Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Sunday, 27 July 2008
To me sport is about the spectacle as much as the participation and this is where the Tour comes into its own. Despite years of kicking the fans in the teeth with drug cheating, they still come tumbling out of their villages to see their heroes and give their support. It seems to be the purist of sports, with man and nature as one. The cows in the sun-drenched fields are almost as relevant as the sprint finishes. Whereas most sports have the empty feel of a money-circus, rolling in to town to rid the locals of their hard earned (well perhaps not with the French), the Tour has the charm of a carnival that fleets through little villages asking a sprinkle of occasion before moving serenely on to the next hamlet. Alasdair Fotheringham (not British by any chance?) described such a scene in the Independent, with a 90 strong fan-club for rider Cyril Dessel having a barbecue in the hills, joined by a passing couple from Belguim who happened to be from a Flanders village called Dessel and some guys from Normandy who fancied a social. It has the air of the American Football tailgate parties, much missed in the coldron of European football. So, twelve months to wait for my sophomore Tour de France. I'll be back next July ready to go head to head with Cav.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Saturday, 19 July 2008
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
Tottenham Hotspur – As the time of writing, Berbatov and Keane are still with the club but both are heavily linked with moves to Man U and Liverpool respectively. We all expected Berba to be gone as soon as the final whistle went last year but to lose both of them could cause us some major difficulties up front, especially with Defoe gone and Bent likely to head to Sunderland. There’s talk of Santa Cruz and Bentley coming from Blackburn, but that could just be talk. We’ve nearly signed some brilliant players over the years!! Luka Modric looks a good signing if he can stay healthy but I know nothing about Dos Santos. Keeping Ledley King fit is vital – a back four of Hutton, King, Woodgate and Bale with Gomes in goal would be very competitive. As usual we’ll probably have a poor start with the autumn and winter spent trying to get back into the top half. Prediction – 6th.
Hereford United – Watching Hereford live is so much more rewarding than most of the Premiership games I’ve been to. There’s a realness to it - it seems to matter more to the players and the fans. It harks back to the days of hot bovril and a pie at half time. You stand behind the goal at Edgar Street and there isn’t the sanitised feel you get at the big games where you get reminded every five minutes to sit down by some headmaster – yeah, come on, sit down, where do you think you are, a football match? Last year I was convinced we were going to get relegated when Graham Turner could only register four players in preseason. But we kept going, always staying in the top four. With every win I was thinking that its all good to have the points in the bag before the inevitable slump. The last thing we needed was to go back to the Conference - consolidation was everything. Come the end of the season we just kept going, winning promotion with a week to spare. If we were punching above our weight last year, this coming season we’ll be like Alexander Hleb going against Gazza in a pie eating contest. You never know though, Graham Turner has an amazing knack of bringing in young talent and producing almost a new team each season. My heart says we’ll survive but my head says we’ll struggle. We drew and beat Leeds last year but it’s different in the cups, and they'll probably finish fifty points above us. Prediction – Relegation.
Tennessee Titans – Last season the Titans made the play-offs after a heavy loss of players preseason. They’ve got a quarterback in Vince Young who has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL but last term the Titans were exactly an offensive outfit. To make the most of his talent the offensive co-ordinator needs to up his game and get some points on the board. Defensively they were sound but there looks to be uncertainty about Albert Haynesworth which would be a bit blow if he left. Prediction – Play-offs via a Wildcard.
Saturday, 12 July 2008
Dixie McNeil was one of those rare breed that became a cult hero at every club he played for. Born in Molton Mowbray in 1944 he'd played for Exeter, Corby Town, Northampton and Lincoln before he joined Hereford in 1974. The transfer fee of £20,000 was a record for the Bulls at the time (still is almost!!) and although it might have seemed a lot for a thirty year old Dixie soon started paying it back. He was prolific that first year scoring 31 goals in 44 matches. He was top scorer for the three years he spent at Edgar Street and was the club's Player of the Year in 1975. Hereford were relatively new to the Football League in these days and we were punching above our weight. Survival was tough and chances for our strikers were hard to come by, but despite this, Dixie was the top goalscorer of the top four divisions of English football that season. Even the year Hereford were relegated from the old Second Division Dixie still managed to score virtually a goal every other game. Me and dad used to go to most home games at this time and I fell in love with Dixie. He had hair like James Hunt, but I dion't think that was what did it for me. It was the way he would always convert a half chance into a goal. During his time at Hereford he spent those long summers (do you remember those?) playing cricket and often used to play against Presteigne. But it's in the white with the Bull on the badge that I remember him for.
In August 1977 Elvis Presley died and the world seemed to end - the King was off the throne and there was doom and gloom all around. A month later, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Dixie McNeil left Hereford to join Wrexham for £60,000 - much needed dosh at the time. For Wrexham he set a record for scoring in ten consecutive FA Cup games. He returned help the Bulls in 1982, aged 38, scoring three goals in 12 appearances. His League career record was 239 goals in 522 games. A true legend of the lower leagues, Dixie McNeil was a goal machine who will always be remembered at Edgar Street.
Friday, 11 July 2008
Alfie Conn, the long-haired, dribbling, crowd pleaser, was Bill Nicholson's last ever signing in 1975 when Tottenham captured him from Glasgow Rangers. Despite being a Scottish international and one hell of a player he was only on £180 per week at Spurs. In the week when Christiano Ronaldo bemoans his £120,000 a week as "slavery" it's worth thinking of players like Conn who earned less in a week than Ronaldo does in the time it takes to do a stepover. Today Alfie Conn is a warehouseman and courier in Livingston, near Edinburgh.
So, a great player who played a massive part in keeping Spurs alive in '75, but what was his defining moment. It's April 1975, the last game of the season and Spurs are need to win to stay in the First Division. Up against them is the mighty Leeds United who are the best team in the land. They are dirty and ruthless with loads of skill matched by loads of underhand tactics. Basically they're not the sort of team to roll over to fancy-dan, southern softies like Spurs. Tottenham go 3-1 up with a couple from Cyril Knowles and one from Martin Chivers but those Yorkshire terriers are full of pride and keep battling away. Alfie Conn, eccentric wing-wizzard (on his day) goes on a mazy and beats three men before scoring, only to get the ball and sit on it taunting the fiery Scot Billy Bremner. What a man. The story goes that Bremner goes over to Steve Perryman and says, "Tell him, you're going to win the game, but he's not going to finish it." Alfie Conn - legend.
Thursday, 10 July 2008
- Pat Jennings (GK) - what can you say. The greatest keeper ever.
- Steve Perryman (RB) - Beautiful face, great servant to Spurs and a great overlapping fullback. Converted from central midfielder he also had a spell as sweeper.
- Cyril Knowles (LB) - Brazilian quality of attacking down the flanks and throwing dummies and hip-swivels in his own box. Nice one Cyril.
- Graham Roberts (CB) - Tenacious G. Hard man who held Spurs together during the early 80's. Who can forget that run into the box for the penalty against QPR in '82.
- Ledley King (CB) - If he could stay fit (or even get fit!) John Terry would be getting piles on the Wembley bench.
- Ossie Ardiles (MID) - I fell in love with this guy in 1978. In crowded midfields with hatchet men like Graeme Souness and Kenny Hibbett trying to kick seven bells out of him, Ossie would glide along, toe-tapping the ball away from lunging tackles into his next stride.
- Glenn Hoddle (MID) - Just go to youTube and check out his goals - then there was the pinpoint passing, where he'd split a defence at will. They didn't call him GOD for nothing.
- David Ginola (MID) - Silky and flowing, and that's just his hair. What a dribbler - a wonderful entertainer that mesmerised defenders and crowds alike.
- Jurgen Klinsmann (CF) - a breath of fresh air to WHL. I used to hate him before he came to us but his professional attitude and truly world class play soon changed my mind.
- Dimitar Berbatov (CF) - He might be moody, but you can't deny his sublime touch.
- Martin Chivers (CF) - I had a goal fish called Chivers.
Graham Roberts is going to have to do a lot of ball winning there, but when we have got it, what a team. I could see this team having a few 5-5 draws (provided Jennings was on top form!). That might be the starting line-up but I'd have a big squad waiting in the wings. Ricky Villa, Alfie Conn, Gary Mabbutt, John Duncan, Mike England, Teddy Sherringham, Chris Waddle, Steve Archibald, Alan Gilzean, Robbie Keane, Darren Anderton, Gazza.....
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
What a goalie. I used to hate it when people argued about who was the best between Shilton and Clemence - who cares, Pat Jennings was better than both of them. When I was a kid my dad played cricket for Presteigne and one of the players, Billy Toot, used to called me Jennings - he still does. I still love the association. I had many Tottenham heroes in those days, Chivers, Perryman and Jennings being the top three, and every time I hear their name or catch a glimpse of them on tele or in a book I get a lump in my throat - sad I know, but what can you do?
Jennings was so 70's with his long hair and those massive sideburns, and amazingly he's still got it all today. As he keeper he was legendary for having huge hands but made the art of saving with his legs an art form. Can you remember the car parts advert he did in the 70's, ah, happy days. He saved two penalties in a game at Anfield and scored froma long goal kick against Man Utd in the Charity Shield. As well as being a legend on the field, he was a quiet, kind man off it. Despite that last sentence, I saw him kick a fan once. I went to see Spurs and Chelsea in April 1975 with my dad, Gerald Brown and my cousin Dale Tomkins. Both sides needed a win to help stave off relegation and thanks to Alfie Conn and Steve Perryman we got it. Before the game crowd trouble had kicked off big style with the game delayed for nearly an hour and even when the players finally came out there was still a few fans on the pitch. One Chelsea fan, complete with flowing locks and scarf around the wrist decided to have a kick at Jennings who chased after him and volleyed him straight up the Arsenal. The fan lay there for ages, trying to remove one of PJ's size 12 Gola's.
Hunter Davies interviewed a Leeds Utd scout for his brilliant book, Glory Game, and the guy had compiled a dossier of all the Spurs players weaknesses. About Jennings all the scout could say was, "I take my bloody hat off to him. Every time I've seen him he's been magnificent". Mind you the Leeds scout was probably comparing him to Gary Sprake.
I've got Big Pat's autograph here on the wall and there's a bit of a bizarre story behind it. In the 70's I read in Shoot magazine that Jennings was one of the best footballers for answering fan mail, so I wrote to him at Spurs to get his autograph. Over the coming months my hounding of the postman subsided as it became obvious that Big Pat had better things to do, like trying to keep Spurs in the First Division. Anyway, about twenty years later there was an article in one of the tabloids about a postman in London who'd been sacked after the Post Office had discovered that for years he'd been stashing undelivered post in his house. About a week later a letter from Tottenham Hotspur Football Club arrives at my mum and dad's house with a signed photo from Pat Jennings!