Thursday, 30 August 2012

Predictions 2012/13 (200th post!)

With the season already started now for everyone, it’s time for the annual “lets annoy certain teams” with some rank predictions and assumptions. So read on, disagree and make some money by doing the opposite – it’s my gift to you all.


2011/12 Predictions

2010/11 Predictions

2009/10 Predictions

PREMIERSHIP: Winner – Man City –> Seems an easy call to make despite Man Utd making numerous purchases. They still look like a more complete squad and can create numerous chances regardless of who they are playing. A team containing Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko and Tevez (if he stays) will score more than you. Will be interesting to watch in the Champions League again too as they should make it out of the group stages.

2nd – Man Utd –> The title isn’t going to leave Manchester, but I can only see the Red side being just pipped yet again by their neighbours. Fergie has bought well offensively with Kagawa (who will settle in over time) and Van Persie but last season they conceded more goals than they ever have at Old Trafford since the start of the Premiership. With Ferdinand past it, Vidic will have a lot of responsibility if Fergie adds no more at the back. They cannot afford him to get injured again.

3rd – Chelsea –> Best of the rest could go a number of ways again, but again I’ve gone with Chelsea under Di Matteo. Hazard looks an excellent signing complemented with a group of players who should respect the manager a bit more this season. Nobody expects them to retain their Champions League trophy and nobody expects them to win the league, so with the pressure off it will be interesting to see what they achieve.

4th – Arsenal –> Will be hurt by the sale of RVP but this will allow Podolski to take up his preferred FC Koln style role as the head of the attacking force. While Santi Cazorla looks an inspired signing, there just appears to be too many weaknesses in the team to mount a serious challenge higher up.

Europe (5th & 6th) – Tottenham & Newcastle –> While I appreciate that only 5th may get a Europa League spot (depending on the Cup winners), I think Spurs and Newcastle will get a European spot through their league position. With Spurs under AVB, while they have lost Modric (and a Champions League spot) in have come Sigurdsson and Vertonghen which should be enough to secure a Top 6 finish. With Newcastle, with no major departures (at the time of writing) and a couple of new additions with Vurnon Anita and Romain Amalfitano to add to an already excellent squad. While the element of surprise may be gone, the Toon still should be able to secure Top 6 again.

Relegation – Swansea City –> Manager gone, key players gone and going and add a fairly untested manager. (One Superliga title doesn’t equate to experience) Seems Swansea will struggle this season. Laudrup will need to add a Plan B very quickly as when teams got wise to their quick passing system, they would normally take 3 points off them.

Reading –> They may have smashed the Championship last season, but I think Reading will drop straight back down this season. Lack of goals nearly cost them last season and while bringing in Pogrebnyak and Jason Roberts should get them a few goals, I can’t see it being enough at this level and while they won’t get humiliated, a lot of narrow defeats may cost them.

Wigan –> While I didn’t tip them to go down last season for the first time since writing this blog, I think losing more key players will hurt and this may be the season where they can’t conjure up a great escape.

Final positions: 1st – Man City, 2nd – Man Utd, 3rd – Chelsea, 4th – Arsenal, 5th – Tottenham, 6th – Newcastle, 7th – Everton, 8th – Liverpool, 9th – West Brom, 10th – Sunderland, 11th – Aston Villa, 12th – Fulham, 13th – Southampton, 14th – West Ham, 15th – Stoke, 16th – Norwich, 17th – QPR, 18th – Wigan, 19th – Reading, 20th – Swansea

CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner – Bolton –> While it may take a while for these new players to come together (15 left the club in the summer), once they do, the squad have the experience and talent to win this League and go straight back up. And if in January, more players need to be brought in, the money is there to do so. Immediate return expected.

2nd - Blackburn –> I have told a few people about this prediction and all of them gave me raised eyebrows. The squad Blackburn have should win promotion from this league, that’s not really an area for debate. Danny Murphy and Nuno Gomes are masterstrokes. Regarding Steve Kean, should he start to struggle with this side, then he will be gone and someone (surely) will come in and lead them up.

Playoffs – Cardiff City –> While the fuss has been all about their change of kit colour this season, on the pitch Malky Mackay has a team that should challenge for promotion and reaching the playoffs should be the minimum. Adding players such as Bellamy and Jordan Mutch will easily add to that promotion chase. Considering the prices and wages they have paid and paying, they will need to.

Leicester City –> Another team owned by foreign investment and another side that should reach the play-offs this time out. Having a strong spine to the squad already helps but add Jamie Vardy for some fire power and some decent backups with Ritchie De Laet coming in will help Nigel Pearson out in his quest. Anything less and Pearson will be gone.

Leeds United –> A team featuring Neil Warnock, El Hadji Diouf, Michael Brown and “Leeds” will be physically imposing side and should batter some lesser sides off the park, however with Snodgrass leaving for Norwich, Leeds do lack a little creativity when they will come up against better sides and this will probably cost them automatic promotion this season.

Watford –> There is always a surprise team that reaches the play-offs and I think Watford will be that side out this time. Under a new manager with a new style, it may take some time to full gel but some class players such as Matej Vydra coming in as part of the Pozzo family’s portfolio, Watford have the quality to reach these heights. With potential players from Udinese and Granada to come over as well as cash, Watford can be the surprise team of the season.

Relegation – Bristol City –> Derek McInnes’ side barely avoided relegation last season and with key players leaving or already left, it looks like a major season of struggle for the Robins.

Millwall –> Were surprisingly in a mini-relegation fight last season as they stumbled towards a 16th place finish. If Andy Keogh can bang the goals in, then they might just be ok, if not…

Peterborough United –> Tipped to go down by everyone last season (including me) so an 18th place finish was celebrated in Cambridgeshire. However, the “if we concede 4, we’ll score 5” surely cannot go on much longer, especially as Boro still haven’t filled the void by Craig Mackail-Smith. A struggle awaits.

Final positions: 1st – Bolton, 2nd – Blackburn Rovers, 3rd – Cardiff City, 4th – Leicester City, 5th – Leeds United, 6th – Watford, 7th – Blackpool, 8th – Birmingham City, 9th – Wolves, 10th – Sheffield Wednesday, 11th – Middlesbrough, 12th – Charlton Athletic, 13th – Brighton, 14th – Ipswich Town, 15th – Burnley, 16th – Nottingham Forest, 17th – Hull City, 18th – Crystal Palace, 19th – Derby County, 20th – Huddersfield Town, 21st – Barnsley, 22nd – Bristol City, 23rd – Millwall, 24th – Peterborough United

LEAGUE ONE: Winner – Swindon Town –> League 1 this season is really quite evenly matched I feel so picking the main clubs took AGES. I’ve gone with Swindon to win the league as they have improved on an excellent squad and Di Canio has the determination and drive to keep pushing this side up. How long will he stay on for though?

2nd – Doncaster Rovers –> After last season’s shambles with the Willie McKay experiment, Doncaster boss Dean Saunders has gone back to basics and used his contacts to sign Dave Cotterill and Robbie Blake. If they can replace Sharp’s goals then Donny should bounce straight back.

Play-offs – Sheffield United –> Here we are again. After being oh so close to finish oh so far from the Championship, I think United will just miss out on the automatic spots again and have to deal with the play-off lottery. Desperately need a striker who can score the goals Ched Evans did to push them up.

MK Dons –> Is Karl Robinson worth the hype? MK Dons with a decent budget and Robinson have been made one of the bookies favourites and signings such as Alan Smith and Jimmy Bullard will help their cause. But so far MK Dons under Robinson have missed out when it mattered most and with owner Pete Winkelman demanding automatic promotion can it be done this time? I can’t see it.

Bournemouth –> With some Russian investment and a gun ho attack to trouble any defence, Bournemouth should be right up there this season. If they can get some defensive solidity going and avoid the PR mishaps of last season, they might be even further up.

Coventry City –> I had fancied Cov to reach the play-offs even before boss Andy Thorn was sacked earlier this week. Some new blood, in new surroundings should be the detox Coventry need to start reaching the higher end of the league table again.

Relegated – Walsall –> Even by being in this league, Walsall are punching well above their weight and it seems it will be this season that they drop down into League 2. 6 first teamers from last season turned down a new deal and with a new crop of players on a limited budget, a struggle seems inevitable.

Bury –> Were probably going to struggle anyway before Richie Barker decided to join Crawley. Now with a new boss coming in (still not picked as I write this) and a team in need of more quality, Bury could be joining old friends Rochdale in the basement next season.

Leyton Orient –> What a difference a year makes! Last season I tipped them for automatic promotion before no win in their first 10 games set the scene for a season of struggle. The new players that have come in need to make a quick impact or there could be very few wins at all.

Hartlepool United –> An awful home record last season for the Pools hindered their chance of finishing higher than 13th, but with key players on their way out, Neale Cooper will need to use all his experience to keep them up this season.

Final positions: 1st – Swindon Town, 2nd – Doncaster Rovers, 3rd – Sheffield Utd, 4th – MK Dons, 5th – Bournemouth, 6th – Coventry City, 7th – Preston NE, 8th – Brentford, 9th – Carlisle Utd, 10th – Stevenage, 11th – Tranmere Rovers, 12th – Scunthorpe Utd, 13th – Colchester Utd, 14th – Notts County, 15th – Crewe Alex, 16th – Yeovil Town, 17th – Crawley Town, 18th – Shrewsbury Town, 19th – Oldham Athletic, 20th – Portsmouth, 21st – Hartlepool Utd, 22nd – Leyton Orient, 23rd – Walsall, 24th - Bury

LEAGUE TWO: Winner – Rotherham United –> While odious Steve Evans is in charge of the club they aren’t going to win much support from neutrals, but with a large wage budget (sound familiar?) and new ground to get the locals in, this should be Rotherham’s year.

2nd – Fleetwood Town –> Much like Crawley last season, when Fleetwood finally find their feet at FL level (which shouldn’t be long), the players they have at their disposal (John Parkin, Steve Gillespie, etc) should take a promotion place. Only won’t be first because of the loss of Jamie Vardy to Leicester.

3rd – Gillingham –> Martin Allen has inherited an already decent side that just missed out on the play-offs last season. With some “Mad-Dog” magic and Andy Frampton to sow up defensive problems, the Gills should easily reach the Top 7, with 3rd place being a realistic chance too.

Play-offs – Southend United –> I feel that Southend, despite improving their already excellent squad with players such as Anthony Straker and Freddy Eastwood, will just miss out on automatic promotion and will have to settle for the play-offs again.

Bristol Rovers –> I tipped Bristol Rovers to go up last season and in the end they did fuck all under Paul Buckle before he was rightly punted for Mark McGhee. McGhee turned the season around and finished in 13th which should be a good stepping stone for a play-off charge this time out.

Oxford United –> Pressure is growing on boss Chris Wilder to finally deliver a play-off place for the Us and I think as long as they can keep striker James Constable at the club (and scoring goals!) then a Top 7 spot should be theirs.

Exeter City –> Probably the only relegated club from League 1 last season that I can see making a good stab at an instant return to the league above. They will need to improve defensively but new signing Kevin Amankwaah looks to have already made a good impact. Good offensive qualities with players such as Alan Gow and Guillem Bauzà will test League 2 defences also.

Relegated – AFC Wimbledon –> Maybe in today’s footballing world, Wimbledon’s natural league is one league lower than they currently are. After storming into the FL last season, an awful mid-season saw them lose a lot of games and in the end they recovered to finish 16th. With a small budget and defensive frailties, maybe the Dons will be wombling back to the Conference.

Barnet –> Their last season at Underhill before they move to “The Hive” next season and into the London Borough of Hendon. I’ve read comments from some fans who are clearly annoyed at the decision to completely move away from Barnet and this is surely going to effect them on the pitch. With a new rookie boss, he will need all the resources he can take, but releasing your club’s top goal scorer is a bizarre and laughable decision.

Final positions: 1st – Rotherham Utd, 2nd – Fleetwood Town, 3rd – Gillingham, 4th – Southend Utd, 5th – Bristol Rovers, 6th – Oxford Utd, 7th – Exeter City, 8th – Chesterfield, 9th – Cheltenham Town, 10th – Torquay Utd, 11th – Wycombe Wanderers, 12th – Aldershot Town, 13th – Rochdale, 14th – Port Vale, 15th – Bradford City, 16th – Morecambe, 17th – Accrington Stanley, 18th – York City, 19th – Northampton Town, 20th – Plymouth Argyle, 21st – Burton Albion, 22nd – Dag & Red, 23rd – AFC Wimbledon, 24th – Barnet

SCOTTISH PREMIER: It seems fairly pointless to write out a spiel for all 12 clubs here so I’ll keep it brief. Scotland’s 2nd shame should coast to league title and Dundee United should have enough quality (and consistency) in their squad to keep Hearts and one season wonders Motherwell away from 2nd. Dundee look hopeless and should fall back down to D1, although promoting them with only a couple of weeks to go before the season isn’t their fault, nice of the SFA to resolve the Rangers debacle quickly!

1st – Celtic, 2nd – Dundee United, 3rd – Motherwell, 4th – Aberdeen, 5th – Hearts, 6th – Hibs, 7th – St Johnstone, 8th – Ross County, 9th – St Mirren, 10th – Kilmarnock, 11th – Inverness CT, 12th - Dundee

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Watford vs Wycombe Wanderers (11/08/12)

Match 163

Ground #: 126

Ground: Vicarage Road

Competition: Capital One Cup 1st Round

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £5 (concession)

Programme: £2

Attendance: 5,343

Watford 1

Iwelumo 109’

Wycombe Wanderers 0

(After Extra Time)


That opening day of the season is a special one for football fans. Turning up for the game full of hope and excitement for the new season ahead, looking forward to seeing the new signings or new tactics the manager will play. And then the game kicks off and your side are 3-0 down inside 20 minutes. All that excitement gone. But at least there are still 35+ games of the season to go! While the Olympics are here, the football season has had to readjust and so some teams were actually playing a Cup competition on the “opening day”. No second chances here, lose and you were already out of the cup. One of those sides were Watford.


Watford is is a town in Hertfordshire, situated 18 miles northwest of central London but within the bounds of the M25 motorway. The borough is separated from London to the south by the urbanised parish of Watford Rural in the Three Rivers District. Watford stands on a low hill near the point at which the River Colne was forded by travellers between London and the Midlands. This route, originally a pre-Roman trackway, departed from the ancient Roman Watling Street and headed for the Gade valley. The modern High Street follows the route of this road. The town probably originated in Saxon and was first mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 1007. It was located on the first dry ground above the marshy edges of the River Colne. The settlement's location helped it to grow, since as well as trade along this north-south through route it possessed good communications into the vale of St Albans to the east and into the Chiltern Hills along the valley of the River Chess to the west. In 1100 Henry I granted a charter to Watford to hold a weekly market. Watford remained an agricultural community for many centuries until the Industrial Revolution brought the Grand Junction Canal in 1798 and the London and Birmingham Railway in 1837. These developments gave the town excellent communications and stimulated its industrial growth during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Grand Union Canal, allowed coal to be brought into the district and paved the way for industrial development. Today the town has major links with London as a commuter town as well as to other parts of Hertfordshire with its good rail and road links.


Watford FC were originally formed as Watford Rovers in 1881 and held home games across several parts of the town. They became part of the West Hertfordshire Sports Club in 1890 and were renamed to suit that in 1893 before joining the Southern League in 1896. They merged with local rivals Watford St Mary’s in 1898 to become the Watford FC they are known as today. After the First World War (during which they held the Southern League title due to the suspension of the league during wartime) they joined the Football League Third Division South and between the wars they floated up and down the table, only having to apply for re-election once. After the restructuring of the league in 1958, Watford were placed in Division 4 which they promptly won before finishing 3rd in Division 3 – their highest ever finish at the time. When Elton John took over as Chairman in 1976, his dream was to get Watford to the 1st Division. In came Graham Taylor and up went the Hornets as they achieved this aim in 1982, despite being in Division 4 in 1977. Probably the greatest ever Watford side is the one that finished 2nd in the top flight in 1982/83 which included league top scorer Luther Blissett, John Barnes and ensured UEFA Cup qualification.

PA-1438386(He’s not standing)

What goes up must at some point come down though and after Taylor left in 1987, Dave Bassett came in and promptly took them down after Barnes was sold. (Bassett didn’t even survive the season) Despite just missing out on an instant promotion back the next season, Watford slowly moved towards another relegation and were confirmed in Division 2 in 1996. Taylor came back (again!) and two successive promotions meant they were in the Premier League for the first time under its new name. Despite beating Liverpool early on (who doesn’t?) Watford finished bottom and Taylor retired, allowing Chelsea legend Gianluca Vialli to come in. Despite the wage bill going up by £4m, he only managed to finish 14th and was promptly sacked. While the ITV Digital collapse nearly finished Watford off, they came back under Aidy Boothroyd into the Premiership but were relegated after one season again. Midtable finishes have been the norm since then and although Sean Dyche proved a lot of people wrong (including me) by leading them to an 11th place finish last season, he was a victim to the takeover by the Pozzo Family of the club and was sacked. Meaning this was new boss Gianfranco Zola’s first competitive game in charge of the club.


One area the Pozzo Family could improve upon if they start to splash the cash is Watford’s ground of Vicarage Road. While delightfully run down in some places, in others it is a shithole and will need work on it. Now only 3 sided due to Health & Safety closing down the East Stand to general spectators (although the media are still allowed in), the other stands are all seated with only the Rous Stand being two tiered. (And including an imcomplete SW corner – dunno if this work is now back on?) The old Main Stand has now been removed from sight with white sheeting over the unused seats and the roof removed. Hopefully the Pozzo’s can get to work on this side as it seems a tad strange at the moment. It has been home to Watford since 1922, so it celebrates its 90th birthday this year and is still a lot better than the sedate new grounds that many FL sides are now building.


In town for this game were the dictionary definition of a “yo-yo” side, Wycombe Wanderers. Since winning promotion to League 1 in 2009 by a single goal, they have gone down, come up and gone down again to find themselves back in League 2. For boss Gary Waddock it’s a good thing the Wycombe board are so forgiving as two relegations at a club, would normally mean you would be looking for another job. His mandate however is quite clear this season, promotion. So if they start to look like that will not be achieved, Waddock will most likely be off. Wycombe brought a decent number from Buckinghamshire and made themselves heard throughout with the aid of a drummer. (Got to love ‘em!)


The game started off so well, both sides playing some decent stuff and both sides missing great chances. Firstly Watford’s Jonathan Hogg fired a diving header wide from a Carl Dickinson cross before Wycombe went up the other end and while home goalie Almunia did well to save Joel Grant’s low shot, he was very lucky to save Richard Logan’s effort that went up and looped just past the post. And that was it for the first half in terms of chances, it was that bad. The only other note of point was the sad injury to Wycombe defender Marvin McCoy who had to be stretchered off with a fractured fibula and will now be out for 3 months. The second half promised so much and delivered so little. It was clear to see both managers were taking this as a final pre-season game and so the atmosphere also showed as both sets of fans were fairly muted too. Logan had another chance for Wycombe as he fired just wide from distance while Nikki Bull was only really troubled when Watford started playing, in injury time. It was 0-0 after 90 minutes so we had the “bonus” of extra-time.


Some people actually left before ET kicked off and for the first time, I don’t blame them. Watford did start to show a little bit more pressure as Wycombe tired. When it looked like I’d have to stay awake for a penalty shoot out, Watford broke down the right through Matej Vydra (who was one of the best players on the pitch) and his low cross beat Bull and found Chris Iwelumo who managed to just fire the ball over the line and in. (He does have previous missing good chances) Wycombe had 10 minutes to find an answer, but didn’t ever look like scoring. After 120 minutes we had 5,000+ people asleep and Watford into the 2nd Round of the League Cup this season.


It’s hard to judge how both of these sides will do this season based on that performance as both clearly used that game to test tactics and players ahead of the league season. For Watford, Zola wants his side to play a more attacking and passing approach which is fair enough. But is the side good enough to play this way? On this showing, it appears not so the Pozzos will have to get some Euros out. Wycombe should be top half of League 2 this season but with Fleetwood and Rotherham probably occupying two of the 3 automatic promotion spots, can Wycombe get the 3rd? Doubtful.

Photos from Watford vs Wycombe


Match Ratings:

- Match: 2/10 (dreadful)

- Value for money: 7/10 (good prices for League Cup)

- Ground: 6/10 (delightful ramshackle in parts, shithole in others)

- Atmosphere: 4/10 (not much)

- Food: 8/10 (best FL ground food choice and quality I’ve been to)

- Programme: 6/10 (quite short but reduced)

- Referee: Carl Berry – 4/10 (far too fussy)

Wat vs Wyc prog

Wat vs Wyc stub

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Dulwich Hamlet vs RFC Temploux-Suarlée (05/08/12)

Match 162

Ground #: 101 (2nd visit)

Ground: Champion Hill

Competition: Pre-season Friendly 

Kick Off: 2pm

Cost: £5

Programme: £1.50

Attendance: 150

Dulwich Hamlet 10

Masson (O.G) 8’, Weston 14’, 18’, 44’, Deen 15’, Pinnock 39’, Thomas 58’, 88’, Vidal 64’, 72’

RFC Temploux-Suarlée 0


PREVIOUS VISITS: 17/11/11 – Dulwich Hamlet Youth 0-2 Oxford United Youth (FA Youth Cup)


Having moaned last month about no interesting friendlies this season, Dulwich Hamlet pulled this game from left field and as 7th Division Belgian sides don’t play in the London area too often. I made the effort to get up to Champion Hill and watch this.

RFC Temploux-Suarlée come from the Namur region of Belgian and having won the 4e Provinciale B division last year, they will be playing 2012/13 in the Namur region 3éme provincial groupe A – which is Level 7 of the Belgian pyramid. This match was brought about due to the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters side playing an Anderlecht which included Temploux coach Nicolas Lucas. A friendship grew between the sides and even a party of 15 went to Dulwich’s game at Folkestone last season to see the Hamlet win 3-1.


The Temploux players, officials and families (around a group of 30 came over) all paid for this trip themselves after Hamlet agreed to play a pre-season friendly against them as they warm up for another tilt at Isthmian Division 1 South. I was interested to see how a Level 8 side in England matched up against a Level 7 side from Belgium with my only previous experience of Belgian football (live) was RRFC Montegnée who play 3 levels higher than Temploux.


As you can see from the score, the answer was the Belgians did not match up well at all. Despite a promising start where Temploux kept the ball well and passed it around their half ok, when they went 0-1 down to a brilliant own goal, (which someone has got on film perfectly here) the floodgates well and truly opened. The Belgians were missing some key players from last season and had played some midweek cup games as well as receiving a tour of London the night before this game. Those told as Dulwich raced into a 6-0 lead at HT with all of the goals coming from good runs and a well placed attacker to finish the move off. In fact, had it not been for Temploux goalie Stacey Lombet, the score could easily have been 10-0 at HT. Dulwich added another 4 in the second half to take the final score to 10-0 (my biggest ever score). Temploux got a shot away around 70 minutes in which was comfortably saved, however the striker cheered which was nice to see as they were taking the spanking well.


While it wasn’t particularly enjoyable to see a team getting hammered that much, it did leave me with the question, how bad is that level of Belgian football? Dulwich Hamlet may go over to Namur and play there in the future which would be another sign of the gap between the two sides.


Match Ratings:

- Match: 3/10 (not too enjoyable)

- Value for money: 7/10 (decent for a PSF)

- Ground: 8/10 (not changed since November)

- Atmosphere: 3/10 (quite dead)

- Food: 7.5/10 (another bacon and french baguette combo – excellent)

- Programme: 7/10 (detailed – good stuff)

- Referee: Ryan Atkin – 7/10 (had nothing to do)

Dulwich vs RFC prog

Dulwich vs RFC stub

Friday, 10 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics – FOOTBALL (04/08/12)


(Tickets: £20 – Category D, Wembley Stadium)


Described by the Olympics as: Football was introduced as an Olympic medal sport at the London 1908 Games, 22 years before the first World Cup. The sport has featured at every Games since, except Los Angeles 1932. The aim of football, to score more goals than the opposition, is both simple and universally known. (You think?)

Described by me as: While the women’s tournament is a full international one with the top teams and players, the men’s is essentially an Under 23 tournament with some ringers. Defences not really any of the team’s strong points either.


The venue: While Olympic Football was actually taking place across the country with games being held in Newcastle, Coventry, Cardiff and Glasgow, I was at London leg of the tournament, being at Wembley Stadium. The 90,000 capacity ground is actually the biggest stadium venue being used at the Olympics (with the actual Olympic Stadium “only” being 80,000) and the home of both finals.

I’ve previous described Wembley before when I attended the 2012 FA Vase Final back in May but for this game over 80,000 people were here compared to the 5,100 that attended the Vase Final. I was interested to see how different a venue it feels when there are 16x more than I had previously experienced. The top tiers where I was sat have an excellent view and the way in and up is still well organised. Having experienced both the bottom and the top, I can easily say Wembley is a decent venue.


The experience: I go to a lot of football matches, this was in fact my 161st game. And I was sat next to a lot of people who had probably never been to a game in their life. This was ok though as that is like me turning up at a water polo or handball match and pretending to know what I was talking about. What did annoy me slightly however were the groups of people who turned up and didn’t even watch the game. Which was a real shame as the game (see below) turned out to be a cracker. Also, the Mexican fans near me wanted to start a Mexican wave every 2 minutes which became annoying too, rather quickly. Not my best Olympic experience.


The match: Only one for this session, rather than the bonus game some people got in the group stages of the men’s and women’s competition. (Would 2 games be too much though? Especially if game #1 was dirge)

Match 161

Ground #: 124 (2nd visit)

Ground: Wembley Stadium

Competition: 2012 Olympic Games Men’s Football Quarter Finals 

Kick Off: 2:30pm

Cost: £20

Programme: £5 (tournament programme) 

Attendance: 81,855

Mexico 4

Enriquez 10’, Aquino 62’, Dos Santos 98’, Herrera 109’

Senegal 2

Konate 69’, Balde 76’

(After Extra Time)


Having watched a couple of the Olympic football games prior to this on TV, it was clear that a weakness for every team taking part in this competition was defence. That was extremely clear after watching 120 minutes of these two sides as offensively, both were quite decent but made some dreadful decisions and errors at the back. Mexico came out of the blocks well and hit the bar after 3 minutes through Marco Fabian, this coming from a defensive mix up from Senegal. They were undone on 10 minutes when a Dos Santos free kick was headed in by Jorge Enriquez as their defence went missing again.

Senegal came back though and Mexican goalie Jorge Corona had to palm a header off the line to stop an equalizer and then had to be brave and punch a cross clear before Senegal’s big men (and they were huge) could score. The rest of the 1st half was extremely entertaining without too many chances being created, but I said on Twitter at HT, there would be more goals in the 2nd half.


And I was right! Mexico seemed to have wrapped up the game on 62 minutes when Senegal had many chances to clear the ball and couldn’t before Javier Aquino was found at the back post to rifle the ball into the top corner. Game over then. Well no, actually, as to my surprise Mexico found a way to collapse and let Senegal back in. Firstly, they broke on 69 minutes and a Pape Ndiaye Souare cross found Moussa Konaté unmarked to head home and after wasting a couple of other chances, Ibrahima Balde powered home another header from a corner (again, completely unmarked) to send the game into Extra Time.


It was really hard to call it in ET and yet to my amazement, loads of people (mainly families) actually left just before the last 30 mins! (Transport wasn’t an issue here, so that excuse can jog on) Mexico again started better than Senegal and after the Senegalese defence got away with a couple of errors, they made a fatal one on 98 minutes to hand the game back to Mexico. God only knows what Papa Gueye was doing fannying around on the edge of the area, but he lost the ball to Giovani Dos Santos (remember him?) who showed his calm and finished well to make it 3-2. If that was a bad goal to concede then Mexico’s 4th on 109 minutes was even worse. A really poor header back by Ba was latched onto by Raul Jimenez and while Senegal goalie Ousmane Mané kept the first chance out, he could nothing to stop Hector Herrera heading into an empty net to ensure Mexico progressed to a semi-final meeting against Japan.


Match Ratings:

- Match: 8/10 (excellent game of football)

- Value for money: 6.5/10 (reasonable Olympic price)

- Ground: 6.5/10 (same as May)

- Atmosphere: 3/10 (Mexican waves do not add to atmosphere)

- Food: 6/10 (excellent Chicken Balti Pie – shame it was £4)

- Programme: 7/10 (decent tournament programme)

- Referee: Mark Clattenburg – 7.5/10 (kept control well)


Overall: While the atmosphere and day trippers weren’t really my thing, I was lucky to see 120 minutes of excellent football played out by some players who will surely go onto bigger things. Mexico won their semi-final against Japan (3-1) and will take on the overwhelming favourites of Brazil in the gold medal match, good luck to them. That’s it now for the Olympics – I’ve loved my sessions and if I don’t get to anything in 2016, then 2020 is a must! Some Paralympic action coming soon though.

Photos from Mexico vs Senegal

OF ticket

OF football leaflet

OF prog

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics – HANDBALL (01/08/12)


(Tickets: £20 – Category D, Copper Box)


Described by the Olympics as: Handball was developed in Denmark, Sweden and Germany in the late 19th century. Originally played outdoors as field handball, the sport first appeared at the Olympic Games in 1936 and the indoor version in 1972. Played on a court of measuring 40 x 20 metres, (the largest of any indoor ball sports at the Games) Handball features two teams of 7 players passing and dribbling a small ball with their hands. The aim is to throw the ball into the opposition goal.

Described by myself: Pass ball, catch ball, throw it in goal. At rapid pace. Maybe a couple of times bounce the ball too. “Tackling” seems to be anything goes. For the female game it also appears mandatory to have one stunning player that diverts male attention away from the game. (Unless you are Denmark and then its the whole team)


The venue: The Copper Box is a permanent venue and was built with sustainability as a priority. Such as, rainwater collected from the venue’s roof will be used to flush toilets and reduce water use at the venue by up to 40%. The glazed concourse level that encircles the building will allow visitors after the Games to see the sport taking place inside and illuminating the venue when lit at night. The top half of the venue is clad in 3,000 square metres of external copper cladding – mostly recycled – to give it a unique appearance that will develop a rich natural colour as it ages.

After the games, The Copper Box will become a multi-use sports centre for community use, athlete training and events, operated by Greenwich Leisure Limited. Its flexible design and retractable seating mean it will be suitable for activities ranging from international competition to community sports, and for a wide range of indoor sports. A health and fitness club with changing facilities and a cafe for use by the local community are also planned.


The experience: This was actually a massive bonus as I was a guest to this session courtesy of Stuart Hyde. I was tempted to apply for the Handball tickets in the first ballot but it just missed out in favour of BMX, (Which in the end I was unsuccessful for) so a big thanks to Stu for the spare. Time Out London described the Handball session they had seen as “wandering into a House party” and the thumping music that hits you when you go inside is testament to that description.

It’s actually a small venue with only a 6,000 capacity so regardless of where you are sat, you have a great view of the court. You can also get some good snaps when you first go into the Arena by the seats that have a fantastic view of the court. (Probably the ones that cost £££s) As handball is an extremely fast pace sport, matches can change at anytime and so the intensity is felt in the atmosphere. The loud music and pre-match presenter/eye-candy are both also present meaning the Copper Box can get thumping and feel a lot more than the c.6000 that are in there.

(Spain vs Denmark come out)

The matches: Stuart had managed to blag some women’s handball meaning most of the “research” I had done on the men’s tournament before hand wasn’t applicable here. What was the bonus though, was the amount of stunners on show and how quality handball players they all were too. Both games were fairly tight, with Game 2 being possibly described as a classic with the contest only being settled less than a minute before the end. I’m keen to watch more handball so will be looking out for it on my travels in the future.

MATCH 1: Spain 24-21 Denmark


Denmark’s beauties sadly lost this contest to a clinical Spain but could have scraped a win had Ann Grete Norgaard scored more of her penalties that Spain gave away. 14-9 at HT, Spain looked to have a comfortable win until Denmark came back at them for the 2nd 30 minute period. It got worse for Spain when walking disaster Francisca Alberto was sent off for launching a penalty straight into the Danish goalie’s face. The Danes scored 3 unanswered goals before Spain steadied themselves and did enough to win. Much to the sadness of heterosexual males across the planet, Denmark failed to qualify for the knockout stages, while Spain are currently awaiting their semi-final match.


MATCH 2: Russia 28-30 Croatia


According to the official attendance figures, around 400 people left after the first game and missed this. Idiots. This was brilliant. The 1st half was nip and tuck with both sides have good spells before letting the other side back in. At 15-15, the 2nd half promised a lot and delivered as Croatia began to push forward and at 29-24 with 5 minutes to go it looked like the Croats would take a famous win. Then they lost their bottle (or Izgubili bocu in Croatian) and the Russian scored, and again and again and again. With just 1m 20s to go it was 29-28 and the 4,098 in the Copper Box were on the edge of their seats as both sides went for the goal they needed. Andrea Penezic got the party started back in Zagreb when she scored with 40 seconds to go. I also got to see the future Mrs Travelling Fan in Croatia’s Dijana Jovetic. (Marko is a lucky man)


Overall: When I do eventually pull my finger out and start going back to mainland Europe again, I will try and see some Handball games as this was brilliant. Two excellent matches in a great venue that will be used by the local community after the Games. This was one house party I was delighted to be a part of.

Photos from Handball

OH ticket

OH prog

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics – WATER POLO (29/07/12)


(Tickets: £20 – Category D, Water Polo Arena)


Described by the Olympics as: Water Polo developed during the 19th Century as an aquatic version of rugby, played informally in rivers and lakes. The version of the game that survives today is closer to Handball. Played by teams of seven in a pool with a goal at each end, Water Polo is a thrilling spectacle. Matches are divided into four periods of eight minutes, and each team has just 30 seconds to attempt to score before the ball is returned to the opposition.

Described by myself: A brutal and punishing sport that appears to allow most things to go unless you punch someone. Actually entertaining when you consider the technical side of it all.


The venue: The Water Polo Arena is on the south-east corner of the Olympic Park right next to the Stratford Gate entrance. Next to the Aquatics Centre, it is the first dedicated Water Polo venue to be built for an Olympic Games. The venue has a 37m competition pool plus a smaller training pool, and capacity for 5,000 spectators.

To give visitors to the Park a clear view, the architects proposed a unique sloping design, which slopes upwards from 6m to 25m. It also means the referee’s raised table used in Water Polo does not obscure the view of spectators, who sit on the opposite side of the pool. The Water Polo Arena is a very sustainable venue. Many of the parts used in the build, such as the temporary seating, have been hired so they can easily be returned and reused after the Games. The silver skin of the venue is made from an environmentally-friendly PVC that can also be recycled. After the games, the venue will be dismantled and the materials will be used across other venues and projects.


The experience: Along with beach volleyball, I really didn’t know what to expect for this. I had no idea on the rules of water polo either so I did expect to be utterly confused for the most part. While not the OTT atmosphere that suits beach volleyball so well, water polo was slightly more sedate, but this suits it as it really is a different style. The crowd can get going though especially as only one side of the stadium is for paying spectators. Video below is just before the start of the GB vs Romania game.


The matches: Water Polo looks extremely difficult to play and extremely physical so kudos to the four teams I saw out there for my session. I was also lucky to see in Match 2 a really tight game featuring two sides who should be competing for the medals. Another bonus was beginning to understand the rules as it went on!

MATCH 1: Romania 13-4 Great Britain


This was GB’s first Water Polo appearance at the Olympics since 1956 and it sadly showed as the more experienced Romanian side easily dispatched them. Despite a reasonable start from GB, once Romania’s Alexandru Matei gave his side the lead on 3 minutes, they never looked back. GB did have it at 2-1 at the end of the 1st quarter thanks to a Rob Parker penalty but a 0-4 2nd quarter ended the game for them. It was a good experience for GB though as they lost every game but hopefully they can take this on and improve in the future. Romania also lost every other game they played in the tournament and went out in the group stages.


MATCH 2: United States 8-7 Montenegro


A much more tighter game and was great to watch too as both sides had fans that made their voices heard in the Arena. After a tight first quarter when Aleksandar Ivovic and Ryan Bailey traded goals, USA took the 2nd quarter 3-1 to make it seem that they had the game tied up. After a tight 3rd quarter that was even, it was 6-4 going into the final 8 minutes and when Vladimir Gojkovic scored with 48 seconds remaining, Montenegro seemed on for a draw, but the US just hung on. Both of these sides unsurprisingly qualified for the Quarter-Finals where Montenegro play Spain while the US go up against Croatia.


Overall: Another enjoyable day in the Olympic Park and then in this Arena watching a sport I previously had no clue about. While this venue will be dismantled after the Olympics, maybe some young onlookers will be tempted to take up water polo after! Olympic Legacy and all that…

Photos from Water Polo

OWP ticket

OWP leaflet

OWP prog