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Stay tuned for updates......Football has had to take a back seat and that is tragic

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Grave Maurice, or All I Want for Christmas is...

...my two front teeth.

The image above was taken ten years ago, a few days after I had arrived in London for my O.E.

After a duty free fuelled BBQ with some other Kiwis (that's what Kiwis do when they travel overseas- hang out with other Kiwis and pretend to be in New Zealand) we decided to play Hacky Sack.

My mates lived in Whitechapel, near the Whitechapel Street Market. When the market is not on the steel frames that sellers convert into stalls still haunt the streets. Being slightly tipsy and wholly enthusiastic I chased a loose hacky sack back out of the friendly circle and ran smack bang into a face level steel beam, chipping both my front teeth.

Once the shock, and vodka, wore off I quite fancied my new 'hard man' look. I spied the pub The Grave Maurice just up the road. This pub, made famous as being a fave hang out for the Kray brothers, and featured on the cover of the Morrisey single Sunny, was a pwopah heavy backdrop for my new rough and ready visage.

A few weeks later a very cheap NHS dental job capped off my teeth - and capped of this saga....until earlier this year when the combined wear and tear of ten years of football, coffee, wine, hard lollies & harder living finally did it for the el cheapo fix up. And now I am back where I was ten years ago, with two chipped teeth.

So yes, in the new year I'll make an appointment to the dentist, and I bet it won't cost 30 quid this time. So donations to my dental fund greatly appreciated in lieu of pressies!

But what I really want for Christmas is another stellar year for NZ football.

A year where politicking and in-fighting takes a back seat to innocent passion and joy.

A year where the fair weather football fans, turned on by the All Whites appearance in SA, are embraced by the mad-for-it evergreens during water cooler conversations, their ignorance of the offside law met with gentle counsel rather than scorn and ridicule.

A year where win, lose or draw at the World Cup NZ football continues to gain credibility both on and off the field, sharing column inches with Rugby, Netball and League with good grace and humility, an entente cordiale which marks the genesis of a new golden age for NZ sport.

While I believe that this is possible, I also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause!

Anyway thats me for the year- I have really enjoyed writing this blog, enjoyed the freedom of banging out a few words about whatever has moved me in the football world, and finding nice pictures to match my rantings. But equally I am going to enjoy a holiday away from the computer, away from the TV and the football highlights, with only one ear tuned to the radio to follow the Nix and the occasional match report in the Dom Post to get my fix.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year dear reader(s). Here is a vid about the famous 'Christmas Truce' football match between British and German troops in WWI*, to fill you with glad tidings of comfort and hope.

* The Germans won on penalties I believe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1978 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part One

As we countdown to South Africa 2010 this blog will reminisce about the eight World Cups that have taken place since my birth in 1976.

It will be a patchy, potted history since I was hardly aware of the event until Italia '90- and even then it was more about how that tournament fitted with my own burgeoning experience of football. So please don't read this expecting a definitive guide- Brian Glanville's excellent History of the World Cup will serve you better. But if you are a football tragic like me, and you measure time in four year cycles then this may be of some interest, being as it is the awakening of my awareness that there exists a clock with hands quick enough to clasp a quadrennial flash of splendour.

As a two year old growing up in Rugby and Rugby League mad South Auckland, Argentina 1978 tango'd by me without a murmur. But the fact that a few years later I watched Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa plying their trade for Tottenham Hotspur in the hallowed English Division One, on Saturday Morning's Big League Soccer, is testament to the impact that the Argentine Cup winnning squad had on World Football.

But this is adult hindsight. Looking back with the eyes of a two year old, (my son is almost two now so I know what amuses him), I can see that the most obvious thing that would have piqued my interest would have been the amazing shower of confetti raining down from on high in the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires as Mario Kempes scored his second for the hosts, condeming the brave Dutch to their second straight World Cup Final defeat.

Screeds and screeds of pretty blue & white confetti, captured by the flash of a thousand light bulbs, littering the field of play:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Muy Picante!

It has been revealed that New Zealand's first warm up game for the 2010 World Cup will be against Mexico, in Los Angeles (an ersatz home match for El Tri) on March 3.

This is a quality warm up game since Mexico's flamboyant attacking style will closely mimic Paraguay; the All White's final opponents in pool play. The passionate Mexican fans will also give our lads a taste of the unholy din to be expected at a World Cup Finals match.

The game falls within FIFA's friendly international window, which means clubs are only obliged to release players for 48 hours. So the fact that it is being played a mere 11 hour's flight from London, rather than in New Zealand, means we have every chance of seeing Captain Courageous Ryan Nelsen, and the other European and US based players, turn out in the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

One can only assume that Mexico sees the All Whites as being on a par with their pool mates South Africa- we certainly can't be expected to offer them a taste of the guile, nor gall, of France.

Whatever way you look at it this is a coup, and is an early Christmas present for NZ Football Fans. Now we just need to secure friendlies against some European sides to replicate the style of Slovakia and Italy and the set is complete.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wellington Phoenix win a 2010 TAWA Award

Last night Wellington Phoenix won a coveted TAWA award for Best Regular Entertainment in Wellington.

The Annual Wellingtonista Awards (TAWAS) are run by a bunch of cyber savvy hep cats who blog about the Wellington 'scene'. In their collective consciousness they know where to get a Hot Buttered Rum when the clock has struck one, and where the best place to shake your Watusi is once that Rum rush kicks in.

So when they vote the Wellington Phoenix as Best Regular Entertainment you know that a tipping point has been reached.

The Nix beat out some tough competition in their category- The Richter City Roller Derby is apparently a great night out and their fans flocked to the awards night expecting another bonecrushing victory.

The award is as much for the atmosphere generated by the Yellow Fever fans as for the incidental action on the field. The Wellington Phoenix experience is a complete package, from last gasp Leo Bertos pile drivers which nick the points, to bare chests and witty chants.

In the same awards ceremony the the All Whites' World Cup Qualifier was pipped at the post for Best Event by the Cuba Street Carnival. I think that was a fair result. The Cuba Street Carnival is New Zealand's answer to the Notting Hill Carnival; organised chaos on a grand scale, a debauched saturnalia invading the streets of our fair town.

So well done the Phoenix! Yet more kudos for a code on the rise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NZ Football's Stocks Keep Rising

TP Mazembe 2-Auckland City 3

Wow. This is an incredible result. I think it is actually more incredible than their first victory and clean sheet over the host nation club. In many ways it is even more incredible than the All Whites making the World Cup (but not as significant in terms of global reach and the ongoing potential); being as it was a sustained performance against quality opposition in a tournament on foreign soil.

But Auckland City's victories take on even more significance coming so soon after the All Whites entry into the World Cup. It is the proverbial icing on the cake.

You would have to say that it has been a stellar year for NZ footie. The stocks are rising, and despite my early reservations that the lucrative pay-out would be locked away north of the Bombay Hills, indications are that the windfall will drift down State Highway one- all NZFC clubs will benefit in some way.

Quite apart from the money, all NZ football clubs have already benefited. Football is leading the news headlines once again. Only the most naive amongst us think this is a permanent reversal-it isnt. Rugby is king and probably will be for a very long time. But football is gaining profile and credibility, and it has been a long time coming.

Messrs Dickinson, Coombes, Hayne, Van Steeden et al should be congratulated for the part they have played in this special piece of drama. They have scored some very golden goals indeed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Purgatory....and all stops North

A weekend review 12-13 December

Wellington Phoenix 0-Sydney FC 1
Capital Football 4-Waikato-Bay of Plenty 1 (National Women's League-Semifinal)
Auckland City 0- Atlante 3

Wellington Phoenix 0-Sydney FC 1

Head north from Wellington and the road signs are peppered with the names of small towns and so called 'cities' which begin with the letter P. There is a punctual glut of P-towns as you travel up the Kapiti Coast; a plethora which includes Porirua, Pauatahanui, Plimmerton, Paekakariki, Paraparaumu and so on until the plain-straddling university town of Palmerston North announces its arrival with yet another primary plosive. It was here that the Wellington Phoenix played Sydney FC in a crucial A-League match.

I went to a party once in Palmerston North. There was a pig on the spit and live music that sounded like the souls of the damned feasting on said dead beast. I had a great time, falling asleep in a car as the mist rolled in across the farmlands. Would I go back to Palmy for a party? Probably not. Will the Phoenix return? maybe, but they'll have to work harder if they want to bring home the bacon, having been bamboozled by the wind at the Serie B wannabe FMG stadium, probably the first A-League fixture to be played on a Stock Car track:
It's like Wellington Phoenix were banished to Palmerson North as punishment for picking up the tag of 'bad boys' of the A-League. And in Palmerston North they suffered the interminable winds of damnation. Unable to clear their lines they conceded an early penalty, expertly dispatched by the Dante-esque Steve Corica, all age and guile. It proved the difference, eventually scuttled 1-0 by a more aggressive and more creative Sydney FC. The 'Bling' must have been wondering where the hell they were, and what they had done to deserve such a rural exile. It's a far cry from the cosmoplitan cool of Sydney -the biting wind and fierce sun seemed to burn a red stamp on each Sydneysider's neck, as if to remind them of their time in footballing purgatory with those sinners from across the ditch. Alex Brosque, in particular, had a neck which shone as red as the Tararua Ranges at sundown.

Before this game Sydney had a fine disciplanary record but they seemed to let the wind and sun get to them. In a classic case of commentators curse Fred De Jong put the clappers on Sydney, noting their exemplary disciplinary record compared to the errant Phoenix- within a minute Colosimo was shown a red card for a reckless lunge, and the last ten minutes was littered with yellow cards for time wasting as Sydney looked to kill off the game.

So at least Sydney got the points from their weekend away in purgatoty, while a becalmed Nix keep hovering about in limbo.

Capital Football 4- Waikato -Bay of Plenty 1 (Women's National League Semifinal)

The following day I took a drive out to yet another P-Town to watch the local ladies representative side take on Waikato-Bay of Plenty in very gusty conditions at Memorial Park, Petone. Compared to the Nix game it was a much more entertaining spectacle, and a clinic in playing with the wind. Capital Football are flush with national team stars such as Aroon Clansey, Hannah Wall and Renee Leota, as well as up and coming youngsters like Sandy Cumpstone (from my own club Wgtn Utd) and Amanda Rasch. It was a nervy, and not very pretty, first half (much like the Nix v Sydney game) as both sides battled for territory and tried to read the wind. But the second half sprung to life as the Capital showed a smarter hand, stringing short passes together and running the ball upfield as a unit. The Waikato keeper's poor handling and judgement in the swirling wind was exposed as the yellow strikers followed up spilled shots to punish her with two quick second half goals. A 30 yard screamer with the wind at her back saw Sarah MacLauchlin put Waikato back in the frame, but substitute Hannah Wall's fresh legs created havoc for the Waikato defence and Capital Football put the game to bed with two late goals. The Capital women now face a rematch of last year's final against Auckland up in Pukekohe.

Funnily enough I saw Peter McDonald at a family cycling event that morning and told him the game was on, knowing he likes covering sports events in the Hutt Valley. I emailed him today and he sent me these pics for this blog. What a champ!

Auckland City 0- Atlante 3

Oh and Auckland City's fairytale run in the Club World Cup came to an abrupt halt at the feet of the mythical sounding Atlante from Mexico. It was always going to be a tough ask for the amateurs of 'Shop Assistants FC' to maintain their momentum, what with worrying how Granville was getting on back at shop. They still have a play off for 5/6 place against the incredibly named Tout-Puissant Mazembe Englebert from the Congo.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Yet another little karmic kickback for me from the footballing gods via this Blog. A supporter who took a panorama of the stadium during the All Whites vs. Bahrain game posted his pic on the Yellow Fever forum with the intention of selling prints to fans. It transpired that Welly_Phoenix's (as he calls himself on the forum) original image included photos that he didn't hold the copyright for. But after Welly_Phoenix read my blog post about photographer Peter McDonald I put him in touch with Peter and they came to some arrangement to use those pics in his updated print. This is now being sold via the Yellow Fever home page.

Punters who have purchased it have said it's a lot better momento than the NZ Football produced 'One Shot for Glory' team photo, which was promoted as a publicity stunt to drive ticket sales for the Bahrain game. This was touted as the biggest team photo in the world, where the crowd at the Westpac Stadium would be photographed as if they were posing in the All Whites' team photo. Here it is from a TV screen shot:

It was a nice idea in theory, but in reality the curvature of the stadium made it difficult for the designers to present it in an appropriate scale. Plus it was almost two weeks before a version was produced for the public to view, which is an aeon in the timeframes of modern media. The designers must have had some wicked kind of hangover after the Victory Party on November 14th!

In the end NZ Football wisely decided to give it away free as a poster in the newspaper, since its expected impact was diminished, and as a thank you to the fans who helped spur the All Whites on to the World Cup.

Luckily the Fever fan designed Panorama has filled the spot and makes a nice little christmas present.I get no sales commission from this plug (honest!) just a warm glow from the sense that I am doing my bit in keeping the footie fire alive.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Jaffas roll Al-Ahli

Absolutely magic result at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates overnight. NZFC side Auckland City has rolled out 2-0 winners over hometown heroes Al-Ahli.

Hot on the heels of the All White's WC qualification, this inaugural win at the Club World Cup is another shot in the arm for the local game, netting Auckland City a cool $1 million pay out and earning them a crack at Mexican champs Atlante.

(It is not necesarily good news for Team Wellington's bid to trim back the Auckland club football hegemony however-but I digress)

What I particularly like about this win was that, on the highlights at least, it didn't seem like an ugly, backs to the wall, last minute scramble type of win.

A class cross and tidy finish by Adam Dickinson at the end of the first half, followed by a wonder strike by Chad Coombes that would be at home in a Christiano Ronaldo highlights reel means that ACFC won with a certain amount of class- something that NZ teams have been criticised as lacking in the past.

But play of the match for me was not the Coombes' goal itself, rather fellow scorer Dickinson's instinctive duck under Coombes' cannonball, seen at 55 secs on the following video. The shot was heading straight for him and he reacted smartly to avoid it. I think the appropriate headline is:

Dickinson's Duck Saves Auckland's Golden Goose!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

England's taking it Easy

The English are typically cocky after their supposedly soft draw has given them a milk run to the World Cup Final next July. This newspaper headline says it all- it's a dream draw; a doddle; dead 'EASY.'

Now, those who were paying attention in third form English class will notice that this headline is an acrostic poem.

I seem to recall having to do first name acrostics at the beginning of each school year. Each letter was supposed to be a representation of the writer's true persona. As the years progressed the words chosen would illuminate the inner turmoil of the youthful poet. For example an optimistic 11 year old Garry might be:

R-eally good at soccer!

But by age 15 poor Garry has realised the true tragic awfulness of this mortal coil and now describes himself as:

G-othic prince
R-eally, really angry and my
R-retarded heart knows no love
y-oung of years, but old of soul.

Thankfully at 16 Garry discovers girls and the would-be Byron spares the world another awful acrostic outpouring.

So I always thought the acrostic was the last refuge for the unpoetic to shine a glimmer of creativity over a career destined for the prosaic wilderness of the wrecker's yard. There is something terribly simplistic and naive about this form of poetry-much like The Sun's A for Awesome effort.


Should England really be so confident? Slovenia are no slouches, trumping perennial World Cup qualifiers the Czechs and Poland in qualifying. Even mighty England has been made to look like a clown when dealing with Poland in past qualifiers.

Algeria booked their tickets to South Africa by beating the African champions Egypt in a pressure cooker atmosphere that would have surely pushed England's pampered millionaires to their limits:

And as for Team USA, soccer is less and less a novelty sport in the land of the free throw, and after a very credible performance at this year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, England would be wise to be wary. We all know what happened the last time England underestimated USA in a World Cup match.

EASY? The Sun's having a larf Garry.

I thought I'd take a look at NZL's group and compose an acrostic headline from the point of view of the Italian tabloids:

A-otearoa-New Zealand

"It's a PISA piss mate!"

Do you have any more suggestions for World Cup group acrostics? Alternative epithets for countries names (i.e. Aotearoa/New Zealand) are allowed.

While you are pondering this poetic puzzler here is a vid* for your enjoyment. It is taken from FIFA's (actually rather good) magazine show Futbol Mundial. Wellington looks gorgeous throughout, despite the fact that the water in the surf shots would be absolutely freezing.

*'Its all about me alert':

When John Adshead picks up the Dominion Post at 2 minutes 10- the back page photo shows me and some of the Yellow Fever boys before the game, as also shown here.

The Bahraini team are training at my local, Newtown Park, as profiled here. Should have spent more time practising penalties...

Saturday, December 5, 2009


In an extravanganza featuring contemporary and traditional african dancers, South African world music star Johnny Clegg, and African sports stars such as Makhaya Ntini, Haile Gebreselassie and, erm, David Beckham, the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup this morning in Capetown.

Here's the song Johnny Clegg did live at the show for you to listen to while you read the rest of this post. I'm not really a fan of Clegg but I thought this was quite catchy, and 'the Scatterlings of Africa' is a nice poetic phrase:

Here is the full draw for South Africa 2010:

For New Zealand Group F will be tough, but as rank outsiders every group looks tough. The top seed in Group F is Italy, and they are the current World Champions. It is unlikely we will ambush them like we did in the 2009 Confederation's Cup warm up match when New Zealand took the lead an incredible three times over Italy before sanity was restored and Italy stumbled home 4-3 winners. The circumstances will be quite different next time we meet.
Paraguay finished third in South American qualifying, racking up wins over Brazil and Argentina. Slovakia finished top of UEFA Group 3, knocking out their former siamese twin and past-powerhouse Czech Republic in the process.

Which group will pick up the inevitable Group of Death tag? On face value it has to be either Group B or Group G. Group G has the mouth watering colonial battle between Brazil and Portugal, dark horse Cote d'Ivoire and complete unknowns North Korea. Group B has African aristocrats Nigeria, the unpredictable Greece, workhorse South Korea and the always competitive Argentina. I also think Australia got a very tough draw in Group D. It could be the turn of the Black Stars of Ghana to shine into the quarter-finals, and Germany are always there at the business end of a FIFA World Cup.

The draw ceremony itself was good fun and made for great television with some hugely (unintentional) comical moments. Draw assistant Charlize Theron was doing her utmost to wind up FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, undercutting the pomposity of the ceremony with faux-naive freestyles and stage whispers. The tension between the two was palpable, FIFA brass obviously worried that Charlize was going to turn into a rampaging mad-libbing monster on them, and pull another stunt like pretending to draw out 'Ireland' from the bowl as she did in the rehearsal.

The loudest guffaw was reserved for poor old confused Sepp Blatter who forgot where the first game was being played and had to have the host, Carol Manana, remind him. For the amount of money he's paid you'd expect him to be completely savvy about his product.

It was a far cry from the last time New Zealand was at a draw ceremony. Apparently the 1982 draw in Spain was thrown into a complete farce when a revolting machine spat the balls all over the floor. This stressed out the FIFA staff, who in turn made the poor Spanish kids, who were roped in to provide the cute factor, cry.
The 2009 version ran like clockwork- micro managed down to the last detail by a legion of FIFA event underlings.

After watching the draw on TV, Miro and I went down to the launch of the official World Cup ball at a sports store in Central Wellington.It was a fairly strange event with a little portable pitch set up inside the store- of course Miro wanted to get on and strut his stuff but there seemed to be some sort of Kid's skills competetion going on to promote Ricki Herbert's new Football Academy. Ricki Herbert was there signing shirts and balls, and he seemed pretty relaxed after the draw. He was constantly taking calls from his assistant Brian Turner, who was at the draw over in SA, and the media looking for a soundbite or two.

The Jabulani ball (An Isizulu word meaning to celebrate) looks as plastic as ten dollar ball from a discount toy store, but I bet it handles like a dream. I would dearly love to take one to the park for a punt or two. Retailing at $200 plus NZD and with only 500 in the country I doubt that I'll be kicking one around Martin Luckie Park anytime soon.

I bought Miro a mini Jabulani ball for xmas, and got Ricki to sign it. It is the perfect size for his little feet to dribble:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gone to Pot

The world has gone to pot.*

The 32 (ahem) best football teams in teh wohle world now know who they may come up against at South Africa 2010. Herr Sepp, the great curator, has seeded the top 8 World Cup qualifiers into 'pot' one and allocated the rest into the 3 other pots.

The gardening metaphor of pots and seed is worth exploring.
Pot one is for Sepp's treasured fruit trees- the 8 teams which will bear the coveted summer fruit of South Africa 2010; flowering, blossoming and bringing the honey bees of world media attention to the garden:

Pot one (Current Fifa rankings in brackets)

South Africa (85), Brazil (1), Spain (2) The Netherlands (3), Italy (4), Germany (5),Argentina (6), England (7)

The remaining pots are comprised of the deciduous bric a bracken, the garden's hedging and borders; unlikely to win awards but neccessary to make the flowers and fruit stand out and be noticed.

Some, like Nigeria and Cameroun, are the exotic detailing- tolerated for the colour they bring, but hardly sustenance worthy of being included in the garden's autumnal harvest. Others like New Zealand, Honduras and North Korea are the cute little bonsai- cultivated to a point and then clipped, pruned and set aside as curiosity pieces. Hopefully dusted off and shown a little care and compassion once the great garden show is over.
When the pots were announced the biggest intake of collective breath was reserved for the decision to drop France down to the unseeded pots- not as a karmic kick in the nuts for the Henry affair, but as just rewards for their recent poor form, proving that a Grenouille's green thumb does not guarantee perpetual verdancy in Sepp's magic garden.

Following FIFA's own procedures I made my own mock draw, using an online Excel tutorial to randomly order the 32 teams. As time-unworthy as this excerise was, much like pissing on a lemon tree in a howling southerly, it was a bit of fun. I can tell you that according to my draw New Zealand would be grouped with the Netherlands, France and Chile. Extending my gardening metaphor a little I can also say that if that was the scenario NZ would be mere fertiliser for the Oranjeboom,the Chile plant and the Fleur de Lys.

(For my friends over the ditch, according to my most unscientific draw, Australia ended up with Algeria, Serbia and England. How do you like them Apples?)

*The phrase gone to pot is actually not associated with gardening nor recreational drugs. It is in fact from the industrial revolution when defunct parts were tossed back into the smelting pot to start their time again. Oh cruel fate which tossed Ireland, Bahrain, Bosnia, Egypt et al unceremoniously back into that bubbling pot.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action...

, as every parent should know, is a particularly catchy tune by Ocker supergroup The Wiggles.

But the phrase has been misappropriated by that other World Media Super Power FIFA to describe the lighting of lamps along Adderley Street in Downtown Capetown, as they gear up towards the wiggly circus that is the FIFA World Cup draw.

Ah! I'm salivating at the merest thought of the hooplah, the pageantry, and the orchestrated litany of pre-ordained catastrophe that is a World Cup Draw.

Meanwhile the bunfighting over the yet to be divvied up 2018 World Cup has begun. As evidenced by this article in the Sunday Star Times. Quite apart from generating some predictably negative and parochial in-fighting based around which region has the better stadium (Auckland or Wellington), or the massive questions around inter-confederational co-hosting, this story has all the hall marks of a 'counting chickens before they fully cross the goal line' scenario. Yes it would be a dream come true to host a group, or even a game, in Aotearoa but Aussie has to win the bid first and most likely won't be using the co-hosting angle as a point of difference.

My personal view is that actual competition games would be a long shot, but the more likely hosting of pre-tournament trainings, friendlies and the associated media junkets means that NZ would be likely to get a piece of the action.

Meanwhile I keep telling my son that next year he will be sitting on daddy's lap while we both enjoy the spectacle of the world's best entertainers in action, resplendent in their traditional, representative colours.

Unfortunately, I think he thinks I mean this.

Ah well, if you can't beat em- join em. Enjoy: