Category Archives: Football

Uncle Jeff & Stanley Matthews’ autograph

Uncle Jeff, at the wheel

My Unlce Jeff has been going to West Ham since the 1950s. I’ve been going with him since the early 90s. On Saturday, we went to Reading to watch our team be rubbish. He’s always telling me stories about how football used to be, and on this journey I decided to record one of them. At some point in the 1950s, uncle Jeff tried to get Stanley Matthews’ autograph. It didn’t go to plan.

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An Open Letter to Fulham FC

Stevenage Road, 10 minutes after the game had started. Exif data here.

I’ve been going to football matches for over 20 years, and have never experienced organisation as bad as Fulham’s for last night’s friendly game between Ghana and Brazil.

I turned up 25 minutes before the game to collect my tickets, having booked over the phone during the day. When I arrived, there were 2-3,000 fans on Stevenage Road bottlenecking towards two burger van-size portakabins distributing pre-purchased tickets. Two. I joined the crowd, stupidly. At one stage I was lifted off my feet by the crush, and couldn’t move my arms or legs. With no queuing system whatsoever, people were surging back and forth to reach the front of the crush, where a woefully small number of security guards were trying to control the mess. When I got to the front, the staff in the portakabins were desperately flicking through huge bundles of alphabetised envelopes, and had even resorted to sending bundles of tickets out into the crowd, including, I learned, mine. Hopeless.

I gave up and squeezed out. There were kids and older fans in there, clearly quite distressed. I’d be amazed if no-one was hurt. The police arrived belatedly, and managed to form a police line (on horses) at the eastern end of the road, which was breached within minutes. I saw a handful of officers aiming towards the throng, managing to convince people to leave the scene. My friends and I left, as did thousands of others.

When a club increases their non-season ticket allocation for a game, there is often a bit of a queue outside the ground. When an entire game is a non-season ticket event, like this one, the crowds outside the stadium will inevitably increase by a significant magnitude. There is no way Fulham couldn’t have seen this coming.

With the Hillsborough papers due for release any time now, 22 years after the event, and with London still reeling from some of the most disturbing public disorder in decades, I find it astonishing that cockups like this can still happen. Why was Craven Cottage chosen to host an international friendly between two hugely popular international teams in the first place? Why were there not more places to pick up pre-purchased tickets? Why were there so few stewards and police on Stevenage Road?

Fulham Football Club put my safety, and the safety of thousands of other fans, at risk. I’d like an apology, and an explanation.

Padova – Atalanta fix?

11:51am: Now here’s something peculiar. I was doing my weekly accumulator this morning (pay £2, try to win thousands, never works) when I came across these very strange odds, on a Serie B game between Padova and Atalanta:

People who understand odds will notice how strange this is. If it looks like a home team seem likely to lose, they will have long odds, as Padova do, above. However, in such cases the away team, correspondingly, should have short odds. Atalanta do not – their odds are pretty long too. Weird.

Oddly, the figures seem to suggest that, in this game, a draw is an extremely likely outcome. Draws are never likely outcomes. Even more intriguingly, 1-1 looks to have very disproportionate odds. Also, Betfair have chosen not to include it in their multiples market, for some reason. Have they spotted something odd themselves?

I emailed a friend of mine, who understands these things better than I do, and he was equally alarmed:

Serie B’s top side Atalanta are away at mid-table Padova tonight. Granted, you might make the prospective champions favourites if you were running a book. They are currently 4.4 on Betfair, which equates to a 23% chance of winning. Good odds if you ask me. The same, however, cannot be said for the draw which has been the subject of sustained betting over the past 24 hours. It is now trading at 1.48 which means punters believe it has a 68% chance of happening.  Padova have drawn 13 of their 32 games this season (40%), while Atalanta have drawn only nine. To my virgin eyes it looks like something fishy is going on.

***UPDATE: 22:15pm***

Well wadddaya know. Final score Padova 1-1 Atalanta. The exact score the (distinctively dodgy) odds pointed towards.

A note on veracity: All of the screengrabs linked above are time-stamped according to when I added them to Flickr – well before the game. If anyone has other ways of proving the strange betting patterns though backdating the odds, please let me know and I’ll post it here.

Perhaps this kind of thing happens all the time. Either way, I’m gobsmacked.

***UPDATE: 00:27 am***

Just found this Goal piece from last week. Seems Atalanta were involved in a dodgy game last week too:

Last Saturday’s Serie B encounter between Atalanta and Piacenza has caught the attention of the prosecutor of the FIGC (Italian football association), La Repubblica reports.

An unusual amount of bets were placed on the league clash between the two sides and the Monopoli di Stato reported the irregular betting patterns to the FIGC. Italian football’s governing body has consequently opened an investigation into the match.

A large number of bets were placed on a home win for Atalanta, who currently sit atop the Serie B table, while there were also more bets than usual predicting the half-time score and final outcome of the match.

The game eventually ended in a 3-0 win for the Bergamo side, as an unusually large percentage of the gamblers had predicted.

***UPDATE: 02:34 am***

Here’s Gabriele Marcotti‘s take on it (click to enlarge):

And here’s the highlights of the game:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

***UPDATE: Monday 28th***

A couple of interesting Tweets came in yesterday. First up.. Betfair responded to me directly:

… I look forward to their response. Second, Twitter user @AlexWPoker has found some more funny-looking odds next weekend on a Serie A game between Chievo and Sampdoria:

…And yes, the odds are indeed looking distinctively skewed. Betfair already has it odds-on for a draw. One to watch.

Old school football players. Help!

There’s a viral email going around with a spreadsheet game asking you to name 100 bygone footballers from the 80s/90s/00s. I’ve got 84 of them (with a little help). Please, please help me with the rest, pictured above. Otherwise, I’ll cry.

If you want to download the original game, with all 100 images, click here.

All credit goes to a man by the name of John Mills.

*Spoiler alert* Don’t read the comments below if you are playing the game.

Political football

Evo Morales playing football. Image: kk+ on Flickr / Some rights reserved

Brilliant story in today’s Guardian: Low blow Morales: Bolivian president knees football opponent in groin [with images of the offending knee]

The friendly match started when, wearing a No 10 green jersey, Morales, a football fanatic and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, led his team of bodyguards and officials on to the artificial pitch.

The yellow team was led by Luis Revilla, mayor of La Paz and a political ally turned foe of the president. After smiles and handshakes the game began. Within five minutes Daniel Gustavo Cartagena, in the No 2 jersey for the mayor’s team, scythed into the president after he passed the ball, gashing his right leg.
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Fabio’s Squad vs The People’s Squad

Today Fabio Capello named his 23-man squad for the World Cup. A few weeks ago I ran a poll to see who fans thought should be on the plane (full results after the jump).

Here’s the squad as chosen by those who took part (with names in red of those not chosen by Fabio), in order of popularity in each position:
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Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Robert Green, David James

Defenders: John Terry, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, Leighton Baines, Michael Dawson, Matthew Upson

Midfielders: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Joe Cole, Scott Parker, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott

Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch, Darren Bent
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And here is the real squad, with names in blue of those who didn’t make the people’s squad:
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Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

Defenders: Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

MidfieldersGareth BarryMichael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney.
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Brilliant Blackpool: A British Classic

Last August I visited Blackpool for the first time. It was a fantastic day. On a ‘TwiTrip’ for the Guardian – an unplanned journey fuelled solely by live tips from Twitter – I was guided through the town, from penny games on the pier to The Big One.

But there are two things that I will never forget. The first took place in a transvestite cabaret club, where the people of Twitter had suggested I finish my day. As a Michael Jackson medley reached its climax on the stage I walked in on my own, plodded sheepishly to the bar, and ordered a drink. A group of fourtysomething women on an office night out were ordering at the same time. They insisted on paying for my beer, and decided that they were going to look after me while I was in there. I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time in Blackpool, but as a hardened Londoner, I was rather moved. Classic British hospitality.

The second was the ballroom in the Tower complex (pictured above). I could hear the Wurlitzer organ playing a waltz before I got there. Inside, the dance floor was full of pensioners twirling each other around the room. The expertise was something to behold. And the feeling that these couples had been doing this for decades, in there, with each other – was wonderful. Above them, the hand-painted murals on the ceiling, the elaborate cornicing and the sculpted balconies completed the picture. This was romance as it used to be. Another British classic.

And this weekend, Blackpool experienced something very romantic indeed. Their football team, who four years ago were in the third tier of the English league and attracting an average attendance of just over 4,000, were promoted to the Premier League. In a play-off match against Cardiff, inspired by their lovably excitable manager Ian Holloway, they twice came from behind to win 3-2 and collect a bounty estimated at around £90m. The flood of football fans into the town next year could simultaneously generate just as much. And they’re in for a treat. Bravo Blackpool.