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  1. It’s only Ray Parlour’s birthday! This week we celebrate the Bulgarian National Liberation Day on March 3rd. Also International Women’s day on March 8th. Plus Mother’s Day in Ireland, where I am from, on March 10th. Am I missing something? Of course I am as March 7th is the one and only Ray Parlour’s birthday. The Romford Pele, probably our biggest joker, deserves a statue, a bridge and a stand named after him. You'll never regret buying this book Well maybe not but he brightened up all our days as a player who was very underrated but still managed 466 games, at least two hat tricks that I can remember against Werder Bremen in the UEFA cup in 2000 and against Newcastle that same year, and the only goal in the penalty shootout against Galatasaray in that year’s UEFA cup final. He also got 10 caps for England in 1999-2000 when England had lots of top players in midfield as Scholes, Gerrard, Beckham and Lampard spring to mind. And how about 3 league titles, 4 FA cups, a League cup and a European cupwinners cup? The boy was a winner. And I probably forgot to mention that he was an Invincible. Beg, steal or borrow, or even buy his book I reviewed his book “It’s Only Ray Parlour” here and it is one of the best football books ever. It is funny, but as it encompassed George Graham, Bruce Rioch and Arsene Wenger plus David Dein, he lived through the most sustained spell of success since the 1930’s. We became Arsenal again with Ray Parlour. It is a unique background insight to the collapse of Tony Adams, the bung era with George Graham and the tumultuous changes brought about quite gently really by Arsene Wenger. Read that book even if you don’t normally read books. C'mon City - get a draw Probably his greatest achievement as a player, though, was winning Arsenal player of the season in 1997-8. The list of greats there at the time was astonishing, Bergkamp, Wright, Anelka, Adams. Pettit, Overmars, Seaman, Platt, the list goes on. But it was the local boy who came through. Laugh and laugh again Although he is most likely best known as the prime joker on the football circuit, with hilarious anecdotes and a top career as an after-dinner speaker, he does deserve to be rated as a top class baller as all the above demonstrates. Few players got the amount of trophies he did, nor such a long career. A Villa and Spuds draw at the weekend would be nice But, if you do nothing else, search for his stories online. There are plenty of youtube videos to keep you laughing. Martin Keown trying to strangle Arsene Wenger, Kolo Toure’s trial, drinking on a plane and many other places, saying hi to two Tottenham mates as we won the title at White Hart Lane and nearly getting them massacred, the Igors Stepanovs prank played on Wenger, and many more. Our own Pele And so he is one of our own, a trainee from Romford who rose through the ranks to win titles and trophies with two different managers, who scored important goals in finals, and no matter who came to play for Arsenal, he always got plenty of games. And even captained the side against Inter when we won 5-1 at the San Siro. No wonder he was called the Romford Pele. So why was his book called “It’s Only Ray Parlour”? It was his famous goal against Chelsea in the 2002 FA cup final. Tim Lovejoy the commentator, a well known Chelsea fan, said, as Parlour came through at about 30 yards out, “It’s only Ray Parlour” who then proceeded to lash the ball in from that distance. The name stuck. Don’t underestimate Mr Parlour, there’s a reason he is called the Romford Pele! Thanks for all the memories and the laughs. Happy birthday, my son, and many, many more. Update to the Table of Doom Table of Doom Fixtures Current Max Liverpool Man City (h) Spurs (h) Villa (a) 63 96 Man City Liverpool (a) Arsenal (h) Villa (h) Spurs (h) 62 95 Arsenal Man City (a) Villa (h) Spurs (a) 61 94 Villa Spurs (a) Man City (a) Arsenal (a) Liverpool (a) 55 88 Spurs Villa (h) Man City(a) Arsenal (h) Liverpool (a) 50 86 We must win next weekend against Brentford as all the rest may drop points No change again as all five win. The teams have become relentless and are desperate not to give up any ground. That will change next weekend as Liverpool play City and Spurs host Villa. We must Bee better than them All made it hard work, particularly Liverpool who scored after injury time. I was disappointed with the way it was done though, as that is blatant cheating. Caoimhin Kelleher should not have accepted the ball from referee Paul Tierney or should have directly passed it to Forest. It is a topic I regularly return to in these columns, that cheating is accepted in football and no sanction is given to those who even blatantly cheat. We do no one any favours by accepting all the brazen cheating that goes on in modern football. We must be prepared to call out our own team too. I reckon Tierney made a mistake and was not trying to give Liverpool an advantage but the Liverpool players would have known that it was a Forest ball and should have kept to sporting ideals. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal against Sheffield United are the only team to make amends for a similar decision to this day, and probably we will never see such a gesture again. I doubt if Arteta or any other current manager would have done any different to Klopp but still Liverpool should hold up their hands and say that it was cheating. An offer to replay would be a fair gesture. Will it happen? Will it heck as like! Liverpool are fighting like demons One has to say that Liverpool are tenacious, always battle to win and will be hard to knock down. They could come through the tough battles ahead to win the league. They want it badly and that may be the deciding factor. Have the rest got their bottle? We will see. City, Villa and Spurs had tough moments but all pulled away from Man Utd who are now 19 points behind Liverpool and can only see them through binoculars. That fifth place, if it turns out to be good enough for Champions League, may be beyond Ten Hag’s men. Jayden Bogle has scored as many goals for Arsenal as Timo Werner for the Spuds But Arsenal did not make it difficult for themselves, the only one of the five not to. 3 goals up after 15 minutes and the game was long gone for the denizens of Bramall Lane. I have to say I feel sorry for them, Burnley and Luton. The top five are firing like Ferraris and points are so difficult to pick up. Sheffield United, with whom we have a long and chequered history, are surely doomed as are Burnley. They have an average of 0.48 points per game. If that continues they will get 5 extra points. 18 is dismal. Luton probably need a collapse of a team above them to stay up. They have an average of 0.76 points per game which over the next 12 games gives them 9 more points. Will 29 points be enough? You never can tell but I suspect their average needs to increase to stay up. Sad, but probably not much longer We could well be looking at the final top five and bottom three already. C’mon the Arse, we need to shake up these positions!
  2. Local football and rivalry is more exciting Players born near here should play for Arsenal This week I would like to write about an idea I have had for a long time. Traditionally football clubs have had the ability to get players from everywhere. It has become a moneymaking machine that is very much tilted in favour of the wealthy. Has it been good for football? Has it been good for footballers? Has it been good for the local areas? Or fans? Or countries? I say an emphatic no! Why so? Football is a huge global industry that cares nothing for localities or regions. Some entire countries get left behind like Bulgaria and Ireland, with nobody interested in the local fare provided and attendances on a downward spiral as fans have favourite teams elsewhere and use their available cash to get to see their idols. How many players come from Arsenal? Is it good for football that local players cannot get into their local team? How many players in the top leagues come from near their stadiums? In many cases none or very little. Does Newcastle have, despite their name, Newcastle players? Does Liverpool? The Manchesters? Brighton? PSG? Real Madrid? You take my point. The Romford Pele would qualify So, if you grow up in the Arsenal area and support them you also know that you will never play for them most probably. What effect does that have on football, that almost no-one can aspire to play for their local team? And so if you are good as a kid but maybe not premier league, you have to travel to another area and grow up far away from family. Or if you are very good, you travel anyway, to a top team. All the big teams have academies from everywhere, with young kids forced into a rarefied bubble apart from real life. How can this be good for the area, the kids, or football generally? Kids only want to play for the big teams And so some areas have become football hotbeds, and hoover up all the talent, and other areas are left bereft. In Ireland, you want to play for Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal or some other top team. Few grow up aspiring to play for Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians or Dundalk. Same here in Bulgaria but in Bulgaria, at the moment, few are managing to play abroad and there isn’t the same glamour about aspiring to play for Ludogoretz, Levski or CSKA. At least in Ireland, players can dream of playing in England. How many Bulgarians aspire to play for these? The reason football morphed into this situation is simple. Back in the early days of football in the UK, amateur local teams sprung up mostly in the south, which was rich. But soon the dominance switched to the north, professional players were drafted in from Scotland and northern regions as the southern clubs tried to resist. It was doomed. Professional clubs became the standard. Transfers became standard. Money became the standard significant thing. The clubs could draw huge crowds. Chairmen saw the opportunity to make money. The locals were discarded, with only, truly, a pretence that they mattered other than as cash machines. Does locality mean anything in football? Let’s look instead at a different reality. The world of football today. Fans have little power. Locality means almost nothing. Fans don’t own clubs. Prices are horrendous. Young players, up to the point whether they make it at least, are bundled into the big clubs in their hundreds with a pitiful few getting in. Most living a life of regret, that their best years are gone forever. And so often done in an alien environment, despite whatever efforts the clubs make, it is a machine that spits out hundreds of young people every year, who know that they didn’t make it. Tallaght kids can stay at home in the Rovers academy What am I proposing, then? And I guess you are all going to say it is impossible. Nothing is impossible, if it can be imagined. I believe that we can keep the existing clubs structure, even. Create footballing regions What we could do is divide areas into regions based on population and allow for 2 major clubs, and x amount of clubs in the lower divisions. Let's take London, one area could have Arsenal and Tottenham and minor teams. Only local players would be allowed to play. Growing up in this area, you could aspire to play for the big teams or the minor ones if you so wish. Academies could only take players from the area. They stay in their homes and schools. Transfers would only be possible within the area. For Liverpool, it is easy. Liverpool and Everton and the minor teams around. Only really London and Birmingham have more than 2 top teams and Birmingham only have Wolves and Villa at the moment. London has seven but you could maybe put Brighton in the mix to make it work for the moment split into four areas. You will probably have to have unusual border lines to make this idea work but so what? You could agree say a five year revision of lines, for example, to ensure that the borders made sense. The players from Celtic Euro cup 1967 all were born near the ground Let’s take Bulgaria and Ireland as examples. You take the population as a whole, divide it into regions that would work well in football terms and create new leagues or keep the old ones if that works. The old leagues are not getting the crowds so it should provide a lift. The teams are only allowed a set number of trainees and they have to be born, or if they moved away when young, actually living in the area. Football becomes local again. A local hero knows the supporters, he is their brother, their friend their schoolmate. People would be more inclined to support their local team if they actually knew the players. Young players would wish to play for their local team. It should attract bigger crowds. They should be able to get more money. Standards should go up. The national team would get better. It is no coincidence that the great Bulgarian World Cup team came together under communism or that Ireland’s great teams happened because Ireland was essentially the only foreign team in England. The players had the opportunities that comes from being able to play in a stronger league. But it's not possible? Could it happen? Certainly not easily but’s let’s say there was an agreement to make it happen. I would propose that the starter would be that all new kids coming in would have to be local, and so within 10 years all the older players would be gone or almost. I would suggest that a 3 year transition period would apply wherein things would go on as normal except for the ruling about kids coming in. Then another three years transition where transfers are restricted only to players within the boundaries with certain exceptions for older players coming to the end of their careers. The next four years could be agreed to iron out any remaining problems. I would make it the same rule regarding managers and coaches so that it is truly local. Denmark won a far smaller European nations league Another important aspect has to be fan ownership. No more billionaires coming in and changing the rules to suit themselves. The Champions League is an egregious example. They have twisted the rules and twisted the rules to make sure only big clubs can win. I love the idea of a league and a cup system. The League will go to the best team of the year and the Cup can go to whoever plays better on the day. Little teams have a chance of a big day and a trophy. Even the World cup and European Nations cup has gone to small teams when it was mostly knockout. It will eventually get boring if only a small number of teams with no real local aspect are the winners always. I could write much more but the real benefit long term is that sport comes back to the people. We can get behind our own local players. We can have stronger country teams. Progression becomes logical and young kids are not transported halfway around the world to play football, live far from home and then not make it. I believe that if you ask fans, they would love to have a strong local team to support and to know who those players are and that they care about the area. Am I right? And if this idea is better for football, then it should happen.
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