Friday, August 9, 2013

The Spectator would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Oriel Park pitch for it's key contribution to Dundalk's recent fluky 3-1 win over midtable Shamrock Rovers. While it should (grudgingly) be acknowledged that Dundalk more than stood up to Rovers' limited, physical game and that Dundalk dominated possession, created more chances, scored more goals and generally played the star-studded Rovers off the pitch, these mere facts have to be taken in the context of one ostensibly funny bounce. It is necessary when considering Dundalk's incosiderate and let's- call a spade a spade- plainly unfair first goal against the Galacticos to ignore the fact that Ken Oman hideously miskicked a clearance, applying enough spin to bamboozle an opening batsman. Such a ball careering uncontrollably off the side of the poor defender's foot would, of course, bounce oddly on any surface, but to acknowledge the laws of physics in such a way just plays into the hands of an evil north-eastern football club hell bent on cheating the rest of the league by playing football on the deck on a smooth, reliable, almost perfect playing surface. Dundalk may have been the better team, but there was only ever going to be one winner- the Oriel Park pitch which singlehandedly ensured Dundalk dominated possession, created chances and bossed the game from start to finish (bar fifteen minutes either side of half time when the pitch lost concentration and allowed a couple of normal grass-like bounces go Rovers' way). Undoubtedly the artificial pitch at Oriel Park confers an unfair advantage on Dundalk. After all they've won 21 points at home but just 25 (from a game less) on the road. In fact if you take home advantage out of the equation altogether and just look at every team's away record Dundalk would plumment down the table from second place all the way down to, erm, first. Clearly it Dundalk's home record, the fourth best in the league (aided by the terrible UEFA-approved pitch), that is keeping them up there. It was interesting to hear the esteemed Brian Kerr get so het up about the Oriel Park surface on MNS. He questioned how the pitch passed the stringent guidelines to allow its use. Put simply the pitch passed because it plays consistently and when it's maintained properly it is arguably the best surface in the country for those of us who actually want to play football on the deck. Indeed Oriel Park is the only pitch in the country subject to such testing. It would be interesting to see how Dalymount, Tolka, Hunky Dorys Park or Kerr's own beloved Richmond Park would get on in a test. Indeed the wonderful Richmond Park surface has suffered two postponements this season alone due to an unplayable pitch. And when the almost poetically beautiful pitch at Tallaght was just a little bit unplayable earlier in the season where was an Ireland underage international played instead? That would be Oriel Park, then.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eddie May, RIP

The death occurred recently of Welsh football manager and general character Eddie May. The article is a tribute of sorts. It was written from the point of view of Dundalk FC, one of his many ports of call. It first appeared in the Dundalk FC Matchday Magazine in 2010.

To paraphrase a famous quote there are three types of lies- lies, damn lies and Wikipedia. With that gem of wisdom in mind The Spectator nonetheless feels obliged to share a journey he took recently, starting at that most esteemed dumping ground of unregulated information, Wikipedia.
For some reason, that escapes his addled mind, The Spectator was having a look at former Dundalk managers. Not the obvious ones like McLauglin, O’Connor and Keely or the nightmare inducing ones like Gannon, Murray and Trev** Ande**** (stars included to prevent spontaneous combustion of self-respecting paper) but those interesting intermediaries John Dempsey, John Hewitt and Eddie May. Ah yes, Eddie May! Edwin Charles May (born 19 May 1943) managed Dundalk for the final ten matches of the 96-7 season, successfully negotiating the promotion/relegation playoff with Waterford.
May began his playing career at Dagenham in the 60s then played over 100 games at the back for Southend. He’s quite the legend at Wrexham, our Eddie, where he scored a healthy 35 goals “all with his head” it says here, in 334 league games. He ended his playing career with Swansea and began an extraordinary Bora Milutinovic-esque itinerant managerial career. Things began sensibly enough with assistant manager jobs at Leicester and Charlton, before his first exotic sojourn in 1986. May spent some time managing Ak Hahda in Saudi Arabia before heading to Kenya and then, naturally, on to Iceland where he managed the mysterious ‘KS’. Briefly. Within a couple of months he was back in Wales, in charge of Newport, but left them and their financial turmoil almost immediately in favour of the bright lights of Lincoln. Within a year he was off to the Norwegian Second Division before returning to inspire Cardiff to the coveted Third Division-Welsh Cup double in 1993. From Cardiff he moved to Torquay for most of a season, managing them out of the league in 1996. That was the kind of performance that earned his a shot at the Dundalk job in 96-7, which he happily dropped in favour of Brentford days before the start of the 97-8 season. The Brentford job lasted almost three months. May disappeared off the radar for a year but made up for lost time in the latter half of 1998 agreeing to manage Welsh side Haverfordwest, but instead going to Finland, only to return a couple of weeks later as Director of Football at Haverfordwest, before leaving to manage Merthyr in December... for all of 24 hours before returning to Haverfordwest for a third time in four months.
The following year May was poised to take over as manager of the Pakistan national team. May obviously relished the challenge of working with poor infrastructure and a lack of local support in a hostile environment... because he became manager of Drogheda United instead. When he realised what he’d done May soon hot-tailed it out of north-east Meath, embarking on a whistle stop tour of some of Africa’s most mediocre clubs. He went from the Jets in Zimbabwe to Bush Bucks in South Africa, from Express in Uganda to Telecom Wanderers in Malawi to Highlanders in Zimbabwe, where he surprised us all, and probably himself, by winning couple of championships.
After all that insanity Eddie May had the good sense to jack it all in to run a B+B in Cardiff. The lure of top class football was too much though, and May spent three months of last season in the glamorous surrounds of Lock Lane with Porthcawl Town in the McWhirter Welsh Football League Division Two.
Where is he now? Nobody knows. Does Eddie May actually exist? There are no pictures on his Wiki page. Perhaps Eddie May is the Keyser Soze among the usual suspects of international football, living in the shadows, but pulling the strings.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Are the Ref...

Brought to you in association with the Guardian's excellent You Are The Ref series,, specifically this question submitted by me

FA refereeing supremo Keith Hackett disagrees with me and Richie Winter, but anyhoo...

It seems like a long, long time ago that Dundalk travelled to Bray on the opening day of the season. Ian Foster’s Black and White Army, playing a nerve-shredding 3-5-2 formation, barely scraped a 1-0 win over a Bray side that had been preparing for life in the First Division. Dundalk went on to storm through the first third of the season... and then there was the second third of the season, about which we shall not speak right now. Please, let’s not even think about it right now.
That first game of the season was memorable for the first extraordinary refereeing controversy of the season. It took all of three minutes, and boy, was it a beauty! Shane O’Neill was played in behind a ponderous Dundalk defence and found himself bearing down on goal, with just Peter Cherrie to beat. Liam Burns came from nowhere and intervened with a speculative tackle from behind, taking O’Neill down in the box. Burns clearly committed a foul, getting the man but not the ball, and referee Richie Winter immediately whistled and pointed to the spot. Which is all well and good, except the ball broke loose to Jake Kelly who slipped it into an empty net. By any interpretation of the advantage rule Bray should have been allowed the microsecond necessary for Kelly to score, but unfortunately Winter had already blown up, so he had no choice but to award the penalty. Now it gets complicated! By the letter of the law a player must be sent off for what is sometimes known in the trade as DOGSO – “Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity”. That’s a professional foul to you and me. Burns had committed a foul and conceded a penalty, and he clearly denied Bray an obvious goal scoring… or did he? Because the ball broke loose and was finished to the net by Kelly, it could certainly be argued that Burns did not deny a goal scoring opportunity. In fact the OGSO (Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity- keep up!) was denied, not by Liam Burns who merely changed the nature of the OGSO, but by the referee’s early whistle! Richie Winter tacitly acknowledged his error by awarding the penalty and only booking Burns. He had no other choice really, though it must have been tempting to reach for the red card as Bray had indeed been denied a certain goal. It was a brave and correct decision in the circumstances. Unfortunately Winter was forced to make Bray suffer for his mistake with the early whistle- Burns did not deserve to walk because of his mistake. (That’s all fine coming from a Dundalk fan, perhaps some of the travelling supporters tonight would apply a different interpretation to the rules in that situation.)
Naturally, to add insult in injury, Peter Cherrie saved O’Neill’s penalty and Dundalk went on to sneak an ill-deserved 1-0 win. If Bray felt hard done by they seemed to channel that sense of injustice when they last visited Oriel. Wanderers played superbly to record their first win of the season against a Dundalk side that was sitting on top of the table at the time. Now that does seem a long, long time ago. No doubt the Seagulls will be hoping for a repeat performance…. we’d settle for another ill-deserved three points. A jammy 1-0 win will do, courtesy of an o.g., a shot deflected in off a passing dog (or Seagull) or a controversial refereeing decision that goes in our favour just once this season. Okay, maybe twice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Somewhere, in a parallel universe…

The was some controversy recently when England when ‘Ryan Giggs’ decided to hang up his boots. Cash-strapped ‘Manchester United’ agreed to release ‘Giggs’ from his contract, when ‘Giggs’ expressed his wish to retire from football for personal and family reasons and to concentrate on the football training academy he was setting up at home. ‘United’ took a benevolent view, and considering ‘Giggs’s history of honesty and integrity released him from his contract. They also generously released his registration so he could play “a little bit of football” in his retirement. A week after announcing his retirement, ‘Giggs’ had second thoughts about hanging up his boots… so he rocked up and signed for cash-rich, title-chasing ‘Manchester City’. Neither ‘Giggs’ nor ‘City’ sough to speak to ‘United’ about the extraordinary change of heart, but technically no rules had been broken, so that’s ok. Of course nobody is suggesting that ‘City’ induced they player to retire with the intention of signing for them, but altogether it was most unsatisfactory business. Sadly the image and hard-earned reputation of one of the finest players in recent ‘League of England’ history was indelibly tarnished.
While ‘Man United’ understandably weren’t too impressed, ‘Man City’ and their supporters were happy enough with the sequence of events, claiming they had merely signed a free agent. No doubt they would be just as sanguine had Shay Given retired his way out of his contract and subsequently signed for ‘Arsenal’. And closer to home, one could expect a similarly calm and philosophical reaction from, say, Shamrock Rovers fans if Gary Twigg were to retire from Rovers one week and sign for Bohemians the following week.
The cynics suggested that ‘United’ had been naïve in releasing ‘Giggs’ and sadly they had a point. Though ‘Giggs’ had rightly earned a reputation as a player of integrity ‘United’ were seen as naïve to believe ‘Giggs’ when he said he wished to retire. The cynics tutted, and said that ‘United’ should have retained his registration or inserted a non-competition clause in a new contract releasing him from his old contract. Perhaps the cynics were right, perhaps ‘United’ should not have acted so honourably in releasing him. Perhaps ‘United’ did not deserve to be shown the sort of respect they had shown to ‘Giggsy’, in their naivety. But ‘United’s loss was ‘City’s gain, so tough luck, ‘United’!
(The events and characters depicted in this Spectator are fictitious, kind of. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely non-coincidental.)
Meanwhile, back on Planet Airtricity League, Neale Fenn's retirement after a solidly impressive final half season of League of Ireland football with Dundalk has proved suitably sedate. Instead of pottering around the house in his slippers, watching Countdown, Neale has been pottering around Tallaght watching football. Possibly in his slippers, we're not sure. His stated ambition to 'play a little bit of football' after retirement has been satisfied at Shamrock Rovers. He seems to have retired from goalscoring too. No mathematicians have had to come out of retirement to ‘do a little bit of sums’ and tot up a grand total of zero goals in the nine games Rovers have played since he joined. If Neale does come out of goalscoring retirement tonight -and he probably will- he might be best advised not to take a leaf out of Gary Twigg’s book by celebrating in front of opposition supporters. Some Dundalk fans might not be too shy and ‘retiring’ about expressing their views.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What legacy for South Africa's World Cup?

The 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa promises to be a dramatic, colourful, noisy vuvuzela-fuelled football party- but just how much of a hangover the party leaves in South Africa remains to be seen.
The visit of FIFA’s quadrennial hyper-event to the African continent is the culmination of a long-standing ambition to bring the World Cup to the world. The first fourteen World Cup finals series were played in Europe or Latin America. Since 1990 only two tournaments have been played in Europe, with North America, Asia and now Africa getting their place in the sun. What seems, on the face of it, to be a laudable attempt to spread the riches is, in actual fact, rooted in a lengthy history of political chicanery.
International football was traditionally organised along disciplined, introverted British-style bureaucracy. All that changed in the 1970s. The notorious João Havelange engineered his way to the FIFA hotseat in 1974 by courting the countless ‘lesser’ FIFA members who had long been ignored by the establishment. Havelange gained power by lining up the votes of African, Asian, Oceanic and Caribbean countries with the promise of financial and political support (which he duly delivered). By essentially buying the practically disenfranchised smaller member he forever shifted the political balance in world football.
Under Havelange FIFA morphed into the monstrous money-making machine it now is, while the World Cup became a commercial extravaganza non-paraleil. Giant multi-nationals were courted and signed up as official partners and TV rights were auctioned for obscene amounts as the World Cup was expanded to finance a circus of decadent politics, to the degree that the football almost became secondary. A particular low point was reached when Switzerland, as part of a potential bid for the 1998 World Cup, proposed to nominate FIFA- and Havelange- for the Nobel peace prize.
Around the world political considerations continue to colour the running of the competition. In the North/Central American region the unique and malevolent influence of Jack Warner, and the requirement to ensure that the great untapped market of the USA qualifies, ensures that the relatively weak Concacaf retain their ludicrous three and a half World Cup berths. Similarly, politics dictates that Oceania, shorn of its only moderate football talent in Australia, still gets a guaranteed World Cup playoff place and a place at the Confederations Cup, ensuring New Zealand’s place in both. Current FIFA big-wig Sepp Blatter is on record as saying that any confederation that performs particularly well at a World Cup could be rewarded with extra places. Perhaps someone should tell FIFA that all four semi-finalists in 2006 were from Europe.
What the long term legacy of the World Cup will be for South Africa is far from clear. The country was required to commit billions of dollars on security and administration and to upgrade infrastructure and facilities. While a portion of ticket revenue helps the organising committee to cover costs the majority of tickets sales and every last penny of commercial income goes straight out of the host country and back to FIFA. The host country has the opportunity to get tourists into the country and to showcase itself to the world. This multi-billion dollar promotional gamble is justifiable in Germany, Korea and Japan or the US, but less so in what is essentially a developing economy in South Africa, in a recession.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Spectator and the Legendary Sócrates

The Spectator and the Legendary Sócrates

One of the greatest pieces of League of Ireland trivia is the ‘fact’ that Brazilian World Cup star Sócrates briefly played for UCD. The story goes that the famous midfielder and star of the 1982 World Cup studied medicine at UCD and turned out on occasion for the football team. This delightful and unlikely tale has been repeated often enough to have entered the folklore of the league and, though unsubstantiated, it is often taken as fact. And in these glorious days of Wikipedia and internet forums it is increasingly difficult to work out what indeed is fact and what’s a load of Bohemian FC accounts.
Quite where the Socratic rumour began is lost in the mists of time, but it seems to be doing the rounds for a good couple of decades. Variations on the rumour have Sócrates unable to break into the first team because he was too much of a fancy dan, playing for DCU, DIT, the Royal College of Surgeons or Shelbourne, or my personal favourite, that he won a Sigerson Cup medal with UCD in Gaelic football.
The story gained legs when it made its way to the Guardian newspaper’s wonderful online trivia page, The Knowledge , in 2000. An Irish correspondent casually threw open the question of whether Sócrates had ever played in the League of Ireland. The normally reliable Guardian reporters made a fatal error in their attempts to answer the question.... they contacted the Football Association of Ireland. An FAI press flunky of the time, Brendan McKenna, helpfully replied with the information that “Sócrates did play for UCD, but it was way, way back, sometime in the 70s. He was an attraction at the time, but it was before he played for the Brazilian team. He wouldn't have played much more than a season.” Wonderful! There we have it, proof from an irrefutable source, one would like to think, the national football association of the relevant country! Surely if the FAI says so, it has to be true! Further evidence was garnered some time later when the question was followed up in the Guardian. Another contributor suggested that Sócrates only played a couple of games because “the coach and manager at the time, Dr Terry O'Neill (sic), insisted that he quit smoking”. ‘Dr Terry O’Neill’ was presumably some sort of imagined amalgam of UCD supremo Dr Tony O’Neill and former Arsenal manager Terry Neill.
Despite considerable anecdotal evidence, and the despite the testimony of the FAI, some nagging doubt remained. Surely there must be some photo, matc h report or programme out there featuring Sócrates or at least some variant of his rather magnificent full name, Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira?
The rumour eventually made its way as far as Alex Bellos, author of the simply majestic history of Brazilian football ‘Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life’. Bellos employed a novel solution to the conundrum- he picked up the phone and gave Sócrates a bell. Had the great midfielder played League of Ireland football for UCD? We’re not sure what the Portuguese for “You wha’?” is, but it’s safe to say, that no, Sócrates had never so much as set foot in Ireland, never mind Belfield Park. While Sócrates is indeed a qualified and practicing medical doctor his degree was obtained in Sao Paolo, not Dublin. The legend of Sócrates at UCD was just that ... a legend.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Spectator - Two’s Company

Two’s company, three’s a crowd, as they say. Nowhere is this statement more valid than in the centre of midfield. The traditionalist might argue that it’s more valid in the field of human relationships, but The Spectator, old romantic that he is, would argue that it’s more difficult to have three central midfielders in a football ‘relationship’ than three participants in a non-football relationship. Recent seasons have seen the withdrawal of the second striker into midfield, with the 2006 World Cup particularly memorable for its lack of front men. At the top level a five-man-midfield can open up the possibility of cleverly utilising possession in the middle. Which is all well and good when you’re pinging the ball around midfield like Arsenal at home to Kildare County Ladies, but is quite another thing when you’re away to Bray on a patch of mud.
The modern vogue for five-man-midfields is pretty evident in the current Airtricity League. Of three games witnessed by The Spectator at the time of writing (an uncommonly prompt and punctual Friday afternoon fully seven days before tonight’s match, if you must ask) every team involved played at least a large chunk of the match with five across the middle. The mathematicians among you will quickly realise that that equates to ten men in the middle of the park for the most part. It would be fair to say that cattle have more room to express themselves in veal crates.
So why is the five-man-midfield the new black? Well playing any formation other than 4-4-2 makes it look like a manager has some sort of idea in his head... an uncommon trait in the league. While the five-man-midfield may have evolved from a need for increased fluidity, one five-man-midfield against another five-man-midfield leads to all the fluidity of a sumo wrestler sitting in a skip full of syrup. The usual solution to this, in Ireland at least, is the time honoured system of bypassing midfield entirely. This usually results in the delightful sight of a single forward attempting to gain and retain possession, against a back four, while waiting for his midfield to arrive from somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland. So in an attempt to make it look like his tactics extend beyond 4-4-2 the average League of Ireland manager is instead clogging up midfield, stifling the opponent and preventing any hope of a game of football breaking out during a match. Bravo!
Our visitors’ interpretation of the five-man-midfield (or rather The Spectator’s ill-informed interpretation of our visitor’s interpretation of the five-man-midfield) as displayed against Shamrock Rovers showed some level of originality. With Stuey Byrne and Dave Mulcahy primarily sitting in front of the defence Ryan Guy, David McAllister and Vinny Faherty provided fluid movement and ample support for out-and-out striker Alex Williams. The five-man-midfield employed by Dundalk against Bray and Drogheda is another beast altogether. Combined with a swashbuckling back three Dundalk’s five-man-midfield allows for the unheard of luxury of two, count ‘em, TWO, up front! Though there have been teething problems Ian Foster’s novel approach has its merits. A back three should be able to cope with the league’s default 4-5-1 formation. While Dundalk’s 3-5-2 might not be everybody’s cup of tea, when operated correctly against suitable opposition it should offer us an option, a variation. If nothing else Dundalk’s 3-5-2 should be gloried in for not being the ubiquitous 4-5-blooming-1.

This article originally appeared in the Dundalk v St Patrick's Athletic Matchday Magazine, 26 Mar 2010