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Hey there!

So @whensmybus has been about for a bit, but I’ve had a few people ask me “when’s a version for the Tube or DLR coming out?”. Not wishing to do things by halves, I’ve done both at once. 

Introducing @whensmytube

The easiest way to use @whensmytube on Twitter is this: If you have GPS-enabled smartphone like an iPhone or Android phone. Just make sure you have your current location added to your Tweet - instructions on doing so are here. Then just Tweet to @whensmytube, e.g.

@whensmytube Central Line

If you don’t have a GPS-enabled smartphone, or prefer not to disclose your location, then you can include “from [placename]” where, [placename] is where you want to go from, e.g.:

@whensmytube Central Line from Liverpool Street

Either way, @whensmytube will work out where you are and within a minute Tweet back at you the latest times for Tube trains from the station nearest to you.

All set? There’s more info on the About page if you need it, and if you have any feedback I’d love to hear it - my contact details are here. And remember to check out @whensmyDLR as well!

  — Chris

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Tonight by sheer chance I heard a nice little play on Radio 4 called The Traitor of the Zazalcara - about a fictional match at the 1978 World Cup between Italy and Uruguay which the two teams attempted to rig so they could both qualify. Although fictional, it is almost certainly based on the Austria-West Germany game at the 1982 World Cup; it’s a comedy at heart, and the odd cheap stereotype aside, gives a warm, human twist on a classic story of gamesmanship. There aren’t many good football comedies, so catch it on iPlayer while you can.

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Yesterday Arsenal huffed and puffed a bit to pull of a 1-0 win over a spirited West Ham United. Arsenal’s midfield were all over the place - Cesc was erratic, Denilson his usual ineffective self, and even Song was caught out of place a few times (but the goal forgives all sin). Arshavin had another match of losing the ball in good positions, and for once Chamakh found a Premier League defence he couldn’t trouble.

But Arsenal still connived to grind out chance after chance, smacking the woodwork twice and forcing Robert Green into three or four quality saves, and in the end after a lot of persistence, Song popped up for the winner. It might not have been a great performance, but it was enough - and as the cliché goes, it’s winning when playing badly that’s the hallmark of a good team. As Arseblog says:

Not every game can be scintillating and packed with goals. You have to win some ugly ones as well and yesterday’s victory was right up there with Iain Dowie.

Chelsea have perfected this art - yesterday rolling over Blackburn despite the hosts having the better chances; in fact after a storming early start to the season they’ve settled into a series of workmanlike victories (against us, Wolves and Blackburn) to cement their spot at the top of the league. Teams have worked out pretty quickly this season that they don’t want a pummelling like Wigan and West Brom got, and can’t sit back against them, so Chelsea’s victories are getting harder and harder fought.

If we carry on holding second place, we may be heading the same way. Time for us to remind ourselves that the only way for us to win the title is if we grind out wins where we might have got draws or losses before. So we should start cherishing the ugly wins for what they are, and drop the word “ugly” entirely from our vocabulary.

(Besides, all other things being equal, wasn’t it great fun winning with a last-minute goal rather than rolling out 3-0 comfortably?)

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I am on this week’s Two Footed Tackle podcast with Gary Andrews, Chris Nee, James Appell and Jamie Cutteridge. Not as on form as my World Cup podcast with the same guys (I blame a bad day at work) - I thought it was Eboué, not Song that got sent off at Sunderland, and got the wrong Bolton manager. Still, some good stuff in there, with four excellent pundits.

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Two of the biggest topics being discussed in the UK football press (apart from the Liverpool takeover) over the past week have been England’s miserable performance against Montenegro, and the plague of bad tackles and serious injuries (Bobby Zamora, Hatem Ben Arfa, Anotnio Valencia) in the game recently. What they turn out to be is two sides of the same coin; both are inevitable consequences of the modern English game.

After England’s World Cup performance, the usual pundits came out with the usual proposals. The England players (and indeed players from other teams who play in the Premiership) are tired, they said. Let’s reduce the Premier League to 18 teams, have a winter break, reform or even scrap the League Cup. More long-term, we should be training kids to work on technique not physicality and power, with smaller goals and pitches. Anyone who’s followed the English game in any detail will know that these are not new arguments; we’ve heard this all before, for many, many years. Trevor Brooking’s attempts to reform the game are just the latest rehashings of the same ideas that will inevitably get ignored or half-heartedly implemented.

Why? Because we just don’t like our football to be played in that way. The self-procliamed “greatest league in the world” may not be the greatest (only two Champions League winners in the last decade have been English), but we probably win in terms of entertainment - that is, if you pride entertainment on the pace and physicality. Plenty of foreign players have noted that their most difficult task upon arriving at a Premier League club is adapting to the physical demands of the league - and while some fail miserably, others thrive (Didier Drogba, wash my mouth out, is a prime example of this).

Prizing strength, surging runs, crunching tackles, aerial challenges and “getting stuck in” is not just a marketing tactic that Sky came up with, but is the result of over a century of British football culture, and it’s what the fans demand too; even at the Emirates Stadium, what rouses the organic falafel-eating Ruperts and Montys in the stands out of their Highbury Library slumber* more than anything is a good strong tackle; what angers them most is when the home side overplays it or shirks from having a go at the opposition.

This is not to say skill has no place in the Premier League; indeed the opposite applies - with fast, dashing, pressing physical play all around you and very little time on the ball, it pushes a footballer’s skills to their limits, and indeed brings out some of the very best of their talents; this is a league that has produced players such as Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo, after all. Touch, finesse and quality passing are very much in demand in the Premier League, at least at the top end. At the lower end of the table, it’s more difficult; with a few honourable exceptions, most clubs have realised it’s easier and quicker to improve a player’s strength and stamina than their innate skill and touch, and so this is the option managers with more limited means will tend towards; the likes of Karl Henry and Kevin Davies are examples of the extreme consequences of this policy.

While the English demand for physical play has remained a constant in our history, the strength, stamina and pace of the footballers that carry out these tactics has dramatically increased since the Premier League’s foundation. Money has had two intertwining roles in this: Firstly, with more money, clubs have been able to modernise training methods to specificially improve the aspects of a player’s physique to play the modern game; not to mention better fitness training, diet and physiotherapy. Players can tackle harder and press and harry for longer. Secondly, with the lure of extra money, football becomes more ruthless. Winning is what counts, at all costs. Even a single place in the final league table can mean more prize money, and as a result there are now few meaningless mid-table games.

We still prize a hard-tackling, fast, direct game yet the players we are producing for it are perhaps now too strong for their own good, and operate under a win-at-all-costs philosophy. All the money clubs have spent on improving their physical condition has not been matched with resourced on improving their temperament or their mental understanding of the game; put into that perspective, and it’s no wonder that more players’ legs are getting needlessly broken. Nor is it really surprising that when, with no England players playing outside the Premier League, put up on the international stage the lack of imagination and one-dimensionality of our game gets shown for what it is.

That’s not an original conclusion, I know, but it escapes many critics of the English game that this is exactly what we demand. This is the monster we have created.

Given the culture of English football, a winter break and fewer games won’t make the players any less tired come a summer tournament; a slight reduction in the physical demands of a season will just mean managers can make players work even harder in the matches they do play. If we want a better England side, and a safer Premier League, then we’re going to have to look at ourselves more deeply. Are we willing to sacrifice the style of play that we cherish for a less physical, more cerebral and, dare I say it, more boring style of play, and give up the most entertaining league in the world” (at least by our standards)? We will nod all our heads about the good ideas in Sir Trevor’s report are and ponder the ins and outs of a winter break, but unless we’re willing to change our own outlook on the game then we’re essentially hypocrites in the matter.

* I jest, of course, and as an Arsenal fan myself I reserve the right to self-mock…

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Arsenal today announced record pre-tax profits of £56m and said that the property built as part of the move to the Emirates stadium, the Highbury Square development, is now debt free and making money for the club.

The important part is the second bit - not the profit, the debt. Relying on property sales in the credit crunch was risky stuff, but Highbury Square is now no longer in debt, at all, and we’ve halved the club’s entire debt from £297.7m to £135.6m. In short, we’re not going to be a Portsmouth, nor a Liverpool. Given the way some clubs are going, we should be thankful for that, even if we’re not spending all the money we’re making (yet).

My only worry is that Tottenham, building their new stadium, might just get away with the exact same tactic and become as financially secure as us… ;)

Source: Guardian
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Togo’s assistant coach has been suspended for three years after taking a group of impostors masquerading as the national side to play a match in Bahrain.

*insert Roy Hodgson joke here*

Source: BBC
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This blog’s been asleep for a while. Updated with a new set of colours and for a new(ish) season

Source: twitpic.com
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The ever-excellent Simon Kuper on penalties. Perhaps unsurprisingly for anyone who has read about cognitive biases, but penalty takers are rarely random in their behaviour, and neither are goalkeepers in which way they dive. But that said, it may not be that necessary…

But these individual patterns are secondary. The key moment in any shoot-out is the coin toss. The captain who calls correctly gets to decide whether his team takes the first kick. Always kick first, says Mr Palacios-Huerta. The team taking the first penalty wins 60 per cent of shoot-outs.

Interesting - not sure how FIFA could fix this - maybe make each team alternate going first on each round of penalties?

(via Gary Andrews)

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As I’ve banged on a lot already, so much so you’re probably bored of it, virtually every single player in the Nike “Write The Future” advert was dumped out of the cup before the quarter-finals. It’s easy to say in retrospect “They got the wrong players! If only they’d put Thomas Mueller or David Villa or Diego Forlan in”. But this would be missing the point entirely.

Football is a team game, yet rarely do we commemorate entire teams in our collective memory. Individual players always stand out; even when we do pick out great team units, such as Brazil in 1970, inevitably it’s always in the context of names such as Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho.

More than ever now, the team is more important than the individual. The typical formation for many teams is 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-2-1, with an emphasis on a pressing game, crowding out the park when the opposition have possession, a lone striker to hold up the ball and a midfield that pushes up to support him in attack. As standards of football rise and the gap between teams gets smaller, it becomes a game of making the most of tiny percentages; the strategy relies on supreme fitness and high levels of concentration to make the most of every pass, tackle and interception.

When it’s done well, it’s done beautifully, as the Germans demonstrated so brilliantly against Argentina today. Teamwork to the individualistic footballer is just about passing, but it is of course of much more than that - positioning yourself to give your teammates options, knowing when to sit back and when to break so as not to expose your fellow players, where to make those runs to to distract a defender. Germany displayed these all brilliantly, while Argentina’s philosophy of going out and enjoying themselves came horribly undone; with an organised defence shutting out Messi the likes of Tevez and Di Maria were left to forage on their own, poking shots in from outside the box.

Not that this is just a story of efficient, well-drilled Germans - there is plenty of talent in the side, especially in that midfield of Muller, Ozil, Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Podolski. But that’s all five of them, not just one star like Argentina and Messi. What Joachim Low has done so well is to blend his many talents with an organised system suited to the modern game. They were a joy to watch and a real lesson in how to blend skill and pragmatism in a contemporary side. To a lesser extent, the Netherlands and Uruguay, two other semi-finalists, have adopted similar approaches.

With that in mind, perhaps individuals such as Rooney, Drogba, Ronaldo and co all flopping isn’t such a surprise. All of them played in teams that were geared more around them - including most ludicrously, Capello’s tactic of playing Heskey not for his ability but as a physical distraction from Rooney - and all came undone early on from either a lack of creativity or sheer tactical naivety.

Meanwhile, the more pragmatic Germans and Dutch march on. This detraction from “stars” gets people moaning. Before the tournament, there were complaints that both the Netherlands and Brazil had more “boring” setups than in the past, with their emphasis on teamwork over stars; this chimes with the subtext of the Nike adverts that individuality is what makes football entertaining. As Germany proved today though, it’s possible to entertain with teamwork, and it was brilliant stuff. More of this please.