They think it’s all over. Are you kidding?

After school games – Mauritians are obsessed by English football
Back in August I posted some predictions for the forthcoming football season. That season creaked to a finish yesterday believe it or not with the division 2 playoff final at Wembley stadium, some two weeks after the final Premiership games. I thought I ought to revisit those predictions just to cap things off, so here goes.It has to be said that the season has offered no end of entertainment whatever division you look at. Here’s a brief summary…

Division 2
Notts County have totally dominated the headlines on and off the field. They started the season with ex-England manager Sven at the helm and the promise of untold riches from a mysterious backer. The fans had to pinch themselves when England defender Sol Campbell joined and there was even talk of HRH David Beckham gracing Meadow Lane at one point. I myself was repeatedly stalked by Sol in the centre of Nottingham and it was perhaps the ASBO I had served against him that saw his departure from the club after just one game away to Morcambe. That or the grim realisation of what he had let himself in for. That was the start of the end as the backers backed out and Sven said sayonara. All doom and gloom then? Not so – Notts stormed to the title overtaking seemingly invincible Rochdale on the way. On balance I think the fans are very happy. Entertained at the very least.

Sven (now Ivory Coast) and Sol (Arsenal)
Sven (now Ivory Coast) and Sol (Arsenal)

Predictions: I got Notts right but that wasn’t so hard. Rotherham lost out to Dagenham and Redbridge a wonderful playoff final while Barnet just escaped the drop, so all-in-all my predictions weren’t up to much

Division 1
This was the season when dirty Leeds finally crawled back out of the gutter into the Championship. But top honours went to Norwich who ran away with it after the ignominy of an opening day 7-1 home defeat to Colchester. At the other end of the table Tranmere escaped the drop despite the best attempts of now departed “manager” John Barnes and his shiny suit collection.

A different John Barnes - I just liked his picture. Probably a better manager too
A different John Barnes – I just liked his picture. Probably a better manager too

Predictions: Leeds promoted, Stockport bottom – just 2 accurate predictions. This is a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey showing

They entered the season in turmoil after relegation from the Premiership and had a noose tied around their neck by their owner but Newcastle won the title by a wide margin. I guess they under performed in the prem, retained most of their players and them excelled this season but I for one didn’t see that coming. This achievement is eclipsed however by the season’s big story – promotion via the playoffs of little Blackpool who only just sneaked into contention with a late run of results. There isn’t a neutral in the land who won’t be rooting for manager Ian Holloway’s team next season as they take on the big boys although you have to think they are going to get some thumpings. It’s also great news for the seaside resort that can expect thousands of away fans to stay over and make a weekend of it. Whatever happens you can be sure that I will be tuning in to Match Of The Day just to listen to the whatever comes out of Holloways hilarious/cryptic/bizarre interview chest.

Ian Holloway - enough said
Ian Holloway – enough said

It went down to the final game at the wrong end of the table where Crystal Palace hung onto their status at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday. Palace only found themselves in this situation due to a points deduction for going into administration but with the existence of the club hanging in the balance this week it could all have been for nothing. I did say they would pay for signing up “Calamity” Claude Davis from the Rams.

Predictions: West Brom promoted, Plymouth relegated – only 2 again but a few close calls.

Chelsea won through in the end at the expense of Manchester United and they probably deserve it on balance. They repeatedly demolished their opponents with goals coming from every quarter while United were solely dependent on Rooney whose astonishing efforts weren’t quite enough at the end of the season.

Rooney at work and at home
Rooney at work and at home

Arsenal played some great football to finish third while Spurs finally broke into the top four at the expense of Man City whose mega-bucks didn’t even earn them a Champions League place.

Meanwhile it all started to unravel financially. Portsmouth became the first Premiership team in history to go into administration with a simply staggering level of debt given their known accounts. There just HAS to be something dodgy going on there and I expect there to be some explosive financial revelations before too long (although based on my predictions so far don’t count on it). West Ham also wobbled under their debt and relegated Hull may take many years to get their finances back on an earthly scale. Financial question marks also hang over the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United.

Predictions: I tipped United for top spot so no points there, but Burnley and Portsmouth to be relegated were good calls.

Closer to home my team Derby County finished mid-table pretty much as expected, although not quite how I had expected. The team should have been good enough to finish 9th or 10th at best but in a season of cost cutting and unprecedented injuries (we had 16 first team players out at one point) we genuinely feared relegation for a while.

For me the defining memory of this season will be the integrity of manager Nigel Clough in the face of an ignorant and malicious hate campaign against him from a small but vocal section of the supporters. In a financial climate where many clubs face going to the wall and in the wake of numerous seasons where the Rams have thrown money at expensive players who delivered nothing Nigel and the board set out to reduce the debt and invest in youth. To improve on last years points tally given these circumstances and the massive injury problems has to rate as a satisfactory performance at the very least, yet these mouthy know-it-alls have been relentless in their cheap empty-headed yobbery.

Derby's Robbie Savage - he's eveywhere you look. Including here.
Derby\’s Robbie Savage – he\’s eveywhere you look. Including here.

I won’t pretend there aren’t problems or that mistakes haven’t been made but I fail to understand why people think they are entitled to be so offensive and nasty to a manager doing the best job he can in difficult circumstances. I would love these loud mouths to have the opportunity to meet Nigel face to face with nobody else in the room – would they have the guts to repeat the insults they have spouted every day on the internet? I rest my case.

So another season is over and the next one will be upon us once the small matter of the World Cup is played out. Is there too much football? Of course. Is it riddled with problems? For sure. Will millions of people like me be helplessly glued to the TV for the World Cup only to be raring for the 2010/11 season to start? What do you think…

Greek Easter Cakes

Easter Sunday – a day of importance and meaning for many people. To kids (of all ages) it means hunting for chocolate eggs, to parents it means hiding them and to most other people it means a day of reflection – about the amount of chocolate you are consuming and how you will definitely go to the gym next week. Probably. But you know Easter Sunday is not just about chocolate – there are all sorts of other ways to ingest sugar on this special day. Here’s one – Greek Easter Cakes.

I thought I would choose this as my first food blog of the year, a very restrained 3 months after the previous gluttonous run of kitchen correspondance. These yummy moist cakes are perfect with crème fraiche and can be served warm or chilled. They contain no chocolate so from that point of view they are probably really good for you.


For the cakes
125g butter
100g caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
4tbsp lemon juice
2 eggs
125g semolina
2tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds

For the syrup
10 cardamom pods
1 orange
300g caster sugar
200ml water
juice of half a lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp cloves
2tbsp orange flower water

This is what the contents of your grocery bag look like…

What's in the grocery bag?
What\’s in the grocery bag?

…and this is what they look like after my kitchen assistant Sven has prepared everything…

Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients
Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients

Ask Sven (or your equivalent) to heat the oven to 200 degrees (190 for fan)


1) Blend the butter & sugar. I used my old trusty Kenwood mixer but apparently you can buy bowls and spoons that take this sort of routine kitchen activity into the 21st century.

Mix the butter & sugar
Mix the butter & sugar

2) Add the lemon juice, lemon rind, eggs, semolina, baking powder and ground almonds and mix until you stop. If using a bladed mixer stir the rind in by hand afterwards instead so as not to diminish the strands of lemony loveliness.

Add more stuff
Add more stuff

3) Grease a bun tin (you could use bun cases) and add the mixture to the moulds. Try and get a level finish. Slide the tin into the oven and leave for 15 or so minutes.

Let's bake!
Let\’s bake!

4) Remove the tin from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before transferring to a flat surface.

No Greek tragedy - they've turned out fine.
No Greek tragedy – they\’ve turned out fine.

5) You can be making the syrup while the buns are in the oven, so as to speak. Heat the sugar in water slowly until it has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and let it all boil for a few minutes until it thickens into something syrupy. Add all the other ingredients and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes except for the orange flower water – add this after the 5 minutes.

Nectar of syrupy health
Nectar of syrupy health

6) Let the mixture cool slightly. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and then spoon the syrup over the buns.

Just like aunt Demetria used to make
Just like aunt Demetria used to make

Taste immediately to make sure the quality is of sufficiently high standard. Taste again to make sure. Congratulate yourself for having consumed something containing no chocolate whatsoever.

While you are at it spare a thought for those less fortunate than us, forced to work on this day of rest. Consider the put-upon supermarket staff obliged to spend Sunday evening away from their chocolate (and families) slashing the prices of eggs you were fleeced for only yesterday. They will be working late tonight restocking the shelves with barbecue products that will be advertised ad-nauseum as centre-pieces for the halcyon Indian summer we are not going to have.

Oh, Sven – just wash up & tidy before you leave. Thanks.

Fantasy Football

For many of us it is an attritional, expensive and perennially disappointing experience. We hope for the best, expect the worst and index link our happiness to the fortunes of cynical fly-by-night mercinaries and businessmen who trade behind brands that inspire our unwaivering loyalty. Thank god the new football season is almost upon us.

This season promises to be uniquely absorbing as the fantasy football bubble floats ever further from the firmly rooted turf of its origins. We keep waiting for it to burst but for now it continues to defy the gravity of reality and serve up ever more fantastical and intruiging plot lines. Here are a few twists and turns that have interested or amused me in the lead up to the new season…

The Mad
Real Madrid have responded to the global financial meltdown by spending obscene amounts of money (over £200 million and counting) on players this close season, including Ronaldo, Kaka and Alonso. When I play football manager on my PC this sort of strategy can pay off but in the real world there are egos to manage while galacticos are not immune from injury or loss of form. Real will do well this season but not nearly as well as their spending would suggest.

Meanwhile Man City are desperately trying to throw huge amounts of money on anyone who is anyone. In the longer term they will doubtless “do a Chelsea” and buy their way into the elite but it will not be this season. Achievement for Mark Hughes this term will be keeping his job, regardless of team placing. I hope he does keep his job because he is a decent manager and it is not his fault that the sudden influx of capital has pushed expectations through the roof.

The Sad
The passing of Bobby Robson while not a surprise is still very sad because he was one of the few remaining old fashioned football purists who genuinely dedicated his life to the game, cared about everyone he came into contact with and never courted scandal or controversy. The way the game operates now we won’t see his like again.

The Bad
Meanwhile privileged England captain John Terry would have us believe that he was never considering leaving Chelsea for Manchester City – a conviction he held so firmly as to wait only 8 weeks to announce this to the media. In a similar vein ex England caption Becks has taken every opportunity to explore avenues to get out of his mega-bucks MLS contract and return to England or Italy while duplicitously stating he is happy where he is, incurring the wrath of the LA Galaxy faithful. Once again these “heros” treat the fans for mugs by doing one thing and then swearing blind that they are doing the other. They would get much more respect by being totally honest about their intentions.

The Good
Micheal Owen has been rescued from the ever darkening wilderness of St James’ park by Alex Ferguson. Surprise surprise he can’t stop scoring in pre-season games now he has a top class supply of balls flying his way. Next season will see his resurgence as a top flight and England player. Watch this space.

Notts County has pulled a rabbit out of the hat by appointing Sven as – well, nobody is quite sure what (mascot?) – but he is now already a fixture at both Meadow Lane and Hooters bar across the road. Poor Notts fans have quietly subsisted on a diet of mediocrity, failure and decline for season after season and now that’s all set to change whatever happens. League 2 will attract unprecedented media interest this year and that has to be a good thing.

Meanwhile Derby manager Nigel Clough has put the club on a diet. Having defibrillated the team last season by rejuvenating the seemingly dead parrots known as Robbie Savage and Gary Teale he has now performed the footballing equivalent of liposuction with the extraction of such artery cloggers as Andy Todd and “Calamity” Claude Davis. I would like to thank Neil Warnock especially for this latter act of charity and I will be off to the bookies shortly to a tenner on Crystal Palace taking the plunge. Meanwhile an influx of young, hungry, unproven players has taken their place and like most Rams fans I see this unusually low key and rational approach to team building as a highly positive sign. Spending big money generally fails to bring success and instead increases the pressure for results, leading to good managers getting sacked before they have had any time and clubs lurching from crisis to crisis.

Headlines in the making

  • Expect to see the papers eulogising Alex Ferguson when Ronaldo has an off game in Europe and Michael Owen bags a brace.
  • The Newcastle debacle is set to run and run. At the time of writing they are still for sale and Alan Shearer is headed back to the MOTD studio. The slide will continue this season and the papers will be looking to pounce on anything Shearer says about the state of affairs that they can present in a salacious way
  • A nailed on certainty will be a tenuous kiss and tell story in the tabloids regarding Sven some air headed Nottinghamshire beauty. Expect Sven to win damages against said tabloid soon thereafter

Here goes. Luckily I don’t have any reputation worth worrying about so if these turn out to be pants I don’t care. On the flip side I will obviously gloat & say “I told you so” if any of the following comes to pass…

Premier League
It’s going to be a fascinating season with question marks over Arsenal and stronger challenges from Man City and Spurs. The fight for the title will be between Man Utd and Chelsea again in the last weeks of the season.
Champions: Man Utd
Relegated: Wolves, Portsmouth, Burnley
Dark horses for top 4: Spurs

This division may provide some of the most intense competition this season. Newcastle and Middlesborough will capture a lot of interest – albeit at different ends of the table. Meanwhile “Roy Keanes Ipswich” will never be far from the news.
Promoted: Boro, West Brom, Cardiff
Relegated: Doncaster, Plymouth, Scunthorpe
Dark horses for relegation: Newcastle

League 1
Will this be the season that dirty Leeds finally claw their way out of the third flight? Like Leeds, Charlton and Southampton may find that an instant return to the Championship is not as simple as it may seem. Will a shiny suited John Barnes transform Tranmeres fortunes or is he just in the dugout because Channel 5 ditched him as a presenter?
Promoted: Huddersfield, Leeds, MK Dons
Relegated: Exeter, Stockport, Carlisle
Dark horses for promotion: Leyton Orient

League 2
Sven, Sven, Sven. Also, in the news, Bradford may come good at last. Will the opening day fixture between Notts & Bradford decide the title ;-). As usual the struggling teams will be hoping for three other teams to get clobbered with points deductions so they have a chance of escape. It will also be interesting to see how Paul Peschisolidos Burton Albion get on in their first season in the Football League. I expect them to finish in the top half of the table.
Promoted: Bradford, Notts County, Rotherham
Relegated: Accrington, Barnet
Dark horses for promotion: Shrewsbury
..1 week and counting until the drama unfolds…