Originally posted on Youcef's Corner:

Dubbed “The Beautiful Game”, football has seen its fair share of ugliness. From racism to hooliganism to match-fixing. And even sometimes racist hooligans that help fix games. That’s still around, even now. But fashion-wise, things have changed dramatically.

What someone from this generation may consider as trendy and hip, would be completely alien to that of someone who grew up watching the likes of Graeme Souness, Terry Butcher and Billy Whitehurst in the 1980s. Players, especially those of, let’s say, continental origins, have taken to wearing accessories such as gloves and the widely frowned upon “snoods”. When you consider that years ago teams would play in just shorts and t-shirts, whilst having to endure conditions that could be described in today’s game as “unplayable”, you can really see how the game has changed.

Football managers have voiced their dislike for “flamboyant” footwear on more than one occasion over the years…

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I’m sure you’ve always wondered what is the most bizarre thing to have been thrown onto a football pitch is. Well, you curious little soul, it looks like you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my top ten.

10. Sunderland vs Liverpool. 2009. Beach Ball.

I’ll start off with a relatively recent one. At the start of the 2009/10 Premier League season, Liverpool, under the tutelage of Rafa Benitez, travelled to the North East to play Sunderland. Darren Bent’s incisive through ball was well finished by a beach ball with only five minutes played. The beach ball had (hilariously) been thrown onto the pitch by a Liverpool fan. The score stayed at 1-0 for the remaining 85 minutes, and put, according to BBC Sport, “question marks over Liverpool’s title credentials”. Guess it wasn’t that recent then.

9. Newcastle United vs West Ham United. 1988. Mars Bars. 

Paul Gascoigne once said in an interview in his early days at Newcastle that he had a particular love for Mars Bars. So, during his last appearance for his boyhood club, Gazza was showered with Mars Bars from the home fans. And what did everyone’s favourite prankster do? He ate one. Whole.

8. Newcastle United vs Grimsby Town. 1992. Pie.

Staying with the Newcastle United theme, we come to Micky Quinn. In a match between Newcastle United and Grimsby Town in March 1992, a Newcastle fan (what are they like, eh?) threw a pie in the direction of Micky ‘Concrete Boots’ Quinn. Quinn promptly picked it up and ate it.

7. Chelsea vs Arsenal. 2007. Celery.

Celery has long since been synonymous with Chelsea Football Club, but it was in fact Gillingham who first adopted the celery theme at their club. As the story goes, celery used to grow on the pitch at Gillingham’s Priesfield Stadium. In 2007, Chelsea played Arsenal in the Carling Cup final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Some Chelsea fans got a bit excited and decided to toss salad at Arsenal players, which led to celery being banned from Stamford Bridge and, I would imagine cup finals, for the forseeable future.

6. FC Luzern vs FC Basel. 2010. Tennis Balls.

This one is all Roger Federer’s fault. The tennis guy? Yeah him. Let me explain.

FC Luzern and FC Basel were battling it out at the top of the table and were due to meet on Saturday the 6th November 2010. Billed as the biggest game of the Swiss League season, it was due to be broadcast all over Switzerland during a prime time slot.

At the same time, Federer had beaten Andy Roddick in the semi-final of the 2010 Swiss Indoors to set up a final with Novak Djokovic on, yep, you’ve guessed it, November 6th. The Swiss TV people (I apologise, but I know nothing about Swiss television) decided to move the football match to an earlier time the following day because the tennis was deemed more important. Irate Swiss fans (they exist?) from both teams decided to throw a copious amout of tennis balls onto the pitch as soon as the game kicked off. Just as the first wave was cleared and play was ready to resume, the fans launched a second ‘volley’ (I am instantly sorry) of tennis balls to delay the game even further. The game eventually kicked off and with the score at 1-0 to Luzern in the dying seconds, Basel got a 93rd minute equaliser earning them a highly credible draw away to their closest rivals. And to make things even better, Roger Federer, a Basel fan, won his match too.

5. Chile vs New Zealand. 2002. Car Door. 

Towards the end of the World Cup warm-up game between Chile and New Zealand, a Chilean fan ran onto the pitch wielding a car door. He ran amuck for approximately three minutes exhibiting his prize to anyone that would listen. Eventually, he, and his door, were dragged off and cuffed. Before the game was restarted an announcement was put out to the crowd urging Chilean supporters “do not bring car parts into the pitch”. South America, ladies and gentlemen.

4. Club América vs Sao Cãetano. 2004. Wheelbarrow.

South America has a tendency to be a little bit mad when it comes to football. During the quarter final of the 2004 Copa Libatadores between Sao Cãetano and Club America, a red card was given to the mercurial Cuauhtémoc Blanco for lashing out at a Sao Cãetano player. After he left the pitch, it all kicked off between the two sets of players, leading to Blanco rushing out of the dressing room to get involved. The Club América fans took this as their cue to also get involved. What ensued can only be described as biblical. All sorts of debris rained down upon the police, including a couple of wheelbarrows. How on earth do you smuggle that in your purse?

3. Barcelona vs Real Madrid. 2002. Pig’s Head.

Possibly the most defining moment of the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Luis Figo had made the controversial move from Barcelona to Real Madrid, and the abuse he recieved was unrelenting. He didn’t take the corners in his first season back, and was injured in his second season, so his third season was was the first time he had reached the corners of the Nou Camp pitch in a white shirt. Midway through the second half, Madrid won a corner. Amid a shower of flying objects, it took Figo almost two minutes to take it. His inswinger nearly went in, but was tipped over by the Barcelona goalkeeper, Roberto Bonano. Another corner. Figo strolled over to take it from the other side. He slowed to pick up the debris to clear a run up for his corner kick, even faking an ironic swig at a bottle of cola that had landed by his feet. Every time he began his run up, a missile would land, and he would have to pick it up. Stop, pick it up, start again. Eventually the referee suspended the game, and during the 16 minutes the game was held up for, someone spotted a pig’s head had been thrown. Madrid full back Michel Salgado said after the game, “A pig’s head! How the hell did someone bring a pig’s head in? It was probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen, but then that’s the clásico.” Yes it is, Michel, yes it is.

2. Millwall vs Brentford. 1965. Hand Grenade.

Coming in a number two is the most dangerous item on our list which is coincidentally the the oldest. Millwall played Brentford on November the 6th 1965, and after Hugh Curran had scored the equalising goal in Millwall’s 2-1 win, a Millwall supporter threw a grenade into the Brentford penalty area. Chic Brodie, the Brentford goalkeeper, picked it up, inspected it, then casually tossed it into the goal net. Fortunately, it was later found to be a harmless dummy. The following day the Sunday papers went to town with the headlines such as “Handgrenade Shames Football” and “Soccer Marches to War”.

1. Inter Milan vs Atalanta. 2001. Moped.

Perhaps the least inconspicuous item on our list. A motherfucking moped. The story goes that Inter fans stole the moped from an Atalanta fan, then snuck it into the stadium. They attempted to light it on fire, and after failing tried to throw it down from the Upper Section of the San Siro with the intention of the scooter reaching the pitch. I obviously see no fault in that brilliantly devised plan, but I do have two questions for the Vespa-loving Inter fans. 1. How do you get a moped into a football stadium? I’m pretty sure it won’t fit through the turnstiles. And 2. While carrying the moped all the way to the top of the stadium, did you ever question how you’ve come to be in a position where you’re carrying a stolen moped up the stairs of the San Siro? Now, I’ve never been to the San Siro, but I’ve been told it’s a 15 minute walk to reach the Upper Section and it’s extremely tiring, even for fit people. Truly bizarre.

Racism In Football

Posted: December 7, 2012 in World Football

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In times of economic hardship, right wing views become more popular. Football, unfortunately, has not escaped racism’s horrible grip. It seems like wherever you look, someone is being racist. It fills me with sadness that we almost laughed at countries like Russia, Ukraine and Serbia for being so backwards, and now that racism is on our doorstep many of us are trying our best to ignore it.

We’ve had umpteen instances of racial abuse over the last year. The Suarez-Evra debacle was merely the catalyst. Only in a sport such as football, can someone be proven racist yet the team’s fans will still back him. The man is a racist. He pointed to a black player’s skin, multiple times, saying “negrito”. How can you say he’s innocent? If you’ve ever worn a ‘Justice for Suarez’ t-shirt, please stop reading this. I think the internet is lost on you. An eight match ban was par for the course, and completely justified.

But then you’ve got John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. Almost a carbon copy of Suarez-Evragate, but yet Terry got suspended for half as many games. Why? Because he’s England’s Brave John Terry™? Would he have gotten a longer ban had he not been English? It may be controversial, but I honestly believe so. The saddest thing is that he’s still club captain at Chelsea. What kind of a message does that send children? Or the people who pay their money to go to games? It’s actually okay to be racist in 2012, our club captain is. It clearly sent a message to THAT Chelsea fan in the crowd against Man United. Anyway, if you actually saw a monkey on the pitch, why are you chanting at it? Call RSPCA, mate.

Sandwiched between them we had the big scare in Ukraine and Poland about racism. Our brilliant British press spent the whole time looking for anything they could find that could prove their sensationalist articles pre-Euro 2012. And they found nothing. The irony is that back in England, it is the Poles who are subject to horrendous racism.

Then we had the whole Serbia-England U21 fiasco. Racism that was so loud and obvious, yet the Serbian FA decided that they didn’t hear it. The Serbian fans just stopped short of all putting on KKK masks, and the Serbian FA didn’t hear it?! At least UEFA punished them, though. Oh no, wait. UEFA did the most UEFA thing possible and did nothing. Not like them, eh?

And just in the last two weeks, we’ve had three instances of racism in our stands. The Sunderland fan’s gesture at Romelu Lukaku, Marvin Sordell and Millwall Football Club, and West Ham fans’ anti-Semitism towards Spurs last week. I could go on. On that last point, it’s not like West Ham’s chairman, David Gold, is Jewish or anything. Or their previous manager, Uncle Avram, was a Jew. Or that one of their most loved players of the last decade, Yossi Benayoun, is a Hanukkah celebrator. It really is mindless.

So how do we solve all this? It’s pretty simple. With every ticket, a club should give out a copy of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. It’s only £2 on Amazon.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more under-rated English footballer in the Premier League than little Leon Osman. Without bigging him up too much or subjecting myself to the hyperbole of the recognized British press, Osman is merely a continental midfielder who just happens to be born in England. And even his rivals for that central midfield berth in the heart of the English midfield recognize his quality with Jack Wilshere recently tweeting “Osman is a player by the way… plays a bit like Iniesta!”. The 31-year old has been playing Premier League football for the past ten years and certainly deserves his new international team-mate’s acclaim. Even if he’s just a light version of the Spanish maestro.

Let’s hope Osman can carry on his recent good form for Everton when he puts on an England shirt on Wednesday night.

What do you think when I say Stoke City? Long throw-ins? Baseball Caps? British steel? The Potters are probably the most unfashionable Premier League Club around today. In the minds of the broadcast media, a trip to the Britannia is the footballing equivalent of being Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

We have to go back to June 2006 to see where Stoke began their rise. Peter Coates (no relation to Liverpool’s Sebastián) had just bought the club from Gunnar Gíslason and installed Tony Pulis as Manager. I can neither confirm nor deny if he wore his baseball cap to his first press conference. After a poor start to the 2006/07 season, the pressure appeared to be on Pulis from the fans. But Peter Coates dipped into his pocket and provided the funds for Pulis to a bring in a number of players. He managed to sign Michael Duberry, Ricardo Fuller and Danny Higginbotham on permanent deals as well as the high profile loan signings of Lee Hendrie, Ryan Shawcross and Liam Lawrence (the latter of which signed for the club in the January transfer window). This lead to a remarkable turn around in fortunes for the club as they won 4-0 away at Elland Road and began to climb the table before only just missing out on the play-offs and finishing the season in 8th.

Stoke were always going to challenge the following season and the fans expected a few more signings to bolster the promotion push. But Pulis decided against signing a number of players, choosing instead to keep the squad relatively settled with just three new additions. He made Ryan Shawcross’ loan deal permanent in a deal that cost an initial £1 million as well as signing strikers Richard Cresswell and big ol’ Jon Parkin.

Again, Stoke started the season slowly. Only five wins in their first fourteen lead to Pulis to once again dip into the loan market signing Marc Pugh and Leon Cort on temporary deals. And Stoke’s form drastically improved as they only lost once between 24th November and 23rd February which propelled the club into a promotion battle.  They ended the season in second place, two points behind West Brom, earning promotion to the Premier League.

During the Summer of 2008, Stoke made impressive signings in Dave Kitson, Thomas Sorensen and Abdoulaye Faye as well as re-signing Danny Higginbotham as they prepared for their debut season in the Premier League. With the secret weapon that was Rory “The Human Trebuchet” Delap, Stoke notably managed impressive victories over Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City. While the wins over Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton were probably the more important. Despite being tipped to go down easily at the start of the season, Stoke finished their inaugural season in the Premier League in 12th place with 45 points. A whole 11 points above the relegation zone.

And this is where it gets interesting. How have Stoke not been relegated yet? It’s pretty simple. They’ve spent money. And they spent a lot of it.

Stoke owe a lot to their baseball capped nutter (pardon the pun, James Beattie fans). Direct football with tall, strong strikers, tough tackling box-to-box midfielders and nippy, quick wingers is his footballing philosophy, and one that he’s stuck to since he was appointed.  Since they were promoted to the Premier League in 2008, Stoke City have spent £91.5 million (Ninety-Five!). A staggering statistic. This includes a combined £26 million on Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Kenwyne Jones who perfectly fit the Pulis footballing ideology. But maybe they’ve sold players to counter-act the spending? Not at all. They’ve made just £8.65 million from player sales during the same period. So that’s an £80 million net spend in just four years.  To put this into context, only two clubs have a higher net profit in the Premier League over the last four years than Stoke. Man City and Chelsea. That’s a little fact you can astound your mates with.

Despite the extortionate spending in the transfer window, Stoke’s wage budget is only the 15th highest in the Premier League. Stoke City make £67 million turnover a year and £47 million (70 percent) is spent on wages. The percentage is the 11th highest in the league with QPR and Man City spending 180% and 114% of their turnover on wages respectively.  So, yes, their percentage is in keeping with their mid-table position. Incidentally, I worry for QPR’s financial future if they continue to “live the dream” a la Portsmouth. Interestingly, Stoke are the only club in the Premier League that are not saddled with any debt.

After assessing Stoke’s finances and future, there is no reason why they can’t push on from mid-table and into the European places. Just as long as The Britannia carries on being full, and their wealthy benefactor in Peter Coates remains providing cash for Pulis to spend. If Coates pulls out, Stoke fans shouldn’t panic about relegation – they are possibly the most self-sufficient club in the top division. Top ten this season? Would not be surprised.

“Robbie Hall, Robbie Hall, Robbie Robbie Hall!” sang the Oxford faithful. It was a cool Autumn evening in 2011 and Plymouth were the opponents. He’d just scored his second goal to make it 2-1 and his fifth in six games. The cross came in from Damian Batt and Hall’s quick movement of his feet allowed the West Ham loanee to guide the ball with his left past the despairing Jake Cole in the Plymouth goal. Oxford went on to win 5-1, but Robbie Hall was very much the man of the moment, and the man of the match.

Hall has also represent England at U16, U17, U18 and U19 levels. He was a member of the England side that won the 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship in Liechtenstein and has an excellent goalscoring record at that level with eight goals in sixteen appearances.

So it was no surprise that in Spetember 2012, the 18 year old made is Premier League debut.  He came on as a sub for Guy Demel in the 78′ minute in the 3-0 hammering of Fulham.

Hall has been likened to a young, left footed, Jermain Defoe. Now, we all know that no player has ever become the exact same player as one they have been compared to, but Robbie does have the same attributes as Defoe did at his time at Bournemouth. He’s a fox in the box, who’s nippy and is in possession of a powerful, yet accurate, shot.

The only real weakness of Hall’s game is his lack of strength and he tired massively at the end of games during his spell Oxford United. Strength will come with age, and he will certainly be hitting the weights over the next few years.

Can Robbie Hall reach the heights of Jermain? Only time will tell. But the future is certainly bright for young Robbie. He’s a Premier League player in the making.

Born to Moroccan parents in Etterbeek, a small town near Brussels, the afro-ed box-to-box midfielder has flourished into one of the top midfielders currently playing in the Premier League. Fellaini is similar to Man City’s Yaya Touré in the way he can play in multiple positions and can dominate the midfield with his height and power as well as being able to burst through defences like a wall of water against four ficus trees. We are told by some pundit after every game that Fellaini has played well in that he has a “good touch for a big man”. He doesn’t. He has a good touch for a footballer. And he can reach the top of this sport.

Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad today, Fellaini said the following:

“I have started my fifth season at Everton and this will be one of my last seasons. I have seen everything. In January, or at the end of the season, I will look for another club or league.”

Looks pretty clear he’s set to leave Goodison Park. And it’s understandable if he is to fulfil his clear potential.

Where will he be off to? Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have been keen admirers of the Belgian for years. He rejected Manchester United when signed for Everton in 2008, and they will surely be interested after his last two performances against them. He would be a perfect fit in a rather threadbare Manchester United midfield that is not getting any younger. To be honest, he’d fit in at any major club. It’s a no-brainer to bring a player like Fellaini in simply because ability in multiple positions from defensive midfield to centre forward. The price-tag will most likely be around £25 million.

Fellaini will be remembered along with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku as the most talented players of this new Belgian ‘golden generation’ (I hate that term). The most talented since Enzo Scifo. He must move to a club that will be challenging for trophies, which he cannot win at Everton, if he is to be recognized as one of the true greats of Belgian football.