Archive for the 'Football' Category

Midway through the first season

1357397745 13-11-10It was always going to be a tough opening season but we weren’t quite prepared for quite how tough it was going to be.  After 4 matches, Victoria Antyki are languishing at the bottom of our 8 team league having last night lost 6 – 2 to a team we could easily have beaten on any other day.  Such is the first season in a 6-a-side league system.

Since I last wrote of the trials and tribulations of FCVA, we’ve begun our league campaign and lost 9 – 1, 5 – 2, 10 – 1 and last night, 6 – 2.  The trouble is, we’re not as bad as our scores seem to make out – over and over again.  Granted, we’re a new team and it is taking us time to learn how to play alongside one-another but as we start to work around our defensive 1-3-1 formation we seem to be building tactical awareness if not confidence.

It’s hard to not feel demoralised that after even a good performance we lose by a deficit of 4, however, I feel that things are improving week on week.  My own performances haven’t been setting the world on fire, however, I feel a little stuck in our formation.  As an attacking midfielder / winger, I don’t get time with the ball at feet nor to play in those positions as we have to pack our midfield and wings with defensive minded players at the moment.  Who knows though, a wee bit of confidence could go a long way.

In the next two weeks we play the league’s next two weakest teams and if we play like we did last night, I feel we could get something from at least one of them.

More on that in the future, I’m sure.

The (not-so-)secret (and entirely amateur) footballer

Part 1: The match report.
1357397745 13-11-10Last night saw Warsaw’s newest football team, F.C. Victoria Antyki take to the field for the first time in 3 short pre-season friendly matches at Warsaw’s Warszawianka football complex.  From a squad of 16 signed players, it was disappointing to be able only to field the regulation 6 as a mixture of injuries and call-offs led to our depleted squad.  As I write this, the names of our opponents are unknown to us as I wasn’t savvy enough to pick up a fixture sheet, however, I won’t dwell on the opposition, instead focusing on our own performances.

Our first match saw us go down 5 – 1 to a very strong, experienced, league side despite scoring in the first 20 seconds.  In a moment of fortune our captain, David Jelly, found himself with only the keeper to beat and did so easily.  From there on in, it fell apart.  Our team, playing together for the first time, had yet to acclimatise and we became as leaky as my old flat’s bathroom ceiling.  It has to be said, the opposition were pretty strong and their attacking midfielder, my opposite number, was a class above anyone else on the pitch creating most of their goals.  It could have been several more had our defender, Jacek Brzezinski, been less of a nuisance and had our goalkeeper, Seweryn Szeliga, not been in such good form.

Heads were down as we moved into our second match and after we lost our first goal it started to look ominous for Victoria Antyki as confidence dropped, defence was pulled out of position, midfield was devoid of creativity and attack had no service whatsoever.  Frustratingly, we persisted with a long ball for much longer than we should, given our two creative attacking players are 5′ 7″ tall.  The final score 5 – 0 flattered our opposition, shamed us for a disappointing lack of heart and gave us a much needed wake-up call.

Staring 3 straight defeats in the face, something odd happened.  Something clicked and Victoria Antyki started to play.  The long ball was largely disposed of and ball was played on the ground.  There was more creativity from midfield both from myself in the centre – finding it much easier to play with the ball at my feet – and from our two wing-backs, Marcin Ochonski and Tomek Szczepański.  In fact, it was our midfield 3 who were involved in the 3 goals.  The first was created by a cross from Szczepański and at full-stretch, I poked it past the keeper.  Our second, scored from a ridiculously wide angle by Ochonski, was laid on from my neat through-ball pass from a kick-in.  For our 3rd goal, Szczepański found himself in space as the result of a defensive error and toed the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.

So, not a particularly strong start from the Antyki boys, however, the fight shown in the final game of the evening, when tiredness was creeping in, was particularly heartening.  It remains to be seen if we can build on that lift in form for our first game of the season.

We love Antyki. We do!

Part 2: Performance
For our first pseudo-competitive matches, I decided it was time to put a new battery in my Adidas SPEED_CELL, slot it into my Predator boots and get some info on my own performance from the matches.  What I found was quite interesting.
Throughout the 3 matches I played in an attacking midfield role in the centre of the pitch, pushing higher up the pitch when attacking but, certainly in the first 2 matches, frequently dropping back into a defensive midfield position.  In the first match, struggling against quick passing and a skillful forward, I had to chase and harry often, shown by my maximum speed of 20.25km and 10 sprints (most back to a defensive area) throughout the 15 minute match.

1st Match 7th Jan 2013

The second match saw our defensive players struggle to gel and to work together.  I have a slightly slower maximum speed in this match as I tired, and let my head drop.  Despite my protestations we persisted with the long-ball tactic throughout this match, increasing its use through frustration as we went further and further behind.  I saw little of the ball in this match and my increased number of sprints are an indication of racing back to cover, or running forward into space from midfield.  Despite my stats, this match was my lowest point of the three.

2nd Match 7th Jan 2013

Finally, our 3rd match saw some consistency to our play and a change in tactic.  We played the ball on the ground where possible and I found myself with much more possession.  It’s easy to say our opposition were tired after two previous matches but then again, so were we.  With the ball at my feet, I found it much easier and confidence grew. Within the first 2 minutes I’d nutmegged a defender with the outside of my foot, running past him to collect the ball and hearing the referee shout “Ole!” as I did so.  With my head now up I found myself in the right position to score our first then placed a lovely through ball onto the foot of our wing-back to score the second.  By the end of the match I felt good and could have played another 2 or 3 but alas, time was up.  What was interesting about this is that my stats are quite different.  It seems almost obvious now that I’ve considered it but it was surprising at first.  In the first 2 games, I was doing a lot of chasing and jockeying, whereas in the second match I was able to put my foot on the ball and take some time – thus the significantly slower maximum speed and only 2 sprints.

3rd Match 7th Jan 2013

Though I’m sure these posts are only going to be of interest to my football supporting (and even then, only the hardcore) friends, I will continue to analyse my performance in the Antyki games and see how it changes over time.

If you’re here for the music – and I expect most of you are… feel free to ignore these posts and go check this out instead.  They’re just for my own amusement; and to the actual footballers I know, this isn’t supposed to be prozone, it’s just a bit of fun.  Now… as you were.

A January transfer-window move

neilfootyI’m looking forward to pulling on that number 4 shirt…

Over the last year or so, I’ve been playing football occasionally with a group of lads from the British Embassy in Warsaw and in October we took part in a tournament that, well, let’s just say it didn’t go so well – our final runners-up game in the knock-out stage culminated with my being ignobly sent off for wasting time as we ran the clock down. (Sorry boss).
Afterwards, our captain that day, our right-sided forward, Mr. David Jelly decided he wanted more of this competitive football and 2013 sees the inauguration of F.C. Victoria Antyki, Warsaw’s newest collection of footballing stars.
I’m looking forward to pulling on that number 4 shirt and this evening as we gather for the first time at Warszawianka to play a collection of friendly matches against other league opposition. Tonight we’ll get an idea of the task ahead. Tomorrow I’ll let you know how we faired.

We love Antyki, we do!

Anyone but England?

To some, it’s as Scottish as tartan, shortbread and a tendency to be shy to part with money.  The desire to see the English football team lose, especially at a major tournament, grows in a Scot’s footballing psyche concurrent to the expectation of our own international team’s inevitable, “glorious” failure.  Having so often subscribed to the ‘Anyone But England’ philosophy, it was a surprise this year, in Warsaw, that I began to root for the “auld enemy”… well, to a point, that is.

It is, of course, not the English people, nor historically the English players that the Scots have a problem with (though admittedly, with such colossal fuckwits as Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Rooney holding up the side, they’ve not been an easy bunch to admire of late), it is the English media and in particular its television and tabloid strands, staffed by the inflated egos of a few ex-players, that irritate us so.

Certainly for every major international tournament I’ve experienced so far, and despite the recurring, predictable mediocrity of their national side, the English media perform that same tired dance, embarrassing the populous in much the same way Uncle Kenny brings on a cringe as he does “the Slosh” at your cousin’s wedding.  “This is England’s tournament” they cry.  “England will win!” they exclaim.  “Football’s coming home!” They sing.  Tragic.  If that wasn’t enough, and you could imagine it would be, the Scots have developed our own drinking game.  Take a drink each time an English commentator refers to any of the Three Lions’ past glories.  If he refers to World Cup 1966, drink everything.  Everything in the world, ever.  Still, I digress…

Fabio Capello’s decision to leave the England Coach’s post just months before the tournament began sparked the ‘People’s choice’ phenomenon whereby no-one on the planet, other than the English media, seemed to think “Honest” ‘Arry Redknapp was the right choice for the job, yet the unsuspecting public were time-and-again spoon-fed the line that this was the man we wanted.  In the end, ol’ Candleface was overlooked, ostensibly because his only real skill is in buying and selling, in wheeling and dealing – the need of which is distinctly missing in international football, though is a benefit to a used cars salesman (something to think about, eh Harry?).  Instead, the FA opted for a man with significantly more international experience, personal appeal and tactical nous.  England welcomed Roy Hodgson.

The media backlash and tabloid reaction was immediate and depressingly predictable.  That bastion of serious, intellectual journalism, the Sun, ran a headline the following day mocking Hodgson’s speech impediment.  “Bwing on the Euwos”, it cried.  In a telling moment’s lack of self-awareness, a tabloid journalist interviewed on BBC Radio stated, “I can’t believe they haven’t given us the man the media wanted”.  Indeed.

Going in to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the expectation on the England side was as low as I can remember it.  There was little fanfare and very few, other than the most deluded of chest beating, flag waving souls, believed England would progress further than a quarter final appearance.  A resolute draw with France, three hard won points over Sweden and a less than emphatic victory over Ukraine saw England top their group and qualify to play Italy in the Quarter Finals.  An admittedly awful England performance led to a 0 – 0 draw after extra time saw a penalty shoot-out which, after several misses and a delicious Andrea Pirlo ‘Panenka’, ended in the almost foregone conclusion of England’s exit from the tournament.

Journalists, commentators, analysts and football fans collectively agreed that despite his questionable choice of tactics in the Italy match, Hodgson had performed well with what he had and that given time, this was a man that could build a successful future for England’s international game.  That very evening, however, on radio stations across the country, Bellend-a-thon 2012 began in earnest.  “Hodgson should be sacked!”  Already?  “He played too defensively.”  England finished top of the group.  “We are better than that!” No, no you’re not. “We should be more exciting!”  And get comfortably beaten by France?

Most rational fans considering England’s national tournament future seemed to enjoy the prospect of this hands-on coach overseeing the country’s international hopes.  Given the opportunity, Hodgson can be exactly the coach they need.  He is a coach with the tactical know-how to have a plan b and occasionally c – something England haven’t experienced in a particularly long time.  Different systems for different games?  Bloody hell, it’s almost unthinkable.  From his time coaching national sides in Switzerland, UAE and Finland, he has shown an interest in every part of the set-up from the International side to the development of the youth teams and this is something England sorely need.  And finally, let’s not forget, of course, that this is the man who, at the height of his time managing the side, took Switzerland to the 3rd place in the FIFA World Rankings.

Standing in Warsaw’s Fanzone, as I was, with a group of English ex-pats and wearing my replica World Cup 1978 Scotland shirt, it seemed particularly odd to feel that I wanted this team to do well but then again, old habits die hard.  As Ashley Young smashed the crossbar with his penalty, I did let that pragmatism slip somewhat as I was heard to shout rather loudly and with a definite Glaswegian twang, “Yaaa beauty!! Get it right roon’ ye!”

Maybe next time, England, eh?

Euro 2012 – A Ukrainian Odyssey.

With Euro 2012 taking place, at least partially, in my adopted home of Warsaw, it seemed plausible that if I was to take in a group match, it would be one of those here in Poland.  What wasn’t expected was a road trip across the border to Ukraine but, as I’m learning in my time here in Poland, the unexpected becomes commonplace and laughs, contemptuously, at the expected.

Days before the beginning of the tournament, a friend suggested we pick up cheap tickets for the Germany vs. Portugal match in Lviv, just 60km across the Polish / Ukrainian border.  Of course, had this been Euro 1612, there would have been no border to cross – Lviv, known to the Poles as Lwów, having then been part of The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.  Alas, 400 years on, there now exists a rather tedious and officious border crossing which to those without a ticket for a match, seems to take most of the day to pass through – though admittedly, I can only imagine the scores of cars, including ours, selfishly jumping the queue via the Euros ‘Green lane’ probably didn’t help.

The drive to the border began early in the day at 7am, took us through Lublin and my girlfriend’s home town of Zamość and was punctuated at several points by countless stops for Service Station hot dogs.  As we approached the border, the other car in our party somehow became aware that we weren’t crossing the border without some motor insurance documents which led to a desperate, surreal search through Tomaszów Lubelski for an Insurance broker open on a Saturday.  An hour later and with some real FIFA-grade admin completed we set off towards the border.

It has been mentioned ad nauseum on this blog before but I’m somewhat slimmer than I used to be and, well, my passport photo obstinately refuses, in any way, to express this.  Staring back at you from my passport is a grumpy, long-haired, moon-faced disaster of a man looking akin to what can only be described as a bag of broken paperweights.  I have crossed borders into notoriously ‘careful’ states such as the USA and Qatar with this passport and save for some good natured mocking, I’ve been fortunate to avoid problems.  Ukraine?  Not a chance.  Our local, friendly Border Control officer was clearly convinced this was not my passport.  After what felt like days of a stare that would terrify the most hardened of cross border drug smuggling fascist sex trafficker, she became adamant that I provide her with additional ID.  I produced my UK driver’s license which is only marginally better but,  finally, a smile.  Never have I been so pleased to be mocked so openly by the Border Control of an ex-Soviet state (There’s a sentence I’m sure I never thought I’d write).  That, there, ladies and gentlemen, was a close one.

We drove on through the Ukrainian countryside towards our final destination of Lviv with one of my traveling companions attempting to explain Poland coach, Smuda’s inabiity to change his system the night before by using the Complex Adaptive Systems Theory.  Another clear example of my friends being irritatingly cleverer than I am.  Pricks.

Getting lost in Lviv is possibly not the most exciting of pastimes but was made more fun by the game of ‘Follow the Germans’, cruelly and prematurely stopped when they selfishly pulled into a Service Station, possibly for a hot dog.  When we finally arrived at the Fanzone, we did so in time to see Denmark’s Michael Krohn-Dehli slip the ball through the legs of Maarten Stekelenburg to win the Danes the match.  It would never have happened if Timmy Krul had been in goal, I can tell you.

Arriving at the Stadium 90 minutes before kick-off was, in retrospect, a very good idea indeed.  Experiencing the build up, the anticipation and the sheer bat-shit insanity of the pre-match entertainment was worth leaving the Fanzone before half-time in the previous match.

The atmosphere in the stadium prior to, and after, kick-off was exciting and as Portugal and Germany emerged from the tunnel, the noise certainly contravened several key pieces of European Union noise-pollution legislation.  Wonderfully, the referee kicked the game off 3 seconds in to a 10 second kick-off countdown, which delightfully, the announcer decided to persist with as the match was in play.

Post-match, we found our way back to the car in much the same meandering way that Leopold Bloom found his way across Dublin on 16th June, 1904 – and, it seemed, as quickly.  When we eventually set off, we decided it might be best for all of us if we got lost again.  It was felt that we had enjoyed it so much the first time, we would be missing out if we didn’t reprise the experience.

The return journey was anesthetized somewhat by a compelling desire to sleep though it was only prudent to occasionally wake for the occasional service station hot dog.  Save for some additional mocking at the border, there was little that could keep me awake and I’m only vaguely aware of the last hour, driving back into a beautifully sun-lit Warsaw before being dropped back at my flat, in the shadow of the Palace of Science and Culture, no less than 24 hours after we set out.