The Long Ball Tactic

Scunthorpe Utd on the Football League Show

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on November 29, 2009

The excitement I felt watching my team Scunthorpe United on the Football League Show was, I think,  pretty much exactly the same as it would have been had I been eight years old. In honour of this seminal moment and for the aid of those who may have missed it I now present the story of the highlights of Scunthorpe United’s magnificent draw being on TV!

*drum roll*

Gary Lineker closes proceedings on Match of the Day with a witty pun, Mark Lawrenson puts the last of the complimentary biscuits in his pockets and goes to catch the last bus home as the studio lights go out one by one. Somewhere, in a warehouse in Darlington, Manish Bhasin and Steve Claridge are making their final preparations for the jewel in the crown of BBC1’s Saturday night television…THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE SHOW

The Football League show, you may notice, has no theme tune. Literally. The closest it gets is a rather primal drum beat accompanied by the sound of generic football crowd noise. Many have wondered why this is. In an interview with National Geographic, occasional Football League Show pundit Dean Windass shed some light on this unusual quirk:

“Well, basically, what it was was me and Clarra [Steve Claridge of ‘Ask Steve’ fame] were supposed to have a rap battle over the drum beat that you now hear as the shows theme music. But then I turns round and says ‘no, I’m not doing that’. ”

A nation of fathers put a calming hand on their son’s shoulders, for some the excitement is too much – The Football League Show has started!

Flatmate of Mark Lawrenson and respected TV presenter in his own right, Manish Bhasin, is joined by former footballer Steve Claridge. Claridge has won praise from many for his work on the show and earlier this year received nominations for a BAFTA, Ivor Novello award, Nobel Peace Prize and a much-coverted NME award.

It is believed that if the Football League Show contained absolutely no footage of football and was merely Bhasin and Claridge chatting for 50 minutes it would still retain 100% of the TV audience, such is the chemistry between the two and their appeal to young and old alike. For the time being, however, they’re here to talk about one thing and one thing only – football and, more specifically, Scunthorpe United v Leicester City:

The sense of occasion is palpable. A pair of giant rabbits in Scunthorpe shirts lead the teams out, the ref holds a special claret and blue ball, no expense has been spared by Scunthorpe United chairman Steve Wharton. This is not just another football game – this is a game being shown as the main highlight on the Football League show!

Leicester City take an early lead. Unable to believe that he has scored a goal in such an important game, Leicester forward Martyn Waghorn politely requests Scunthorpe supporters be quiet for a second so that he can take in the moment and regain his composure.

The brainiest managerial team in all of football plot yet another victory. “Should we maybe have started some wide players instead of four very similar central midfielders, boss?” inquires Scunthorpe assistant manager Andy Crosby. “No, Andrew” replies manager Nigel Adkins “no we should not.”

Iron ‘keeper Joe Murphy pulls off a wonder save as centre backs David Mirfin and Rob Jones admire the spectacle from the floor.

Meanwhile, back on the Scunthorpe bench, a visibly ponderous Andy Crosby has come up with a masterplan. “Maybe we should have our centre backs on their feet instead of lying down. And maybe we should bring on super-amazing winger and big-game goal machine Martyn Woolford to bring some much-needed width and perhaps sneak a point”, he tells Adkins. The manager reacts angrily to this, “fine! You manage the team! Bring Woolford on! See where it gets you!” he tells Crosby as he thunders off into the stands.

Deep into injury time Scunthorpe steal a point with the last kick of the game. But who was that amazing man running down the wing, picking up the loose ball and keeping his cool to score the crucial goal?

As the final whistle goes an embarrassed Nigel Adkins returns to the dugout in a clever disguise to collect the praise for his team’s credible draw. As fans exit the ground into the cold northern night people know that they have witnessed something special. In years to come they will tell their Grandchildren “I was at a game that was analysed by Steve Claridge”.


Paul Merson has a blog!

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on November 19, 2009

For those of us who watch Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, the news that Paul Merson has a blog will no doubt be a cue to erupt in fits of unrestricted glee. The man who brought you such verbal classics as “e’s ‘it the beans on toast, Jeff” and “it’s…Gonzalez…Gonzalo..Gonzalee…what’s ‘is name?”, amongst others, now continues his cockney water torture of the English language on the internets.

Merse, of course, blogs on the ‘Opinion’ bit of the Sky Sports football website. Right here. If you are curious enough to click that link you will be pleasantly surprised by the picture of Merson looking either a)scared by a football or b)confused by a football. I can’t quite decide which. Anyway, his most recent article (written on November 6th before Chelsea v Manchester Utd) proves, at the very least, that even super football geniuses need proof-readers.

Scare of the Drog

This is the headline. If it is a pun then the joke has passed me by. Googling “scare of the dog” proved fruitless.

Blues must win of they want to take title

Seriously, go and check, I’m not making this up. In fact, even if that was written correctly “Blues must win if they want to take title” isn’t the sort of sentence that would necessarily make people sit up and take notice. But who am I to judge? I just look forward to the day that Paul Merson guest-edits New Scientist magazine.

Nobody is going to win the league on Sunday


Manchester United couldn’t be playing any worse right now

They could though, couldn’t they? I mean, they were 2nd in the table at the time. They could have been, like, bottom of the table and losing all their games. A more realistic sentence could possibly have been “Manchester United have been slightly underwhelming so far” or “Manchester United have been as predictable as everyone on Soccer Saturday laughing when I mispronounce Sylvain Ebanks-Blake’s name for the 790,000,0001th time”.

It’s no surprise to see Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka playing well together. I played with Anelka and he’s one of the best centre-forwards around – while Drogba is probably the best.

Anelka – one of the best

Drogba – the best (probably)

And so, if we add these two together we get the special footballing recipe known as “playing well together”. Paul Merson gets paid for this.

Joe Cole has come back into the side and has been like a new signing (which is useful if they can’t buy anyone in January!). I remember when he was at West Ham he was a showboater, he turned me inside out with a trick once, but didn’t have any end product.

Nothing much to say about this, except that “he turned me inside out with a trick once” is one of the funniest lines I’ve read in a while and I’m not even sure why. I think he should have ended the sentence with “needless to say, I had the last laugh”.

It’s vital that United defend well and the ball must stick with the strikers when it goes forward

I agree, no point giving it to those pesky defenders.

Just a few highlights there and, most satisfyingly, I still have no idea what “Scare of the Drog” means. In fact, Merson only mentions Drogba 3 times during the article and never in the context of Man Utd being scared of him. Cor blimey!

Non-football: You never give me your money

Posted in Non-football by mike on November 13, 2009

International weekend – forgive me if I turn my attention to cricket for a second.

Outrage was the order of the day today as the government are advised that home Ashes internationals should be on free-to-air television. Amongst the main dissenters are the England and Wales Cricket Board who claim they will be forced to sack 23,000 coaches due to the decision and warn of English county sides going bankrupt. Worrying times, I’m sure, for all concerned.

But, hang on. I remember home test series being on terrestrial television quite recently(not just home Ashes games, every home test series). So is the ECB saying that cricket could be catapulted back to the dark days of the early 2000s? During crickets last terrestrial run (on Channel Four from 1999-2005) we saw England go from being the worst test side in the world to regaining the Ashes. At it’s peak almost nine million of us were watching the 2005 Ashes, that was a 47% share of the television audience at that time. The peak audience for this years Ashes series (shown only on Sky Sports) was 1.9 million.

But it’s not the test side that we need worry about in the short-term. What the ECB warn of immediately is the lack of support for grass roots cricket. When England won the Ashes in 2005 the ECB stated that now was the time to get cricket’s ‘grass roots’ thriving and to get more children playing the game. The plan to achieve this goal, drawn up with ECB chief executive David Collier, went something like this:

-sell exclusive TV rights to Sky

– reduce TV audience by almost 7 million.

Maybe they used most of the money to helped local cricket clubs (although you can bet that they didn’t), but if the national game is broadcast to smaller audiences how do they hope to attract the sort of young people who might join these local clubs? Both Collier and ECB chairman Giles Clarke (the 348th richest man in the country) have years of experience in business, whereas I have none, but how can you promote something whilst simultaneously cutting it’s audience by 78.4%?

You can only hope that the money they took from Sky went into reinvigorating a shaky county cricket system. After all, these clubs are apparently facing bankruptcy if the 2016 Ashes isn’t show on satellite TV. Unfortunately, from what I can see, the only major change to the county system in the last 15 years has been the introduction of a pointless two-tier promotion and relegation system (brought in in 2000, when test cricket was still on terrestrial TV). Since then there have been rumours that the game would become more regionalised and the season would end in a playoff between the best teams from each region. Obviously, nothing has come of this and the ECB have no plans to even review the current county system until after the 2013 season.

With this seemingly weakening form of the game dying in their hands with declining audiences, both on TV and at the grounds, the ECB have been forced to help out county sides by either accepting £3m ‘donations’ and giving grounds test and one-day games in return or by giving them £1.5m hand-outs each year.  These annual ‘grants’ are where the ECB are worried they will be affected most by the Sky money. However, someone (and it probably will be Sky) will still be paying money to broadcast cricket. By my (conservative) reckoning 8 teams may have no tests or one-day games at their grounds after 2013, so will require the £1.5m handout. That is £12m. Do the ECB really think they won’t be able to find £12m a year after 2013 to stop these teams going bankrupt?

This is without taking into consideration the money that Clarke and Collier look to make from time to time by exploring other avenues of revenue offered by the Twenty20 game. In fact the ECB execs did not greatly impress the counties they now claim to be so concerned about when they courted money from the now-under-arrest American billionaire Allen Stanford. When the deal was struck with the clearly dodgy Stanford, the Guardian quoted one county chairman as saying:

“Clarke is a clown and a pompous one, and David Collier is a poor chief executive. There is no plan. No strategy. Everything is done off the hoof. Clarke should go.””

My own thoughts on all of this are that, looking ahead pessimistically, the ECB have done barely anything to improve the county game and boost cricket audiences in general. In the future, if the county game does falter and we start to see teams go bankrupt, the fact that there is slightly less TV money coming in may be an all-too-easy excuse for the ECB to use to mask their own incompetence. In the mean time, they’re more than happy to take the most amount of money from whoever offers it, even if it means less people are watching the game they claim to promote.

‘Arry’s Mems: You can win everything with kids

Posted in 'Arry's Mems by mike on November 8, 2009

Oh Ian Wright. Has your TV career meant you now have less time to write ridiculous columns claiming you don’t know who some Premiership footballers are? It seems so. There is a void. Steve Claridge won’t keep me going forever. If only someone else got paid by Mr Murdoch’s media empire to write unadulterated tosh.

Wait…what’s that?


WAYNE ROONEY’S baby son Kai should be giving Premier League defences sleepless nights


Ah! Step forward, former Seattle Sounders player-assistant manager, Harry Redknapp!


In this exciting edition of ‘Arry’s Mems the Redknapp speculates on what effect becoming a father will have on Wayne Rooney. In fact, before I copy any more of the article let’s just have a little quiz amongst ourselves on what conclusions the Spurs boss will draw.

How will Wayne Rooney’s son affect his ability to kick a ball twice a week?

A) No effect whatsoever

B) He will be late to training, due to being locked in a washing machine by mischievous prankster child

C) He will win the World Cup, mainly due to having become a father.


If your answer was C) then you are a winner! It was pretty obvious really, wasn’t it?


For Wayne’s transition into fatherhood will give him added maturity on and off the pitch.

It can only help Manchester United and England.

England is crying out for him to bring back the World Cup and having a kid will have surprising benefits.


So, there you go. I can’t wait for the summer of 2010 now. I can just picture it – after the scenes of excitement and jubilation die down, after the shots of Wayne Rooney slotting the World Cup winning goal past a helpless German ‘keeper have been played and re-played, after all of the nation has come together as one to celebrate winning the World Cup – in a TV studio in South Africa three men will take time to reflect:


Lineker: So, there you have it – England victorious. But how did we get here, Alan and Mark? Was it the appointment of Capello? Was it Fabio’s surprise decision to call up versatile Scunthorpe United midfielder Matthew Sparrow to his World Cup squad? What was the turning point for you?

Hansen: Well, you can bang on about a good team mentality and all that all you like. But for me there’s one reason and one reason only why England have won this World Cup – Kai Rooney.

[Lawro nods sagely, whilst eating a Kit Kat]

Without Kai there’d be no maturity in Wayne’s game and England would have been on the plane home after the quarter finals. It’s like I’ve always said, Gary, you can’t win anything without kids.

Linker: Indeed. Mark, turning point for you?

Lawro: Urgh, well I hate to say it Gary, but I agree with Alan.

[good natured chuckling erupts amongst the three]

I mean, I don’t usually like kids. In fact, they’re the bain of my life. Before we came out here to South Africa I went in my local shop to stock up on sweets and some kids had been in before me and bought all the gobstoppers!

[takes a moment to compose himself]
But yeah, it’s hard to look past Colleen popping out a tot as the reason England won this World Cup.

Lineker: Well, I think we can all agree on that one then. Thank you, Kai Rooney.

[the self-satisfied laughing of Harry Redknapp rings out across the land, as a nation celebrates]


Claridge addresses nation: part 2!

Posted in Claridge addresses nation by mike on November 4, 2009

If, like me, you’re tired of Ask Jeeves since they got rid of Jeeves then brought him back and think Google are getting a bit too up themselves then salvation comes, as usual,  in the form of Stephen Edward Claridge.
I like to think of BBC Sport’s ‘Ask Steve’ feature as a kind of special, purpose built footballing internet search engine. For instance, if you were a fan of Leicester City and wanted to know how Edgar Davids might do at your club you could try typing into Google:

Hi Google, I’m a Leicester fan and I was wondering what do you think of the possibility of Edgar Davids coming to the club? Do you think that he will be fit enough even though he’s been out of football for 18 months? Or do you think he’s just a publicity stunt?

As you may expect you get a series of footballing websites and blogs that don’t go very far towards answering your question. However, if you were to go to Ask Steve on BBC Sport and type in that very same thing (replacing ‘Google’, with ‘Steve’, to avoid confusing the mercurial journeyman) you would find (after waiting until the next Wednesday) a wholly different and more comprehensive answer (providing your question was chosen), perhaps along the lines of

If the deal happens and Davids were to come and take the mick and swan around then that would split the dressing room quicker than anything.

Take that Google!!

You can even use Ask Steve as a subtle way to advertise yourself to would-be employers, as this cheeky Humberside-based scamp did this week:

Hello Steve, I asked you a few months ago about Mike Newell at Grimsby – I cannot believe what a disaster he turned out to be! Where now for the Mariners then? Personally I like the sound of Dean Windass as our next manager and what did you think about England women’s coach Hope Powell being linked with the job?
Dean, UK

I’ll just streamline that with the subtle self-promotion bits left in:

Personally I like the sound of Dean Windass as our next manager.
Dean, UK

Incidentally, I’ve always thought ‘the sound of Dean Windass’ would be a bit like this.
(I only write this in the hope that Deano himself will post on this blog slagging me off, as I heard him ring into BBC Radio Humberside this week to slag off presenter Guillem Lloyd after Lloyd said Windass was putting pressure on Phil Brown to get sacked – come on, Deano!)

The Sage of Sport is immune to this, though, and carries on coolly

With Hope, I’ve got to say that when I heard about that, it wasn’t for me.
She has done very well at her level and in her environment but that is a million miles away from the Football League.

A million miles. A million miles. I wonder if Steve Claridge knows who Hope Powell is? Or what a mile is? Either way there’s some break-down in logic there that I can’t quite get my head around.

Hope Powell – football manager
Grimsby Town – football league club (nominally)
Distance between the two – 1,000,000miles

It seems Ask Steve may still be a little behind Google in the maps stakes. I wonder what his reasoning could be?

A female manager would start out being on such a back foot. If I was a player and my club appointed a female manager then I wouldn’t instantly write her off but I would have been sceptical to say the least.

Ah, he’s sexist.

If something like that was going to happen, then it would be with a female coach. She could be a great coach and the management side of things wouldn’t matter because she wouldn’t be on the front line

To be fair to Steve, he does raise at least a serviceable point in that the problem with a female manager would probably not be about how good her tactics were but how keen the players would be to have a female in charge.

Sorry, that got a bit serious there.

As for Dean? I know him and I like him – although he’s not everybody’s cup of tea!
I’m not sure about him as a manager but some of the most unlikely players have made very good managers. The Grimsby job is a fantastic opportunity for somebody, anyhow

Dear Dean Windass,
Even Steve Claridge (Steve Claridge!!) can only find “unlikely” as the kindest thing he can say about your prospects in football management.
The Long Ball Tactic
(come on Deano!! The comments sections just down there!)

It is a super club

league two

The Long Ball Tactic would like to apologise for any pro-Scunthorpe United bias that may have come out in the course of writing this article.