the Cuppa of Dreams…

22 02 2011

Monkey and I are getting through a few cuppas at the moment but not just PG tips!

We are in severe danger of becoming Sports TV couch potatoes and there is a distinct possibility of RSI from over use of the remote, switching between the current glut of football, rugby and cricket cup action.  

Even as I write, I have one eye on England’s first appearance in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The orange men of the Netherlands are currently making a good fist of their innings in Nagpur – surely not history repeating itself? Remember they beat England at Lords in the 2009 World Twenty20 competition!    

Things have moved on a bit from the days when TV sports coverage was confined to a weekly Saturday afternoon dose from BBC’s Grandstand – its arrival on-screen heralded by a roving camera image, accompanied by that instantly recognisable TV theme (apparently called ‘News Scoop’, by Len Stevens). In my early days it was introduced by David Coleman, later immortalised in Private Eye Magazine by the term Colemanballs (with reference to his verbal gaffes) and later by Frank Bough (now better remembered for his colourful private life!)

The climax of the show was always the late afternoon Final Score section, when the famous Teleprinter burst into action, as final whistles blew up and down the country at the day’s football matches.

It wasn’t until the mid ‘60s that Saturday afternoon channel hopping was born (for younger readers, this involved climbing off the couch and switching over at the set!) with the arrival of a direct competitor in the shape of ITV’s World of Sport.

It was originally fronted by Eamon Andrews (Crackerjack!) of the big red book fame (This is Your Life) and later by the moustachioed Dickie Davies with his bouffant hairstyle and distinguished grey highlights! The regular centre piece of this show was the highly choreographed wrestling slot! 

I can’t believe what I’ve been watching out of the corner of my eye. A series of schoolboy fielding errors has allowed the Netherlands to rack up 292-6 in their 50 overs. Ryan Ten Doeschate top scoring with an admirable 119 and a major upset is very much on the cards!

A strong cuppa is called for…

Having washed two cars and knocked up a pasta sauce (alla Norma) for later seems to have done the trick. I’m back on the couch and England are currently 166-1. Make that 166-2, Strauss out caught pulling – I should have stayed away!  

 Anyhow back to the Cuppa of Dreams (with one eye on the cricket!)

The highlight of last week’s UEFA Champions League football, which has now reached its knock-out cup stages, was the first leg of the last 16 game between Arsenal and Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium. It promised to be a game for the football purist and didn’t disappoint.

It’s not too often that the Gunners are outplayed at the beautiful game but there were times when they just couldn’t get hold of the ball and Barca were at their mesmerising best, weaving endless intricate triangles with their fluent passing and movement off the ball.

But they only had one goal to show for their first half superiority, from David Villa, and Arsenal kept themselves in the game and the tie with two late strikes from Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin; the latter finishing off a superb counter attack that might have come straight out of the Nou Camp coaching manual.    

North London rivals Spurs also pulled off a great 1-0 win against AC Milan, with a second half goal from Peter Crouch at the San Siro Stadium, in another eminently watchable game which had the added sideshow of an off pitch confrontation between Milan’s pushy Gatusso and the Tottenham coach and former fearsome Scottish international, big Joe Jordan, who took off his glasses but luckily kept his teeth in.          

It was also an FA Cup weekend, with a mixture of 4th round replays and 5th round ties. For so long, such a high-profile domestic competition, the Cup, as it was once quite simply known, has suffered in recent years. The top teams, who are now far more interested in the battle for a top four Premiership spot and the cherished prize of a place in Champions League football, have frequently fielded second string teams, reducing the appeal of the tournament for the paying public.

Having said that, this season I have sensed something of a resurgence in interest, in particular for those matches that provide the opportunity for potential giant killing minnows to have a tilt at elite Premiership teams.    

A perfect example of this was non-league Crawley Town’s well organised performance at  Old Trafford where, amazingly, they lost by only 1 goal to nil against Man U. A few Premiership sides would settle for damage limitation of that order.

Lowly Leyton Orient went one better, at Brisbane Rd, stunning Arsenal with a late equaliser from substitute Jonathan Téhoué. This unlikely 1-1 draw has earned the O’s a money spinning replay and a big night out at the Emirates Stadium while the Gunners have picked up an extra fixture that they did not want. Perhaps, if they had paid the competition and the opposition a little more respect by fielding a stronger team…      

Chris and I were in London at the weekend catching up with Gem and Nicci for the first time since Christmas. While the girls did whatever girls do on these occasions I took myself off to nearby Stamford Bridge for the 4th round replay between Chelsea and Everton.

It was a lunchtime kick off, a miserably wet one at that, and I feared it might be a lack lustre affair, – but no! 41,000 were crammed in and the away supporters end was full of Everton fans singing their hearts out for the lads! I dread to think what time they set out from Liverpool.

Both teams fielded full strength teams, with the exception of Chelsea’s 50 million pound man – Fernando Torres, who was cup tied.  

There was a vibrant atmosphere and Everton took the game to Chelsea in the first half without ever really threatening to convert their industry into goals. Chelsea moved up a gear in the second half but failed to make the most of a number of clear-cut chances and the game went into extra time.

Chelsea finally broke the deadlock in the 104th minute when Frank Lampard volleyed in, teed up by Drogba following a good turn and cross from Anelka. Game over, the Toffees had been unwrapped, or so it seemed, until with one minute remaining on the clock Everton full back Leighton Baines curled in a superb left footed free kick from 25 yards out.      

Penalty shoot-out time; I’d never before been present at a game that had ended in this way. I fancied Chelsea but found myself rooting for Everton whose fans had cheered their team on relentlessly all afternoon. It meant more to them, but Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti who reportedly has his job on the line despite winning the League and Cup Double last year, might argue he had a lot riding on it too!   

Baines, moments before the Everton hero, had the first kick saved by Petr Cech. Game over, the Toffees had surely come unstuck, or so it seemed, until Anelka went for a showy dink, which Everton keeper Tim Howard clawed away, and Ashley Cole fired miserably high, wide and handsome.

Everton skipper, the veteran Phil Neville, strode up and confidently rifled Everton’s final kick un unerringly into the top corner. Game over, no way back for Chelsea and the travelling scouse fans elated. The disconsolate Chelsea faithful trooped from the ground putting on a brave face and muttering about concentrating on the Champion’s League; maybe, but judging by this game they will have to up their game a lot. But I will be backing Everton for the Cup – David Moyes’ team deserve some success and I hope it’s their year!      

It’s all over in Nagpur, England saved from World Cup embarrassment, winning by 6 wickets with 8 balls to spare, due to a steady all round batting performance.

So what of the Cricket World Cup, being staged by Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka?

It got off to flying start on Saturday with the joint hosts playing each other in Mirpur. The dashing and prolific Indian opener Virender Sehwag stroked his way to an imperious 175, silencing the Dhaka crowd and putting the game beyond a Bangladesh team who are capable of pulling off one or two ‘surprise’ results in this 50 over form of the game.

Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene also notched up a century in their opening game, against Group A whipping boys Canada, while New Zealand destroyed Kenya.

England, having negotiated today’s tricky Group B game against the Dutch, travel to Bangalore for Sunday’s show down with India, a game that will give a clearer indication of how far they might progress.

At six weeks, the tournament is over long and provided the major Test playing nations don’t slip up against one of the minnows they should qualify for the knock out stages. It will take some strong performances from the associate members (non-Test playing nations) to prevent a mid-tournament lull. The ICC should have learnt from the last World Cup, in the Caribbean, that sometimes less is more!

Despite today’s blip I expect England to at least make the semis. Although it’s difficult to see beyond India, playing in their own backyard, as eventual winners! 

Last weekend saw a break from this year’s quest for the RBS 6 Nations rugby trophy. Time to draw breath following England’s impressive start, having negotiated that demanding opening Friday night fixture (incidentally, I’m pleased it will be back to Saturday and Sunday games only, next year) against the Welsh at the Millennium Stadium and following it up with an impressively convincing performance against the Italians (potential party poopers) at Twickers.

The star of the show has been the England try scoring machine that is Chris Ashton, the Northampton Saint and rugby league convert who has already crossed the line six times, equalling the all-time 6 Nations record (with three more games to go). Against Italy he became the first English player to touch down four times in a single 6 Nations match.

From the English perspective, Ashton has been a breath of fresh air, allying a swagger and style to his fine support play and incisive try scoring that has long been missing. As for his exuberant, flying, one-handed finishes, it is probably just one more reason why the other five nations don’t like England.

Mark Lièvrmont, the French coach, has already started the war of words ahead of, what is being billed, Le Crunch at Twickenham on Saturday. He says the French just don’t like Les Rosbifs (quelle surprise?) and neither do the Celts (so nothing new there either!).

Warren Gatland set the pot boiling ahead of the Welsh game, and it didn’t do them a lot of good. Lièvremont’s refreshingly honest but ill-advised remarks simply play into England’s hands. Disrespectful comments tend to prove motivational to those on the receiving end. I expect England to take another step towards the Grand Slam on Saturday.

Let’s hope Chris Aston has another swallow dive or two in his locker, to cause a stir amongst Les Coqs!

Enough – it’s time for Monkey and me to settle down on the couch, with the remote, for another Cuppa of Dreams. What’s it to be, Copenhagen v Chelsea or Lyon v Real Madrid?





2 responses

23 02 2011

I’ve always had a soft spot for Everton since Forest beat them 3-2 in a 6th round cup tie in 1967. I almost sold my ticket, priced at the princely sum of 2/6, to an Everton fan. He offered me £5 on Trent Bridge but my dad wouldn’t let me sell it. The game was one of the best cup ties I’ve seen and well worth 2/6 plus 6d for a programme.

24 02 2011

The two European Cup wins have got to be my most memorable occasions and I was lucky enough to be present both in Munich and Madrid. But when it comes to atmosphere, excitement and pure drama I would agree that FA Cup quarter final v Everton is still the best game I’ve ever been at. Ian Storey-Moore’s hat trick goal, off the keeper, off the bar and then finally headed into the back of the net – I can see it now…

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