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The Importance of Sport (NEW CONCEPTS)
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Mick Harper
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Did You Spot It?

1. Watford vs Chelsea, game held up because of a medical emergency in the crowd
2. Southampton vs Leicester, game held up because of a medical emergency in the crowd.

That's right, it was a betting scam and it looks as though they got away with it too because only one person did spot it. Me.
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Mick Harper
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Did You Spot It? (2)

After a hundred and fifty years someone has finally spotted that swinging corners into the box produces one goal every blue moon. Southampton didn't do it twice and scored two goals in a single game.
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Mick Harper
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Further to my breathless account of the departure of Notre Dame's head coach, they have just announced he is being replaced by the 'offensive co-coordinator'. This is a bit like Real Madrid appointing the physio (or Arsenal appointing Arteta).Only worse because in college football the head coach is responsible for recruitment which, since they are not allowed to offer inducements, means head coaches have to become criminal masterminds as they set about inducing any half decent high school player to sign on the dotted line.

Just to complete the new man's bed of nails, Notre Dame are the only major college football programme that insists recruits can pass, however minimally, academic entrance qualifications.

One other notable thing. American sports pundits tend to be journalists rather than ex-sporting luminaries so they have told Notre Dame they are making a hu-u-uge mistake. They'll need God on their side but tragically for the 'Fighting Irish' the current pope is an Argentinian soccer freak and couldn't give a monkeys.
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Mick Harper
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Everton 2 Arsenal 1

Gary Neville had it right, 'Arsenal were poor.' And that was at half-time, in the second half they really went downhill. I didn't stay for his full-time remarks. Worse, Arsenal were boring. Not in the old 'boring, boring Arsenal' way of shutting up shop and pinching one on the break but in the new Arteta way of pushing it around endlessly but not knowing what to do with it next.

Gary was eloquent about why. After making some frankly actionable remarks about the Everton hierarchy he turned to his own brief days as Valencia manager. The Spanish press asked him what his plan was and he didn't understand what they meant. "I was used to preparing tactics for whoever we were playing that week but the idea of a team having an overall plan was completely new to me." He then went on to explain what this means by reference to the German school that has washed up on our shores. And, strewth, it involved things of a complexity and sophistication that even I didn't know about.

Arteta is Gary's generation. He doesn't have a plan. And he's too thick (or maybe too self-opinionated) to seek help in getting one. So Arsenal will remain what they are: good enough to be OK, good enough to keep Arteta in a job thanks to a thick (and no doubt opinionated) hierarchy, not good enough to bring comfort and joy to me. What was it Henry II said about Becket? Not that I'm saying any of you should go to the Emirates mobhanded with sharp implements, just musing aloud. Just. Musing. Aloud.
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Grant



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And Southgate is the same generation as well, which is why we won’t win the World Cup but can hammer San Marino
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Grant



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As the great master of tactics, answer me a question. What’s the difference between this pressing business and what Charlie Hughes advocated in the sixties? The long ball advocates always insisted that teams should try to win the ball back in the opposition half by pressing the defenders.
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Mick Harper
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Yes, Grant, and Gerry & the Pacemakers were the best medical instrument manufacturers on Merseyside. Anybody would advocate winning the ball in the opponent's half, it's the surest recipe for a goal there is in football. That cannot be done if a) the opponents are hoofing it up the park at the first opportunity because they'll never have the ball in their half or (b) your side is always doing it because there'll only be Roy Race up the park and he doesn't go in for tackling because of his hair. Here endeth Gary's lesson.
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Wile E. Coyote


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To my way of thinking, pressing complements possession football. Teams that control possession are saving energy and making the opposition chase. A team like Man City is ideally placed to press on the few occasions that they actually concede possesion, and the opposition are more liable to make mistakes trying to finally string some passes together. The longball game is motivated not by possession but by getting the ball into dangerous areas as quicly as possible, sure the players must then challenge for the ball but their ability to challenge is much reduced by modern refereeing, eg protection of goalkeepers. The old days, when you could score by playing the keeper and ball, both into the net, are sadly long gone.
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Mick Harper
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To my way of thinking, pressing complements possession football. Teams that control possession are saving energy and making the opposition chase.

You can have one without the other. There is no reason to suppose that the opposition will chase. They can just adopt two lines of four and wait for the tippy-tappers to arrive. But if they have adopted a strategy of chasing they will also have trained (and selected) with that in mind.

A team like Man City is ideally placed to press on the few occasions that they actually concede possesion, and the oppostion are more liable to make mistakes trying to finally string some passes together.

This is tantamount to saying Man City are a better football team and doesn't advance the argument. The weakness of pressing is that a) there will be fewer players at the back if the press is eluded and b) the pressing players will run out of puff pursuing such energetic tactics. This may be why only very good teams can do either or both but it remains unproven. These are such new tactics that counterplay has simply not caught up yet. [Apart from anyone playing Arsenal parking a player on the 18-yard line and forcing the Arteta-muppets to hoof it.]

Do my eyes deceive me or have Chelsea and Liverpool already adopted a modified long ball game? Pinging it out left and right (and sometimes over) with some regularity. That does require top talent if you are not going to be giving it away with regularity. (Are you listening, Xhaka & Co?)

The longball game is motivated not by possession but by getting the ball into dangerous areas as quicly as possible, sure the players must then challenge for the ball but their ability to challenge is much reduced by modern refereeing, eg protection of goalkeepers. The old days, when you could score by playing the keeper and ball, both into the net, are sadly long gone.

Plus the state of old-time pitches but, yes, these are cogent points. Though not major ones.
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Mick Harper
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The Ashes

I must protest in the strongest possible terms about BT's coverage. I don't remember Sky serving up such depressing fare. Yes, they got their act together for one day, the third I think, but overall it made for dismal watching. And could you please ask Shane Warne to clean up his larrikins act? "He hit two dorothies in one over," is not acceptable in the northern hemisphere.
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Mick Harper
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Pens have become a lottery. You won't remember it, but there was a time before VAR, before football became a non-contact sport, when the rule was quite simple:

Since a pen equals a goal and a goal equals a win (o.n.o) it follows that it has be dire before you get given a pen

This is not part of the rules of football, where inside or outside the area is immaterial, but it was part of football. It has to be if football is not going to be a lottery. Now Alonso can make an exemplary tackle on James but 'his knee caught him during the follow-through'. It's a tackle for chrissake, where are you supposed to put your knee? Why do you think evolutionary biology came up with the groin in the first place?

After that I watched MoTD as people got pole-axed in the area like Austrians at Solferino. Sometimes they got a pen, sometimes they didn't; sometimes they got referred, sometimes they didn't, sometimes the ref was sent to the monitor, sometimes he wasn't. I couldn't tell the difference between any of them. Apart from the ones that would have been a pen in the old days. I spotted every one of them. Well, it was Goldie, my guide dog, that spotted them and he's trained to bark when he does, so it amounts to the same thing. He's old school.
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Grant



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The same thing has always happened with Rugby Union, which is why I never watch it. Any tight game in rugby is decided by the referee’s interpretation of the rules. And those rules often change mid-match, particularly if the score is even and the more famous side needs a helping hand.
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Mick Harper
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Exacto moi. But it's not like American football where rules, interpretations of rules and whether refs are applying the rules is a major industry. They have a special panel that sits every spring after the Super Bowl. I watch a two hour gridiron discussion every evening and much prefer the half hour or so dedicated to the subject to everything else. It's Judge Judy with balls. The current big subject is 'roughing the passer' i.e. putting too much pressure on the quarter back by, for instance, landing on him too heavily after tackling him to the ground.

PS They've started sending players off for this and suchlike offences which was almost unheard of. But then in soccer it used to be more or less unheard of. England, I seem to remember, didn't have a player sent off for the first hundred and twenty years or so.
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Mick Harper
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More penalty mayhem from the Sunday matches. Particularly fascinating was the Newcastle defender faced with an onrushing Leicester attacker in the penalty area. Lascelles placed his foot sideways to intercept the ball which he did with complete success and the ball pinged off in some safer direction. So far, so good, we can all agree. He'll survive the winter clear-out.

Maddison continued his onrush, clattered into Lascelles and fell over. Lascelles hadn't moved an inch. I went back and examined it in slo-mo. Not one inch. The ref doesn't have the benefit of slo-mo and awarded a pen. VAR does and 'was happy'. The two match commentators watched the slo-mo and were happy. The MoTD panel watched the slo-mo and were happy. The principles of natural justice were not happy.

How can a perfectly legal manoeuvre be rendered post hoc illegal by the actions of somebody else? Lascelles is not expected to survive the winter clear-out.
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Mick Harper
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It was nice to see the all-white, two-goal Conor Gallagher getting some recognition at Palace. I'm white myself and grew up in those parts so it was good to see one of our own breaking through Viera's glass ceiling. A lot of people don't know it but there have been white people in the West Norwood/Penge area ever since Irish navvies were invited over to help with reconstruction after the Crimean War.
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