002, City Ground, (Att: 29,497)

It's an indication of the state of your team when your favourite game ends with you snatching a draw at home to your rivals - but this was the year that should have been.

Paul Hart had become manager of the club and was in charge of a group of players he had moulded as youth team coach - Michael Dawson, Andy Reid, Gareth Williams. Add in the experience of Des Walker and the international guile of Jim Brennan and you had a team that looked like it could achieve something.

I travelled to the game with my father - a Leicester fan, a friend from school - a Leicester fan and his father - another Leicester fan. Both camps were in a confident mood.

Leicester would eventually go on to finish second behind Portsmouth, and Forest lost in the play-offs to cheating Sheffield United.

The game was a cracker and the atmosphere was electric but it was the Leicester fans who were cheering after Brian Deane and Paul Dickov gave the visitors a two goal lead at the break.

To be fair, they probably deserved to go in front but sloppy defending allowed Dickov to score. Everyone in the Trent End was shouting at the Forest players to mark Dickov from the corner - he was just idly leaning on the far post!

The crowd was growing restless. Our home form had been pretty decent and was keeping us in the hunt for promotion so it was disappointing to see us 2-0 down to our promotion rivals.

Straight from the whistle, City were trying to waste as much time as possible. Deane was staying on the ground and feigning injury, Dickov was discreetly kicking the ball away and as the game entered the final 15 minutes, the City fans were in full voice.

However, David Johnson stepped up to give the Forest faithful a beacon of hope. City sat back and sat back inviting pressure from the players in Red but no matter how much Harewood, Johnson, Lester and co. attacked, they couldn't break down the stubborn and resilient defence of Leicester.

As the 90th minute came and went, Forest fans were feeling deflated and the Foxes faithful were bouncing around in the Bridgeford End.

Then, out of nowhere - a cross into the box. Johson leaps like a salmon to get there - but misses it! The City keeper comes to collect it in the air and then all I remember is Jack Lester throwing himself at the ball, outjumping everyone, and nodding the ball into the net.

Silence, and then the entire stadium erupts into a state of euphoria! Fans dancing in the aisles! Players humping on the floor!

The truth is, although I was happy with the point, the thing that made the day special wasn't the last-minute winner, it wasn't the atmosphere.

No, the thing I remember most from that day is listening to my friend's dad moan about how lucky Forest were and how they were cheated for the whole journey home. You never forget that.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Season So Far

As the pitches become heavier, the weather colder, and teams begin to settle into promotion fights, relegation battles, or mid-table mediocrity, it's time to look at how the season has gone so far.

Here at Soccer AM/MW we looked into our crystal balls (hence the picture) and made predictions back in August as to how we thought the leagues would turn out, and here you can find our tables for the Championship, League One, and League Two.

We'll be reviewing our performance soon, but first of all, here's our thoughts on the 2009/10 campaign in the Football League to date:

Surprise team(s) of the year?

Turls: Blackpool, without a doubt. Those Tangerines have shocked everyone with their results. Few predicted a top half finish, but I've heard some Blackpoolians whispering about promotion. Even with the ever-enjoyable Ian Holloway at the helm, I think that would be a step too far.

Nobes: Quite a few, for me. I'm surprised to see Grimsby and Brighton struggling towards the bottom of their respective divisions again. You'd have thought they'd have learnt from their close escapes last term.

Agreed with Blackpool, I thought they might surprise a few people as Holloway [right] always works better with smaller clubs, but not to the extent they have. And I never thought Newcastle would respond to relegation by storming the Championship.

Manager(s) of the year?

Nobes: I think Eddie Howe has done marvellously well at Bournemouth again. This guy is a very young manager working with very limited resources. Often he's not been able to muster a full subs bench up, but the Cherries are firmly in the promotion race. It's a real triumph over adversity.

It's a tough one really, because it depends on each team's aims. Holloway has worked well at Blackpool and I'm a fan of what Keith Hill is doing at Rochdale. However, I'm going to go for a strange one: Alan Pardew at Southampton.

Sure, he inherited a squad good enough to challenge for the League One title, but the way the players have got their heads down and got on with the job pleases me. Credit to the man.

Biggest overachiever(s)?

Turls: Burton. I think some people tipped them to plummet straight back out of the Football League but they have surprised a few with their performances.

Paul Peschisolido took over in the summer ans has done well with them so far. Let's hope they can keep it up.

Nobes: Dagenham are once again punching well above their weight in League Two. They lost key players in the summer but have bounced back after a disappointing end to last season and are mounting a promotion push.

Biggest underachiever(s)?

Turls: Take your pick! There is a whole host of clubs who haven't hit their stride yet - Reading, Ipswich, Oldham and Northampton. However, Middlesbrough have been the biggest disappointment so far.

I know they have sold some of their best players, but they still seem to be finding their feet in this division. They've got some bright young talent so they should turn it around soon though.

Nobes: Has to be Ipswich for me. Reading were always going to have a transitional phase with a young team this term.

However, Ipswich appeared to have the manager who knew how to win promotion, and a strong squad with a good mix of youth and experience. Can't believe they've struggled so much.

Most justified sacking(s)?

Turls: Easiest question ever - John Barnes for Tranmere. An abysmal appointment and he was the sole reason I predicted Tranmere to finish in the bottom-five.

Nobes: Can't really argue with the Barnes choice, he should never have been chosen in the first place. Don't think you can question Barnsley's change of manager either, that squad is now having the best got out of it.

Least justified sacking(s)?

Turls: I'd go for either Darren Ferguson from Peterborough - how quickly people forget a man who achieves back-to-back promotions, Brendan Rodgers at Reading - give the lad more time Madejski you smug oaf, and Bryan Gunn at Norwich.

Nobes: How about sacking your boss when you're two places and a point off the top of your league? That's what Middlesbrough did with Gareth Southgate [left]. Now they find themselves 14th and 20 points off the summit. Oops.

Best managerial appointment(s)?

Turls: Would probably have to be Paul Lambert at Norwich. He's turned a club in 'crisis' into a major League One force. He can in having d*cked the Canaries while he was in charge of Colchester, and the club clearly adopted the policy of 'if you can't beat them, steal them.'

Nobes: Lambert was a shrewd move yes, and Colchester picked well choosing Aidy Boothroyd to replace him too.

And Holloway, as mentioned above. I just thought that was the perfect choice at the time - sometimes a club and a manager are well suited to one another - and that's a good example.

Worst managerial appointment(s)?
Turls: John Barnes - simples.

Nobes: Mark Cooper at Peterborough. Sure they were struggling, but even if they'd gone down they had Ferguson who knew how to win promotion from that level - and would be playing attractive stuff.

Now they've got a Non League manager who plays ugly route-one football who has no experience in the Football League - reflected by his transfer policy. My prediction - he won't be at London Road this time next year.

Now, to take a look at our pre-season predictions.

Turls reviews his performance:

From a purely self-indulgent point of view, I'm happy with predicting Grimsby to struggle for two reasons. The first is because, at this moment in time, it is a spot-on prediction.

The second, and this makes it more sweeter, it the fact that both Nobes and Lakes predicted they would have a top half finish. Admittedly, it may end up like that, but at this moment in time the Mariners are making me merry.

I'm not too happy with Hereford though. I genuinely felt that they could bounce straight back up after a forgettable season in League One. The Bulls have let me down completely and I'm massively disappointed with their performance so far.

I still fancy a second half of the season push to put them back in play-off contention, but I think it's pretty safe to write off their title hopes.

Reading have also been a massive disappointment and, if I could, I'd send them down to the nether regions of my predicted table. Fortunately, the rest of the Soccer AM/MW team felt they would have decent season too, so I can't feel too bad about fluffing this one.

Nobes's thoughts on how he's doing so far:

I think it's fair to say my summer forecasts have been a mixed bag to date. For instance, I take no pleasure at all from seeing Newcastle sitting pretty at the top of the Championship - a full sixteen places above where I thought they'd be.

However, a quick glance towards League One shows that of the teams I predicted to finish in the top-ten, nine of them are currently residing in there. That includes Leeds, who I thought would win it, and I'm also pleased to see my dark horses Colchester impressing.

Indeed, I've actually got the top and bottom teams spot-on in that division, so it's without a doubt the highlight. Top half predictions for Grimsby and top-seven for Lincoln in League Two look particularly bad though.

If I could change one prediction, it'd probably have to be sticking Darlington bottom of the entire Football League. Along with Leeds and Newcastle winning their respective divisions, it's probably the only other position that will definitely be filled by its current occupent.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Trivia Quiz

For a special Christmas treat, Lakes and Turls went head-to-head in a fiendishly difficult football trivia quiz set by Nobes.

On reflection, Nobes must have thought it was him taking the test, judging by how difficult some of the questions were. It's fair to say that both the lads lived down to their expectations though.

So over a 46 question marathon - one for every league game a season - Turls and Lakes battle it out for the Trivia Crown of Soccer AM/MW.

If you'd like to play along, then the answers have been 'whited out' and can be revealed by highlighting the text after 'Answer:'

To begin with, here are five questions about the name of sponsored grounds where certain teams play?

Who play at...

1. The Abbey Business Stadium?
Turls: Darlington. Lakes: Aldershot. Answer: Cheltenham

2. The EBB Stadium?
Turls: Hereford Lakes: Carlisle Answer: Aldershot

3. The Northern Echo Arena?
Turls: Accrington Lakes: Hartlepool Answer: Darlington

4. The Coral Windows Stadium?
Turls: Aldershot Lakes: Chesterfield Answer: Bradford

5. The Banks's Stadium?
Turls: Walsall Lakes: Accrington Answer: Walsall

Round One: Turls 1 Lakes 0

Next, can you tell us which Conference team are known as:

6. The Red Devils?
Turls: Grays Lakes: Rushden Answer: Crawley

7. The Lambs?
Turls: Tamworth Lakes: Salisbury Answer: Tamworth

8. The Stags?
Turls: Mansfield Lakes: Mansfield Answer: Mansfield

9. The Stutes?
Turls: Forest Green Lakes: Hayes & Yeading Answer: Histon

10. The Hatters
Turls: Luton Lakes: Luton Answer: Luton

Round Two: Turls 4 Lakes 2

Now, which club is managed by?

11. Andy Scott?
Turls: Bournemouth Lakes: Gillingham Answer: Brentford

12. Danny Wilson?
Turls: Swindon Lakes: Port Vale Answer: Swindon

13. Alan Knill?
Turls: Bury Lakes: Hereford Answer: Bury

14. Keith Alexander?
Turls: Lincoln Lakes: Wycombe Answer: Macclesfield

15. John Still?
Turls: Aldershot Lakes: Leyton Orient Answer: Dagenham & Redbridge

Round Three: Turls 6 Lakes 2

These five questions concern the 2008/9 season. [Apologies to anyone offended by answers to the final question as we confirmed our place amongst football's most un-PC sites]

16. Who was top scorer in the Championship last season?
Turls: Chopra Lakes: McFadden Answer: Ebanks-Blake

17. Who was top scorer in League One last season?
Turls: Lambert Lakes: McLean Answer: Lambert

18. Who was top scorer in League Two last season?
Turls: Shelvey Lakes: Cort Answer: Jackson

19. Which two relegated sides last season included players who were in the top-ten goalscorers in their division last season?
Turls: Southampton, Luton Lakes: Southampton, Luton Answer: Charlton, Ch

20. Who was the only non-British or Irish player in the top-10 Championship scorers last season?
Turls: Johnny Foreigner Lakes: Johnny Foreigner Answer: Jason Scotland

Round Four: Turls 7 Lakes 2

The latest five questions all concern the League Cup.

21. Oxford are one of two Conference sides to have won the League Cup, who are the other?
Turls: Cambridge Lakes: Luton Answer: Luton

22. Which side, currently in the Championship, were winners in 2004?
Turls: Leicester Lakes: Middlesbrough Answer: Middlesbrough

23. At which Championship ground did Leicester beat Boro in the 1997 League Cup final replay?
Turls: Hillsborough Lakes: Elland Road Answer: Hillsborough

24. Who were the last side from outside the top flight to make the Final?
Turls: Birmingham Lakes: Leeds Answer: Birmingham

25. Forest and Leicester are two of three sides outside the Premier League to have won the competition more than once. Who are the third?
Turls: Huddersfield Lakes: Sheffield United Answer: Norwich

Round Five: Turls 9 Lakes 4

Now, five of the best about the FA Cup.

26. Notts County are one of three League Two sides to have won the FA Cup. Name one of the others.
Turls: Bury Lakes: Hereford Answer: Bury, Bradford

27. Newcastle have won the FA Cup six times, which Championship side has won it the most next?
Turls: Sheffield Wednesday Lakes: Sheffield Wednesday Answer: West Brom

28. Which Championship side have appeared in four FA Cup finals without winning any of them?
Turls: Leicester Lakes: Coventry Answer: Leicester

29. Blackpool are one of three Championship sides to have won the FA Cup but never played in the Premier League. Name one of the others.
Turls: Scunthorpe Lakes: Preston Answer: Cardiff, Preston

30. Bury hold the record for the biggest FA Cup final win - a 6-0 victory over which current Championship side?
Turls: Sheffield United Lakes: Sheffield United Answer: Derby

Round Six: Turls 11 Lakes 5

The following six questions are all about the end of season play-offs.

31. Who are the only side to lose in the play-offs in five successive seasons?
Turls: Lincoln Lakes: Lincoln Answer: Lincoln

32. Which side have been in the Championship play-offs a record seven times?
Turls: Sheffield United Lakes: Sheffield United Answer: Ipswich

33. Who have appeared in three Championship play-off finals, losing all of them without scoring?
Turls: Sheffield United Lakes: Derby Answer: Sheffield United

34. Bolton are one of three sides to win the Championship play-off final at both Wembley and the Millennium Stadium. Name one of the others.
Turls: Huddersfield Lakes: Crystal Palace Answer: Crystal Palace, Watford

35. Who, in 2007, became the first side to win play-off finals at both the old and new Wembley?
Turls: Doncaster Lakes: Derby Answer: Blackpool

36. Which side won the first ever Conference play-off final?
Turls: Torquay Lakes: Peterborough Answer: Doncaster

Round Seven: Turls 13 Lakes 7

Now, for Turls, five questions about Nottingham Forest over the past 18 months or so.

37. Forest are unbeaten away this season, who did they lose to last time they were beaten on the road?
Turls: Birmingham Answer: Burnley

38. Who were the only side Forest did the double over last season?
Turls: Norwich Answer: Southampton

39. At which ground did Forest record their first away win this season?
Turls: Home Park Answer: Home Park

40. Six of Forest's seven away draws [at the time] have ended 1-1, who was their only 0-0 draw against?
Turls: Sheffield United Answer: Reading [Ironically, Forest did draw 0-0 at Sheffield United after this quiz took place.]

41. Who are the only side to beat Forest by more than one goal this season?
Turls: Watford Answer: Watford

Now, for Lakes, five questions about Preston over the last 18 months.

37. Which team ended PNE's 'Tuesday night light's' record last season?
Lakes: Reading Answer: Swansea

38. Swansea were one of only two sides to do the double over Preston last season. Who were the other?
Lakes: Bristol City Answer: Southampton

39. Who ended Preston's unbeaten record this season?
Lakes: Middlesbrough Answer: Scunthorpe

40. PNE have scored three goals on two occasions this season, once against Coventry in a 3-2 in, the other time in a 3-0 victory over which side?
Lakes: Doncaster Answer: Barnsley

41. Callum Davidson is the only man to be sent off for PNE this season, at which ground?
Lakes: Deepdale Answer: Portman Road

Round Eight: Turls 15 Lakes 7

To finish, five devious odd-one-out questions concerning last season. So, for one point who is the odd one out, and for a bonus two, why?

42. Crystal Palace - Luton - Rotherham - Bournemouth - Stockport
Turls: Palace - the only side not to be deducted points last season.
Lakes: Luton - something to do with their away record?
Luton - the only side to be deducted points last season and relegated.

43. Sheffield United - Burnley - Scunthorpe - Millwall - Gillingham
Turls: Millwall - only side not to make the play-offs last season.
Lakes: Sheffield United - only side not to be promoted last season.
Scunthorpe the only side to make the play-off final without winning a game.

44. Doncaster - Watford - Derby - Nottingham Forest - Norwich
Turls: Doncaster - only side not to change manager last season.
Lakes: Watford - no idea why.
Doncaster - only side not to change manager last season.

45. Leicester - Birmingham - Cambridge - Brentford - Burton
Turls: Leicester
Birmingham - no idea why.
Burton - all the others were the hardest side to beat in their division.

Glenn Roeder - John Ward - Paul Jewell - Geraint Williams - Gary McAllister
Turls: Jewell - only one to be sacked.
Lakes: McAllister - no idea why.
Answer: Williams - only one to be fired and re-hired during season.

Round Nine: Turls:18 Lakes 8

So, in the end, a resounding victory for Turls who blasted Lakes out of the water. Particular highlights included Turls managing to actually crack one of the odd-one-out posers, and Lakes scoring nothing on Preston questions.