Skip to content

A Charity Book For Sale: The Bumper Bundle of Manchester City Stories: 2008-14

In 2008, in a land not very far away, an ailing football club down on its luck won the lottery and changed the lives of those around them forever. This book is the story of Manchester City from 2008-14 through the humorous articles I wrote during that time.

It looks at the vitriol the club attracted after they were taken over six years ago as Thaksin Shinawatra fled to the east. It also looks at the wider game, from the role of social media in the modern game to City’s illustrious neighbours down the road, who finally gave City fans something to laugh about over recent years. But most of all, it’s just light-hearted observations on City and football as a whole. And by purchasing this book, you can be assured that all profits will be shared between two wonderful charities:

The Neuro Foundation, which helps people suffering from neurofibromatosis, which is the name for a number of genetic conditions that cause tumours to grow along your nerves, and secondly for Macmillan Cancer Support, who you will probably know more about.

Contains:
The Bumper Bundle of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
MUTV Listings
How To Be An ITK’er
World Cup 2014 Review
Football’s Worst Clichés
The Louis Van Gaal quiz
And much, much more

Though Amazon randomly change my book prices for no apparent reason, the book has been priced cheaply, but every copy sold should contribute £1.50 towards the two charities.

The book contains five articles not previously published.

The Kindle Version can be found here.

The paperback version can be found here:

Thank you…

Thoughts From The Week: Ticket Prices, Premier League Years and AC Milan

I love my football club and I love my club’s owners. I say without prejudice that they have been the most wonderful owners, even apart from the financial investment. They are astute businessmen who understand what is involved in running any business, and they have engaged with fans more than any previous owners have. It’s easy to invest in the community and beyond with their wealth of course, but that doesn’t mean we should take their actions for granted.
However, in one aspect they have not succeeded, along with most other owners, and unfortunately it’s quite an important one. It is of course ticket prices.

This is not a new issue and I’m not really saying anything that hasn’t been said before. Modern football is too expensive across the board and many fans are slowly being squeezed out from watching the game they love.

City’s owners have done some positive things with prices, especially in cup competitions, and whilst season ticket prices have predictably crept up season by season, they still remain competitive for the product on show, just – unless of course you are sat near the half-way line. There are contributing factors to rising prices – as we all know, City need to become self-sufficient and running a profit each year, or Michel Platini will get very angry and you won’t like him when he gets angry, but the thirst for extra revenue is not a get out of jail card for rising prices.
You can create as many tables as you want showing City have the cheapest season ticket in the Premier League, but that hardly tells the story when so few people get to take advantage of that price.

I’ve been to a fans’ forum where one of City’s staff argued that the arrival of cheap season tickets with the expansion of the Etihad makes up for the expansion of the corporate sections and creeping price rises, but unless every fan can take advantage of those seats too it isn’t the answer to this problem either, only a partial one that still leaves a sizeable majority of fans being gradually priced out of a game many have attended home and away for decades.
The pricing of seats for away fans is something that should concern us all too. You may not think them of great concern but you should. There is a big enough problem with atmospheres at Premier League grounds, and it is made gradually worse by the lack of away fans, who are as important to a match-day experience as the home fans. City treat away fans well, but this should be the norm – too many travelling fans are pushed into the worst parts of a ground, up in the gods or with restricted views, at considerable expense.

The Football Supporters’ Federation are planning another march on the Premier League and FA headquarters on 14th August to protest against ticket prices. I don’t know what this will achieve, but credit to them for doing something, and their “twenty’s plenty” campaign which has had partial breakthroughs in prices for some away games. There is a long way to go though. Cheap prices should never be the exception to the rule – it really is that simple.

I said years ago that ticket price rises would be the inevitable consequence of the new Financial Fair Play rules as clubs try to wring every less penny out of supporters. The new TV deal meant ticket prices could easily be slashed in half without the clubs taking any hit at all, but that was never going to happen. We’ll never know if City’s prices had stayed low without FFP, but it is not an excuse. Ticket revenue is after all but a small portion of total revenue. I’d rather City bought one less player and kept prices lower, but it is hard to complain when our owners have delivered the greatest football I have ever seen and success I could barely dream about. They are not stupid either, knowing that they can keep raising prices as long as the tickets sell and demand meets supply, and despite the pathetic juvenile taunts of United fans who don’t have anything else to cheer about at the moment, City sell out just about every match (Premier League games were attended by 98.37% of capacity last season).

The ones that take the hit the most though are those that attend on a match-by-match basis. Those squeezed out of the central areas of stands by corporate expansion can at least move elsewhere, which isn’t ideal but not the end of the world, but those buying individual tickets are having to pay sky-high prices, as announcements this week for early games next season showed. At a time just prior to a stadium expansion, it seems strange to be pricing people out of attending. Liverpool tickets are available FROM £57, up £10 from last season – and all for a Monday night match, a night when no football should be played, ever.

You begin to wonder if our owners want everyone on season tickets. Whatever the reasoning, you can’t have a stadium full of season ticket holders, you always have to have an allocation for those who can’t go every week. But with capacity down by a thousand over the coming season, it will be even easier to sell out the ground, as champions. Thank god tickets on Viagogo are so reasonably priced, eh?

If season tickets continue to rise at current rates, in two years I will give up my season ticket after almost twenty years. I cannot keep justifying the cost and I know I will be far from the first and certainly not the last. You can’t have a limited section of cheap seats and claim everything is ok – something has to change, but club owners see full houses and an English game awash with money and they just don’t seem to get it….well one day the bubble will burst, and then they will.

—————————

One (very) small highlight of a post-title win summer is the debut on Sky Sports 1 of Premier League Years, a chance to re-live a successful season in a nice 90 minute package. I get pointlessly giddy over seeing this for the first time. Of course the reality is a review of 20 teams that doesn’t entertain as much as you had anticipated until you reach the business end of the season. This year though, the producers excelled themselves in ripping all the drama and joy out of a triumphant season for City fans.
The 2014 programme appeared to be produced by a trainee who had just been on a design course and was keen to show what he had learnt – he also appeared to have little knowledge of the story of the season.
People who watch a highlights package want to see the goals and the big moments of the season as they happened at the time. It’s not rocket – science – the season Sky trumpeted as one of the greatest and most competitive ever needs no tampering with, no bells added, it just needs to show the drama unfold. Unfortunately this wasn’t acceptable for Sky, who like to show the world that they are at the cutting edge of technology, and thus goals were shown at jaunty angles, with artistic filtering of pictures, stupid slo-mos and a staggering ability to concentrate on the wrong aspect of particular games.
The choice of action was poorly chosen, City’s 6-3 win against Arsenal, clearly one of the games of the season getting 5 seconds coverage, Sky bizarrely choosing just to show Yaya Toure stroking a penalty in, whilst Swansea’s caretaker manager Garry Monk got a minute’s airtime as he described his philosophy after a match.
Then there was the predictable Liverpool angle to the whole programme. I wouldn’t have minded an emphasis on them in the spring months as they went on a fantastic run of form that appeared to be leading towards title glory. However, there was far too much emphasis on them and their cannibal striker throughout the season, to the detriment of City and also Arsenal who after all led the table for much of the season.
As in previous years I also have an irrational hated of how Sky Sports tamper with time itself to help their narrative. Two years ago games on the same day involving City and United were shown in the wrong order and this year they did it again. More amusing though was the gentle sound of Martin Tyler’s salty tears slowly dripping onto his microphone as each City goal went in against Everton, compared to his multiple-orgasm (“I’ll have what he’s having”) when the opposition scored, be it Everton or Liverpool. Paranoid, me?
I jest, of course. Tyler was impartiality personified throughout, and is a model professional.
Still, it was worth the viewing for the end, especially Crystal Palace v Liverpool, which leaves me giggling like a child every time I watch it.

———————-

For the second successive season City went goal-crazy in a first half blitz against a poor AC Milan. For what was nowhere close to the first XI, it was an impressive display, especially from Stevan Jovetic who we must pray retains his fitness this season. Unfortunately the gods decided that a combination of Alan Curbishley and Trevor Francis was too much for any human to endure and the heavens opened, the game suspended for half an hour, which had the unfortunate consequence of subjecting us all to even more of Trevor’s pointless views. Still you had to laugh at the delay causing the start, and only goal, in the Liverpool match to be missed. Bit of a slip-up there.
Needless to say the Louis Van Gaal love-in shows no sign of abating, so City continue to travel under the radar, which suits me just fine. Like last season, let’s just concentrate on the football, let Van Gaal and Mourinho spend the season pretending to hate each other, let Wenger moan about everyone else, and we can get on with trying to win games.
(Insert Holistic hash tag)

———————

Finally, I need your help/opinion. For a while I have been considering releasing a book for charity – a smaller book containing the humorous articles from the last three season review books plus a few new articles, for two charities that I have chosen. Having whored my season review book around all summer, the last thing I want to be doing is pushing another book, though the circumstances would be rather different. At around 90 pages long it would be about £2 on Kindle and about £6 in paperback and each sale would generate £1.50 for charity. I am filled with doubt over whether it is a good idea, so any opinions are greatly appreciated.

Yaya Toure Is Not Moving On – So City Fans Need To.

Relax everyone. Yaya is staying and it seems it was never in doubt. We can move on, secure in the knowledge that one of the world’s best midfielders will be strutting his stuff for the Citizens next season. What’s more, he wants to see out his contract and be at the club for a long time. As a result of his pledge, a few of us probably feel a bit stupid after slamming him constantly for the past two months, eh?

Well not quite. You’d have to be pretty naive to think Toure has not had a problem with City at any point this summer. His agent might be another of the type that like to stir, make spurious claims and generally unsettle their clients, and god knows plenty of his type have passed through City’s doors down the years, but there is no smoke without fire on this occasion, especially as his agent is such a close friend that Yaya named one of his children after him. Seluk is not some loose cannon making bold statements without the consent of his client.

So what did happen? You can type on a facebbok group page as many times as you want that he is a spoilt
mercenary, he owes the fans, he is paid a fortune, he should shut up, who does he think he is, he is dead to me, sell him, buy Pogba instead, why didn’t he quell the rumours, why ruin the celebrations, what is his problem, he needs to grow up and so on ad infinitum, but none of us knows what really happened.

My completely unsubstantiated, shot-in-the-dark, wild stab at the truth? Yaya, like many top footballers, is a precious soul. As subsequent missives have suggested, he doesn’t feel appreciated as a footballer – a cannibal, injury-feigning cheat winning Player of The Year awards ahead of him probably didn’t help. If he wasn’t black he’d get more adulation. If he wasn’t African, he and his national team would get more respect. This feeling of not being appreciated and loved then spread to his employers, who probably hadn’t realised they had a player requiring special attention. His agent was instructed to test the water about a possible change of career, a tactic used to engineer his move to City from Barcelona, a tactic that the agent seemed to dabble with every summer. Maybe this wasn’t done to get a move, but another new contract. Hey, it works for Wayne Rooney. The problem is, Yaya Toure’s cakegate moment was due to his 31st birthday. Not many clubs want to pay huge wages and a large transfer fee for a man in his thirties. It seemed Yaya’s options were limited, especially as it wasn’t long since the last shiny new contract. Thus Yaya and his agent back-tracked quicker than Liverpool’s open-topped bus.

And so, Yaya appears on Sky Sports News very briefly to mumble something down a telephone line telling us all he is disappointed by the speculation, speculation that he started. His reputation is still tarnished with many fans. What rankles most is that this was all so unnecessary, coming at a time as we all celebrated a double. There’s few things more unsavoury than a player and his unlicensed agent publically playing out a spat with their employers. If he has a problem with City, at least have the decency to sort it in private, rather than leaving cryptic messages in the public domain and getting your representative to talk utter drivel on Sky Sports News. Of course, footballers do not live in the same world as us, and do not think about the consequences of many of their actions. This whole saga was played this way deliberately, and was calculated by Toure and his camp for reasons we can’t verify, but they soon seemed to have realised that City’s hierarchy don’t stand for this sort of crap anymore. They decide who goes and who stays, not the players themselves. In addition to this, I doubt Yaya Toure is losing too much sleep at the thought that a few fans are not impressed with his actions over the summer – he won’t be aware of any anger. Hopefully he doesn’t have a Bluemoon subscription.

BUT. Yaya Toure’s younger brother died this summer. Some City fans seem to struggle with the magnitude of this. This was no sudden occurrence – he had fought cancer for some time. As Yaya Toure helped City fight for the title, he knew his brother was dying. As he celebrated the title triumph and jetted off to Abu Dhabi, he knew his brother was dying. As he flew to Brazil for the World Cup, he knew his brother was dying. And as he participated in the World Cup with Kolo, their brother passed away, aged just 28. This didn’t seem to matter too much to some fans when assessing the actions of Yaya Toure. Far more important than the death of a sibling was Yaya’s failure to assure needy football fans on the internet. I can’t begin to think what has been going through Toure’s mind over the past few months – so much to deal with, and I am not sure how I could have coped myself. He has been through hell, and I doubt we could all act like perfect human beings in such circumstances. The club knew this, and had offered extensive support over previous months – they knew to keep their counsel and try and resolve any problems quietly and efficiently.

So basically – cut him some slack. Not much maybe, but some. Personally, I couldn’t care less how much of a brat he may or may not be if he continues to perform on the pitch – if his performances wane, then it becomes a problem. Don’t cheer him, don’t chant his name, don’t consider him a legend, who cares? This is the guy who scored the winner in the semi-final of the FA Cup against United, the match when City truly arrived and everyone knew our name. He then scored the winner in the final to bring City their first trophy in a generation (the Thomas Cook trophy does not count). He scored a goal at Newcastle that to me was as important as THAT Aguero goal. His 20+ goals last season from midfield was vital in regaining the title. If he doesn’t have the diplomacy or respect of Kompany or Zabaleta then so be it. Carlos Tevez may never be a legend at City either (however you define such a thing), but both were vital in making this club what it is today. Toure is staying, he is not moving on – as fans, we need to do the opposite, and support the team as an exciting new season approaches. We all have short memories – a derby-winning goal and the summer saga will be a distant memory.

——————————————–

You can buy my Manchester City 2013/14 Season review book here:

Or at the National Football Museum, Urbis.

The Premier League v The Bundesliga: The Shocking Facts

From some time in 2013…….

Warning: the following article may contain many, many lies

As Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund swept all before them in the Champions League, there has been much debate about the merits of the Bundesliga, especially compared to the money-obsessed English Premier League. Having compared the two leagues, the differences make for astonishing reading. Here is how the two leagues compare:

Most Bundesliga season tickets cost under £100, and include free transport, as many bratwursts as you can eat (currywurst available on request), and a half-time massage. Free entry on the day can be secured with a cheeky wink and a winning smile at the turnstile (subject to availability, terms and conditions may apply).
In England, fans have to pay just to get the chance to buy tickets. Tickets prices average a month’s wages, and a hot dog costs more than a flat screen TV. Children get a 10% discount.
Soon German fans will experience this for themselves. Apparently a burger meal at Wembley will cost Dortmund fans more than a 30% stake in their own club.

Bundesliga actually comes from the Bavarian word “bundleschnak” which loosely means “a league for families who go through life together as one, united in spirit, the soul of its fans carrying the spirit to its glorious ends, and all for five euros”.
The English Premier League was named for commercial profit. It is always sponsored by the highest bidder, usually a nasty bank.

Under German law, a policeman is not allowed to touch a football fan at any time, nor use threatening or insulting language. The law came about after the infamous trouble at a Schalke v Hamburg game in 1986, when a policeman was alleged to have raised his voice to Schalke fan Ernest Schmidt after Schmidt complained to bar staff that his 10 cent Pils did not have a sufficient head on it. Schmidt explained that “I was shocked by the tone in his voice and was emotionally scarred for years. I still struggle to sleep, and have violent flashbacks”.
The policeman in question was fired, as were many of his superiors, in a scandal that rocked Germany. Schmidt’s Law was brought in soon after.
In England, the blood of football fans often lines the streets, usually due to little more than relieving a bladder in someone’s geraniums.

German football abhors foreign ownership. Clubs are on average 94% owned by the fans, who meet regularly to thrash out policies, transfer deals and to plot the way forward. There are rarely disagreements. Board members must have been born within 5km of the ground (as the crow, or “luftlinie” flies), must pass a test on German history, and also look brilliant in lederhosen.
Most English clubs are run by charlatans and shadowy foreign cabals out for personal gain, or on the run from the law. Any potential owner would have to have committed either well-documented war crimes or brought down a whole country’s economy in order to fail the “fit-and-proper” test.

German football is a breeding ground for young talent. The race is on to emulate England’s production line that has churned out the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, and there is a real optimism in Germany that they too can produce the “neu Duncan Edwards”.

Yes, there are fences around the pitch at many German grounds, but this was at the insistence of fans, so they could hang up their coats should they underestimate the in- ground temperature, and because it helps prevent stray litter blowing onto the bowling-green pitches.
English fans often carry out pitch invasions whilst under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and many players are often left fearing for their lives, especially if they’re playing Leeds.

On average, German grounds are filled to 102% capacity. Fans usually arrive 4 hours before kick-off to practice their choreographed swaying, which can often be seen from space. The songs speak of harmony and desire, plus biting social satire.
English fans sing “where were you when you were s**t?” and question Arsene Wenger’s sexual practices. Such chants would carry a mandatory life imprisonment sentence in Germany (see also the Benelux countries and Albania).
Most English grounds are rarely full, and last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City often play in front of 20,000 empty seats. Fans also often leave early as they are all alcoholics.

German fans are often reimbursed if their team does not perform to the desired level. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness often reimburses fans from his “secret” account. Players drive many of the poorer supporters to matches.
After a bad performance, English clubs bring out a commemorative shirt and bombard fans with emails urging them to purchase it.

German teams are always set up to play attractive, attacking football. There is no German phrase for “parking the bus”, but there are phrases for “beautiful counter attack” (versplickenschnidt), “flowing football” (dasistsprecjenlievenschautt) and “entertaining score draw” (michendiestenbittestock). It is illegal to play more than four defenders at any time, and the average Bundesliga game in the 11/12 season had 12.4 goals.
The Premier League contains Stoke City.

And the Bundesliga is clearly more competitive than the Premier League. Yes, at time of writing Bayern had built up a 20-point lead at the top of the table, but this was due to a nasty bug that crippled the players of many other teams for two months, an isolated incident that allowed Bayern to capture their 23rd title.
English football is a closed shop for competition, where money talks, except for Manchester United who have grown organically like their German counterparts.
Despite all this, Uli Hoeness recently expressed his fears that the Bundesliga was becoming less competitive. To help level the playing field, Bayern purchased Dortmund’s best two players.

And finally, sponsorship. English clubs will have anything sponsored in a desperate attempt to make money. Even a minute’s silence was once sponsored by a library. German sponsors are just there to lend moral support and business advice, and all free of charge.

So as you can see, the English Premier League has got a long way to go to match the organic, fan-owned, cheap, passionate, organic, competitive, democratic, organic Bundesliga. We have a lot to learn.

Manchester City Season Review now available at the Football Museum

These Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review is now available to buy at the National Football Museum at Urbis, in Manchester.

Re-live another amazing season for Manchester City as their new Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his holistic approach to football saw City secure a domestic double, capturing another last-day title victory whilst breaking goalscoring records along the way. With thoughts on every match and a look at the issues that forever surrounded the club, the book charts the journey from the start of the post-Mancini era, the highs and lows of the cup competitions, the difficult start to the season and the nerve-wracking title run-in that culminated in the clouds breaking as the trophies were paraded around a very blue Manchester city centre.

Includes:
Three Bumper Bundles of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
City’s Squad Value
The A-Z of City Legends
The A-Z of City Villains
An Open Letter To Txiki Begiristain & Ferran Soriano
Two Open Letters to Ed Woodward
Harry Potter & The Theatre of Dreams
What Has Happened To City’s Departed Stars?
End of Season Q & A with Oliver Kay, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Gary James & more..

And much more…..

The book can also be purchased on Amazan in paperback and Kindle, and older Season Review books are available in both formats, priced at just £1.53 on Kindle.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=howard+hockin

World Cup Review: Part 1 – The Group Stages

The tournament started with a riot of goals and riots in the streets. Protests around social conditions were followed up with protests over Adrian Chiles’ presenting skills, which resulted in the studio being pelted with rocks. Welcome to our world, Brazil.
Matters came to a head when Chiles presented a show in shorts and flip-flops.

Brazil got the obligatory homer referee for their opening game against Croatia and the goals continued to flow until Iran and Nigeria ruined it all not only by failing to score, but by providing the tournament with its first draw after five days of games.

FIFA themselves were embroiled in scandal, as is their natural state of existence – and as usual they swanned about the host country like royalty. Sepp Blatter was carried around in a sedan chair as specially chosen children from the favelas fanned him with gold-plated coconut leaves, whilst all the FIFA delegates relaxed in 5-star hotels, ate only the finest food and wines known to humanity and took advantage of the many spurious laws that FIFA impose during a world cup competition. These included:

• Sepp Blatter to be addressed at all times as “your excellency”.
• A masseur to follow three steps behind FIFA delegates at all times.
• Budweiser to be the only alcoholic drink to be consumed by Brazilians during the month of June.
• The FIFA logo to be projected by laser onto the moon for the duration of the competition.
• Bendy hot-dogs branded illegal as they went against “the ethos and ideals” of the FIFA family.
• Set times for tides.
• A 75ft statue of Sepp Blatter to be erected outside the Maracana made entirely from hardened zero-fat cottage cheese.
• All team kits to be one matching colour (oh hang on, that one’s true)

The truth is not far from that. After all, FIFA has trademarked nearly 200 words and phrases for its exclusive commercial use. However, for once the locals have fought back. Having served up acarajé (a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil) in the old stadium in Salvador for many decades, the sellers were shocked to be excluded from the vendors selected for the new stadium. So they started a high-profile campaign to force FIFA to allow the custom to continue. And they won.
During the six matches at the stadium, there will be six acarajé sellers on the stadium grounds. A ripple effect from this victory means local customs are now being accommodated in and around World Cup More than 16,000 people signed a petition. Local politicians, stung by the demonstrations, became visibly more careful of local sensitivities. In the city of Recife, eight tapioca sellers (a pancake made from the cassava plant, typically served with cheese, meat, chocolate or fruit) will be based just inside the entrance to the shiny new stadium. Take that FIFA.

It was another horror show in the commentary boxes of Brazil. Jonathan Pearce started it off, struggling to deal with the concept of a ball crossing the goal-line and the use of video technology to show this, the ball crossing the line a central concept of the sport since its birth in the 19th century. Do catch up Jonathan. To make matters worse, after a national outcry and questions asked about his competence in the House of Commons (and on Mumsnet), Pearce exacerbated his error by continuing the theme in his next commentary by continuing to claim that the technology had not worked and had created a controversy.
We should have left him on Robot Wars.
Things weren’t much better elsewhere. Some executive had the bright idea of inviting Robbie Savage into the commentary box, where he had a tendency to shout a lot and sound exasperated at every missed pass. Then of course there was Phil Neville, who single-handedly sent a nation to sleep with his vocal cords. He did us all a favour as England succumbed to Italy.
The worst of the lot though, again, was Mark Lawrenson, who in the early days of the tournament seemed to be residing under a canal bridge judging by his on-screen appearance. Eventually he got his s**t together, but once more Mark seemed rather inconvenienced at being paid handsomely to commentate on a match in the Maracana.

The questions over Wayne Rooney’s place in the team/fitness/hair provided the most tedious narrative of the campaign, making Wesley Sneijder/Manchester United transfer speculation seem almost exciting in comparison. In the end he was of course ok and nothing more – fancy that.

A knackered-looking Spain bowed out after just two games, their performances so bad they were on the plane home before England. Not long before however, as England limped out after a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay and the world continued to bemoan the lack of Englishmen in City’s title-winning squad. In the end, it was the England players’ lack of gusto when singing the national anthem that did for them. I mean, there were Ivory Coast players literally crying during their anthem.
Ivory Coast went out in the group stages.

With Harry “honest as the day is long*” Redknapp spreading rumours that some players couldn’t even be bothered playing for their country, Ian Wright very sensibly suggested that each of those players should have to phone the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to explain themselves.
“Hi, is that Mrs Smith?”
“Erm, yes..”
“Sorry to bother you, but this is Andros Townsend, I pulled out of an England friendly against Peru last year to be with my heavily-pregnant partner and I’d like to apologise profusely and explain my actions.”
“Right..erm..I’m not sure this is really relevant to me, and it’s not a good time to be honest….”
“Yes I appreciate that, but I think it a fitting punishment for my indiscretion that I explain to a complete stranger why I did what I did in full and I think it fitting I explain to someone currently grieving who has no interest in football whatsoever…”
“Hello… Mrs Smith…hello…”

There is obviously no downside to this idea, and I can’t think of any way it could backfire. I also happen to think the moon is made of cheese and Piers Morgan is a bloody nice chap.
(* an Arctic winter day)

Scapegoats were needed of course for England’s abject failure, but on this occasion the choice was too wide to zero in on one person and there were no relevant vegetables to super-impose on Roy Hodgson’s head. Thankfully redemption came, and it came in the form of a gritty 0-0 draw with the pre-tournament favourites Costa Rica. The England players could get on that plane back from Rio with their heads held high – the bulldog spirit had shone through and we almost had a penalty. Sadly the passion presented by the players was not replicated back home, a solitary person turning up at the airport to greet our heroes’ return, and she may have been waiting for someone else.

City’s players haven’t had the best of tournaments, Dzeko Mk II out in force for the tournament though he was robbed by yet another incompetent linesman in the game against Nigeria. David Silva looked knackered but Fernandinho took just a couple of minutes to show his manager what the rest of the world already knew – he’s a tad better than Paulinho. By the end of the match against Cameroon, he had become the first City player to score at the tournament, a historically rare occurrence for City players (remember Niall Quinn’s?).
By the end of the group stage, half of City’s contingent were on their way home, half survived to fight another day. The survivors were soon reduced by one however as the patently unfit Sergio Aguero was effectively ruled out of the tournament.

Ex-City rejects players littered the tournament. Demarcus Beasley appeared for the USA, whilst gorgeous Giorgios Samaras, fresh from Eurovision glory, kept his nerve to steer Greece into the knockout stage. There was Nigel De Jong of course, who managed to kick no one in the chest this time around (the day is young, so to speak). Add to that Jerome Boateng, Felipe Caicedo, Kolo and others I may have forgotten (deliberately).

The Toure brothers were hit with a fresh blow after Kolo had shaken off malaria with their news that their younger brother had passed away after a fight with cancer. They bravely stayed on at the tournament. This wasn’t good enough for some people, and nor would it have been good enough if they had flown home. The knives were out for a man that had said something unsuitable having just lost his younger brother. Compassion is in short supply in the modern world. The truth will out and accusations and opinions can then be formed, but now is not the time.

But on the whole, this was a tournament full of joy. Such was the joy at participating in this wonderful tournament that players were throwing themselves to the ground at every opportunity, overcome with emotion. The crowd was even more excitable. A camera panning on a fan’s painted face was enough to cue mass hysteria and scenes reminiscent of a royal wedding, their team losing 4-0 to Iran now a mere irrelevance, replaced by seven seconds of fame. The true stars were of course the England fans and the reason was simple – they refused point-blank to participate in any Mexican waves.
#R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

As for the officiating, it was poor, poor, poor.

Luis Suarez encountered more hunger issues as he nibbled on Chiellini’s shoulder as Uruguay dumped Italy out of the competition, the buck-toothed nutcase clearly under the impression that chiellini is a delicious pasta dish from Bologna. That was not dandruff on the Italian’s shoulders, but shaved flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That’s nothing short of entrapment.
As a result of his subsequent four-month ban, Suarez has now been banned for 34 matches since 2010 without having received a red card. His ban from all football activity means he cannot even play Superstar Soccer on his HTC One. Brutal.

In the end the group stages were less about skill winning through than teams profiting from playing in cooler climes than others. Of the eight teams that played in Manaus for their 1st game, seven lost the next game. European giants (and England) fell at the first hurdle, and the world prepared for the excitement of the knockout stage with no outstanding candidate for the ultimate prize.

But first – Friday 27th June. Black Friday. Nothing, no football, not a thing.

The day football died.

——————————-

You can buy the author’s Manchester City Season Review books here (and one very old work of fiction):

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=howard+hockin

Book Review: Looks Like Scunny Next Year by David Mooney

“It was one of those things that was instinctive. Even now when I look back and see it, and I see my celebration, it was nothing I could have done before or done afterwards or re-enacted. It was just plain ecstasy, relief…..as for the actual goal itself, I can’t remember a lot about it.”

David Mooney’s book is a look back on that famous day in 1999 when City came back from the dead to win the Division Two play-off against Gillingham, released on the 15th anniversary of what was (then at least) City’s greatest escape. The title refers to what Joe Royle said to his assistant Willie Donachie as Gillingham’s second goal went in. Scunthorpe has just won the Division 2 play-off final.

Each chapter is dedicated to a player involved on that fateful day. David Mooney travelled far and wide (and even abroad on one occasion) to see the players in person, with only one player interviewed by phone, the USA a bridge too far. As a prelude to that though a chapter looks at the dark days that lead to that day and the 1998/9 season that panned out how no one could have predicted.

The book succeeds in recapturing the many moments from that amazing day that have lain dormant in my brain for so long. The sea of blue down Wembley Way, the weather that followed us from Manchester, the despondency followed by unbridled ecstasy from those last ten minutes, then the general feeling that we would not mess it up after that. The book also made me realise how little I remember of the actual match. The various chances mentioned have long since left my memory, my recollections limited to an early penalty appeal, the late flurry of goals, the Dickov slide, a handball in extra time and some of the penalties that preceded Nicky Weaver’s manic celebration. This book fills in the gaps.
It also mentions many anecdotes from the day that I wouldn’t have otherwise known, such as Paul Dickov’s secret post-goal slip on the Wembley turf (secret as sadly no camera picked it up).

Inevitably a book of this nature does run the risk of repetition, but this is generally avoided as it doesn’t just look at the one day, but at each player’s time at City as a whole, and their lives since. This adds greatly to the book as it is as rewarding as reminiscing about the day itself to know what has happened to the group of players, from Lee Crooks journey to Afghanistan as an RAF gunner, to Andy Morrison at Airbus, Richard Edghill working at a primary school in Harpurhey (and at City too) to Tony Vaughan, who works in form concrete. We know a few of their exploits of course, but many have left our daily lives in the subsequent years and their career paths show what a different world they live in compared to the stars of today.

Just as inevitably, you will have your own favourite chapters as some players have more obvious appeal than others, but some of the most interesting stories can be found from the “lesser” players. As for the Goat, it was good to see he is back in the country and working towards his UEFA licences. And for the record, he is quite clear that his winner in the semi-final 2nd leg against Wigan was not handball.

What is clear from the accounts is the high esteem that Joe Royle was held in, not just as a manager but as a man. There is a sense of desire to succeed for him and a portrayal emerges of a great team spirit at the club during his tenure, even when things weren’t going smoothly. Joe himself provides a foreword for the book and is interviewed in the final chapter. The players all seem to sing from the same hymn sheet – they knew they weren’t the greatest, but they had a common desire to succeed and to drag City back to the “big time”. It also provides a fascinating insight into the players’ own evaluations of their individual careers, in a period when there was no social media and when everything a player did was not public knowledge within the hour. You feel that Royle’s successor Kevin Keegan was not held in quite such high esteem, though the players do not stick the knife in and it is understandable that this disparity exists as many moved on and were surplus to requirements once a new manager came in and started splashing the cash.

Overall this is a fascinating and unique book that is well worth a read for any City fan, young and old. It reminds us all of where we as a club have come from and brings back fond memories of an amazing day. Hearing from those involved that day is a great trip down memory lane.

You can purchase the book via the following link:

http://davemooney.co.uk/books/looks-like-scunny-next-season/

Manchester City Season Review Books Available at Half-Price on Kindle

My Manchester City 2011/12 Season Review Book (“This Is How It Felt To Be City”) and my 2012/13 book (“Missed Goals”) are now available on Kindle for just £1.53

The 2013/14 Season Review book is still available as normal on Kindle and paperback. For all books, click this link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=howard%20hockin&sprefix=howar%2Caps&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Ahoward%20hockin

These Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review – Available in Kindle & Paperback

“Huge admiration. His calmness and maturity won City that title. He set the right tone in the run-in, when the heat was on, and he showed great consistency, reassuring the players after the difficult start to keep playing in the same way. In press dealings he’s a gent – and not afraid to say what he thinks.” Jonathan Northcroft on Manuel Pellegrini.

Re-live another amazing season for Manchester City as their new Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his holistic approach to football saw City secure a domestic double, capturing another last-day title victory whilst breaking goalscoring records along the way. With thoughts on every match and a look at the issues that forever surrounded the club, the book charts the journey from the start of the post-Mancini era, the highs and lows of the cup competitions, the difficult start to the season and the nerve-wracking title run-in that culminated in the clouds breaking as the trophies were paraded around a very blue Manchester city centre.

Includes:
Three Bumper Bundles of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
City’s Squad Value
The A-Z of City Legends
The A-Z of City Villains
An Open Letter To Txiki Begiristain & Ferran Soriano
Two Open Letters to Ed Woodward
Harry Potter & The Theatre of Dreams
What Has Happened To City’s Departed Stars?
End of Season Q & A with Oliver Kay, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Gary James & more..

And much more…..

Buy the book on Kindle now:

And in paperback:

Commentators: Much Ado About Nothing

Commentators. I have a theory about them – a theory which basically states that Kenneth Wolstenholme has got a lot to answer for and it’s entirely his fault that I dislike so many of the current crop of those who comment on the beautiful game..

Wolstenholme’s “they think it’s all over” quote from the 1966 World Cup final was a spur of the moment comment that gained international fame, book deals, was sampled in hit records and even got its own TV show.

Wolstenholme had previously been established as the BBC’s authoritative voice of football and went on to cover the climax of five World Cup championships and the finals of 16 European Cups and 23 FA Cup finals besides dozens of internationals.
He was proud that he had produced a timeless piece of broadcasting and coined a phrase that has entered English folklore. But this was tinged with a hint of regret that the words had overshadowed the rest of a hugely successful and ground-breaking career (though he used the phrase for title of his memoirs, so wasn’t too upset, clearly).
Over on ITV, Hugh Johns was the “the other voice” of the 1966 World Cup final. At the same moment, to a much smaller audience, Mr Johns was concentrating more on the striker’s hat-trick as he told ITV viewers: “Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has… so that’s it. That is IT!”

I like Johns’ commentary. It does the job for me. The problem is no one remembers his words. And now every commentator does not want his Johns moment, but his Wolstenholme moment. It seems sometimes that every commentator wants fame and a legacy of a piece of beautiful prose at a key moment in a key match. And no Clive Tyldesley, anything to do with “that night in Barcelona” doesn’t count. So rather than comment on what’s happening on the pitch, commentaries have become a competition to see who can say the most dramatic, prose-soaked comment. I am still scarred by a Portsmouth match commentated on by Peter Drury a few seasons gone, where Drury felt it apt to continuously refer to Portsmouth’s financial problems by quoting Shakespeare. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times, you see!

Oh hang on, that’s Dickens.

But as Piquione volleyed in the second goal, I thought to myself that it was a far, far better thing that he did, than I have ever done; and I couldn’t help think that it was a far, far better rest that he went to than I have ever known.
Drury would have worded it so much better though.
“What can Portsmouth do in this second half? If football be the food of love, play on. To sleep, perchance, to dream, for the Pompey fans have discovered that all that glitters is not gold. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me, and Utaka’s missed an absolute sitter there! Lord, what fools these mortals be. Thoughts, Craig Burley?”
“Well, youse got to say he should’ve buried that, the lad’s gonna be disappointed not to hit the target.”

A new breed of commentators emerged a few years ago, each of whom seemed to have their own “angle”. Commentating well was deemed not to be sufficient anymore.
For Drury this meant prose and intellectual nonsense, Alan Green’s was to criticise everything, and Jonathan Pearce’s “angle” was to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY about everything, because even a throw-in early in the game had its own little frisson. Stick to Robot Wars Jonathan.

Now I have no problem with commentators doing research before a match – they should be doing, it’s their job, not that this has concerned studio pundits or many co-commentators. What I can’t stand is the need to crowbar statistics in and more than that, the need to crowbar puns and catchphrases that they have been working on, as if they have just completed a six-week tabloid headline-writing course.
Jonathan Pearce has said that 90% of his job is research, but only 2% of that will be used during a match. That’s how it should be. Less is more.

It wasn’t all this way – it’s easy to get nostalgic, but Davies, the old Motson (by which I mean the young Motson) or Wolstenholme did not attract the ire that their modern counterparts do. Maybe that is just a result of modern media whereby anyone (even me) can broadcast their views to anyone who will listen. All you had in the old days was Barry Took on Points of View.

And then there’s Alan Green. It’s very fashionable to have a go at Alan Green, so that’s what I am going to do.
Now he has his supporters of course, who argue quite simply that he is one of the few commentators to “say it as it is”. I am not sure what they mean by this, but presumably, they mean he whinges, moans and criticises everything before him. So in other words, they think football is rubbish. He certainly seems to think so – if he does enjoy the beautiful game, he certainly hides it.
At one Champions League final, for which he was being paid handsomely to watch, his first thought was to moan about how awful the commentary position was.
For an England international, within three minutes of the match kicking off he had moaned about the weather (sorry we couldn’t sort that out for you Alan), the new England kit, banners around the edge of the ground (he doesn’t like them, like most things), and two attempted tackles/passes by England players.
It’s all subjective of course, but even I know there are good commentators. Generally those that stick to describing the action, give you a rounded-picture of the match, and keep matters in perspective. I’ve no doubt it is not an easy job, but it can be done well. What I don’t need to know, because I don’t care, is what the commentator thinks about City’s wealth, banners around grounds, Mexican waves, football kits, the weather, managers, the price of tuna in supermarkets or the quality of hamburgers at Villa Park. I’ll form my own opinions, thanks. You’re there to describe the match – I’m well aware tuna is ridiculously expensive nowadays.

But despite Green, radio seems to have got it right more than television. Radio 5’s football coverage is generally excellent, and it is TV that seems to struggle. With radio commentary, you are required to stick to the script and describe what is happening, as you are the eyes. With TV, commentators seem to think that silence is evil, and must not be allowed. I couldn’t disagree more. You could turn the sound off, but then you’d lose crowd noise too.

So I would argue that the memorable moments, on and off the pitch are spontaneous moments that cannot be rehearsed and planned in advance. Going back to that glorious day, and it got me wondering how Drury would have covered that 1966 World Cup Final finale.
“And here comes Hurst, sprinting up the pitch. Could this be it? Geoff Hurst, ask not what England will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man! Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty! Goal!”

As for Alan Green?
Green: “Some people are on the pitch. Oh this is disgusting, absolute disgrace. Ban them for life, no one wants to see this, animals, what are they thinking, shame on you, shame on you! I am embarrassed to be British, this is shocking, are they looking for a fight, they might be, idiots, absolute idiots, oh dear oh dear, ruined the game for me, shocking.”
Jimmy Armfield: “Hurst has scored by the way, 4-2, hat trick for him, England have won the World Cup!”
Green: “Have they? Oh but it’s been overshadowed for me, it really has…oh, and now everyone’s doing a Mexican wave, they really should be shot. Lamentable.”

Hugh Johns had the right idea.

————————————————

Buy THese Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review on Kindle and in paperback here:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25 other followers