It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white!

I was reading an article somewhere today where Sol Campbell questioned UEFA’s decision to award Poland/Ukraine the European championships this summer. If anybody at all got the chance to read my EURO2012 guide which I began yesterday, I think you will find the timing is right to bring up this question. There is no doubting all countries should have the right to host a major sports festival, unless it’s in the middle of a war zone. But Sol makes an excellent point. Anybody of the 35+ vintage will forever have etched in their memories the horrific and disturbing images of opposing fans of British football teams kicking and punching 10 bells out of each other and especially on their trips abroad. Not meaning to blame all hooliganism in the 70s, 80s and 90s on the English but boy they didn’t do things by half. It was infamously labelled the “English Disease” and time and time again it cost them dearly when it came to bidding to host the world cup or European cup.

The problem still exists in England but absolutely nowhere near as rampant as once was and this leads to the question being asked why allow 2 nations with extremely disturbing hooligan problems host a tournament of such proportion?. And this is where the main problem lies, not only is the violence so organised, orchestrated and on such a wide scale but has disturbing undertones of racial hatred and has been a problem that UEFA has clearly failed so miserably in trying to stamp out for a number of years. Racism in English football has been largely stamped out down the years but has raised it’s ugly head a number of times in the season just gone. It is mainly due to the fact that the average English team has at least 30-40% black playing staff and racially abusing a player from an opposing team would be as the proverb says “people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones”. I think you get the gist.

Even world champions Spain or the other nations with big leagues, Germany and Italy have their fair share of racist problems but you could imagine for sure any team from the more modernised western European nations would be extremely anxious and uneasy to know they were drawn against an old eastern bloc team. Sadly it is part and parcel of their terrace culture and is sickening to hear a barrage of taunts go unchecked by stewards and then only to have the powers that be slap them on the wrist with a paltry 20k fine. Having said that there is a majority of eastern nations supporter’s who are as disgusted with this poison as the rest of us. There is no hiding the fact that this could be a powder keg waiting to explode. There is no doubting the English who want trouble will be there in their thousands. The Dutch, Germans and Russians are others who have a fearsome hooligan element. I just hope the Police are well aware of the potential for trouble that lays ahead and can meet that challenge head on or else people can lose their lives. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that but more importantly let’s hope UEFA crack down hard on racist taunting and abuse. A fore warning of a complete ban from all FIFA competition for a lengthy period might make people open their ear’s.

Hope you can read the 2nd part of my guide to the groups for EURO2012. Group B’s turn tomorrow.

The final countdown- groups at a glance 1

On Friday the 8th of June the eagerly anticipated European championships will begin. This 4 yearly event which first kicked off back in 1960 has proven to be a massive success with many fans considering it to be the better of the 2 “big” football tournaments. With no disrespect to any national football federation, you really have to be a fairly decent team to qualify from a European group and in all honesty there hasn’t been a world cup to write home about for quite some time. And this is what the fuss is all about.What a beautiful trophy it is standing proud on it’s solid marble plinth (not displayed here) and must weigh a ton. The current champions are Spain and who will forget their swashbuckling style that helped them to the 1st leg of the double.  It will be contested between 16 nations with 4 groups of 4 playing off against each other for the right to make it to the quarter finals. Qualifying proper would have began 2 years previous to the tournament finals themselves and this years hosts are Poland/Ukraine. This  seems to be a  trend that looks like continuing and makes sense for smaller nations that would love to host something major but lack the facilities alone and by sharing with a neighbour greatly enhances their chances of putting on a show of their own. Below is this year’s official logo.

 In the days leading up to the big kick-off, I will do an analysis on each group, the teams involved, facts and information and finally I will give my humble opinion on who I think will  reach the next stage and who will be going home early. Today I will start on group A. This is the group that contains co-hosts Poland, Russia, Greece and the Czech. Republic.

 The team I will start off with is Poland. Along with the Ukraine they will be the host nation for this years competition. They are managed by Franciszek Smuda and are ranked 65th in the world. No doubt the reason for this is down to the lack of competitive football for the last 2 years. Their squad is made up of a lot of foreign based players with a large percentage plying their trade in Poland. Players to watch out for are Robert Lewandowski top scorer with German champions Dortmund and Woijech Sczcesny, Arsenal’s goalkeeper who is constantly improving and has the makings of a top ‘keeper in the coming future. The rest of the squad are not too well known but home advantage will stand them well. There was a lot of worries concerning the completion of the stadia but all came good in the end. The national stadium’s first game was a 0-0 draw against Portugal putting everyone’s mind at ease. There is a well known hooligan element in Poland and no doubt a lot of policing and security will be put in place to make sure the tournament goes off without any trouble. Fancy a bet on Poland to win you could get them at best price of 33/1. Best of luck!

The next team under the spotlight in the group is Russia. A powerful team that play direct and attractive football. Managed by Dick Advocaat who actually stands down after the tournament. They are ranked 11th in the world and will prove a tough nut to crack for anybody. They looked like going all the way at the last European championship but were unlucky to lose out to eventual winners Spain. They have a great pedigree in this competition both as the Soviet Union until 1988 and under the name Russia since then winning the inaugural tournament in 1960. They reached the final again 1964 but lost out to Italy in the final. In 1972 they were again losing finalists this time the Germans being their nemesis. There was to be more heartbreak again in 1988 losing out to the brilliant Dutch team. Players to watch out for include their outstanding ‘keeper Igor Akinfeev, Alexei Berezutsky a no nonsense commanding defender and the highly rated Alan Dzagoyev all who play for CSKA Moscow. Also they still retain the two players that made them such  an attractive proposition in 2008, Dmitry Pavlyuchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow) and Andrei Arshavin on loan from Arsenal at Zenith St. Petersburg. Definitely the favourites to win group A. They are priced at 25/1 to win outright and are great value at that. They kick-off the tournament against hosts Poland on the 8th of June. Good outsiders

The next team up are Greece. Ranked 14th in the World and managed by Fernando Santos, who will ever forget them shocking Europe and the World when winning the 2004 championships as 100/1 complete outsiders. This sure lends hope to all the other minnows who believe in reality that they are there just to make the numbers up. Their key players are Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Schalke), Giorgos Karagounis of Panathinaikos and Giorgos Samaras the stylish Glasgow Celtic striker. The vast majority of the Greek squad are playing for domestic teams and are not too well known. With no disrespect to Greece in anyway at all, the commentators covering any of their games are going to have to be up to date with their pronunciations due to the multi syllables in their names. Will it be another case of the bookmakers being brought to the cleaners again with the 80/1 price put on them? I would guess not as I imagine not too many think lightening strikes twice. Best of luck to them, I think they will need it.

The last team to represent group A are the Czech. Republic. They are ranked 26 in the world and are managed by Michal Bilek. They are a team in decline and their ranking shows. It wasn’t too long ago that they were most peoples fancy for EURO 2004. They played a very stylish and attractive brand of football with the gracious Pavel Nedved pulling the strings in the middle and making the team purr like a fine tuned sports car. They will also be missing the great Marek Jankulovski who at 34 has been forced to retire from the game due to ongoing injuries. The fact that Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky was completely out of form for a long long time only added to their demise. Thankfully, though he is getting back to his former self and along with him the another player to watch out for is Milan Baros of Galatasary a player who is always a threat in front of goal. No doubt they can feel safe in the knowledge that the great Petr Cech, one of the world’s best ‘keepers for a long time now, will be the last line of defence. Most of the squad play for teams in different countries, another factor in the demise of Czech. football. They won the tournament in 1976 at a time when Eastern European teams were a force to be reckoned with. They were runners-up in 1996 in England losing out to the first trial of the “golden goal” a method were the first team to score in extra time wins the match. Another team with a fine pedigree, they are priced amazingly at 66/1. I would imagine there could be a lot of takers of them at this price especially the each way market.

That concludes my analysis of group A. I hope for anyone that gets the chance to read my post that they can gain a little insight into the first batch of teams competing in this years championship and for what it’s worth here is my predictions for this group

Group winners: Russia

Group runners-up: Czech Republic

3rd place: Poland

wooden spoon: Greece

Best of luck for whatever team you follow and I will be doing a post on group B within a day or so. Do you agree? do you disagree? please feel free to let me know. Thank you.

A Father’s Son

A blog post I was just reading of which I stumbled upon because he was actually my first follower (thank you) since I started blogging a week ago got me thinking and reminiscing about my late Father. The post in question was about the total number of American war dead since it’s first battle. I am an avid conflict historian and grew up on weekly chats my Father and Uncles would have in earnest about the second World War. My uncle would tell tales of the heroics of the Americans and listen about the great battles that were fought without truly understanding the nitty-gritty, I was only about 9 after all. On the other hand My Father would counterbalance the argument with the British side of the story telling how brave this little nation was and how enamoured in general he was about the achievements of this small island nation.

Now many would think what would an honest Irishman be doing talking about the English in glowing terms. They had been despised for centuries on these shores and there is still a great deal of simmering hatred. And the reason was this. Besides from the well known fact that up to 50,000 Irish men took up arms in support of Britain in the great war and dedicated their lives in doing so, many young Irishmen in the 60s looking for work, adventure a chance to see what’s past this island’s shores decided to join the British army and in particular the Irish guards. My Father always kept this great big chest under his bed and to a young boy my imagination was in overdrive. Finally one day he opened it and what a treasure it was. It contained photos of him standing to attention at Salisbury barracks. There were close up personal photos of him in his faultless, proud, shiny and immaculate uniform. My dad was a soldier! I was purring with pride. He then showed me his medals he won, nothing too grand but as grand as can be to him I’m sure. He showed me his shrapnel wounds were he was hit while on tail end charley. But the greatest of them all were some photos of him and his squadron crawling through the vegetation (probably staged but do I care?) fully equipped with big machine gun and belts of high calibre bullets slung over shoulder complete with camouflage face paint  looking like something from a Rambo movie. These memories I cherished dearly and it was then I realised why my Father had nothing but glowing words for the British, their empire, their inventions, their sports that they gave the world, especially football, their industrial heritage and it rubbed off on me. I have nothing but admiration for what an island of such small proportions was able to give to this modern world we live in, mostly the industrial revolution. And so it was 6 years ago as my Father was terminally ill in hospital. I ached in the knowledge we would lose him sooner rather than later. I looked on at him in his weakness and drug induced condition that made no sense when he tried to converse which was harrowing and I thought of that man I seen in the jungle in Borneo with the machine gun and bullets wrapped around him and thought how very very proud I was that this ill, weak man was once a man of such courage and spirit was leaving this world for good. I held his poor hand and prayed that he’d reach heaven safely. Now those memories that were contained in the big case of surprise and suspense are remembered and cherished now more than ever before.

Come on you boys in green

The time is nearly upon us, the anticipation is reaching fever pitch and after what was without doubt the most absorbing, exciting and thoroughly unforgettable English premier leagues EVER! has come and gone, we can all focus our passions on our home countries as the UEFA European nations cup is almost upon us. For the sports fans upon us we are being spoiled for choice this year. With the fine league season that has just ended, the EURO 2012 finals and the Olympics which are being staged just across the water, the women in our lives who just can’t get their head’s around what all the fuss is will surely be well deserving of that extra loving gesture (or 2 or 3 or…). As an Irish man who has had to endure 10 years of barren summers, usually 3 months from May to August doing cold turkey waiting for the next season to start and no international tournament to cheer on has been hard to take. And so it is that our boys will be heading to Poland/Ukraine for the football banquet with the big boys and every pub, house, street, and maybe the odd dog or horse will be donned in the green white and orangeI was only a small boy in 1988 when the Republic qualified for their first ever major football finals. The memories I will never forget. From the day Ray Houghton’s bullet header to beat the auld enemy England in Stuttgart, Ireland were put on the footballing map after a decade of also rans who had some quite talented players playing from all the big clubs in England. Paul Mcgrath, David O’leary, Mick McCarthy, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton, Liam Brady and Packie Bonner. It was only a matter of time we would reach a tournament and in stepped the man who would eventually take us there, Jack Charlton. A no-nonsense man who was a very successful player with the great Leeds United team of the 60s and 70s and brother of the legendary Bobby. His first game in charge was a defeat against Wales in Dublin, something that wouldn’t happen again for another 7 years.

Getting back to the 1988 tournament, after beating England the team faced a then mighty Soviet Union and matched them all over the park and a 1-1 draw was well deserved and who will ever forget Ronnie Whelan’s stunning bicycle kick from outside the box to beat the Russian ‘keeper who was regarded as the best in the world at the time. The world stood up and paid attention now. Italia ’90 was probably the greatest footballing achievement in our nations history, having reached the quarter finals only to be beaten by the host nation in their backyard 0-1. Don’t get me wrong Ireland never played pretty football but it got us results. “Put ’em under pressure” was the buzz word of the day. All we cared about was getting to the finals, what style of football got us there didn’t matter.

Our next foray into the international scene was USA ’94 and after opening our account by beating the Italians (who eventually went on to the final) with a stunning volley from 25 yards scored by none other than Ray Houghton, the team stagnated and ran out of ideas in the sweltering heat of Florida in the summer. They wilted and were put out of their misery by the Dutch in the second round. After failing to qualify for England ’96 by way of losing to the Dutch again in the play offs, Jack finally threw his hat in after bringing us as far as he could with an ageing squad that needed total revamping. He stepped down to a heroes departure and a gracious nation for what he achieved with so little. Mick McCarthy was the new man at the helm and his tenure got off to a reasonable start having the unenvious task off overhauling the entire team. He came close to qualifying for France ’98 but again the play-off door was slammed shut in our face’s. The same again in 2000 amid scenes of violence, bullying and thuggery in Turkey (haven’t we seen that before?). But finally after 8 years in the wilderness we reached the finals in Japan/Korea and who will ever forget the Saipan-Keane -McCarthy saga. After coming through a group that contained Portugal and Holland where we finally got revenge for previous heart- break Ireland were again being noticed on the world stage and especially with a player of Roy Keane’s calibre. What happened in that dressing room is a story for another day. Considering the distractions the players had to bear, they played some attractive football and came out of a group containing Cameroon and Germany only to go on and be defeated by Spain who were totally outplayed and outclassed and finally won through on penalties. Ireland came home with heads held high thinking what might have been. But considering the massive effect and divide in society caused by the Saipan melee, the writing was on the wall for Mick McCarthy and he was quite unfortunate to be forced to hand his resignation in.

And so it was 10 years of stagnation. Back into the footballing wilderness, the uncertainty, the calamities. We plummeted down the world rankings and it was a dark period in the FAI’s history. A new stadium was needed and a new direction also. After a lot of plans for a national stadium, Eircom park being one considered and the now infamous “Bertie Bowl” named after the then Irish premier Bertie Ahern, thought was given to opening up the fantastic arena that is Croke park, but that was still a raw issue and some time away. The final decision was made on demolishing the world famous Landsdowne Road and building a brand new stadium-The Aviva Stadium, for which I had the honour of working there as a steward for some time.It took around 4 years to complete while in the meantime a decision had to be made as to where Ireland would play their home games in both rugby and football. An historic vote was taken to open up Croke Park to “foreign sports” as they were known. This was an old rule dating back to British occupation of the whole of the island of Ireland and was a law of defiance which stood for over 100 years. Unanimously it was over-ruled and the famous ground was used for several home internationals and was given world wide recognition which in normal circumstances wouldn’t have been possible. While we were waiting on our brand new stadium, a new man was appointed to take the team into the future. Giovanni Trappatoni was the man chosen in a time when Italian bosses were all the rage. He came with a CV. of achievement as long as your arm but he also came with bus pass, a term often used for those over 65. But who were we to oppose his appointment after some below standard managers, with all respect due, that came before. His style of play was typically Italian. Very defensive and only attacking at opportunistic moments which in turn produced very little goals, but also produced a lot of clean sheets. They were proving a hard team to beat while at the same time having to bring a lot of youngsters through who showed a lot of potential in all honesty. In qualification for South Africa 2010, a tournament which in the end proved a party you could cope with missing out on, he lead Ireland to unbeaten group runners up in a group containing world champions Italy. A fine performance considering the amount of young talent that needed brooding. And who can forget the play-off against the French. A spirited effort in Dublin ended in a 0-1 defeat meaning we had a mountain to climb. And climb that mountain they did with one of the finest ever displays by an Irish team. We won the game 1-0 and unsurprisingly after pulverising the French in front of their own support. But we were dealt a cruel blow when the infamous handball incident by Thierry Henry which was so clearly visible lead to us losing in yet another play-off

     

After feeling so cheated by the devious tactics employed by the French the whole of the nation was behind “Trap” as he is affectionately known now. And this time we had our own new stadium to host the nations of the world. The Aviva Stadium is a beautiful modern stadium with ease of access to but during the group qualifying we seemed to be our own worse enemy dropping silly points at home that we should quite easily have taken. The 2-3 home defeat by Russia still stands as the only  home group defeat suffered under his reign. But it was our away record that was our strength, 4 wins and 1 draw from 5 and conceding only 1 is form form the top draw. The draw we got in Russia cannot be taken lightly. Ireland were blitzed from the off. Shot after shot went wide, was saved expertly by Shay Given or Richard Dunne threw himself in font of several rasping efforts and had the war wounds to show for it. This was the game that won us a chance at yet another play-off. This time no prisoners were taken and again it was the away form that done us proud. A magnificent 4-0 win in Estonia rendered the 2nd leg pointless and the boys in green were at last on their way to the big time again. 10 years since our last big bash and 24 years since our last European adventure.

We know we don’t expect miracles and playing in a group containing Croatia, Italy and World/European champions Spain we won’t lose touch with reality. One thing is for sure we’re a team that will prove tough to beat. A group of hungry, young, talented individuals who will work their socks off for themselves and their manager will fear no-one. “Trap” has proven himself as a manager for well over 30 years and considering Greece won on 2004 as 100/1 outsiders and Denmark were recalled from their holiday’s at the last minute in 1992 to win as under-dogs of the same nature, miracles can and do happen. We will enjoy the “craic” and I know other supporters will enjoy it with us so come on you boys in green let’s get this party started, we’ve been waiting 10 years to have one. Best of luck to all the fans around Europe, I think this will be a much better spectacle than South Africa 2010 and without the vuvuzuelas.

Making it work.

To anybody, no matter how small who by chance happen to stumble upon this post I just have to share and tell the world how totally over the moon I feel right now. After months of thought and contemplation about whether I should start a blog or not, I finally dedicated myself to it and started off with some blogs that were different to each other in order to try not to place all my eggs in the one basket, try to appeal to different tastes as I have an interest in many things, some more than others. But I was getting really disillusioned and frustrated with it. And it was this. I was finding it very hard to cope with the vast amount of options, settings, themes, widgets and what most were for. If I’m honest I am a little impatient and was finding it tough trying to categorize my posts in a way that most other bloggers seem able to do. Finally! after days of trial and error I was able to work out how to put my posts into specific headings on my sidebar as it was really getting to me. I’ve only had a blog less than a week now and it seems to be taking shape for me. I’m sure most if not all had the same difficulties at the start of their blog career’s. To add to my newly found vigour and understanding I had my very first like when I discovered today that somebody went out of their way to read one of my posts and actually liked it. Couple that with the fact that my blog received 30 hits so far and 21 seemed to be today has really given me a boost. Pheew I just had to get that of my chest. If you have had the chance to read this I wonder if you were going through them same feelings when you were starting out. Now I’ve mastered what seemed to be a giant, unsolvable puzzle I think my next step is to add some photos and video (I’m sure this will be another big obstacle to overcome but Rome wasn’t built in a day). Lord I’m glad I have so many millions(potentially) of people to listen and share in my good fortune

heaven on earth

Of all the great places on this earth that I dream of visiting the one that constantly keeps coming up in my thoughts is Canada. I mean I know it has it’s own problems social deprivation and crime in the big cities and the notorious Vancouver east side and not to mention the mind numbing cold that engulfs the land in the winter. But on the plus side, the side I constantly dream of one day visiting is the unequalled natural beauty on offer. Those pristine pacific pine forests, the beautiful lakes and wilderness. The white water rapids in the Rockies, the historical native enclaves and then up north to the resourceful inuit people and all the while breathing what must be fresh air as crisp and clean as you can find. I could go on and on and on but I think most people what get what I mean, no wonder the French and British fought so hard to lay claim to this vast piece of land that promised so much and didn’t break it’s promise

Oh and there’s one final thing I would like to mention it’s that the US. seem to give those Canadians such a hard time (maybe there’s some more sinister underlying factor here I’m ignorantly unaware of). But I’d put money on it being just a national rivalry. Either ways I’ll dream my dream until one day I see this awesome land called Canada for myself

Sexist advertising

This is something that I notice quite frequently on television advertisements, women being portrayed as a heroine or the saviour of the day. It’s not something that I really get hung up about because in a way I find it quite comical. In an age of equal rights for both women and men and rightly so. It seems in a cunning sort of way That a large percentage of ads are designed to show woman as being flawless, all powerful individuals. From the adds that depict the mother of a family juggling the food being cooked on the cooker, making sure the kids are ready for school then making sure everyone leaves the house with the right lunch box etc. While this is going on the man of the house will be made to look like a helpless buffoon unable to tie his tie or tie his lace and then rush out the house only to forget he hasn’t put his trousers on while the wife looks on in an all seen almighty fashion with a face you could easily read as saying “god they would be lost without me.

And then there is another add for a very well known cold remedy of equal hilarity showing 2 ladies out in the freezing cold with what looks like flu clutching hankys as they have a conversation about getting the kids off to school that morning, deciding what they are going to shop for for the dinner that evening while pouring scorn on the in-laws they dislike but will put up with like good little soldiers. The ending line is comical it shows the two of them making their way to the chemists to pick up some cold remedies for their husbands/boyfriends who are supposedly ill at home with a cold and their partners are going through the wars. “Bless them” they say in unison as if women are unflinchable and something as simple as a common cold makes men into an uncoping childlike like non-entity.

I could go on and on about this topic it is rife on television and shows men in an unfair light, like the world would stop revolving. And then I have to tell myself it’s not real it’s only an add. And what this leads me to believe is that the power of advertising and television advertising in particular is a very powerful form of brand recognition. You will notice adds for cars, men’s grooming products or the latest smart phone in the middle of a sporting occasion. Then you’ll notice adds for women’s gossip mags, ladies deodrant or some hand friendly washing up liquid when there is a break in something like Oprah. Common sense will tell you that it would be best to advertise products at times when a specific audience will be tuning in to watch a particular programme. But there is no doubt about it that the companies that run and design TV. advertising are well aware that we are still, but only just, living in an age where the man of the house will come home with his weekly earnings, hand them over to his wife because we all know women are much better with the family finances and are more responsible with money than their male counterparts. Advertising companies pick up on this and therefore prey on women by letting them know how wonderful they are while making men out to be oafs at the same time. In fact I am sure of this and will be closely watching out for more of this in future. It really makes me think. Does this get to anyone else Please feel free to let me know if you think this is happening for real.