Author Archives: David S. Wills

North Korea & the World Cup

By David Wills

North Korea and the World Cup

North Korea is going to the World Cup this year. That’s something of which many of you may not be aware. However, I live in South Korea and am thus subjected to such information as though it were of any grand importance.

It may not grand the attention of the average sports fan. In fact, even I can’t name a single North Korean player.

But they’re going to be there, and pundits are expecting the worst performance in World Cup history. If the Norks manage to grand the title of Worst Team Ever, they’ll have to contend with their kimchi-fuelled brothers to the South, who took that dubious honour in 1954, conceding 16 goals in 2 games.

In some sense, then, people will care about North Korea. If you know want to watch a team vie for the position of Worst Team Ever, then you won’t want to miss a single game…

However, for the rest of us, it’s no big deal. There are plenty of shitty teams make it to the finals ever four years. North Korea have the honour of being the Evilest Team and the Poorest Team, but that’s not going to draw big crowds.

Which raises the question: Who will watch North Korea play?

The answers are a) whoever is playing against them, and b) South Korean fans. The possibility of banging in 10 goals in a game will surely have the Norks’ opponents glued to the screen. And in the South, shared blood is enough to compel viewers.

But what about North Koreans?

North Korea is famously poor, and its leadership has always denied the people the right to know what goes on outside its borders. Kim Jong-il wouldn’t want the people to see their team lose, for one thing.

More importantly, however, most North Koreans can’t afford a TV. If they could afford it, what channel would they watch? ESPN and BBC don’t broadcast in the most isolated state on earth. The football just wouldn’t be on screen.

Seoul had long ago promised to pay for North Korea’s World Cup coverage – to be broadcast to the people in town squares and such. But since the sinking of the Cheonan – when 46 South Koreans were killed by a North Korean torpedo – Seoul has refused to broadcast the football.

Which is a fairly tame response to the murder of 46 human beings and the sinking of an expensive warship.

But football is important even in hermit states, and no one wants to miss the World Cup. But without TV, the Norks will never get to see their team, regardless of whether they win or lose. The face is, no one in North Korea can afford to travel to South Africa. Besides, if anyone could afford to leave, they’d be denied a visa. The government doesn’t let anyone leave except for diplomats and the football team.

Instead, North Korea has given its tickets to an army of hardcore communist Chinese, who will cheer on their politically retarded brothers.

Chinese supporters aren’t exactly what you’d want at a World Cup match… China has never actually managed to score a World Cup goal.

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The 2009-2010 Gary Neville Awards

By Guest Contributor Brian Knapp

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Passing 

Being a Liverpool fan can be excruciating at times. It’s particularly difficult watching a team go from breaking the league record for most points earned while coming in second last year, to a team that struggles to complete consecutive passes. This award could easily have gone to a favorite Manchester City midfielder, yet I felt it better to award not one single poor passer but the whole conglomerate that is Liverpool’s midfield. Javier Mascherano, Lucas Leiva, Dirk Kuyt and whoever the sucker is that had to play with them that match, i.e. Benayoun, Babel, Rodriguez, Gerrard, Aquilani… I often look at Mascherano as a pre-teen adolescent with ADHD. When he gets the ball, he becomes so excited that he doesn’t actually know what he’s going to do with it. Thus leading to him losing the ball and tracking down the next unfortunate player on the other team. God bless his tireless work rate and two footed, red card tackles. His passing still leaves a lot to be desired. Lucas could also be up for a number of other awards including Worst Face and Worst Overall Ability, but being lumped in with the whole of Liverpool’s midfield, gives him the same slack that the fat Spanish waiter gives him each week after his poor performances. Which brings us to Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt is more or less the engine of the team. His tireless blue-color hustle helps inspire the team. But let’s be honest if the engine of a nice car isn’t as good as advertised, the truth is it’s a shitty car. And that sums up Liverpool’s season. They’ve performed about as well as a brand new, shiny…KIA.

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Whining

It’s always a challenge narrowing down the final winner for each category and 2009-2010 was no exception. It was another stellar year for whining, bitching, complaining and throwing temper tantrums around the world of football. This year’s award goes to Manchester City and Santos FC’s forward, Robinho. A constant critic of his managers and teammates, Robinho also managed to be part of one of the funnier moments in football this season, by being brought on as a substitute and off again in the same match. This led to more of his incessant bitching and eventual move back to Brazil where he could do endless step-overs without the threat of being flattened by real defenders.

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Coordination

“Worst Cordination you say? But these are professional football players. How could they have poor coordination?” It’s a question non-Korean’s ask themselves every time they turn on a Manchester United match and are unlucky enough to see Korea’s #1 Best-Hero-Man-Highting!, Park Ji-Sung. In South Korea, he is known as “The Oxygen Tank” or “Three-Lung Park” for his ability to run industriously from 18 to 18. Everywhere that is not South Korea, he is often referred to as Park Ji-Slip or “잠수함“ “submarine” for his remarkable falling and diving abilities. Usually you can credit an Italian or South American footballer for their fantastic ability to fall when it doesn’t look remotely possible, but this year Park Ji-Sung has brought home another award for all Koreans to be intolerably proud of.

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Hair

This award can be picked up annually by Portsmouth goalkeeper David James, however last summer’s passing away of Michael Jackson caused a change not only in pop music but also in football. It was not simply the death of the King of Pop, but it was at that time that the jheri-curl was officially retired. Unfortunately Manchester United’s midfielder, Nani, did not get the memo. While made extremely popular by Michael and his white glove in the 1980s, Nani continues to sport this greasy look all around England. A close second place was Liverpool’s Sotirios Kyrgiakos who has been known to have watched Frank Miller’s “300” over 1000 times and reverted back to the hairstyle of his Greek ancestors.

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Face

Carlos Tevez. Scar or no scar.

2009-2010 Gary Neville Award for Worst Transfer (retrospective)

Many players under the rein of Rafa Benitez are very capable of taking this award. However, there is one player who has been more active over the past few transfer periods than a brothel in South Korea. That lucky man is Robbie Keane. After making his dream move from Tottenham to Liverpool in the summer of 2008, Keane did everything he could, to regularly miss gifted chances on goal and make a speedy return to White Hart Lane. Once again back at the helm of good ol’ Harry, Keane was re-established as captain where he continued to perform like a lowly Middlesbrough player. After realizing their dear captain may be out of his prime, the Spurs once again decided it was time to give Robbie a chance to excel on a level more fit for him; The Scottish Premier League. Thus keeping a consistent streak of 3 transfers on the trot with an inevitable return from loan to Tottenham in the next window making it a solid 4 for 4. My hat goes off to you Robbie Keane. You made almost as many transfers as you did goals for Liverpool.

And the 2009-2010 Gary Neville award for Worst Overall Ability goes to none other than Shaun Wright-Phillips. SWP has once again shocked the world with his incredible lack of footballing ability. The real question however is how he continues to be employed as a professional footballer. It’s been rumoured that due to his staggeringly short stature, managers and fans have often felt the need to sympathize with him. Fans and managers tend to close their eyes to SWP’s forgetfulness, both in dribbling and remembering the colour jersey his team is wearing. Falling out of grace with Manchester City, SWP looks ripe for the picking in the next transfer window. A dream move for him would be to join other washed up professionals in the SPL or possibly Middlesbrough. One can’t count out the chance of him looking to reunite with his undersized relatives from the land of OZ.

Group of Death: The Exes of Evil

By David S. Wills

The phrase “Group of Death” has been used in football since 1954, when England, Brazil, the Soviet Union and Austria were drawn together in the World Cup. In 1970 it was used again to describe the group consisting of Brazil, England, Czechoslovakia and Romania.

After that the phrase burst into the lexicon with use in most knock-out competitions. Anytime more than two good teams find themselves drawn together… “Group of Death.”

(Perhaps it’s my nationality that once again blinds me to reality… But looking back through the history of the “Group of Death,” I can’t help but notice how frequently Scotland are that sad fourth team, doomed to play against three of the best teams in the world. In 1992, the term “Group of Certain Death” was coined, specifically for the purpose of describing Scotland’s plight.)

It seems a little bit on an exaggeration. Very rarely to players die on the pitch, and even when they do the pundits hardly predicted that was going to happen.

But football isn’t always a particularly civilised sport. One could apply the phrase “Group of Death” to competitions in Africa, South America and the Middle East, knowing that an actual death is more likely than in the pansy Premiership.

Throughout history there have been teams for whom football hasn’t been about fast cars and loose women so much as avoiding torture or death. Ever wonder what happened to Wimbledon?

Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, the Iraq football team was encouraged to win matches by way of “motivational lectures.” These included having players’ legs cut off, and punishments were set for missed penalties and own goals.

In 1994, at the USA World Cup, Andres Escobar scored an own goal against the United States and sent his team back to Colombia. He was shot dead upon arrival, with his murderer screaming “goooooooal!” for each of the twelve bullets fired.

Death and football sadly have a little tighter relationship than we are accustomed to thinking. We don’t necessarily see the downside to football when we read about the massive contracts and the hot wives.

Today the groups were drawn for the 2011 Asian Cup. Group D (for Death!) is comprised thusly:

Iraq

Iran

North Korea

UAE

This, to me, seems like sitting a recently separated couple together at a dinner party. A couple with a history of extreme violence. A nuclear-enabled couple. And not just a couple… a veritable orgy of pissed off exes.

The exes of evil…

Back in Asian qualifying group for the 1994 World Cup, three of these teams were drawn again, albeit in a more regional-specific clusterfuck of a league:

Iraq

Iran

Saudi Arabia

North Korea

South Korea

Japan

This was actually dubbed the “Group of Death” by numerous humorous media pundits. The group consists of two of the most fearsome threesomes in recent history. Nations who’ve gone to war, never gotten over the horrors, and were somehow thrown into FIFA-sanctioned competition once again.

Thankfully there were no deaths on the pitch, but when a rogue camel ate a pot of kimchi it exploded and gave birth to modern terrorism.

Strange Rumblings in Iceland

By David S. Wills

Iceland – the land of the suffix –sson – has famously never qualified for a World Cup, never succeeded in any European completion at national or club level, and has Eidur Gudjohnsen as its only successful player in a long and embarrassing history.

Handball is the national sport, and that’s hardly conducive to a good footballing environment. If “god” had meant for Icelandic people to play handball he wouldn’t have made it so cold they had to wear mittens.

Next to handball comes some kind of medieval wrestling. According to Wikipedia, this sport is a combination of waltzing and chess.

Some even doubt Iceland is a part of Europe. Tucked away up there beyond even the Scottish Isles, Iceland is the part of the map covered by the pin. It’s the tiny Canada of Europe, if anything.

Iceland has numerous embassies around the United Kingdom, where impoverished chavs can exchange drug-stained British currency for a range of frozen goods, including oven chips and fish fingers.

So with this air of failure permanently wrapped around otherwise frigid island nation, you can hardly imagine their rage when once again the sporting season draws to a close without a mention of any Icelandic achievements.

The Champions League is once again reaching its dying stages without a single team from north of the liable-to-be-raped-by-a-polar-bear line. The World Cup is coming and even North Korea has found eleven unstarved players to field.

Worse, Liverpool – who’ve signed three Icelandic players in their history – have managed to somehow scramble into the semi-finals of the Europa League, and is not taking their 16 yr old Icelandic “talent” Kristjan Emilsson with them.

So what did Iceland do?

They erupted a giant fucking volcano, grounding all flights in Europe, causing $200 million of revenue loss each day for several days, and forcing football teams across Europe to travel by train like a bunch of 19th century romantic novel protagonists.

According to my source in Reykjavik, Heyant Mysson, “Iceland is willing to erupt another volcano if FIFA won’t grant us an invitation to the World Cup.”

Betting: Fun for all the Family

By David S. Wills

Some people are against betting. I think that makes these people uptight fools, but that’s just my humble opinion. I’m not saying betting is a good thing. On the contrary, betting is foolish, but so is drinking and smoking, and they’re both pretty cool.

For some people it’s a religious thing, and for others it’s common sense. I can understand the common sense factor. After all, I rarely bet. It doesn’t make much sense. Betting is silly. But it’s fun. And as I mentioned above, silly things are often fun.

What pisses me off is when people apply their morality to others. Religion is the biggest perpetrator of this foul deed. Just because your book says don’t bet doesn’t meant that others have to follow suit. You can find out soon enough that betting is silly. Try losing all your money to a faceless casino.

That makes me think that the sensible thing to do is to encourage betting. Why not have mandatory field trips to the casino for school kids. Let them lose their lunch money and go hungry for a few days. See if they still think betting’s cool.

I used to bet on the World Cup, even from a young age. I did it with my family and my friends, and I’ll do it again this year. (Just don’t go telling the authorities. That sort of thing doesn’t fly in Kimchi Country.)

The best bets involve small amounts of cash, or freakishly good odds. They also involve short waits. I wouldn’t want to stick $100 on Man Utd to win the Premiership. I’d rather choose teams for the World Cup with the winner buying drinks, or put a few pennies on the newly promoted team from the Championship to make it into Europe.

My favourite bet of all time (not involving myself – something another person did) was an old guy who bet that Xabi Alonso would score a goal from within his own half. He did, and the old gent made off like a bandit.

My own betting triumph came a few years back whilst watching Liverpool. Javier Mascherano walked onto the field looking more like a rapist than normal and I shouted to my dad. “Dad! Phone the bookies! Tell them he’s getting sent off by halftime! What odds?!”

I put a measly pound on Mascherano’s red card and he was sent off in about half an hour. The money meant nothing. The pride came in simply being right.

Which is why I enjoy Fantasy Football. I’m keenly aware that that makes me a nerd and a loser, but it’s also a glowing light in my life. I can bark at the TV all I like, but when I pick the perfect eleven and shoot to the top of the league I feel invincible.

(It should be noted that I’m currently bottom of my Fantasy Football league. The lesson: Never bet against Frank Lampard, regardless of how much you hate him.)

Here are some bets I plan on making in the coming years, with the odds I anticipate being given. They may not make me rich, but I like to back the right fighter.

Top non-Old Firm SPL player to sign for Rangers or Celtic and spend the rest of career on the bench – 1/10

Shaun Wright-Phillips to sprint past the ball at least five times during a game – 1/5

Arsenal to lose a key player to injury, having based their entire team around him all season, consequently costing them their title bid – 1/4 (Quote from Legbrokes.com)

Arsene Wenger to blame the injury on a conspiracy – 1/4

Craig Bellamy to switch teams in a storm of animosity – 1/3

Real Madrid to attempt to unsettle key Premiership player by having his friends claim he’s already agreed to move to Spain – 1/2

Alex Ferguson to say something racially/culturally/socially unacceptable, then to apologise and walk away without punishment – Evens

Sex scandal involving top Man Utd and Chelsea players – Evens

Rafa Benitez fired – 5/1

Non-Old Firm SPL team to win the league without Rangers or Celtic being penalized for sectarian abuse – 1000/1

North Korea to win World Cup – 2000/1 (this is an actual quote from William Hill)

PFA Player of the Year Awards

By David S. Wills & James D. Irwin

(David’s words will appear in this text, whereas James’ will appear bold, as that’s the only way of making them distinguishable)

Yesterday the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year was announced. The results were hardly surprising:

PFA Players’ Player of the Year Award

Wayne Rooney, Man Utd

Carlos Tevez, Man City

Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal

Didier Drogba, Chelsea

PFA Young Player of the Year Award

Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal

James Milner, Aston Villa

Joe Hart, Birmingham

Wayne Rooney, Man Utd

My nominations go to Fabregas and Rooney, in no particular order. They’ve both been the sole players on their respective teams this year. Without Rooney Man Utd would have been battling relegation, and without Fabregas Arsenal will be running down the clock from the kick-off for the rest of the season.

These men are the very definition of one-man teams. Their managers have – for whatever reason – come to rely totally on their genius. Man Utd without Rooney is embarrassing to watch, and not just because of his 34 goals. They’re like a cat with a missing leg, always trying to put weight on it and falling on its face.

And I doubt Mr. Burns Arsene Wenger will be very happy without Smithers Cesc Fabregas, who is out with another injury. Fabregas’ goals from midfield have been crucial to Arsenal’s otherwise lame campaign this year.

I’m still struggling to understand how Rooney and Fabregas can appear in both categories. I mean, surely you’re only eligible for one category or the other. It also surely means that if Fabregas or Rooney win Player of the Year then they have to win Young Player of the Year as well.

Another important question, really, is just who cares about these awards?! They’re clearly flawed and, as David has pointed out, extremely predicatable.

However, if I had a vote in the matter (as I did when I won the Champions League with Leeds on Championship Manager 01/02) then my votes would go to:

Wayne Rooney, mostly because I hate him less than the others. Seriously though, the best way of demonstrating just how good Rooney is is by seeing how bad United are without him. He has gone from being a promising young player to being a potential great in the last few seasons. He could make this summer’s World Cup his tournament, although he probably won’t. Because England always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I’m torn on the Young Player of the Year. I’m discounting Rooney and Fabregas, on the basis that it seems incredibly unfair to allow the awards to be dominated by two players that we already know are pretty good.

I’m tempted to go for Milner, but that is largely due to the fact he played for Swindon for a very brief period. Really it has to be Joe Hart. I mean, have you seen how unnaturally well Birmingham are doing?! The man is incredible, and should never have been replaced by Man City. I was immensely frustrated when they signed Given, because it obvious to anyone with eyes that Hart in the rightful heir to the England number one shirt. He’s already better than Robert Green. I’d probably take him to the World Cup now. We’re going into South Africa in the summer with two relegation battling goalkeepers; James is already a Championship goalkeeper, and Green could well be by the end of the season. It is, I would argue, where he belongs.

I digress: I vote Joe Hart.

We turn now to our fantastic although limited readers to pitch in…

Getting FOX’d Over Football

By David S. Wills

There are two words frequently used to describe me: honest, and biased.

I’m happy to put my prejudice out there and I could probably argue in my defense by saying that anyone who claims to be truly objective is a big fat liar… But I think I’m just lazy. There are some things in this world I like, and some I don’t, and I really can’t be bothered with pretending otherwise.

When it comes to football we all have our passions. Some of us try to hide those passions and fail miserably. Watching John Motson try to cover his erection when Wayne Rooney’s monstrous head comes into view is one such example. And everyone in Scotland recalls Chick Young’s first interview with Rangers’ Danish legend, Brian Laudrup: “Brian, why are you so good?!”

When it comes down to it, we’re all fools to deny our impartiality. As children we are raised by our fathers to play football, to watch football, to think about, talk about and dream about football. We are dressed in certain colours and indoctrinated from early ages to a certain mindset, and when we deny that we look as foolish as Republicans pretending they are anything but a well organized gang of bigots.

If I tried to write about Celtic’s defeat to Ross Country (!) on Saturday I would become a fraud. It would take me several rewrites to finally pick out each inappropriate use of the word “scum.” I would descend into Bush-like language, comparing Ross County’s victory over the forces of evil to… No, I can’t do it.

I was raised to feel a certain sickness at the sight of a green and white hooped shirt. And whilst I’m above the level of sectarian abuse, I cannot bring myself to approach the subject in a professional manner.

I could take a different approach, perhaps, and talk about the majesty of cup competition being its ability to bring the small and under-funded teams of the world to a position where they may vie for a shot a European success, playing in a national stadium in front of whoever the hell will honestly sit through an hour and a half of Ross County…

But then I rewrote that paragraph several times to remove all references to the stranglehold Rangers and Celtic have over the Scottish game, and that it is not a stranglehold built necessarily upon skill or managerial prowess, but rather upon religious division and financial shenanigans, resulting in a pressure upon referees and players to maintain the deeply unjust status quo.

Oops.

Or I could take a look at the other Scottish Cup semi-final and discuss Dundee Utd’s victory over a typically sub-par Raith Rovers team. But then there’s not a lot of attraction in a third placed Premier League team beating a First Division side. For anyone but a United fan it’s a bit of a disappointment, given this season’s gallery of cup-upsets.

But you see, I happen to be a Dundee Utd fan. I was extremely happy to see my team steamroll over Raith and progress to the cup final. After all, with the Old Firm’s ill-gotten grip on the Premier League, first and second place will probably never again fall to another team. The best United can hope for is third place plus a cup victory.

And a bittersweet cup victory it will be, provided Ross County don’t provide another shock and win at Hampden. Such a thing would be so romantic and provide another example of the beauty of cup football… But of course I’ll cry foul and bemoan the referee’s desire to see United lose the game.

Such is the burden of a passion for football. The only people who write about it should be bred especially for the job – isolated in labs beneath the earth until old enough to watch a game with no predilection towards either team.

Or perhaps we should all switch countries and only write about teams against whom we have no particular bias.

I could write about the Man Utd – Blackburn game that I watched on Sunday (from thousands of miles away in South Korea). But then I’d probably start talking about the moment when Park Ji-sung smashed the world long jump record (previously set by Cristiano Ronaldo). Park – who is fond of falling to the ground when caressed by a slight breeze – managed to leap into the box with no provocation, and expected a penalty in spite of the incident (which I shall refer to as the “foul”) occurring several metres outside the box.

Or I could write about the Burnley or Man City games… But then I’ve been involved in a deathly-serious fantasy football league all season, and both games were vitally important to my chances. I had both Carlos Tevez and Graham Alexander on my team, and so in spite of having absolutely no preference for any of the teams involved, I found myself screaming in celebration for four of the goals.

What about the Championship? No one cares about the crappy Championship…

Don’t spread it around, but I happen to be a Middlesbrough fan, and although I try and tell myself it’s not true, I can’t help but peak at the results each week.

And so I come to the conclusion that it’s all utterly hopeless. There is no such thing as professional, objective journalism. We are all slaves to our own stupidity. We are all hopeless.

The only thing to do is to get FOX’d and just except that we’re all extremely biased, prejudiced, fundamentally sick people. The world wasn’t meant to be full of reporters. After all, Hunter S. Thompson put it best when he said:

 

Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits – a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.