Month: January 2012

When the magic fades

FA Cup 4th Round (27th – 29th Jan)

I feel melancholic writing about the FA cup: it has a faded glory akin to a once grand seafront hotel on the English Riviera. We talk of the fun of the seaside and the magic of the Cup, but these are empty words failing to hide years of neglect and diminishing interest.

The advent of the Premiership dealt the FA Cup a crippling blow, but the competition managed to linger on, coughing and spluttering on its deathbed, reminiscing about the good ol’ days. It was the end of Old Wembley that turned off the life-support machine.

A three-year sabbatical at a rugby ground before the much-pomped return to the gentrified stadium finished the old boy off. No twin towers, no pillars blocking the view from 80% of the seats – something was missing – the execrable novelty pop songs, dreadful suits parading on the turf ten hours before kick off, the glorious walk over the greyhound track, those green stanchioned nets so full of promise; all gone without a trace.

New Wembley was New Labour – a vanity project that disenfranchised its core supporters.

With the final showpiece corrupted, the infection spread to the rest of the competition as managers began to fret over such banalities as fixture congestion, league form and the 4th Europa cup spot.

In my other life as a design journalist, I spent the morning speaking to the director of a sports branding consultancy. He talked eloquently about sport in terms of ‘product experience’, ‘brand extension’, and ‘tone of voice’; I got the impression he hadn’t stood on the terraces at Bootham Crescent – itself a ground that flirted with branding spending a couple of seasons as the KitKat Crescent – where the only acceptable tone of voice is calling the referee a wanker in broad Yorkshire.

Bootham Crescent. You can actually see my then student digs in this picture

I have. I spent a season at that wonderful ground surrounded by terraced houses – a cliché of football past – while reading for an MA at the University of York. Throughout my academic career I’d always liked to cheat on the Baggies by following the side of whichever city I landed in. Like Nick Hornby, the lad-lit Gooner, I had, during my Cantab years, supported Cambridge United at the crumbling Abbey. People at the university liked to talk about the ‘Cambridge Bubble’ – the notion that the university represented another world as wonderful as it was oppressive. I knew the way to escape: all it entailed was cycling past the Grafton Centre and down the Newmarket Road at 2.30 on a Saturday.

Alternatively known as the 'Shabbey'

But back to York – the year I wrote my  thesis (isn’t it handy how academic years and football seasons coincide?), York City enjoyed a remarkable season that ended in disappointment at, suitably, New Wembley as the Minstermen lost out on promotion to the Football League at the hands of Oxford United.

Yet along the way I tasted it, that long-lost sensation: the Magic of the FA Cup. 2-1 down to League Two  Crewe with 5 minutes left, Richie Pacquette bundled in after a goalmouth scramble, great, a replay. But, with the game into stoppage time, Richard Brodie, enjoying somewhat of an annus mirabilis, picked up the ball on halfway, dribbled past what seemed like all 10 of Alexandra’s outfield players before slotting past the keeper, 3-2.

There it was, the Magic. I would have joined the pitch invasion but I was wearing new shoes. York drew Stoke in the next round and went ahead at the Brittania only to be thwarted by Rory Delap and his bloody long throws. But I’d tasted it, felt it, loved it, perhaps for the last time, the Magic of the cup.

Anyway enough sentiment, let’s take a look at the betting.

Sporting Index like to do their bit to pretend that the FA Cup is anything but an awkward break between league fixtures.

Their FA Cup ‘Jollies’ is a peculiar invented market: it depends, for some reason, on the combined supremacy make-up of three designated ‘favourites’. This round’s picks are (with favourites in caps):

BLACKPOOL vs Sheffield Weds

HULL vs Crawley

LEICESTER vs Swindon

Who said the Cup had no glamour! SpIn go 2.2 – 2.5; the combined individual supremacies add up to 2.05-2.65 – no change there then, the market makers can add up. Still, the spread is a bit tighter on the Jollies and, what the hell, it’s the FA Cup – time for a bit of fun.

It seems likely that at least one of these matches will end in an ‘upset’ and goals might be scarce in the others. Swindon, under mad Paulo, will be up for their visit to Leicester and have good cup form this season. Likewise, Hull could well take their eye off the ball against Crawley. I recommend selling Jollies, back the underdogs against these supposed ‘giants’ and hope for some Magic.

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Shooters Hill AXV vs Bexley – Match Report

Great Scott: Last-gasp try saves shambolic Shooters

Bexley: 10

AXV: 14

(Tries: Cuschieri, Scott. Cons: Garett, Burnett)

Shooters Hill snatched a dramatic victory against lowly Bexley as Gareth Scott charged over the line on the last play of the game enabling the AXV to continue their winning run and move to the top of the Bishops Finger League.

 

However, the story could have been quite different as Bexley controlled the first sixty minutes of the game as Shoots struggled to find any fluency in their rugby.

Playing into a brisk wind in the first half, Shoots made a scrappy start and the home side took an early lead with a penalty – a lead they would not relinquish until the game’s dying seconds.

 

For the opening twenty minutes the game remained a fragmented affair: Gareth Scott at fly-half struggled to bring Shoots’ back-line into the match and his kicking game malfunctioned. Bill Merriman and Shaun Sloan made promising runs but Bexley had the better of the breakdown and it was no surprise when the home side, without a win all season, scored the opening try.

 

Following an attacking line-out on the Shoots five, Bexley rumbled forward and, after one phase, their second row was able to ground the ball. Using the old-school ‘divot’ technique to place the ball, Bexley’s kicker, a front-row forward, added the extras.

 

With no further score before half-time Shoots went into the interval 10-0 down and staring a chastening defeat in the face.

Ears ringing from an Ed Cullen riot act, Shoots made a more positive start to the second half with back row pairing Mouse and Tip finding some space around the fringes.

 

However, Shoots could not break the committed Bexley defence and, with frustration increasing, the penalty count began to go against the visitors as the referee found any excuse to punish perceived indiscretions.

With fifteen minutes remaining, Shoots finally kicked into gear and realised that direct running was hurting the opposition. A week clearing kick from Bexley gave Shoots a line-out in the opposition’s 22. Following a trundle forward, the ball broke to Martin Cuschieri and the second-row barreled through several tackles to score from ten yards out.

 

Jonny Garrett popped over the conversion, but this was to be his last contribution to the game as the outside-centre was sent-off minutes later for striking an opponent. A Bexley forward was also sent to the showers for his role in the fracas.

At 14-a-side the game opened up, with five minutes remaining and nerves beginning to tingle, Shoots were grateful when Bexley missed an opportunity to extend their lead, pushing a penalty wide of the sticks. From the resulting play Shoots steadily worked the ball downfield but were conscious that time was ebbing away.

 

As the referee called for the final play, Lee Brewer fed Gareth Scott. The fly-half, who had struggled all game, redeemed himself in spectacular style as he managed to bundle over from 20 yards to make the score 12-10. With Jonny Garett having an early bath, Carl Burnett kicked the conversion to complete a great escape.

 

“I didn’t think we were going to do it,” admitted captain Ed Cullen after the match. “But when we finally started to run direct, they couldn’t handle it. For the first sixty minutes we didn’t get out of the changing room. They wanted it and at the start we didn’t. But the way we played in the last twenty is why we’ve been blowing other teams in this league out of the water.”

 

The AXV travels to Brockleians next week in another crucial fixture in the battle for promotion.

Reporter: AG Welch

The morning after

Two surprise defeats last night.

Who’d have thought it, bookies’ favourite failing to progress:

Natalie and Kirk are out of Celebrity Big Brother!! OMGzzzz Shaarruuuup

Oh, and both Toulouse and Quins contrived to lose.

Not bad news from a betting perspective though: I cleaned up selling Evans’ kicking metres and my CBB buy of Romeo looking increasingly promising.

The Friday Acca

This week’s Friday accumulator is in honour of Michael Madsen (aka Mr Blonde). He produced my third favourite Celebrity Big Brother (I live with my girlfriend and her parents so have little control over the tele OK!) moment of all time when, in live nominations, he called ex-mental Denise Welch (no relation, thankfully) ’emotionally unstable’ on, as Sonia off EastEnders kept reminding us ‘LIVE TELEVISION’ .

You gonna bark all day, little doggy?

Off their rockers:

Denise Welch to get the CBB boot – 14/1 (various)

Mario Balotelli, first goalscorer, City vs Spurs – 6/1 (SkyBet)

Mad Max, Betfair Graduation Chase, 4.05 Haydock (Sat) – price tbc.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here’s Number One and Number Two.

Mine’s a Heineken

Connacht vs Harlequins at Galway, 20.00

Gloucester vs Toulouse at Gloucester, 20.00

Friday sees Pool 6 of the Heineken Cup draw to an intriguing close with Harlequins traveling to Connacht and le rouge et noir facing Gloucester. The matches will kick off simultaneously with various qualification permutations possible. One thing’s for certain though: both Quins and Toulouse will be striving for away wins in the chase for quarter-final places.

Evans: will he bring his kicking boots?

Since their formidable start to the season, Quins have stuttered over recent weeks, stumbling to victory against Gloucester in the Heineken and suffering convincing defeats to both Saracens and Northampton in the Premiership. The Stoop side’s blip could be put down to the absence of talismanic fly-half Nick Evans; his replacement Rory Clegg, whilst solid in open play, looked woefully overawed when kicking for goal. However, the New Zealander did not cover himself in glory in last week’s comeback, missing two kicks which, in the early season, would have been formalities.

Sporting Index goes 150-160 on Harlequins kicking metres – to me this seems high. I would recommend a sell, especially considering Danny Care’s propensity to quick-tap at any opportunity and Robshaw’s stubbornness in opting for scrummage when close to the line last weekend. Another market worth considering is the ‘Harlequins Hotshots’, which offers 25 pts per try scored by Messers Smith, Hopper, Monye and Brown. Usually this quirky market is probably best left alone, but the Quins backline continues to be in scintillating form and, at 29-33, Quins electric 15 Brown might be worth the buy on his own.

Over in the West Country, I can’t see anything other than a convincing Toulouse victory: at 4-7 there’s a smidgen of value in the Toulouse/Gloucester supremacy.

Every loser wins

Every punter must know the feeling – the sapping misery of not being able to win a bet for love nor money. The randy piss-artist on the ten-to-two sweep of the provincial night club cannot sense desperation like it.

Loser...

It’s the state I’ve found myself in (betting, not the nightclub). Since I made a tidy profit when ‘Jackpot’ Adrian Lewis lifted the PDC darts crown (although what nerve-shredding nonsense he put me through to get there) – nothing, not a sniff.

Whether its Nick Evans contracting a case of Clegg-itis for Quins and leaving his kicking boots behind (big loss buying kicking metres on Sporting Index) or Arsenal contriving to pull defeat from the jaws of victory against Fulham and Swansea (unhappy flip-flops on what I thought were safe supremacy markets) – sometimes you get the feeling that whichever way you go, the sporting universe is conspiring against you.

The next step for the cursing punter is the emotional hedge. You pile in against your team in the knowledge that losing your stake is tempered by a Baggies win. I get on Cardiff to do Albion in the FA Cup 3rd round, not the world’s worst bet in my opinion. We run out winners 4-2 after an unpleasant 90 minutes experiencing the uneasy limbo that the emotional hedger, the Schrodinger’s cat of the gambling world, knows so well.

So I think, that was karma punishing me for betraying my loyalties. I buy Albion at 0.6 over Norwich on SpIn (a crap price in hindsight). We lose 2-1. Boing Boing.

Finally, one abandons all pretense of sporting knowledge, throws loyalty out of the window and jettisons reason in favour of stabs in the dark: Hail Marys on unfancied nags with quirky names, novelty markets at the Masters snooker (rainbow roulette anyone?) or crossing the Atlantic and taking positions on matches when you’re not even sure of the sport in question.

Is there method in the madness? The twisted logic of the desperate is that losing bets don’t sting as much – they were guesses after all – and, you never know, Alf Ramsey’s Porn Dungeon might come in in the 4.10 at Ayr.

Of course, it doesn’t happen and the results are predictably disastrous.

Enough. Time to regain perspective and start thinking again.

Resolve!