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Monday, July 30, 2012


For Ireland's footballers, Euro 2012 was not a tournament which will be looked back on with any great deal of fondness. Although they gave it their all in the team's first final tournament for ten years, they suffered three defeats - against Croatia, Spain and Italy - scored a solitary goal while conceding nine, and were the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. Off the pitch, meanwhile, the Irish fans were attracting headlines and plaudits from all over Europe and beyond. So much so, in fact, that UEFA decided in Kiev on 30/6/12 to sanction an award for the fans in recognition of their behaviour and sportsmanship during Euro 2012.

Michel Platini, who gave the green light for the award, will travel to Dublin in the near future to present the award to the FAI, presumably to association president Paddy McCaul and CEO John Delaney. UEFA's secretary-general Gianni Infantino was quoted on Irish state broadcaster RTÉ's website as saying: "Everyone was very impressed by the Ireland fans. The team's results were mitigated by the fans. UEFA president Michel Platini will go to Ireland to give the award."

In an admirable gesture on behalf of the FAI, Delaney apparently suggested that the award be dedicated to the memory of 21-year-old Irish supporter and native of Blessington James Nolan, who tragically drowned in the River Brda in the central Polish city of Bydgoszcz the weekend before Ireland's 2:0 defeat against Italy. Estimates differ as to how many Irish fans made the journey to Poland for Euro 2012; depending on which publication/website you read, somewhere between 25000-45000 supporters migrated to Eastern Europe to cheer on the Boys in Green. It was good to see them getting an award for their support; it was an equally nice touch to see it dedicated to one of their number who never made it home.

While the Irish support made an indelible impression and won the hearts of their Polish hosts (and the rest of Europe) off the pitch, Euro 2012 was to prove a traumatic experience for the Irish team on it, and it all began within the first 4 minutes of their first game, which took place against Croatia in Poznań on 10/6/12

As the Irish fans were busying themselves with "doing 'the Poznan'/'la Grècque,'" Darijo Srna crossed from the right, the ball was half-cleared but it fell to Mario Mandzukić, whose rather soft header from 15 yards out seemed to wrongfoot Shay Given in the Irish goal; Given got a hand to the ball, but it still managed to sneak inside his left-hand post. Was Given wrongfooted? Was he unsighted? Was he too slow in getting down to the ball? Was he fit enough to play, taking into account the knee-injury problems latterly suffered by the Irish 'keeper? You could have given any reason you liked; the end result was that Croatia were in front, and early on at that.

Irish manager Giovanni Trappationi had hoped for a solid start from his charges, but the goal unsettled his charges for a time. Despite conceding the fewest number of goals of any nation (excepting the hosts , of course) during the entire Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, Ireland were looking anything but the defensively-astute side they had been touted as.

They were back on level terms before the first 20 minutes were up, when Aiden McGeady's free-kick from the left-hand side was nodded home by Seán St. Ledger, who nipped in behind and goalside of Vedran Corluka before heading low past Stipe Pletikosa and in. Cue wild celebrations on and off the pitch, and cameramen busying themselves with looking for attractive Irish colleens among the ecstatic throng in Poznań's Municipal Stadion Miejski. To be fair, they didn't have to look very far, but the state of contentment among the Green Army would not last for much longer.

Three minutes before half-time, and not for the first time in the history of football, a Dutchman would steal the show, but this time for all the wrong reasons. In the 43rd minute, Nikica Jelavić restored Croatia's lead, but it was a goal that would start a hundred thousand arguments. A shot by Luka Modrić was blocked by Stephen Ward, but what looked like an attempted clearance merely ricocheted into the path of a clearly offside Jelavić, who controlled the ball and floated it over a flailing Given. (Just for the record, Ognen Vukojević was also offside when Modrić attempted to drive his shot through the Irish defence.)

Given and his defenders appealed - a little bit of understatement goes a long way, dear reader - but Dutch referee Björn Kuypers dismissed allcomers with a wave of his hand. Kuypers seemed to have judged that Jelavić, although in an offside position, was not interfering with play when the hapless Ward's clearance went horribly wrong.

Half-time arrived soon after, with Kuypers receiving a well-intentioned critique of his performance in the first half from Trappatoni and his otherwise anonymous skipper Robbie Keane as they walked up the players' tunnel.

Time for the Irish team to take stock, you might think. If they did so, it all went horribly wrong once again shortly after the restart; in the 49th minute, in fact. Ivan Perisić's cross was met by Mandzukić, who saw his glancing header hit the bottom of Shay Given's left-hand, come off the back of Given's head and cross the line for his second, and Croatia's third, goal of the evening. Given was criticised for the third goal just as much as he had been for the first; rather unjustly, going by television replays, at least, which showed that the ball was going in after hitting the post anyway. A fine third goal, and there was nothing Given could have done to prevent it.

Croatia had deserved their lead, having played some fine football and leaving the Boys In Green in their wake, regardless of Kuyper's contribution, though the referee was to find himself thrust into the spotlight once again just after the hour mark, when he turned down a penalty appeal for Ireland after Keane was upended from behind by Gordon Schildenfeld just inside the Croatian penalty-area. It was, to employ a scarce-used phrase (irony, dear reader), "a stonewall penalty."

On the other hand, Kuypers also missed Keane elbowing an opponent later in the game, but it wouldn't have mattered much if he had seen it and sent Keane off; the LA Galaxy man had done little of note before he was put out of his misery and substituted by Shane Long after 75 minutes. Aidan McGeady had not had a good game - not many of his team-mates could say the opposite - but he had, at least, given it his best shot before he and an enthusiastic but ineffective Kevin Doyle were substituted earlier in the half by Simon Cox and Jon Walters respectively.

Cox and Walters huffed and puffed, but the closest Ireland came to reducing the deficit and preserving their 14-match unbeaten run was a header from Keith Andrews - who had earlier come close on a couple of occasions - which flashed just wide of Pietikosa's goal in the first minute of injury-time. And so ended Ireland's first game in defeat to a Croatia side which many thought would be there for the taking; it was the Croatians who took the points and, after Spain's 1:1 draw with Italy earlier in the evening, top spot in the group after the first round of matches. What hope for Ireland with Spain being their next opponents?

None, as it turned out. Ireland needed to avoid defeat against Spain in Gdańsk to have any chance of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Euros, and the Irish support were in bullish form and in fine voice as the game began. After Simon Cox stretched Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas to the limit with a second-minute effort, however, a night of horror for Irish players and fans alike ensued, and the torment wasn't long in coming.

Less than two minutes later, Xabi Alonso rampaged forward and his wondrous through-ball found David Silva. A superb sliding-tackle from Richard Dunne deserved better fortune than to find the feet of Fernando Torres, who floated past both Dunne and Stephen Ward and smashed the ball over Shay Given's head and into the roof of the net. The shot had bewildering pace, though questions could be asked whether Given had anticipated a low shot from the Chelsea man and was too slow to react. Spain were up and running, and Ireland were undone again by an early goal.

Anyone who says that Spain are boring really should have been taking a better look at the first half; Vicente del Bosque's team attacked incessantly, but were kept at bay only by Given - on at least three different occasions - a dogged Richard Dunne and their own wayward finishing. The unfortunate Simon Cox, who had a thankless task marking Xavi during the first half, was substituted by Jon Walters. Cox's inclusion in the starting line-up was controversial, but Spain were still only a goal up at the break. It could be argued, rather cheekily, that Ireland did better with Cox in the team than without him.

Forty-eight minutes were on the clock when first Arbeloa, then Torres, were foiled by two fine saves from Given in immediate succession before Silva bamboozled half of the Irish defence with a subtle hipsway and stroked the ball through Richard Dunne's legs and just of of reach of Given into the corner of the net.

The Spanish onslaught continued, with Given and Dunne especially stoic, but the defence was breached again in the 71st minute when Siva confused the Irish defence, leaving most of them on the seat of their pants before passing to Torres, who took advantage of all the confusion and empty space to run on and fire the ball past Given.

Spain could breathe easily at last, even though they were scarcely threatened up to that point, and Torres was immediately substituted by Cesc Fabregas. Trappatoni belatedly decided to allow Sunderland's much-vaunted young star-in-the-making James Mc Clean enter the fray in place of Damien Duff with a quarter of an hour to go, McClean coming on to a rapturous reception from the Green Army, and a few minutes later, also gave Derby County midfielder Paul Green (he has since joined Leeds United) his bow in the tournament, coming on for Glenn Whelan. Neither change made any real difference.

Fabregas completed the misery of the Boys in Green with seven minutes to go, when he fired in Spain's fourth with a low shot which fizzed across the Irish six-yard box and in off Given's right-hand post, a goal which confirmed Ireland's elimination from Euro 2012 with a game to play.

With Spain finally taking their collective foot off the gas, Robbie Keane finally showed he was alive by forcing Casillas into his second save of the night, and McClean and Aidan McGeady at last showed what they could do, but it was all far too little, too late. As the Irish fans found their voices at the end of the match, Ireland were out, the first team to be eliminated from the Euros, defeated by Croatia, but outclassed and steamrollered by Spain, who, UEFA's website stated, had 20 shots on target and 26 in all. It certainly seemed like it as well.

Pride was all that Ireland had at stake against their final opponents, Italy, and Trappatoni was adamant that his team would not roll over meekly against his countrymen. It was back to Poznań for Trapp's lads, and the game fell on a poignant anniversary.

The date of the game, 18/6/12, was exactly 18 years to the day when six Catholic men were murdered and five others injured as they sat watching the 2004 World Cup match between Ireland and Italy on television in The Heights bar in the tiny village of Loughinisland, in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. The attack was believed to have been carried out by members of the Loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), though no-one has ever been brought to book for the atrocity.

UEFA agreed to a request by the FAI that the Ireland players wear black armbands during the match, a gesture attacked by some Loyalists, one of who said that this would be "bringing politics into sport." (Tell that to the section of Northern Ireland supporters who routinely belt out sectarian numbers at Belfast's Windsor Park..) However, Niall Murphy, solicitor for the families of the bereaved and injured, applauded the initiative from both footballing bodies, describing it as "providing a forum to recall the awful event that took place on that fateful day when Ireland played Italy."

Ireland certainly started off the game full of intent, none more so than Keith Doyle, who had Italian manager Cesare Pirandelli's defence on red alert within seconds of the kick-off, and again a few minutes later. Italy needed to win the game and hope that the result in the group's other match, played between Croatia and Spain, would go their way, and, stirred by Ireland's early ebbulience, finally started to make their mark on the game, with Antonio Cassano and then Antonio Di Natale being denied by Seán St. Ledger blocking their goalbound efforts within the space of a few seconds some ten minutes before half-time, before Given made a mess of dealing with Cassano's rebounder from Di Natale's shot. However, it was immediately back to the same old same old, as Cassano headed in Andrea Pirlo's corner, beating Given and, despite his best efforts, Damien Duff, Ireland's captain for the day in honour of his reaching the 100-cap mark, who couldn't manage to hook the ball off the line.

Although Italy went in deserving their half-time lead, Ireland were looking dangerous at times, especially on the break and when employing crosses into the Azzurri box. The second half, though, began with Italy on the attack, with St. Ledger blocking Di Natale's shot from close range, and seconds later, Dunne saved Ireland's bacon for the umpteenth time with a timely block of Cassano's shot.

Keith Andrews tested Buffon after an hour with a long-range effort, which began a period of Irish domination without too many shots on Buffon's goal to show for it. Aiden McGeady was substituted by Shane Long in the 65th minute, which was a little mystifying as the Spartak Moscow midfielder had been having a good game. A little over ten minutes later, Kevin Doyle joined McGeady on the bench after being replaced by Jon Walters, who immediately set about creating havoc in the Italian defence. A foul on the Stoke City man led to Keith Andrews striking the ball low and hard through a melée of players, which Buffon punched away.

Italy's Mario Ballotelli had been making headlines all the way through the tournament up to this match, which he started on the bench, but he replaced Di Natale moments before Ireland's second substitution, much to the delight of the more mischievous sections of the media and watching public. His moment would yet come. Meanwhile, Robbie Keane was finally, belatedly, put out of his Euro 2012 misery when Simon Cox took his place with just a few minutes left.

Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakir had been blowing up more often than Al-Qaeda during this particular encounter, and he decided to give Keith Andrews a red card in the last minute of normal time after Andrews had shown a little dissent, which was a venting of some frustration and, coming as it did with moments to go in normal-time, was maybe a little ill-advised given Çakir's propensity to stick his hand in his pocket (wonder if the referee's like that on a night out?), but, taking into account Ireland's tournament up to that juncture, hardly surprising. Andrews, who had already been booked in the first-half, booted the match-ball into the stand for good measure. It was a sad, and premature, end to Andrews' tournament, but the misery for Ireland was not yet complete.

Ballotelli made sure of that around a minute after Andrews' dismissal. A corner, taken by Pirlo, had been awarded to Italy, and in the time that the ball had been swung over towards the middle of the six-yard-area, Ballotelli and Irish defender John O'Shea had taken turns to manhandle each other, but Ballotelli got to the ball first, swivelling to volley it spectacularly past O'Shea and Given. A few minutes of injury-time later, Ireland's Euro 2012 odyssey had reached the end of the road to the strains of "Fields of Athenry," which was being sung with gusto by the Irish support.

Trappatoni was reported as saying that his players showed "fear" during the early stages of both of their first two games of Euro 2012; one would say that that was not entirely true. Ireland showed positive signs after going behind against Croatia, equalising before the midway point of the first half, and Simon Cox, of course, had an early shot saved by Iker Casillas before Spain scored. There was a lot more to Ireland's performance in both games, and, indeed, against Italy than just the fear factor.
Ireland, on the whole, disappointed, though the spirit the team showed was commendable. The Irish fans and media seemed to underestimate Croatia somewhat, but the team were second-best for long periods of the game. The game against Spain was almost as one-sided as one will ever see, while, although enjoying much more possession - and showing a vastly-improved performance - against Italy, still didn't do enough with it, and Italy actually ended their game against Ireland having had more shots on Shay Given's goal than Spain did in their 4:0 victory against those wearing the green.

To be brutally frank, the Irish team, as a whole, were just not good enough, and are just not good enough. Remember, folks, that Ireland finished second, well behind Russia, in a qualifying group that also contained Slovakia (who had qualified for the 2010 World Cup Finals), surprise packages Armenia, Macedonia and Andorra, and that they had qualified for Euro 2012 after coming up against, and defeating, over two legs, the team that everybody wanted in the play-offs, Estonia. The 5:1 aggregate score also flattered Ireland somewhat, but it confirmed Ireland's place at a major tournament for the first time in 10 years.

It may be another 10 years before Ireland qualify for another major tournament. Ireland's forthcoming 2014 World Cup qualifiying group also features Germany and Sweden, and the chances that the Boys in Green will qualify for a play-off place, let alone directly for the final tournament in Brazil, although not non-existent, are pretty small.

Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane are surely on their last legs, Kevin Kilbane missed Euro 2012 due to injury, and seems to have retired from international duty, though, contrary to reports suggesting otherwise, 100-cap Damien Duff has not thrown in the towel with regard to playing for his country.

Given suffered various injury problems last season, and these seem to have slowed him up. He has consistently been one of the Ireland team's mainstays down the years, but he - uncharacteristically, admittedly - made several errors during Euro 2012 which proved costly. Dunne, in spite of all his courage and the fact that he was one of Ireland's best players at the Euros, is also past his best, and Keane is increasingly becoming invisible up front, especially against quality opposition, and appears only in flashes. He had a disastrous Euro 2012, contributing little. He will doubtless figure very heavily in Giovanni Trappatoni's plans, but he is increasingly becoming Ireland's very own "rabbit killer."

Ireland undoubtedly missed the injured Kevin Foley and Keith Fahey, and Trappatoni made a mistake in not including young Séamus Coleman in his final squad. He also should have started James McClean at some stage during the tournament, instead of limiting him to a cameo role against Spain. Why not start Jon Walters against Croatia? Stephen Hunt surely deserved a run out as some stage and would have added some grit and guile to midfield. No sign, either, of the much-vaunted Darron Gibson.

It could also be argued that the tactical system that Trappatoni and his assistant Mario Tardelli decided to employ gave precious little scope for getting the ball up to the forwards. It was not always pretty to watch, being used to stifle the opposition, but the system also rather stifled his own team; it was just too defensive.

Then again, you can only really work with what you have, and this has been the curse of Irish managers down the ages, from Éoin Hand and Liam Tuohy to Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton. Keith Andrews, Aiden McGeady, Richard Dunne and Seán St. Ledger were the pick of the bunch; a very, very average bunch, it has to be said. There has been a lot of discussion about the standard of the players in the Irish squad, but that is hardly a shock when you list the clubs they play for.

There are no Irish senior players plying their trade at any of the top four clubs in the Premier League, let alone in Seria A or La Liga. At the time of Euro 2012, St. Ledger, Paul McShane, Paul Green and reserve 'keeper David Forde were all on the books of Championship sides. Keith Andrews also became a Championship player at the end of last month when he signed for newly-relegated Bolton Wanderers from West Bromwich Albion. 

All of this, of course, seems to point to an over-reliance by Trappatoni on the old-guard at the expense of youth, and also to what many observers claim to be a total lack of investment by the FAI in Irish football at the grassroots level, possibly due in part to the fact that the FAI are still tens of millions of Euros in debt following the building of the Aviva Stadium on the site of the old Landsdowne Road stadium in Dublin.

It is all very worrying when the rest of Europe admire the Irish supporters while summarily dismissing the national side. On the other hand, Roy Keane summarily dismissed both the national team and its supporters (some observers may argue with this assessment), claiming that it wasn't right that Irish fans were singing while the team were getting rolled over by their opponents in Group C. Other commentators in the media and on fora have criticised the Irish supporters who made the journey to Poland for having too much of a "party, party" attitude, and that they weren't real supporters who regularly attend League of Ireland matches.

Why shouldn't they have a good time? They were probably using up all of their holiday allowance to be at Euro 2012, so it was extremely churlish to admonish them for having a good time on holiday, and supporting the Boys in Green at the same time. Would it be beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that those doing the admonishing do not live particularly austere lives themselves? In passing, not every Dutch, German or Swedish fan who attended Euro 2012 regularly goes to an Eredivisie, Bundesliga or Allsvenskan match. (Most probably don't.) 

It was difficult to know who Keane was getting at: the players, or the supporters. Well, one could say that, unlike Roy, the Irish supporters didn't walk away, start sniping or retreat into their shell when the going got tough, and, for all their limitations, neither did the players.

The question remains: What will the future hold for the Irish national team and Giovanni Trappatoni? It is perhaps time for Trap to begin phasing out the older players; he should now look increasingly to the future and give Forde or the other reserve goalkeeper, Keiren Westwood, a run-out against Serbia in Ireland's friendly on 15/8/12. It is time to make use of Séamus Coleman and James McClean, time to make more use of Jon Walters, and time for one and all to have more faith in Aiden McGeady. It is, perhaps, time for McGeady to have more faith in himself and stop hiding his light under a bushel.

Time, too, for some of the other fringe players to get their fingers out at club level, and also high time for the FAI to invest more at grassroots level, and for League of Ireland clubs to widen their nets. There have been many complaints about the standard of domestic football in Ireland, that no-one goes to watch domestic football in Ireland, that the best young players will always go to England to try their luck (this is, however, no longer a given) and about the fact that Gaelic games and rugby union have long been vying for the attention of young Irish sportsmen and women.

Perhaps, it is time for people to stop complaining and start doing something to improve matters from the bottom up instead of from the top down. Without a stable and sustainable base, the future of club and international football in Ireland will be a bleak one. People much better placed and informed than your correspondent can see that. Before all that, however, it is time for Trappatoni to revamp the national team (as well as keep an eye on the League of Ireland) by letting the young guns loose on an unsuspecting European public during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers; the kick-off in September approaches, and a trip to Kazakhstan is first up on the Irish agenda, and this is followed up by a visit from Germany in mid-October. Will Trappatoni play it safe, or will he shake things up a bit? Hmmm..



DEFENDERS: 2 Seán ST. LEDGER; 3 Stephen WARD; 4 John O'SHEA; 5 Richard DUNNE; 12 Stephen KELLY; 13 Paul McSHANE; 18 Darren O'DEA; 21 Paul GREEN; 22 James McCLEAN

MIDFIELDERS: 6 Glenn WHELAN; 7 Aiden McGEADY; 8 Keith ANDREWS; 11 Damien DUFF; 15 Darron GIBSON; 17 Stephen HUNT

FORWARDS: 9 Keith DOYLE; 10 Robbie KEANE; 14 Jon WALTERS; 19 Shane LONG; 20 Simon COX



Friday, July 20, 2012


Liverpool kick off their North American tour this coming Saturday with a friendly against Canadian side Toronto FC at the city’s 47568-capacity Rogers Centre stadium (formerly known as the Sky Dome). Four days later, they are due to play AS Roma at Boston’s Fenway Park, property of Liverpool’s owners FSG. The tour is scheduled to conclude on 28/6/12 with a game against Spurs at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Liverpool fans the world over will doubtless be familiar with AS Roma and Spurs, but what of Toronto FC? The club, like Liverpool known as The Reds (or, indeed, TFC), was formed as recently as 2006 and joined the Major League Soccer (MLS) a year later.

However, early results were far from encouraging, and the club finished bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference division in its first two seasons in the competition. Curiously, although the team, then managed by ex-Scotland international Mo Johnston, were scraping along in the depths of the MLS, their BMO Field stadium was regularly filled to the brim with red-clad Toronto fans making lots of noise. The stadium is widely regarded to be Canada’s first “soccer-specific” ground, and has a current capacity of 21859.  The fans have managed to keep their reputation as one of the most fanatical sets of supporters – if not the most fanatical - in the MLS, and the club’s fortunes have also improved as time has moved on; if not in the MLS, then at least in the Canadian Championship.

Toronto have won the Canadian Championship, a competition which also features FC Edmonton, Montréal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and is designed to provide a team  to represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League, four times in a row since 2009. Impact, who won the competition in its inaugural year in 2008, beating the Reds in the final, were Toronto’s victims in the 2012 semi-finals.

The Reds were drawn to play away against Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the first-leg of the final, which was played on 16/5/12. Ryan Johnson put the visitors in front midway through the second-half before Frenchman Eric Hassli put the Whitecaps level in injury-time.

The second-leg took place at the BMO Field a week later, Toronto dominated proceedings in a physical encounter - both teams had a player sent off - and Reggie Lambe ensured that the Canadian Championship trophy would stay in the Toronto trophy-cabinet for another year with the only goal of the game with seven minutes left. The Whitecaps, in both their previous and current incantations, have now lost every Canadian Championship final they have played in – all of them to the Reds.

Toronto have still to make it into the MLS play-off series, having come closest to achieving that feat in 2009, losing out by a single point after a heavy defeat to New York Bulls. Johnston departed the scene in 2008, and was replaced by a succession of managers, including former Dutch international Aron Winter, who became boss at the start of 2011, but the club still failed to reach the play-offs even though they had lost only 2 out of their last 12 games.

The Reds’ 2012 season got off to the most traumatic start when they lost their first nine games, finally getting off the mark with a 1:0 home win over Philadelphia Union at the end of May. They are currently bottom of the Eastern Conference, though their form has improved lately, and have been unbeaten so far this month, winning their last three games after drawing away to Dallas FC at the start of July.

Despite their domestic disappointments, Toronto reached the semi-finals of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League, the first Canadian team ever to do so, losing 7:3 on aggregate to eventual runners-up Santos Laguna, drawing 1:1 at home at the end of March before losing the return 6:2 on 4/4/12.

Winter stepped down as first-team manager last month and was replaced by ex-England international Paul Mariner, who, before Winter’s departure, was working in a technical capacity for Toronto.

Although most of the Toronto squad might seem unfamiliar to audiences outside the MSL, there are one or two well-known players in the team, such as former Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich star Torsten Frings, who also won 79 caps for his country and signed for the Reds in June last year, and Jamaican international Ryan Johnson. Danny Koevermans is a name familiar to many PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar supporters; he joined Toronto at the same time as Frings after spending four seasons at PSV.

The team also features Canadian internationals Terry Dunfield and Adrian Cann, Bermudan international Reggie Lambe, and Richard Eckersley, who won a League Cup medal with Manchester United in 2009 before drifting down to the lower divisions and eventually to Canada, signing for Toronto at the tail-end of January.

One player Liverpool will not be facing is Canadian international Julian de Guzman, who was transferred to Dallas FC last week in exchange for Andrew Wiedeman.

Toronto have had a very up-and-down season, having won a cup competition and coming quite close to appearing in the final of another, but still finding themselves marooned at the bottom of their domestic league. They will be looking to finish off their season in some style, and who better for Mariner’s lads to pit their wits against than Liverpool, whose manager Brendan Rogers is busy ringing the changes at Anfield? Liverpool will be expected to win the game, but Toronto will have a point to prove. The game itself, again, will take place on 21/7/12 and kick-off is at 16:00 local time.


GOALKEEPERS: 24 Stefan FREI, 30 Milos KOCIC, 40 Quillan ROBERTS

DEFENDERS: 2 Logan EMORY, 3 Miguel ACEVAL, 4 Doneil HENRY, 5 Ashtone MORGAN, 12 Adrian CANN, 20 Ty HARDEN, 21 Aaron MAUND, 25 Jeremy HALL, 27 Richard ECKERSLEY, 31 Dicoy WILLIAMS  

MIDFIELDERS: 8 Eric AVILA, 11 Luis SILVA, 15 Matt STINSON, 16 Oscar CORDON, 19 Reggie LAMBE, 22 Torsten FRINGS, 23 Terry DUNFIELD, 37 Nicholas LINDSAY


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Much of the above information was gleaned from the Toronto FC website, with odds and ends taken from the BMO Field website and Wikipedia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


While Euro 2012 was getting under way, in the South Pacific, meanwhile, Oceania's 2012 OFC Nations Cup was drawing to a close, and there was a surprise winner. Tahiti have made history by winning the 2012 OFC Nations Cup, and have done so in several ways. The Tahitians, representing not just their island but the entire pays d'outre-mer of French Polynesia (French "overseas country"; French Polynesia was formerly an overseas department of the French Republic), won the OFC Nations cup for the very first time by after defeating New Caledonia 1:0 in the final of the competition, which was held from 1/6/12-10/6/12 in the capital of the Solomon Islands, Honiara.

It is the first time that a team representing a Francophone nation or territory has lifted the trophy, and also the first time that a side other than New Zealand or (former OFC member) Australia have won the competition. The Solomon Islands were awarded the right to host the tournament after Fiji were stripped of the hosting rights, not only to the OFC Nations Cup but also to the OFC men's and women's Olympic qualification tournaments, due, it is alleged, to a legal dispute between OFC General Secretary Tai Nicholas and the Fijian government.

Eight nations took part: hosts Solomon Islands, red-hot favourites New Zealand, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, winners of the preliminary competition and rank outsiders Samoa, Tahiti and Vanuatu. The teams were split into two groups of four, and while Group A was completed in a reasonably straightforward manner, Group B threw up one or two little surprises, a trend which was to continue all the way to the end of the final.

To briefly recap on the preliminary round, which took place in the Samoan capital, Apia, Samoa finished top of the qualifying group by defeating American Samoa 1:0 thanks to a goal which came in the dying seconds. A vastly improved American Samoa achieved their first-ever win at senior international level, beating Tonga 2:1, and their first-ever draw in a 1:1 stalemate with the Cook Islands, who had lost 3:2 to hosts Samoa. Samoa then drew 1:1 with Tonga, who rounded off their campaign with a 2:1 win over the Cook Islands. Tonga's victory was not enough to put them in contention, however; they could only sit and watch the two Samoas fight it out for a place in the OFC Nations Cup finals.

The game was a tense affair, in direct contrast to how most observers would have imagined the match would have turned out before the tournament started. After their regular dismal showing in the the 2011 Pacific Games, nobody would have put any money on American Samoa getting a point in the competition, let alone being possibly the width of the post away from qualification. They hit the post moments before Samoa broke forward and Silao Malo broke their neighbours' hearts with a goal in the very last minute of normal time. American Samoa received all the plaudits (and are a subject of a documentary, Next Goal Wins, which is still being compiled but should be released in the very near future) but Samoa qualified for the finals.

Unfortunately, the good times did not roll for Samoa at the finals themselves. They were drawn in Group A, together with New Caledonia, Tahiti and Vanuatu. Malo scored for Samoa during the tournament's opening game on 1/6/11 against Tahiti; unfortunately, the Tahitians were already 6:0 up, and went on to hit double figures, winning 10:1. Incredibly, a set of three brothers and their cousin, all with the surname Tehau, scored 9 of Tahiti's goals (surely a record in its own right - more history for the Tahitians?): Lorenzo, who scored 4 times including 3 in less than 5 minutes, his twin brother Alvin, who scored twice, his other brother Jonathan, who also bagged a double, and cousin Teaonui, who had to be content with just the one goal. Tahiti's other goal was scored by Steevy Chong Hue.

Group A's next fixture, Vanuatu against New Caledonia, saw another hat-trick, this time for New Caledonia's Bertrand Kaï, in a 5:2 win for Les Cagous (named in honour of the Cagou, a bird unique to New Caledonia which is threatened with extinction). Vanuatu got off the mark in their next match two days later, a 5:0 win against Samoa, with five different players getting on the scoresheet.

Later the same day, Tahiti raced into a 3:0 half-time lead against New Caledonia. There had been some talk before the tournament started that Tahiti, formerly a regional powerhouse, would, after years of unremarkable performances, be a force to be reckoned with once again, and their first-half showing against one of Oceania's top national sides seemed to back up this assertion. However, a see-saw last 15 minutes saw the Tahitians scrape home by the skin of their teeth, winning 4:3.

New Caledonia proceeded to take out their frustration on Samoa on 5/6/12, walloping six goals past the outsiders in the first-half before adding another three goals in the second-half; Jacques Haeko scored five of the nine. The result pretty much ensured Les Cagous' progress to the semi-finals, and this was confirmed after Tahiti easily disposed of Vanuatu, winning 4:1 and going forward themselves to the semis as group winners, with the Three Tehaus all getting their names on the scoresheet after Nicolas Vallar opened the scoring for the Polynesians from the penalty-spot. Robert Tasso, who had scored in each of Vanuatu's previous two games, completed the full set by netting a consolation goal in the 95th minute.

There was an extremely sad postscript to Samoa's elimination, and it came in the form of tragic news that goalkeeper Motu Hafoka, who had been between the posts during Samoa's first game in the finals against Tahiti, had died. According to a report published on the Talamua website on 3/7/12, the 25-year-old had hanged himself at the back of his family home, and was found by relatives in the early hours of 30/6/12. Hafoka played for SamoaTel National League Premier Division side Moaula United and was widely regarded as one to watch for the future. 

Two days after news of Hafoka's death was announced, New Caledonian football was mourning the death of 26-year-old André Naxue, who had played for Les Cagous in the 2007 Pacific Games, but wasn't selected this time round. A report on the FCF website ( said that the AS Magenta player, who had been suffering from a heart ailment which had sidelined him for around two years but who was preparing to make a comeback, had left "a big void behind him." Naxue had played 4 times for the New Caledonian national team.

Tahiti and New Caledonia were through to the semi-finals, but who would join them from Group B, a group featuring Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands? Although the points table at the conclusion of the group round of matches would suggest otherwise, Group B was to prove to be a series of tense, low-scoring matches with little enough separating the teams.

Fiji and New Zealand got proceedings under way on 2/6/12, with Oceania's 2010 World Cup representatives claiming a hard-earned win thanks to Tommy Smith, who scored early on, latching on to the rebound after Fiji 'keeper and captain Simione Tamanisau spilled a free-kick. Tamanisau's opposite number, Mark Paston, performed heroics to keep the Fijians out on several occasions. Fiji's Alvin Singh did put the ball in the net, but it was ruled out after Pita Senibiaukula was adjudged to have fouled Paston after the goalkeper had fumbled the ball. 

Benjamin Totori got the hosts off to a winning start in the day's other match against Papua New Guinea with a goal in the fifth minute, beating PNG goalkeeper Leslie Kalai with a shot inside the near post, which Kalai had left hopelessly exposed. The Bonitos were unable to add to their lead in spite of dominating the match, though Samuel Kini's shot rattled the Papua New Guinea crossbar on the hour mark.

Papua New Guinea were as good as eliminated from their first tournament in a decade after losing 2:1 to New Zealand in their second match on 4/6/12, with the Kiwis getting off to a perfect start, going in front after just two minutes thanks to a Shane Smeltz header. They went on to dominate the first 20 minutes or so, with Chris Wood's effort being ruled out for offside, but PNG had more of the game in the remainder of the first half, and started the second half in similar fashion.

However, Wood put the proverbial spanner in Papua New Guinea's works by scoring New Zealand's second after 52 minutes after he latched on to a Smeltz pass and slotting the ball past Leslie Kalai in the PNG goal. Smeltz hit the bar just before the hour mark after Wood returned the compliment, but Papua New Guinea were still creating the majority of the game's chances, though they were being much more profligate than their Antipodean counterparts.

They finally scored in the last minute of normal time, courtesy of Neil Hans who scored from the penalty-spot after experienced Kiwi defender Tony Lockhead handled in the area. However, it was too little, too late and PNG found themselves bottom of the Group B table with no points from two games. The afternoon game between Fiji and the Solomon Islands ended in a 0:0 stalemate, with the hosts dominating throughout but couldn't break through the Fijian defence. Both teams had goals chalked off for offside: Bonitos captain Henry Fa'arodo, after a quarter of a hour, and, late on, Pita Bolatoga for Fiji both thought they had done enough to put their respective sides in front.

Both Fiji and Papua New Guinea were eliminated from the competition after they drew 1:1 in their final group game, though Fiji had one foot in the semi-finals for the majority of an entertaining game after Maciu Dunadamu headed them in front in the 14th minute. Kema Jack broke Fijian hearts five minutes from time with a header at the near post, just reward for his own endeavours during PNG's three games, in which he had shown himself to be a one-man awkward squad, but the goal condemned both sides to an early exit from the competition.

So, New Zealand, as expected, had made it through as group winners to the semi-final stage, where they would meet New Caledonia, but it would be Group B runners-up and hosts Solomon Islands, who would take to the field first against Tahiti. The vast majority of the crowd at the the Lawson Tama Stadium were expecting an easy home win, but it was the underdogs who struck first after a fairly even first 15 minutes when Jonathan Tehau headed Tahiti into the lead past Felix Ray, leaving a static Bonitos defence horribly flat-footed.

The Solomon Islands had chances enough to score during the remainder of the 90 minutes, with James Naka missing perhaps the pick of them in the 37th minute when he shinned a Benjamin Totori cross over the Tahitian bar with 'keeper Xavier Samin stranded. Four minutes later, Alvin Tehau could have made Naka pay for his profligacy, but the Tahitian shot across Ray's goal when it was easier to put the ball on target. Despite increased pressure on Samin's goal from the Solomon Islands as the game went on, the Toa Aito (Iron Warriors) had made it through to their fourth OFC final, ensuring that the hosts would have to make do with a place in the third-place match.

Many observers were predicting a Solomon Islands : New Zealand final, but that would not come to pass. Instead, the first all-Francophone final was to become a reality after New Caledonia sprung the second surprise of the semi-finals by defeating the Kiwis 2:0 in the afternoon match. Jacques Haeko almost put New Caledonia in front in the 9th minute after a howitzer of a shot from the edge of the New Zealand penalty-area, which hit - and probably took a big chunk of - the outside of the post. With 36 minutes gone, Shane Smeltz found himself in acres of space but failed to put Chris Wood's crossfield on target, heading the ball just wide of Rocky Nyikeine's goal.

An hour into the game, New Caledonia got their noses in front after Haeko got the merest of touches on an Olivier Dokunengo pass to direct the ball to Jason Kai, who deftly chipped the ball over the onrushing Jake Gleeson. Six minutes later, Michael McGlinchey's effort hit Les Cagous' bar after a throw-in caused all sorts of bother in the New Caledonia defence; Chris Killen headed over from the rebound. The New Caledonians made the game safe two minutes into injury-time when a breaking Iamel Kabeu found Georges Gope-Fenepej with no-one near him in the New Zealand box, and Gope-Fenepej drew Gleeson before sidefooting the ball over the goalkeeper. 

There were scenes of jubilation among the New Caledonian players and staff at the game's conclusion, and the All-Whites could hardly complain about the result. They had had their chances, but hadn't taken them; New Caledonia were by far the most clinical of the two teams on show, and got what they deserved - a place in the final, against Tahiti.

The final was to take place on 10/6/12, but there was the small matter of the third-place match featuring the Solomon Islands and New Zealand to come first, and anybody expecting a dour affair would have been pleasantly surprised. There was certainly nothing dour about this game, although one would have been forgiven for thinking otherwise after New Zealand had roared into a 3:0 lead inside half-an-hour at a sparsely-populated Lawson Tama Stadium, courtesy of a Chris Wood treble.

Joshua Tussulia almost put the Bonitos in front with a looping header early on, but his effort was headed off the line and behind by Aaron Clapham. Wood scored the first of his hat-trick 8 minutes when Shadrack Ramoni flapped at the ball but was beaten to it by Kosta Barbarouses, who headed it on for Wood to nod home. Wood's second came after a move involving Marco Rojas and Ian Hogg, who sent in a cross from the left-hand side of the pitch with more than enough time and space to spare for the West Brom man to head past an exposed Ramoni at the far post.

Poor defending contributed to Wood's third, when another cross from the left, this time from Rojas, found Wood, who was prowling around the penalty-spot with enough time and space to plant a spud-patch, but who instead controlled the ball before scuffing his shot, the bounce of which deceived Ramoni and found the bottom left-hand corner.

Just before the break, the Solomons almost found a way back into the game after substitute Benjamin Totori hit the bar with a superb left-footed shot from 20 yards out. They did get on the scoresheet 3 minutes into the second-half when Himson Teleda struck a sweet shot through a melée of players and past Gleeson's despairing dive into the bottom right-hand corner. Gleeson could not have been blamed for conceding such a goal, but he would have to accept total culpability for the Solomon Islands' second 6 minutes later, when he allowed Totori's speculative shot on goal from the edge of the area on the right to trickle through his hands and legs at the right-hand post.

The game went this way and that, but the All-Whites were still looking odds-on to finish in third until a couple of minutes to go in normal time. A cross-field ball from Henry Fa'arodo found Totori out on the left hand-side; Totori cut in, shuffled and stepped-over his way into a shooting position before rifling a shot between two defenders and past Gleeson into the top right-hand corner to level for the Solomons. If Totori, who had been making a complete nuisance of himself in and around the New Zealand penalty-area since his introduction into the match, had scored such a goal in a Premier League game, you can bet your bottom Zimbabwean dollar that it would have been a contender for Goal of the Month on Match of the Day.

Totori's goal was good enough to win any game, but four minutes into injury-time, Shane Smeltz won it for New Zealand. Once again, a large slice of poor defending was to blame. While the Bonitos' defence was ball-watching, they failed to notice that the left-hand side of their defence was completely devoid of anyone in a green and yellow shirt. Smeltz simply ambled into space, received a perfectly-timed cross-field pass, controlled it and calmly half-volleyed a lob over the unfortunate - and yet again isolated - Ramoni to win the game for the Kiwis.

The game was up for the Solomons, and they would have to make do with fourth place when, at one stage, the final was more than within their reach. They wormed their way through a tight group, and were more than capable of reaching the final, but bad finishing seemed to plague them all the way through the tournament, and their defence was a bit on the small side, while playing very a narrow system, leaving them exposed on the flanks. Nevertheless, Benjamin Totori embellished his reputation somewhat and, as a result of his exploits during the tournament, has joined A-League side Wellington Phoenix, who are coached by..New Zealand manager Ricky Herbert. Henry Fa'arodo, meanwhile, played a captain's role, while young Himson Teleda seems like a real find.

There was a large contingent of players among the All-Whites squad which had represented New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, but the team as a whole did not do themselves justice. Wood caught the eye, Shane Smeltz also weighed in with a couple of goals, and Aaron Clapham held things together somewhat in midfield. Kosta Barbarouses will be heading to Greece next season; he has been recruited by Panathinaikos on a year's loan from Russian side Anzhi Vladkavkaz (remember them, Liverpool fans?). Consolation for both sides was the fact that they would both be going forward to the final stages of the OFC qualifiers along with the OFC Nations Cup finalists, New Caledonia and Tahiti.

On to the final, then, and no matter the winner, it would be the first final between two Francophone nations and would provide a new name on the trophy. New Caledonia went into the final as clear favourites, having won last year's Pacific Games as well as being runners-up in the previous edition of the OFC Nations Cup. It would also be the fourth time that the Toa Aito had reached the final.

Les Cagous had the first real chance in the 8th minute when Jacques Haeko, who had been looking dangerous throughout the tournament, stole the ball in midfield but, with Tahitian defenders scampering after him, lost his footing as he shot from the edge of the penalty-area and the ball went a foot the wrong side of Xavier Samin's goal.

Two minutes later, Tahiti took the lead; Lorenzo Tehau's cross was flicked on by brother Jonathan into the path of Steevy Chong Hue, who controlled the ball with his thigh, swivelled and half-volleyed the ball low to the right of Rocky Nyikeine and into the corner of the net.

New Caledonia had the Tahitians under the cosh for most of the rest of the first half, but with half-time approaching, Tahiti broke only for Nyikeine to save from the third of the Tehau brothers, Alvin; the rebound broke to another Tahitian but Nyikeine saved again before a third man in white eventually got the ball past the goalkeeper at the third attempt. However, Émile Bearune was on hand to block the shot, which bounced on to the bar and away as a mass follow-up scramble ensued.

Ten minutes after half-time, Lorenzo Tehau had the ball in the New Caledonian net, smashing the ball into the net via the crossbar after a fine cross-field ball from sibling Jonathan, but the goal was disallowed due to an alleged handball; judging from replays, though, it appeared that the ball struck Tehau in the chest and not on the arm.

Ten minutes later, Marius Bako almost equalised but for Samin to punch the ball clear on the goal-line as he was falling backwards into his goal, and a few minutes later, Haeko missed another chance to get New Caledonia on level terms, volleying over the bar. Shortly afterwards, as Les Cagous continued to ratchet up the pressure, Georges Gope-Fenepej bullied his way into the Tahitian penalty-area only for his shot to find the side-netting. With ten minutes left, the industrious Gope-Fenepej missed perhaps the best chance of the whole match as he latched on to Haeko's delightful chip over the Tahitian defence, only to sidefoot the ball past Samin but wide of the post.

New Caledonia continued to press into injury time, but to no avail, and, thanks to Chong Hue's early goal, Tahiti were thus crowned champions of Oceania, a position they could only have dreamt about after finishing third at the 2011 Pacific Games. It was the Tahiti team's fourth final in the history of the OFC Nations Cup in all of its previous guises, after near-misses in 1973, 1980 and 1996.

Amid scenes of utter, almost disbelieving, joy, a clearly emotional Eddy Etaeta, manager of Tahiti, said after the final whistle that it had taken ten years for the team to reach this stage, and it was magnificent that his team would be one of eight teams competing in next year's Confederations Cup, which will be held in Brazil. Team captain Nicolas Vallar told OFC TV that his team's principal objective was to qualify for the 2014 World Cup elimination round, but he believed that Tahiti would win against New Caledonia and that the team's victory was really something for Tahiti, a nation of 150000 people.

Local newspaper Tahiti News called the national team's triumph and qualification for the Confederations Cup "superb and unexpected." The next day's headline in La Dépêche, meanwhile called the OFC Nations Cup win "An Historic Title for Tahiti," and a headline in the same publication a couple of days later proclaimed that "The Tom Thumb Tahiti is invited to Brazil, home of the giants of football." Website Tahiti Infos' headline, in comparison, more or less stated the obvious: "Tahiti lift the OFC Nations Cup and go down in history."

The Toa Aito will represent the OFC at the Confederations Cup in Brazil in June next year, while the more fancied teams will be left at home to lick their wounds. The Fédération Tahitienne du Football (FTF) are guaranteed a USD$1 million pay-out for taking part in the tournament, and it hopes to use some of that money to improve facilities, and the standard of the game, in French Polynesia as a whole.

It will be the third time that a Tahitian side have qualified for the world finals in a football tournament: in 2009, the Under-20 side qualified for their age-group's World Cup in Egypt, but lost all three of their group games, scoring no goals and conceding 21, while last September, the national beach football team defeated Venezuela 5:2 at the Beach Soccer World Cup in Italy, but didn't make it out of their group. (Tahiti shall be hosting next year's edition.)

It will be difficult for their 11-a-side compatriots to make any sort of impression in Brazil; after all, apart from the Selecão, who will doubtless be regarded as the hosts with the most, newly-crowned European champions Spain, Euro 2012 runners-up Italy, Copa América winners Uruguay, CONCACAF Gold Cup holders Mexico and Asia's finest in the shape of Japan's Blue Samurai have already booked their places at the 2013 Confederations Cup party. Africa's representatives will be known after the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which will be held in South Africa.

The Tahiti side, who are also known as Team Fenua (which very roughly translates as Team of Our Motherland), will be regarded as the ultimate minnows by one and all, and will have their work cut out to achieve any sort of positive result in the Confederations Cup, but it will be a perfect showcase for the country and its players - it may well be evergreen goalkeeper Xavier Samin's last hurrah, as the 34-year-old was due to hang up his gloves for the national team after the OFC Nations Cup, though is not inconcievable that he might just be persuaded to board the plane to Brazil next June. First up, though, for Samin and Co, is Oceania's final qualifying round round for the 2014 World Cup, which will begin on 7/9/11, when the Toa Aito will be visiting Honiara once again to take on the Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia are scheduled to take on New Zealand at home in Nouméa.

Will the Bonitos and Les Cagous avenge their defeats to the Tahitians, who ran out winners in all five of their OFC Nations Cup finals games? Will New Zealand regain their composure and storm through the qualifiers, as most neutral observers would expect? Or, will Tahiti confound the experts once again to take on the fourth-placed CONCACAF team in October next year? It will be a very competitive round of matches, certainly, and Tahiti will not be fancied to repeat their triumph in Honiara, but, regardless of how it all ends up, they will be enjoying their place in the sun and will be doing their utmost to put on a good show. More power to them.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Much of the information was taken from the OFC website (which is always well worth a visit):

There will be more on Tahiti to come; watch this space.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


June was not a noteworthy month for the Ireland team which took part in Euro 2012, but it seems that the Irish support gained the UEFA award for the best supporters, which was rather nice! Well done to the team (and staff) for their endeavours, and also to the supporters who made it out there and who raised merry hell! Both sets of people were a credit, as always.

Meanwhile, speaking of June, back at the Pat's Football Blog ranch, due to a mixture of Euro 2012 viewing and some rather bizarre work shifts, things have been rather inactive lately. The mainstream European football season has now ended (apart from in Ireland, parts of Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries), so there will be some items appearing which should have been covered from April onwards, even though the bizarre work shifts will be a part of personal life for a while to come.

Many apologies, therefore, to anyone wishing to read about news, and your correspondent's views, on Icelandic football and the credit-crunch, Ireland's Euro 2012 adventure, the outcome of the OFC Nations Cup, Fortuna Düsseldorf (and Pat's Football Blog's Away-Day), the VIVA World Cup, and Newry City's season, version 2011-12. All that, and more, will be forthcoming in due course - but be patient!

Pat's Football Blog pitched in for a place on the Best Male shortlist for the 2012 Football Blogging Awards, but did not garner enough votes, alas. Many congratulations to those blogs and websites which have been shortlisted in the various categories up for grabs, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony in Manchester on 14/7/11. Good luck to them all; there are some seriously good blogs out there, and, should you wish to peruse them, kindly go to the Categories page on the Football Blogging Awards website:

Many thanks to the two dozen or so people who voted for Pat's Football Blog (to the rest of you - where were you??); your support was much appreciated, and I hope it will continue into the future. I bow to you all. Thank you. Kindly spread the word to your nearest and dearest, and should anyone have ideas for any new articles, please do get in touch. I would be glad to hear from you, not to say delighted to have a crack at writing on a subject on your behalf.

Or, should you wish to contribute an article, that would also be warmly welcomed. In that case, please leave a message on the Pat's Football Blog page on Facebook, or via @PatsFballBlog on Twitter. Don't leave your light under a bushel! Thanks, too, to those of you who viewed the blog in June; personal bests were shattered for the most views received in a day, and those received in a month - over 2000!

Some good news with which to end this rather abrupt missive; the Help Billy Walk Appeal reached its original target of 50000 pounds recently. For those of you who know nothing about the appeal, which concerns itself with attempting to raise enough money to enable young Billy Douglas, who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo a potentially life-changing operation, it was covered in an article a couple of months ago:

The good news is that Billy will now be able to undergo the operation in Bristol, and not in the American city of St. Louis as was originally envisaged, at the end of July. The bad news is that several thousand pounds will still need to be raised to help financially assist Billy's family with post-operative care, and that means paying for physiotherapy, amongst other things. If you, dear reader, own a business or are working for one, and would like to help in some way, or at least find out more about what the appeal entails, kindly make contact with the Help Billy Walk Appeal on Facebook, or go to the appeal's website:

Speaking of which, many thanks to the following blogs/websites/Facebook pages which did their best, in their own sweet way, to try and help publicise the Help Billy Walk Appeal:

Friends of Liverpool FC
In Bed With Maradona
Football Supporters' Federation
Newry City FC

As said, the appeal is still ongoing, so any help (especially financial) would be ecstatically received. Well done to those who have contributed to the Help Billy Walk Appeal in one way or another. Thanks to those of you, too, who have contributed to this excuse of a blog during the season. And so one season ends, just as another has more or less started. Pat's Football Blog will continue to do it's best to follow the good, the bad and the plain obscure. Let's get Euro 2012 over and done with first, though, heh??