We’re doomed (my team that is), happy new year

Tannadice and Dens

Tannadice and Dens. Photo by: Brook www.flickr.com

Happy New Year readers. 2016 hasn’t started quite as well for me in a footballing sense as 2015 did. On the 1st of January 2015 I was at Tannadice to watch Dundee United triumph over Dundee in the derby, 6-2.  It was a victory that even prompted some optimistic talk of us joining Aberdeen in a ‘new firm’ bid to challenge Celtic for the title.

Sadly it turned out to be the sort of optimism that is so often found in those activating gym memberships at this time of year; it had mostly evaporated by the end of January (by which time three of our best players had moved to Celtic).

I was not in Scotland this festive season and thus I wasn’t at Dens to watch us lose the New Year derby 2-1, a result that leaves us floundering at the bottom of the league – 11 points behind Kilmarnock who occupy the position above us. If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity in football.

In that period, the manager has been sacked and there’s been a major overhaul of the squad, not exactly for the better. It’s been a bit like an episode of 60 Minute Makeover in reverse. You don’t need to be as serial a pessimist as Private Fraser in Dad’s Army to nevertheless reach the conclusion that we appear to be doomed. Captain Mainwaring couldn’t save us now.

Considerably more hope is invested in Jurgen Klopp saving Liverpool. So far, the German has made a good if slightly inconsistent start. West Ham v Liverpool was the first game that I watched in 2016 and it didn’t bring much cheer for a Liverpool fan. West Ham won 2-0 and did so comfortably.

In press reports of the game I read that Klopp was angry at his side’s failure to give their all. One newspaper quoted him saying that they had only given “95%” while another suggested that he had said “90%.” If there’s only 5-10% more to be had from that side then I’m afraid we’re back in Private Fraser territory. I would say it was a 70% performance at best.

Somebody should really check Lucas’s passport because it looks increasingly implausible to me that he can actually be Brazilian. I’m almost certain that if you picked a random guy of the Copacabana they would display greater skill than our number 21.

Then there’s Clyne: a half-hearted sort of a full-back. He doesn’t mind going forward (although he shows only a moderate talent for it) but he’s bit less sure of things when called upon to perform defensive duties – a not altogether uncommon occurrence for a defender. In this aspect of the game he’s something of a liability, seemingly regarding it as all a bit inconvenient.

He was out-jumped for both West Ham goals. Well, I say out-jumped, that’s actually a rather generous description of his efforts (well, I say ‘efforts’) to disengage his feet from the pitch. I think on one of the two occasions in question he got high enough that a slow motion camera would have been able to capture at least half of one of his studs.

I once played for a manager who bemoaned such instances with the phrase: “couldn’t get a Sunday Post under you there.” The insertion of a Sunday Post beneath one’s feet would not require a very spectacular, salmon-like jump.

One Liverpool player who could not be accused of lacking effort in his performance was Benteke. Sadly most of that effort was entirely ineffectual. Klopp has demanded more of his young striker in recent weeks and Christian ran around looking as lost as your average KL taxi driver (for those of you who haven’t been in a KL taxi, that’s generally quite lost).

The overall performance had all the huffing and puffing that we’ve already come to expect from a Klopp side but nothing appeared very much at risk of being blown down.

Much of the fallout from the game has focused on the spate of hamstring injuries that the squad has suffered; an occurrence that Sam Allardyce suggested was due to Klopp’s preferred high intensity playing style. Klopp’s response was something along the lines of: “pull the other one Sam.”

The fortunes of Liverpool and Dundee United are certainly pulling in different directions. There’s no question that Liverpool are improving under Klopp and there is a lot to be excited about at Anfield in 2016.

Dundee United on the other hand, are on a run of results comparable to that of Donald Trump’s barber. 2016 is looking like a relegation year for us but we football supporters are required to make the same resolution ever year: we’ll support you ever more.

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My son’s first football match

Tannadice 1It’s a special day for a father, taking your son to his first game. For me that day came last month. Dundee United (my team) were playing Hearts at Tannadice Park.

It was also the first game in charge for former player, and club legend, Mixu Patelainen. He’d been installed as manager about a week before following a rather calamitous start to the season that saw us admiring the rest of the league from the very bottom of it. The only way is up then Toma my son. Unless we get relegated of course (as I write this more than a month later we remain bottom of the league).

We set off in hope though as all supporters must; me, Toma, my Dad and my brother. Toma’s initial confusion concerned the fact that Messi wouldn’t be playing. The Argentinean superstar is the only footballer he knows and thus he was mystified as to why we would go to see a game that wouldn’t feature him. Cost cutting measures in recent seasons at Tannadice have put Messi a little beyond our budget.

Before going into the ground we collected our tickets at the club shop. Here I’d hoped to buy a souvenir of the day but Toma was distinctly unimpressed with the offerings on display.

On then to the stadium and that childlike thrill that’s never lost of entering the stand and setting eyes on the pitch. Toma was quite excited at this point although it’s debatable whether that was from the sense of occasion or the gigantic bag of Skittles he was now clutching.

The game kicked off and it was quickly apparent that our league position was not a false one. Three successive passes was the most we managed in the opening ten minutes. In the sixteenth minute we conceded a penalty – largely the result of playing a centre half at full back. Hearts scored, 1-0. Toma glanced anxiously at the dejected faces of his Dad, Granda, and Uncle. Welcome aboard son.

Shortly afterwards my Dad got a brief touch on the ball as it was blasted into the stand; probably the closest I’ve come to being hit by the ball in almost thirty years of going to watch football. That may in fact have been the most exciting moment of the first half for us.

After about half an hour Toma asked: “why is everyone so angry?” My Dad took this one. “They’re not angry Champ, just very excited.” I would describe some of those around us as apoplectic with excitement.

They had reason to be. It was a dismal performance and a dire game.

For some strange reason it was being played with a yellow ball despite the fact that it was a dry, bright and pleasant autumn day in Dundee. I’m something of a traditionalist and for me, football should be played at 3,o,clock on a Saturday afternoon, with a white ball, by players wearing black boots. As it was a Sunday lunchtime game, none of these criteria were being met.

The crowd was growing increasingly agitated. The wisdom of crowds is a much debated phenomenon but I’ve never seen much evidence of it at football grounds. I’m consistently amazed that people can watch so much football and seemingly have so little appreciation of its subtleties.

“This is torture” someone bellowed in anguish from behind us. He was neither lying nor kidding.

At half time Toma had another question: “is it finished now?” Sadly not, another 45 minutes to go. There’s only so much consolation you can expect from a half time pie or burger.

Still we were only a goal down and it’s a game of two halves and all that. Unfortunately the second half bore an uncanny resemblance to the first.

At around 70 minutes, something I’d feared – Toma turned to me and said “Daddy, I heard somebody say a bad word.” A collective intake of breath. “They said idiot.” And exhale. “Yes son, that was very naughty of them.” He had been offered the opportunity of a rather extensive expansion of his vocabulary but fortunately seems not to have understood much Dundonian.

We were simply awful and so, it has to be said, was the referee. A failure to take 10 steps in counting out the distance of the wall for a free kick was one of many howlers that contributed to his plummeting popularity in our stand.

I had run my first marathon exactly a week before and the longer the match went on the more fondly I recalled that experience. My Dad recalled that it had been twenty years since he was last at a football game. It may well be that long until he returns. My brother, always the most optimistic of supporters, described it as the worst game he’d ever seen.

Quite an introduction then young Toma. How was it? I asked as the final whistle blew. “Bad Daddy, it was bad.”

As we made our way out of the ground I heard a woman say: “minging that.” For those of you less familiar with the Scottish version of the English language, minging means ‘foul-smelling’ or, more broadly, ‘very bad or unpleasant.’

Another word that Toma didn’t understand but he’d understood that the game was exactly that. Back in the car I promised him that one day I’d take him to see Messi.

Tannadice 2

Dundee derby delight

Brothers United

Brothers United

Happy New Year all. This is my first post of 2015 and I hope and intend that it marks the start of a productive blogging year. 2015 got off to a very happy start for me when my brother and I went to the Dundee derby on New Year’s Day (I’m the handsome one pictured above).

We nearly didn’t make it though. My brother was tasked with getting us tickets and as December wore on he kept insisting that yes ‘today, I’ll definitely sort it out.’ When the day of his ‘sorting it’ finally arrived the match had already sold out. He texted me in panic: ‘em, I’ve been a bit of a plonker about the derby tickets, they’re now sold out. I’ve enquired about hospitality tickets and sent a pleading email.’

A plonker indeed. In his defence, his wife had just given birth to their first child (my beautiful nephew) a few weeks before so he did have one or two other things to concern himself with. His email to the Dundee United ticket office informed them that both he and I used to be season ticket holders but having both moved away from Scotland we now very rarely get to games. He also informed them that I was travelling all the way from Malaysia.

20 minutes later his phone rang. It was the ticket office offering him two tickets that had been returned. Merry Christmas and relief all round.

With tickets secured we arrived at Tannadice at 11.30 am on New Year’s Day to pick them up ahead of the 12.15 pm kick-off. It was a wet and windy day in Dundee but mercifully not quite as cold as we’d been expecting. In the days before there had been some tentative discussion of investing in long johns but in the end they remained unpurchased as we manfully opted to do without them. Asked how I would ward off the cold, I suggested that I’d pursue a regime of vigorous rubbing as required.

Such a regime turned out not to be needed as we basked in the warmth of a great performance by our side in a quite remarkable game. No sooner had we sat down than we were back on our feet to celebrate the opening goal as Stuart Armstrong gave us the lead after about 40 seconds. He didn’t know too much about it, the ball deflecting in off his back from an Erskine volley. Dundee’s goalkeeper, Schenk, was making his debut and his first task was to pick the ball out of the net.

After scoring so early United then sat back and became rather complacent. Dundee recovered well and by 10 or 15 minutes into the game they had become the more dominant of the two sides. Much of their attacking threat was being carried by Harkins a man of some considerable skill and some equally considerable heft. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a professional footballer look so unathletic. The question of ‘who ate all the pies’ went unasked since the answer was so obvious.

Dundee deservedly equalised on 24 minutes when Stewart curled a magnificent free kick into the top corner. We United fans, who had hitherto been in excellent voice, fell rather quiet. The equaliser had also upset our pre-match predictions: I had predicted that we would win 2-0; my brother, almost always more confident than me in such matters, had gone for 3-0.

It took a mere three minutes for us to find our voices again however as Mackay-Steven restored our lead with a dipping curling effort from out wide on the right. At the time I wasn’t sure if he had meant to shoot or was just aiming a cross towards the far post and I’m not much clearer after watching the highlights of the match and seeing several replays of the goal. I’m sure he’ll claim he meant it and I’m not going to argue.

Four minutes later it was 3-1 as Erskine cut inside from the right and finished low into the far corner. All our attacks were coming down our right wing at this stage and Dundee’s left back, Dyer, was living up to his name. I was amazed that his manager didn’t invite him to take an early bath at half-time.

There was still time for another goal before half-time and again it came from the same area as Mackay-Steven ran on to a great through ball from Armstrong before applying a cool finish. Schenk in the Dundee goal picked the ball out of his net for the fourth time in the first half of his debut for the club. Happy New Year!

I suspect it was a slightly different message that Dundee manager Paul Hartley had for his players at the interval. The early stages of the second half were more even and it wasn’t until the 64th minute that we scored again: Fojut rose highest to nod home from a corner. This was the cue for many Dundee fans to make their exit. “Why on earth are you still here?” (or words to that effect) we politely enquired of those that remained.

It was a question they were probably asking themselves by the 83rd minute when young Charlie Telfer casually stroked in a 6th for us. Those Dundee fans that did remain to the bitter end were at least rewarded with a 90th minute consolation, cleverly converted by Tankulic.

The ref took pity on the visitors and played just a minute of stoppage time before blowing the final whistle. We rejoiced and silently thanked whoever it was who had returned their tickets. It doesn’t get much better than being there for a 6-2 derby victory to start the new year. Paul Hartley trudged off dejectedly while United boss Jackie McNamara strolled down the touchline beaming and offered a pumped fist above his head as he disappeared down the tunnel.

Hartley and McNamara were two of the most composed and elegant Scottish players from the mid-1990s until they both retired about four years ago. Now as young bosses managing in the top flight (Hartley is 38 and McNamara is 41) they are instilling similar qualities in their teams. Both sides tried to play decent football in what were quite difficult weather conditions and succeeded to a commendable extent.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom surrounding Scottish football at the moment and some of it is understandable but I came away from Tannadice feeling positive about the future. The game in Scotland is in good hands with the likes of Hartley and McNamara (and of course Gordon Strachan with the national team) and hopefully there’s a lot to look forward to in the rest of 2015.