English Football: Pardew, Poppycock, and Penalties

Pardew and Wenger talk about Ligue 1

Alan Pardew

In the 2006/7 Premier League season, Alan Pardew started the year at West Ham United, but was sacked in December after his team had won just four of their seventeen games up to that point and were in the relegation places.  Two weeks after he had left the club, he was appointed manager of Charlton Athletic, another team in the bottom three.  By the end of the season, West Ham, who had appointed former Charlton boss Alan Curbishley as their new manager, avoided dropping down a division as results improved – but Pardew’s new team were relegated in the penultimate game of the season.  Having failed to gain promotion back to the Premiership the following season, Charlton sacked Alan Pardew in November 2008 – the team had slipped into the bottom three in the Championship and the fans were calling for the manager’s head.  Pardew’s next job was at Southampton in the third tier of English football – League One.  This tenure lasted little more than a year, having missed out on the playoffs but won the Football League Trophy, the Southampton board dismissed Pardew saying that the morale of the squad was at an all time low.

After this succession of failures, it was little surprise that Newcastle fans were less than excited about the prospect of their club appointing Alan Pardew as the new manager following Chris Hughton’s sacking in December 2010.  Fast forward almost a year and the Geordies are sitting in third place in the Premiership, unbeaten in the league this season and only a point behind second placed Manchester United.  While they are yet to play either of the teams above them yet, Newcastle have been playing an impressive style of football, with lots of pace and flair on display.  The reason they have been able to do this without huge levels of investment is because Pardew identified an opportunity in importing players from the French Ligue 1, a league full of skillful players, but where wages do not match the levels of the top English, Italian, or Spanish divisions.  Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan (all French), were added to the squad, along with free transfer Demba Ba (French-born Senegalese), replacing Englishmen Andy Carroll (sold to Liverpool), Kevin Nolan (who went to West Ham to join up with his former manager at Bolton and Newcastle, Sam Allardyce) and Joey Barton (offloaded to QPR).  These three were “strong-willed” and their departure has led to a more united squad, turning Newcastle into a team that appears to be playing for each other – rather than a club beset by in-fighting (which has in the past, manifest itself on the field of play).

Even if Pardew is unable to lead his team to a top 6 finish this season, Newcastle’s success so far has helped improve the esteem in which he is held among fans and pundits of the English game alike.  This is not the first time he has shown himself to be an effective manager either – he gained promotion to the Championship with Reading in the 2001/2 season, then led them to a fourth place finish in that division the following year.  While his time at West Ham may have ended under acrimonious circumstances, he took them back to the Premier League in 2005 and consolidated that with a 5th place finish in their first season back in the top flight.  That year, Pardew also took his team to the FA Cup Final – a trophy they were minutes away from winning, before Steven Gerrard equalised with a wonder-strike.  Should Newcastle continue to succeed this season and beyond, more than 5.5% of fans may want him to be their club’s next manager.

Stop! You Must Not Have a Poppy!

Every year around Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, the Royal British Legion sells paper poppies to raise money for veterans and commemorate those who have lost their lives fighting for their country.  This year, the FA have been campaigning FIFA to allow the England players to wear poppies on their shirts for this Saturday’s friendly game against Spain.  This request was denied as it contravenes a regulation that bans any political, religious, or commercial messages or symbols being present on player’s equipment – a compromise made today allows the England team to instead wear the poppies on black armbands, but only after the English Football Association complained bitterly about the ban. Despite having played in November every year but one in the last twenty-five, and in 2001 and 2005 those games, like this year, were the day before Remembrance Sunday, the FA has never made this request before, nor complained about the prohibition of such symbols.  So why now?  I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was not because bitterness from the FA because England missed out on hosting the World Cup in 2018 – that decision went to Russia earlier this year – but because they want to honour those who have died fighting for the country.  If this is their primary concern, wearing poppies for the 90 minutes of the game is not the only way they can do that.  The players should be encouraged to donate a week’s wages to the Royal British Legion, the money and publicity this generosity would do for the cause far surpasses the impact of wearing a poppy on the shirt for the first time.  Another way that veterans, who have fought to keep the United Kingdom a free society which welcomes people of all backgrounds, would be to not tolerate racists in the team – especially if they are the captain.

Spurs Do Not Pay The Penalty

In all the years I have supported Tottenham, I have always felt that they got the worst of refereeing decisions made against them (though I am sure most club’s fans feel that way). This was typified by a game against Manchester United in 2005 when Mendes scored from the half-way line in the last-minute at Old Trafford, only for the goal not to be given.  However, last Sunday, Spurs were the team who benefited from bad officiating.  In injury time at the end of the match against Fulham at Craven Cottage, Tottenham were trying to hold on to a lead as the home team scrambled for an equaliser.  During the melee, Spurs’ right-back, Kyle Walker, attempted to block a shot but his momentum carried him and he ended up cradling the ball in both of his arms – not a deliberate action and thus giving the referee the option not to give the penalty.  When the ball broke free again, another shot came in and again it hit Walker in the arm – this time it appeared less accidental – but again no infringement was called.  Fulham fully deserved a draw out of the game, having put Brad Friedel, Tottenham’s goalie, under immense pressure in the second half – indeed he was probably the man of the match for the visiting team, alongside referee Peter Walton.

That was one of few talking points in a Premiership weekend that saw 7 of the top 8 teams win their games – the only outlier being Liverpool, who drew at home to Swansea.  As Spurs have now gained 22 points out of a possible 24 in the league, they have the look of a team who will challenge for not just a place in the Champions League, but a potential second or third place finish.  They have flattered to deceive before though, making fans wary of being too hopeful, expecting a string of bad results to undo the good that has gone before it.  It’s like watching Andy Kaufman do his Elvis impersonation for the first time – you assume it will be terrible because his previous portrayals have been laughably bad – making the impression of the King all the more brilliant.  In the same way, so many campaigns have gone by where Tottenham have looked like they will be genuine contenders in the upper echelons of the league, only for those hopes to be dashed by the turn of the year.  Perhaps this will be the season when the league is all shook up…