Thursday, September 20, 2012

A documentary about Lebanese Football

The following documentary was directed by Roy Arida in 2010. Despite it being shot back then, I think we can all agree that not much has changed. Thankfully these days the Lebanese National Team has suddenly become the focus of attention and the fans are, somewhat, being allowed back into stadiums.

The poor state of affairs in Lebanese Football still exists. Politics and religion are still hugely involved in the sport which is supposed to unite people from all over the world, rather than divide them.

For some reason, I can't post the video as a link here so you're going to have to...


(it's in Arabic and subtitles are in French)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Real Madrid trail Barcelona by 8 points after Round 4 of La Liga.

(The following post was written by The Rocky Bracket who'll be hopefully contributing on a regular basis to the blog).

Jornada 4.
8 PM. Getafe – Barcelona. Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. MESSI IS BENCHED.

Getafe are one of those “I’m from Madrid too” teams, the minnows from the capital that you don’t hear much about - not very strange considering they are constantly overshadowed by their 9-time-European-champion neighbors.  They’re a team whose standard position revolves around the mid table. Net spent in summer transfer? €5.4m (Barcelona’s was €33m). Now €5.4m is a hefty amount for a team that usually relies on free transfers and loans (mostly Madrid’s leftovers), and shipping their best players outside the Coliseum to survive financially.
What was their average attendance in 2011-2012 you ask? Below 10,000 fans. If you’ve watched La Liga the last couple of seasons, you’d definitely remember them for donning those really big Burger King logos on their kits – their sponsors. Getafe are supposed to be… you know, average. Except, they’re not.
Los Azulones have that uncanny tendency of making the Big Two drop vital points, in a league where draws are the new defeats and losses are … well, tragedies. Getafe beat Barcelona 1-0 at home last season (one of the Catalans’ only 2 defeats on the road) and Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabéu a couple of weeks ago.

The Catalans were expected to struggle against a side that is happy to drop deep for extended periods of time and try to score on the counter. Tito did the unthinkable and benched (!) Messi. Taking his position as a false nine was Fabregas. Reasons behind that decision range from easing Fabregas’ - lately very public - concerns, to containing the ever present FIFA virus by introducing the concept of “Rotations”, a concept unknown to the Camp Nou during the Pep era.

Barcelona dominated from the start but didn’t really get going until Messi was brought on for Thiago in the 58th min. The first goal came courtesy of an Adriano - Adriano! - shot, assisted by Fabregas. Messi still scored a brace. Villa was brought on in with 25 mins left on the clock and scored as well. Getafe had a couple of decent chances, but netted only one, via a deflection off Mascherano. Final score: Getafe 1 - Barcelona 4.

Normal service resumed in La Liga, right? Wrong!

10 PM. Sevilla - Real Madrid. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. 2nd min: LOS BLANCOS DOWN 1-0

And the score would remain the same until the final whistle. In the words of the ever-brilliant Tim Stannard “Does anyone remember the opposition when Real Madrid lose a game? […] Sevilla put in the kind of hard-working, sleeves-rolled up, professional performance against Real Madrid on Saturday that the side has consistently failed to do for the past couple of seasons”. In this writer’s opinion, hard-working, sleeves-rolled doesn’t do them justice. The Andalusians’ performance was aggressive and intense. They ran up and down the pitch as if they were possessed.

For those of you who are not avid followers of the Spanish league, Sevilla were a force to be reckoned with a while back. Their most recent titles include: Copa Del Rey Champions (2006/07 - 2009/10), Spanish Supercup Champions (2007), UEFA cup/ UEFA Europa League Champions (2005/06 - 2006/07) and UEFA Super Cup Champions (2006). The Sevilla teams that won those trophies had an impressive array of players, including Brazilians Luis Fabiano, Renato, Dani Alves, Javi Navarro, and one of the most respected figures at the club, a player Sid Lowe called “probably the best signing in the club's history”, Malian Frederic Kanoute - Freddie who, at 35 and after 7 years in Sevilla, left the club this summer for pastures new in China.  

Los Rojiblancos’ league positions in 2010/11 and 2011/12 were 7th and 9th however. Their last two encounters with Madrid at home both ended with Real steamrolling the Sevillistas 6 -2. Sevilla today may not be as “sexy” as they once were, but they boast a number of exciting names, like underrated player Jesus Navas, Real Madrid outcast Alvaro Negredo, goalkeeper Palop (38 years old and still going strong) and a number of new additions like Rakitic, Perotti, Medel and Cicinho.

Back to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán then and in the 2nd minute Trochowski’s strike puts the hosts up by a goal. Yes, Madrid’s display was awful, but take nothing away from the Andalusians’ performance; Sevilla had a plan and they stuck to it. They isolated Xabi Alonso and took advantage of defensive mistakes in set-pieces. As one blogger put it, “Real Madrid were physically “mourinho-ed by Sevilla”. Tempers flared and Los Blancos were lucky to finish the game with 11 men on the pitch - here’s looking at you Higuain and Di Maria.

12 PM. Final whistle in Sevilla. Final score 1-0. Los Rojiblancos walk away with 3 fully deserved points.
And then, there were 8. Alright then, time for genuine crisis mode in the Capital.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The referees should strike back

When was the last time you saw a referee intimidate a player? I think we can all answer that with one name: Pierluigi Collina. He was probably the greatest referee the game has ever seen. He was recognized all around the world because of his bald head and vicious big blue eyes. But apart from him, we've never seen referees stand their ground in front of the egotistical footballers that flood the sport. Not only was Collina's decision making perfect, but his physical presence meant that players automatically respected him because they feared him - a trait that all the referees are lacking today.

Referees have always been, and will always be, the victims of players and fans abuse.

However, when the reverse question is asked, when was the last time you saw a player intimidate a referee? The answer is pretty simple. You get that at every game. Players and fans hurling disgusting terms at the referee, expecting him to order all of their demands, is probably the most common thing in football these days. Will this ever change?

It could. But it could take drastic measures for that to happen. Something that FIFA, UEFA and all other authorities wouldn't want. There's been this campaign of "respect" over the past few years that all the players seem to promote within certain leagues. These same players, their managers and teams are all happy to smile in pictures holding up the "respect" sign, but when it comes down to it, they never seem to apply any sort of respect to any referees...ever. There's a general feeling that the referees are so fearful of some players and fans that they want to get on the good side of some of the egos in the game by favoring them when it comes to questionable fouls and by continuously trying to calm them down when they lose their tempers, instead of booking them for dissent.

So what's the answer then? Can referees ever have more control? Should they have more power? Will players ever truly respect the referees?

I've always been a strong believer of fighting fire with fire on the pitch, and the same goes for the referees. Why don't referees ever shout back at the players and insult them in the same way they get insulted? When players like John Terry and Wayne Rooney are screaming their lungs out in the referees' faces calling them words that would make a dictionary author look on with awe, can you imagine how great it would be if a referee hurled the insult back at the player? Just imagine the authority that would give the referee. Referees should be allowed to answer back and be aggressive. Referees should go head to head with the players because they have the authority and not the other way round.

Referees in football always seem to be men in their thirties and above, men with beer bellies, a lack of hair, and particularly people that seem to be easily intimidated. Imagine having a muscular, twenty-something year old, with the same athletic body as any professional sportsman, a bloody massive ego and being the man carrying the cards around. Pretty sure that, with those characteristics alone, he would be far more respected. On top of that, if the referees were able to answer back to the players, with no limits, it would make their jobs pretty easy. You'd see a lot more disciplined players in football, I'm sure. So what I'd say is - bring on the young, muscular, arrogant, referees. That'll teach the players a lesson or two about respect. That's the only way forward.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Truth about Hillsborough

(The following post was written by Liverpool fan Antoine Choueiri)

It's a rare, sunny April morning in the North of England, and Jon-Paul, a 10-year old Scouser, is already up since dawn, constantly making sure the ticket that's been on the dinner table for weeks is still there. Nine o'clock and the songs have started, he's on the coach with family and friends, on the way to watch his beloved Liverpool play in yet another semi-final, with Nottingham Forest the only obstacle between them and Wembley. The journey's taking hours, as he's daydreaming about Beardsley's skills, Aldo's goals, and getting his parents' authorization to go to Wembley in May, so confident the Reds would beat Forest again.

For the second year running, 28,000 tickets have gone to Nottingham Forest, whose average attendance is 20,000 and 24,000 to Liverpool who filled Anfield up every week. The FA have even ignored the letter Peter Robinson (then Liverpool Chief Executive) sent appealing to them not to put Liverpool fans in the Leppings Lane End again.

It's getting nearer to kick-off, and the fans who had tickets in the Leppings Lane are still waiting to be let into the terrace. Stewards have abandoned their posts, and the police have lost control.

As soon as the main gate is opened, nearly two thousands fans pour in, through two central pens, making sure they're not missing kick-off. But the police won't close the gate. Thousands of other fans are still slowly trying to make their way to the ground, moving closer to their fate and having no clue about the mass of people that are packed so tightly some have already been asphyxiated and those at the front are having their heads crushed against the metal fence.

At six past three, a crash barrier stumbles. Some fans have already made their way to safety on the pitch, and the referee sends both teams to the dressing rooms. As the red tide grows tighter and tighter, the number of victims is increasing, while fans are helping each other out of this mayhem. There are unconscious corpses, grown men crying, and children screaming, looking for their parents. The police forces and their dogs, standing in front of the Forest fans, would only let a couple of ambulances into the ground after thirty minutes, while dozens are waiting outside. On the pitch, heroes in scarves are helplessly trying to revive friends, family, or strangers, begging for help to the coppers, while others are using advertising boards to carry the corpses to the exit.

Back on the coach, everyone is so shocked you could barely say a word. On the streets, people are crying, hugging each other or just howling in agony and anger. But there, in the middle of the coach and next to a window, is an empty seat.

It was Jon-Paul's.

There were 96 empty seats that day. 96 friends who went to a football match and never came home. And Jon-Paul, Steven Gerrard's cousin, was the youngest of them all. For the first and last time, Bill Shankly was proved wrong ; there are things that are just bigger than football.

But that was just the first round of pain. The families of the 96 had their sons killed once again when the national media blamed the Liverpool fans for killing their own, spreading out lies and anti-Scouse propaganda. Kelvin McKenzie, then at The Sun, published the infamous headline THE TRUTH, saying that Liverpool fans robbed their own, pissed on dead bodies and beat police officers up. The government, the FA and the South-Yorkshire police conspired in one of the biggest cover-ups in British history, a God-sent opportunity for Thatcher's secret plan of destroying Liverpool. For 23 years, the world has thought that Hillsborough had happened because of the disruptive behavior of drunken, ticket-less Liverpool supporters. For 23 years, the people of Liverpool have had to live with mockery, cliches and lack of respect to their dead, and the families were living in pain. And it was about time that changed.

After 23 years of protest, struggle and cry for Justice, the government, the FA, Sheffield Wednesday, South-Yorkshire Police and the rest of the country have officially and publicly apologized to the families and the people of Liverpool, but only after the release of documents that proves the total innocence of the Liverpool fans, blames the police and lack of organization for the disaster, and condemns the government and media for the lies they've been making up for two decades.
The documents also state that a shocking number of 41 lives could have been saved had the police allowed the medics into the ground on time. Hillsborough was the reason behind the abolishment of the standing areas in football stadiums, and 96 innocents men, women and children had to pay the price for the safe, middle-class football experience tourists enjoy today.

The thing is, Hillsborough was an accident waiting to happen, and it could have happened with fans of any club.

96 dead, over 700 injured, many suicides, and thousands of mentally scarred.

That is THE TRUTH.

Now, JUSTICE awaits.