Randy Vogt’s Diary of a Soccer-mad Tour of England
by Randy Vogt, member of the NY Metro ISOA chapter and designer of the chapter logos.
When former Long Island Junior Soccer League President Peter Collins invited me to be a part of the Manchester United USA Supporters Club’s tour of England this spring, my only real question was would I have to be a fan of the Red Devils, since I am neutral when it comes to English soccer. The last team that I could be considered a passionate fan of, the Cosmos, went defunct in 1984, when I was all of 22 years old.
So on the tour there were soccer fans, like me, as well as people who were both soccer and Man United fans. Included in the soccer/Man United fans list was fellow NYMISOA official Sean Flanagan, there with his two very nice teenage sons, Ryan and Peter.
Manchester Airport was dark and very foggy when we arrived on at 6 am on Good Friday, April 6 so the British Airways cockpit’s computer landed the plane.
We stayed at the Manchester Airport Marriott in a rather exclusive section of Manchester. Also staying at the hotel upon arrival was Charlton Athletic. All of their players were approximately my size (6’2″, 180 lbs.) or bigger. It was pretty cool to see Charlton manager Alan Pardew sitting on a couch at the hotel’s entrance upon arrival. Welcome to England!
Pardew must have realized that we were jetlagged and my conspiracy theory is that he told Manchester City that the Americans were too tired to take a goal. Or even a threatening opportunity at net. So the Manchester City-Charlton Athletic match was a colossal bore and ended at 0-0. Man City midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, nowhere near the size of the Charlton players, never made it into the match.
The game was so boring that I made the Man of the Match the second assistant referee, who correctly flagged a Charlton goal for offside in the first half. I know because my seat perfectly lined up with the second-to-last defender on the play. FIFA referee Alan Wiley did an excellent job in an easy match.
As the game unfolded, I mentioned to Hofstra University GK coach Ed Schifferstein that I expected 12 goals in the four matches we were going to see although I conceded that might be “hopelessly optimistic.” Ed thought 10 goals would be scored.
On Saturday, April 7, we took a lovely tour of the English hillside and then arrived in Sheffield, which looked a lot like Hartford. Which is not necessarily a good thing. The Sheffield United-Newcastle United match at Bramall Lane was much more intense than the previous day’s affair.
Since Sheffield manager Neil Warnock is a referee baiter, I rooted for Newcastle United…and goals. We got three in Newcastle’s 2-1 victory. Man of the Match had to be Newcastle’s Nigerian forward, Obafemi Martins.
Not much credit to referee Mark Halsey and his ARs, I’m afraid. They lacked teamwork and Halsey let the players, rather than him, control the match in a game that definitely needed control. The penalty area became a bit of a war zone as the players knew that the ref was not going to make any important decisions. What would Warnock have said had he had as clear a view as the ref, or me sitting behind the Newcastle goal, of the two hands grabbing a Sheffield player’s jersey, preventing him from jumping to head the ball off a corner a few yards from goal?
Easter Sunday, April 8, we went to two churches–Mass at St. Ambrose Catholic Church and a tour of Old Trafford that afternoon. With many restaurants closed, a bunch of us ate dinner at a Bangladeshi-Indian
restaurant, Hale Barns Trandoor. The owner said he “recognized” me but I told him that I had never been there before and we were not even British. When he asked where we were from, Ed answered “Czechoslovakia.”
So I said, “We’re from a country that no longer exists. We’re refugees in search of Indian food.” Bah-dum-dum.
On Monday, April 9, we went to see Bolton-Everton at the Reebok Stadium. I was sitting in the last row, the Bob Uecker seats.
FIFA referee Martin Atkinson was screened and the AR on the bench side did not flag a deliberate handball which almost led to a Bolton goal at the beginning of the match and it deteriorated from there. They let them play in the first half, without control whatsoever, and then Atkinson whistled just about everything the second half to try and regain control.
1-1 was the final score. No clear Man of the Match. Not much credit to Everton GK Tim Howard who had a so-so game and who feigned an injury.
Three EPL matches and some patterns were starting to emerge. The teams are very good but they often kick the ball aimlessly into the air. Referees are told to finish the match with 22 players. A send off only occurs in 0.1 of EPL matches and what would be an ejection in other countries is often just a caution there. Liverpool has had no players ejected this season.
I watched the three officials warm up before each match and was surprised as the players and coaches do not do so much as wave hello. And it seems that the officials have little power.
On Tuesday, April 10, I toured the Beatles Museum in Liverpool and then another church, Anfield, plus saw Everton’s Goodison Park. Returned to Manchester for the Manchester United-Roma Champions League match at Old Trafford.
The “violence” that the media reported about before the match was an exaggeration. Nearly 20 were arrested, almost all British. Should there be problems during the Manchester United-AC Milan semifinal games, the media will bear responsibility for making the so-called violence between the Man United and Roma fans much more than it was.
Somehow, the Italian team did not play defense and Man United easily won 7-1. Cristiano Ronaldo was my Man of the Match but the entire Man United team obviously did very well. So we wound up with 13 goals total in the four matches.
Lubos Michel of Slovakia and his ARs did well in what became an easy match. I thought that he was the best ref at last summer’s World Cup and therefore should have been assigned the final.
Just by watching the officials, I learned much more about officiating than I could sitting in a classroom. I think that 10 or so NYMISOA officials could handle officiating in the EPL right now.
One thing that English referees do that we could learn from is that they take the player to be cautioned or ejected aside, speak to that player and then display the card. So there’s never a question as to who is being carded.
Of the seven EPL teams that we watched, Manchester United was by far the best team. It will be interesting to see if they can win any trophies this spring.
Thanks for reading,
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