How good a keeper is Peter Cech, Chelsea’s man between the sticks? From the department of generally useless statistics, it was reported last week that he has made more stops than any other Champions League keeper this season, 32. The figure tells us little of the quality of the saves or the attempts on goal that led to them. Still, that Cech stop from a second half Barca header - hard and down to his far right - in the Champions League was one of the finest any of us have seen. He may not be invulnerable. My colleague Simon Kuper went to see him play for Rennes shortly before he moved to Chelsea and, on the night, put him at fault for two goals.
* We are getting too engrossed with statistics. It’s all very well with cricket, but we don’t need it in football. It all goes back to that day in early 1965 when Dave Sexton first walked into the Leyton Orient dressing room and, after each Saturday’s game, drew everyone’s attention not only to who had scored, but also to the player who had made the “assist”. It was revolutionary at the time.
* It’s good to see Besty’s in the blogosphere. George has joined the call for a united Ireland football team, a subject discussed in ‘Keeper’s blog! last week and recalling the position long advanced by George’s Northern Ireland compatriot, Derek Dougan. But as pointed out by the BBC’s Today Programme, George wants it quick: “in his lifetime“, he says.
* A small tribute here to my friend Jeff McLister, who will be remembered by many visitors to the Mediterranean in the 1980s as the proprietor of “Besty’s” bar on the Costa del Sol. At the age of only 50, Jeff was recently killed off Erris Head on the west coast of Ireland. He was brought up messing around in boats in Antrim and was a skilled yachtsman who’d sailed in and completed the Fastnet race. While in the process of moving his boat from Sligo to the south coast of England last month, he was swept overboard in a storm, probably by the boom which may well have killed him before he hit the water. Thankfully he seems not to have drowned. The funeral service was held in the church, the congregation overflowing at the doors, that overlooks the harbour of Mullaghmore.
* “As for next year’s [6 Nations] tournament,” says my colleague in these offices, Mike Neill, after last week’s Irish defeat by Wales, “if there is a bookie willing to give you odds on Ireland being beaten by everyone but the Italians, I’d take them... Years of rebuilding is the name of the game”.
* Did anyone catch that instant in the game when O’Gara, having been whistled up by the ref for an infringement, suddenly blurted out “but we talked about this before”? Was this a kind of “Mourinho on Frisk” moment, only in rugby it’s perfectly acceptable? I had no idea that you could get together with the ref and discuss what tactic you might be trying on in the game, and in the hope that he might interpret the rules favourably.
* Red Alert for Manchester United fans. What with profits down by half, Malcolm Glazer in Tampa might put in another bid. In the end it could all depend on a tenuous Scottish judgement, I’m told, that presently enables the board to consider “stakeholder” rather than “shareholder value” as the criterion by which bids are judged. ”Stakeholders” might just care about such sentimental nonsense as the memory of Duncan Edwards, the club that rose from the flames of Munich, and football itself.
* Jack Straw is surely in trouble after his recent suggestion that, with both the FA Cup semi-finals and an election looming, Tony Blair was just a “fair weather” Newcastle supporter. Not what we were encouraged to believe before the ‘97 polls, viz Tony’s quite impressive bout of head tennis with Kevin Keegan. As for the foreign ex-home secretary’s passion for Blackburn Rovers, “it’s a life sentence” he intones dutifully. If it weren’t for the way he rattles off details of Rovers’ history like a well-memorised barrister’s brief, you could almost believe him. He’s from Loughton.
* Forty years ago last weekend on a mudheap in that reach of Essex, I played my last game for Leyton Orient juniors; 4-2 we lost in the Winchester Cup to a non-league team called New Ward. Great ignominy back at Brisbane Road, though I don’t recall the word being used. Big things were expected, given we’d beaten East End rivals West Ham comfortably at Chadwell Heath in the previous round. The referee had clearly been spoken to by the Loughton side. He gave one of their goals when the ball stuck in a puddle without crossing the goalline. Admittedly it had gone through my legs on its way there. A draw would have got us back to home turf at the London Transport ground, near the Crooked Billet, Walthamstow. But two goals were my fault, and the difference, and I never went on to Cech-like things.