Berwick Rangers’ Ambition Shown In Salvesen Switch

The decision taken by Berwick Rangers to relocate their training venue from Meadowmill, near Prestonpans, to Forrester High School in Edinburgh has sparked a huge debate in the local area as to which direction the club are heading in.

Some have argued that moving 18 miles around the Edinburgh City bypass will cut off all ties between the club and the local community and seriously hinder the development of youth football in the town and its surrounding area. However, the positive factors of the switch completely outweigh the negatives.

For starters, Forrester High School is the home to Edinburgh outfit Salvesen Boys Club, who by all accounts are a well-structured youth side with access to numerous all-weather pitches. For too many years now, Berwick’s youth system has faltered due to constant changes behind the scenes so it makes complete sense to link up with Salvesen, who have a proven track record for bringing through players, notably Lee Wallace, who progressed to Hearts and then onto Rangers. He has also been capped by Scotland.

Ian Little: Manager of the Month, November 2011.

Most of Berwick’s current players live in the Edinburgh area so moving the training to the city makes sense geographically also. Coming back to Berwick after years of training just outside Edinburgh could simply not be an option due to the lack of facilities in the town and the fact that players would be reluctant to play for a club in which they would have to make a 120-mile round trip twice a week for training and once on a matchday. One quote in particular in the local paper last week caught the attention. It said, “It is now effectively an Edinburgh club playing in Berwick.” In that case, before the switch, were Berwick a Prestonpans club playing in the town?

Obviously, in an ideal world, Berwick would love to have a team with local players in, but there just isn’t the wealth of talent in the area to make it possible for the club to warrant moving training back down to the town and building a squad from there. If Berwick did have a team with mostly local players in, they wouldn’t be a match for most Third Division sides and what do you think the fans would prefer, a Berwick side with locally based players getting beat most weeks or an ambitious side filled with players mostly from the Edinburgh area vying for promotion? Even so, a few local players have had the opportunity of going up to train with the first team in the past, but when they’ve been asked, they’ve declined.

The move also allows Berwick’s three teams; the first team, reserves and U19’s to train at the same place, at the same time which they were unable to do at Meadowmill, resulting in the three teams each training separately. It is therefore a very attractive prospect for Berwick manager Ian Little as he will be able to oversee the reserves and U19’s, as well as the first team and assess whether any of the younger players have the ability to progress into the first team squad. It’s also worth noting that there would be no U19 team had it not been for the link-up and this was one of the key reasons behind the switch.

Horn and McNicoll Lifting the 3rd Division Trophy in 2007.

Furthermore, recently the club held an open training session for youngsters at Old Shielfield which was reported to be a huge success. Ninety two budding young footballers turned up and were put through their paces by Berwick players. Of the 92, 80 collected free season tickets given out by the club. If an event such as this could be repeated as little as twice throughout the upcoming season, for example during the Christmas and Easter holidays, then it would go some way of showing that the club does care about young footballers in the town.

All in all, very little has changed and any changes that have occurred have been for the better. After four seasons without reaching the playoffs, the board and manager now seem determined to push on towards promotion as opposed to being bogged down in the lower half of the Third Division. Little will go into the upcoming season on the back of a very promising finish last term and with Robbie Horn continuing on as his assistant and former player Grant McNicoll back at the club offering his experience as reserve team captain, Berwick Rangers fans have every reason to be optimistic about the forthcoming season.

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The Four Strikers Roy Hodgson Should Take To Euro 2012

With Roy Hodgson announcing his England squad for Euro 2012 on Wednesday, it will be very interesting to see who’s in the squad and if there will be any surprise inclusions or omissions. However, as Hodgson wasn’t the media’s favourite for getting the job and there was such scrutiny surrounding his appointment, I’m of the belief that the squad he picks won’t contain too many surprises.

In this post, I’m going to take a look at what has been a problem position for England in major championships for many years now; strikers, and who I think Hodgson should take with him on the plane to Poland and Ukraine.

In England’s last two major tournaments, World Cup’s 2006 and 2010, the strikers only contributed with a goal each in both competitions, Crouch in 2006 and Defoe in 2010, with Rooney’s last goal in a major championship coming at Euro 2004. When comparing this to countries such as Germany and Spain, who are both favourites for this summer’s competition, with strikers such as David Villa, Fernando Torres, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski who have consistently performed at recent tournaments, it’s easy to see why we don’t do as well as our European counterparts.

In a squad of 23, usually only four strikers are picked and our recent performances in major tournaments has shown that it must be very much a case of out with the old and in with the new. This is why, out of the four strikers I’d pick, three of them have never been to a major tournament at senior level before.

So here goes, my four strikers:

1. Wayne Rooney – If it was any other England striker with a two-game ban hanging over them, they simply wouldn’t be going. But an exception has to be made for Rooney. Although his temperament is often questioned, if a World XI team was to be picked right at this moment in time, he’d be the only England player anywhere near the team. The bottom line is, love him or loathe him, he’s England’s best player and with 26 Premier League goals to his name this season for Manchester United, it really is a no-brainer.

2. Danny Welbeck – A team mate of Rooney’s at Man Utd, Welbeck has come on leaps and bounds this season. He’s managed to keep the likes of Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov on the bench which is no mean feat, especially considering that Hernandez impressed hugely last season in what was his first season in English football. Welbeck’s work rate and pace would be a constant thorn in the side of the opposition but whether he plays or is even selected in the squad will undoubtedly be decided on what formation Hodgson has in mind, as the lone front man in a 4-3-3 formation with wingers which was prevalent under Fabio Capello, doesn’t really suit his style of play.

3. Daniel Sturridge – After an incredibly successful loan spell with Bolton during the second half of last season where he scored eight in 12, Sturridge has become a regular in Chelsea’s starting line-up. He was an effective threat coming in off the right flank and in one particular game at Newcastle at the start of the season, he ran the show. Direct running and pace are his main strengths but sometimes is far too greedy with ball, losing it when an easy pass would have been a better option. Sturridge prefers to play down the centre but has had his chances limited in that position due to the presence of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres, but with Rooney sitting out for the first two games, it could be his opportunity to go out and make the place his.

4. Andy Carroll – Now this is the selection that is bound to cause the most debate. After Carroll’s widely documented, wretched season in front of goal, his form has gradually improved and has begun to show (albeit a tiny little bit) why Liverpool splashed out £35million on him. His performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup final was probably one of, if not his best performance in a Liverpool shirt and if he does go to the Euro’s, he’s got his late season performances to thank. England have always liked taking a ‘big man’ to major tournaments and Carroll, with his strong aerial presence and ability to hold the ball up, is now the man for that role.

So there’s my four. Notable omissions include Jermain Defoe, who hasn’t played regularly enough this season to warrant a place in the squad, Peter Crouch, who is now 31 and although he still grabs goal now and then for Stoke, the time has now come for him to make way. Also, Darren Bent. Had Bent been fit and playing all season, he would of probably got in for me over Sturridge or Welbeck as he is a complete goalscorer. However, the ligament injury which curtailed his season has no doubt hampered his chances of a call-up with not much chance of playing time before the tournament kicks off.

Do you agree with the strikers I’ve picked? Let me know by leaving a comment and saying who you think should be going instead!

Crouch v Cisse

Last week, seeing as there were only two games left to go in the season, I somewhat prematurely did a Goal of the Season post thinking that all of the great goals had been scored. Peter Crouch’s control and sensational volley was the winner, but only a solitary vote ahead of Hatem Ben Arfa’s solo goal. It was typical then, that as little as a day after my post, Papiss Cisse and Luka Modric both scored goals that were very much worthy of a place in the top 5.

Cisse’s in particular was, as Gary Neville called it on Monday Night Football last night, outrageous, and if you haven’t had the chance to witness it (highly unlikely) then here it is once more in all its glory.

Not bad at all, eh? It’s worth mentioning though, that his first goal in that game was no tap in either. The ball came to him on the edge of the box, he controlled it by flicking the ball up with his right foot before volleying into the far corner on his left foot.

Before Cisse’s second goal, most people were adamant that no goal could better Crouch’s against Man City. But it has certainly raised discussion between the two goals as to what really is the Goal of the Season. However, although there is still the final round of Premier League fixtures left, surely no goals will be scored on that day to rival those of Crouch and Cisse.. We’ll soon find out..

Goal Of The Season

As it’s getting towards the end of the Premier League season, I thought I’d do a post showing what I think have been the five best goals in the league, so here goes. I’ve no doubt missed some absolute crackers but the five that I’ve picked seem to be the ones that have stuck in my head throughout the season. Make sure you vote for your favourite and I’ll announce the winner at some point next week!

1. Peter Crouch (v Man City) – No matter how many times I watch this video, it still defies belief. It’s a stereotypical Stoke boot up the pitch but what Crouch does when he gets the ball back after flicking the header on is unreal. Superb finish.

 

2. Hatem Ben Arfa (v Bolton) – Incredible individual goal by the Frenchman. Turns magnificently in his own half before striding forward at great pace, brushing off the challenge in midfield before waltzing in between the two Bolton centre-backs to finish coolly. Admittedly the defending isn’t great but when you consider where he picked the ball up from, it’s some effort.

 

3. Luka Modric (v Liverpool) – Such a powerful hit by the diminutive midfielder. The ball breaks perfectly for him on the edge of the area and he sends an unstoppable shot past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal.

 

4. Robin Van Persie (v Everton) – It’d be harsh on Van Persie not to have a goal of his in contention. He’s been comfortably the best striker in the League this season and this was reflected in the PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards that he won. This goal was probably his best of the season, a terrific ball over the top from Alex Song and a low, sweetly-struck volley which gave Tim Howard no chance.

 

5. Ryan Taylor (v Everton) – After throwing the ball in from the left flank, the ball gets headed back out to Taylor, who chests the ball down before unleashing a fantastic strike over Tim Howard and in off the underside of the bar.

 

So, there you have it, my five contenders for goal of the season. If you think I’ve missed out any that were better than the five on here, drop me a comment. If not, vote away for your favourite!

Handball: An Ongoing Saga

When Bayern Munich full-back David Alaba conceded the penalty in the Champions League semi-final which put Real Madrid 1-0 up in  the match, there was a sense of injustice at the decision made by Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai. As Marcelo switched the ball to Angel Di Maria on the right flank, Alaba ran across to the winger and closed him down, only for Di Maria to canon a volley off his supporting arm as he went to ground to block the shot. This resulted in a strong appeal by the Real Madrid players and subsequently, the penalty was awarded.

But was it a penalty though? In football these days, it would seem blatant and although Alaba was dreadfully unlucky, most people would assume that yes, it struck his hand, so therefore, it must be a penalty. However, after looking at FIFA’s Laws of the Game document, my opinion of the decision has changed completely.

In the document it states that:

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into consideration:

  • The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand).
  • The distance betweeen the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball).
  • The position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.

On that basis then, it wasn’t a penalty. How on earth could it be classed as deliberate when Alaba’s arm was supporting his body weight as he went to block the shot?

Now when I think of the term ‘deliberate handball,’ images such as these get conjured up in my head:

Desperate times called for desperate measures

The Hand of God


Suarez? Controversial? Never

Over the past season or two though, it seems as though an increasing number of soft handball calls such as Alaba’s are being given by referees, going against FIFA’s laws. But why?

Referees, as everyone knows, are under pressure with their performances constantly scrutinised by fans, pundits and the media. But in the case of handball decisions, they show a particular weakness in the form of player pressure. In the match, as soon as Alaba handled the ball, five or six Real Madrid players gesticulated to the referee, resulting in the penalty. Now I’m not saying that the referee was influenced by the Madrid players because, to be fair, he came to the decision fairly quickly, but in a growing number of penalties awarded for handball, it seems to be the case.

Players seem to automatically think now that as soon as the ball hits the arm of the opposition in the box, it’s a penalty, regardless of whether the player’s arm is flailing in the air or tight into his body, which surely isn’t right.

Either way, it’s about time the rule gets looked at, otherwise the inconsistencies in decisions are going to continue to linger in the game and referees are slowly going to conform to the players belief of what constitutes a handball. But I suppose to some people that’s just the joys of football. Meanwhile, Alaba will no doubt be overjoyed that the decision didn’t cost Bayern’s progression into the final.

Classic Chris Kamara!

I’ve found that at university I’ll do anything in order to delay doing work. So, I’ve decided to merge my latest method of procrastination – watching classic Gillette Soccer Saturday videos – into a blog post. In particular, at Chris ‘Kammy’ Kamara. The 54-year-old has given the Soccer Saturday panel and viewers many laughs over the years and I’ve tried to round up some of his best moments on the show in this post. Vote for your favourite and sit back and enjoy the great man in action!

1. Fighting Like Beavers!

2. The Ghost Goal

3. Red Card?

4. Papa Bouba Diop – The Man Mountain Himself!

5. Fashion Show

Will Roman Go For Roberto?

Shortly after Roberto Di Matteo got the job as Chelsea’s interim coach until the end of the season, I did a post suggesting that the Italian had nothing to gain other than to enhance his own reputation as there’d be little chance he’d get the job on a permanent basis. But after comprehensively defeating London rivals Tottenham 5-1 in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and with Barcelona to play in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, has Di Matteo shown in his short stint in charge that he can be the one to lead Chelsea back to the glory of the Mourinho days? The decision lies with a certain Russian billionaire.

When it was first announced that Di Matteo had the job until the end of the season, it was met with an acceptance that effectively, Chelsea’s season was over, especially after a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the first leg of the round of 32 in the Champions League. Achieving fourth spot was then the main aim in order to gain Champions League qualification so that a rebuilding process could take place in the summer.

However, in only his third game at the helm, Di Matteo saw his Chelsea side overturn the two-goal deficit inflicted upon them in Naples by winning 4-1 after extra time at Stamford Bridge; cue manic celebrations from Italian. Since then in the competition, Chelsea have knocked out Benfica and now find themselves up against Barcelona in the quarter-finals, a situation no Chelsea fan would’ve imagined they’d be in when Di Matteo took over from Andre Villas-Boas at the beginning of March.

Progression in the FA Cup has been far more straight-forward. Di Matteo guided his side past Championship opposition of Birmingham and Leicester, winning 2-0 and 5-2 respectively, setting up a showdown with Spurs in the semi-final at Wembley. The Blues coasted past their London rivals though, winning 5-1, and will arrive back at Wembley to face Liverpool in the final next month.

While performances in the FA Cup and Champions League have been of the highest quality, if Di Matteo is going to receive any criticism it would be regarding performances in the Premier League. When Di Matteo took over, Chelsea were tied on points with Arsenal who were fourth, they’re now sixth. While Arsenal have kicked on and are now sitting comfortably in third, Spurs are enduring a late season slump and are tied in fourth with Newcastle, who have leapfrogged Chelsea after five straight wins. However, the Blues are only two points behind in the race for that all-important fourth spot though, and with Newcastle to play at Stamford Bridge, they’ll no doubt be fancying themselves to nick the spot.

All in all, Di Matteo has won nine out of his 12 games in charge of Chelsea, losing only once away at Manchester City. Impressive, yes, but is he the big name that Roman Abramovich is striving for?

What do you think Di Matteo has to do in order to become Chelsea’s next permanent manager? Finish 4th, win the Champions League, win the FA Cup, all three? Please, leave a comment with your thoughts.