Monday, 21 November 2011

Huddersfield Town - Record Breakers

I've been hanging back from writing about this season's progress because I've been waiting for one of two things to happen: either we lose or we beat Nottingham Forest's record run of 42 games undefeated in the league. Well, I'm happy to announce we beat the record. Once more, Huddersfield Town make history. On Saturday we played Notts County at the Galpharm Stadium and beat them 2-1 (should have been 2-0 but we got sloppy in the dying seconds of added time). That win took us to an amazing tally of 43 games without a loss. Yes, a lot of those games were draws (18 to Forest's 21) and yes, we have actually lost some matches since the run began. As Peterborough United supporters were quick to point out on Twitter, we lost to them in the Play-Off Finals in May and we've been knocked out of all cup competitions this season. The fact is cup matches and play -offs don't count. End of.

I'm glad I was at the match. It will go down as one of my treasured memories of following Huddersfield. I'm not as good as my husband is at instant recall. He can spout facts and figues, names and numbers, at the drop of a hat. I'm pretty rubbish at knowing who was manager in 1989 or whatever but I know I'll remember Saturday. Despite manager Lee Clark had told everyone to focus on getting the three points and not to be distracted I couldn't help it. I was distracted.

I was especially distracted in the first half when we played muted football. Town allowing themselves to be pinned back by County, whose game plan seemed to be to hold up play as often as possible by barging and shoving. Forward Alan Lee was on the receiving end of these needling challenges time and time again but it was Lee who came away with a yellow card in the first half.

Luckily County's spoiler tactics didn't work in the second half. As so often happens, Town emerged from the tunnel ready to rock. Who else but Jordan Rhodes, now a full International player for Scotland and much scouted, scored within 2 minutes. As the Yorkshire Post put it, the goal was '... a classic example of the centre-forward's craft. He started the move straight from the kick-off by setting Jack Hunt on his way down the right. Hunt played a one-two with Scott Arfield while Rhodes zipped into the box from deep to be ready to head in the defender's pinpoint cross at the far post.'

More drama followed when Alan Lee, reacting to being fouled again (by Sam Soje this time) got a second yellow for retailating. Town were down to ten men but you couldn't tell. Captain Reliable Peter Clarke marshalled his defence and regrouped. When Rhodes' second went in on 65 we knew the day, the three points and the record, were ours.

The winning run could well end now. League One is tight at the top and we meet Charlton, the league leaders, a week today.  Staying second isn't going to be easy but I sincerely hope Town can keep the momentum going and gain automatic promotion this season. They deserve it. They are playing neat, passing football and have enough strength and talent to justify a place in the Championship.

Current Standings:

Charlton                    43

Huddersfield Town    38

Sheffield Wednesday 36

MK Dons                 33

Sheffield Utd            32

Friday, 23 September 2011

A big Derby match – Keith Mansfield

Scouring the sports pages of newspapers, my eyes are often drawn to an article I then discover is nothing to do with my team. The adjective that describes Derby will turn out to be to ‘local’ rather than ‘mighty’. I suspect it means my club nominally has more mentions in more papers around the world than any other.

Last weekend saw several Derbies. In Glasgow the ‘Old Firm’ did battle for the first time this season, Rangers coming out on top in a six-goal thriller. Derby matches are rarely so free-scoring – in London’s East End where I live, Millwall and West Ham drew blanks in their first head-to-head for a while. And in my East Midlands home town, Steve McClaren’s Nottingham Forest entertained Nigel Clough’s Derby County.

In my part of the world the term ‘local Derby’ is presumed to originate from the ancient ‘football’ matches held either between different parishes of the city (apparently All Saints and St Peter) or perhaps between towns in the county. Back as far as the twelfth century in Ashbourne there are records of hundreds-a-side games with one set of locals trying to kick/throw/carry a ball into the goal belonging to the other half of the town. Others say the term somehow originates from the Derby horse race, but that’s named after the Earl of Derby who’s named after the city so I think we can safely claim the etymology.

Tom writes about the dirty Leeds
Curiously, growing up in Nottingham and first going to football in 1970 (age four or five!), I wasn’t aware Derby actually had our own local rivals. At the time our big rivals were (so I was taught) Tom Palmer’s Leeds (or Damned) United. It was only when Notts Forest appointed Brian Clough that the rivalry (for me at least) began. Forest have a penchant for picking ex-Derby people to run their club, hence today it’s ex-England brolly-bearing Steve McClaren (a Derby midfielder and highly successful first-team coach) who was immediately preceded by the country’s prickliest manager, Billy Davies.

Some football commentators who don’t know better believe certain Derbies are bigger than others. That’s nonsense. Try telling the people of East Anglia that the Ipswich vs Norwich match isn’t as hotly contested as Arsenal vs Spurs or the good folk of Burnley and Preston that their northwest Derby is less important than a game between the two halves of Manchester.

Nowadays Derby and Nottingham are separated by the Brian Clough Way (formerly the A52) and every time the sides meet the contest the Brian Clough Trophy. In the very first minute of Saturday’s game, Forest striker Ishmael Miller seized on a ball in a crowded six-yard area to poke it past Derby and England goalkeeper Frankie Fielding. The shot was cleared but the players collided and referee Scott Mathieson Pointed to the penalty spot. There was absolutely nothing Fielding could do to get out of the way so it seemed harsh to say the least.

I’m sure the great Clough would have been far from happy with what happened next, as three Forest players immediately surrounded Mathieson, hounding him around the penalty area and clamouring for a red card. The intimidation worked. The penalty was scored and after a minute we were 1-0 down, our best player (from the current England squad) of the pitch and having to play the entire match with ten men!

That’s what I call a test of character. Last year I’d watched from the City Ground’s Bridgford End as the black and white half of the East Midlands was humiliated – at this point it was hard to envisage anything other than the same thing happening again, but this season’s Derby are proving to be made of sterner stuff.

We controlled the game - not as flamboyantly as with eleven players, but comfortably keeping the opposition at arm’s length. Some claimed our equalizer was controversial. With the Rams surging forward a Forest player went down (by himself and in full sight of the referee) behind the play, back in the Derby half. The ref waved play on. Had the roles been reversed the Nottingham faithful would have been incensed to see their team waste a scoring opportunity and kick the ball out, but the partisan nature of football meant a chorus of boos rang round the stadium. Happily the Derby players were not to be diverted and Jamie Ward scored a magnificent goal.

Young Jeff Hendrick
One of the special things about this season is the number of youth team players breaking through into the Rams first team. As a supporter you feel a special bond with players who’ve grown up locally and who, in this mercenary era, might just still feel something of the sense of loyalty and passion for the club that you do. An example is teenage midfielder Jeff Hendrick. With an our gone he somehow contrived a miss worthy of Torres, heading wide of an open goal from two yards out and with no one anywhere close. You had to wonder if it was going to be our day and if this might be a turning point. It was, but only that it drove Derby to redouble their efforts and take the game by the scruff of the neck.

Having missed his sitter, Hendrick didn’t hide and, ten minutes later, rifled home a shot from outside the area reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard. Forest couldn’t respond. The Brian Clough trophy travelled back along the Brian Clough Way, to the city in which the family has called home for nearly fifty years; the Rams sit prettily in the Championship table with more than two points a game and two home games to come.

Football is partly the beautiful game because of the passion of the fans – nothing beats a noisy stadium with one set of supporters attempting to out-sing the others, or the brilliant banter between the fans. The problem often is that not everyone remembers it is only a game – there are far more important things happening in the world every single day than any football match.

In my new book, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth, the future of the entire planet is at stake, but Johnny is still able to play an inter-county tournament where his Essex school travels up to meet the teams from Nottingham and Derby (amongst others). It’s great that you can have a light-hearted play when writing a book, and I confess I had the team from Derby (my dad’s old school) beating the team from Nottingham (my old school!) in the opening match.

Back in the real world, Saturday’s local Derby might briefly have felt like the battle for Earth, but happily no blood was shed and the Rams remain well placed as the season continues. For me it was an epic encounter. Tomorrow, the game between Crewe Alexandra and Port Vale will feel just as important to fans of both teams.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Clarets Creative – fans stories

A few weeks ago Keith Mansfield wrote about the bungee cord that connects him to his club and how football keeps us hoping. A similar article in The Guardian ( last week by John Crace, reminded me that even when your team is in the Premiership, hope is greater than certainty.
 The Clarets Creative project has been running in Burnley since June 2010. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is an oral history project, which by its very nature is about real stories rather than official history, fans rather than players, hope rather than certainty. In the case of Burnley FC, the fans have to be some of the most passionate, loyal and hopeful in the world (well every team would say that wouldn’t they) – but when it comes to thick and thin, surely Burnley fans can most ably demonstrate the ends to which they would go. Here is one story that has come out of the project, that illustrates what we mean. It is from the diary of Richard.
As we started to slip down the leagues the possibility of watching the team play at all 92 league grounds became a real possibility and many of us were determined to do it. As a result I found myself walking through 6 foot snow drifts in blizzard conditions one Friday in April, trying to get to Colne from Lothersdale . The reason was catching the Shoppers Special train from Manchester to Plymouth that evening. I managed to get to Colne soaked and half frozen. There I got a change of clothes at a mate’s house and we bussed it over to Manchester. Come 11pm there were 50 are so fans in the Brunswick pub off Piccadilly Gardens suitably refreshed and ready for the trip.
After a narrow defeat and the long journey back to Manchester the next day we weren’t quite as high spirited .We spent the endless night huddled in the waiting room at Victoria Station before getting the first train back to Colne on Sunday morning. I was still faced with a six mile walk home, which I managed before sleeping for 18 hours solid. All part of the experience of being a Burnley fan!
So what is oral history – and why is it so important to football?
Oral history is about capturing stories and memories of good times and bad: things that stick in the memory for reasons that are more to do with the fan rather than the club. As such it helps explain why a club is so important to local people and plays such a large part in the life of a town. If football is more important than life (to misquote a certain football manager), then this project might just help us to understand why.
The project has also been about creativity. Being creative makes us realise who we really are, and it is good for us! From the perspective of this project, this might be about decorating your car for the play-offs, hanging your lucky sock over your bed, collecting a set of badges or painting your face in a new design for every home game (and getting local people to come up with ideas to keep you in designs). 
Of course Burnley does have its very proud official history – Burnley was one of the founder members of the Football League. This project acknowledges that, but then takes things a step further by recording a personal archive that links to this. It has valued the experiences of local people and has created something that they can be proud of.

The final exhibition showing what has been created during the project is being held in Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery, Burnley from 19 September to 17 December 2011. On Sunday afternoons we will be there with an Artist in Residence. But if you can’t get there, then the following is a sneak preview:

1.       Objects of passion
Loaned objects from fans: everything from a Turf Moor brick to tea cosy and a lucky hat. These objects of passion mean a great deal to the fans who have loaned them, as told in the stories that go with the object.

2.       Stories Stories have arrived in many different ways and express the depth of emotion and the fantastic experiences that many fans have had as they have followed Burnley over the years. They include the telling of traditions, superstitions and memories – both happy and sad.

Football acts as the thread that runs through the lives of many people in Burnley. It ties together important events in a fan's life and helps many to talk about family loyalties, social contacts, first jobs or the ups and downs of the team (which reflect the ups and downs of life).

Some fans wrote short pieces onto beer mats, others told their story into a microphone. On our website you will find longer pieces, plus some of the pieces from this exhibition.

3.       Made in Burnley (and Pendle)
Part of the aim of this project was to hold workshops across the local area to help fans capture their memories either by story telling or in a visual way. The photographs, paintings and sculptures in this case reflect the stories of those who like to do it visually.

4.       Folk ArtSome fans have expressed their love of Burnley FC in their own way. We especially love the
themed painting “Breaking All the Rules” (taken from above one fan’s fire place).

5.       Fans
photographs have been recorded as part of the project and reflect what it really means to be a Burnley fan.

Please come along – we look forward to seeing you.
 Janet Swan

Labels: Burnley FC, Clarets Creative, Towneley Hall
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A Window Of Opportunity - Dan Tunstall

Not everyone in football is a fan of the Transfer Windows in January and July/August. Respected figures in the game like Steve Coppell, the former Reading manager, and Sven Goran Eriksson, ex of Man City and England, now at the helm at Leicester, have spoken out against them.

According to Coppell and Eriksson, the Transfer Windows have a destabilising effect. Managers can suddenly find themselves without key players and struggling clubs are often forced into panic buying in the mid-season window in a desperate attempt to preserve their status in a particular division, sometimes with disastrous effects for their finances.

I can see the value in these arguments, but it seems like the Transfer Windows are here to stay. And the one thing that no-one can deny is that they provide plenty of drama. The two Deadline Days have become a bit of an extravaganza on Sky Sports News over the past few years, but there's plenty to enjoy in the lead-up period too.

As a writer, I spend a lot of my days sitting in my office staring at a blank screen on my laptop, wondering where I'm going to produce some words from. At times like these, as a bit of a distraction, I often find myself Googling "latest transfer rumours". And for a Leicester fan, this summer has been a cracker. In addition to all the players we signed (I think it was twelve, but I might have lost count), we seemed to be linked with every striker under the sun.

Andy Johnson. Cameron Jerome. Yakubu. Victor Anichebe. Shane Long. Nicky Maynard. Nikica Jelavic. Simon Cox. Adam le Fondre. Robbie Keane. Matt Derbyshire...the list went on and on.

In the end, our only piece of transfer business on Deadline Day was bringing in Jermaine Beckford from Everton. Scored lots of goals in League One, did OK in the Premier League last season. Hopefully should be a good signing.

In the meantime, I'm going to have to find something else to do with my time when I'm supposed to be writing. Although I suppose I could keep an eye on what's happening in the loan market...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Women's Super League - end of season one

As I type this Manchester United have just trounced Arsenal 8-2 but I've just returned from something even more significant - the last match of the season in the first FA Women's Super League (WSL). I attended the mid-table clash between Lincoln Ladies and Bristol Academy.

Bristol Academy 

The result was a 3-1 win for Lincoln with two goals from new signing Jodie Taylor either side of the half, a third from Lucy Staniforth and an OG for Bristol from Imps' captain  Casey Stoney.  For some ace photographs from the match go to Mark Hodsman's blog on :

Jodie Taylor scored twice for Lincoln Ladies

It means the table now looks like this:

Team                    PL.   Pts
Arsenal                14    32
Birmingham          14    29
Everton                13    22
Lincoln                 14    21
Bristol A              14    16
Chelsea                 13   15
Doncaster B         14     9
Liverpool             14     7

So on a humiliating day for the men's Arsenal team, the women's team once more take home the silverware. Some will say little has changed. Before the WSL Arsenal Ladies frequently beat all comers in both league and cup matches. However, the FAs redistribution of quality players at the beginning of the season meant that Arsenal weren't automatic winners this time. Birmingham City were top for quite a while and gave them a good run for their money. Indeed Lincoln Ladies beat Arsenal recently and have shown remarkable tenacity in the post-World Cup half of the season. That's not to take anything away from Arsenal's achievement. They are a force to be reckoned with. Long live the Gunners!

Arsenal Ladies win the first WSL

I'm not sure what the overall consensus will be on whether the super league experiment - if I can call it that - has worked. I'm sure websites like She Kicks and Women's Soccer United will have all the facts and figures  but from what I've read and seen having the women's season in the warmer months must have helped and the injection of cash from the FA has definitely generated more media attention. Crowds have improved but nothing like enough. There were 381 at the game today compared to over 700 at the opening match and it was free in. Pre-match publicity asked for 'donations' at the end but adult prices are usually only £6.00 anyway compared with the £25.00 I pay to watch Huddersfield in League 1. So the game is hardly a money spinner yet. Facilities have a way to go, too, at least at Ashby Avenue. It has only one grotty loo and I witnessed a mum having to change her baby's nappy on the grass outside. Not ideal. 

Still, unlike the men's game it isn't all about the money and the fancy hospitality suites. It's about upping the profile of the women's game. It's about showing that women can play and can play well (for evidence of that watch the Women's World Cup Final from July - terrific). It's about encouraging young girls to see football as something they can join and enjoy. I love it when I see, as I did today, 8 year olds with female footballers' names on the back of their shirts.  More of that please.

Helena Pielichaty

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bedding in - Huddersfield Town v Colchester United

Game 4 in League 1 and Huddersfield are bedding in. After the excitement of the play-offs against Peterborough in May and with an unbeaten run of 28 matches Town are a much-fancied side for promotion. However, the unbeaten run includes a lot of draws and three of those have been this season. Fans have started to get agitated and manager Lee Clark called for support, not boos, at the game against Colchester.

We began sprightly enough with a well worked goal in the 3rd minute from striker Jordan Rhodes after a sharp cross from Jack Hunt who had outspaced his marker. 'Hey up,' I thought, 'this is going to be easy.' You'd think after watching Town play for almost 30 years I'd have known better than to let such an idea pass through my head. Less than two minutes later Colchester equalised with Town defender Peter Clarke being bettered by Odejayi.  Still, Rhodes had another chance not long afterwards that produced a brilliant save. Town were looking good. But after the bright start it all went a bit flat.  Our defence was continually breached with Naysmith in particular seeming slow on the right wing. Colchester scored a second (Antonio on 27) and I'm afraid Town players were booed off by some fans as the half ended.

The second half was different again. Danny Ward, who signed a permanent contract during summer, came on for Gary Roberts. Ward's a quality player, pacy and with great ball control. He changed the game. For the next twenty minutes Town had their best spell and played how they should have been playing all season. Rhodes equalised on 59 and Novak put us 3-2 up five minutes later. The last twenty minutes was spent defending the lead.

The win puts Town on 6 points and 11th in the league. 

 Jordan Rhodes

Meanwhile the top of the table looks like this:
MK Dons 10
Charlton   10
Sheff U     10
Brentford   9
Preston      7

At the other end Leyton Orient have yet to grab a point and newly promotoed Chesterfield are also having a slow start.

Still, it's early days. Give us a few more weeks, a bit of bad weather and the inevitable injuries and we'll start to see which teams look like being contenders. I hope Town are in there.

Helena Pielichaty

Monday, 15 August 2011

Wake-Up Call For Sven's Men - Dan Tunstall

Over this summer, you'd be forgiven for thinking that my club, Leicester City, has undergone a name change. We're not just Leicester City any more. We're Big Spending Leicester City.

After a fairly quiet start to their reign, our new owners, the Thai-based King Power Group, have started flexing their financial muscle. Suddenly, we're throwing money around like it's going out of fashion. At the last count, we'd brought in eleven new players since May. A lot of these were for undisclosed fees, but the word on the street is that we have spent upwards of £10 million.

Of course, everything's relative. Getting eleven players for ten million quid seems like pretty sensible business when you compare it to the sort of transfer fees the Manchester clubs and Liverpool have been paying this summer. Even the supposedly frugal Arsenal have just splashed out £12 million for an untested 17 year old. But for Leicester City, and for the Championship, £10 million is serious money.

The thing about spending big though, is that people expect immediate results. And that's the tricky part. We started the season well enough. A 1-0 win at Coventry on the opening day, despite having Darius Vassell sent off for a rash two-footed challenge ten minutes in, and a comfortable 4-1 Carling Cup victory at Rotherham. But on Saturday, Reading came to town.

I don't know what it is about Reading, but we never seem to be able to beat them. In fact we don't seem to be able to get so much as a draw very often. For the fourth successive time, Reading ended the game with all three points.

All of a sudden, the pressure is on. Was the Reading result just a blip, a one-off, or have we got problems? Have we tried to change too much too soon? Will all the new players be able to gel together as a team, or will we end up as an expensive jumble of individuals?

These are all tricky questions, and the man in charge of putting people's minds at rest is our manager Sven Goran Eriksson. True to form, Sven's playing it cool. It's just the sort of wake-up call we needed, he thinks. We've got another home game against Bristol City on Wednesday night. The perfect opportunity to get back in the groove.

I hope he's right. Because if we don't do the business on Wednesday, our next match is away at local rivals Notts Forest - never a happy hunting ground. And if we lose there...well, people are going to start panicking.

Football. Don't you just love it?