You wonder if Jermaine Pennant has ever heard of Stanley Matthews, his esteemed predecessor on the Stoke City right wing?
Two very different kinds of winger, two profoundly different personalities. Matthews, the very paragon of self-discipline and good living, allegedly always in bed with the lights out at 9 o’clock at night. Pennant the eternal maverick, even imprisoned after a drink and drive car crash, needing to be redeemed by the tender loving care of Steve Bruce at Birmingham City. Where I, long one of his admirers as a dynamic player, once saw him in such devastatingly elusive form that Bruce afterwards quite properly called him “unplayable.”
I also once saw him hit a hat trick one midweek evening for Arsenal, whom he joined in somewhat tumultuous circumstances aged 16, following an imbroglio between his father and an agent, against Southampton. But the Gunners didn’t keep him – for all Arsene Wenger’s largely distinguished stewardship, how often do they keep them, though I’ve not forgotten Jack Wilshere the exception who proves the rule and who could have been sent off at Stoke – and he travelled from club to club.
For that matter Matthews himself, though Potteries born, didn’t remain at Stoke. For that you could blame the then Stoke manager McGrory, who’d once been a team mate of Stanley but for some reason, envy perhaps, became a virtual enemy. Even dropping him from the team in the first post war “official” season in 1946. Stanley anyway was probably hoping to return to Blackpool for whom he had played as a guest when serving nearby in the RAF during the war. And so he impressively did in three Cup Finals!
Strange, though, to think that when Stoke came to Wembley for his latest Cup Final, the real one, they had never won a major honour, never before played in an FA Cup Final, though with a team of what you might call golden oldies, they had impressively won, at Wembley, the League Cup Final of 1972.
Yet even apart from Matthews, who, of course, rejoined them romantically and even successfully from Blackpool in his latter 40s, Stoke, over the years have fielded many a fine player, Freddie Steele was an England international centre forward of renown. Frank Soo, of Chinese origin, a rarity indeed in those remote days, was an England international too, at wing half. As late as 1946, when a post war “unofficial” international match was due at Wembley against Belgium, he was picked at right half. But he had to fall out and the young Billy Wright dropped back from inside left to replace him and went on to win 105 caps.
And there was Neil Franklin, most elegant of “footballing” centre halves, who badly blotted his copybook and let the England 1950 World Cup team for Brazil badly down who shortly before the tournament slipped off to Bogota in Colombia to earn the then opulent £50 a week playing for the Santa Fe club; Colombia then being out of FIFA and thus being allowed to sign whom they pleased. With him flew George Mountford, the right-winger who’d briefly kept Matthews out of the Stoke side. But it didn’t work out, they were before long home in disgrace and suspended. Franklin’s once coruscating career ended somewhat obscurely, and even ignominiously, at Hull City. A loss to club and country alike.
Justice was surely done when Manchester United beat Chelsea by a flattering 2-1 margin to make sure of a well-deserved Championship. Halfway competent linesmen would have surely seen to it that Chelsea the previous weekend would never have beaten Spurs 2-1 with those two tarnished goals.
So if Ancelotti now goes who would wish to accept, however highly remunerated, the poisoned chalice? There seems every possibility that billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich will still be hoping to get his money back on the ineffectual Torres, and what manager would ever want to put up with that?
Arsenal? Why couldn’t Wenger replace the ever-injured Thomas Vermaelen at centre half where weakness was endemic?
Let us piously hope that the $20 million allotted by FIFA to the cause of stamping out the shocking and alarming phenomenon of match fixing will be both well spent and effective. Certainly the Finnish football authorities and those in Germany – the Bochum affair – have given a strong lead.
In the meantime, how heartening to know that UEFA are backing the ineffable Sepp Blatter for the FIFA Presidency. As the Sicilians say, one hand washes the other. Meanwhile, how reassuring to hear that our distinguished if anonymous representative on the highest echelons of FIFA, has made it up with Blatter.
Bit by bit, more gradually leaks out about the embarrassing ineptitude of England’s World Cup bid, which led to the abysmal grovelling of Prime Minister Cameron and Prince William himself before the repugnant likes of Jack Warner. Gentlemen: those games of 2018 and 2022 were long ago bought and sold and all the grovelling and manoeuvring in the galaxy wasn’t going to change anything.
Now Lord Triesman has had his say, but wasn’t he, himself, among those who courted Jack Warner, and should anyone have been surprised when, whatever his promises, Warner bestowed his vote elsewhere? What was it they used to say? You can’t touch pitch without being defiled. And FIFA is pitch in essence.
Seldom have I seen such an abject surrender as Fulham’s to Liverpool and an irresistible Luis Suarez, in their collapse at The Cottage. Goal after avoidable goal, five in all, was ineptly given away. But you did leave the stadium wondering, after the Uruguayan’s brilliance, his ball across the line virtuosity, who really needs the absent on the night £35 million Carroll?
Committed to selling four internationals if relegated, what would West Ham do in a 60,000 capacity Olympic Stadium?