Saturday, September 30, 2006


Bewildered and bothered followers of our national league have used up much lungpower lately on the bugbear that is the quality, or lack thereof, of our match officials. This is hardly a new problem; after all, shouting at the man in the middle is a spectator sport, a part of the game in which we indulged from an early age on the sidelines.

Indeed, in my formative footballing years I believed the match official was known as a 'blind b*****d'- seeing one of my teammates being booked for calling him such led me to question the veracity of my belief. Football has moved on since the days of rain sodden balls [ DON'T !], and heavy cotton jerseys.

We now have super light, mobile balls - well I do anyway. We have kit which wicks perspiration away from the body, boots which improve contact with the ball, plasticised grass - better playing surfaces generally- high tech fitness techniques and concepts - prehydration and post match refuelling - dedicated sports drinks of the non alcoholic variety. The list is ended.

Where have the refereeing sorority been in all of this? Well they have brightly coloured whistles. A selection of attractive outfits which they can mix and match to complement the colours of the teams for whom they officiate. Digital boards for substitutions, coloured cards and a fourth official to keep Paul Hegarty in the dug out.

The greatest change of all has been the glut of live footie on TV. From barstoolers to season ticket holders we all are up to our nosehairs in live football. For eL fans this season has been unprecedented. While there's not the camera saturation of the colossus that is Sky Sports, there are action replays and slo-mos which highlight any decision taken by the man in cerise.

Of course match regulars will have often felt the glow of ignominy when proven wrong in their judgement of an incident, post match, by an all seeing camera angle. It brings sharply into focus the difficult job of a referee. Goals are widely regarded as the result of human error or human inspiration. So we accept as a feature of the game that mistakes are made by players, and they often have a profound effect on the outcome. Managers too make errors of selection and substitution. Board members also; life is riddled with mistakes - but a mistake usually incurs a consequence.

Referees do answer to a higher power; but not in a very public way; they don't explain their thinking on controversial instances; they don't do interviews. But very recently refereeeing overlord Pat Kelly, sire of Alan 'where's my mirror' Kelly, was moved to comment that ' there have been some major foul ups and bad calls in the last month or so and we just couldn't sit idly by and let things go'.

So, things must be really bad then. Desperate times call for what..., class? Is anybody paying attention...?

The answer is help. Well done geeky kid! We need to help our officials before our game comes crashing down around our rears. Why doesn't the eL seize the opportunity to try out new technologies. We'd have to do it for a full season. Let's stick the 4th official into a box with a TV link, it's done in rugby already. Contoversies can be referred to the official , who could wear any colour that he or she fancies, and can be ruled upon with immediacy. A simple communication link between the 4 officials would improve official intercourse and cut down on the time wasted deciding on the post match take away.

We'll never eradicate errors in the game refereeing or otherwise- we can attempt to minimise them though. We can introduce post match reviews as a matter of course so that some level of justice can be attained. Obviously if a player scores a winning goal and is, postmatch, adjudged to merit a 2nd yellow card we can't have the game replayed - the league would never be completed. But it would be an improvement on the current status.

As professionalism seeps slowly uphill into our game, questions must be asked in relation to physical fitness. If the officials are dealing with fitter, faster players they need to be fitter and faster to keep up. It's all about instant decisions, and there are thousands of them made by spectators at games every weekend. Every decision a ref makes is feted with abuse and stunted appreciation in equal parts; his is the only opinion that counts.

Only after we've given them every aid can we give the persistently ropey ones their cards. Support your local ref!

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Derry City's season has already fascinated Irish football fans. At this moment in time the club from the Northwest are being swept along by the momentum of their success. But the day of reckoning is nigh.

Nobody expects city to oust PSG from the UEFA Cup competition, everybody hopes that they do. Shels fans will be happy to see their nearest rivals further engaged in strength sapping battles on foreign fields as the battle for domestic dominance nears it's end. Irish fans, generally, are proud of the achievements of Stephen Kenny's men as they swim with the sharks in the deep waters of European competition.

But I fear for Derry. Canny Kenny has recently been cultivating the siege mentality beloved of Alex Ferguson; this is usually the tool of a manager who knows that his players are approaching reserve fuel. The bizarre events of their last two outings, both against Shelbourne, will have served the manager well in this regard.

City's season started back on the 20th February when they travelled to Windsor Park for that historic Setanta Cup tie against Linfield. They have played 41 competitive games this season. I think they're getting a bit leggy.

The players have had to dig deep into their boots on three occasions in the past fortnight; dredging up reserves of courage, workrate and stubborn refusal to accept defeat. First up were their French opponents; always a step ahead in body and mind. Chasing a team in such a fashion for 90 minutes is hugely tiring, mentally, but the Candystriped stalwarts never stopped.
And we all know well the outs and ins of their doubleheader with Shels.

I see this fatigue personified in one man - a player for whom I have the greatest admiration - Ciaran Martyn. His bursts from midfield; his willingness to get ahead of the play; are aspects of the game which I love, and Martyn is the finest exponent of them in the eL. But of late they have been rare sightings.

Possibly, the quality of the opposition has retarded his attacking instincts but I doubt it. It's a vital part of Derry's attacking abilities and one only has to look at the No.8's goalscoring record to confirm that.

For a large part of my life I have been condemned to support Leeds United- before I saw the beacon from the eL. Don Revie's side were often said to be unlucky; they didn't win as much as they should have. Season upon season the Pride of Yorkshire were in the frame for multiple trophies, only to reach the season's end empty handed and jaded. At least City have already qualified for next year's Setanta Cup courtesy of their League Cup success.

Too many big games, too many games to catch up on towards the season's finale meant they were eternal also rans. Leeds didn't have day jobs to contend with. It's very difficult to concentrate 100% on football when you've still got to get up for work in the morning.

For the sake of City, the city, and their fantastic fans I hope that should they find themselves cast adrift from the UEFA Cup at the end of this week, they will find enough resolve within themselves to continue their title challenge.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


First there was the refereeing performance at Monday night's League Cup final; and I'm not exonerating the other three members of the team. Apparently lunging at a player, a la Sean Hargan, and making sufficient contact to geld said victim is not even a yellow card offence. However, lunging at a player, missing him completely and allowing oneself to be struck in the nether regions in retaliation is a red card offence.

I couldn't find a reference to either event in the rule book, maybe you will. Then there' s off the field!

Coleraine FC lived the high life and lost. Their decision, their risk. We are all of us accountable for our actions in civilised society, but the world of football does not want to be governed by the rules of civilised folk.

In 2003 the Bannsiders finished 3rd in the Premier League and won the Irish Cup final, this was to be the pinnacle of their recent history. Then the taxman reminded the club that they owed 1.3 m sterling [Say it like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, it sinks in]. The party was over and the club were in deep poo.

Supporters rallied 'round as they always do in times of crisis. We are stuck with the club we support, while players and directors may go and come, supporters are the only constant within a club. Thus, Friends of Coleraine emerged, and it's not the name of a fashion boutique.

There was many a splash to be heard around the Showgrounds as the budget cuts bit deeply. The 'Friends' convinced the taxman to back off for a bit. The old Coleraine were replaced by a new one- all perfectly legal- and their cares were gone.

But was it fair? Omagh Town had imploded in similar circumstances not long before. They had suggested a similar course of rescue action to the IFA who had knocked them back. There was disgruntlement in the air, if there's such a word, and if there's not, it's mine.

The Premier League clubs were less than happy with the situation. Coleraine had lived the dream while others remained prudent in their financial management; this could mean open season for maniacal chairmen; the events could not be allowed to go unchallenged.

And they weren't. Apres much puffing and huffing, many meetings and findings, it was recommended by the Premier League Committee that Coleraine FC be allowed to remain in the top flight, but must incur a 12 point penalty in accordance with rule 63 for 'having brought the game into disrepute and contrary to the best interests of the Premier League'. Lenient if you ask me; and if I was a Coleraine official I'd take it and be glad. They could justifiably have been demoted to any lower league and left to play their way up like any new club.

Then it was decided by the IFA's Executive Committee in their lack of wisdom that they were not going to accept this recommendation; it was after all a decision made by a committee with a 'perceived conflict of interest'.

In other words, 'thanks lads for all your help, now pish off and play while the big boys sort this out'. And in a Solomonesque judgement the Big Boys committee ruled that Friends of Coleraine had been remiss in their dealings with the IFA; they hadn't been completely upfront about what was going on in their efforts to save and relaunch the club.

So they didn't pay the taxman his [Dr. Evil] 1.3 million, but were fined 5,000 sterling instead for their naughtiness, as the committee showed all the wrath of Supernanny. And to add a further twist to this tale, Coleraine manager Marty Quinn had a hissy fit on hearing of the judgement against his club.

For those of you unfamiliar with the meaning of GUBU, see here

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I recently had a whinge about the dearth of ballboys at most of the eL games that I attend. Ridiculous situations were presenting themselves as goalkeepers went to retrieve balls resulting in unnecessary delays. A cursory study of the systems employed at tennis matches suggests that it is not a situation which would be difficult to overcome.

This led me to concern myself about the general level of stoppages in a match. So, sitting back in my lovely new walkthechalk t shirt, I decided to record all instances of stoppage in the St. Pats v Shels game on 15/9/06. It seemed to me to be a game like any other.

Three bookings, no inordinate delays for injuries or major incidents, four goals and five substitutions. There was no obvious time wasting as both sides were in the running until late in the game. So it seems fair to accept this as a fair representation of an eL game upon which to base figures.

A stoppage is defined as the time from the referee's feadog stopping play to the moment of resumption i.e. bookings, free kicks, corners, wides, throw ins, goals, injuries and the attendant delays around same. In the Pats v Shels game there were:-

1st Half 63 stoppages: Added time 1 minute - Ball out of play: 18m 09secs
2nd half 67 stoppages: Added time 3 minutes - Ball out of play:19m 07secs

Total 129 in94 minutes: Ball out of play total: 37m 16secs
Stoppage on average every 43.7 seconds.

These are the bald facts. Those of you who want to immerse yourself in details can look to the bottom of this blog. I don't suggest that the referee is to blame; this I suggest prevails through all football. Surely we must find ways to negate such delays and improve the spectacle for the customer. Here's where I get all American on this shit.

What if? From the time a ball is designated wide by the referee the 'keeper has say 10 seconds to return it to play or his side forfeits possession. Likewise at free kicks and corner kicks. Simplistic, but the beauty of football is it's simplicity.

Can the referee keep such a count? Not easy as I discovered while noting these stats; but he has a 4th official, who can have access to a horn which will scare the bejasus out of everyone in the ground when it goes off and increase the tension and excitement in a game. Discuss.

Stoppage details here

Monday, September 11, 2006

SUPERSTITION starring Pat Fenlon.

Having exhausted all avenues in his efforts to make a decision regarding his future managerial career our subject decided that he should consult a clairvoyant to see what the future had in store for him. Football folk are a superstitious lot and Patrick Fenlon, an impish lad of 37 summers, had not left these habits behind him.

Into the Merc he climbed and set off to his preferred sage, an aged gypsy woman colloquially known as Gypsy Bose. He eased himself down from his lofty driving position, secured the motor, and entered the Gypsy's lair. On hearing voices behind the musty curtain he privately hoped that there wasn't much of a queue as he had promised the lads he'd take training this morning.

Gypsy Bose lived in an old building in downtown Dublin and was one of those types who was dedicated to her calling - not in it for the money you see; as such she was a rare gift to the superstitious football folk who regularly called to her door. Young Pat entered and scanned the room; rapidly assessing his probable waiting time. Same old faces.

Rico, Pat Dolan, Trevor Welch, Stan...and he could hear the mumbles of whoever was in the hotseat now. Gypsy Bose didn't go in for soundproofing, she trusted her clientele to be discreet. Nonetheless, there would often be awkward moments when a punter might become excitable on receiving news of the future and forget about the captive audience on the other side of where the door used to be. Rico had promised to have it replaced.

'D'ya think I'll get the Shels job then?' came the voice from within- all eyes hit the floor. 'Who's f'in' in there?' barked Nutsy. No reply was forthcoming. Moments later the jobhunter emerged. Nutsy was numb when he sighted Eamo, his trusty sidekick. Eamo scurried away into the shadows. The other lads obliged, and our subject was next up.

'Howya Ma'am, I'll have the crystal ball today, I'm sick of cards'. Ever the professional Gypsy Bose did not make eye contact. 'Do you see anything, about work like, me career?' And to whatever tune suits you, this is what she said....

I see a man walking away, can't see his face, just a G.
I see the airport road, a sports ground of some sort,
There's work going on.

I see an Oily man, can't understand what he says,
He's trying to seduce you with promises,
There's money, lots of money.

I see an office, the door is ajar,
on the sign it says MANAGER
There's no one in in Tolka.

I see an office, the door is ajar,
on the sign it says MANAGER
There's no one in in Phibsboro.

'What will I do Gypsy Bose?' asked the bewildered football boss. 'There's more', replied the hoarse old woman. 'It's a bit cloudy, it looks like shells...seashells, no, Seychelles; wait it's STAY AT SHELS'.

Pat sprung from the creaky seat threw two fifties on the old table and grabbed the old lady to kiss her. With equal speed he recoiled, a look of disgust raced across his boyish features. Gypsy Bose's scarf had fallen from her head, revealing her facial features; laughing raucously into our hero's face was Roddy Collins.

'Collins yer a b****x!'

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Owing to the proverbial circumstances beyond my control I was not in attendance at the recent controversial Bohemians and Drogheda game at Liam Carroll Park. In fact, the aforementioned uncontrollable circumstances even prevented me from seeing the game live on TG4; but my untrustworthy old Sky Plus box got it's act together and I watched the game on Saturday.

As with most live eL games one feels slightly embarrassed as the camera pans across the wide open spaces, with weeds growing up through the terracing and not so much as a curious pigeon occupying the concrete desert. But we've learned to cope with such ignominy.

In defence of our beloved game we can always point to the quality and excitement; the ever improving fitness and skill levels; the characters - for no occasion in Ireland is complete without a character. And we can privately pat ourselves on the back for the support we have offered in the realisation of such achievements. to quote the greatest backslappers of them all -'lots done, more to do.'

But as I watched the game one thing constantly grated, a minor yet important detail.
There were regularly inordinate delays in retrieving errant passes and goal attempts as well as panicked clearances from the surrounding vantage points. There was a ball person [PC Police edit} behind each goal as far as I could see, I'm definitely open to correction on this; but they didn't appear to have a ball with them at all times.It seems to be the case that only the 4th official has a spare ball, but we won't delve any further into that particular sack.

What's the problem with having a dozen or so kids dotted around the ground with a spare ball at their feet? The delays were ridiculous and if we did happen to hook a stray Premiership fan their attention span would be exhausted as soon as the ball flew into an empty part of the ground.

OK, there may be insurance issues with having kids standing in these deserted areas, but if the 12 ball persons each have a ball to lob in as necessary there is no urgency attatched to retrieving the balls which fly into no man's land - and a comely steward could pick it up at his leisure.

Nothing innovative there! It's my specialist subject. As a sop to local schoolboy clubs, scout groups, youth clubs etc. Kids can be brought in, meet the players, packet of stale Tayto and a bottle of warm lemonade with a straw and everybody's happy.

Failing that, we could use sacked managers, players in dispute or injured players. Clubs could introduce some sort of scheme along the lines of the community employment schemes. They're paying the players anyway so why not make them work gathering balls instead of freezing their toes off on the bench. Didn't make training on Thursday? Ballboy on Saturday. A bit too lippy to the gaffer? Ballboy on Saturday.

OK, I'm getting stupid now. But this is not a difficult problem to solve and it would speed our games up considerably. Stoppages are the bane of football fans, unnecessary ones even more so. Let's cut it out.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Sometimes, it's not a funny old game. You know those days when you want to be a kid again because the world was simpler and not full of plonkers; just people who were bigger than you.

I've endured the Olly Byrne's persistent point chasing in the courts without getting overly stressed - a bit of a photo and a couple of darts are as good as any of that meditative yoga type stuff. I moaned, but not excessively when an administrative cock up cost Shamrock Rovers three valuable (are all points not valuable points) points in their pursuit of the eL 1st Division title.

I teetered on the precipice of sanity when an enhanced administrative cock up cost Fabio a place in the Drogs second leg tie against Start, which they eventually lost. I have no words to describe the devilawful decision to rule out Paul Devlin's stupendous strike against Bray Wanderers recently.

And it's not confined to the eL, this frustration. The dedicated football community who have suffered the inefficiencies of the IFA for eons are currently mired in a dirty game of poker, where sleight of hand is a given. And there's the astoundingly regular registration disaster.

The facts that surround the financial demise of Coleraine FC are boring. A la Leeds United, this century's most infamous financial ne'er do wells, they squatted in a fiscal dreamworld, and were astounded by what they found when finally evicted from their narcissistic slumber.

Sufficient to say that if they were a heavy metal band they would be called MEGADEBT.
Have they survived; if so, how? Nobody likes to see a club go to the wall - we're still clearing the unpleasant aftertaste of the Rocky Horror Show from our previously pristine palates.

Hence the sleight of hand. In simple terms, Coleraine FC died and went to footballing purgatory; which turned out to be in exactly the same place as they'd always been. Yes, everyone closed their eyes and the bad Coleraine left. Yet, when all eyes reopened Coleraine FC were still there somehow.

But they were no longer debt laden Coleraine, that club had collapsed and died from economic stress. Legally they were defunct. So a new club/business was formed called ICANTBELIEVEITSNOTCOLERAINEFC which conveniently assumed the identity and status of the recently deceased.

Fans looked on agog, was this really being allowed to happen. Yes. And not a red face in sight. On 7 June 2005 the club announced that they had folded after failing to overcome financial problems. No, not Coleraine FC, but Omagh Town FC. There were no smoke and mirrors provided for the Town. Unbelievable, and legal!

But not in the football world. The saga continues, would we be foolish to trust that justice will be done? And then....

...Then Bohs take on Drogheda at Dalymount. Bohs are besieged. No manager. Devlin gone with Farrelly, Ward with the Irish U21's, loanee Leech ineligible. The Babies were playing. And playing well against one of the island's top outfits. In an uninspired contest they were holding their own, showing fleeting glimpses of what might be.

Fabio's bursting down the right, he fires optimistically towards the Gypsies goal. What happens next is future history. Stephen O'Brien crouched to collect at his near post but the ball squirts from his grasp and emerges behind him. His body is between the assistant referee and the all - important geoid.

We are oft moved to remark upon the especial gifts of match officials; they are a mutant race. Amongst this linesman's particular gifts are x ray vision and an ability to inaccurately predict future events. He outed himself (a cardinal sin for mutants), by raising his flag to indicate that he had seen the ball cross the goal line.

I can't take it anymore.