28 February 2010

The Premier League All-Star Game — as it happened!

When the Premier League decided to import the concept of an All-Star game from the United States of North America, well, who'd have thought it would turn out like that, huh? For those who missed it, Chicago's very own Ted Harwood — editor of Running Downhill and contributor to Arsenal Station — has kindly given SIATVS permission to reprint his liveblog of proceedings...

Good evening from Wembley Stadium
, site of the inaugural English Premier League All-Star Match. A wise man once said that “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” and he was something of an expert on gutters. For those of you thinking that is a quotation from the late Oscar Wilde, it could come as a bit of a surprise that those words were first spoken by Mr. Jack Greaves, who worked on the grounds of Oscar Wilde’s block of flats in London. No, it’s true. For those of you then thinking what the hell does that have to do with football, it should come as no surprise at all that it has nothing at all to do with it, so let’s move on, then, shall we?

This match will feature two squads, one from the EPL teams in the North, and one from the EPL teams in the South. The rules for the match state that each team must include at least one player from each EPL club. Substitutes are unlimited. The North will wear white shirts with a giant rose on them, and the South will wear navy kits with a large white lion. No word about the red shirts with St. George killing a dragon drawn on the rear of the shorts, as far as we know. Maybe next year.


North: Reina, G. Johnson, R. Ferdinand, G. Cahill, Evra, Nani, Gerrard (c), Barry, Giggs, Torres, Rooney. Subs: Jensen, Richards, Samba, Scharner, Baines, Kuyt, Fellaini, Cana, Hunt, Rodallega, Tevez. Manager: Sralex.

South: Čech, Sagna, Terry, Vermaelen, Cole, Lennon, Fàbregas, Lampard (c), Arshavin, Drogba, Agbonlahor. Subs: Hart, L. Young, Dunne, Shawcross, Konchesky, A. Young, Milner, Milijas, Belhadj, Defoe, Diamante. Manager: ‘Arry.

Referee: Steve Bennett.

6:35pm: I have already received several texts asking about the squads for this evening. Some of you appear to be puzzled about the selections. Hey, I didn’t make the rules, man, I just work here.

6:37pm: Apparently Prince Harry is in attendance this evening. No word about which side he’s supporting, but my money’s on England.

6:39pm: Giggs, Tevez, and Defoe have gathered in the center circle for a pre-game warmup chat. Smiles all around.

6:40pm: Re: 6:39: “If you put the three of them together, would they reach Peter Crouch’s shoulder?” wonders Billy from Cheltenham. Surely that depends on whether they are all standing atop each other in the same trench coat?

6:52pm: Sorry, just popped off to the cafeteria for a cuppa there. What’d I miss? My mate from a rival paper reckons that the acrobats and lion-tamers were good. He said the 16-foot animatronic Queen Elizabeth with the flares in each hand was a bit odd.

6:56pm: We’re a few minutes away from kickoff, and a bemused 85,000 or so EPL fans have just been asked to stand and sing “God Save the Queen.” Immediately thereafter, a squadron of RAF fighter jets flew underneath—I’m not joking, underneath—the Wembley arch, and a pair o’ paratroopers landed on the field, one to each penalty spot. As far as American imports go, so far, I’d put this match somewhere between the Ford Festiva and Budweiser.

7:00pm: Mr. Bennett fumbles for his whistle, and…

0 mins: …we’ve achieved liftoff. Drogba passes back to Lampard, who immediately ignores Fàbregas and passes back to Terry, who, after having a look up the pitch, passes back to Čech. It’s all a bit partisan at the start. Čech, thankfully, doesn’t slide it out to Ashley Cole. And you were all worried that the Blues would be snubbed.

1 min: Gerrard wins a free-kick about 25 yards out on the right after a lovely exchange between the Liverpool captain and Ryan Giggs. Giggs curls an effort toward the top corner, but it misses the target and hits an unsuspecting fan in the pie. I’m not making that up; someone’s pie has felt the full impact of a Ryan Giggs freekick. Disgraceful.

4 mins: Not much on here at the start. There’s not been a high workrate, but neither has there been tremendous urgency in the attack.

5 mins: Fàbregas springs Aaron Lennon up the right, the Spurs man flinging in a wild and woolly cross that Drogba just barely misses with his outstretched foot. The ball rolls harmlessly out of play for a goal kick. “Will there be a half-time show?” wonders Ken in Norfolk. Well, Ken, in fact, there will not be. We’re not totally Yankerised here today.

GOAL! North 1 – 0 South (Rooney 6’) Well, that, it has to be said, is just poor defending. After Steven Gerrard collects the ball at the halfway line, he spots Rooney running towards the South penalty area. He lofts a long ball over the top, Terry’s effort in the chase was uncharacteristically tame, and Rooney collects the pass and rifles a laser over the shoulder of Petr Čech. Thomas Vermaelen looks at John Terry with the blank expression of a teacher whose star pupil has just completely ballsed up a maths problem.

8 mins: Oooo, nearly! Fàbregas slides a lovely ball through into the path of Gabriel Agbonlahor, after some great work from Sagna on the right took Patrice Evra out of the play entirely. Sadly, the Villa man scuffed his shot and Reina saves with no problem. Reina shouts something in Spanish towards the Arsenal captain with a smile on his face, and Fàbregas can only laugh. Good-natured fun; that’s the EPL All-Stars’ motto.

9 mins: The crowd have slowly begun getting into the geographical spirit of things: a contingent of supporters in one corner of the ground have begun rocking back and forth while singing “Hit the North”. Mark E. Smith nowhere to be seen, though. As I type that, Rooney goes down in a heap after being shouldered, hard, by Lampard. Wazza not best pleased.

12 mins: Despite the lax defending and workrate, it’s all gone a bit quiet.

GOAL! North 2 – 0 South (Barry 13’) And as soon as I type that, the Northerners start to string together roughly 234 passes, the last 159 of which are inside the area, before Gareth Barry chips the ball over Čech’s head from five yards out. Bewildering stuff from all parties. These all-star games are really something, I’ll tell you what.

14 mins: A triangle of Fàbregas, Arshavin, and Lampard slowly make their way up the field with a series of five-yard passes before the Chelsea man attempts a 20-yard blast. Reina watches it balloon over the crossbar.

GOAL! North 2 – 1 South (Fàbregas 16’) Nothing wrong with the defending there, but Reina would’ve needed something ethereal to stop that one. Ferdinand’s attempted clearance of a Sagna cross finds its way to Fàbregas’s foot, and from the corner of the area, he unleashes an outside-of-the-foot smash that curves to the right on its way to the opposite top corner. The Arsenal man runs the entire length of the pitch in celebration. Dynamite. Reina shouts something in Spanish again; no smiles this time.

17 mins: After that, someone in the crowd has started a group of Arsenal fans singing “London Calling.” I don’t know what to say.

19 mins: Giggs just misses another free kick, this time from farther out, but a wonderful effort. No pies harmed this time around, and grateful we all are for that.

21 mins: “What do you reckon the odds are that a fan wouldn’t be watching the flight of the ball? Who are these people?” chirps in Tom from Croydon. Well, Tom, as Otis Redding once sang, you don’t miss your fiver ‘til a free kick hits your pie.

22 mins: Gary Cahill heads just over from a North corner. Unlucky for the Bolton man.

23 mins: Gary Cahill, again, heads just over, this time from a free kick. Unlucky, again, for the Bolton man.

25 mins: Impossible. From a North corner, Cahill heads just wide. Somebody please mark him, if only because this is starting to look a bit like an anti-Bolton conspiracy.

27 mins: The North win(s?) another corner. Giggs steps up, lashes it across, and it bounces around before being blasted just over the bar from nine yards out. By…Nani. Gary Cahill was nowhere near it this time, if you can believe it. The South under real pressure for the last seven or eight minutes.

THRIKER! GOAL! North 2 – 2 South (Agbonlahor 30’) That is better from the South, just slightly. Gabriel Agbonlahor receives a ball from Drogba and lashes one past Reina after taking two touches around Gary Cahill. I don’t think we’re going to see much tackling from here forwards. Not that we’ve seen much so far.

33 mins: Someone on the North has just attempted six consecutive stepovers. No, it wasn’t Nani. It was that man Gary Cahill, who had stormed up from the back. He can’t stop laughing as he trots back to his position after Fàbregas nicked the ball off him post-stepover #6. Cahill’s not the only one laughing; Torres is doubled over with spasms, and even the normally fierce competitor Rooney has lost control of himself. He’s still running around, but he is more or less useless with laughter at the moment.

35 mins: I’ve received a text message from Barry Glendenning, and all it says is “cahill lmao”. Good to see that we’re all getting into the spirit of this all-star thing.

38 mins: In a riposte to Cahill, Thomas Vermaelen does an Ajax-fueled Cruijff turn around Gareth Barry. Vermaelen doesn’t smile, though. He just glares at the ref who books him for holding off Evra illegally. Icy.

42 mins: Reina pulls off a great double save from a South corner, first from a John Terry header and then from the follow-up shot from Drogba. Great stuff from the Liverpool guardian. “If Gary Cahill were ice cream, what flavor would he be?” muses Rick via email. It’s hard to say. Maybe Ben & Jerry’s half-baked, by the way things are going today for him. Maybe that’s too harsh.

45 mins: Cesc Fàbregas drags a shot just wide after some good work by Lampard opened up the Northern bulwark.

Halftime: Peep! Peep! Steve Bennett brings the first half to a close. A loose first half with a number of good chances, goals, and hilarious Gary Cahill moments. Everyone looks pretty pleased to be out there, the players shaking hands and having a laugh. Reina and Fàbregas appear to be debating something on their way off the pitch—maybe Goya? At any rate, we will have a fresh 22 players for the second half, although hopefully Gary Cahill gets to stick around.

“This has been very entertaining so far. Gary Cahill for England striker? He must be better than Emile Heskey,” posts in Carrie from Hounslow. And he could probably keep a couple of German defenders busy laughing, too.

So let’s quickly recap the first half: paratroopers, crowd chants courtesy of The Fall and The Clash, Gary Cahill singlehandedly setting back the course of Western Civilization by three minutes, four goals, two of serious quality. Depending on one’s feelings about sport, maybe the Americans have been on to something all these years.

45 mins: Time to begin again. As I mentioned, both teams have sent out a new XI. More subs are possible, depending on how things go. Harry Redknapp gives some last minute advice to Jermain Defoe, and we’re off.

GOAL! North 2 – 3 South (Konchesky 46’) That did not take long at all. Konchesky makes a sterling run inside of Nadir Belhadj, rather than overlapping, and the Pompey man slides a soft and fluffy ball through to the left-back, who smashes an effort into the roof of the net past Jensen. Not a good game in which to be a keeper, I guess.

48 mins: The North are responding well to the goal, applying all kinds of pressure. They force two good saves from Joe Hart, who catches both easily.

49 mins: The North win a free kick…

50 mins: Joe Hart makes a ludicrous save. Improbable save. Tevez curls a rifle shot towards the top corner, and just when you thought there was no chance for the Birmingham keeper, his hand comes flying into the picture and tips the ball off the crossbar, straight down in front of his prone body, and Richard Dunne clears to safety. Great great great stuff.

54 mins: Dirk Kuyt is absolutely hilariously scary. Aside from vaguely reminding me of his countryman Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner, he always sort of sneaks up out of the shadows, as he did just now, to head just wide from a Milijas cross. How soon until he breaks Harrison Ford’s fingers?

GOAL! GOLGOLGOLGOLGOLGOLGOLGOL North 3 – 3 South (Tevez 57’) Kuyt skips through the South defense and squares it to Tevez, who chips it over the frantic Joe Hart. I wouldn’t say it was a great goal, but now that I only see Roy Batty out there, everything seems somehow both epic and elegiac at the same time. Somebody find my Vangelis records, please. No, seriously, that was a good goal, and Tevez skips away with glee.

58 mins: No good chants for a few minutes, now. Nobody really seems to know what to do. Email in your suggestions, and maybe I’ll shout them towards Wembley.

GOAL! North 3 – 4 South (Rodallega og 62’) Unfortunate for the Wigan forward. From a South corner, Jensen punches weakly, and Belhadj’s cross back into the box skips off the turf, off of Hugo Rodellega’s boot, and into the net. He looks around for a moment before he realizes what has happened.

GOAL! North 3 – 5 South (Diamante 63’) Goodness me, stop it. Straight from the kick off, Diamante nips through, positively steals the ball from Stephen Hunt, takes a touch, lays it off for a sprinting James Milner, who plays a return pass back to the Hammer, who plasters it past Jensen. Again, no tackling going on except for by the forwards today; it’s becoming a joke. The crowd is cheering both wildly and sarcastically. It’s a bit of a testimonial match out there, really. Brian Jensen is absolutely angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. He’s a very nice man when pensive, though.

66 mins: Milijas and Fellaini trade 35-yard efforts at either end, both of which are approximately ten parsecs off target.

71 mins: Not much on lately, until now. Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a great, massive dog on the pitch. It’s bigger than Stephen Hunt. I’m not kidding. It’s doing a great job of evading capture; Steve Bennett himself chased it for a minute. Most of the players on the pitch got a right laugh from that one, I’ll tell you what.

74 mins: That dog has finally been nabbed. By Sir Alex Ferguson. With his coat. Extraordinary performance from the Scot. Whatta guy. Play resumes.

77 mins: Marouane Fellaini displays a good deal of skill in getting past James Milner and lashing a shot just wide of the post. Joe Hart looks around at his defense like a disappointed father. Sorry, Joe, but that’s the way it’s going to go for you in this one. “Most North American all-star games end with preposterous scores due to lack of defense,” I’m told by a woman named Christine emailing in from Boston. Well, glad to carry on the tradition, then.

Lorik Cana has scored, but only after he basically threw Ryan Shawcross onto the turf. As Tevez played a pass back to the Albanian, he seemed to wrap his arm around the Stoke defender and toss him to the ground, but Steve Bennett waved play on and Cana exchanged one more pass with Tevez before slotting home the return from ten yards. Shawcross, in fact, is still sitting on the ground. He’s saying something to Steve Bennett, who is sort of bemused and apologetic at the same time. Something like “It’s the all-star game, Ryan” has come out of his mouth.

85 mins: It’s gone a bit stale again. Where’s Gary Cahill.

88 mins: Jermain Defoe, who has done next to nothing tonight, finally gets through on goal, and zigs when he should zag, and before he knows it, the gigantic Brian Jensen has slid in and taken the ball. Looked a bit like a jaguar stealing a canned ham from a kitten.

89 mins: There will be 5 minutes of added time. Not many injuries, mind you, just a dog…

90 mins: …and now a fan. Goodness me, what a shambles. He’s running away from all the stewards. Disgrace. The fan, not the stewards. Well, I mean, he shouldn’t have gotten past them in the first place, but now that he’s out there…oh sod it. No more press for him.

PEEP! PEEP! PEEEEP! Steve Bennett has probably sensibly blown his whistle for full-time after the fan’s capture. No sense in having this friendly get any more out of hand.

Well, that’s the all-star experience in the EPL, then. Nine goals of varying quality and “lolz” as the kids like to say. “I’ve been less entertained by the EPL before”, chirps in Chris from Doncaster. That’s a good shout.

That’s it for me. We’ll be back next May…my favorite part was either the dog or the RAF…no, it was certainly Man of the Match Gary Cahill, for making Harry Redknapp and Sralex laugh at the same time. That’s worth more than any goal.


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