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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tangerine Dreaming

This may have been lost in all the pre-World Cup hysteria but a grand old club of the English game has made it back into the top flight for the first time since 1971; Blackpool FC have been promoted to the English Premier League after beating Cardiff City in a scintillating Wembley play-off last weekend.

The Seasiders were the club of the legendary Stanley Matthews , the Wizard of Dribble, and have a long, proud, history.

Having admitted some time ago that I don't follow a team in the EPL I'll defintely be keeping an eye on the results of Blackpool FC. Like my own club Wellington United they play in a luminous orange which shines like a beacon in the cold winter sun; and provides a great dash of colour on the terraces.

They are truly an underdog success story, and they'll be a commentator's dream, with such set ups as 'Blackpool rock the Premiership' and 'the Blackpool defender towers above the striker,' and 'what a Rollercoaster return for the Seasiders!'

Their current manager, Ian Holloway, has achieved a minor miracle getting them back to the top flight. He is good value for commentators as well, his no-nonsense approach and his honesty makes his press conferences an entertaining string of sweary sound bites, social commentary and non-sequiturs!

So despite their monochromatic name Blackpool will add a dash of colour to the English Premiership; that is if they buck the trend of clubs yo-yoing between the Premiership and the second tier. Cynical supporters of other failed Premiership clubs such as Bradford City, Blackpool's would be 'piers' if you'll humour me, have set up an impromptu supporters club to warn them of the dangers of returning to the big time-It strikes me as a piss-take, but the point is still relevant.

But the Tangerines won't be dreaming about that over Summer, rather they'll be looking forward to entertaining the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and the other, more famous 'Pool at Bloomfield Road next season. Leave them to dream; and let's remember when the Tangerines ruled the green:

New Zealand 1: Serbia 0

New Zealand has won 1-0 overnight against Serbia in a World Cup warm up match in Austria.

A well taken Shane Smeltz goal after 22 minutes sealed the deal, and although there were some nervous moments in Paston's goal the All Whites continued to attack and had plenty of chances themselves.

The Serbian fans who had trekked to Austria for the game were justifiably pissed off, repeatedly barraging the field with red flares. This lead to the most unusual sight of the Serbian captain Vidic trying to calm the crowd using the stadium's PA system!

Make no mistake, this is a huge moment for New Zealand Football. Yes, Serbia were without a couple of their stars, but New Zealand were without starting Midfielder Tim Brown, and Striker Chris Killen. Serbia, ranked 15th in the World, are tipped as a dark horse for the World Cup. They are pooled with Germany, Australia, and Ghana in one of the toughest groups, and are expected to progress to the second round- this expectation may need to be rexamined after being beaten by a side 63 places below them!

This is a magnificent confidence boost for the All Whites and goes a long way to justifying their place at the World Cup table.

In honour of the win here is the Yellow Fever's nutty All Whites tribute song 'BBQ', shot on the wonderful Wellington Waterfront:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

1986 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Three
Mexico 1986 was the third World Cup which took place with me on the planet, but it was still another four years until this event fully registered in my mind. But this was the first World cup which I knew was on.

I was still very much an oval ball 10 year old- I played Rugby for Kahukura RFC on Saturdays and League for Central RLFC on Sundays. This was unusual since you tended to play one or the other, even more unusual given that I was a lanky white kid with no special talent for either code. I played full back, not for my running skills, more that the ball never really made it that far, and thats where I'd do the least damage!

It was the very fact that I played so much rugby/league that I would always go in goal whenever Soccer did break out in the playground, and in 1986 it started breaking out more than ever, like the first scarlet blossom of acne on the untainted chin of youth; looking back I blame the Mexico World Cup.

It was in one such game that I pulled off a scorpio-kick save, 9 years before Rene Higuita. I kid you not, this manoeuvre was the talk of my school- a shot was fired over my head and I reacted too late to save with my hands, instead I managed to curl my legs over my head like a whale arcing its flukes as it dives, the ball struck the back of my legs and bounced into my hands as I hit the ground. A fluke yes, but it was my fluke.

But I digress, Mexico 1986 was still a mere blip on my football radar, except for one thing. Whenever anyone cheated or pushed the laws of the game they'd earn a nickname that echoed the racist sentiment of the argie bargie of the Falklands 'war'.

The name Maradona became a mysteriously charged synomoym for mercury and guile. For me its proximity to the equally charged word Madonna, she of the similarly quixotic gyrations, meant it was as erotic as it was exotic- an 'other' word, an alien puzzle to beguile a pre-adolescent.

Plus the addition of those two letters 'Ra' in the already imprinted moniker Madonna meant that the unintentional invocation of the Egyptian, and Maori, Sun Gods (both known as Ra) was a fitting tribute to the image of the man hinself, tiwsting and turning, in the Azteca stadium against England, as the Aztec Sun god himself shone a brilliant shadow on the pitch. Magical.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All Whites Lose to Socceroos

Australia defeated New Zealand 2-1 at the MCG last night. Brett Holman slipped in at the far post in the last minute, the All Whites let down by a moments lapse in concentration as they contemplated the Bourke Street nightlife and a post match pot or two of well earned Coopers Sparkling Ale.

Despite the result there was still plenty to be excited about as a NZ football fan last night...and plenty left to ponder.

The Australian reaction was mixed, of course the fans at the 'G celebrated at the final whistle as though they'd just downed Brazil- this was their final farewell to their heroes and Holman had saved Pim Verbeeks blushes. But the Ocker Bloggers and Commentators had a more sober view the next day, this was a poor Australian performance on the whole, made even more ugly by Vince Grella's two footed lunge and Tim Cahill's flying feet, both fouls on the battle-scarred Leo Bertos. These were desperate acts from a team not expecting such a fight in a carefully stage managed 'friendly." To Verbeek's credit he said as much, denouncing Grella and Cahill for their poor challenges.

Bertos got off with just a few scrapes but Tim Brown fractured his shoulder in an awkward fall. He has flown back to Auckland for treatment, here's hoping it doesn't destroy his dream of playing in the World Cup.

I was impressed at how composed the All Whites looked, calmly playing out of the back and patiently building up attacks. New Zealand were the better team in the first half, and fully deserved the lead at the break, courtesy of a Chris Killen goal set up by the influential Simon Elliott. It was only in the second half, once key play makers Bertos and Brown had been kicked and rucked out of the game, and the subs started to flow that the Kiwis resorted to the more traditional Route One style. This gave Australia more time with the ball and their superior world ranking eventually began to show.

While none of Australia or New Zealand's South Africa Pool mates will be quaking at the performances on display the result would start to deflect some of the criticism from sceptics who think New Zealand's appearance at the World Cup Finals is cause for much mirth and merrymaking.

There is still a long road until credbility is reached, but last night was a good start.

Finally I must admit some minor Fortean culpability for the loss, tempting fate with a 92nd minute text to a mate watching in a Pub- no sooner had I pressed send on my text, conveying that I thought a 'draw was a fair result,' than the decisive cross was met by Holman, instant chaos theory at its most lethal.

I am sorry All Whites, this was as much a warm up for us fans as it was for the players- I won't be tempting fate come June 15th by trying to preempt the score via text before the final whistle.

For those who may have missed it, here are the highlights:

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Blind Date with Destiny

It is a Crowded House in Melbourne tonight, as Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek and All Whites Gaffer Ricki Herbert lay their cards on the table in the first transtasman football match in five years, a 'friendly' warm up for the World Cup Finals. Apart from the 60,000 or so fans at the MCG and the hundreds of thousands watching across Australia and Enzed this game will be appointment viewing in Paraguay, Serbia, Ghana, Germany, Slovakia, the distant lands which got drawn in the same pools as the Anzacs back in December

It is only when you consider this fact that you realise how big the World Cup is for New Zealand sport, the World Cup, a world event in deed as in name.

There is probably not much that Serbia, Ghana and Germany wouldn't already know about Australia, but New Zealand's foes are probably a bit more in the dark about the team from football's hinterland since we have been international wallflowers for many years. The reclusive North Koreans are probably the only other World Cup team with more mystique than New Zealand.

For us minnows the World Cup is indeed a blind date with destiny. A date that starts tonight with us courting our old suitors Australia- and I do mean old. As Ryan Nelsen pointed out its practically a may-to december romance, Austalia's golden generation of premiership stars will probably not be in action Four years time, but Fallon, Smeltz, Moss, Reid, Smith and Co. will be hitting their straps in 2014.

So tonight is as good a measure as any ahead of the World Cup as to how far New Zealand has come, and how far we have to go.

Some have called Herbert's plan to field the same starting 11 which lined up against Bahrain in Manamana as unadventeruous. But tonight is not a time for risk taking, it is a chance to consolidate the partnerships across the park, a chance to test our best against a very capable opponent in an intense caldera of rivalry. Besides, with a relaxed policy towards substitutes in this Fifa canctioned friendly Herbert has plenty of scope to blood his newbies, Aaron Clapham, Winston Reid and Tommy Smith.

So with just over 2 hours to kick off tension is building in the streets of Melbourne, as much in the lounges and pubs of Wellington. Are they fretting as much in Ascuncion, Berlin or Accra? We'll see in 4 hours time.

To get us across the line here is the great transtasman cultural collaboration with a song dedicated to those going a little bit stir crazy: