OptaJoke Betting Blog – The End is Nigh

So, we arrive at the final week of the OptaJoke Betting Blog as the Premier League draws to a conclusion and there is still plenty to play for as teams jostle for European places and more importantly, those at the foot of the table attempt to preserve their top flight status. Sky’s build up of ‘Survival Sunday’ is sure to be extensive and this year they do so with good reason; two out of three of the relegation places are still to be decided and with so many different permiations possible, it’s sure to be an enthralling afternoon of action. This weekend there is just the one selection. An over 2.5 goals treble involving some of the teams still with something to play for.

Bolton v Manchester City (over 2.5 goals)

Manchester City demolished Stoke 3-0 in the week and in doing so put themselves in the driving seat for finishing third in the Premier League. If they can maintain that position after Sunday’s game with Stoke, they will automatically qualify for The Champions League and avoid a potential banana skin in the qualification round. They looked as if they could score at every opportunity on Tuesday night and with Carlos Tevez looking to secure the golden boot trophy for the season I think we could see another attacking performance from City here.

Bolton were involved in a thriller last week when they drew 4-4 with Blackpool in what was arguably one of the games of the season for me. That performance showed both the strengths and weaknesses of the side in equal measure, the craft of Davies and Sturridge going forward was sublime, some of the football they played would not look out of place at any top European stadium. That said, they are still defensively fragile and can be caught out if the opposition continue to probe and press which Manchester City certainly have the personnel to do. Even if Roberto Mancini rotates his squad somewhat I still believe they have the quality to trouble Bolton and I think the home side will want to finish on a high so I can see this one being a fairly high scoring encounter.

Wolves v Blackburn (over 2.5)

One of the games that will no doubt play an integral role in Survival Sunday is Wolverhampton Wanderers against Blackburn. These two teams sit just outside the relegation zone on 40 points, normally the benchmark for safety. Wolves have put together a run of games which have given them a chance of staying up when they looked likely to face the drop, 3-1 wins against West Brom and Sunderland have seen pull away from the dreaded bottom three. But it may well be too little too late with two of the bottom three places still to be decided. 5 out of the last 7 games have gone over the 2.5 goals mark and although Steven Fletcher is leading the line extremely well with 3 goals in his last 2 games, Wolves defence is far from unbreakable and Blackburn’s presence in the air and at set pieces could cause problems.

Blackburn are unbeaten in three games with a vital 1-0 win over Bolton meaning they looked pretty good coming into the end of the seaosn. It may of seemed enough when they played out a drab last 10 minutes against champions Manchester United last week but results around both of these relegation candidates meant they could face the drop if they lose or draw this one. I think Wolves will have the edge, they’ve got home advantage, are free scoring in recent weeks and I just think they’ve got the momentum going into this one, but Blackburn will not lay down, knowing that a loss could seal their relegation if other results go against them. Either way, I foresee a frantic game with at least three goals.

Manchester United v Blackpool (over 2.5 goals)

United will be in celebration mood as they look to end their season in style on Sunday. Although Sir Alex may field a somewhat weakened side the replacements for the likes of Scholes, Giggs or Rooney will be looking to impress in what is traditionally a great opportunity for youth and squad players to make an impression in light of next season. As every man and his dog knows, United’s home record is formidable, with only West Brom being the minor blot on the Old Trafford copy book. I don’t think Ferguson will make wholesale changes but there will certainly be quality in all areas of the pitch and Blackpool will need to be at their very best in order to get the three points and give themselves a chance of staying up.

Ian Holloway’s side may have captured the imagination of many of the Premier League neutrals over the last 8 months or so. They have proved their ability to score and in recent weeks have looked a bit more solid at the back, until they went and conceded 4 against Bolton in a thrilling draw last week. This game is going to be an intriguing one as Sir Alex will know Blackpool are out for the three points, I think they will look to pick off The Seasiders on the counter attack and with a fairly ageing defence in place, this could be a good tactic. This one could be another great game in Blackpool’s season and I think it’ll cover the over 2.5 goals line.

This treble is the long shot of the weekend at around 5/1 with most bookmakers.

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Toppo’s Top Tens – Worst Singing Footballers

This week’s Toppo’s Top Ten takes on a more musical feel and pays homage (well, not quite) to footballer’s who’ve tried their hand at pop stardom.

The lifestyle of a footballer is a glamarous, lavish one. Idolised by fans across the world, their lives are closely followed by the media and amongst some of the most recognised people around, their lives in some ways mirror those of pop stars – so we should not be surprised to see some of them have a go at making music.

A tradition which has petered out in recent years, some would say for the better, is the FA Cup Final song. Every year teams in the final would team up with someone in the charts and record a number celebrating their achievement, think Tottenham Hotspur’s ‘Ossie’s Dream’ penned and sung by Spurs’ fans Chas & Dave in 1981.

Sometimes players have gone it alone and tried to make a successful singing career for themselves with rather underwhelming results – here’s a top ten rundown with a difference….

10: Johan Cruyff

One of the all-time great footballers, Johan Cruyff once tried his hand at singing, with less impressive results. The song “Oei Oei Oei (Das Was Me Weer een Loei) was written by Peter ‘Dutch Elvis’ Koelewijn, and recorded by a 22-year-old Cruyff in 1969 as his burgeoning reputation was increasing in his native Holland with Ajax. The jaunty number was a hit in the Netherlands and in Spain four years later, when it was re-released (in Dutch, mind) following Cruyff’s move to Barcelona. Apparently he was so nervous prior to recording he needed a few drinks to steady himself, quite apt really as you’d need to be more than tipsy to enjoy it.

9: Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey

American international Clint Dempsey teamed up with rappers XO and Big Hawk to record ‘Don’t Tread’ ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Dempsey raps himself and while he may be no Eminem, he holds his own amongst more illustrious rapping company, laying down some lyrics about life in the tough area of Fulham.

8: Liverpool FA Cup Final Squad

This FA Cup Final tune makes it into the countdown as it is sung wholly by the Liverpool side which reached the Wembley finale in 1988. John Barnes kicks off proceedings with the line ‘Liverpool FC is hard as hell – United, Tottenham, Ars-enelle….’ and things quickly continue to go downhill. Barnes is followed up by some questionable rapping from the likes of John Aldridge, Steve McMahon, Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve Nicol. Aussie midfielder Craig Johnston teamed up with rapper Derek B to create the song which reached the lofty heights of #3 in the UK Singles Chart.

7: Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle

A famous example of singing footballers which could not be ignored. In 1987 Tottenham Hotspur and England team-mates Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle collaborated to give the music world Diamond Lights. The cheesy number reached #12 in the UK Charts and the mulleted pair appeared on Top of the Pops as the song charted – notice Hoddle’s miming go array near the end of the clip. You get the feeling it was Glenn’s idea as he confidently leads the vocals clearly loving the experience, while Chris awkwardly shuffles and mumbles his way through the track.

6: Franz Beckenbauer

German football legend Franz Beckenbauer was quite the crooner back in his homeland during the 1960’s. The young midfielder was fast becoming the lynchpin in successful Bayern Munich and Germany sides whilst serenading Bavarian women everywhere with songs such as ‘Du bist das Gluck’ (‘You are happiness’) and ‘Eins-null fur die Liebe’ (‘1-0 for Love.’) However his vocal ability is best remembered for ‘Gute freunde kann niemand trennen’ (‘Good friends can never be seperated.’) Here Beckenbauer interrupts a team-talk to give a performance of the uplifiting number…..

5: Ian Wright

After retiring as a player Ian Wright carried on his career through media work and starring in the infamous Chicken Tonight commercial, so it comes as little surprise the former Arsenal and England marksman had a go at singing in 1993. The result was ‘Do The Right Thing’ a tune co-written with Gunners fan Chris Lowe of The Pet Shop Boys. It sounds very much part of the early-1990’s dance craze although Ian’s dance moves in the video leave a lot to be desired – nice hat though Wrighty!

4: Kevin Keegan

In 1979 King Kev released his own hit single. England’s best footballer had also just helped Hamburg to their first Bundesliga title in 19 years and won the European Footballer of the Year title for the second year running. The middle-of-the-road song was called ‘Head Over Heels in Love’ and reached #31 in the UK Singles Chart where it stayed for 6 weeks. In Germany it faired much better, almost making it to #1.

This clip is classic Keegan, his big flares, an even bigger perm and a late 70’s disco feel accompany his performance of the song. Typically the Germans must’ve loved it, they buy David Hasselhoff’s records afterall…..

3: Andy Cole

In 1999 Andy Cole was helping Manchester United win the treble. He was also releasing his own single, which flopped reaching a pitiful #69 in the charts. The song was called ‘Outstanding’ but was anything but. A cover of The Gap Band’s 1982 hit, Cole laid down some rap lyrics over it as clean cut as you’d ever wish to find – one line in particular stands out: ‘I reminisce back to the school yard. I used to work hard. I used to play hard. Got my kicks. From hitting the net. Not from drugs.’ Edgy.

2: Paul Gascoigne

In 1990 ‘Gazzamania’ was in full swing. Earlier in the year his performances for England helped them to the World Cup semi-finals and his tears after being booked against West Germany endeared him to the hearts of everyone watching back home. The cheeky Geordie released a record, teaming up with Lindisfarne to re-work their hit ‘Fog on the Tyne’ but it is Gascoigne’s next assault on the pop charts which makes the list.

‘Geordie Boys (Gazza Rap)’ celebrates the male population of Newcastle accompanied by some pretty poor dance sampling in the background. The video for the song isn’t much better as it mainly consists of Gazza attempting to run and strip off at the same time. It has to be seen to be believed.

1: Chris Waddle and Basile Boli

On ‘Diamond Lights’ Chris Waddle played second fiddle to Glenn Hoddle however the winger was ready to step out of the shadows and have another go at music. By 1991 Waddle was playing for Marseille in France, part of an entertaining team feared around Europe. Team-mate Basile Boli is remembered mainly on these shores for headbutting Stuart Pearce when England met France at Euro ’92 but here, he teams up with Waddle to give us ‘We’ve Got a Feeling,’ a unique pop record accompanied by a quite surreal video.

It’s hard to work out what’s worse, the pair’s Dad dancing midway through or Waddle’s Geordie-French rapping accent and after a few listens I’m still not sure what the song’s about.

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Nottingham Forest in the play-offs: Lady Luck, refereeing decisions and all that….

Less than 24 hours after Nottingham Forest’s cruel defeat to Swansea City in the Championship playoff semi-finals you’d think I’d be used to it. Our fourth semi-final defeat in eight years is hard to stomach but I feel immensely proud of the second half performance from those wearing the Garibaldi. 2-0 down to a Swansea side so dominant at home it looked to be all over but after half-time the Reds put in an outstanding performance which deserved so much more than it got. Forest hit the woodwork three times and had good penalty claims ignored – had something gone our way things could have been different.

So soon after such a defeat it’s far from easy to take a rational look on things as I reflect on events and still smart from seeing my team lose as they did. I’ll be the first to congratulate Swansea on their success and praise them for the fine footballing side they are. Following Neil Taylor’s red card a minute into the first leg at the City Ground they kept the ball and frustrated Forest with a well-executed rearguard display. In the second game they again showed their attacking flair and during a 10 minute spell in the first half pulled two goals clear. One of the best sides in the division, they’ll be a welcome addition to the Premier League should they be victorious in the final.

Prior to the tie against Swansea, Billy Davies reiterated on several occasions that these sort of games come down to lady luck and refereeing decisions. It is often said you make your own luck in this game however upon examining Forest’s playoff history (as painful as it may be) it becomes clear that they have rarely had the crucial breaks when it mattered most….

In 2003 Paul Hart’s young, entertaining Forest team finished 6th in Division One and qualified for the end of season finale. Sheffield United were the opponents and it was Forest’s first foray into the playoffs. The mood was buoyant and Forest followers felt confident they could overcome the Blades and reach the Millenium Stadium final.

The first game at the City Ground was a tight affair with Forest’s lead given to them by Johnson being cancelled out through Michael Brown’s penalty in the second half. Then came the major talking point. Michael Dawson, Forest’s young centre-back who’d broken into the team and put in some commanding performances during his first season, went in for a tackle on the halfway line with Steve Kabba and fouled the United frontman. The tackle was late but by no means malicious or capable of causing serious injury yet card-happy referee Mark Clattenburg pulled out the red card and sent off the 19-year-old Dawson. A poor decision which robbed Forest of arguably their best defender for the rematch at Bramall Lane five days later.

Michael Dawson gets his marching orders in 2003

Up until the last half-hour of the game Forest were in dreamland as David Johnson and Andy Reid gave them what seemed to be an unassailable 2-0 lead on the night and with 30 minutes to go the Reds looked to have one foot in the final. Then Sheffield United won a free-kick 20 yards from goal.

Michael Brown stepped up, the ball took a huge deflection off the wall and rolled over the line with goalkeeper Darren Ward beaten. With their tails now up after a slice of good fortune the Blades stormed back into the game, Steve Kabba given far too much time to volley an equaliser before Paul Peschisolido’s daisy-cutter and the unfortunate Des Walker own goal spelled the end of Forest’s promotion dream in dramatic circumstances.

Forest boss Paul Hart consoles a distraught Des Walker after Forest's 5-4 aggregate defeat to Sheffield United in 2003

Fast-forward four years and Forest are back in the playoffs, albeit a division lower in League One. Following a seventh-placed finish in 2006 Colin Calderwood’s side finished 4th and would face Yeovil Town who’d only been a football league club for four seasons. The first leg at Huish Park went to plan for Forest as they ran out 2-0 winners thanks to penalties from Kris Commons and James Perch. Ahead of the second-leg at the City Ground Forest just had to remain professional, do their jobs and look forward to a trip to Wembley.

What followed was one of the most incredible football matches I have ever seen and reliving it now I still cannot believe what happened. Forest conceded 5 at home to be knocked out 5-4 on aggregate. However with 81 minutes on the clock they were 3-1 up on aggregate and looked to be seeing out the game, after Arron Davies’ first half strike was cancelled out on the night by Scott Dobie.

Yeovil pushed forward and after a curling 25 yard shot from Kalala came back out off the post, it bounced up, hit Forest defender Alan Wright on the head ten yards from goal and agonisingly rolled into the far corner of the net with Paul Smith scrambling in vain across the goal line. Bad luck for Forest – the goal gave Yeovil a lift and minutes later they levelled the tie through Marcus Stewart’s header. A shell-shocked Forest collapsed in extra time, Lee Morris and Davies again either side of Gary Holt’s volley knocking Forest out in front of a stunned home crowd. By now the play-offs were Forest’s worst nightmare.

Yeovil salute the fans after their second-leg victory at the City Ground, 2007

Forest did get their promotion a year later automatically and in 2010 were back in the play-offs, this time in the Championship with Billy Davies as manager. The good times were back at the City Ground, Forest exceeding all expectations as they finished third behind Newcastle and West Brom playing some exciting football throughout the season. Davies’ team faced 6th placed Blackpool, written off as underdogs by many but capable themselves of playing open, attractive football and the tie was to be memorable for many reasons.

In the first leg Keith Southern and Charlie Adam’s penalty gave Blackpool a 2-1 win after Chris Cohen’s outstanding volley had put Forest 1-0 up. For the return on Trentside the atmosphere was electric and the home crowd expectant. Forest had not lost on home turf since Blackpool’s fortuitous 1-0 victory over them in September and were fancied to overturn the goal deficit and reach a play-off final at the third time of asking.

Robert Earnshaw’s sixth minute strike levelled the tie as Forest fans exploded into delirium believing the dream was on. Blackpool’s players kept calm to their credit and Forest could not find a quick-fire second goal, however with minutes to go until halftime the ball was played to Dexter Blackstock just past the halfway line as Blackpool’s defence pushed up and the Forest man was flagged offside. The decision was clearly the wrong one and denied the striker a clean run at goal with just the goalkeeper to beat. Had Forest netted there then things could have been different.

Forest players mob Robert Earnshaw after his goal levelled the tie against Blackpool, 2010

They did score after the break though, Robert Earnshaw putting the ball in but frustratingly it was chalked off – this time the correct decision for offside but after the Blackstock one earlier Reds players and fans had every reason to feel aggrieved.

Blackpool continued to threaten and were playing good football, remaining composed in possession and DJ Campbell’s lofted effort over the on-rushing Lee Camp put them back ahead in the tie ten minutes after the restart. On 66 minutes though Forest levelled again, Robert Earnshaw clinically firing a loose ball into the roof of the net in front of a joyous Trent End and now Forest had the momentum and an opportunity to push on.

But six minutes later disaster struck in the form of Stephen Dobbie. The substitute, on loan from Swansea, hit a shot from 25 yards out which would have gone straight to goalkeeper Camp. However the ball ricocheted off a Forest defender, spun the wrong side of the post and into the net with the ‘keeper wrongfooted. Dobbie sprinted away celebrating exuberantly and the lucky goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Forest. Blackpool ran rings around the Reds’ defence as DJ Campbell completed a hat-trick to send his side to Wembley. Ian Holloway’s men deserved great credit for the performances they gave across those two legs but Forest could feel hard done by in some respects.

Blackpool celebrate reaching the Wembley play-off final in 2010

And now we come to Forest’s fourth attempt at play-off glory. During the 2010/11 season they flirted with the top two and despite a horrible run of form between February and April, five wins from six games propelled them into 6th place and a semi-final showdown against Swansea City. Both sides prevailed at home when they met in the normal league season but that would all go out of the window – it was 180 minutes of football to decide who would progress to the final.

The first-leg at the City Ground began badly for Swansea as left-back Neil Taylor saw red for an awful studs-up challenge on Lewis McGugan after a minute. The Forest fans sensed an opportunity to gain an advantage for the second leg but it did not happen, Swansea in the first half particularly, kept the ball with some composed passing and threatened on the breakaway. It was hard to tell they were down to ten men.

After half-time though Forest stepped up their game and went at Swansea, whilst maybe not at their very best The Reds fashioned chances and felt they should have had a penalty when Chris Cohen’s goalbound shot was blocked by Alan Tate with his arm raised in the box. The referee and linesman did not see the incident and from the resulting corner Forest scored, although Earnshaw’s header was rightly disallowed as the Welshman was offside. A frustrating 0-0 draw was celebrated by the travelling support but the tie was not over and it would come down to the second leg in South Wales.

Chris Cohen appeals for a penalty in the first leg of the semi-final

Within five minutes of the return Forest hit the bar after Nathan Tyson’s bursting run upfield. He squared the ball to David McGoldrick whose first-time effort shook the frame of the goal and bounced away to safety. Forest contained their hosts well but Leon Britton’s excellent 25-yard drive put them ahead and soon after, Stephen Dobbie would come back to haunt Forest yet again, his piercing run finished off with a clinical left-foot finish into the bottom corner. Forest battled on and referee Andre Marriner failed to take action against Alan Tate as he tugged away at Nathan Tyson’s shirt in the penalty area, but decided to book Chris Gunter for that very offence minutes later even though it looked as the Forest man did not have much of a hold on Nathan Dyer’s jersey.

2-0 at half-time and it all seemed over, Swansea with the best home record in the division and a team so adept at keeping the ball now just 45 minutes from a place in the final, it was do or die for Nottingham Forest.

In the second half they looked a different team, taking the game to their opponents. Marcus Tudgay wasted a golden opportunity as he skied his shot into the Forest faithful behind the goal after being set up by McGoldrick. Forest did earn themselves a free-kick which Lewis McGugan smashed off the crossbar, inches away from getting back into the tie.

Billy Davies threw on Robert Earnshaw and the decision paid off as on 80 minutes, the striker set up a grandstand finish with his first touch, firing Radoslaw Majewski’s pass beyond Dorus De Vries for 2-1. Game on. Throughout the second half Forest looked a much better team and were playing football as good as what Swansea had offered.

A frantic last ten minutes saw both teams fashion opportunities as Swansea threatened on the counter-attack but as the match entered injury-time it was Forest who went close again. Earnshaw collected the ball after some neat interplay and from inside the penalty area struck a low shot which hit the post and rolled away to safety. For a third time the woodwork denied Forest and on another night that ball may have rolled over the line or gone to the waiting Kris Boyd for an easy tap-in.

Still Forest piled on the pressure knowing an equaliser would change the complexion of the game entirely. A minute after hitting the post Earnshaw volleyed a shot at goal which was blocked by Swansea defender Ashley Williams with both hands in the air away from his body. As blatant a handball as you’re likely to see yet the referee nor linesman, with a clear-cut view, gave a penalty. A critical decision and after that, along with what had gone before, it just seemed it would not be Forest’s night.

Robert Earnshaw's shot strikes the hand of Ashley Williams

That belief was emphatically rammed home from the resulting corner, Lee Camp was up field as the set-piece was cleared, Lewis McGugan slipped at a crucial moment and the ball broke to Darren Pratley. The man heavily linked with a move to Forest in pre-season carried the ball forward and hit a shot from inside his own half which bounced into the unguarded net to confirm Swansea’s place at Wembley. It’s very rare you see goals scored after the ‘keeper goes up for a corner-kick but it had to happen to Forest just to rub salt into the wounds.

Three times Forest hit the woodwork, twice they had good penalty claims waved away and saw a combination of bad luck and poor officiating deny them an equaliser and maybe more. While Swansea played well across the two legs Forest are left to wonder what might have been.

In the past Forest’s playoff defeats have been far from glorious – on many occasions the Reds have capitulated in the most unbelievable of circumstances. Despite that they have not had those little breaks, that rub of the green which can be so critical in playoff football. Regardless of how well you play sometimes you need that good fortune at crucial moments but sadly it has eluded the team from the banks of the River Trent.

We can take pride from the way Forest played in the Liberty Stadium last night and can take many positives into next season where we hope another promotion push will be forged.

The hope now is that Nottingham Forest build a side capable of going for the top two as no Forest fan ever wants to endure those dreaded playoffs again. However, if we do end up in them one more time and are helped out by a deflected strike, some generous refereeing or a goal which goes in off the arse of an opposition player then I for one will not be complaining. We’re due a bit of luck like that.

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FIFA…for the good of the game?

I’m angry with FIFA. I’ll admit it’s partly because I’m still bitter about the spectacular failure of the England 2022 World Cup bid, but it’s also because of the allegations which have come to light this week. In case you somehow missed it, Lord Triesman (former FA chairman) has said that four FIFA executive committee members sought bribes in exchange for votes in favour on an England World Cup in 2022, and that two actually were bribed by the Qatar bid team.

The allegations made by Triesman are; Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago asked on two occasions for money, one for £2.5million and one for £500,000. That Paraguay’s Nicolas Leoz asked for a knighthood in return for baking England’s World Cup bid. That Thai Wowari Makudi asked for a friendly match against England in exchange for backing England’s bid, and that Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira asked “what do you have for me?”. Triesman admits that Teixeria’s question is ambiguous, but said that to him it seemed a request for personal gain. There is also an allegation that Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma were paid £900,000 and £920,000 respectively for backing the successful Qatar bid. Triesman says himself that their actions are “Way out of what the ethics committee would expect or what FIFA would expect”.

To me this all seems like another example of the failings of FIFA, another instance of a group of corrupt men making decisions that affect worldwide football and therefore directly affect billions of people the world over. Take the goal-line technology debate as another example; FIFA have agreed to start testing the technology needed…but won’t meet to discuss results until the summer of 2012. So that’s right before the Euros? So it almost certainly won’t be implemented in time for that competition? Sure. That’s a good idea FIFA. We’ll pop that right below your idea of a winter World Cup on your list of stupid ideas.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand, the bribery allegations. Many people will wonder whether conduct like this will result in an expulsion from FIFA if the conduct is proven. There’s a simple answer; not only should they be expelled on moral grounds, they will, if found guilty, have to be expelled. Why? Because the very rules which govern FIFA say so.

I’ve spent a good hour reading through two crucially important documents, firstly the 84 page long “FIFA Statutes” (the rules which govern how the organisation is run) and, at only 13 pages long, the much smaller “FIFA Code of Ethics”. You’ll never guess what quotes I was able to pull from these…time and time again the mention of words such as integrity, honesty, ethics. And in the Code of Ethics a great quote at point 4.3, “Officials who do not comply with this Code or severely fail to fulfil, or inadequately exercise, their duties and responsibilities, particularly in financial matters, are no longer eligible and shall be removed from office.” Not might be removed, shall be removed. And again at point 3.1 “They shall respect the significance of their allegiance to FIFA…and represent them honestly, worthily, respectably and with integrity.” Both of these clauses place high importance on the ethics of governing world football and on the importance of doing so correctly.

Forgive me if I’m being a tad harsh, but accepting bribes would seem to go very much against this overriding objective of acting with such integrity and honesty, whether or not there’s a specific clause mentioning bribes. Oh hang on, what? There is a bribery clause? Fantastic! So here it is, at point 10.1 “Accepting gifts of cash in any amount or form is prohibited” and 11.1 “Officials may not accept bribes; in other words, any gifts or other advantages that are offered, promised or sent to them to incite breach of duty or dishonest conduct for the benefit of a third party shall be refused.”

Apologies for the lengthy quotes but they’re important in getting the point across. The point being this; that (and remember these allegations are without proof as of yet) if the allegations of asking for or accepting bribes is proven or admitted then there really should be only one outcome, the lifelong expulsion of the guilty parties from FIFA and any other footballing bodies. For it is not just a question of them abusing their power, it would amount to a serious breach of the very conditions which supposedly govern FIFA. At this level of a governing body officials are always expected to act impartially and without personal gain, and if this is shown to have breached then anything other than immediate expulsion of the six, or possibly more, guilty men would be an absolute failure by FIFA to cut out corruption at the highest tier of football.

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Blatter et al have even heard of, let alone read those two important documents. For an organisation which supposedly places the utmost of importance on governing with honesty and integrity and for the good of the game they’ve made some questionable decisions of late. Voting to stage a World Cup in Qatar, a country which exceeds 50 degree heats in the summer, only to then backtrack and consider a winter world cup, before realising that the idea isn’t feasible and confirming it’ll take place in the summer. Refusing to allow goal-line technology for years until finally they accept it needs to be looked into, then putting off even talking about it until 2012. Right down to silly things like booking a player for celebrating with the crowd or removing his shirt when he scores. And don’t even get me started on how governing bodies (and this, as well as the World Cups, includes UEFA and the Champions League final in particular) decide it’s okay for them to take 30% of the tickets and distribute them to the ‘footballing family’.

What irritates football fans above all is, I think, a loss of understanding by FIFA of the very reason that they exist. Blatter and his loyal executive committee seem to have forgotten that football should be cared for, looked after and promoted as the wonderful game it is, not farmed out to Qatar for questionable reasons and maximum profit. You wonder whether the men of FIFA realise how lucky they really are. Huge salaries for meeting twice a year (literally twice a year), going to football matches whenever they like for free, and the chance to make a real impact on football worldwide. Unfortunately it seems that the impact made by FIFA is an ever increasingly bad one.

Having briefly gone back over the FIFA Statutes and the Code of Ethics it seems that if these men are indeed guilty then they have breached a large number of regulations. In the FIFA Statutes; rules 2(a), 2(e), 4.1(a), 7.1 and 15.1. In the Code of Ethics; 3.1, 4.3, 5.2, 10.1 and 11.1. And these are just some I noted down by skimming them, there could be many more. If the allegations are true then they should serve as an example to the rest of FIFA, and indeed to governing bodies worldwide, that acting for personal gain should not and will not be tolerated. It’d be a good opportunity to cut out the dead wood and make FIFA fit to serve its purpose, to get back to governing football instead of acting with greed.

As a parting shot, allow me to remind FIFA of this; that their very own rules state that a FIFA committee member acting dishonestly or in serious breach of the FIFA Statutes or Code of Ethics “shall be removed from office”.

The ball is in your court FIFA, the world is watching. For once, please, from an exasperated football fan and someone who has taken the time to find out what your own rules say, please just do the right thing and kick them out once and for all. Maybe then, and only then, people will take you seriously.

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OptaJoke Betting Blog – The Final Countdown (Part 1)

As the end of the season is now within site the games become more and more sparse across the country. With the regular Football League season drawn to a close all that’s left is to decide which of the 4 teams within the play-offs will gain promotion. There are however a couple more Premier League weekends and not forgetting the FA cup final show-piece to consider when trying to find some long shots for the betting blog this weekend. Last week our safer option of a double on Southampton and Middlesbrough to end their seasons with a win produce the goods at a tidy 2/1 so congratulations if you were on board with that one, fingers crossed for a repeat performance this weekend.

FA Cup final: Manchester City v Stoke (Wembley)

Manchester City are generally available at around 10/11 (1.9) to beat Stoke in 90 minutes on Saturday, that’s a tempting price given the fact that The Potters are likely to be without Robert Huth and Matthew Etherington who have played such a big part in their good form this season. That said, Tony Pulis’ side will be fired up for this one and cheered on by their vocal supporters they should not be counted out. If City fans think they are going to get an easy ride in this one they need only look at Stoke’s dominating performance over Arsenal last weekend. Yes, the gunners were defensively frail at times but Stoke looked comfortable and were certainly not overawed by playing against a big side.

Roberto Mancini may start with Carlos Tevez up front after he got a run out against Spurs midweek but I’m not sure he’ll take the risk when he has Balotelli and Dzeko ready to step up if needed. One player who has got on the scoresheet a few times this season is David Silva. I’ve been really impressed with the Spaniards work rate in recent weeks and he looks a constant threat when he has the ball at his feet, he is rather overpriced at 10/1 with William Hill to open to scoring and Unibet have him at 3/1 to score anytime which could be worth a look if you fancy something to maintain interest throughout the game.

David Silva to score first 10/1 – William Hill

David Silva to score anytime 3/1 – Unibet

Liverpool v Tottenham

The home side are made favourites here and quite rightly in my opinion. They have been on an unstoppable run of form which has seen them leapfrog Tottenham into 5th place after they blew Fulham away on Monday night. Luis Suarez has looked every inch the Premier League striker since his arrival on Merseyside and with Maxi Rodriguez in such red hot form it’s difficult to see Liverpool not carving out chances in this one. That victory over Fulham made 3 on the bounce and with the recent draw with Arsenal and impressive 3-0 victory over Manchester City making up their last 5 games, Kenny Dalglish’s side will be confident of getting three points at Anfield on Sunday.

Spurs have looked a team short of confidence in recent weeks, they were somewhat fortunate to escape the Blackpool game with a point and after a somewhat lacklustre display against Manchester City in the week Harry Redknapp must be a little concerned about their recent results. The fact that Champions League qualification may be fresh in the minds of some players and with the season winding down I simply don’t see that they are going to be as motivated and hungry as a Liverpool side who are looking to finish the season in style and celebrate King Kenny’s new permanent contract at the club. Spurs’ record in recent week speaks volumes, they’ve won just one of their last 10 league games and have struggled against sides they would expect to beat and ultimately, that is what has cost them a place in next season’s Champions League.

This really is a case of two clubs going in opposite directions in terms of the form table. The reds are being tipped for the top next season and while I remain unconvinced that they can challenge Manchester United and Chelsea I think they will have enough to see this one out and claim the three points with a few goals to boot.

Liverpool win with 3 or 4 goals in the game is my bet for this one which is priced at 5/2 with Paddy Power.

As always, good luck and gamble responsibly.

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Toppo’s Top Tens – FA Cup Finals

It’s that time of year again when FA Cup Final weekend approaches and fans across the country look forward to the showpiece final of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. The 130th FA Cup Final will be contested by Manchester City and Stoke City in front of over 90,000 spectators at Wembley and millions of people watching all over the globe.

The FA Cup has had its criticisms over the years for contributing to fixture congestion and seeing bigger clubs fielding weaker teams in earlier rounds but it is very much part of football heritage in this country and final day is one fans here and across the world look forward to. The cup has thrown up some unforgettable finals with goal fests, last minute strikes and the odd upset which the competition is famous for and this week the top ten picks out some of the greatest FA Cup Finals ever played.

10: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool 1971

Two of the country’s best sides met at Wembley in 1971 in a match which really became exciting once it entered extra-time. A tactical battle was the story of normal time however Arsenal nearly won it as future Gunners boss George Graham hit the bar with a header 12 minutes from the end. Two minutes into extra-time Steve Heighway put Liverpool in front, beating ‘keeper Bob Wilson at his near post only for Eddie Kelly to level matters nine minutes later. The game looked as if it would head for a replay however on 111 minutes, Charlie George produced one of the FA Cup’s iconic goals, a 20-yard drive which beat Ray Clemence and won the Gunners the league and cup double.

9: Liverpool 3-1 Everton 1986

The 1986 FA Cup Final was an all-Merseyside affair as Liverpool and Everton descended upon Wembley for a derby game with the cup at stake. Liverpool pipped their city rivals to the league title just a few weeks before so Everton were seeking revenge and took a first half lead through Gary Lineker, pouncing on his first shot saved by Bruce Grobbelaar. However in the second half the Reds took control and equalised through Ian Rush. They added to their lead on 62 minutes as Craig Johnston poked the ball home from 8 yards, then Rush grabbed his second 20 minutes later, controlling Ronnie Whelan’s lobbed pass and firing into the bottom corner. The win saw Liverpool secure the double in Kenny Dalglish’s first season as player-manager.

8: Blackpool 4-3 Bolton Wanderers 1953

Sir Stanley Matthews is one of England’s all-time footballing greats and one of his finest moments came at the age of 38 in the FA Cup Final of 1953. Twice a runner up, it proved to be third time lucky for Matthews as his Blackpool team overcame a Bolton side with the goalscoring prowess of Nat Lofthouse up front. Lofthouse gave the Trotters the lead just two minutes in but Stan Mortensen levelled. Bobby Langton and Eric Bell then made it 3-1 to Bolton with 55 minutes gone.

Blackpool, in an attempt to recover, kept feeding the ball out wide to Matthews, whose wingplay proved too much for Bolton’s tiring full-backs and he set up Mortensen for a second goal 20 minutes from the end, then his hat-trick with two minutes to go. In stoppage-time Matthews continuted to torment Bolton and he set up winger Bill Perry to make it 4-3 and complete the most remarkable of turnarounds and deservedly it would be the Seasiders who got their hands on the trophy.

7: Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal 2001

The 2001 FA Cup Final was the first to be played outside England as the Millennium Stadium in Wales hosted the showpiece whilst Wembley was being re-developed and the first final in Cardiff was not short of drama. In the first half Gunners striker Thierry Henry broke away from the defence, rounded Sander Westerveld but saw his shot blocked on the line by Stephane Henchoz’s arm. Despite furious protests nothing was given and Henchoz got away with it.

With 19 minutes to go Arsenal finally broke the deadlock as Freddie Ljungberg rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. Thierry Henry then saw a fine Westerveld save deny him the opportunity to extend Arsenal’s lead. Liverpool chased an equaliser and with seven minutes to go levelled, Michael Owen acrobatically pounced on a loose ball in the box and fired a volley into the net. Then with two minutes left, Patrik Berger hit a 40 yard pass upfield into Owen’s path, the England striker outpaced Lee Dixon, took a touch and on his weaker left foot, hit a shot across David Seaman low into the bottom corner to win the cup for Liverpool. A dramatic moment in a memorable season for Gerard Houllier’s team as they won the League Cup, FA Cup and a few days after this victory claimed the UEFA Cup.

6: Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United 1973

When Second Division Sunderland met top-flight Leeds United, challenging at the top of the league and one of the strongest teams in the country, few gave the Mackems a chance. The 1973 FA Cup Final was entertaining as the two teams looked for goals and it was Sunderland who took the lead, Leeds failing to clear a corner and the ball fell to Ian Porterfield, who controlled it and rifled it high into the net. The underdogs were in front but had to sustain mounting Leeds pressure. Midway through the second half came a famous moment as Sunderland goalkeeper Jim Montgomery, having a fine game thus far, pulled off an incredible double save. Trevor Cherry’s header was palmed away by Montgomery, it fell to Peter Lorimer who struck a powerful shot at goal from 10 yards but somehow Montgomery lept up diverted the ball onto the crossbar where it bounced away to safety. Sunderland held on for a 1-0 win becoming the first Second Division team to win the cup since 1931 as manager Bob Stokoe ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his players.

5: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United 1979

Known as ‘the five-minute final’ when Arsenal and Manchester United met under the Twin Towers in 1979 the game came to life in the last five minutes with three dramatic goals. For 85 minutes Arsenal dominated and were 2-0 ahead with goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton but United fought back, Gordon McQueen sweeping home a ball into the box for 2-1. Sammy McIlroy then beat two players and squeezed an effort under the goalkeeper and into the net with just two minutes to go. As the game looked to be going to extra-time Arsenal went upfield and Graham Rix hit a deep cross in from the left. Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey missed it and it fell at the back post to Alan Sunderland, who knocked it over the line and won the cup for the Gunners in a breathtaking finish to the match.

4: Manchester United 3-3 Crystal Palace 1990

The latter stages of the 1990 FA Cup were all about goals. Crystal Palace overcame Liverpool in a 4-3 semi-final thriller whilst Manchester United defeated Oldham in a replay at the same stage following a 3-3 draw in their first meeting. The final was an open, action packed affair with both sides playing attacking football. Palace took the lead on 17 minutes through a Gary O’Reilly header but United captain bryan Robson levelled 35 minutes in. Mark Hughes then put United 2-1 up in the second half and as Palace chased an equaliser, manager Steve Coppell threw on striker Ian Wright, recently recovered from a broken leg which kept him out of their semi-final triumph.

Wright made an immediate impact as he beat two United defenders with a mazy run and slotted a composed finish into the net past Jim Leighton. Mike Phelan hit the bar for United but the scores remained 2-2 as the game entered extra-time. Palace regained the lead in the first half as John Salako’s deep cross was met on the volley by Wright at the back post for his second goal of the match, but in the second period United equalised as Mark Hughes ran on to a through ball and poked it past the goalkeeper for 3-3. The game ended there and in a less-eventful replay United won 1-0 through Lee Martin’s goal, the first trophy Sir Alex Ferguson won as United boss.

3: Coventry City 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur 1987

The 1987 Cup Final was a classic. Coventry City were in their first ever final while Tottenham Hotspur were looking for a record eighth cup triumph and had never lost an FA Cup Final. Coventry were underdogs and fell behind in the second minute as footballer of the year Clive Allen notched his 49th goal of an incredible season. Coventry fought back and equalised through winger Dave Bennett but Gary Mabbutt restored Tottenham’s lead five minutes before half time. 

Both teams were playing open attacking football and Coventry equalised through a fine goal. Bennett carried the ball down the right and crossed for Keith Houchen to score with a superbly executed diving header – a famous cup final goal. At 2-2 the game entered extra time and Coventry went ahead, Lloyd McGrath played the ball into the box from the right where it deflected off Gary Mabbutt’s outstretched leg and looped over Ray Clemence in the Tottenham goal. Coventry held out to win their first ever trophy amid jubilant celebrations from the team and Sky Blue supporters around Wembley.

2: Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Manchester City 1981

The last time Manchester City were in the cup final they and Tottenham Hotspur delivered a memorable occasion, fittingly as it was the 100th final in the cup’s history. The first match at Wembley ended 1-1 and went to a replay under the Twin Towers a few days later. The game ebbed and flowed from start to finish and in the first 10 minutes Ricardo Villa and Steve McKenzie’s outstanding volley made the score 1-1. In the second half Kevin Reeves scored with a penalty to put City 2-1 up but with 20 minutes to go Tottenham levelled, Garth Crooks poking the ball past Joe Corrigan to score. 

With 15 minutes to go Ricky Villa would settle matters with a goal that is replayed year upon year on cup final day. Collecting the ball 25 yards from goal Villa was faced with blue shirts but the Argentine, substituted in the first game, jinked past one defender, then another and the first defender once more before slotting the ball into the net as the keeper came out of goal. Villa ran off in celebration and was mobbed by team mates as Spurs went on to win an entertaining final.

1: Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United (Liverpool win 4-3 on penalties) 2006

Liverpool pulled off a dramatic win in the first Millennium Stadium final and they won in even more dramatic circumstances in the last final to be played at the venue in May 2006. West Ham United were back in the Premier League and Alan Pardew, who’d played in Palace’s defeat to Manchester United 1990, led the Hammers to a first cup final since 1980.

Pardew’s men took the lead early on as from a Lionel Scaloni cross, Jamie Carragher put one through his own net in comical fashion, his attempted backheel clearance bouncing off his standing foot and rolling in the net as he fell to the floor. West Ham made it 2-0 on 28 minutes, Pepe Reina failed to hold onto Matthew Etherington’s shot and Dean Ashton pounced to knock the ball in under the goalkeeper and a shock was on the cards. Four minutes later though Liverpool pulled a goal back, Djibril Cisse volleying in Steven Gerrard’s lofted ball forward from 18 yards out.

Ten minutes after half time Gerrard netted the equaliser. A knockdown from Peter Crouch bounced in the area and Gerrard ran onto it, volleying the ball high into the top corner in front of the Liverpool fans. The game was pulsating and on 64 minutes West Ham went back in front as a speculative cross from Paul Konchesky sailed over everyone in the penalty area, including the goalkeeper and into the far side of the net. As the clock ticked down West Ham looked as if they may hold on but as both sets of players began falling to the floor with cramp time was added on and in injury time the Hammers defence cleared the ball out of the box and it bounced toward Steven Gerrard. He ran onto the ball and from 30 yards out unleashed an unstoppable dipping volley which beat Shaka Hislop and sent the game into extra-time.

In the extra period players continued to suffer with cramp although with minutes left West Ham went agonisingly close, Marlon Harewood miscuing a shot wide from close range. The match went to penalties with Liverpool scoring three and West Ham missing three of their four, including Pepe Reina saving Anton Ferdinand’s effort to clinch victory. After their 3-3 draw and penalty shootout win over AC Milan in the Champions League final a year previously, Liverpool did it again in a fabulous match for the neutrals.

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OptaJoke Betting Blog – Week 17

As the season draws to a close and most of the up and downs around the leagues become set in stone, there isn’t a great deal of value in a lot of teams. A lot of sides will now either be promoted or relegated, assured of a midtable finish or be in position to rest players as they have secured a play-off spot. That said there is still value in keeping a good run going into the end of a season or improving on a downward slope. As usual we are here to give you the best of the bets, the safer option this week is a double and the longer shot is a over 2.5 goals treble.

Middlesbrough to beat Doncaster

‘Boro have been on a great run of form in the last few weeks and are showing glimpses of the form that saw them named amongst the favourites for the Championship title back in August. They are comfortable in 15th but that hasn’t stopped them from dispatching Hull, Coventry and Cardiff in their last 3 games, the later of which was a particularly eye catching performance. They have only lost 1 game in their last 11 and it’s a shame that a poor start to the season handicapped their potential for achieving more this time around, but with Scott McDonald and Julio Arca in good form they will hope to get the three points at The Keepmoat Stadium.

They visit Doncaster Rovers who are without a win in 11 games, they are now safe from the threat of relegation as the other teams are too far adrift. Their squad isn’t the biggest and now the burden of potential relegation is out of the way for this season some younger players may get an opportunity to make an impact. Rovers have a particularly leaky defence which has seen them on the end of some big scorelines this season, they have conceded a rather sizeable 78 goals and with Billy Sharp the only player in double figures going forward things were never going to end well. Although neither of these teams has anything left to play for I think the visitors will want to continue their good run of form into the end of the season and may have too much for a Doncaster side who just can’t buy a win, away win for me.

Southampton v Walsall

Saints sit top of the League One form table having won their last 5 consecutive games and 8 of their last 9. After a disappointing start to the campaign they have hit form at exactly the right time. They have racked up an impressive 41 goals scored at home this season with only 12 conceded, an impressive tally in any league. With no worry of play-off games looming over them there could be no desire to make wholesale changes by Martin Atkins but if he does decided to change things Southamptons squad is far superior to that of most of the teams at this level and they will still be a dangerous proposition.

Walsall visit St Mary’s needing a positive result and hoping that Dagenham and Redbridge don’t outdo them. Although they managed a morale boosting victory over Charlton last time out I just think this may be a step too far and the fact that they have to try and get a result will play into the hands of a Saints side who have scored goals for fun over the last couple of months. The visitors record against the top 6 this season has been pretty poor, winning only one game and losing 8 of their previous encounters with sides that now sit in a play-off place. This one is only going one way in my opinion and that is a home win.

This double pays around 2/1 with most firms.

Over 2.5 goals treble:

Fulham v Liverpool

Fulham come into this one off the back of two consecutive 3-0 victories, and have only failed to find the net in an impressive 18% of their games at Craven Cottage this season. They face a Liverpool side who are also in a rich vein of attacking form with their last 4 games seeing them score 12 times. Maxi is proving a handy threat from midfield notching 4 in his last 2 games and the impact of Suarez and Carroll will continue to improve as the weeks go on. I think this one could be a good game and wouldn’t like to call the result but I see goals.

Stoke v Arsenal

This is exactly the kind of game Arsenal don’t like the look of on the fixture list, Stoke will bombard the Gunners arielly at every opportunity and with a makeshift Arsenal defence likely to be missing John Djourou The Potters will fancy their chances. Stoke have been solid at The Britannnia stadium this season with 9 wins and 4 draws. Arsenal will be smarting after seeing their title hopes dented and will want to get back on track and I can see both teams finding the net at least once here.

Burnley v Cardiff

The home side have been solid on their own turf this year, averaging 68% of their games going over the 2.5 goals mark at Turf Moor. Although they have managed to score 39 goals this year they have also conceded more, 29 to be exact and with the visit of Cardiff we could be in for high scoring affair. The Bluebirds will want to get some form back after thier blip against ‘Boro earlier in the week and will always pose an attacking threat. They have won their last 3 home games and even if they decide to rest players we could see some goals in this one.

This treble returns around 6/1

As always, good luck and gamble responsibly

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