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Friday, 25 March 2011

Levein The Past Behind

Wonderful experience as it will be to see Scotland play Brazil at the Emirates, there are other subtexts within the national side that are masked somewhat by the occasion. The game itself will be the culmination – the final big lobotomy – of a therapeutic process that has been ongoing since Scotland failed to attack from a 4-6-0 in the Czech Republic and almost failed to win against Liechtenstein at Hampden, preceded, lest we forget, by a failure to convince in Lithuania in the very first game of the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Armbands And Firebrands

"Just do what the fuck you want"

After a couple of weeks of nostalgia and pretending to be grown-ups, we thought it about time we had a good old rant. Wonder what our favourite subjects over at England have been up to? What? WHAT? He made him CAPTAIN? Oh goody...

There’s a certain laissez-faire that can creep in when you know you’re about to leave a job. Depending on how much you cared about it in the first place, it can sway from proudly maintaining your professionalism until the bitter end to basically, ahem, not giving a fuck anymore. Naturally, you don’t want anyone to notice that you can’t be arsed to make the brews, let alone the decisions, as your contract winds down. But when you start contradicting yourself, say, or ignoring your colleagues and give the impression that you’ll be glad when all this shit is someone else’s responsibility, you should expect to be exposed to the occasional shellacking.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #11 Sheffield Wednesday '93

Never ones to do things by the book, here's number 11 in our supposed 10-part series. Welcome to Magic Spongers, Mr Alex Douglas

Bill Shankly once said: ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’ Although I don’t wholly agree with the sentiment, I have always thought that football was a good analogy for life. If football is the journey, then the teams that accompany us are our partners. I have to admit that in my early teens, I was a bit of a slag, chasing shirt. I have had exotic romances with foreign mistresses including a dirty weekend in Paris (St Germain) and an ultimately destructive on-off relationship with England. But if Manchester United were to become my life partner then the Sheffield Wednesday team of 93’ was my first kiss. It was an affair to remember.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #10: Olympique de Marseille 1991

Diamond highlights

Unashamedly self-indulgent, here's friend of Magic Spongers James Longhurst on his love affair with Marseille and a Geordie winger

First a confession

I’m a Wimbledon fan. In fact nowadays I’m an AFC Wimbledon fan and Trust member, and when the Magic Spongers asked me to chip in on the team that made me fall in love with football, they naturally thought it would be the ’88 cup final team.

It would be pretty easy to write a piece extolling the virtues of that legendary (in almost every sense of the word) Crazy Gang team, but I was only seven at the time of final and while I remember it clearly, that’s probably as much from the amount of times I have rewatched my VHS, DVD and now Sky+ versions of the game as from any contemporary viewing.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #9: Aston Villa 1998

Some peoples' memories are so good they can still tell you about a time when Stan Collymore was most famous for being a footballer. Just about. A warm welcome to Magic Spongers for Jamie Cutteridge, everyone.

Looking back, many remember the 1998-1999 season in England for some northern team that won a few trophies, but the purists, the romantics, remember it for a team that sold their best player, led the league and ultimately collapsed under the weight of the combined egos of both manager and chairman. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you Aston Villa.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #8: Oxford United 1995-96

Exploring the hearts and minds of the old Division Two, a warm welcome to Magic Spongers for Sam Macrory (with additional memories supplied by Frank Webster).

This piece opens with a confession. I didn’t grow up in a footballing household. Looking back, I cringe to think that my mum phoned the BBC to demand why the football was still being shown when the listings had promised a cartoon, the lack of which left my brother and I devastated. It was May 20th 1989, and the Liverpool-Everton FA Cup Final – which I later learned to be one of the great finals – had gone into extra time. But if that came at the expense of ten minutes of Tom and Jerry, then the schedulers should know better.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #7: Netherlands 1988

Back to the international fray and a warm welcome to Magic Spongers for Richard Hall on the Dutch Euro '88 champions

Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Johnny Bosman. Yes, Johnny Bosman. At the beginning of June 1988, these three men were key to Dutch hopes of winning the European Championship in West Germany.

At the beginning of the decade, the celebrated 1970s side had faded away, replaced as is often the way in footballing nations with small populations, with an inferior crop of players. The Dutch game was no longer cutting edge, tactically, evident in the subsequent failure to qualify for the finals of World Cups in Spain or Mexico. Or the 1984 European Championship in France, which was won by a Michel Platini-inspired team that had picked up the mantle of sophisticated, progressive football relinquished by the Netherlands after their World Cup final defeat in Buenos Aires in 1978.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #6: Middlesbrough 1996-97

Kicking off the second week of the series are Middlesbrough 1996-97 – the Latin Smoggies. Welcome to Magic Spongers Dan Clark.

Let me get one thing straight. I am not from the North East. I’m not even from the North. I’m originally from South East London and a Spurs fan by heritage with a sprinkling of Millwall added in for good measure.

I am, however, a fan of the team that used to set the imagination of a dreaming 13-year old on fire. And that team was Bryan Robson’s multi-cultural, swaggering, avant-garde Middlesbrough. It was a side packed with style and panache with stellar names such as Juninho, Ravanelli (the White Feather) and Emerson. Even Nicky Barmby seemed exotic playing among this lot. And they played with style. Ounces of it. On top of that, this was a side under Robson that managed three Wembley finals, albeit losing ones, between 1996 and 1998. The great tragedy was that they were relegated in the 96-97 season after being deducted three points, bringing the curtain down on one of the most colourful chapters in the Teessiders' history.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #5: Liverpool 1988-90

Rob might delight in bullying him for it, but friend of Magic Spongers Alex Bingle really does love Liverpool. They did used to be quite good, after all...

Sometimes, I sit racking my brains as to why I love football. Why does the result of one football team starkly determine my general mood for the following week? Almost a fortnight ago, for example, I sat there scratching my head after Liverpool’s dire showing at West Ham. After all, we have looked rather good in recent weeks, with a certain style to our play that reminds me why I love football in the first place. Football, though, has a funny way of turning my normal calm composure into an angry tirade of expletives. I was screaming at Kenny Dalglish (well, the television) to substitute Steven Gerrard, who was woeful. All the good work of the last few weeks undone in 90 minutes and there was me shouting at the two people voted Liverpool’s greatest ever players because Scott Parker was running rings around them.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #4: Wolves 1990

Bet you thought we'd use a picture of Bully, didn't you?

To domestic matters now, and a warm welcome back to Magic Spongers for Drew Kearns...

In a recent radio interview, Robert Plant, rock god and lifelong Wolves fan was asked to describe the best and worst aspects of supporting Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. He paused, thought and replied, “Realising you support Wolves… and realising you support Wolves”. The man has sung many lines, but never has he spoken truer words.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #3: Croatia 1996-98

Completing an international hat-trick, here's Twisted Blood's Andi Thomas.

I suspect, deep down, it was the shirts.

Euro ‘96 was the first tournament that really hit me square between the eyes. Having come to football slightly late, Italia ‘90 and Sweden ‘92 largely passed me by, John Jensen aside, and I recall USA ‘94 more as series of moments – Diego Maradona’s boggle-eyes; Paul McGrath’s magnificence; Bebeto’s cradle-rocking; Leonardo’s elbow; Roberto Baggio doing a Diana Ross – than as a tournament of narrative or character. But Euro ‘96 was different.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #2: Nigeria 1996

Magic Spongers' own Adam Bushby throws his hat in the ring for this, the second in our 10-part series on teams that made us fall in love with football. Rose-tinted glasses time... 

My love affair with Nigeria began in the summer of 1994. My love affair with Africa as a whole had begun four years earlier in Italy, but those memories are hazy and clouded by vague recollections of tears and mimed ‘keep an eye on him’s. It was Gary Lineker’s accuracy from the penalty spot that prematurely ended my fling with Cameroon in Naples in 1990. And then history repeated itself as the similar rapier-like precision of a man nicknamed Il Divin Codino did for my affair with Nigeria in Boston. The Divine Ponytail, from the penalty spot at the Foxboro Stadium. Roberto Baggio stole Nigeria from me in 1994. I was ten years old.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Teams That Made Us Fall In Love With Football #1: Italy 1994

Here's our very own Rob MacDonald to kick off a 10-part series on the teams that made us fall in love with football. Enjoy...

After a bit of memory work the other day, I worked out that the first ever game I went to was Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea on November 25th 1989. As you squint at the ceiling, trying to work out a) the first game you attended and b) how long ago 1989 was, let me save you some trouble on the latter. It was 22 years ago. Which is a long time.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Podcast Episode Two: To Me, To You

Here we go: the difficult second podcast. This week: we discuss the state of refereeing in the game, the tightening bottoms at the Premier League's tightening bottom and much of the same inanity as last time out.

Just click the arty picture. Lovely.