Author Archives: James D. Irwin

The Best Week Ever?

By James D. Irwin

I live a sad, solitary and fairly empty existence. And that’s why all ‘The Best Week Ever’ has to include are a few football results going in my teams favour.

I support both Tottenham Hotspur and Swindon Town, because until recently one dose of disappointment a season wasn’t quite enough for me. (If you’re wondering, Spurs are the ‘family team’ but I was born in Swindon (don’t hold it against me)).

On Wednesday Spurs somehow managed to beat the mis-managed millionaire supergroup that is Man City, the footballing equivalent of The Eagles only less popular and slightly less shit, and stumble like an uninvited drunken guest turning up at the sophisticated party that is the Champions League.

At the time I was busying myself at a friends house drinking Stella Artois and £1.50 wine whilst watching the fantastic Troll 2 because I’d convinced myself that Spurs would lose if I followed the score. This stems mostly from the game against Arsenal, where the bloody Gunners pulled one back as soon as I turned the radio on.

I texted home shortly before full time to learn that Crouch had scored a late goal and that my father was dancing in the kitchen. I’ve never known of my father dancing in almost twenty-one years of being alive. I ended up passing out either through total surprise or due to far too much £1.50 wine. Maybe a bit of a both.

Meanwhile Swindon Town are almost certainly in the play-offs. And with quite a good chance of going all the way— although I am expecting a spectacular level of ineptitude, or bad luck akin to Andy Gurney’s missed penalty against Brighton a few years back, or Paul Robinson’s unexpected header for Leeds— the first of his two career goals.

So far this week has been pretty great, both as a fan of two traditonal underachieving football clubs and as a person. It’s been such a good week on a personal level that I’ve only eaten one pack of Jammie Dodgers all week. With a barbecue to look forward to this weekend I’m looking at this as probably the best seven days of 2010.

However, there is one more day of the football season to go, a day in which the best week of 2010 could elevate itself to the greatest week of ALL TIME. And it just hinges on a few football scores.

WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN

Swindon gain automatic promotion with a highly unlikey series of events:

First, ninth placed Bristol Rovers— local rivals with literally nothing to play for— will have to beat Leeds away. Then Swindon, an inconsistent side on the road, have to overcome Millwall— a strong side at home.

Then in the Premiership Chelsea would have to lose at Wigan with Man United beating Stoke and thus depriving Jon Terry’s rag tag group of millionaire adulturers and morons of another Premiership title.

Finally Spurs would have to see off Burnley (and this is Spurs, we lost to Wolves. Twice), whilst Fulham’s B Team/Youth squad somehow overcome Arsenal. In any other year this would be more than possible, but somehow Fulham have stumbled into a major European cup final and are resting their players with good reason. It’s a shame, because it’s a pretty weak Arsenal side (hell, they lost to Spurs a few weeks ago…)

Personally, I would be content with any one of those scenarios happening. If two occur I’ll be ecstatic. But I need the whole lot for this weekend to be The Best Week Of All Time.

Frustratingly, if Spurs had won either of those games against Wolves we would actually be third already.

Of course, it is possible for Tottenham to finish third if Fulham simply hold Arsenal to a draw. All we have to do is get three points at Burnley to tie with Arsenal, as long as we overcome the Goal Difference. And to do that all we need to do is better our goal tally against Wigan and put eleven clear goals past Burnley…

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A Question Of Support

By James D. Irwin

I’m off to the Country Ground on monday to watch Swindon Town begin the inevitable implosion of their promotion hopes. Embarassingly it’s only my second game of the season— although I’m already two up on every season since I became a football fan.

Swindon were my second team up until a few months ago. Since the 1998 World Cup it’s always been a fervent support/constant disappointment of hanging on any and every piece of news to come out of White Hart Lane, and then checking the Swindon score if I can remember.

But here’s the thing: even though Spurs are having one of their best seasons in years and one win away from the FA Cup Final I’m almost bored and disinterested in them. Perhaps it’s the fact that having been a fan of the team for over a decade I know that we’ll almost certainly throw the fourth Champions League position away and then all the best players will join Man United.

But I don’t think so.

Because when I was at school surrounded by friends (oh, alright: people), all of whom followed Premier League sides. The Football League was ignored by television, brushed into a small half a page section in most newspapers and thus not given much thought to by us young fans. This is despite the fact that my best friends at school also supported their lower league home town clubs Plymouth and Oldham.

I also lived on the other side of the country from Swindon, which meant actually going to games was only possible if we visited old family friends during the football season. This happened twice, so until recently my only experiences of seeing Swindon  were a 2-0 victory over Crewe in 1998, and then more recently a victory over Chesterfield where it was so cold I almost got frostbite and Sam Parkin scored before he left us and got everything he deserved. Bastard.

Apparently when I was three years old my dad took me to see the 1993 Promotion Parade celebrating Swindon reaching the Premier League. It was the last time Swindon really had anything to celebrate since getting back into League One a few years ago.

But how the times have changed. The BBC now has a Football League highlights show featuring the ever charismatic pairing of Manish Bhasin and Steve Claridge. If I stay up after Match of the Day and sit through forty minutes of Championship coverage I can catch a brief ninety second glimpse of the mighty Robins.

I also moved to Winchester, twenty minutes from Southampton and an hour from Swindon. This has two benefits: firstly, going to see Swindon at home is no longer merely ‘do-able’, but actually quite easy. Secondly, many of my new friends are Southampton fans, so almost all of our football conversation is focused on League One.

Everything has sort of reversed, and I go straight to the League One scores to see if Swindon have lost it yet, or if I can make fun of my Saints following friends. I’m off to Swindon for the first time in about five years and I was making plans to attend the last game of the season, until I remembered it was an away trip to Millwall…

It’s something that has happened to me in other sports as well. I love cricket, American football and rugby union when they’re on TV regularly, but if I can’t watch it I don’t really give a toss about it. For example, I got hooked on cricket in 2005 and ended up watching pretty much every day of every test. But then it went to Sky, and I didn’t have Sky, so I lost interest until 2008 when my parents got Sky. Because we had Sky I could watch American football each weekend, and again I was hooked on it. It’s a sport that has very vocal detractors in this country, and whilst nowhere near as good as proper football it is an enjoyable game to watch. But then I moved to university, and cable access is far too much for a student. And thus I paid little attention to the last season until the Super Bowl, which is shown on terrestrial.

It’s just a fact that it’s easier to be a fervent supporter of a team if you watch them play, or even have some sort of media coverage. Why? Because that’s what being a supporter is all about, it’s about willing your team on, cheering/shouting in frustration with every kick of the ball and experiencing the highs and lows of the season. That’s the joy of it, sharing the experience with other fans. It’s impossible to experience that by going on Teletext at five pm and glancing at a list of numbers.

has anyone else had this experience? Are there sports or teams you’d be far more passionate about if you could see them love or on television more regularly?

I mean, Premier League football is shown around the world, and Premier League teams have mass global followings. Would Parma, for example, have more English fans if Serie A was broadcast here regularly, or even if they brought back Football Italia  to Channel 4? Nobody ever shouts ‘Golaccio!’ when they score anymore (Golaccio is a made up word which is roughly translated as ‘goaltastic.) Would soccer be more popular in the US if it aired our top teams?

In the 1980s American Football became hugely popular in Britain. Is it really a coincidence that this surge in popularity occured at the same time that American Football was broadcast on British television, and seen a steep decline in popularity since it stopped being broadcast on terrestrial free-to-air channels?

Watching sport is the essence of being a fan in any field. I’m excited for next season, not because I think Swindon are going to do particularly well (especially if we make the Championship), but because I know I’m going to be there for every moment of it, and that I can attend at least ten home games, and either Pompey or Southampton away…

Once Upon a Time in Barcelona…

I haven’t played football in about three years. I love football. Even when I want to hate it I can’t look away.

Yesterday I arranged a game at the park for next weekend with a few of my friends. This re-ignited my football fever, and I spent the rest of the day watching clips of the best football moments from my childhood.

To mark my ‘comeback’ I’m looking back at one of the greatest all-time comebacks…

1998/1999 was my first season as a dedicated football fan, and one of its final games is still probably the best game I’ve ever seen.

I am not a Manchester United fan, but my brother is. So I watched every game of Man Utd’s 1999 Chapions League Campaign.

The Champions League is like a World Cup tournament for the best club teams in Europe. In 1999 to qualify as an English team you either had to win the Premier League or the FA Cup. Arsenal won both in ’98, so the second spot went to the team who came second in the league— Man Utd.

But first they had to qualify. All the second spot teams played each other to keep the riff raff out— like Polish league runners up LK Lodz. The 1999 Champions League final is one of the best games in the history of football. Man Utd’s campaign started off with the most boring sporting spectacle I’ve ever seen (and I’ve watched Curling…) It wasn’t just a 0-0 draw, it was a game in which nothing exciting happened at all. I have it on video.

They narrowly progressed to the group stage, I don’t remember anything other than the game against the Austrian champions Sturm Graz. I remember this because Sturm Graz played at the brilliantly named Arnold Schwarzenegger-Stadium. They’ve re-named it now, because like most NFL teams the stadium sold sponsorship rights.

On FIFA 2000 I beat Sturm Graz 126-0. Back in the PS One days you could actually play 90 minute games. So that’s what I did. Every time Graz kicked off I’d charge forward with the tackle, make a run, pass wide to Beckham or Giggs and then square it for Solskjaer to fire home. Sometimes it’d go slightly off plan and someone else would end up with the finish, but 116 times out of 126 Solskjaer was there with the finish.

Anyway: The final. It was exciting. Manchester United were on course to win three major trophies in 1999: the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. A football grand slam. It was an incredible team. And back then the majority of the team had been playing for United since they turned professional. Only a handful of players had been at United less than a year.

The team they were up against was German, a natural footballing rivalry. Bayern Munich had already been United. On top of this United had lost both their central midfielders, Pauls Scholes and the captain, Roy Keane who had scored two goals in the semi-final, but picked up too many yellow cards.

Five minutes in and the Germans score from a free kick. The free kick is conceded by Ronny Johnson, who my brother has hated all season, for no reason. Mario Basler swings at the ball, it deflects off a United player and bounces past a helpless Peter Schmiechel. 

89 minutes into the game and it’s still 1-0 to the German side. The United manager has brought on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham as a last resort.

United go on what looks to be a last ditch attack, but a low cross is blocked easily for a corner.

There is a mighty roar from the crowd: one last chance.

The engraver has already engraved ‘Baye’ onto the trophy.

‘’Can manchester united score?’’ asks the commentator emphatically. ‘’They always score.’’

David Beckham lines up the corner and swings it in. The ball is loose in the box. Ryan Giggs swings the ball low towards goal. Teddy Sheringham directs it into the bottom corner. It’s 1-1. Veteran German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn lies flat on his arse limply appealing for offside.

Three minutes of injury time are signalled.

Bayern Munich come within inches of robbing it.

United come forward again, the ball is belted out for a corner.

Another roar from the crowd.

Beckham swings in another corner.

Tedding Sheringham gets a head to it. Solskjaer does little more than poke his foot out to meet it.

The ball flies into the roof of the net.

This was one of the final games of my first season as a football fan, and it’s one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Weekend Round-Up 15th/16th August 2009

The Premier League kicked off this weeked and as the results rolled in, Two Footed Challenge was there to collect them and regurgitate them for your pleasure.

Unusually,  there were no draws on the opening day of the season, but then Shola Ameobi scored a hatrick for Newcastle and Sven Goran Eriksson took a job at Notts County… so, y’know…

Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic (Rodallega 31, Koumas 56)

Although no one really cares about Wigan and may have thought they were relegated last season, they were not. In their first game under Roberto Martinez they produced the first inspiring performance in their unremarkable 77 year history.

Rodallega scored a stunning volley that several moronic pundits have already dubbed ‘goal of the season’ as they do with any goal from outside the box on the opening weekend.

Aston Villa put in a performance that can only be described as ‘vintage Wigan.’

Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester City (Adebayor 3, Ireland 90+3)

Before the game Blackburn midfielder David Dunn claimed that he would ‘kick lumps’ out of City. Unfortunatley Mark Hughes signed him as he was walking out onto the pitch.

Rovers outplayed City, although jammy strikes 3 minutes into the game and 3 minutes after the game gave the cheating team of mercenaries the win.

Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Sunderland (Bent 5)

Yes, Darren Bent.

Chelsea 2-1 Hull (Hunt 28, Drogba 37 , 90+2)

Hull got a well deserved draw against Chelsea after 9o minutes.

Everton 1-6 Arsenal (Denilson 26, Vermaelen 37, Gallas 41, Fabregas 48, 69, Eduardo 88, Saha 90+2)

Arsenal made a mockery of Two Footed Challenge’s presentation on Saturday by hosting an old fashioned goal fest that is all too rare in the modern game.

Several pundits believed that The Joleon Lescott Saga was to blame for the lacklustre performance.

However it is probably more likely that Everton’s ’80s inspired kits brought back horrific childhood memories for the likes of Tim Howard, Steven Pienaar and particularly Leighton Baines who broke down in tears on more than three occasions.

Portsmouth 0-1 Fulham (Zamora 13)

Portsmouth sold all their best players over the summer, allowing Zamora to capitalize and nab a rare goal.

Stoke 2-0 Burnley (Shawcross 19, Jordan (o.g) 33)

 Premier League new boys Burnley were pushed into the deep end in their first top flight game in 33 years with an away tie at the Britannia Stadium.

Shawcross put in a header just under 20 minutes in. Backup Burnley centre back Jordan compounded the embarassment of being number two to Steven Caldwell by letting a classic Rory Delap throw in bounce of his head and past that fat fucker that is somehow agile enough to be an athlete outside of Darts.

Wolverhapton Wanders 0-2 West Ham United (Noble 22, Upson 69)

Wolves deserved to lose for having the audacity to turn up to a football game in baseball attire. West Ham, in proper football shirts, scored on 22 minutes with a fine strike from Noble. Upson wrapped the game up by following the succession of centre backs scoring close range headers on the opening day.

Oh, and at some point Kieron Dyer, sporting the stubble of a man who has given up on life, love and basic hygiene, attempted to nutmeg the ‘keeper with a back heel. As with everything else in his life, it was a pathetic failure.

Manchester United 1-0 Birmingham City (Rooney 34)

The first game of Sky’s Super Sunday was over on 34 minutes when Rooney scored a ridiculously easy tap in.

Michael Owen nearly scored, but deliberately missed so as to not raise expectations to unreachable levels.

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool (Assou-Ekotto 44, Gerrard pen 56, Bassong 59)

The sole survivor of Newcastle United’s implosion capped an exciting week which included a first international cap, recieving wrong change in his favour and making his debut for Spurs by scoring the winner with a header which could be considered goal of the season stuff— if only for the inevitable ‘I thought he was suspended’ ranting from Benitez and/or Liverpool fans.

Tottenham dominated the first half against a Liverpool side which seemed to have given up their title aspirations when the realised Dimitry Voronin was their best option on the bench.

Robbie Keane should have had two goals but was denied by competent goalkeeping from Reina.

It looked like Spurs would go into halftime having wasted every chance to claim a lead and an advantage against a team that would probably try a bit for the next 45 minutes.

However Tottenham took the lead just before the whistle with a stunning goal of the season contender from professional Alicia Keyes impersonator Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

Liverpool nearly lost both centre backs during the first half when Skrtel and Carragher both went for the same ball. Hilarity, concussion and blood were the results, although they both played on.

Liverpool pulled one back after the first of 137 penalty appeals were given. Gerrard made no mistake.

However Tottenham regained the lead and eventually took the points after a strong header from Bassong was buried in the top left of Reina’s goal.

Bassong beat Carragher to the ball, preventing the scouser from adding to his tally of goals for Spurs.

The end of the game was tense as a team famed for their late goals piled the pressure on a Tottenham team that have been known to leave the pitch after 88 minutes. Tottenham wasted time by bringing on Pavlyuchenko only to find the referee add the time on.

The game ended with Liverpool having a minute and half left to score, however instead of going for goals they decided, in a remarkable display of cultural intergration, to start a fight.

As the whistle blew many pundits began to wonder if the result signalled the end of Liverpool’s challenge for the title. Either way, it will only add to the pressure of Stoke’s impending visit to Anfield on Wednesday night.

Team of the Week

Given, Fabio (or Raphael), Bassong, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Koumas, Fabregas, Palacios, Denilson, Drogba, Rodallega