, , , ,

Hello All. I say all – its very possible no-one but me will ever read this, but, well, you know…..

After a prosecco and biscuits fueled conversation at midnight on a Stockholm rooftop (don’t ask), I decided to start putting my endless preoccupation with football into a blog, rather than on internet forums and punctuating every second conversation.

So here we are.

Having actually had some time (and money!) to make it to a game this week, I thought I’d share some Carling Cup musings.

From my ever so comfy £10 North Bank corner seat at the Emirates on Tuesday, I was reminded how being 1 row from the pitch really reinforces how bloody quick and physical the modern game is. Certainly the difference is noticeable compared to standing on the old North Bank, and Shrewsbury could probably have done ok in the old First Division, as I was very impressed by their intensity and skill level in the first half (Particularly Marvin Morgan their absolute giant redwood of a centre forward). Inevitably, as the game went on, Arsenal’s superior technique and fitness began to tell, particularly in the excellence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who although the youngest on the pitch was the most dominant personality in the 2nd half) and Francis Coquelin (who played with great energy, drive and commitment). The away fans were very vocal, and gave their team fantastic support, although I thought the chant of ‘Same old Arsenal, Always Cheating’, was a bit rich given that Coqulin had been flattened twice in 2 minutes and was hobbling around. My initial reaction was also to wonder how they would know, given we haven’t played each other in 20 years, but Sky has changed all that. And most Northern teams have hated Arsenal since the 30s, so not worth losing sleep over.

As a gooner (I know, I know), I love the Carling Cup despite losing 2 finals in 4 years with awful bloody luck and injuries a plenty. Partly I love getting tickets for a tenner, and being able to get tickets at all, but the ‘devaluing of the competition’ (TM – tubthumping british media), means I can generally enjoy the games without getting too stressed out. I love seeing different fan groups rather than the same old EPL lot (personal favourite ever was Lokomotiv Moscow – crazy and very funny), I like seeing opposition players that I don’t know, and most of all I’ve always loved seeing new players coming through.

As a football fan, there is few things more exciting than seeing a quality youngster break into your team, or even spotting a top player for any team for the first time. When you’ve watched as many sweaty men in shorts chasing after pigs bladders as me, with some players, you just KNOW. As an Arsenal fan I have seen the likes of Wilshere, Fabregas, Szchesney in recent times, and further back Vieira, Parlour, Kevin Campbell etc instantly look like they will have a positive impact for some time to come. The same with Giggs, Beckham, Rooney amongst others – within 15 minutes you could tell the player in question BELONGED. Its as much about personality as ability, and illustrates a confidence (as opposed to arrogance) that serves these players well throughout their careers. They KNOW they are good enough, so just get on with it.

As well as hoping to spot the next BIG THING, its always great watching a youngster flourish in an environment relatively free of pressure beyond their own performance, particularly with that added of excitement of first stepping into the spotlight. This is as true in any context, whether it be acting, music, writing, whatever. As humans, most of us have a nurturing instinct, and want to encourage the first flights from the nest. Its one reason why people volunteer to mentor.

Of course, a standout Carling Cup Performance doesn’t necessarily mean a standout career, as in recent times Carlos Vela can empathise with, but its a great chance for the younger players to prove to themselves that they belong.

Outside of Gooner land, it was great to see Owen Hargreaves back, and with a goal, though I wish he’d gone somewhere other than Man City, and their oil billions, as I am starting to despise a club i had previously liked a lot. Nice for their fans, though, who are due a bit of joy, and are generally a nice lot. I also watched Michael Owen’s goals with interest. Its hard to understand why a player with his quality and experience is so happy only playing in relatively meaningless cup games. As well as bad luck with injuries, he’s made some terrible career choices in the last 5 years. Its easy to forget his fantastic record for England up till about 2005, and fitness permitting, he should be able to get 15 goals for SOMEONE if he played a bit more.

Generally a disappointing lack of upsets this round, though most of the games were close.

Anyway, roll on the weekend, and I’ll be glued to the Bolton game.