The best football writing of 2012

2012 has been a great year for football writing, quasi football writing and anti-football writing. Here are just some of the best examples I’ve read in the last 12 months. Some may have more literary merit than others, but all are great for different reasons. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Has the transfer market become self aware? by Andi Thomas for The FCF –

Muamba: underneath the sensationalism is a genuinely positive story for football, at last by Michael Moruzzi for Regista Blog

AFC Wimbledon: The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart by Jamie Cutteridge for The Real FA Cup

Rafa’s Chelsea: A Journal by Rob Brown for The Carvalho Peninsula

Coming up for air by Charlie Anderson for The Carvalho Peninsula

12 ways in which Fulham are ace by Max Grieve for Magic Spongers –

The Danger of Mob Mentality by Ally Moncrieff for Balls, Boobs and Blow

Robin van POINTLESS by Magic Spongers

#34 – Emmanuel Frimpong by The 100 Worst People on Twitter

Nobody wins QPR ping-pong tournament by John Foster for Four Four Two

Gary Neville’s punditry is the best, but others need to raise their game by Michael Cox for The Guardian

Antisemitic chants are sickening – and West Ham fans must show they care by Jacob Steinberg for The Guardian –

The Trial Of John T by Greg Theoharis for Dispatches from a Football Sofa ­

Scott Murray on Cesar Luis Menotti’s Triumph by Surreal Football

An idiot’s guide to the Ballon d’Or shortlist by Tom Adams for Eurosport

New advert for the Premier League is actually a terrible ‘advert for the Premier League’by Nick Dunmore for Fisted Away

Paul Jewell and the further decline of Ipswich Town – by Gavin Barber for The Two Unfortunates

Manchester United And Liverpool, Still Suffering From Their 2009 Hangover by Callum Hamilton for SB Nation

Return of the rascal king by John McGee for Bring me the head of Keith Mincher

Soccer under the Swastika: Football’s forgotten Holocaust victims by Kieran Dodds for In Bed With Maradona

The whistleblower left out in the cold by James Horncastle for Eurosport

2016-17: The Season in Review by Rob Langham for The Two Unfortunates

My First Game for Manchester United by Robin van Persie’s inner child for Ruud Gullit Sitting on a Shed

Why ‘Vile’ Football Can Look Olympics In The Face by Jack Howes for The Daisy Cutter

The Last Championsby Juliet Jacques for The New Statesman


Harry Redknapp: He’s better than another bloody foreigner

Harry Redknapp: Future England manager?

I think it was that tortuous parody of an adult male Andy Parsons who said the English only like two things: moaning and queuing.  Well now we can add a third element to that holy trinity, namely ‘the established narrative.’

Following the resignation of England manager Fabio Capello (as an aside, how many other countries refer to the head coach of their national side with the problematic epithet of ‘manager’?), and once the Clive Anderson-esque committee-written hilarity of “Italian leaving a sinking ship” one-liners had been all but exhausted, England players both current (Wayne Rooney) and irrelevant (Michael Owen) took to Twitter to assert that Capello’s replacement has to be English.

Owen actually took things a step or two further, extending the ‘must be English’ qualifier to everyone ‘ from players to tea lady’. The latter reference is seemingly either a biting piece of satire on his regular spot away from the pitch or a disgusting euphemism I don’t even want to begin contemplating, while the former suggests he has got us confused with Equatorial Guinea.

Which brings me back, far from neatly, to the original point.

Capello was doomed from the start, simply by virtue of not being English. It’s a Nick Griffin-flavoured variant of the “you’ve never played the game” rhetoric, albeit with even less of an element of control, and ironically levelled by others to whom the description applies. The only semblance of respite is the six-month (give or take) ‘learning the language and culture’ grace period which gets cut short as soon as the wins stop flowing.

The Facebook community ‘Hope not Hate’ prompted irony to spontaneously combust this week when it bid good riddance to “supporter of the Italian far right” Capello (their words) and welcomed in Harry Redknapp as his heir apparent.

This came mere hours after Redknapp’s acquittal from tax evasion charges, implying that ‘legally safe’ is a reasonable qualification for a post when ‘morally sound’ was never even on the radar.

The Tottenham manager is, of course, someone who – upon Ivorian striker Samassi Abou returning to Redknapp-managed West Ham with food poisoning after a trip home – said “He must have eaten a dodgy missionary or something.”

It’s this “he’s a cunt, but he’s our cunt” ideology which gets Jeremy Clarkson an audience of millions and Simon Cowell an actual fucking podium, not to mention the baying masses queuing to get into the warm and have their emotions directed by TV station employees holding up pieces of card. Oh yes, we love queuing.

The only way an England ‘manager’ can survive the press, the fans, and John Terry (not to mention those spiteful foreign tea ladies) is to have already fucked up, been judged, and have no further to fall. Oh yes, and to be English.

Come on down Harry, the floor is yours.

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Links for 10/12/2010

Ricoh Arena Coventry City v Middlesborough (1-0) NPower Championship 04/12/2010 Marlon King (Coventry) celebrates scoring winning goal from penalty spot, his first for Coventry  Photo: Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
  • Arsenal and the Cold War by Nick Wright at In Bed With Maradona – A look back to Arsenal’s exhibition match in communist Russia
  • A Champions League Fairytale by Josh Clarke at The 39th Game – An interesting assessment of FC Copenhagen’s long and winding journey to the Champions League knockout stage, and a lesson in just how far you can stretch an analogy

Nigel Reo-Coker: a rare second chance?

Tonight, in his club’s Europa League play-off against Rapid Vienna, Nigel Reo-Coker was given the captain’s armband. This marked some achievement for a player all-but frozen out by Martin O’Neill, but four years ago the young Englishman would have been looking for far more than the captaincy of an inexperienced Villa side at this stage of his career.

Indeed his career trajectory can be viewed as a lesson to young stars with the world at their feet. Not everyone will be given a second chance.

Reo-Coker in the form of his career at West Ham

Reo-Coker made the step up to the Premier League with consummate ease, playing a big part in West Ham United’s promotion after joining from Wimbledon and bringing his stirring performances to the top flight. After captaining the Irons to a very respectable 9th place in their return to the top division, he was called up as a standby for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England squad ahead of the World Cup in Germany.

And that’s when things started to go downhill.

With the increased media attention that comes with an England call-up, it was perhaps inevitable that the transfer rumours would start flying. Suggestions that Arsenal were interested in the then-22-year-old seemed to distract Reo-Coker, who saw his form and commitment dip in the following campaign. It was intimated that the East London club rejected a bid without consulting their captain, although even now it is impossible to say whether such unconfirmed speculation was the key to what followed.

Here we had something of a chicken and egg situation. Did the smell of a big move cause Reo-Coker to throw his toys out of the pram, or had he merely grown tired of life at Upton Park and decided to jump at even the merest sniff of an exit.

Either way, the exit was not forthcoming, and his form stank of someone waiting for the next chapter in his career to begin. Toothless displays filtered through the whole West Ham team, leading to Alan Pardew’s sacking in December. The heavily-publicised signings of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez cannot have helped, relegating a number of West Ham’s young-stars to the status of bit-part players, but if Reo-Coker wished to go about his business quietly and professionally he could not have asked for a better opportunity.

Instead he came to epitomise the ‘Baby Bentley culture’ so despised by Pardew’s replacement Alan Curbishley, only finding refuge in the England under-21 squad alongside Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and Gary Cahill. It was thought, therefore, that a move to Villa Park to join the trio would help rejuvenate Reo-Coker’s career.

A move to Villa worked out far better for Milner

But that was far from the case. He has only managed 73 league appearances for Villa, netting once (against Tottenham in his debut season), and a public fall-out with Martin O’Neill saw him frozen out of the first team for much of the season. His appearance against West Ham last week was his first in Villa colours since January.

In the meantime, Reo-Coker’s England prospects have disintegrated. While former under-21 team-mates Young, James Milner and Joe Hart all got a run-out at Wembley last week, he was watching at home. There may still be time for him to resurrect an international career which looked dead and buried not that long ago, but even if another call-up comes his way there may be a feeling that it has come several years too late.

While a footballer’s career is said to be shorter than most, that is no reason to run before you can walk. Nigel Reo-Coker may well get a second chance. Others will not be so lucky.

England v Hungary – the same old story

Just over one month ago, England showed plenty of attacking intent and a worrying amount of defensive ineptitude as they crashed out of the World Cup to Germany. Last night against Hungary it was a similar story, but thankfully for under-pressure manager Fabio Capello the opponents at Wembley were not clinical enough to capitalise on his own team’s shortcomings.

It is crazy to overlook obvious failings based on the result of a single game, but that did not stop the chorus of half-time boos disappearing when the curtain fell on an unconvincing victory. Similarly, captain Steven Gerrard, uninvolved and uninspiring in the first half, was hailed as a hero after his match-winning brace.

Personally, I am not one to boo my team, especially when I have paid good money to watch them play. But for those who are so inclined, England’s first-half display provided a decent excuse for expressing dissatisfaction in such a way. Shaky in defence, bland in midfield and toothless in attack, the only bright spark for Capello’s team was the energy of a rejuvenated Theo Walcott.

Walcott was one of England's best performers

The Arsenal wide-man is at his best when given space to run at defences, and he looked free from the hesitation which plagued Aaron Lennon’s displays in South Africa and Walcott’s own disappointing World Cup warm up. There are those who say his impact will be limited against the top teams when he has less space with which to work, but in 45 minutes against Hungary the former Southampton player demonstrated what England lacked against mediocre opposition in the group stage.

Walcott was among several players absent from the World Cup squad who were given a chance to impress last night, but few grasped the opportunity. His club team-mate Kieran Gibbs showed some good touches after replacing Ashley Cole at the interval, while Bobby Zamora’s creative movement and well-saved long-range effort were about as much as we can expect from a striker who has plenty of willing but little in the way of international class.

During England’s World Cup campaign, much was made of the lack of pace and conviction at centre-back. While improving somewhat on Terry and Upson’s lack of mobility, both Michael Dawson and Phil Jagielka looked uncomfortable at the back, culminating in the comedy of errors which led to the opener for Hungary. One might expect the duo, both established first-team players at their respective clubs, not to be overawed by the situation, but that was not the case.

Among the other new (or new-ish) faces, only Adam Johnson was given the full 90 minutes to impress. The Manchester City winger cannot be accused of shying away from the opportunity, but those watching will have got the impression he was striving too hard to impress after being left out of the World Cup 23. A criminal miss in the first half, the like of which would have seen more established team mates panned, summed up Johnson’s over-eagerness to impress.

Cahill is still waiting for his full England debut

While Capello was more open to change than some of his predecessors have been, many players will feel disappointed not to have been given a chance to take to the field. Gary Cahill and Carlton Cole, the only outfield players to remain on the bench, must be wondering what they need to do to get an extended run-out for the national team. And while others retained their place in spite of a poor World Cup, Peter Crouch was not given the opportunity to add to the 15-or-so minutes he played in South Africa.

At least it was not all doom and gloom, though. Joe Hart put in an assured performance in goal, giving the impression he may be able to fill the position for years to come. That is, providing fans do not jump on any mistake he makes, as has been the case with Green and Robinson before him. A rare glimmer of promise on a night which showed a lot of work needs to be done.


Before I leave you for this week, I would like to take a minute to remember Adam Stansfield, the Exeter City striker who lost his battle with cancer at the age of just 31.

Stansfield was a rare commodity, a footballer who no one had a bad word to say about, and he will be sorely missed. For those who want to know a little more about him, I recommend you read this sensitive tribute from Gary Andrews.