Football transfer rumours: Gareth Bale to Manchester United?

SP4

Never before having realised its capacity to dictate the mood of others, the Rumour Mill only became aware of the potentially spirit-sapping power of idle football transfer speculation yesterday evening upon seeing the reaction of a West Brom-supporting friend who’d just been informed that out-of-contract former West Ham striker Carlton Colemight be on his way to the Hawthorns to replace the Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, who had such a fine time with the Baggies last season. You know that scene in The Simpsons where Bart pauses the VCR to “actually pinpoint the second” Ralph Wiggum’s heart rips in two? Well, it was a bit like that.

The Rumour Mill doesn’t know whether or not Cole is on his way to West Brom, but we can tell you that various media outlets have interpretedCristiano Ronaldo‘s public denial, via Twitter and Facebook, that he has signed a new contract with Real Madrid as a sign that he wants to leave the Bernabéu.

Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain are the moneybags outfits who are rumoured to be interested in making him the best paid player in the world, a state of affairs that the Guardian’s man in Spain, Sid Lowe, has repeatedly suggested would appeal to the Portuguese’s goal-getter’s considerably large ego. The Daily Mail reports that Manchester United “are confident of re-signing the 28-year-old” and they may well be right, but it’s difficult to imagine the Premier League champions agreeing to pay Ronaldo more than the £330,000 per week Samuel Eto’o, world football’s current highest earner, takes home at the Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.

In other news pertaining to the champions, the Sun has slapped a red rectangular “exclusive” graphic on its revelation that, in the event of failing to land Ronaldo, David Moyes will smithereen his new club’s transfer record (£30.75m for Dimitar Berbatov) to bring Gareth Bale to Old Trafford. Meanwhile in the Star, Moyes is “clinging to the hope” that Barcelona’s summer transfer dealings convince Cesc Fábregas that he is unwanted at the Camp Nou and steer him towards the welcoming embrace of a ginger Scotsman at Old Trafford who’s more used to pining for earthier talents such as Alan Stubbs and Leighton Baines.

Speaking of “Bainsey”, Everton are apparently prepared to offer their accomplished left-back a 50% pay rise to stop him from having his head turned by the flirtatious cooing noises emanating from his former gaffer’s new office at Old Trafford. With two years left on a four-year deal, Baines currently trousers £44,000 per week, but will be offered £65,000 per week to stay at Goodison Park. Being one of those refreshingly unfussy players who’s always given the impression he’d be as happy being paid in barm cakes and real ale just to avoid the unnecessary hassle of completing the paperwork involved in opening a bank account, Baines may well accept Everton’s offer, if only to avoid the massive palaver of having to key the co-ordinates of Manchester United’s training ground into his satnav.

West Ham and Liverpool are believed to be close to agreeing a fee – £15.5m, it says here – that would make Andy Carroll‘s loan spell at West Ham permanent. London’s Evening Standard reports that the Geordie battering ram has been offered a four-year deal worth £78,000 per week. Should the deal fall through, West Ham will turn their attention to the Vitesse Arnhem striker Wilfried Bony, or else try to bring the Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha or the Chelsea striker Demba Ba in on loan. The Hammers are also being mentioned in conjunction with the signing of Milan pensioner Massimo Ambrosini, the former Italy international who has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s in talks with the London club.

That low-key but occasionally animated muttering noise you can hear emanating from the Midlands is the Hungarian midfielder Zoltan Gera, his agent and assorted West Brom bean-counters attempting to iron out the finer points of his mooted contract extension. Gera’s contract expires next summer, but his Mr 15% seems confident he’ll remain at the club despite interest from Fulham. “If West Brom have not had the intention to keep Zoltan Gera, then they would not have talks with us,” said Filipovic Vladan. “We have been negotiating about the conditions of the extension and hopefully the agreement will be made soon.”

Edinson Cavani‘s mum has waded into the debate raging over her boy’s next move. “Napoli’s president Aurelio De Laurentiis has spoken about the possibility of discussions with Chelsea but there is nothing definite with them at the moment,” Berta Gómez told a Montevideo radio station, before adding that “Edi is in talks with Manchester City and Real Madrid”. Ma Cavani then pulled a hanky from her handbag, licked one corner of it and vigorously rubbed a bit of food only she could see from the corner of her handsome young boy’s cheek.

The Mirror reckons that Ajax have hoisted the white flag regarding their bid to sign the Vitesse Arnhem and Holland midfielder Marco van Ginkel, because the Chelsea manager José Mourinho has been giving him the glad eye and they just can’t compete. And finally, Swansea fans can look forward to seeing goals galore from the halfway line at the Liberty Stadium next season if they’re successful in their bid to bring the Espanyol centre-half Jordi Amat to Wales for £2m.

Ultra-parochial America shows of its sporting ignorance

baseball2

 

The British are weird. You want to know how weird? They sing at sports events. No, really. But it’s what they sing that’s really odd. They sing, like, really old pop songs and show tunes and, like, really, really, really old hymns. For real. Like from knights-in-armour times. What a bunch of freaks.

But when it comes to out-of-the-box four-flavoured fruit loopiness, the limeys can’t hold a candle to the Chinese who – get this – think baseball is “confusing, boring and inaccessible”. Holy cow, what a crazy, crazy country. They’ll be saying they don’t like Tater-Tots or Mad Libs next.

Having written extensively in recent weeks about the sassy, sussed, cosmopolitan and growing US soccer fan culture, I have just been slapped repeatedly about the face and shoulders with the slimy raw haddock of ultra-parochial American sporting pig-ignorance.

Last week a local weekly newspaper greeted the news that Philadelphia (after an amazing year-long grass roots fan campaign) will be given a Major League Soccer franchise from 2010 with the suggestion the team should be called “The FC Reál Chester Who-Gives-A-Shits”. Honk honk. Meanwhile, a usually rather sharp local satire website ran the headline “[Governor] Rendell Introduces $47 Million Soccer-Caring Initiative”. Badum-tish. Hey what about them TV dinners? And have you noticed how President Eisenhower does that thing with his lips when he says “military industrial complex“?

No, that’s unfair. The first two articles mentioned in this blog are actually quite charming examples of the American journalist’s amazing ability to assume that if everywhere that isn’t America does something differently to the way most of America does it, this somehow makes everybody else abnormal and amusingly strange. I call it Addams Family syndrome – after that weirdo-ridden collective’s amusing tendency to regard all-non family members as pitiful, incomplete and ugly.

First up was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer attempting to explain to USAians why Philadelphia soccer fans sing an old 1940s pop song. It’s because they’re soccer fans and soccer fans all round the world do this, explained the article. “Why do soccer fans sing? … In this country, it just seems odd. Fans of American sports cheer, clap, boo or hiss. They may stomp their feet. But they don’t sing corny old standards.”

Let’s leave aside the dubious assumptions that a) soccer isn’t an American sport and b) American football fight songs like Philadelphia’s Fly Eagles Fly or Washington’s Hail to the Redskins (“Fight on, fight on ’til you have won, Sons of Wash-ing-ton. Rah!, Rah!, Rah! Hail to the Redskins! Hail Victory! Braves on the Warpath! Fight for old D.C.!”) aren’t both corny and old (rah rah?).

It apparently never crossed the journalist’s mind to ask the more obvious question – why don’t most American non-soccer fans sing? And if they do sing, why do they sing the one exact same song over and over and over again? Where’s the wit, where’s the culture? Why the deficiency? What’s wrong with them?

The answer, I am almost certain, has absolutely nothing to do with notions of US individualism v European (and South and Central American, and Asian, and African and Australian) collectivism. But it might just have something to do with the fact that autonomous fan culture has been all but crushed to death in most US pro-sports by the barrel-scraping, lowest-common-denominator-reaching, last-possible-dollar-squeezing tactics of leagues (and this is really terrifying) that are actually regarded as role models in the rest of the world.

(When the lights go out, Fifa and the NFL stand naked in their respective bedroom windows, staring at each other with undisguised lust and much drooling.)

But to have asked that question – at this current rather odd juncture of hayseedish parochialism and British Empire-style cultural hubris – the journalist would quite literally have had to have worn his brain outside his head, like an oddly cauliflower shaped beret. It just wouldn’t compute. It’d be like not having marshmallows on your sweet potato mash on Turkey day. Or swiss in your baloney on rye. Or wiffle-ball sized jumbo Tater Tots with your Stouffer’s Monterrey Chicken on Fat Tuesday. It would be totally freaking insane.

And so to baseball which – according to the New York Times – most Chinese people think is crap.

This obviously astounds the author who not only regards rounders-in-big-knickers as self-evident and sublime proof of God’s existence (like every US sportswriter ever) but seems genuinely disturbed to learn that there’s a huge gaping round-ball shaped hole in the middle of American cultural hegemony. It’s kinda like if Lancastrians were forever being shocked to discover the rest of the world doesn’t eat puddings made out of pig’s blood three times a day, like normal folks.

“I’m confident that once people here see this game and grasp it and play it, they will fall in love with it,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who doesn’t go into any detail as to why the citizens of the world’s oldest continuous civilisation would give up any of their many international sports or indigenous games in favour of one invented in 18th-century England and played today in fewer countries than consider pig’s blood mixed with common grain a delicious and savoury delicacy (probably).

But someone at the Times obviously agrees. The subhead on the online version has been changed from the startled “Some Chinese Call Baseball Confusing, Boring and Inaccessible” to the positively Ronald Reagan-esque “Playing in China, Chipping at a Wall”.

A wall. Kinda like the Berlin Wall – a crude artificial barrier that was all that stopped millions of freedom-loving East Europeans from playing and watching and loving baseball. Kinda like the wall the Republicans want to build on the border with Mexico, to stop untold millions of freedom-loving Mexicans coming into the country and starting up their own soccer leagues. The crazy rounders-in-big-knickers non-appreciating bastards.

Frank Keating dies: Sir Ian Botham leads tributes to top sports writer

Frank Keating

Figures from across the sporting world have paid tribute to the wit and warmth of Frank Keating, one of Britain’s most celebrated sports writers of the past 50 years, who died on Friday at the age of 75.

A fixture in the pages of the Guardian and the Observer across five decades, bar a six-year spell in television in the 1960s, Keating’s death sparked a wave of reminiscence and heartfelt tributes.

Sir Ian Botham, the subject of a 1986 book by Keating called High, Wide and Handsome, said he was “a great gentleman”. “Frank and I had a great relationship going back to my very early days. He used to come along with that pipe in his top pocket or hanging out of his mouth. He was a loyal friend, through thick and thin. We had a great time. He wrote with a genuine love of sport. He was an infectious writer, he was unique.”

Keating joined the Guardian in 1963 as a subeditor, leaving a year later to go into television as editor of outside broadcasts for Rediffusion TV. In 1968 he moved to Thames TV, becoming head of special projects and then news editor. But in 1970, Keating returned and continued to write for the Guardian and its sister paper, the Observer, until December last year.

Bill Beaumont, the Rugby Football Union chairman and former England and Lions captain, said Keating “was an outstanding sports writer with a true understanding of his subject and many friends throughout the sporting world … I always enjoyed reading his articles, which had a great style and exceptional depth of knowledge, and always enjoyed spending an hour or two discussing the game with him.”

Amid an outpouring of tributes on Twitter and the internet from friends, colleagues and readers – Piers Morgan called him “truly one of the greatest sportswriters ever” – the former England cricketer David Gower said he had a rare ability to get on with almost anyone: “He was a gentleman and a gentle man. Whimsical, knowledgable, with a lovely turn of phrase. He loved the game, seemed to understand the people who played it and was always very easy to get on with. If one was interviewed by Frank it was a gentle pleasure. There was no sense of interrogation,” said Gower. Another former England cricket captain, Graham Gooch, said Keating was “a wonderful writer as well as a great character”.

Giles Clarke, the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, said: “Frank Keating was a great Gloucestershire man and a terrific, lyrical writer. He loved life. Put simply, he went everywhere and wrote beautifully about it. He was a great guy and a great journalist.”

The Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, said: “On behalf of the Football Association, I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to the family of Frank Keating. A truly great sports writer, he will be much missed across the football world and beyond. His lasting legacy will be the tremendous pleasure his words brought to so many over half a century.”

Many paid tribute to the warmth of his personality and his generous spirit. The former England bowler Bob Willis recalled “dinner parties in Holland Park with copious quantities of red”. “He was a marvellous writer, he mixed sentimentality with all that was good in sport. He always looked for the good in everything, never sniping at anybody,” he added.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor in chief of the Guardian and Observer, said: “Frank was an immense figure in sports journalism for more than 50 years. He was a unique character, combining sophisticated sporting knowledge with a deep empathy and understanding of the human side of sport. Frank was also universally popular with an inspiring and uplifting personality that was infectious.

“As a writer, Frank deserves to be placed in the very elite of British sports writing in the last century – and amazingly, though ill, was still writing his wonderful weekly column in the Observer up until a few weeks ago. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad time.”

New Zealand v England – day two as it happened

Kevin Pietersen of England ducks under a bouncer

 

The second day’s play at Wellington brings back memories for me of this match in 1984, when Ian Botham and Derek Randall put on 232 for the sixth wicket, 180 of them on day two. Rags went on to score another century in Auckland his seventh and final in Tests, played all three matches in Pakistan on the mother-in-law tour then only one against West Indies that summer, scoring 0 and 1 with the formerly bold and happy hooker unable to get in line, his technique shredded after being hit by Michael Holding in Hobart a few years previously. But how he enthused a generation of cricket fans with his impudence, skill, courage and cartwheels and that New Zealand tour was the finale he deserved rather than what happened at Edgbaston five months later.

Any road, he was batting at No7 on that tour. No7? Talk about belt and braces. Ian Botham papered over a lot of cracks but little wonder his back went given his workload as opening bowler with only two seamers and a spinner for support. Six batsmen, an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper (definitely not an all-rounder) a spinner and two quicks. And RGD and Both question the balance of sides today.

At No3 was David Gower, whose Test career was cut short in 1992 so doesn’t make it into this list of England’s No3s of the past 20 years. And far from being the problem position it was always perceived to be, they have been pretty well served. Jonathan Trott’s faultless innings yesterday makes him the scorer of the highest number of centuries in that position over the past two decades. Some things I’d forgotten – that Graeme Hick averaged 43 in his 21 innings at first wicket down, that Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook both had quite a few games there and I hadn’t realised Mark Butcher scored so many 50s.

Right, today. Given the pitch England should have their feet not only under the table but in a foot spa. And both sides wanted to bowl first. Daft apeths.

Can Celtics or Rockets become first team to overcome 0-3 playoff deficit?

Kevin Garnett, Iman Shumpert, Paul Pierce

 

Before Wednesday only ten NBA teams that had begun a series down 0-3 had ever forced a Game Six. By early Thursday morning that list grew to 12 teams, as both the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets staved off elimination with road wins against their favored opponents. Now two teams that were left for dead are two wins away from doing something that has never been done in the NBA playoffs: actually winning a series after falling behind 0-3.

Now “being left for dead” is usually just a cliche, but that’s exactly how the New York Knicks felt about the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. Before the start of Game Five at Madison Square Garden, word came out that Knicks players were wearing articles of black clothing to commemorate what they were convinced would end up being a funeral for the 2012-13 Boston Celtics. To be fair, it looked prescient when the Knicks began the game with a 11-0 run, but Boston was able to bounce back, eventually beating the Knicks 92-86. Now the Celtics are headed back home, where they play significantly better than on the road, for a crucial Game Six on Friday. After the unexpected loss, the Knicks’ J.R. Smith, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year who had a disastrous shooting night, admitted that the Knicks’ strategy had backfired, saying:

“We was going to a funeral but it looks like we got buried.”

As a New York based team they really should have known better than counting out a Boston team out after putting them in a 0-3 hole. This series between the Celtics and the Knicks has started to feel a little like the 2004 American League Championship Series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees won the first three games of that series, including a road blowout in Game Three, before the Red Sox rattled off four straight wins to become the first team in MLB history to pull off such a comeback. If the Celtics need inspiration to do what no other team in their sport’s history has ever done, they need to only take a quick trip to Fenway Park.

A few hours after the Celtics somewhat shockingly extended their series against the Knicks to six games, the Houston Rockets followed suit when they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-100 at Chesapeake Arena. If the Thunder have struggled to put away the Rockets after starting the series with three straight victories, they at least have a valid excuse. Without point guard Russell Westbrook, who the Thunder lost to a meniscus tear midway through the series, the Thunder look and play like a completely different team than the one who clinched the top spot in the Western Conference.

With Westbrook out, the once formidable Thunder has become Kevin Durant and a ragtag group of role players, lacking a strong second option on offense. Now Durant, considered by many the second best player in the league, is quite capable of putting his team on his back and carrying them through the playoffs, but there are signs that it is affecting his game. A major reason the Rockets were able to win on Wednesday night was that they managed to keep Durant scoreless in the fourth quarter. (At the very least, these last two losses have put a temporary end to the absurd “the Thunder would be better without Westbrook” argument.)

If Westbrook’s injury had happened last postseason, the Thunder could have relied on James Harden, normally their number one option of the bench, to pick up much of the offensive slack. However, the Thunder traded Harden to this Houston Rockets team before the start of the regular season, something which would make a series loss doubly painful for Thunder fans. Imagine the possibility of Harden himself leading the Rockets to victory by capitalizing on the fact that he’s no longer on their roster. There’s some amount of irony in that, or at least irony if we’re going by the Alanis definition.

Because of the Westbrook injury, the Rockets probably have a better shot of making it out of the first round than the Celtics. The Celtics have benefited from Carmelo Anthony having a few off-nights and by the fact that J.R. Smith hurt the Knicks in back-to-back games (first by being unavailable for Game Four and then by being available in Game Five). Boston cannot expect either of these trends to continue. Houston, on the other hand, will be facing a team that has partially replaced its second best player with a guy who was retired and working for the Players’ Union at the start of the season.

Still both of these teams have a legitimate shot to make NBA history by becoming the first team to win a playoff series after starting out 0-3. Considering how many teams make the NBA playoffs though, it’s a tad surprising that a team hasn’t accomplished this already. As mentioned earlier, the Red Sox accomplished the feat in the MLB nearly a decade ago, and three NHL teams, most recently the Philadelphia Flyers, have pulled it off in the NHL playoffs. It almost seems as if the NBA is due for a team to pull off what would be the ultimate comeback.

Now, the main reason that this comeback hasn’t happened before is quite simple: most of the teams that drop the first three games in their series aren’t that good. This is especially true in the earlier rounds of the NBA Playoffs when top-seeded teams often make quick work of their lower-seeded opponents (just ask the Milwaukee Bucks how that goes). This stat could also be a reflection on how the NBA has less parity than the other leagues. At the start of every season, only a handful of teams ever have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals. Even among the teams that make the playoffs, there is typically a gap between legitimate title contenders and the rest of the field. In other words, the teams that are good enough to win four straight games in a playoff series very rarely face opponents capable of winning the first three games against them.

However, it’s not like there’s any sort of curse here preventing it from happening, and the law of averages tells us that eventually a NBA team will come all the way back from 0-3 to win a playoff series. So, who knows, this could be the year. First, of course, one of these teams has to force a Game Seven, something only three NBA teams have ever done in their position. With the Celtics and Rockets both heading back home for Game Six, the pressure entirely on their opponents, that list could grow longer in the next few days.

Remembering the 1985 FA Cup final: Manchester United v Everton

FA Cup Final - Manchester United v Everton

May 1985 was not a particularly pleasant period for English football. On Saturday May 11, what had originally been a day of celebration turned into tragedy at Bradford, as 56 people lost their lives in the horrific fire that swept through the Main Stand at Valley Parade.

As the nation heard of the horror at Bradford, news also started to drift through of crowd violence at St Andrews, with Birmingham City and Leeds fans involved in running battles. Sadly, during the trouble inside the ground, a wall collapsed, killing a 15-year-old boy, and dragging the name of the sport through the mud once more. It was within this climate of angst that the build-up to the 1985 FA Cup final played out, a nation of football fans hoping that the showpiece event could maybe paper over the gaping chasms within the structure of the game at the time.

Despite all the turmoil, the FA Cup final was still an eagerly anticipated event as Saturday May 18 approached, perhaps a temporary escape from the troubles surrounding the sport. The Express had been running a number of articles on Wembley first-timers in the week before the final, including an article on Howard Kendall’s 1964 Cup final appearance for Preston, making him, at the time, the youngest player to have played in the final.

Both the Express and the Mirror had bumper pull-outs on the day of the match and of course there were the obligatory Cup final songs.Manchester United’s We All Follow Man United peaked at number 10 in the charts, just beating Everton’s Here We Go, which reached number 14. Cheesy they may have been, but this was just one of the many pieces of the jigsaw that made the FA Cup final so exciting. And we haven’t even started on the television coverage on Cup final day yet.

Cup final day in my childhood was basically Christmas Day for football supporters. A mere glimpse of the Saturday schedule back in 1985 reveals why; the BBC started their coverage at 11am, with the usual variety of delights, such as the traditional visit to the team hotels, the Road to Wembley, and the interviews on the team coach on the way to the ground.

ITV’s World of Sport started an hour later, with guests including Dennis Taylor, Billy Connolly, Jimmy Tarbuck, and a helicopter-based Anneka Rice flying above Wembley stadium. I was a BBC boy myself – no adverts getting in the way – and for roughly seven hours I hardly left my seat. Alas, the FA Cup is now just another game in the season, and part of me feels sorry for anyone not fortunate enough to have experienced just how it felt to wake up as a child on cup final day and be as delighted as I used to be.

For Everton, the weeks after their semi-final win over Luton had seen them get positively high on silver polish, as they clinched two parts of a potential treble; their first league title since 1970 after an 18-match unbeaten run, and on the Wednesday before the final they travelled to Rotterdam and won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup by beating Rapid Vienna 3-1.

Howard Kendall’s stock had risen so much that the press were now linking him with the Real Madrid job – although Ron Atkinson was mentioned in some reports too – and Everton went to Wembley in an understandably confident mood, especially after two wins over their opponents already during the season (one a 5-0 league win at Goodison, the other a 2-1 Milk Cup victory at Old Trafford).

United’s league form unsurprisingly dipped immediately after their high of beating Liverpool, two points from the next nine ultimately costing them the runners-up spot in Division One. However, their 5-1 defeat at Watford prior to the final could be taken with a pinch of salt. Bryan Robson was rested to give his dodgy hamstring time to recover – he would later prove his fitness by scoring a hat-trick in a practice match on the Thursday – and Jesper Olsen was given a much needed rest after playing four games in eight days for club and country. Kevin Moran would eventually get the nod over Graeme Hogg at the heart of United’s defence, a selection decision that would take on extra significance as events would unfold.

The quality of both teams was unquestionable, with all three major award winners featuring in the final: Peter Reid (PFA Player of the Year), Mark Hughes (Young Player of the Year), and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year in Neville Southall.

A number of mouthwatering battles and intriguing tussles hung in the air. How would the relatively inexperienced Paul McGrath deal with the experienced Andy Gray? Who would win the midfield contest between Reid and Robson? Could Hughes ruffle the feathers of his international team-mate Kevin Ratcliffe? Could John Gidman and Arthur Albiston prevent Everton’s wide duo of Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven from supplying the ammo for Gray and Graeme Sharp?

In all, 21 of the starting 22 would end their careers with a full international cap (Everton’s Derek Mountfield the exception, though he did play at B and U21 level), and United would make history by becoming the first side to win the FA Cup final with 11 full internationals. Unsurprisingly, with so much talent on both sides, opinion was split on the possible destination of the famous old trophy.

Derek Potter of the Express took United to win by a couple of goals, whereas his colleague Steve Curry, although a lifelong United supporter, predicted that Everton would complete the treble. Phil Neal felt Everton’s wide men would be the main difference, with the Mirror’s Frank McGhee sounding the general opinion that Everton seemed to have the better team, and United the greater individual talent: “United will, I believe, take the trophy because they have more of the many individual talents on display – Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Jesper Olsen, Gordon Strachan to name the main four.”

Derek Wallis of the Mirror also favoured Manchester United, highlighting that “…the match represents such a challenge to United that a frustrating season will become a heartwarming occasion at the last throb.” Somewhat surprisingly, the bookies appeared to agree with the narrow majority that it would be United’s day; both Coral and William Hill had United at 4-5 to win the trophy outright, with Everton at evens. The bookies are not often wrong – I know this from personal experience – and so it would prove, after an historical 120 minutes at Wembley.

Before the match there was the usual chance for the press to indulge in a touch of scaremongering. According to reports, touts were flogging tickets at roughly ten times the market value (a £25 ticket would cost £250), fans travelling by road were having to contend with over 50 miles of lane closures on the M6 and M1, the AA expecting approximately 80,000 cars (not all supporters I’m guessing) on the road that day, and any fans not travelling by car could take advantage of the 27 special trains laid on by British Rail, which were estimated to be transporting roughly 25,000 supporters. This of course gave the police the extra headache of making sure rival fans were kept apart, although it was at least refreshing to hear that trains had been laid on for the day (take note Virgin), and that the game would kick off at the wacky time of 3pm (take note FA). Football wasn’t all bad in the 1980s.

As with many over-hyped Cup finals, the match didn’t really live up to expectations, hardly surprising really when you consider that both clubs were playing their 60th match of a gruelling season (plus the numerous international fixtures on top of that).

The first half was particularly average, the only real talking point was Peter Reid’s effort, which was deflected on to the post by Gidman, after a poor punch by Bailey. Frank Stapleton did test Southall from long range, the keeper easily saving the attempt that wasn’t even going in, which neatly summed up the general poor showing from both teams in the first 45 minutes.

The second half began more encouragingly, Andy Gray spurning a decent chance after fine work by Reid down Everton’s right. Then came the clearest chance of the match, Norman Whiteside surging through after good work by Mark Hughes and bearing down on goal. Luckily for Everton, Southall showed just why he was regarded as the best keeper in the world at the time, as he raced off his line to smother Whiteside’s effort. With the game drifting inevitably towards extra time, it looked as if United were beginning to benefit from Everton’s midweek exertions, until in the 77th minute came a moment that made football history.

A mistake from the otherwise impeccable McGrath was seized upon by the tireless Reid, and as the midfielder drove forward, all of a sudden there was just Kevin Moran between him and United’s goal. Moran mistimed his tackle, sending a flying Reid sailing through the air, and although Everton’s fans began chanting for Moran to be dismissed, no one expected what was to follow.

Indeed Brian Moore, commentating on ITV, indicated that Moran was about to go into the book, before he and the whole watching world realised that referee Peter Willis had other ideas. “Oh! He’s sent him off. He’s sent Moran off,” spluttered a stunned Moore, with co-commentator Ian St. John equally as surprised: “I really do find that incredible Brian. I think the referee is 100 percent out of order.”

A bit of context: looking at the challenge in today’s footballing world, you would probably expect Moran to be dismissed, but back in the 1980s, the decision made by Willis was truly jaw-dropping. After the match, journalists and pundits rounded on Willis. Mick Channon did not hold back, declaring that “the game was nearly ruined by an imposter calling himself a referee”. Jimmy Greaves hinted that, as this was Willis’ last ever match as a referee, “he wanted to get his name in history before he retired.”

Frank McGhee called the decision “a savage injustice”, Steve Curry called it “an impetuous decision”, and, writing in the Times, Stuart Jones expressed his displeasure on the incident: “The one figure who should have remained anonymous in the background had unwittingly taken a leading and seemingly decisive role in the play.” Only former referee, Clive “The Book” Thomas backed Willis post-match, and that was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Willis, who received £43 for officiating the final, was adamant that he had made the right call, informing the press on the day after the match: “I have no second thoughts about sending off Kevin Moran. I believe I was right at the time and I still believe I was right. But that doesn’t stop me feeling terrible about it.”

This one moment was talked and written about for days after the final, so you can only imagine the kind of fuss an equivalent decision would cause if it were to happen in the 24/7 world of sport we live in today. Whether the decision was right or wrong – I happen to think that in the context of the sport at the time, Moran should have been booked – the fact was that United would face an uphill struggle to contain the champions with just ten men on the pitch.

Atkinson initially resisted the temptation to bring on Mike Duxbury, dropping Stapleton back into defence to partner McGrath. United ended the 90 minutes strongly, Whiteside and Gidman combining well before Pat Van Den Hauwe nipped in to quash any danger (and dashing my remote hopes of a surprise win in my football team’s sweepstake).

Duxbury was introduced at the start of extra time, in place of Arthur Albiston, United hoping desperately that they could somehow get the match to a replay on Thursday night. One man hoping for a positive result, however, was England manager Bobby Robson, who would be robbed of the services of Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven, Paul Bracewell, Peter Reid, Gary Bailey, and most importantly Bryan Robson, for England’s World Cup qualifier on the Wednesday night in Finland. Club vresus country issues existed even back in 1985, which is almost reassuring to know.

As the cliché goes, it is often a lot harder to play against 10 men, and Everton were struggling to take advantage of their numerical superiority. Although Peter Reid would test Gary Bailey from 20 yards, and they would later graze the bar via an unintentional flick from Robson, it was evident to many that Everton’s tired display was an indication that their season was finally catching up on them. With just 10 minutes to go, all seemed set for a replay and an unwanted headache for Robson, until a moment of genius settled the issue.

When Hughes received the ball in his own half with his back to goal, there seemed to be little danger for Everton, even after the Welshman turned well and played a lovely pass with the outside of his right foot to Whiteside on United’s right. Whiteside backed Van Den Hauwe towards goal, using the defender as a shield, before spotting a gap and curling a superb left-footed shot off the inside of the post and past Southall.

Curry would later remark: “You need astonishing expertise these days to curl a ball beyond the reach of Neville Southall, yet Whiteside managed it with a low shot that was as lethal as an Exocet missile.” Put simply, it was a goal worthy of winning a Cup final, and even with the handicap of playing with a man down for 40 minutes-plus, few could dispute that United had deserved their victory. Not for the first time, the determination of Manchester United had deprived Merseyside of a treble.

There would be more controversy as United’s weary players climbed the famous Wembley steps to collect the trophy. Under FA laws, Moran was not allowed to collect his winner’s medal, meaning that he would have to wait for an FA committee to meet in the week to decide on the matter.

Again, every man and his dog had a say on the issue, the Mirror even inviting readers to send in postcards with either YES or NO written on them to indicate whether they felt Moran should receive his medal (for the record, of the 1,140 votes received, 93.5% said yes). Eventually the FA voted in Moran’s favour, the defender naturally delighted as United were enjoying a holiday in Trinidad: “I’m going to treat the lads to a drink. It’s been a traumatic week, but I’m delighted it’s turned out this way.”

Although Everton’s season had ended in disappointment, they could be cheered by the fact that, during their lap of honour (do Wembley losers still do this?), their fans reminded them that they were champions. After the dust had settled, the club could reflect on a fine season and start to look towards the following campaign, and the ultimate challenge of the European Cup.

But just 11 days later came the Heysel Stadium disaster, 39 deaths and a sad conclusion to an already tragic English football season, the inevitable expulsion of English clubs from Europe preventing Everton from ever having the chance to pit themselves against the cream of the continent.

During the course of my blogs covering the first round to the final, there have been many interesting and controversial moments along the way: Ian Branfoot taking his Reading players to visit the “Big Pit” in Blaeavon prior to their first round match with Barry Town; pitch invasions at Dagenham in the second round and at the North East derby between Darlington and Middlesbrough in the third round; Burton v Leicester replayed behind closed doors after Burton keeper Paul Evans had been concussed by a block of wood thrown from the terraces; the endless cold snap that swept the country during the fourth round; York embarrassing Arsenal; the romantic tale of Telford reaching the fifth round; that infamous evening in Luton during the quarter-finals; two classic semi-finals that still bring goosebumps just thinking about them. And to conclude, an against the odds victory for 10-man Manchester United against the finest team in the land during the 1984-85 season.

Roberto Martínez to take over as Everton manager after release agreed

Roberto Martinez

Everton are close to confirming the appointment of Roberto Martínez as their manager after agreeing a compensation fee of almost £2m withWigan Athletic.

Martínez has been favourite for the post since David Moyes agreed to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and his move could be ratified on Tuesday following the compensation deal. The Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, told the BBC: “Bill [Kenwright] and myself have sorted out the compensation and Roberto is free to do a deal with Everton if he wants.

“I gave Roberto permission to speak to Everton last week. He came back and told me it had gone well, I think he was down to the last two or three on the list, and then their chairman rang me to discuss the compensation deal and we agreed that this evening.”

That prompted a pointed and unusual response from Everton, who insisted the deal was not yet done. A club statement read: “In response to regrettable and somewhat premature reports earlier this evening, Everton are continuing discussions with regards to the vacant managerial position. Whilst positive moves are being made, the club will officially announce details as and only when they are agreed and completed.”

Everton did not receive any compensation from United for Moyes, who officially starts at Old Trafford when his contract at Goodison Park expires at the end of the month, but have agreed to pay relegated Wigan for the final 12 months of Martínez’s contract at the DW Stadium. Kenwright spent the weekend deliberating on a final three-man shortlist for the job but Martínez was always expected to be offered the position ahead of the Porto coach, Vítor Pereira, and Ralf Rangnick, the former Schalke coach who is the general manager at Salzburg.

Having dismissed Everton as “not big enough” for Martínez last month, the Wigan chairman clarified his comment on Monday: “Sometimes I like to wind up the chairman at Everton. We have had some really entertaining games between Everton and Wigan over the years and when I said I didn’t think it was a big enough club for Roberto I was winding up Bill and their supporters. It is a big club, no question.

“Everton are the next step before Roberto goes to the very top. We had coffee this evening. We are still very good friends and will be friends for the rest of our lives. He is a brilliant manager, a very nice person and very honest.”

The 39-year-old’s playing philosophy and historic FA Cup success with Wigan impressed the Goodison hierarchy, who witnessed both at close hand when Everton suffered an emphatic home defeat in the quarter-finals, and the club were keen to appoint a manager with Premier League experience.

Martínez has spent four years in the top flight with Wigan, finishing 16th, 16th, 15th and finally 18th last season while overhauling the club’s financial position from being dependent on Whelan to making a profit last term. He has won 38 of 152 games in the top flight, a win ratio of 25%.

Martínez cleared the way for his move to Merseyside last Tuesday when he informed Whelan he wished to leave Wigan following the club’s relegation to the Championship. He then held meetings with Kenwright on Wednesday and Friday and has discussed taking members of Wigan’s backroom team with him to Merseyside, including the assistant manager Graeme Jones and the goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara, although Everton are keen on retaining coaches such as David Weir, Alan Stubbs and Andy Holden.

Weir and Stubbs, along with the former Everton captain Phil Neville, were also interviewed by Kenwright for the manager’s job and several members of their coaching staff will follow Moyes to Old Trafford.

The Spaniard has still to finalise his contract with Everton but that is likely to be a formality after his meetings with Kenwright and the deal should be completed on Tuesday.

The Wigan midfielder James McCarthy could be an early target for the next Everton manager with doubts persisting over Marouane Fellaini’s future. The Belgium international has a £24m release clause in his Everton contract.

The outgoing United assistant manager, René Muelensteen, has been tipped to succeed Martínez at Wigan although Whelan has described reports of his appointment as premature. The former Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle is also believed to be under consideration.

“I’ve had over 30 people applying for the job but I’ve not been able to interview anybody yet because of the agreement over compensation for Roberto,” Whelan said. “I can get on with that now but first I’m going to Jersey for a few days because I promised to show the FA Cup off if we won it.”