The Lawro Challenge – Week 8

Where we attempt to out-predict the BBC predictor.

Lawro Crystal BallAfter seven weeks Rich has extended his lead at the top to ten points. Both Rich and Geoff scored eight points in week 7, compared to Lawro’s six points. Rich managed 5 correct results plus one correct score, Geoff had 2 correct results plus two correct scores, and Lawro brought up the rear this week with 3 correct results and one correct score. In our competition we award one point for a correct result and three points for a correct score.

On the BBC website Lawro has now lost three of his seven weekly prediction encounters. Firstly he was beaten by WWE star and Hollywood actor, Dave Bautista, who hadn’t heard of some of the Premier League teams, then it was the turn of the world number one darts player, Michael van Gerwen to beat him, and finally in the last round of matches he lost to comedian and actor, Elis James.

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

Total after 6 weeks

52

37

44

Score in week 7

8

8

6

Total after 7 weeks

60

45

50

 

 

 

 

Predictions – Week 8

 

 

 

 

Rich

Geoff

Lawro

SATURDAY

 

 

 

Chelsea v Leicester

2-1

2-2 

2-0

Arsenal v Swansea

3-1

3-0

2-0

Bournemouth v Hull

2-1

1-0

2-0

Man City v Everton

2-1

3-1

1-1

Stoke v Sunderland

2-0

1-1

2-1

West Brom v Tottenham

0-2

1-3

0-2

Crystal Palace v West Ham

2-2

1-0

1-1

SUNDAY

 

 

 

Middlesbrough v Watford

2-1

1-1

1-1

Southampton v Burnley

2-0

3-0

2-0

MONDAY

 

 

 

Liverpool v Man Utd

2-1

2-2

2-0

Palace Preview: Another Four Goals?

Heading south of the river for the late Saturday kick-off!

Embed from Getty Images

After winning the away game at Palace last October (on exactly the same weekend as this season) by three goals to one, with goals from Jenkinson, Lanzini, and Payet, we looked well set to repeat the feat when we met them at Upton Park in the return fixture in April. In the home fixture, after conceding an early goal following a mistake from Adrian,  Lanzini scored our first, and then Payet scored with one of his sublime free-kicks, this one going to the same side where the Palace keeper was standing. The match changed when Kouyate was sent off in the second half, and then Palace equalised a few minutes later. The decision was harsh and was later rescinded on appeal. But it was too late then for us to win this game!

The referee in both of the games was Mark Clattenburg. At Selhurst Park he sent off a Palace player, so he evened it up by sending off one of our players in the return. In fact he has quite a record of dismissing players in games when he referees us, although he is not on a par with Jonathan Moss.

Last season was a season of two halves for Palace. At Christmas they sat in fifth place in the Premier League, but in the New Year they came down with the Christmas decorations (a feat we have managed once or twice, though not as often as some people believe). By the time we met them at the beginning of April they had plummeted to fifteenth and were on the verge of getting involved in the relegation dogfight. But they were OK in the end, and also reached the Cup Final where they (unluckily?) lost to a late goal against Manchester United, a game remembered for the Pardew dance when Palace scored.

We’ve only met the Eagles 22 times in league games in the top flight of English football, mainly because they have not often been in the top division until recent times. We have won nine of the games, drawn eight, and lost just five. Only two of those five defeats have been at Selhurst Park, in 1995 and 2013, on both occasions by the only goal in the game. This will be our sixth top flight game against them in the month of October and they have never beaten us in this month of the year; in fact they’ve only drawn once. So that’s a good omen. Or perhaps it is not?

I’ve been to Selhurst Park twice. The first time was in October 1970 when we drew 1-1 thanks to a goal from Bobby Howe. I was back there the following October when Rod Stewart topped the charts with Maggie May. We won the game comfortably 3-0, with goals from Ade Coker, Billy Bonds and Clyde Best. Back in those days the Palace colours were actually claret and blue, but shortly afterwards they changed to the red and blue you see today.

Do you know what the most popular score in West Ham league matches last season? Very unusually it was 2-2. We drew more matches 2-2 than any other team in the Premier League. It happened seven times. Manchester United didn’t manage a single 2-2 draw. In three seasons in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce we only had four 2-2 draws. In total in 2015-16 we drew 14 of our 38 games (37%), which was more than any other team in the Premier League.

Last season against Palace we won 3-1 away and drew 2-2 at home. The season before that we won 3-1 away and lost 3-1 at home to them. Where is all this leading to? Well for a start in recent times we seem to favour 2-2 draws. In addition, the last four games against Palace have all had four goals in them. This is leading me towards believing that we are destined to draw 2-2 at Selhurst Park this weekend. Based on the early games of this season for both sides, then this would seem to be a good result for us, and certainly one that is not anticipated by the pundits. Nevertheless getting my optimistic hat out once again I am hoping for even more. Perhaps there will be four goals in the game, and we will win 3-1?

Counting Sheep – 9 – The Letters P and Q

Another combined team in the alphabeti spaghetti tangle of Hammer’s dream teams.

Counting SheepI’ve really enjoyed putting my thinking cap on and trying to come up with West Ham all-time football teams where the players surnames all begin with the same letter. When I began I thought that I would be able to make teams out of most of the letters of the alphabet, but it has proved to be a little more difficult than I envisaged. The original aim was to help me drop off to sleep instead of the more traditional method of counting sheep, but now it has turned into a brain training exercise (always useful when you reach my age!).

So far I’ve picked eight teams, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F”, a combined “G” and “H”, a combined “J”, “K” and “L”, a combined “M” and “N”, and “Vowels”. P is next and I was able to think of enough names to form a team. But thinking ahead to Q, that was one letter where I knew I would fail. I realised that I would have few options there, so once again I decided on a combined team, this time the P’s and Q’s. So I’ll mind my Ps and Qs, combine my Ps and Qs, and hope you don’t mind!

My all-time West Ham “P” plus “Q” Team in a 4-4-2 formation are:

Parkes
Parris
Pearce (I)
Potts
Pearce (S)
Paddon
Parker
Peters
Payet
Pearson
Quinn

I think you’ll agree I have picked a very strong midfield. Players left out include Pantsil, Pike, Powell, Poyet, Parks, Piquionne, Pogatetz, Porfirio and Quashie.

Have I forgotten someone really good who is a must for the P/Q team? And I can only remember one P/Q manager; Alan Pardew.

Ponchos For Goalposts: Part deux!

There’ll always be an England (as long as we can find eleven players).

England TeamA few weeks back I used the tedium of the international break to take a look at the composition of the squads in the Premier League in relation to nationality. Overall it showed that only 35% of Premier League players were English although this increased to 40% if you included the other home nations. I wondered at the time whether if you looked at those actually making it onto the pitch the situation would be even worse and so have used this recent break to undertake further research in the context of the continued underwhelming performance of the England national team.

England appear to be in a Groundhog Day cycle where they generally qualify with some ease (usually from a group where even a mid-table Championship would hope to do well) and then disappoint when it comes to the finals. We then replace the manager and start the cycle again. In truth this has been going on for almost 50 years (well before the Premier League and the foreign invasion) but it does remain a conundrum whereby England has the most famous and cosmopolitan league in the world but a extremely ordinary and uninspiring national team. Are the two related in anyway?

So far this season we have had seven rounds of Premier League matches; a total of 70 games in total which have featured 414 different players of which 342 have started at least one game. Bournemouth and Burnley have been the most frugal with fewest different starters (14) while Sunderland have had the most different starters (22). Chelsea have used fewest players if you included substitute players (18) while Sunderland have been the most lavish with 25.  (It is an interesting contrast with Aston Villa winning the First Division in 1981 using only 14 players all season; how the game has changed.)

Of those starting and featuring (i.e. including substitute appearances) in a Premier League the proportion that are eligible to represent England is 34% and 33% respectively; this is consistent with the overall squad make-ups and so my assumption that it would be lower was not correct.

Bournemouth are the most English team with 72% of starters while Watford have had the least at 9% (just Troy Deeney). Only 3 clubs achieved over 50% of English starters (Bournemouth, Burnley and Palace) while Watford, Arsenal and Chelsea were all below 15%. The equivalent figure for West Ham is 25%.  Collectively, the ‘so-called’ Big 4 (two Manchester Clubs, Chelsea and Arsenal) managed to scrape together 18% of Englishmen.

The average Premier League side then has less than 4 players eligible to represent England in any given lineup. In total that is somewhere over 70 playing Premier League football on a regular basis (allowing for injuries) giving them a 1 in 3 chance of being selected for an England squad.  To my knowledge, Joe Hart is the only English player of note performing overseas.

The big ‘chicken and egg’ question that this raises is: Does the lack of quality English players lead to the recruitment of so many overseas players or does the number of foreign players restrict the development of good young home grown talent?  Whatever way it is difficult not to conclude that the the declining number of English players in the Premier League must have had an adverse effect on the national side.  How to fix this without impacting the ‘brand’?

Far be it from me to defend the largely clueless England manager’s that we have seen over the years but there has not really been the depth of talent for them to work with. All the more reason, in my opinion, to find someone (like Sir Alf) who has a system and will then find the players to fit it; rather than the other way around.

No wonder my interest in the England team is going down quicker than sterling (the currency not the Man City player that is)!

Does Size Matter? Pitch and Goal Dimensions

Running the rule over the grounds to see who measures up!

Big and LittleIt is a misconception that all football pitches are the same size. They are not. Can you imagine this applying to some other sports? What if the distance between the stumps was different at Lords compared to the Oval? But the distance between the goals at the London Stadium is greater than it is at White Hart Lane.

The FA has followed the lead of UEFA and FIFA in recommending standard pitch dimensions. I wonder how many people know what the recommended size is? The Laws of the Game permit quite a big variation in the size of the pitch. The length of a pitch can be anywhere between 90 and 120 metres. The permitted width has an even greater range, and can be between 45 and 90 metres. These dimensions came into force in the 1897 draft of the Laws of the Game.

For “official matches” the length should be between 100 and 110 metres, whereas the width can vary between 64 and 75 metres. In an attempt to achieve consistency, the recommended dimensions are 105 metres x 68 metres. The Premier League wants all teams to have a pitch of this size, but does allow exceptions if it is impossible to comply due to the construction of the ground.

The pitch sizes at Arsenal, Hull, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom, Middlesbrough, Watford, and now West Ham, are all identical at the recommended size. Wembley is the same, as are all the major stadiums throughout Europe. But that is only eleven of the teams in the Premier League. The pitches at Burnley, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton, Bournemouth, Tottenham and Stoke are all smaller than the standard size. In fact depending on which teams are in the Premier League at any given time, there can be up to 9% difference between the areas of the largest and smallest pitches.

Stoke has the smallest pitch of the current Premier League teams at 100m x 66m, and I guess this relates back to the Tony Pulis days when they wanted the pitch to be as narrow as possible for the benefit of Rory Delap’s long throws. The Tottenham pitch is the same length as Stoke but just one metre wider. The Upton Park pitch measured 100.58m x 68m.

Now I have a problem with the size of pitches. Bearing in mind that they have remained unaltered for around 120 years, the size, speed and power of human beings has increased significantly in that time. If you consider the average height of men, the 100 and 1500 metre running times, and high jump and long jump distances, to take just five examples, then we have seen increases in size and performance between 7% and 20% in those five categories. The same is true for females. So in relative terms the pitch was much bigger in years gone by. With the size, speed and athleticism of modern man (and woman), the pitch is now relatively congested compared to the past.

To allow for this, pitches should probably be at least 10%-15% bigger than they are. In order to compensate for the increases in human performance then the length of pitches should be increased to around say 115-120 metres, and the width to 75-80 metres. Of course most stadiums could not cope with this (although ours could possibly get close!). The authorities could, perhaps, order clubs to increase the size of their pitches to the maximum possible that their ground would allow. They could, alternatively give clubs a period of time, say ten years, to construct new stadiums that the revised pitch sizes would fit into. With the billions of pounds of TV money around then this shouldn’t be a problem.

The alternative is to reduce the number of players on the pitch from 11 to 10 to achieve the same effect. 11 may have been appropriate some years ago, but 10 would now allow for the human performance increases. We’ve all seen games where two players have been sent off leaving 10v10 on the pitch. There is more room for everyone to express themselves, and less congestion. I urge the authorities to move to a 10-a-side game if they don’t proceed with an increased pitch size.

And while we are at it, the size of the goals has not changed in the period either. As a result I believe we should increase the height of the goal from 8 feet to 9 feet, and the width from 24 feet to 27 feet. Modern goalkeepers must find the goals relatively small to defend when compared to the custodians of years gone by, and these increases will mean that the number of goals scored will perhaps return to the levels of 100 years ago.

Like other aspects of life, football needs to adapt to the times. It has never recognised the increases in human size and athleticism throughout the history of the game, and these changes would undoubtedly be beneficial to the entertainment value.

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Ray Houghton

The One That Got Away Series.

Boy Never Quite Made ItOK, so to suggest that someone who won 2 League Championships, 2 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, played in 2 World Cups and a Euro Finals ‘didn’t quite make it‘ may be something of a stretch. In the context of this series though Ray Houghton is another West Ham academy graduate who, for some reason, never became an established first-team player at the club.

Houghton was not a young player who had just trained with us for a while before being enticed away by another club (John Terry) or a youngster sold as part of a relegation fire sale (Glen Johnson) but was a 20 year old professional who was considered surplus to requirements and made available on a free transfer. Tony Carr has been reported as saying that allowing Houghton to leave on a free “was the biggest transfer blunder he had seen during his years at Upton Park.”

Houghton was born in Glasgow but moved with his family to London as a 10 year old. He joined West Ham’s youth set up and during that time was called up to attend Under 18 training camps by Scotland youth supremo (and future manager) Andy Roxburgh but without being awarded any caps.

In May 1982 Houghton made his one and only appearance for West Ham when he came on as a substitute for George Cowie in an away fixture with Arsenal that West Ham lost 2-0. Cowie was another young Scot who did not make a mark at West Ham and the lineup that day also included another youngster Everard La Ronde who also had a short lived West Ham career. End of season games were often used back then as an opportunity to blood a few young players.

As an aside, West Ham had won the FA Youth Cup in 1981 beating Tottenham over two legs with a 2-1 aggregate score. The West Ham squad for the games of Vaughan, Keith, La Ronde, Reader, Ampofo, McPherson, (Bobby) Barnes, (Paul) Allen, Milton, Burvill, Schiavi, (Alan) Dickens had no place for Houghton who would have been eligible.

Ray HoughtonHoughton was allowed to leave in the summer of 1982 and joined Fulham, then in Division 2, on a free transfer. There is not much written about the circumstances of his leaving and so it is difficult to tell if he was simply a late developer, whether his rejection spurred him on to what he subsequently achieved or whether his style just didn’t suit West Ham . Whatever the case manager John Lyall and the coaching staff did not see any potential that merited a further contract.

Houghton was an instant hit at Craven Cottage and his new manager Malcolm MacDonald allegedly asked Lyall “Do you have any other free transfers like that?” His energetic and all-action style of play was soon noticed and earned him a transfer to First Division Oxford United (where he scored in their 1986 League Cup final win) and then to Liverpool where he is spent the most productive years of his career.

As well as rejection at West Ham, Houghton did not receive a call to represent Scotland, the country of his birth, and eventually agreed to play for Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland side.. He earned 73 international caps and is remembered for winning goals against England in the 1988 Euros and against Italy in the 1994 World Cup.

Obviously it is pure conjecture but I wonder what impact Houghton could have made at West Ham from the mid 1980’s onwards as they looked to build on the 1985/86 success?

Offside: Changes Needed? – Part Two

Time to interfere with the offside rule and introduce video technology?

OffsideFollowing on from my previous article where I discussed a radical change to the offside law and why it is necessary, I’ll add further to my reasoning today. The optical problems for the officials that I referred to is not the end of the story. Assistant referees have to remember that it is not an offence in itself for a player to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if any part of his head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half, and any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent, but at the same time he has to disregard the hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers.

The linesman should only then penalise the player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched by a team-mate when he becomes involved in active play. This could mean interfering with play by playing the ball itself, or interfering with an opponent by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by obstructing his line of vision, or challenging the opponent for the ball, or clearly attempting to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on his opponent, or making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of the opponent to play the ball.

Are you still with me because there is more to consider yet! This player in the offside position should also be penalised if he is gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has rebounded, or been deflected off the woodwork, or an opponent. Offside should also be penalised when the ball has been deliberately saved by an opponent. A save is when a player stops a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of the body except the hands (unless the goalkeeper within the penalty area). But, a player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is not considered to have gained an advantage.

You probably think I am making all this up, but I am doing my best to interpret the rules and governance as provided in the IFAB Laws of the Game relating to offside for 2016-17. And I haven’t even finished yet! There are other considerations relating to both defending and attacking players leaving the field of play deliberately without permission. I won’t go into this in too much detail as I find it extremely hard to follow.

My proposal is simple, though. Firstly, I’d like to see the offside rule confined to the eighteen yards at each end of the pitch. I’m afraid I just cannot see the point of half of the pitch being involved. You cannot be considered to be goal hanging just inside your opponents’ half. I wonder if anybody anywhere has asked the question as to why we have persisted with offside in this great expanse for so many years?

Yes, they continue to tinker with the concept of interference, and active involvement, but it only serves to confuse the issue in a game that is generally very simple to understand. The introduction of this change would also have the benefit of stretching the game over a wider area rather than the players bunching up as they do as a result of the current offside law.

The assistant referees would still have to make the decisions that they do now, but surely it will be far simpler for them to do so if they only have the eighteen yard line to the goal line to worry about. But I then propose to take it further. To improve the accuracy of offside decisions at the higher levels of the game, then we must begin to use video technology.

Perhaps it needs to be introduced a little at a time, with extensive trials to ensure it is helping to improve the accuracy of key decision making in the game. So, for example, as a first step, when a goal is scored and there is a suspicion of offside the technology could be used to check the validity of the goal. Assistant referees must be encouraged not to raise their flag unless they are fairly certain of offside. The benefit of the doubt should always be given to the attacker. Video replays would only be necessary if a goal is subsequently scored.

It won’t be perfect but we will have greater accuracy and consistency than currently exists. Hazard was only slightly offside when he headed the ball in from Ramires cross in the Chelsea game at Upton Park in March 2015, but the replay showed within seconds that he was offside. In this example, at the moment the ball hit the net from Hazard’s header the referee would be asking the video referee “is there any reason to disallow the goal, for example for offside?” As we saw within seconds on Sky, the reply would be “yes he was offside, disallow the goal”. It wouldn’t hold up the game, the Chelsea players would still have been in the celebration process. Even if the referee had not asked the question, the video referee could have told him that the goal was offside.

If you haven’t read enough of my arguments and want to know more, then there are a number of frequently asked questions on the FA website to baffle you even further. But I’d like to think that the change suggested would improve the game. At the very least I’d like to see it tried out. It makes sense to me.  What are the arguments against trying it? But will it be tried? Of course not, because the change is too radical. But should it? Of course it should.

The complexity of the other supplementary situations that I describe in this article must also be addressed. I remember once that it used to be a straightforward question “is the player in an offside position interfering with play?” If you added this to the 18 yard offside rule change, then surely it would be simpler for us all to understand.