Weekender: Tweets, Wombles, stalking horses and balls
1. Pride comes before...
After waiting 35 years for a trophy, Man City are chasing their second in three months against their neighbours in the Community Shield. Victory would doubtless be heralded as a new (blue) moon rising and evidence of City's title credentials Ã¢ÂÂ and indeed on 19 occasions the Shield winners have gone on to win the league, while 1978 winners Nottingham Forest and 1980 winners Liverpool went one better by winning the European Cup. But there's a warning from history: the 1937 League champions won the Shield and promptly got themselves relegated in 1938. The team? Manchester City...
2. Wombles start bright and early
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated match of the weekend will come at Kingsmeadow, where AFC Wimbledon host Bristol Rovers in their first match in the Football League (or the first since their return, depending on how you look at it). The omens are good for the Dons, as they have won their first match in eight of the nine seasons since their re-birth, going on to complete five promotions. And winning on the first day doesn't hurt: all four English champions last season won their opening fixtures.
3. Bring out the Branston (again)
If making your first appearance for a new club is a real buzz, there canÃ¢ÂÂt be many bigger footballing thrill-seekers than Guy Branston. Despite never playing a game for first club Leicester City, Branston has since gone on to debut for 15 different clubs in a career spanning 14 years Ã¢ÂÂ (deep breath) Rushden & Diamonds, Colchester, Plymouth, Lincoln, Rotherham, Wycombe, Peterborough, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham, Rochdale, Northampton, Notts County, Kettering, Burton Albion and Torquay United. And on Saturday afternoon, heÃ¢ÂÂs set to make it 16 when new club Bradford City host Aldershot.
4. Fewer subs, fewer balls, more homers
While the reduction in the number of substitutes permitted in Football League matches made headlines (and curiously seemed to boil Rohan RickettsÃ¢ÂÂ pee), you may have missed the other changes to the rulebook. From the start of 2012/13, managers in the Championship will be required to hold the UEFA A Licence and be working towards their UEFA Pro Licence within three years of their appointment, while managers in Leagues 1 and 2 must hold the UEFA B Licence. Meanwhile, the number of home-grown players clubs must include in their matchday squad is up from four out of 18 to six out of 16. The League have also banned the 'multi-ball' system to prevent any underhand shenanigans from ballboys.
5. Border raiders blunted
One of many proud Scots managing Premier League teams, Steve Kean this week brought his compatriot David Goodwillie south to score goals for Blackburn. But if the striker is to reach double figures he'll have to exceed every Scot in the last half-decade: No son of the saltire has reached 10 Premier League goals since 2003-04, when a certain striker bagged 11 before moving to Blackburn himself. Can you name him? Answer at the bottom of the blog...
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Tough job, footballer. Being an economic migrant, you have to go where the work is, even if it's Manchester. After Carlos Tevez's earlier claim that the city only has two restaurants, Mario Balotelli showed his usual tact this week by saying "I am not happy in Manchester. I do not like the city... it is not to my tastes." Get down to the Lowry, lad, soak up some culture. It'll do you good.
Also on a northern charm offensive this week was Joey Barton. Never backward at coming forward, the Scouser continued to wage Twitter terror on Newcastle and was made available on a free transfer, although the two parties are now edging closer together on the settee of reconciliation. Barton's subsequent quotes from Georges Orwell and Washington Ã¢ÂÂ see, Mario, annotated footnotes maketh the thesis Ã¢ÂÂ weren't enough to prevent Newcastle issuing new contractual stipulations forbidding any players from discussing club matters on Twitter, on pain of strong tutting.
Rather more productively on everyone's favourite social news network Ã¢ÂÂ are you one of the 112,000 following FFT on there? Ã¢ÂÂ Stockport polled their fans on which striker to buy. Ignoring the inevitable japesters suggesting Leo Messi, the Hatters will now chase Fleetwood Town striker George Donnelly.
On the field, the UK's early starters had a mixed week. Hearts beat Paksi, Fulham beat RNK Split and Stoke won at Hajduk Split to reach the Europa League play-off round, where they'll be joined by Spurs, Celtic, Birmingham Ã¢ÂÂ and Rangers, beaten by Malmo in the Champions League qualifiers.
If the Gers were bemoaning their luck, at least they're not Bolton, whose thin squad has suffered two broken legs in a week. Perhaps the weary Wanderers are overtired: in an unseasonal story, Sven-GÃÂ¶ran Eriksson and various England players have already started parping on about needing a winter break. We're sure the clubs would agree: it'd be an excellent opportunity to cram in another tour of Asia or America.
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Charity might not begin at home
And so to the Shield, the "traditional curtain-raiser" which has gone through a number of changes. Originally professionals against amateurs, then contested between the champions of the Football League and Southern League, only settling to League champions v FA Cup winners in 1930 Ã¢ÂÂ and even since changing regularly, sporadically featuring England, an FA XI and even the Second Division champions. It didn't even settle at Wembley until 1974.
It'll be uprooted again next year, too, when the Olympic football tournament will be occupying the national stadium Ã¢ÂÂ plus the Millennium, Old Trafford, St James' Park, Hampden and the Ricoh Arena. So football chiefs will be looking around for somewhere to host it, a neutral place big enough to cope. How about China?
Like it or not, it's no secret that English football has long(ingly) been looking east at the burgeoning market there. Top teams tour; most have partners; some own local clubs outright. The EPL audience in East Asia is huge, lucrative and largely untapped; no wonder it was one of the destinations mooted for the controversial Game 39.
Quietly, there's already an official Premier League competition held out east Ã¢ÂÂ the biennial Asia Trophy, won this summer by Chelsea, one of 14 different EPL clubs to have taken part in it over the last decade. More would be welcomed.
It's not like Asia hasn't already hosted such one-offs: Club World Cup forerunner the Intercontinental Cup was held in Japan, then the boom economy, every year for the final quarter of the last century. And this very weekend, Internazionale and AC Milan contest the Italian Super Cup in Beijing.
The Italian and Spanish leagues have already experimented with altered kick-off times designed to catch the oriental market Ã¢ÂÂ and so did the English in 2005, when Li Tie's struggling Everton took on Sun Jihai's mid-table Man City in an 11.15am kick-off watched by something like half a billion Chinese. The next step, as already taken by the Serie A suits, is to take the game to the audience. It'll be interesting to see if England follows, initially as an Olympic-forced one-off but quite conceivably as the Premier League's stalking horse.
There will be objections, from John Bull traditionalists to those inside the FA who'd rather like to chip away at the national stadium debt. But with Community Shield proceeds going to charities nominated by 140 clubs, who's to argue with a plan which could be enormously successful?
Ã¢ÂÂ Gary Parkinson, FourFourTwo.com editor
We're uploading 15 years of FFT interviews. Among the 400 up so far:
"To be in the elite league, you can't be a normal character"
Ã¢ÂÂ Web Exclusive, Mar 2011: Joey Barton
"IÃ¢ÂÂm Superman, man. I donÃ¢ÂÂt give away my weaknesses"
Ã¢ÂÂ BoyÃ¢ÂÂs A Bit Special, Sep 2003: Wayne Routledge
"Why doesn't Becks buy Rotherham? Posh could shop at Meadowhall..."
Ã¢ÂÂ Sing When You're Winning, May 2009: Chuckle Brothers
This Weekender was brought to you by James Maw, Gary Parkinson, Gregg Davies, Huw Davies, Lee Wilson, Ben Atkinson, Josh Robbins and Paul Dickov Ã¢ÂÂ the last Scot to reach double figures in the top flight