Review: The Mavericks – English Football When Flair Wore Flares by Rob Steen

The Mavericks cover

An updated edition of Rob Steen’s evocative examination of the stars of football in the 1970’s has now been published. The Mavericks are the seven Englishmen who followed the trail-blazing superstar George Best: Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Charlie George, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Peter Osgood and Frank Worthington.

They were crowd pleasers and entertainers who were worshipped at club level but were sadly under-represented at international level winning only 46 England caps between them.

Despite their lack of international honours, the Mavericks brought colour, excitement, flair and thrills to football at a time when it was just emerging from the dour 1960’s.

The seven were unorthodox, independently minded individuals and extremely talented footballers. But unfortunately, they also had inherent self-destructive tendencies with alcohol, womanising, indiscipline, drugs, gambling, idleness and pride impacting on their international record.

Alan Hudson for example, received a late summons to play against Brazil in April 1978, but pride dictated refusal.

‘That was probably one of the great regrets of my life. I thought I should have been in the original squad. Then someone dropped out and a call came from Greenwood while I was in the Wellington Pub in Sloane Square.’ “With all due respect, Mr Greenwood”, I said, “I thought I should have been in the side anyway. I don’t want to get picked because you’ve got injuries.” ‘You get so many knocks along the way, people picking you when it suits them rather than on merit. It was like Frank Sinatra being asked to fill in for Cliff Richard at the Albert Hall. Frank would have told them where to go.’

England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 could partly be put down to the Mavericks’ lack of appearances. Their talent was generally ignored by Sir Alf Ramsay, Don Revie and Ron Greenwood, but when they were selected, they had to conform to the constraints of the England managers regimes and tactics at the time.

As Steen explains, Rodney Marsh said Ramsay never allowed him to express himself and complained ‘he was the one who was asked to do the stopping – overlapping full-backs, opposite number, you name it. It is a wonder Ramsay ever looked his way.’

Tony Currie had the most England caps of the Mavericks with 17, but he looked back in 1994 with some frustration.

‘But it’s when you look back that it hurts, more so now than ever. Why didn’t I do this, why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t the England managers pick me more often? Why didn’t they pick Worthington, Hudson, Bowles and Currie in the same teams? Why didn’t someone say, “Right, I’m going to pick them all for three games and see how it goes?‘‘  I’d love to have seen somebody brave enough to do that.’

In his new Afterword Steen speculates that if the Mavericks had reached their prime in the Twittering Age, they would have been regarded as demigods. I personally think they would probably have had more England caps but I’m not sure that their off the field antics wouldn’t still have been their downfall.

Whether you think the Mavericks were frustrated by a succession of England managers or their own self-destructive tendencies, this is an engrossing read full of smart analysis, entertaining anecdotes and 1970’s pop-cultural references.

The Mavericks – English Football When Flair Wore Flares by Rob Steen published by Bloomsbury Sport, Price £12.99.

Posted in Alan Hudson, Book Reviews, Charlie George, Frank Worthington, Peter Osgood, Rob Steen, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: After Extra Time and Penalties – Memories of a BBC Football Correspondent by Mike Ingham

After Extra Time and Penalties

Former BBC football Correspondent Mike Ingham’s autobiography is a thoughtful homage to the golden age of sports broadcasting. His own broadcasting experiences saw him attend eight World Cups, commentate on twenty-eight FA Cup Finals, work with ten full-time England managers and introduce Sports Report.

Ingham recounts his life story and the characters he has come across with warmth and a deep understanding of the beautiful game. The early chapters are a little pedestrian, but the book picks up pace and interest as he recounts his early interviews with John Arlott, Jack Nicklaus, George Best and Brian Clough.

Ingham commentated on the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus at Heysel Stadium when 39 Juventus fans lost their lives and this tragedy has haunted him since.  He makes a telling point when he says Bill Shankly would never have wisecracked about football being more important than life and death had he still been alive in 1985 at the time of the Heysel Disaster.

Tragedy and lives cut short is sadly a recurring theme in the book, Ingham’s close friend and colleague Peter Jones died prematurely at the age of 60 and was at Heysel and Hillsborough and deeply scarred by the two disasters. There is an emotional tribute to another friend and colleague Bryon Butler, one of the great sports broadcasters, who died of cancer at the age of 66.

Ingham pays a glowing tribute to Bobby Moore, who tragically died of cancer aged only fifty-one.

Here’s extract from his scripted broadcast, “Bobby Moore, indestructible defender, ambassador, unique English footballing figure is no longer around to remind us how the national game at its very best can be a thing of dignity, beauty and integrity. He was the best, Pele said so, and that has to be the final word.”

Ingham bemoans the fact that scripted and recorded broadcasts when you would be given time to collect your thoughts and express your feelings are rare these days. When everything had to be live, he finds himself deeply frustrated at not being given the chance to say what he wanted, having been at the mercy of someone else’s agenda.

He is rightly frustrated by the decision of 5 Live to do away with a second commentator, he believes that on the radio the voice is pre-eminent and over 90 minutes – plus often extra-time and penalties – one voice, no matter how mellifluous, can be a hard listen. Test Match Special would never dream of having just one cricket commentator for the whole of a two-hour session.

He is also critical of the BBC’s bureaucracy, believes sport has been relegated in the BBC’s hierarchy of importance, and states that a perennial problem in the organisation is the lack of value placed on experience.

He observes, “In the last year, five respected broadcasters with over one hundred and fifty years of service between them have been allowed to leave BBC Sport.”

That’s a sad indictment of the BBC’s current decision-making, but at least Ingham has been able to provide a worthy tribute to the golden age of sports broadcasting.

The wide-ranging, entertaining stories and anecdotes about players, managers, commentators and summarisers provides a special insight into when sports radio was so important in many peoples’ lives.

After Extra Time and Penalties: Memories of a BBC Football Correspondent by Mike Ingham, Published by The Book Guild, Price £12.99.

Posted in Book Reviews, FA Cup, Mike Ingham, Premier League, Radio, Wigan Athletic, World Cup | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind closed doors: what are the implications for Wigan Athletic?

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DW Stadium

There is still a lot of uncertainty about when, or if the Championship season will resume, but matches could resume in June, dependent on the Government giving it the green light.

If they are allowed to resume it is likely that they will be played behind closed doors. Under current EFL plans the fans will only be allowed back into the DW Stadium in October.

The clubs desperately need the TV income to pay wages and to survive over the summer so games will have to go ahead without spectators.

With nine Championship fixtures remaining Latics are precariously positioned just above the relegation zone.

Although they were in good form prior to the lockdown with 12 points in the last six games, the long lay-off could have a detrimental effect on the players and it may even feel like starting the season all over again for some.

Some fans will quip that it will make no difference to Latics’ players as they are used to playing in front of empty seats, but the reality is that completely empty stadiums will pose a new psychological challenge for the players.

Such matches are known as “ghost games” and playing a Championship match without a crowd will be an “eerie experience”.

For professional footballers it is the supporters who make the matches so special and the atmosphere that crowds generate is essential to the game.

The games will be televised either by the main broadcasters, or on the iFollow network but it will be a strange experience for everyone that could impact negatively on Latics’ results.

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic also poses a threat to Latics’ competitiveness.

Brighton loanee Leon Balogun has been a significant catalyst in Latics’ revival but his contract ends at the end of June and therefore his loan would have to be cancelled before the season finishes, unless Latics can sign him permanently.

Other loanees include Dujon Sterling (who is contracted to Chelsea until the end of 2021/22 season) and Kieran Dowell (contracted to Everton until the end of the 2020/21 season) who Latics are trying to sign permanently.

Several first-team players whose current deals finish at the end of June may also have to be released.

Seven first-team squad members are in this situation – Chey Dunkley, Michael Jacobs, Joe Garner, Anthony Pilkington, Gary Roberts, Danny Fox and Lewis Macleod.

Although the financial situation could dictate matters it is still possible that some workaround could be sorted.

Many teams will be in this situation so a short-term extension to the contracts may be possible and then sort out future contracts when the current season ends.

So much is still unknown, but if the season does restart it will be like a mini-tournament with nine games to decide the big issues, with the majority of teams in the Championship having something to play for, with either promotion or relegation still to be decided.

Champ table 26 April

Championship Table courtesy of Whoscored.com

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Lockdown – The Best Football Books To Read Now

 

With most people stuck at home and looking for something to occupy their time. Now is a good time to catch up on the best football books of recent times. Here’s my recommended lockdown reading list.

Can we have our football back? How the Premier League is ruining Football and what you can do about it …by John Nicholson

In ‘Can We Have Our Football Back?’ Football365 writer John Nicholson produces a coruscating attack on the excesses of the Premier League and provides an optimistic blueprint for a football revolution.

Nicholson wants to put an end to the Premier League, an end to the financial model upon which it is founded, an end to paywall TV, and an end to the astronomical wages, transfer fees and agents fees.

Going to the Match – The Passion for Football by Duncan Hamilton

Duncan Hamilton’s latest book is inspired by L.S. Lowry’s famously evocative painting ‘Going to the Match’. The artist painted the supporters approaching Bolton Wanderers’ Burnden Park in 1953 and Hamilton uses the painting as his starting point.

It is an enjoyable read as Hamilton travels as a fan to games throughout the 2017/18 season taking in matches from all levels of the football hierarchy across England, Scotland and Europe.

Masters of Modern Soccer – How the World’s Best Play the Twenty-First-Century Game by Grant Wahl

Masters of Modern Soccer coverIt may be something of a grandiose title but in Masters of Modern Soccer American journalist Grant Wahl expertly gets to grips with how the global game is developing.

Wahl interviews some of the most interesting figures in the modern game and explains how those individuals have mastered their craft. His impressive line-up is Manuel Neuer, Vincent Kompany, Xabi Alonso, Christian Pulisic, Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez as well as managers Juan Carlos Osorio and Roberto Martinez and a director of football Michael Zorc.

Moving the Goalposts – A Yorkshire Tragedy by Anthony Clavane

Anthony Clavane’s remarkable insight into the demise of Yorkshire’s sporting institutions in the context of a post-industrial world is now available in paperback.

Clavane believes that ‘sport has gone wrong’ in the sense that it has been increasingly infected by greed, rampant individualism and amorality. Huge sections of society have been disenfranchised by a new sporting order in which money, rather than collective endeavour, determines success.

Saturday, 3pm – 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football by Daniel Gray

Daniel Gray’s ‘Saturday, 3pm. 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football’ is a celebration of what makes football so special. Those golden moments that illuminates a football supporter’s life.

These short vignettes of prose-poetry capture the essence of what is still good in the game. What may seem mundane to non-football lovers such as: ‘Seeing a ground from the train’; ‘Getting the fixture list’; ‘Listening to the results in a car’; ‘The first day of the season’ and so on are all rightly identified as a significant part of the football experience.

State of Play – Under the Skin of the Modern Game by Michael Calvin

State of Play - Under the skin of the modern game by Michael Calvin

Award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin’s latest football book is an ambitious, in-depth and wide-ranging examination of the current game. Calvin takes as his inspiration Arthur Hopcrafts’s ‘The Football Man,’ which was written two years after England won the World Cup and is regarded as one of the best football books ever written.

Hopcraft’s book was divided into nine sections but Calvin has gone for four broad headings: The Player; The Manager; The Club, The People.

What You Think You Know About Football is Wrong – The Game’s Greatest Myths and Untruths by Kevin Moore

What You Think You Know About Footballi is Wrong

The former director of the National Football Museum Kevin Moore has produced a challenging and revelatory new book which debunks many of the myths and assumptions about football.

In 50 short chapters Moore shatters many of the strongly held beliefs of football fans. His entertaining commentary is generally supported with hard facts and statistics although occasionally he does stray onto more subjective ground.

Posted in Anthony Clavane, Book Reviews, Daniel Gray, Duncan Hamilton, Grant Wahl, John Nicholson, Kevin Moore, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus outbreak suspends all English football

Football on the pitch

Given the potential risk to life, the Premier League and the English Football League have rightly suspended English football for the first time since the Second World War.

Football in England will be suspended until at least 3 April as a result of the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

The EFL has said clubs were also advised to suspend “non-essential activities” such as “player appearances, training ground visits and fan meetings”.

Several Premier League players and managers have tested positive to the coronavirus and it was likely that the virus would be spread further if the fixtures continued as normal.

It is reassuring to know that the Premier League and EFL acted in the best interests of the fans, players and staff.

It is also significant to note that the Prime Minister and his scientific advisers did not act to suspend large public gatherings such as sporting events even though the risk of infection is high.

Unlike many other countries the Government’s approach is currently to allow public gatherings for as long as possible as they believe that the peak of the outbreak could be in several weeks’ time.

However, this a risky strategy which could put many lives at risk in the meantime. This strategy has been challenged by some scientists who suggest that a more proactive approach to public gatherings could restrict the spread.

The Government may have to review their recommendations now that the Premier League and EFL have decided to go against their advice.

Given the situation in many other countries, the risk of a longer postponement beyond the 3rd April is also quite likely given the severity of the outbreak.

If the postponement continues for any length of time many clubs outside the Premier League are likely to suffer financial hardship.

Without regular match day income many clubs will struggle to pay the wages of staff and could ultimately go out of business.

The football authorities and the Government have a key role to play in ensuring that this does not happen.

The wealthy Premier League clubs should set up a hardship fund for lower league teams who may struggle without the regular income.

It is now time for the big rich clubs to show if they care about the good of the game, or whether self-interest rules.

Posted in Championship, Coronavirus, English Football League, Premier League, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lacklustre Latics held by Luton – Wigan Athletic 0 Luton Town 0

Michael Jacobs Micheal Jacobs was denied by Simon Sluga late on

Wigan Athletic and Luton Town fought out a dull 0-0 draw at DW Stadium.

With both teams battling against relegation, the fear of defeat seemed uppermost in the players’ minds and contributed to an uneventful spectacle.

Latics had the greater possession and had more shots than their opponents but real chances were at a premium.

Late in the game substitute Joe Garner had a good chance but headed straight at keeper Simon Sluga.

Then in added time Sluga denied Latics all three points with a superb save from substitute Michael Jacobs.

The draw meant that 20th placed Latics maintained the six point gap above 23rd placed Luton in the Championship table with nine games remaining.

Paul Cook made one change to the starting line up from last Saturday’s 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, with Kal Naismith replacing the injured Tom Pearce.

Latics pressed early on as they attempted to maintain their excellent recent form.

The hosts first real chance came on the half hour mark when Gary Roberts’ corner found Leon Balogun and the Brighton loanee headed just over the crossbar from close range.

A neat set-piece routine created Latics’ next chance as Roberts and Samy Morsy combined before setting up Williams, who saw his shot from the edge of the area well blocked.

The visitors rarely threatened in the opening half as Balogun and Cedric Kipre swept up any attacks.

But Graeme Jones’ team has a strong shout for a penalty when Joe Williams appeared to pull back Matty Pearson in the area.

The Hatters started the second-half strongly but couldn’t create any clear cut openings.

Substitute Anthony Pilkington and Kieffer Moore then tried their luck for Latics.

With time running out Latics had their two best opportunities of the game.

First Naismith’s cross was met by substitute Garner but the striker’s diving header was straight at Sluga.

Then substitute Jacobs had an even better chance when his low drive was superbly turned away by Sluga.

The points were shared and Latics had been prevented from extending their three game winning sequence.

Credit should be given to Luton, who have been on a good run of form recently, and produced a battling away performance but Latics were definitely not at their best.

Did they just have an off day, or did Cook’s fear of defeat affect his tactics and contribute to the poor showing?

There was certainly an edginess about Latics’ play and the fluency of recent weeks was noticeably absent.

Latics struggled to create many chances and they must show a marked improvement against Huddersfield next week if they are to get a good result.

Let’s hope this was just a blip and Cook’s team will get back to the type of high energy pressing football that has been so impressive in recent weeks.

Championship Form Guide Championship Form Guide
Posted in Championship, Graeme Jones, Luton Town, Michael Jacobs, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why have Wigan Athletic suddenly clicked?

Samy Morsy Captain Samy Morsy. Photo courtesy of Wigan Athletic

Latics moved out of the relegation zone on Saturday for the first time in three months with an impressive 1-0 victory at Championship leaders West Brom. They are the in-form team in the division with 17 points from a possible 24 in the last eight games.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround from early December when Latics couldn’t buy a win and were defeated by Reading and Saturday’s opponents Luton Town. Many people including myself were calling for a change in manager as Paul Cook seemed out of ideas and incapable of finding a winning formula.

So why have Latics suddenly clicked?

A number of factors have contributed to the remarkable transformation.

Is it that time in the season when they need to step up their performances to preserve their Championship status? Last season the team looked like being sucked into the relegation zone and it was only a late sequence of positive results starting at Leeds United in April that enabled them to avoid the drop.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Latics’ revival started around the time they defeated Leeds again at Elland Road. The belief since that result has soared. Is there something in the current team’s mindset that says we only getting going when the going gets tough?

Captain Samy Morsy has been a revelation in recent weeks, his man of the match performances have inspired his teammates. Organising and urging them on to some remarkable performances against Leeds and West Brom.

Not only has the Eqyptian international been extremely combative he has also chipped in with some important goals at home to Middlesbrough and at the Hawthorns.

The addition of Brighton and Hove Albion loanee Leon Balogun has been a masterstroke by Latics. The German-born Nigerian international has quickly slotted into the centre back role alongside Cedric Kipre to form a solid defensive barrier.

Balogun was imperious against West Brom with some unbelievable last-ditch tackles and defensive blocks. Striker Hal Robson-Kanu must be having nightmares after Balogun denied him on at least three occasions with superb goal saving challenges.

Summer signing Kieffer Moore has finally started to find the form that Latics expected when they signed him. Moore has four goals in the last eight games and you can’t help feeling that if the service was a little better he would score even more goals.

Kieffer Moore Kieffer Moore

The Wales international striker leads the line very well and he has a very good touch for such a big man. His two back-heeled flicked finishes against Cardiff and Reading were world class and it will not be long before he becomes a target for Premier League clubs.

The style of play has noticeably improved in recent weeks and the last two performances against Reading and West Brom have been characterised by a high pressing game. Latics have dominated possession, passed the ball to great effect and created plenty of chances.

It is not clear why Cook didn’t adopt this approach earlier in the season. Much of Latics’ early games were characterised by his ineffective long ball tactics. Surely given the current success the manager will continue with the high press for the remaining games.

It’s probably no coincidence that Latics’ resurgence has occurred since forward Josh Windass left the club for a loan at Sheffield Wednesday.

Windass has some talent but his form has been very erratic and his regular outbursts on social media have not endeared him to the fanbase. Cook has reportedly had a disagreement with Windass and its fair to say he has been a disruptive influence in the dressing room.

The team spirit now seems to be sky high with all the players pulling in the right direction. The effort and determination in recent games has been exemplary and we can only hope that this will continue in the remaining ten games.

Latics aren’t safe from relegation yet, but the signs are positive and it’s worth remembering that Joe Gelhardt, Antonee Robinson and Kieran Dowell will all return in the near future to give the squad an extra boost.

Posted in Antonee Robinson, Championship, Joe Gelhardt, Josh Windass, Kieran Dowell, Leon Balogun, Paul Cook, Wigan Athletic | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments