Ref! On Sunderland and new life

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Sunderland, Dave. Yes, Sunderland. I would like to hear your thoughts on one of the sleeping giants that’s been asleep so long it’s got hair and a beard like Hagrid in Harry Potter. The Robbie Coltrane character, Baz. Fat bloke with hair and a beard that look like Sunderland would if it was a man. Bloody hell it’s hard around here sometimes. But as you say, Dave, giving cultural references to a man devoid of culture is, well, it’s hard to finish that thought without another cultural reference.

But if Leicester City can achieve what they did last season, supporters of the other perennial strugglers must be thinking it’s just possible it’s their turn now.

So, the team in red and white stripes with black shorts are dreaming of glory, and why not? Their manger until about a month ago is now the manager of England. And he’s been replaced by a former manager of a Champion’s’ League-winning club. The sobering reality is that it’s David Moyes, but, again, think back just a few years and he was highly respected for doing good things with Everton. Anybody would have struggled at Man U straight after Ferguson. Nothing wrong with Moyesy, and he’s probably better off somewhere where expectations are not high.

Sunderland’s a working man’s club. Have you seen their crest, their badge? It’s got a ship on it, a silhouette of a ship. Not the Queen Mary or a cruise ship, but it looks like a merchant vessel or maybe a warship. And that’s because that’s what the town is famous for, building ships. I know it’s not like that now, but what do you think they’re going to put on their crest, a silhouette of a council estate? That’s their history and they’re trying to use it as inspiration.

Raich Carter, Brian Clough, Tom Finney, Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery. I know the kids haven’t heard of them, but why does it always have to be about kids? Nobody’s ever heard of Baz, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. I had to explain to Jody the other day who Brian Clough was, and she’s 25. Only one of the greatest centre forwards in the English language and a legendary manager who won the European Cup twice on the trot. You have to explain what the European Cup was too nowadays, and tell them the old First Division was what is now the Premier League.

Cheers, Gary, something from the north-east, mate. Do they still have Newcastle Brown ale? I know Sunderland supporters would probably object, but it’s the closest we’re going to get. See if they’ve got Shipbuilding on the juke box. Robert Wyatt or Elvis Costello, I don’t mind. Or Don’t Give Up, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Bit gloomy for a juke box, I know. Tell you what, I’ve got it on my iPod, which I happen to have here. We can take turns. To get in the mood, Baz. To bring luck to the boys shivering up in la la land.

Sentimental? Yes, I suppose I am a bit. I’ll tell you the truth. The ex-wife’s daughter is up the duff. Pregnant. The father’s a guy from the Job Centre, originally from the north-east. So I’m going to be a granddad. No, she’s not my own flesh and blood, but close enough. Jody? Not amused, but she’ll get over it.

At least Sunderland have a history. Leicester didn’t. Towns and cities tend to have successful football clubs when the town is doing well, and Sunderland was booming once with the shipbuilding, but what’s Leicester’s claim to fame? Look at Aberdeen. They were a force in Scottish football in the days when Britain suddenly discovered it had oil and gas under the sea, and a lot of it happened to be in the frozen north. So the town no longer just had beer and fish and chilblains, it had money, and then it had Alex Ferguson and European football.

Life goes on, gents, life goes on.

 

 

Ref! On Allardyce and a grim future

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Hey,Baz, there’s a bloke asking for you up by the bar. I don’t know, he’s from the FA, I think, wants to offer you a job. No, the Allardyce thing was all an elaborate joke and it’s you they want for England manager.

Well, I mean come on, Sam Allardyce? How desperate has this country become? Never mind him being at unfashionable clubs – Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were at Derby and Notts Forest, but they actually won things. They transformed clubs and won the league and the European Cup. All Big Sam’s done is make Bolton and Blackburn unpleasant places to go on the dreaded, legendary “wet Wednesday in November”.

Dreaded because you were going to be assaulted, Dave, that’s right. He can talk all he likes about the great football his teams played, but how come nobody else thinks so? If he’d turned Bolton into Barcelona I think we might have noticed.

And at West Ham the fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him because the team didn’t play “the West Ham way”, which might be a myth going back to the 1960s, but you can see their point. Allardyce got back into his element at Sunderland, because they were in a relegation dogfight, and that’s what his teams are good at: scrapping.

No, no, Dave, I agree, we shouldn’t bury him before he’s lived in the England job. But what points do you want to make in his defence? His name?

Yes, I agree, it’s unfortunate that he sounds like a character in Last of the Summer Wine, a dyed-in-the-wool northerner with ferrets down his trousers. It makes him sound like an unsubtle dinosaur. They used to say the opposite about Tim Henman, like he’d have been a more powerful and successful player if his name was Tom Bulman, just because it sounds meatier. So yes, if Allardyce had been called Simon Alan Dyson, we might have given him a bit of credit.

And if he’s looked less like a thug and more like a thinker, but he can’t help that either. I don’t disagree with you, mate.

Cheers, Gary, what’s the guest ale this week? Big Sam? Seriously? I’ll have a pint of that, mate. In a reinforced glass, just in case.

So what we’re saying is that Sam Allardyce needs a makeover. I’m sure the FA’s PR department is working on that. Lose some weight, get rid of the coaliminer’s haircut and make him look more like Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is a resemblance, you know.

But no, we’ll see. But it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, when the press are asking people like Jose Mourinho what he thinks and Mourinho’s going, “Yes, Good appointment.” He must have laughed himself silly when he heard the news.

Seriously, gentlemen, we shall see, but from here it looks ludicrous, doesn’t it? If the English candidates were Allardyce and Steve Bruce – who’s a very nice guy, by the way – then we’re in trouble. I just hope the way the situation has been laid bare will show the club owners the folly of appointing foreign managers. Except the owners are all foreign too, Dave, exactly.

So maybe we need to fast forward to 50 years’ time, when the bubble has burst and football in England is a part-time game and the Shetland Islands are world champions because of their zero-tax laws and untold riches.

And our grandchildren will be sitting here – Baz’s won’t, because they’ll be in prison – talking about the good old days when England used to occasionally qualify for a tournament before getting knocked out by Andorra.

 

The English Pedant – English 0 – 5 Football

Football’s European Championship starts on Friday, and as the football community  is such a confused and lawless place as regards language, let’s look at some of the linguistic mumbo jumbo that is going to be coming our way.

Take tempo, for instance: what does it mean? Originally it meant the speed at which a piece of music should be played. It then expanded its range of use to mean the rate or speed of motion or activity.

That is roughly what it means in football, but only roughly. Pundits, managers and players speak of playing ‘with tempo’, i.e briskly, or ‘without tempo’, by which they mean too slowly. What they want is a quick, sharp, snappy way of playing that doesn’t give the opposition time to settle, think and play calmly.

If you’re playing with tempo you are, in modern parlance from outside the game, “in their faces”, which is as ugly a sight as it sounds.

Tempo, then, is a noun in need of an adjective, and as such is the latest in a long line that goes back at least as far as my grandmother’s assertion that she had “blood pressure”. What she meant was high blood pressure, and I am tempted to say we all understood what she was trying to convey, but the definition of blood pressure is not a simple one to grasp. What is the blood pressing against? She had a medical problem associated with her blood – that’s as close as we need to get.

That leads us to another football term that can baffle the casual observer: the idea of pressing. What that means in this context is attempting to push the action back towards the opposition’s goal, so the battle is fought there, rather in your own territory. You might think the defensive line (usually four players)  would be way back, a few yards in front of the goalkeeper. In fact that line can be wherever the manager wants it to be, with the proviso that if one of the other guys knocks the ball through or over your line, you’d better be quicker than them to get back and retrieve it.

Traditionally, British football teams had two modes, defence and attack. Note that defence is spelled with a c, not an s. Increasingly, though, the Americanisation  of attack into offense is creeping into the UK.

Again, we all know what it means, but the term offensive means something different to us Brits. If you swear in the presence of the Prime Minister’s wife, she will be offended. She will find it offensive to be spoken to like that. It’s not the same as attacking. We can verbally attack someone, but there is a difference between that and simply offending them.

This is not a subject that is going to take up much time in the England camp as they prepare to do sporting battle for their country. There may be one or two players who would understand what this blog post is about and why someone has bothered to write it, but in the main these are people more likely to be playing football games on electronic devices than discussing semantics. They have their own jargon, but I suspect many don’t even realise it.

The object with which football is played is spherical, but you will hear of people playing a long ball or a short ball, which means passing it a long way or not far. There are footballers with “quick feet”, which may or may not mean they can run fast.

There is the concept of the “footballing centre half”, which means someone who has an unusually high level of skill for a central defender and can play a measured pass rather than hoofing it away to kill the danger. And incidentally, what is the difference between a centre half and the more commonly used centre back? Answer: nothing; they play at the back, not in midfield, and centre half is an old-fashioned term which almost died out in the 1970s but is used (without thinking) to describe the aforementioned more skilful, thoughtful player in that position.

In addition to the jargon there are the garbled spur-of-the-moment pronouncements by commentators, as you see in the boxed quotes. It’s easy to talk nonsense and we all do it sometimes, but when it is recorded on radio or TV, you will never be allowed to forget it.

So if you’re going to be watching some or all of the tournament, never mind what the experts are saying and enjoy the spectacle, the rivalry and, if you will allow there is a such a thing, the beauty of certain moments.

When experts talk about the game, sometimes something just comes out and it’s garbage:

Preki quite literally only has the one foot

And sometimes they know what they’re doing:

I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.

And never forget the words of the late, great Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager and footballing sage, who disagreed with the idea that football is a matter of life and death. “It’s more important than that,” he said. But he was joking.

Will England win the Euros? Shankly again: “The only thing that surprises me is that I can be surprised.”

Ref! On centre backs and non-league

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Yes, so, lads, a couple of months ago we spoke about Jamie Vardy and why Roy Hodgson was picking him for England, and of course it’s turned out very different from how we expected. Okay, Dave, how I expected. I know I tend to be the spokesman around here, but that’s because I’m involved in the game in a professional capacity.

No, I didn’t have much of a playing career after junior school because everybody else shot up and suddenly I was the shortarse, and kids can be cruel.

Baz, on the other hand, bestrode the schools league like a colossus, didn’t you, mate? The Jack Charlton of his generation, unmoved by the subtlety entering centre half play when they started being called centre backs instead. Your role model was Big Dave Watson, was it? Yes, I suppose Jack had been eclipsed by then.

Anyway, you were one of the breed known as “Big” somebody, and there can be no higher accolade for a central defender. And now you’re a respected veteran in the Sunday league, pulverizing the pointy-haired prats who think they’re good on a Saturday night.

So when was the last time you came across a Vardy type who could easily step up into the Football League and maybe even the Premier League?

Yes, I know they all think it now and it gives them delusions of grandeur, so how do you deal with it?

You know I was a big Brian Clough fan and he is quoted in Peter Taylor’s book as saying his only instruction to his team was to put the opposing centre forward in the Trent early on. This was in Nottingham, mate, and the Trent is the river that runs through it. In other words, let him know you’re there. Shake him out of his reverie where he’s a goal machine and remind him that he’d better watch his step.

Yes, you’re right, it does go against the grain for me as a referee to say that, and I have my own standards that they’d better not cross, but it’s a man’s game. I’d rather see someone flattening Wayne Rooney than… yes, than almost anything. But I was going to say all the holding and pulling and impeding that goes on at corners.

Cheers Gary, Pernod and lemonade if they’ve got it. I know it’s a bit 70s, but we’re getting nostalgic here and it’s just what I fancy.

Do I think Vardy is ‘the real deal’, as you so Americanly put it, Dave?

We’ll see next season, mate. Look at how mighty Diego Costa was in his first few months, but this season he’s just the elbowing pillock he always was underneath. If Vardy can keep it up next time – even after Christmas – then you’ve just got to ask where he’s been hiding it all this time, haven’t you? Or was it really Hodgson’s vote of confidence that did it?

Gawd. Roy Hodgson with a magic wand, eh? Maybe Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are real after all.

 

 

Ref! On Klopp and statistics

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Yes, Dave, I was one of the officials at Jurgen Klopp’s first loss as Liverpool manager. And I don’t say that with any pleasure, because it’s not nice to lose in any walk of life, but it happens. He had a very good introduction to the Premier League, with a few wins and draws, including stuffing Chelsea, so he can’t complain.

Plus he comes in with that big toothy grin and he’s probably had half the women in Liverpool throwing themselves at him, so for his own good he has to have a bit of rough with the smooth. Yes, Baz, I suppose some of those Scouse birds must be a bit rough, but you know what I mean.

People were leaving the ground with seven minutes still to play – well welcome to the real world. This isn’t a fairy story – and even if it was, there would have to be a bit in it where the hero faces a challenge. So he’s dropped three points: boo hoo.

Statistically he’s well in the black, not that stats are my favourite thing. Journalists these days tend to throw them in instead of actual insights. You know: Aston Villa have never won away from home on a date with an odd number, that sort of thing.

Who thinks them up, that’s what I want to know. I was reading this morning that in the Arsenal-Tottenham game, Spurs as a team ran 7km further than Arsenal. I mean, is that necessarily a good thing?

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a light and special, and you don’t have to run round the car park twice before you get it. I’m not interested in your mileage, I’m looking for a pint as quickly as possible.

Mileage – how far players run during a game – that’s only of interest to a certain type of manager. You know Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s old partner, well the two of them were on holiday in Mallorca once and they met a coach called Sammy Chung on the beach, and Chung’s bragging about how hard he makes his players work. He says he has routines that could make the Forest players physically sick. And Clough says, “When they start awarding three points for that we’ll be in touch.”

No, Baz, it was in Taylor’s book. I never met the guy, I was too young. But he and Clough used to value skill. Hard work as well, like, but not only that. Yes, three points. They used to get three points for a win.

Your cultured midfielder doesn’t have to be chasing all over the park all afternoon. They have other people to do that. Take Eric Cantona, as skilled a player as England has ever seen. In the French national side he had Didier Deschamps doing all the barking and harassing. Cantona referred to him as The Water Carrier, which was disrespectful, but there you go. Cantona was arrogant but brilliant.

A water carrier, Baz – in the Roman army you had the officers with the brains and the soldiers with the heroics and you had these other guys carrying water, because it’s thirsty work. What would you be? You’d be in the front line, mate, the front line.

 

 

Ref! The enigma that is Liverpool

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

What do I think of Liverpool, Dave? In light of the fact I did their game against Villa, you mean? Well, it was thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view, but that’s not what you’re asking, is it? You’re asking if, in my professional opinion, Brendan Rodgers has got it right.

The answer is, as so often, circumstances have helped him. I thought he – or his transfer committee – had a terrible summer. First it’s all about Danny Ings. He snaps him up as soon as Burnley are relegated. Indecent haste, mate. Embarrassing.

But okay, he’s got Ings and this is going to be the answer to Liverpool’s prayers. Then he buys Benteke, who is a more high-profile player and a different kettle of fish altogether. Big target man, a throwback to John Toshack, almost, and everybody’s saying they’ll have to build the team around him.

Then Daniel Sturridge comes back from injury and Benteke does a hamstring and it’s all about Sturridge. And him and Ings do look more like it, you have to admit.

But all the time, guys, all the time, there’s little Philippe Coutinho, who’s their real diamond, and he must be thinking ‘Okay, Brendan, sort it out and get the team to catch up with me’, cos he’s your Brazilian Mata, he’s as good as Hazard, but he’s like a beautiful carrot that’s already grown and ready to dig while they’re still spreading manure on the rest of the garden.

That, Baz, is called mixing metaphors. It’s what happens when you’ve got a football brain like the thoughts of Chairman Mao meets the mind of Brian Clough.

Cheers, Gary, pint of that milky stuff we invented last week: Guinness and Baileys. Gaileys, yes, Dave, good one. Well, a bit… you know, but we’re all secure in our sexuality, I think.

At the back, mate? Liverpool, you mean? The jury is out, Dave. He’s got lots of options but they’re so unconvincing the jury is not just out but has gone for a pint, had a few scotches and is now hanging around the only remaining chip shop in the area, in search of a bit of relief from the tedium.

Manual relief, yes, Baz, maybe, but someone else’s manual.

They’re a funny bunch, though, Liverpool. They’ve been hopeless for years apart from that little Suarez interlude, ever since Fergie did what he set out to do and knocked them off their effing perch, but they don’t see it. They still think it’s a blip. But manager after manager buys ten cheap shirts instead of one beautiful one and wonders why they shrink in the wash.

Yes, Baz, minced menopause again. Go back to sleep, for Clough’s sake.