Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis and the joy of ugly victories

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Tony PulisWe’d all like to see our team sweeping opponents aside, owning the pitch with the confident swagger of an unbeatable army. But, for many fans this reality is unknown, and matches are often closely fought contests between two evenly matched opponents. This is bearable providing your team can compete and has a chance of victory. However, if your team ends up in a league where the average standard appears unachievable then your ability to enjoy football is rapidly eroded. The Championship has a history of placing teams in this horrible predicament by promoting them to the Premier League completely unprepared.

Gaining promotion is euphoric, but a season long slog of inevitable defeats is a joyless existence. This is the scenario Crystal Palace faced when Ian Holloway departed in the early stages of this season. Palace had chalked up one victory, but lost their other seven fixtures, including a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham. Derby’s miserable 2007/08 record breaking campaign total of 11 points was suddenly looking evidently beatable. Holloway suggested the new players he acquired in the summer had disrupted the team spirit from the previous campaign. They had also lost Wilfred Zaha – the star player responsible for scoring or creating all of the goals that secured Palace’s promotion through the playoffs. To pretty much everyone Palace were as good as relegated by mid-October, but Tony Pulis made a different assessment of their fate and decided he fancied his chances.

What Pulis has achieved since is one of the most sensational managerial achievements of the past decade, eclipsing his early triumphs at Stoke. The problem with acknowledging what Pulis has done is that it requires people to accept that he has some skills and insights that other managers do not, when it is easier just to dismiss him as a Luddite. The kind of football played by Pulis’ teams doesn’t get blogged about, it doesn’t appear on YouTube videos, and it doesn’t get turned into graphic designs and printed on t-shirts. Pulis’ football is characterised by a mantra of  results first, with entertainment a distant second, if you’re lucky.

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Street Child World Cup: more than just a game for Team Liberia

While the FIFA World Cup has been dogged by controversy, another tournament is kicking off in Brazil that all football fans should get behind. George Smyth of Street Child explains. 

Months before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil this summer, Rio will be hosting a tournament of somewhat different dimensions: the Street Child World Cup. It starts on March 28th and, as recently as six months ago, many of its competitors were children still living on the streets from some of the poorest parts of the globe.

Team Liberia is one of the 19 national sides taking part. For its players there is more at stake than world fame and huge fortunes. It’s represents the chance to bring their own issues to a global stage.

The World Cup epitomises football’s global brand. With an audience of more than half the globe, the most famous competition in the world is worth billions in commercial revenue. The Street Child World Cup, in contrast, represents another side to football. This tournament is not so much about glory and prestige, but social change. The tournament’s purpose is to raise awareness of the plight of disadvantaged children across the globe and provide street children with the opportunity to say “I am somebody” and prove that fact to the world.

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Ticket stub memories

Ticket stubs

One of the best things about going to your mum’s house is rummaging through all your old crap that she’s been wanting you to get rid of for years. During one recent salvage operation in my Mum’s loft I managed to recover a load of old match tickets, a get well soon card from the 1994 Watford Team, an Italia 1990 Ferrari Testarossa, and a letter from Glenn Roeder. Admittedly, these were not the items taking up the most space, but you have to start somewhere, and what a start it was. I’ll probably write about all of these items at some point, but it was the match tickets in particular that I most enjoyed finding.

Sheff Wed WatfordSome people buy a match programme at every game as their keep sake. I have a fairly solid collection of 1990′s Watford programmes myself – who doesn’t – but after a while I decided they were too expensive, and the content was often awful. In terms of banking some nostalgia, my old tickets have proved to be a more reliable currency, prompting vivid memories of my travels to watch football. Take this one (left) from a 3rd round cup replay at Hillsborough. This is my equivalent of a grizzled Soldier’s flashback to a particularly brutal tour of duty. It was a midweek fixture in early January; the match went to extra time and penalties, which Watford lost. We were quite late getting out of the stadium and back to the train station, but still had enough time to catch our train.

However, when we got back the station, we learned that the train we were planning to get back did  not exist, at least not until the Spring timetable started. The station was about to close until the morning. It was fucking freezing, and I was not dressed appropriately for the weather. It was only then that the true horror of the situation hit home. Me and my mate spent the next five hours huddled in a bus shelter. I’m not sure how we survived, but it was a long night. Probably the longest I have ever known. At our lowest points I think we both contemplated killing each other for food and clothes, I know I did. I suffered for you that night, Watford. I swore to myself I’d never be that cold, or stupid, again.

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Supporting the English teams in Europe

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Watching the humiliation of a team assembled for enormous sums of money is a spectacle in ways that watching Norwich getting destroyed can never be. The fact that such defeats are generally at the hands of other big budget sides shouldn’t detract from the fun. For example, Spurs’ thrashing at City, and Arsenal’s mauling at Anfield – without caring about the outcome, it was compelling to see teams that should do so much better completely fail in their task. For the same reason, there is entertainment to be had in seeing Premier League dreams thwarted in Europe. But, not everyone agrees:

This tweet reminded me of some exchanges I’ve had with fans who claim to support the English teams in Europe “because it’s good for English football.” Of course, there are practical reasons for some clubs to want others to do well. The UEFA coefficient points system means the total number of places in the Champions and Europa League tournaments allocated is based on the overall performance of English clubs. But, England’s European places are not under threat, and in any case, the Champions League places are dominated by an elite set of clubs with little room for newcomers.

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Five legendary old terraces

Terracing at football has been back in the news again recently after the Football League voted in favour of safe standing. The League still needs Government approval to make standing legal, but it’s a start. Standing is a cheaper way of getting more people in to watch the game, and hopefully generate some atmosphere. It’d be great to see terracing return to England.

However, what we probably won’t be seeing is a return of colossal terracing that used to be  an essential part of any respectable British football stadium. We’ve all heard of United’s Stretford End and Liverpool’s Kop, but there were plenty of other awe inspiring stands that have taken on mythical status since their demise. Life on the old terraces could be rough; my Dad told me that he lost a shoe and all the buttons off his coat during during one post-goal surge on the North Bank at Highbury (he was Italian, so I imagine it was a good a shoe and a decent coat). He also told me about rivers of piss running down the terraces at some grounds. Lovely. Having grown accustomed to the facilities at modern grounds, with such luxuries as working toilets,  the old terraces would would probably seem terrifying to most of us now. Even so, if I had the chance to experience some of the old monsters first hand, here are a few I’d like to tick off the list.

5. South Bank, Molineux

The West Midlands’ terrace game was strong in the olden days, as demonstrated by the enormous South Bank that Wolves’ fans used to call home. It’s easy to forget that Wolves were kind of a big deal once, attracting crowds of 60,000 and winning the league three times in the 1950′s, which must have been around the time that this was taken:

OldMolineux4

Fast forward to the 1980s and the South Bank ain’t looking so hot. Wolves were in a death spiral, plummeting into the fourth tier, and the South Bank was pretty much the only bit of the ground still in use. A decaying relic of former glory (hello, 80′s England!). Of course, Wolves were eventually saved from total destruction and Sir Jack Hayward’s money rebuilt Molineux into a functional stadium. But the modern South Bank has nothing on this beast. RIP South Bank.

South Bank Wolves

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