Ups & Downs

FFL

The English Premier League returns today for a season that has seen many changes in personnel even before it’s begun. Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace are the three promoted teams from the Championship and all of them will spend most of 2013/14 trying to stay out of the bottom three places. Last year’s top three clubs all have new managers, though Jose Mourinho and David Moyes won’t be too unfamiliar with their new clubs. The likes of Luiz Suarez, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney are all itching for moves away from their current homes, while Stevan Jovetic, Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado are some of the new names who’ll try to thir best to impress. Of course, the return of the real thing also means the return of fantasy football and I’m hoping for a better season than last year for my squad. I’m sure it’ll look a lot different in a couple of months, but you can check out my opening throw of the dice above and my reasons for choosing those particular players below

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Blitzed!

Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil are about as crumpled as my scoreboard t-shirt after Germany’s October goal-fest in Dublin last Friday. As you can see, I was pretty busy changing scores and was delighted to finally put something under Ireland’s flag after updating the German side half a dozen times. We Irish are renowned for our hospitality to visitors and our football team certainly showed their counterparts the meaning of Gemütlichkeit at the Aviva Stadium. The title of this post refers to the relentless onlaught by the German players on the Irish goal on either side of half time. It’s also the title of a song by The Raveonettes from Demark and is taken from 2007’s Lust, Lust, Lust album. It’s one of their more punkier numbers and the next four songs all have their roots in that genre. The Ramones used the German word for “lightning war” for the title of their 1976 debut single and it was one of the songs The Beautiful South chose to cover on 2004’s Golddiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs

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The Comeback Kid

I must admit I was a little bit sceptical about Thierry Henry’s recent return to Arsenal. Undoubtedly, he was one of the finest players to ever wear an Arsenal shirt and is surely one of the greatest players to play in the Premiership. He set all kinds of scoring records during his time in North London and it’s hard to see any of these being broken before too long. As a Gooner, I was always a big fan of the Frenchman and not just for his goals. He created as many chances for his teammates and was always a joy to watch. In particular, I liked it when he would do the unexpected, such as the time he whispered to the referee if it was okay to take a quick free kick while the opposition was setting up its wall. The referee gave his permission and Henry gently placed the ball out of reach of the bemused keeper. As an Irishman, I was just as pissed off as my fellow countrymen when France’s top scorer hoodwinked the match officials by handling the ball twice before setting up William Gallas for the goal that put the French through at the expense of Ireland for a place at the 2010 World Cup. Eventually, I came to forgive this indiscretion, partly due to the entertainment provided by the French squad in South Africa and party due to the realisation that sports stars who play to the highest standard also raise their game when they’re bending the rules

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The Grass Is Always Greener

English Premier League football finally returns later today and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it’ll all turn out this season. My own team, Arsenal, has been in the news before a ball has been even kicked and it looks like it’s going to be another challenging year for the North London club. The poor results at the end of last season surely convinced the manager that he needed to be busy in the transfer market during the summer. And, certainly, Arsene Wenger has overseen a number of changes at the Emirates over the last few months and he has added a few new faces to the squad. So far, however, rather than going for risk-free, established defensive players in the prime of their careers he has instead gambled on teenage forwards with no experience of English football. Still, there are a couple of weeks remaining in the transfer window and perhaps the manager will surprise everyone by signing experienced defensive players who were born before 1990. At least he shouldn’t be short of a few bob as it looks like the departures from the Emirates will be more significant than the arrivals

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Shinners & Losers

The Irish general election came and went last weekend and it delivered its fair share of winners and losers. The biggest losers were the two parties who have been “running” this country for the last four years, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. The Greens lost all six of its representatives while Fianna Fáil’s representation fell by nearly three quarters. The party had been in power with other coalition partners since 1997 and its decline was unsurprising but completely welcome. The biggest winners were the party that’s been in Fianna Fáil’s shadow since Ireland became a republic. Fine Gael won just under half the number of seats on offer and will most likely form a coalition with the Labour party, who also had its best election. The same was true for Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, People Before Profit and independent candidates, who all won more seats than Fianna Fáil’s solitary one in Dublin. The new government isn’t going to turn the country’s woes around overnight, but at least it’ll bring in a few fresh faces and, hopefully, some new ideas

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Backfield in Motion

I’ve been in training for tomorrow’s Superbowl for a few weeks now. Of course, I won’t be taking part in the game – I’ve been staying up until three or four in the morning so I can watch the game live. The grand finale of the American football season will kick off tomorrow afternoon in Texas, but it’ll be nearly midnight by the time the action gets underway on this side of the pond. Superbowl XLV is, as its name suggests, the 45th instalment of the annual clash between the champions of the AFC and the NFC. The Green Bay Packers will represent the American Football Conference, while the Pittsburgh Steelers will carry the flag of the National Football Conference. It’s the Steelers eight Superbowl appearance and the fifth for the Packers with Pittsburgh leading by six titles to three. The Packers are slight favourites, so hopefully it’ll be a close game with lots of scores

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All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit

Today’s Christmas tune is an indie classic from Half Man Half Biscuit. The band was formed in the eighties by Birkenhead natives Nigel Blackwell and Neil Crossley and their debut album, Back in the DHSS (1985), was the biggest selling independent record of 1986. They were favoured by John Peel and then mainstream media tried to turn them into a success. The popular Channel 4 TV show The Tube invited them to appear on the show twice, but the band turned them down both times. Their perfectly good reason was that they would be otherwise occupied at Prenton Park watching their beloved Tranmere Rovers in action. A concern with the minutiae of popular culture in all its forms is the prevailing theme in their songs and the band’s love of football is one they return to again and again. It’s evident in songs like I Was a Teenage Armchair Honved Fan, Bob Wilson Anchorman and their critique of the modernisation of the sport, Friday Nights & the Gates are Low. Their song titles draw on their listeners’ knowledge of popular culture and that is also the case with their ode to table football, All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. This title has been erroneously attributed to a 1963 UK hit for Dora Bryan called All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth. In fact, Bryan reached number 20 that year with a song called All I Want For Christmas is a Beatle. Certainly, her song parodied a 1948 US success for Spike Jones that did indeed highlight his desire for seasonal dental work. Half Man Half Biscuit’s request appeared in 1986 on the b-side of their Trumpton Riots single and is now available on a single CD that brings together their first album and the subsequent Trumpton Riots EP

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