Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blackburn Undefeated In Five League Games

Blackburn Rovers reached five English Premier League games undefeated on Saturday November 27 (one win, four draws) after their 2 - 0 win over Fulham in London in front of 19,103 people.

Young striker Paul Gallagher earned his first start of the season while popular Rovers player Matt Jansen made way due to injury, while veteran defender Craig Short replaced the young Jay McEveley.

Blackburn dominated the match for the full 90 minutes, which would have left viewers unfamiliar with the teams' positions on the Premiership table thinking that the Cottagers were on the bottom of the table, rather than Rovers.

Rovers scored only 10 minutes in after a Lucas Neill throw-in which found Irishman Steven Reid, who ran to the byline to cross it into the six-yard box in front of Gallagher. The young Scot was able to find the back of the net with a flick, after losing his marker in a display of quick and smart thinking.

The home crowd grew increasingly frustrated by the lacklustre performance by Fulham, taking out their frustration on the referee. However, he appeared to have a fine game as Rovers continued to steamroll towards their goal.

With just fifteen minutes remaining, Blackburn finally earned another goal via a Paul Dickov penalty. A sliding Zat Knight missed the ball in the 18-yard box, so instead he took it away with his right hand. Unfortunately for the Cottager, the referee had a clear view and pointed to the penalty spot. Knight also received a second yellow card and was sent off with the subsequent red.

Fulham's best chance for the game came from former Rover Andrew Cole in the second half. A high punt forward saw Andy Cole give chase, nip through central defenders Short and Andy Todd, and then shoot towards goal. However, American goalkeeper Brad Friedel made an excellent save, pushing it only inches past the right post.

There were no real standouts for Blackburn because they very much played a team game, although Paul Gallagher was a standout along with Steven Reid. For Fulham, Andrew Cole made the best of the little opportunity he had, while defender Zat Knight played a shocking game.

Blackburn's first away win of the season saw them move up to 17th on the English Premiership table, a place above the dreaded relegation zone. They now have 13 points from 15 games, while Fulham remained on 14 points.

Fulham: Crossley (Van Der Sar, 72 minutes), Volz, Knight, Rehman, Bocanegra, Bouba Diop, Pembridge, Malbranque, Legwinski (McBride, 65 minutes), Radzinski, Cole. Substitutes not used: Hammond, Pearce, Rosenior.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Short, Todd, Johansson (Matteo, 90 minutes), Reid, Tugay, Ferguson, Emerton, Dickov, Gallagher (Thompson, 82 minutes). Substitutes not used: Flitcroft, Pedersen, Enckelman.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Differing Approaches To Racism

In England, striker Dwight Yorke of Birmingham City was racially abused by a small group of opposition fans in their away fixture to Blackburn Rovers last weekend at Ewood Park. During a warm-up in the second half before he was to go onto the ground, he decided to jump the fence and confront one of the racially abusive fans, who made "monkey gestures" toward the black player.

Within 24 hours, Blackburn Rovers revealed on their website that they had turned video evidence of racial abuse over to investigation officers, stating that they would co-operate with police on the matter. They re-stated their position against racism, pointing to their work with the Kick It Out anti-racism organisation.

"The FA and the Premier League welcome the swift action taken by Blackburn in launching an investigation into a reported instance of racist abuse aimed at Birmingham City's Dwight Yorke at Ewood Park," a joint statement from the two governing bodies of the game in England read.

Within one week, the fan was found guilty by the courts of "racially aggravated disorderly behaviour", fined STG1,000, and banned from grounds for a maximum five of years.

In Spain, a midweek UEFA Champions League game between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen saw Brazilian Roque Junior a victim of "monkey chants" everytime he touched the ball for a ten minute period.

A Real Madrid website statement after the match said that "if during the Champions League match these type of things happened, they were so minor that nobody on the pitch or in the club noticed it." It further added that UEFA President Lenhart Johansson and other UEFA officials attended the game on Tuesday and "witnessed the correct behaviour of the public."

However, the Union of European Football Associations thought the incidents were not minor. They demanded an explanation from the Spanish Football Federation, while they expected material on the incidents.

"We will be waiting for our UEFA delegates' report and on the basis of that report we may open an investigation," UEFA spokesman William Gaillard said.

"There's been so much attention that we are expecting something. Then we can go to video recordings and anything else that is available," he added. "We should know whether there's likely to be an investigation within 48 hours."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Blackburn's Excellent Response To Racism

Following the racist "monkey chants" former Blackburn Rovers striker Dwight Yorke received in Rovers' recent English Premier League home fixture from a small number of home fans, the club has been quick to act, publicly responding in less than 24 hours after the incident.

Club officials have already "met with Lancashire Constabulary Chief Superintendent David Mallaby and Detective Inspector Simon Giles." The Lancashire Constabulary has launched a criminal investigation into a specific incident involving Yorke and a spectator "after hearing reports from the club's safety officers and studying available CCTV and video footage."

The Blackburn Rovers Football Club website statement further added: "It goes without saying that we will give the Police -- who now intend to interview all relevant parties -- our full co-operation during the length of that investigation," and that they deeply regretted "any embarrassment caused to Dwight Yorke and Birmingham City Football Club."

This is a fantastic response by a club that has fought tirelessly against racism throughout the years, most notably with the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign.

It is a pity that the Spanish Football Federation did not act in a swift manner on their own accord when some sections of the Spanish crowd racially abused black English players during last Wednesday's England friendly international against Spain at the Bernabeu Stadium, instead waiting for a complaint to be lodged on the matter.

Meanwhile, they have yet to condemn Spain national coach Luis Aragones' unflattering racial comment made in reference to France international Thierry Henry in one of his training sessions last month.

Racism At Ewood Park Is Unacceptable

Obviously, some people did not absorb what all the fuss was about when black English players were subject to racist "monkey chants" during last Wednesday's friendly international between Spain and England at the Bernabeu Stadium.

Birmingham City manager Steve Bruce has reported that former Blackburn Rovers striker Dwight Yorke was subject to similar racist abuse during Sunday night's English Premier League away fixture against Rovers at Ewood Park, which resulted in a 3 - 3 draw in front of a crowd of 20,000.

Britain's Minister of Sport, Richard Caborn, noted that Yorke did not receive the same level of racism as "the events that went on in Madrid last week," but also stated that "racism should not be tolerated in any form." Caborn is quite correct in his assessment.

It is very disappointing that this type of behaviour has reared its ugly head at Ewood Park. Rational Rovers fans would have noted that the Lancashire club has been great supporters of the anti-racist cause. This latest incident is an indictment on their good work.

Despite Blackburn's anti-racist work, however, they must demonstrate that they are committed to the anti-racist cause by strongly condemning the racist abuse (unlike the Spanish Football Federation), while assisting any investigation into the incident.

And, of course, if the English Football Association decides that some sort of punishment or sanction should be applied to Blackburn Rovers Football Club or Ewood Park, then that should be accepted without complaint.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Poor Defending Costs Blackburn, Birmingham

Blackburn Rovers took the lead, lost the lead, went two goals behind, and then drew level again to finish 3 - 3 in a see-sawing English Premier League encounter at Ewood Park on November 21. A crowd of 20,290 enjoyed the spectacle on the Sunday night, which was played to cater for a television audience.

Matt Jansen put Rovers ahead only four minutes into the first half with his left foot, capping off a brilliant Steven Reid pass that was stepped over by Paul Dickov, which confused the Birmingham defenders.

However, after a brilliant start to the first half in which the Lancashire team seemed to be well in control of, they conceded three goals in one of their worst displays of defending of the season. Darren Anderton, Russell Savage, and former Rover David Dunn all capitalised on the poor defending.

The match looked like it had already been lost, as Rovers had only scored eleven times from 13 league games before the match. Young striker Paul Gallagher came on to replace Jansen after the break, while neither Rovers nor the Blues took control of the game early in the second.

Some ten minutes after half-time Blackburn attacking midfielder David Thompson was brought on by manager Mark Hughes to replace defensive midfielder Tugay, who looked very unhappy indeed. He stormed off to the changing rooms after passing the touchline, raising doubts over his future at Ewood Park even more after he told Turkish television last month he was looking to move back to Turkey.

However, Hughes' tactical move proved beneficial as Blackburn Rovers surged forward in numbers in a desperate attempt to keep their hopes of scraping at least one Premiership point out of the match. Steven Reid soon scored his first goal of the season, which took a reflection off Birmingham defender Matthew Upson, while Paul Gallagher scored a yard from goal five minutes later after a long ball confused the defence and goalkeeper Maik Taylor.

Blackburn surged forward once again, but they could not score the winning goal. Birmingham defender Mario Melchiot looked to have fouled Paul Dickov with a reckless tackle in the penalty box in injury time, but the referee either ignored it or did not see the challenge. To be fair, though, an obvious handball by Blackburn's Swedish defender Nils-Eric Johansson in the penalty box in the first half was not picked by referee.

Mark Hughes will no doubt be somewhat pleased by the determination his side showed. Players like Matt Jansen, Brett Emerton, Steven Reid and David Thompson are starting to show some form and are taking on players. However, he will be especially concerned at the poor defensive work that Johansson and Andy Todd put in. Blackburn currently has the worst defensive record in the English Premiership, conceding 29 goals in only 14 games.

Blackburn Rovers continue to sit in last place on the English Premier League, with ten points from 14 games. Birmingham City are 14th with 13 points.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Todd, Johansson, McEveley, Reid, Tugay (Thompson, 57 minutes), Ferguson, Emerton, Dickov, Jansen (Gallagher, 46 minutes). Subs: Enckelman, Pedersen, Matteo.

Birmingham: Taylor, Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Gray, Anderton (Yorke, 73 minutes), Savage, Johnson, Morrison (Clapham, 67 minutes), Dunn (Clemence, 81 minutes), Gronkjaer. Substitutes not used: Vaesen, Taylor.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Spanish Football Federation Apology Too Late And Not Good Enough

The Spanish Football Federation has reportedly apologised for the racist abuse that black English players received from the crowds on Tuesday's under-21 international involving England and Spain, and on Wednesday involving the senior national teams at the Spanish Bernabeu Stadium.

However, why it took the Spanish football authority 48 hours to point out the obvious and act as they were expected is puzzling. And they still have not bothered to comment on what Luis Aragones said in relation to Thierry Henry's race in a training session, or his behaviour during and after Wednesday's match (he refused to apologise for his racist comment or even condemn the "monkey chants" from section of the Spanish crowd), never mind reprimand him.

Meanwhile, FIFA and UEFA are investigating the incidences after complaints by various sections of the English football and government hierarchies.

Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan "hit the nail on the head" when he commented on the whole incident, since his winger Shaun Wright-Phillips was subject to the racist abuse from the crowd.

"What annoys me is the people in power seem to take so long to come out and say what everybody knows to be true," he said. "Why can't they just say, 'This is a disgrace; we have to stop it -- not next week, not next month but now'."

Hopefully football authorities on all levels will learn from this experience and act more swiftly next time in their condemnation. What is needed now is some just punishment on the guilty parties. That includes: the Spanish Football Federation for their failure to reprimand Luis Aragones; Luis Aragones for his racist comment toward Thierry Henry; and sections of the Spanish crowd for their racism during the two friendly internationals.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Blame It On The Spanish Football Federation

Last night's friendly international between Spain and England at Real Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium ended in a 1 - 0 result for the Spanish side, but the night was tarnished by racist "monkey chants" from all corners of the stadium by hundreds, if not thousands, of Spanish supporters. The English black players were the targets of the racists in the crowd; most notably Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole.

Spain national coach Luis Aragones shamefully failed to condemn the racist taunts. What made that even more shameful is that he played a big part in this ordeal. Last month he referred to Frenchman Thierry Henry as a "black shit" in a Spain national team training session in a so-called "motivational comment".

However, as much as he is a disgrace for not taking back any of the comments and showing obvious regret, instead claiming he has "many black friends" and purports to have patched things up with Thierry Henry, the blame for this behaviour should be on the shoulders of the Spanish Football Federation. It was the Spanish football authorities who failed to take action against Aragones and make an example of him. Via their lack of action, they have inadvertently given a "green light" to the behaviour that the Spanish crowd displayed in the friendly international match.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) did not take action when Aragones made the disgusting comment last month, but this latest episode will certainly test their resolve in the fight against racism. Piara Powar -- spokesperson for British football's anti-racist organisation Kick It Out -- was adamant that action needed to be taken by UEFA: "I think this is where UEFA need to act. UEFA need to come in and threaten the Spanish with closure of stadiums, with a ban."

Powar is quite correct. Tough measures need to be taken in order to show the Spanish football community that they need to change the views of some of their fans.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Australia's Poor Defence A Cause For Concern

Australia showed great weakness on Tuesday night, London time, when it played its international friendly on neutral ground at Craven Cottage, England, against Norway. The result ended 2 - 2 at full time.

Australia's supporters would no doubt have been buoyed by Australia's attacking set-up, with three forwards incorporated in a 4 - 3 - 3 formation, letting the likes of Blackburn player Brett Emerton shine as a wing-forward. There was some doubt about the formation attacking-wise when they played the Solomon Islands twice last month. Their attacks were not fluid and looked to be based upon the pace and dribbling ability of each individual player. However, this time they made the set-up play very well by using a good passing game.

Everton's Tim Cahill, 24 years of age, played a wonderful game from midfield and scored Australia's first goal three minutes after Norway's Steffen Iversen put the European team 1 - 0 up late in the first half. After the break Josip Skoko scored the second goal to put Australia a goal in front, which was then equalised by a Morten Gamst Pedersen free kick only minutes from time. Mark Viduka played a fantastic role up front, using his strength to hold up the ball and dragging defensive markers away from goal.

However, defensive-wise, there is a lot of work to be done. The first goal scored by Iversen was extremely weak on Australia's part. No man-marking was deployed on the counter-attack, leaving all of the opposing attacking players free, while hardly any of the midfield bothered to run down hard enough to cover for defence. It was an easy goal for Iversen as he netted Mark Schwarzer's deflection.

The Australian defence -- which consisted of Lucas Neill, Danny Tiatto, Tony Popovic, and Tony Vidmar -- once again lacked concentration on Pedersen's free kick, and so too did goalkeeper and captain Schwarzer. The Blackburn winger's cross beat all of the defence and was easily let past to travel into the back of the net by a confused Schwarzer.

There were other incidences throughout the match that exposed their weaknesses, but they were not exploited well. However, if they were to play a South American team, more of those gaps in the defence would be exploited, as it was agreed by Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) analysts Les Murray and Craig Foster. Even coach Frank Farina told the media that he considered the two goals considered to be "soft".

To sum up the game, overall, it was the best game Australia had played for a long time, despite there being obvious improvements to be made. The attacks made were fluid and commendable. The likes of it have probably not been seen since their remarkable 3 - 1 victory against England some two years ago. Their defence, however, even with the likes of injured Craig Moore in the side, is a cause for concern.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ryan Giggs Could Go To Blackburn

Ryan Giggs, almost 31 years of age, has revealed that contract renewal negotiations with English club Manchester United have stalled. They only wanted a one-year renewal, while the UEFA Champions League medal winner wanted a longer contract.

The media are speculating that a move to Bolton Wanderers is likely if the negotiations fail completely, as United have indicated they would think further about the difference between the two parties. While moving to Reebok Stadium is plausible, as Bolton manager Sam Allardyce has a reputation of working with players past their peak, such as Youri Djorkaeff, neighbouring Blackburn Rovers would seem a more plausible option.

Quite simply, Ryan Giggs has already been coached at international level by Rovers manager Mark Hughes, with the Wales national team. It would therefore make sense for Giggs to go to the club where he would be familiar with the manager. And it would especially make sense to join Rovers as Hughes is a Manchester United legend himself who successfully finished his career at the Lancashire club.

Blackburn is starved of form at present, and Giggs is a player who would certainly add that touch of class that the squad is lacking. There should be no problem obtaining him as the club has indicated to Hughes that they will back him in the transfer market.

Friday, November 12, 2004

More Happy Campers At Blackburn Camp

Nils-Eric Johansson is the latest Blackburn Rovers player to express their enthusiasm under the new reign of ex-Wales manager Mark Hughes. This is despite Blackburn finding themselves last in the English Premier League with just under a third of the season gone. Former manager Graeme Souness left early in the season to take up the managerial post at Newcastle United after a winless start to the season.

Previously, many of the players, including the likes of veteran defender Craig Short and forward Matt Jansen, and Australia international Brett Emerton, had expressed their enthusiasm under the new regime. Emerton stressed that Hughes gets on well with everyone and "the players are a lot happier" after being under the iron fist of a confrontational Souness for several seasons.

Johansson, a Swedish defender who was quite surprisingly missing throughout Souness' reign, has expressed his delight at having a chance to prove himself in the first team under Hughes in the last year of his contract. "With Souness, unfortunately he looked more for experience than youth and enthusiasm and in my case that was not good. I ended up watching most of the games but now I'm in the team and I need a string of games now, five or six in a row. I'm desperate to play."

The only player to have expressed discontent with the new manager is Turkish defensive midfielder Tugay. "Nobody wants to play football any more (at Blackburn). The (previous) manager (Graeme Souness) left and that's how it is now. Now, I'm looking for new alternatives."

That is quite a different story to what all of the other players who have gone public with their views on Mark Hughes. It was to be expected though, as he followed Graeme Souness from Turkey to play in England. But that seems to have settled down now due to the integral role he is playing in Rovers' recovery.

Hearing this latest news from Nils-Eric Johansson is sure to keep the enthusiasm of the average Rovers fan with something to be thankful for, informing that Blackburn are going in the right direction. If they were going badly then surely these enthusiastic reports would not keep being produced to the media.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

From Soccer To Football: A Change For The Better

Soccer Australia Chief Executive John O'Neill has indicated during the 2006 World Cup trophy's world tour that Australia's football association is likely to change its name to Football Australia. This is a welcome change for a nation that has misnamed the world game for decades.

This would be a small but good step to have Australia as a football nation to start earning some real respect. Not only that, it would indicate that football in Australia will no longer be content to play "second fiddle" to the other football codes in Australia, namely Australian rules football and the different types of rugby.

Now that this first step is likely to be made, Australia should start thinking about changing its name for the national team. Currently, the senior team is called the Qantas Socceroos. It is disgusting enough that a nickname has replaced the actual name of the national team. However, what is even more disgusting is prostituting its name to a sponsor for the sake of a few dollars.

No other national team prostitutes its name -- they quite rightly use the name of their nation. There is no valid reason why a corporation’s name should be used, or a nickname in a silly tradition that is used across all Australian national teams in most team sports. This name prostitution should be ceased immediately. That is, of course, if we want Australia taken seriously on the international football stage.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

UEFA Must Take Action Against Racist Taunts

Frenchman Thierry Henry is yet again the centre of another racist controversy. Just last month the Spain national coach, Luis Aragones, called Thierry Henry a "black shit" in a so-called "motivational comment" to one of his players during training.

This time, the Arsenal forward has been receiving "monkey" taunts from the supporters of Panathinaikos in two UEFA Champions League group stage games. This included the away fans at Highbury last Tuesday making monkey noises towards one of Europe's very best players.

After scoring a 16th minute penalty against the opponents from Greece Henry stared solemnly at the away crowd, shrugging his shoulders and holding out his arms in a quizzical manner. He was criticised for his way of "celebration" and only revealed why he behaved in that way after he defended his post-goal action to the media.

The consistent racism that Henry has had to absorb recently is unacceptable. Despite only recently having an anti-racism week in football, it appears that the higher powers -- namely the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) -- should intervene and issue statements and other punishments. That is the only way that those who fail to accept the anti-racist message are going to learn the seriousness of their behaviour.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Chelsea Out To Destroy Mutu

Previously, if you had asked me whether the Chelsea Football was out to "destroy" Adrian Mutu, I would have said that it was highly unlikely, despite target-testing him. They would have no motivation, especially considering reports stating they could possibly want to recoup some of the money they had spent on the scrutinised Mutu from a transfer sale.

However, I will have to re-evaluate that line of thought after the Romanian attacking midfielder was suspended for seven months and ordered for rehabilitation and training after taking an unknown recreational drug, possibly cocaine.

Chelsea, after hearing the convicted sentence that Mutu was handed down from the English Football Association, released their own statement saying they were "extremely disappointed with this verdict," and thought that it was far too lenient. Further, they expressed that the FA was "weak" and that they "lacked direction".

What they were trying to do with this statement to help Adrian Mutu is beyond me. He had been charged, sacked from Chelsea, and then convicted. That is punishment enough. Now he is trying to piece together to damage done to his career and his life, pick himself up by attending rehabilitation and education, and possibly undergoing other treatment. The best Chelsea could have done was shut up and accept the decision, and offer any support for his recovery.

But we could hardly expect that from Chelsea. In fact, apart from Jose Mourinho undergoing a pre-season meeting with Adrian Mutu and his two agents, the club had done nothing to help him, even after the Romanian showed symptoms of depression during training on several occasions.

Chelsea, through their actions, has done nothing to help Adrian Mutu and the issue of drugs in football in general. Yes, as a professional footballer, he should not have taken the recreational drug he took. He had a responsibility to his club to keep clear of those substances. However, that does not excuse Chelsea's behaviour towards a human being.

Besides, Mutu's drug-taking did not mean he cheated at his sport -- recreational drugs do not help on-field performance. And indeed, they are not harmful to the body if used very moderately and appropriately.