Thursday, 21 October 2010

Carshalton and Co. Up for the Cup

This weekend sees 64 non-league sides take to the pitch, needing just one win to progress to the FA Cup First Round 'Proper'.

For many clubs, it's a great opportunity to draw a 'big name' side, with clubs from Leagues One and Two entering at the next round. Whilst for the top Blue Square Bet Premier teams it presents a chance to draw a smaller club with the hope of progressing and getting a tie with a top Premier League outfit in January.

Ryman League Premier side Carshalton Athletic have already safely navigated their way through three rounds - a feat they've not managed in my eight years of supporting them. Unsurprisingly, the season I don't attempt to get to south London to watch them slog it out against an even more lowly non-league side in the early qualifying stages, they hit a blistering run of form!

Saturday sees the Robins host Blue Square Bet South outfit Chelmsford City - a disappointing tie in the end for the Carshalton faithful ,as their opponents needed a replay to surpass league rivals Bromley, managed by former Robins boss Hayden Bird.

The current man in the Colston Avenue hot-seat, Mark Butler, has seen his side brush aside Tunbridge Wells and East Thurrock United (albeit via a replay) and they're no strangers to beating bigger opposition either, putting four past high-flying BSS side Braintree Town after going a goal down after just five minutes.

The Robins' local-rivals Tooting and Mitcham United reached the First Round last season and were rewarded (?) with an away day at Stockport County, whilst rivals of an even closer viscinity, Sutton United, will always be remembered for their famous Third Round defeat of then top-flight side Coventry City in 1989.

Both of these clubs will be wrapped-up in league action this weekend, however, having had their respective Cup runs brought to a halt. But other ties to look out for include Wessex Premier League Poole Town who host Hayes and Yeading of non-league's top-flight and a local derby between Luton Town and St Albans City . It's the battle of the Boroughs at Priory Lane as Harrow travel to Eastbourne, while Mansfield visit FC Halifax Town of the Evo-Stik Premier League.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Josh McEachran - an old head on young shoulders

Over recent years, several Premier League sides have been lambasted for their reluctance to bring through young home-grown talent, with Chelsea often at the forefront of the media's glare.

And admittedly, since the breakthrough of John Terry to the Blues' first-team an unbelievable twelve years ago (time flies when you're winning trophies...), few home-grown players have made the grade at Stamford Bridge, with many seeking pastures new. Michael Mancienne looks to be the latest of those tipped for great things with the current Champions, only to fail to live upto the hype.

This year, however, things could be very different. A combination of factors look to be coming into conjunction to see not only the promotion but hopefully the prolonged stay of several youngsters to the Chelsea first-team.

When Roman Abramovich arrived in West London in 2003, one of his priorities was for the club to leave their run-down, dilapidated training facility at Harlington and build a modern, state-of-the-art complex at Cobham, complete with huge levels of time and investment in the youth set-up.

The fruits of this are starting to ripen, possibly assisted by new Premier League laws governing a certain percentage of home-grown players in each club's squad - along with an unlimited number of under 21s.

Last season, big things were expected of centre back Jeffrey Bruma, striker Daniel Sturridge, Patrick van Aanholt, Nemanja Matic and Fabio Borini.

And one youngster in particular has already started to make a massive impression with Blues fans this campaign. Not plucked from the list above but from relatively out-of-the-blue (sorry!), midfielder Josh McEachran has burst onto the scene since August, making several substitute appearances not just in the league but Europe as well.

At just 17 (despite easily being able to masquerade as an Under 12 squad player), Chelsea fans have been stunned by McEachran's composure, level-headedness, decision-making, confidence and ability. But not only does he have a great first-touch and an ability to play a pass through the eye of a needle, the youngster has a footballing brain to boot. And, even better news, he's English!

If McEachran can continue his development and keep forcing Carlo Ancelotti's hand into selecting him (even as a substitute), the young midfielder could have a massive future not only for Chelsea but for his country as well. And who knows, when the Blues' current number 8 eventually hangs up his boots, in a few seasons' time we could well be asking, "Frank who?"

Monday, 18 October 2010

London 2012 - A small price to pay?

Last week ticket prices for the London 2012 Olympic Games were announced - and what a mixed bag they offered up.

Amidst fanstastic schemes to keep tickets accessible, including a 'pay your age' scheme for under 16s and the inclusion of a London Travelcard with all Games tickets, little bombshells were also dropped sporadically into the mix, including some tickets for the opening ceremony on sale for £2,012.

But notice how such prices are not advertised as forcefully on the official London 2012 website as their 'accessible pricing schemes' - i wonder why? Embarrassment, maybe?

It's also only apparent in the smallprint that whilst youngsters can pay their age to see some events, this offer will only be in operation for some of the Games - presumably the blue-riband, 100m men's final will be off limits...

And whilst it's great that many tickets are priced as low as £20, how many people will want to sit up in the Gods watching those epic basketballing nations of India and Poland slog it out in the preliminaries - even if it is 'just' £20? Prices for the basketball final, on the other hand, range from a mildly acceptable £95 to £425 - a sum to make even legend Michael Jordan choke on his caviar.

And the best of it is that they're not even the most expensive. Brace for the finals of the diving, artistic gymnastics, swimming and beach volleyball are on sale for the small sum of £450...and that's before the touts get involved!

Admittedly there will be sections of the public (namely long-coated, sex-starved, middle-aged men with rather sizeable face-furniture and an aversion to the dentist but with a liking for certain questionable websites) willing to pay these lofty prices for events such as women's beach volleyball, but not your average sports fan and certainly not your average Stratford resident.

Seb Coe and LOCOG have constantly spouted the need to keep tickets accessible, to repay taxpayers whose money has funded the Games and to get youngsters involved with the view to a sporting future.

Great, couldn't agree more. But the prices announced last Friday have done little to support these promises. And are we surprised? Probably not one little bit.

What LOCOG are essentially saying with their pricing structure is - "We've tried to make ourselves look good with a few value for money deals and prices, but to get to any events of note you'll have to remortgage your house. But if you want cheap tickets, there's always the synchronised swimming preliminaries, after all, beggars can't be choosers."