Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gigi Meroni - 'La farfalla granata'

Luigi 'Gigi' Meroni is a part of Italian football folklore. He was a footballer who drew a lot of controversy in Italy in the 1960's in the same way George Best did in Britain. However, at the time Italy was a much more conservative soceity, so a lot more scorn was poured on poor old Gigi, who unlike Best was more interested in the artistry of paint and paper than the artistry associated with Best. Like Best he was a winger who played on the wing, but could often cut inside and was known for sublime skills on the field and the ability to score and create goals from nothing.

Unfortunately, Gigi's story also helped add to the legend of the 'curse of Torino'. He died at the age of just 24 on 15 October 1967. He was out with a team mate celebrating a win against Sampdoria and was crossing the road to phone a girlfriend when he was hit by a car. Ironically the driver, Atillio Romero was a 19 year old Torino fan, who idolised Gigi to the point that he actually had a photo of him in his car at the time. There was to be another twist of fate, as in 2000 Romero became the president of Torino. It happened at a point in time when Torino seemed to be finally recovering from the Superga air crash of 1949 that had wiped out the all conquering 'Grande Torino' team of that period.

Gigi was born in the small, conservative town of Como in Lombardy on 24 Febraury 1943. He was one of 3 children and his father died when he was young, leaving his mother to bring up the family. He was obsessed with football from an early age and signed for his local team, Como in 1961. He was only there for a season though, playing 26 games and scoring goals before he was snapped up by fallen giants Genoa.

Meroni became an instant hit with the Genoa fans. However Genoa were a club in decline and were no strangers to corruption and doping scandals. Meroni himself was implicated in one of these scandals when in 1963 he claimed to have forgotten to attend a drug testing session he had been asked to attend. His excuse like Rio Ferdinand's a few years ago was that he forgot. Meroni only received a 5 match ban for this and it's difficult to know how innocent he was as the 3 players who did attend the session were found guilty of taking amphetamines.

It therefore seems ironic that this scandal didn't seem to cause outrage amongst the Italian public, however his hair and dress sense did. Meroni dressed like the Beatles with slightly longish hair and it was his hair that became a national obsession. The first time that Meroni was told to cut it for an under 21 international he obliged. However, the second time he wouldn't replying that he hoped he could play well even with long hair. In 1966 he also wasn't allowed to take the field against North Korea as he refused to have a hair cut and was then made the scapegoat for Italy's disaterous showing at the World Cup as a whole. The Italian public also poured scorn on him for his womanising ways and his organising of 'happenings'; the most famous being when he led a chicken on a lead around the town square in Como and then drove it down to the lake where he tried to put a bathing suit on it.

Nevertheless, it should be remembered that Meroni was a genius on the pitch and his beautifully chipped goal for Torino against Inter at the San Siro in 1967, as well as being recognised as one of the best goals ever scored was the first goal that the ultra defensive Inter had allowed in at the San Siro for 3 years. It should also be remembered that Meroni played at Torino for one of the strictest disciplinarians of Italian football at the time, Nereo Rocco. Italian football also commanded that the players lived like monks and they were often put under what seemed like house arrest after defeats under the strict 'ritirio' rules, which is given as one of the reasons why English players didn't fair so well over there.

Meroni's untimely death means that we will never know if he could have inspired Torino to emulate the Grande Torino of the 1940s. At his funeral 20,000 Torino fans turned out. Shortly before he died Torino had accepted a bid of 750 million lires from bitter rivals Juventus, a decision that had been overuled by the protestation of fans. However, although his popularity amongst the Granata faithful could never be doubted even his funeral provided some scandal with the public demanding that the priest, Francesco Ferraudo who eulogised about Gigi's skills, to be excommunicated by the Pope.

The game after Meroni's death has also gone down in Italian folklore. Torino took on bitter rivals Juventus. Torino won 4-0 with Nestor Combin opening the scoring on 3 minutes from long range. The crowd who had been silent started chanting 'Gigi, Gigi'. 4 minutes later Combin a close friend of Meroni added a second from even further out and 15 minutes into the second half he completed his hat-trick, dedicating the goals to the memory of Meroni. Fittingly the fourth goal was added by the player wearing Meroni's number 7 shirt. The result is still Torino's biggest ever Derby victory.

Meroni's total playing record was: Como 1961-2 played 26 scored 3; Genoa 1962-4 played 42 scored 7 and Torino 1964-7 played 103 scored 22.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Some random photos from Rocester

I know they aren't great, as my footy photos usually aren't, but these were taken with the phone and I was sitting in the stand in agony at the time, so I do have an excuse.

The Roman way

Although I spent a year in Rome and was a regular at the Stadio Olimpico during my stay there (following Roma, although I did sneak off to Lazio games when none of my Italian friends were looking) it was a different band of Romans from my past that I paid a visit to on Saturday when I went to see Rocester take on Friar Lane & Epworth.

I didn't know what to expect as the last time I watched the team was a few games at the start of the 2008-9 season when their performances were ropey then to say the least. Neither Rocester or their visitors had been on great form and before the game Rocester were 16th and Friar Lane were 20th in a Midland's Alliance of 23 teams. It wasn't that long ago that Rocester were beaten at home by 7-1 by Coalville, so I was a bit dubious about their ability, however as Coalville beat King's Lynn 3-0 in the first leg of the FA Vase semi final on Saturday maybe I should have given Coalville more credit. That said the heaviest home defeat I have ever seen by a team was also at Rocester a few years ago when they went 9-1 down against Hinckley United.

Many of the Rocester fans were more optimistic than me however, as they had recently got ex-favourite Chris Sterling back on loan from Stafford Rangers and they were obviously hoping that he would have 'The Sheva effect' as his mug was adorning the front of the programme and he had scored against Heath Hayes in the previous game, his second back at the club. I was also told (by my dad) to keep an eye on Jack Langston who despite being the manager's son was 'not in the team due to any nepostism'.

Quite a few other things had changed at Rocester since the last time I had had a chance to go there. They now have a car park that is probably better than most Conference clubs, if only because they have now built the JCB Academy next to the ground and JCB now own the ground too. The fencing around the pitch that JCB paid for was also nearly finished, although wne it will get finished is anybody's guess. The programme in terms of information is probably as good as any at this level and I thought it was nice that everybody connected to the club was named at the front of the programme from the director to the staff in the tea shed. The quality of the print was not the glossy quality of old, but apart from a lot of clubs making this move in order to save money Rocester had lost one of their directors, who owned a printing business, from last time I came.

Another change was that I sat in stand, I think for the first time ever, because I had and still have a gammy foot, and I have to say the seats were the most comfortable I have sat in for a while (I'm not sure where they come from as somebody told me they used to be Port Vale's, but I think that they are from Walsall's old ground from when they moved into the Bescot all of those years ago). One thing worth noting was that despite the Wales v England game being on at 3 and many league clubs changing kick off times to accommodate the internationals and many non-leagues moaning about it the crowd was roughly what Rocester would expect for such a game. I completely sympathise with the non-league clubs complaining that if there is an agreement that Premier League games can't be screened at 3 on a Saturday then neither should internationals, but I am also wondering how much of an effect the England game really had and why more of the leagues didn't alter kick off times (or days) like so many League 1 and League 2 teams did.

Anyway, as you may have guessed after all this rambling that I haven't go too much to say about the game, which to a certain extent is true. It was a good enough match, but it was very one sided. In fact it looked like Friar Lane and Epworth were afraid of attacking although a lot of wasted chances went begging thanks to their number 7 and 10 being so woeful in front of goal despite not being bad players. I'm not sure what their names were as an annoying development at Rocester is that the teams aren't annnounced, whether it's because the PA system doesn't work or the kid who used to do it has now grown up, got a job and can afford to go to Stoke I don't know. The previously mentioned 7 and 10 had some good chances at the start, but Chris Sterling was increasingly to be found in great positions and was also laying off a few nice balls for Jack Langston and Danny Westwood. It was however Sterling who broke the deadlock on 25 minutes when he slid in to poke a Langston cross over the line. After the first goal Rocester started to really dominate and although Friar Lane did have a couple of breakaway moves they never looked like getting back in it and it was really Rocester who were dominating play. On 38 minutes Jack Langston made it 2-0 with a free kick struck from about 40 yards out that the goalkeeper had no chance of stopping. It should have been 3-0 at half time, but it wasn't, when Sterling hit the cross bar when it looked easier to score.

The second half was more of the same with The Romans dominating and Friar Lane's 7 and 10 wasting what few chances the visitors had. Craig Hulme and Ben Fairclough for the home team were equally guilty of wasting chances though it has to be said and with time ticking out it was still 2-0 to Rocester. Towards the end Darren Bullock was making his way further forward for Rocester and was being left unmarked from corners. I was fairly sure that he was going to score, but the third and final goal for Rocester didn't come until the 2nd minute of stoppage time when Jack Langston shot from 30 odd yards out at a time when everyone wanted him to past, however it looks like the rocket shot is a bit of a speciality of his as the ball wne tright into the back of the net past a stunned Friar's Lane Keeper.

So that was it 3-0 to Rocester. Man of the match has to go to Jack Langston. I know I'm always moaning about pundits giving the goalscorer's man of the match becasue they are too lazy to look at what really went on, but in this case credit where credit is due Langston who got 2 and Sterling who got the other were definitely the best players on the pitch. Friar Lane's best player was keeper, Andrew Simpson, which tells its own story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Club Focus -- Friar Lane and Epworth

This weekend it looks like I'll be having a break from the usual thrills and spills of the Eastern Counties League, however I won't be going up the leagues but a sideways move into another Step 5 league, the Midlands Alliance when Rocester take on Friar Lane and Epworth.

Friar Lane and Epworth were formed in 2004 when Friar Lane Old Boys joined with their neighbours and fellow members of the Leicestershire Senior League, Epworth.

Epworth are perhaps the junior members of the pact, as the team play at Friar Lane's Knighton Lane East Ground. The original idea that had been mooted in 2001/2 was that Epworth would ground share with Friar Lane, but the idea was given short shrift by the Leicestershire FA. In 2003/4 a number of the Epworth personell moved over to Friar Lane and the club finished third in the Leicestershire Senior League Premier Division. Epworth carried on in the division below and also finished 3rd. It was to be the last season that the teams existed as separate entities and the season after the merger went ahead.

In their inaugral season the club finished 9th in the Leicestershire Senior League and won the L&RCFA Senior Cup. In 2006 they won the league and were promoted to the Midlands Football Alliance where they have played since and have generally finished in the lower half of the table.

The original Friar Lane club can trace their history back to Friar Lane Baptist Church Football Club which was formed in 1911. They have also gone under the name Friar Lane Old Boys and spent most of their history in local Leicester leagues. Highlights of their history included winning the Leicestershire Senior League in 1970 and reaching the Semi Final of the FA Vase in 1975 along with some good performances in the strangely named Battle of Britain Cup (I think it's some cup for East Midlands teams).

Epworth can also trace their history back to a Methodist church. They were originally called Epworth Hall and were formed in 1931 playing like Friar Lane in the Leicester and District Mutual Football League. In 1970 they changed their name to Epworth Methodists. They also had a short period in the 1970s where they were named after their sponsor, Manny Bernstein going under the name Manny Bernstein FC (what an ego!)It also appears that finding a place to play has plagued them throughout their history as they almost went bankrupt in 1991 as they couldn't find anywhere to play, although they finally found a ground at King Drive Leicester Forest East. In their last full season as an independent entity they won Division 1 of the Leicestershire Senior League only dropping 16 points and scoring a massive 140 goals.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No goals at the Unwin again

The day started off as a nice Spring's day and I thought that it might be the first nice day of the year for football. However, by the time the game kicked off the storm clouds had gathered (although luckily they didn't break) and the temperature had dropped. Ely were taking on Norwich United and the storm clouds seemed to be a metaphor of what I expected to witness. Norwich United are the form team of the Ridgeons League recently and Ely have been eratic to say the least. I've missed the last couple of games, one away and one at home on Tuesday night, but have been told by the unbiased views of committee members, ex-players and hardcore fans that the Robins were unlucky to lose these games. It didn't look like their luck was going to change yesterday either. The forward line was dilapidated with Mason, Impey and Ebanks-Blake all missing and in defence Ben Lawrence had to withdraw, which left Ely with having to make call ups from the A-Team. For some churlish reason the first team and reserves have hardly anything to do with each other, so a call for reserve players went unanswered despite them not having a game.

Ely started off brighly enough in the first half with Richard Chadwick who had moved from his wide position to centre forward causing problems for the Norwich defence and Sam Goodge and Sam Parkinson causing problems from defence with several decent chances. To be honest though none of the chances looked like seriously bothering the Norwich defence. Ely were clearly not aided by Chadders having to play up front on his own and a linesman who seemed to struggle with the off-side rule and seemed to take his queue from the Norwich defence rather than any rule book. The referee, to be honest was also having a stinker, not in a biased way, just in an incompetent way. It therefore came as no surprise that there was a referee's assessor in the stands. Whenever there is an assessor about the referee seems to take complete leave of his senses.

Anyway, the first half as you may have deciphered from my elaborate description of the performance of the officials was not exactly goal mouth action and I don't think that either of the keepers had a difficult save to make, although I think that the Robins perhaps had the upper-hand in this half.

The second half was more of the same, although Norwich seemed to be more on the attack, but they didn't seem to be able to get past Adam Murray in the Ely defence. At the other end Chadwick caused the Norwich defence problems without really looking like scoring. However, on 60 minutes Ely were given the chance to take the game by the scruff of the neck when they were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box and the Norwich goalkeeper was given his marching orders for denying Chadwick a clear goal scoring opportunity. In my opinion the referee got both of these decisions wrong. I think that the challenge was definitely in the box, but that the ball was moving away from the goal. A penalty and a yellow card would have probably been a better decision. Obviously Norwich were disadvantaged by this decision and with an outfield player having to go in goals Ely should have pressed their advantage. Ely's first shot against the new keeper ricocheted off his knees to go for a corner, which might have suggested he was a bit dodgy, however a few minutes later he plucked the ball from the air in a nochalant manner that suggested that he might have known what he was doing. We will never know though, as Ely didn't create anymore chances and Norwich seemed to think that attack was the best form of defence given the circumstances , although their only meaningful shot came on 84 minutes and was brilliantly saved by Lee Pacey. The game finished 0-0, which was probably a fair result and under the circumstances that both teams found themselves in was probably satisfactory to both teams.

After only having witnessed one 0-0 draw in a game played by Ely before last month I've now seen two in a row. As Ely were clearly short of strikers going into this game it's probably not surprising they found it hard to find the net. I think that a bit more bravery after the sending off might not have gone amiss though, Andy Pettit, who used to be something of a goal scoring machine around these parts was on the bench, as was Ben Lawrence. As I said Ben Lawrence was withdrawn from the game, but still found himself on the bench. The reason for his withdrawal was a case of the squits, but he spent the whole of the game on the bench, so if that was the case unless he had a bucket under his seat he could have played for the last 20 minutes. His long throws could have perhaps put more pressure on the novice in nets. That said it was a fine defensive performance and Ely's improvements in this area this season should not go unremarked on. However the player of the previous two season, Brady Stone, who joined Kings Lynn at the start of this one has recently pitched up at Littleport and I'm sure that everyone at the Unwin would like to see him back in an Ely shirt next season.

On another matter totally unconnected to this game it was good to see Dynamo beat Manchester City on Thursday in the Europa league and I think that they could have scored more than two if Milevskiy had had his scoring boots on. A great performance by the whole team playing the traditional Dynamo style of Lobanovskiy and it was good to see Sheva on the scoresheet. I just hope that they can finish off the result this week and won't woe the missed chances.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Match action from King's Lynn v Rye United

Top: Rye 'keeper John Pelling gets ready for a King's Lynn free kick.
Middle: Jamie Thurlbourbne takes a corner for King's Lynn.
Bottom: King's Lynn players walk back after scoring the equaliser.

Corner flag

Yes, I know it's a bizarre picture, but I thought it was novel that the corner flgs looked like the Ukrainian national flag. I realise that this was probably not intentional.


Not really, but this was the first of three on pitch brawls (handbags) from the King's Lynn v Rye game.

King's Lynn v Rye United match report

Yesterday King's Lynn took on Rye United in the quarter finals of the FA Vase in front of a crowd of 1,657. Most of the crowd were expecting a one sided affair, after all Lynn hadn't lost since the first week of October and their opponents for prmotion from the United Counties League, the loaded St. Neot's had lost in the last round at the walks. The Norfolk press also pointed out that Rye could easily be struck by stage fight in front of a crowd that was considerably larger in number than what they were used to.

The game started off though with both teams looking nervous. There were also signs of tempers breaking as a couple of early encounters between Lynn forward, Jack Defty and Rye defender Shaun Loft. In fact there had already been a bit of a brawl when the two had tousled on 8 minutes, but on 15 minutes Loft was sent off for elbowing Defty.

This should have given Lynn even more of an upper hand, however it was Rye who looked more settled and organised and on 34 minutes Duncan McArthur floated a ball deftly into the goal after the forward line had made the Lynn defence look a little foolish. After this Lynn took control and had numerous chances to equalise, but it wasn't until the last minute of the half that Steven Spriggs put away Defty's lay off. That said Rye still looked organised at the back and it seemed like Lynn would have to throw on another forward to capitalise on their one man advantage.

Lynn boss Gary Setchell must have thought the same as in the second half Dubi Ogbanna was brought on for defender Kieran Doherty. Unfortunately, for Lynn Rye still remained resolute at the back and Ogbanna apart from wasting numerous chances could have also been accused of being guilty of being greedy and shooting when there were players in better positions. For most of the half though it looked like Lynn would force the winner, however Rye as well as defending resolutely had a couple of attacks that could have hit Lynn on the break. Luckily for Lynn ex-Ely player Jamie Allsop attoned for the earlier slip up that had led to the Rye goal with some fine tackling. Disaster was to strike again for Rye though as with a couple of minutes left on the clock Danny Ellis was sent off for the visitors after a late tackle on Luke Thurlbourne that led to a bit more brawling.

The game then went to extra time in what had already been an epic battle which neither side really deserved to lose, but with a two man advantage and a big partisan crowd the money was always going to be on the Linnets. King's Lynn also brought on another striker with Robbie Harris taking the place of Daniel Bullerman. To be honest, although I can hardly be seen as an expert on the Lynn squad and I do have the benefit of hindsight I don't know why he hadn't been introduced before. He had looked sharp in the pre-match kick around and had seemed a lot more accurate in front of goal. He proved to be: scoring goals on 97 and 113 minutes. It could have and should have been a lot more if the other forwards had brought their scoring boots, but I dounbt anyone at King's Lynn was complaining.

They might want to think about starting Harris next time out and to make the rumours that they want to sign Matt Blake from Thetford come true if they are to win the league / vase double. But, for now they are one step closer to Wembley.

Pre-match action at King's Lynn v Rye United

Pictures from top do bottom:
Sean gets ready in the club cafeteria
The teams warm up
The teams line up

The Walks, King's Lynn

The Walks is an 18th Century park in King's Lynn. It is also the name of the King's Lynn ground and as you can see the ground occupies a corner of the park.

Purfleet Quay, King's Lynn

Photos from top to bottom:
Top - Nadiya and Asya outside Custom House, which was built in 1685 by John Turner.
Middle - Captain Vancouver, the naval officer who was born in King's Lynn in 1757 and who has a city named after him.
Bottom - A boat at Purfleet Quay.

A big day out in King's Lynn (honest)

Last time I went to a game at King's Lynn their reserves were playing Ely on a bleak night almost exactly 2 years ago, if you want to read about that you can read it here: http://footballrambles.blogspot.com/2009/03/trip-to-lynn.html.

The place seemed a bit depressed and obviously there was less than a bumper crowd there. It was to be their last season in the Conference North. After starting the following season in the Northern Premier, they were only there for not making the ground improvements they should have, they then went bankrupt. It seems that they were spending too much on players, but weren't getting the ground in order. Anyway, now they have been reformed and are currently second in the United Counties (this is the equivalent of the Eastern Counties, where their reserves used to play) and after yesterday are in the semi-final of the FA Vase. What follows is a story of our day out in King's Lynn.