Gary Neville was a red. I was never a fan. I actually thought he was overrated too. One of the many players that Sir Alex Ferguson made look  a lot better than he was! I know. It is probably my City bias. I did love seeing him getting sent off in a Manchester derby!

As a pundit I have liked him more. I love the way that Sky have made their pundits a little partisan as well as having a general sense of fairness in their post match comments. Neville and maybe Jamie Carragher led that delicate balance.

Tonight though I declare Gary Neville a hero. A mere 48 hours into the setting up of a European Super League Manchester City and Chelsea are already opting out and Neville’s contribution in that cannot be underestimated.

Make no mistake that this is a sensational turn around. Even the commentators tonight are disbelieving at the early unravelling, thinking that these Super Rich teams would have seen out the storm. 

For me this has been about wealth and big business and I have seen very little that has ever suggested that protesting ever works when the the rich get greedy enough. I wasn’t sure that the owners of these clubs had anything on their mind but a rise in the share price. Not much a poor customer has been able to do in the face of that over the last 100 years.

Yet, it seems that fans and players and managers have done just that. They have threatened the owners of their clubs with becoming socially reprehensible, like drunk drivers. They have made them think again. It is an extraordinary victory that should be cheered by every fan in every stadium much more than their team’s next goal, win or trophy.

Gary Neville’s contribution has beens seismic. On Sunday afternoon, a very short time after news of this Super League broke, Neville made a pundit speech that was up there with any political speech we have heard in recent years. He was articulate, argued well, nailed everything that needed said. It was emotional. It was angry. It was clear.

Tonight I have no doubt that that outrage and how it was shared set in motion an impetus that was picked up and run with by everyone who loves the English game. It set a tone. It shone a bright light. It was a depth charge hurled and ripples became  waves that crashed against the big soccer liners and sent them back to port.

We need more of the Gary Neville model in soccer. This war is not done if the victory in the battle can be heralded. More reform is needed. The game and the fans need to be more important than big business. 

We need more of the Gary Neville model across the wider society. Where the greedy ride roughshod over the common man and woman we must vent our anger with articulate words and a joined up outrage. 

We need more Gary Nevilles. We are seeing before our eyes that they can make a difference.


European Super League

The European Super League. What a reaction that created. How articulate was Gary Neville on Sky Sports yesterday in the midst of his anger? 

It seems that the world of football and outside of football are against this daring elitism… until a Manchester United fan on the BBC Northern Ireland news showed the sad and inevitable chink, “I am sorry but I will support them wherever they are playing.” That might be the most honest response. We’ll come back to it.



Sadly, this didn’t happen overnight. Money has been ruining the game for decades. I remember my father pointing a finger at United trying to buy the League back in 1972 when they spent a fortune on Ian Storey-Moore. Comedian Mike Yarwood put it better - “We didn’t need Ian Moore, we needed nine more.”

Chelsea and more recently City have been accused of buying success. Who can doubt that it has helped. Not me. Money has pretty much limited the potential winners of the Premier League to three teams. It is why we were so excited when Leicester City won it without all the money in 2016. Having said that there was an injection of money into Leicester after 2009 when they were two divisions down.

Let us make no mistake that the big money in football argument was lost decades ago. Leicester City was a blip. I long for the 70s when a QPR or Burnley or Derby could have given it a good go but in 2021 for most teams to compete for Premiership titles they need big money investment. 



This is no different than what is happening in our wider society. Super Markets have been putting butchers and bakers and candlestick makers out of business for 50 years. 

As Bob Dylan sang “Money doesn’t talk it swears.” The Mafia don’t use guns any more they use the Stock Exchange. The rich have been getting richer and the poor poorer for a long time. 

The Bible has warned against such greed for millennia. I am simply amazed that a Super League and not Super Markets caused the most reaction!



Most of the talk in the past 24 hours has been very England-centric. It has all been about the damage done to the long history of the game and the tier system and finances dripping down to the grass roots.

I agree with all that and the damage that will be done BUT the owners of our big soccer clubs do not come from or live in England. It is not only the system that they do not get; it is the tradition.

The European Super League seems to me to be very much a model taken from all American Sport. American Football, Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball, even Soccer are based on Super Leagues. It is a different tradition and very much a different economic model. That is what the owners are used to and honed by.

They also see that the TV viewing numbers are bigger than the numbers at stadiums. If they lost the local Manchester fan base who all went off to support Stockport County they could get millions more in China or wherever. It is a world game, not an English game.

Finally, on this one. The Premier League is the only interesting league in the world. Ask Rangers and Celtic fans about a European Super League and how they would love it. Italy, Spain and France too. They didn’t have the same fascination and competition as the English Premiership. Then if English teams don’t enter how will they entice the top players to England. That is a dilemma!



The fans have spouted enough opposition. The action will be much more difficult. Will these angry disgusted fans, myself included, follow through or end up like our Northern Irish United supporter and cave in to whatever?

It is very difficult to change allegiances after 50 years of grief and joy, reading and memory collecting. When that club is in your own city, even harder.

Yet, fans need to act. Is that boycotting? Maybe not watching on TV and stop buying shirts. Or literally changing clubs. It will very difficult. 



We haven’t yet heard from players and managers. Certainly they have been thrown into it and it is not their fault. There are all kinds of wild suggestions about them being banned from World Cups etc. 

Whatever, they have decisions to make. When it is your financial future and career that is tricky but maybe showing the intention of not re-signing after contracts end would make a point. Would they then be willing to take a pay cut and play for Everton, West Ham or Leeds? Players and managers are being unfairly tested too.


It will be interesting to see what happens. I suggest that this needs more thought than just whether this Super League goes ahead or not. Soccer needs to look at itself and into its soul and ask some questions that have been ignored for too long but have now rumbled up and exploded in the sport’s face. 

Me too. The League Cup on Sunday has lost its shine, the Premier league too and as for that European thing… Can I really at 59 after… 52 years… fall deeply in love with another club. I have also, for over 50 years, followed Plymouth Argyle though!


Pep over thinking

I love Pep Guardiola. I think he is the best manager there is. I am so thankful for the trophies he has helped me celebrate. I want him to stay forever. What is to come is a decadent moan about a minor weakness BUT... 

Pep has a few managers who could be regarded as his nemesis. Jurgen took him on last season and won the Premiership by a huge distance. Ole seems to be able to beat him in almost every derby match. Tommy Tuchel has hit the ground running and though apparently he hadn’t beaten Pep until yesterday’s FA Cup Semi Final, he is a new threat.

I am part of a wee Whatsapp City Supporting Match Day Support Group and we would agree that Pep’s biggest nemesis might be his own over thinking. An example of such would have been his rush of blood that cost City last season’s Champions League. A mad cap change of tactics against Lyon, a team City should have beaten with our usual style. It might have been the best Champions League chance Pep will ever have with City.

We have been waiting for a tactical over think all season BUT I think that it came in a different and equally costly way against Chelsea.

Now, before I get to it, a couple of things. 

Firstly, those commentators and pundits who slip possible Quadruples off their tongues. It has never been done for a reason. A English team would need to be so significantly better than any other team on the planet to not have a day when at 80% they wouldn’t lose to another great team playing at even 85%. The latter stages of three Cups are just darn hard. 

Secondly, Chelsea are the team in form. Tommy Tuchel, as I have said, looks like the real deal. Give that man a transfer window and… Well actually, they might just win the FA Cup and Champions League before that. So, even without Pep’s over think they might well have beaten us in that Semi Final.

BUT… when City had some of their best and most in-form players on the pitch for the last 15 minutes, it was a different game. It leaves me wondering what might have been. As I say, maybe Chelsea who played brilliantly would have still have won but I’d like to have tested it.

Pep has been over thinking his rotation for a few weeks. It cost us against Leeds and again against Chelsea. What does he do on Wednesday night against Aston Villa before next Sunday’s League Cup Final? It quite frightens me. If he thinks we can beat Villa with Sterling, Jesus and Torres then he is risking another league defeat. Sterling's loss of form is unprecedented. H looked like a wee lost boy yesterday. Suddenly United could be just five points behind us and… 

I think that only City at this moment can have a go at the Quadruple. I think that rotation early in the season is the only way we can make our way through League Cup and Champions League early rounds as well as gathering league points. 

However, with a Final, two semi finals and a few league games left to win, City were risking all to trust players who were out of form and resting players who were in the zone. Ilkay Gundagon and Phil Foden have been electric all season and particularly in recent weeks. You can’t hope that they will save you in the last 15 minutes as substitutes. 

Cups are won on whims. The whim of a refereeing decision or the whim of the other team playing out of their skin or the whim of a lucky goal or goal line clearance. Not so, Premier Leagues. The whims balance out or can be out pointed by other games. 

So, Spurs and PSG might take two more slashes in our possible trophy count. To throw away the Premiership is not going to be on a whim. It can be even now be lost… but only by Pep’s over thinking. Please no. That might be a bigger laughing stock than those 35 years without any trophies!

Worried? Who, me?


Colin bell 2

He was my favourite footballer. Oh George Best came second. Best was one of the greatest ever. He was from Belfast. George Best was a genius. As a 6 year old I supported Manchester United because of George Best BUT…

… As a 7 year old I changed my allegiance to Manchester City because of Colin Bell. I loved Colin Bell. My “uncle” Jimmy was a Colin Bell fan. He put doubt in my mind, trying to convince me that Bell not Best should have been Player of The Year in 1968. Between 1968 and 1975 Bell was certainly the more consistent. Oh not the flare but the engine, the vision and the eye for goal. 

Colin Bell was my hero. United had Best, Law and Charlton and City had Bell, Lee and Summerbee. In their glory days the City trio were more victorious over that United legendary three. Bell was more of a reason for that than Lee or Summerbee I believe!

I read something in late 1974 about how Colin Bell would be the best player in the world by 1976. I believed it. In October 1974 I watched him playing for England and beating Czechoslovakia 3-0 all by himself! 

Then a knee injury in 1975 took his career. Oh he worked for two years to recover but the damage was done. I was utterly distraught that he got injured. I was so excited when he made it back. I so wished but he never quite made it. Colin Bell was an amazing footballer but it might be that we didn’t even get to see his best years.

He was nicknamed Nijinsky, after the racehorse. He was described as “the most complete modern footballer”. He was also an old fashioned one in that he didn’t play the celebrity. He had great humility. As my poet friend Paul Cookson wrote in his tribute:

"Your feet just did the talking
True class, true great, less feted
Not rock star like the others
Humble. modest, understated
The king who never wore a crown
Never understood your fame
Club and country gentleman
Quiet man who ruled the game"

Think David Silva, Ya Ya Toure and Vincent Kompany all rolled into one. That was Colin Bell. He will always be my very favourite. I am so sorry to hear of his death. Thank you sir, for those glory years of my childhood. 


Peter Allis

Peter Allis entered my world in Christmas 1968. I was 7. I got a set of golf clubs and the putter was a Peter Allis putter. I used that putter for 20 years. 

Tony Jacklin was 7 months away from his British Open so for me Allis was the British star golfer of the time. Oh never really that close to a Major but a Ryder Cup certainty. He even played one Ryder Cup with his father.

Even with over 30 tournament wins to his name, it was not his playing that made him famous. It was his commentary.

In my early years watching golf, particularly the Majors and even more particularly The  Open, Henry Longhurst was voice of golf. He was just so poetic and his prose were so natural. His autograph was so perfectly neat too!

When Longhurst died at the age of 69 Allis stepped right into his shoes. He had had such a good apprenticeship under old Henry that he filled the gap seamlessly. Over the next forty years he grew more and more into the role and in my opinion at his death yesterday was the best sports commentator in the world.

Golf is different from other sports. By the time it gets to the last hour of a Major, the drama is unfolding just like a final set or a penalty shoot out BUT there are fewer and fewer players on the course. It is slower. This gives the golf commentator quite a challenge. They need to keep the drama pumped but fill the long walks between shots down fairways too.

Allis was an absolute master at this. I looked forward to the last hour of The Open every year like the Cup Final. It was Allis that made it. I knew that he would up his commentary game for that last hour. He broke into prose, almost poetry about venues, holes, players and people he knew that were watching in some club house somewhere up and down Britain. He filled that space with the same level of speaking skills as the players on the 18th hole.

His humour was the best of all. There was always a dry comment, a quick quip. I waited with bated breather what he would conjure. Year after year, he never let me down.  

My favourite? I cannot remember the year. It was a close finish to the Open. It was the 71st or 72nd hole and a leading contender missed a reasonably sinkable putt. "Well, stab my vitals," says Allis. I don't imagine he had rehearsed the phrase or had it in some notebook. It was uncontrived. Yet, the tension was perfectly captured juxtaposed with absolute hilarity. Genius! 

Every year I feared it was the last final few holes with Peter. Golf has some good commentators but the line of Henry Longhurst and Peter Allis is over. It will never be matched. Thank you Peter Allis for being a soundtrack to my golf watching life. 





Galgorm GC

From as early as I remember every time we drove over the Sourhill Road in Ballymena my father would point down to one side of the road and say that the piece of land would make a great golf course.

Fifty years later and I am watching on Sky Sports as the Irish Open is being played in those fields my father pointed out -  now Galgorm Castle Golf Club.

As far as I am concerned the Stockmans are from Galgorm. When my dad was very young he moved from a house across the road from what he prophesied as a golf course, to a thatched cottage in the middle of Galgorm village. The cottage was renovated around 1710 probably for the staff of the nearby Castle where the golf course now is.

Glagorm was tiny then though houses and an industrial estate have since caused the village to be too narrow for all the traffic. My first home was in a housing estate just behind the cottage in Maine Park. I lived there until I was 7 and after that spent all school holidays in my Grandparents cottage in the village. The cottage is no longer ours but my uncle still lives in the house he built beside it. Another aunt and uncle live in Maine Park. 

The Castle grounds loomed large in my childhood. My aunt Jean worked in the big Castle and we used to stop at the gates regularly because they had a vending machine that dispensed eggs. Looking back, that was pretty ahead of its time for rural Northern Ireland in the early 60s.

My dad would have stories about the Castle and he certainly played in the trees that Padraig Harrington hit a few shots into today as well as the river. I was too young and have only one vague memory of me and my mates only climbing the fence.

I never imagined that a world class sporting event would come to our wee village. To hear the commentators wax lyrical about the River Maine and how beautiful a place it is. We never knew! We failed to appreciate it. Today it is on televisions across the world. 

My mum played a lot of golf at Galgorm Castle. We always said that she should take me for a round. We never managed it. She presented a Cup for a women’s match between Ballymena Golf Club where I grew up a member and Galgorm Castle. Oh how she would have loved this. My dad too, if he still had the mental capacity to grasp it.

My cousins are members at Galgorm. They too should be proud tonight. Not only did the course look amazing but no one tore it apart. Maybe of the weather improves over the weekend someone will but it looked a tough track today. 

Galgorm. That’s where I’m from. There aren’t many of us. I am proud.



It is a big and stressful day for millions of us. Teams need picked for the opening day of a new season of Fantasy League, tomorrow.

Today millions will be working out who they can buy for their £100 million budget. Many will be thrown this season by players like Arsenal’s Aubameyang and Manchester United’s Rashford becoming midfield players instead of strikers. 

How many big players can we afford., What are the cheap players that are going to come through? Should I skimp on my defence for big goal scorers? Will new signings fit in quickly? What about players from promoted teams? 

Of course it is a marathon not a sprint and for most Fantasy League managers their teams will bear little resemblance even in October to the team they choose tomorrow evening. However, there still be some panic. A good start is better than a bad one though it is amazing how quickly the team at the top of your particular league on Sunday night might drop away within a few weeks.

With one free substitution per week and then every additional transfer per week costing 4 valuable points it is best to have a good steady team at the outset.

Of course, there is some luck in this game. One of the biggest factors is choosing the right captain every week as their points double. It might be luck that my player scores a hat trick and yours doesn’t score at all. That might happen week after week!

BUT let me say that as I have followed this game for some 15 years and been involved in a Fitzroy league for 10 that this will have little to do with luck.

As I look at our league I know that reigning champion Jonny Fitch, Stephen Orr and John McMullen will be the big 3 to beat. Isaac Orr, who I baptised less than eleven years ago will be setting his sights on the top 3 too and Jude Holohan after an exceptional year two seasons ago will be trying to prove that he is not just a Leicester City. BUT like cream the same names always come to the top season after season.

I have to do better than the last two seasons, particularly my starts. I have come back in the second half of seasons BUT always too late to compete. So, I am going with a solid spine. Big names who have proven themselves at the core and then hoping to wheel and deal with the cheap players who will be the stars to sign quickly   over the next few weeks. 

If you can spot those cheap big scorers by tomorrow night then you’ll give yourself a great start! Stuart Dallas anyone?!?!


Jack 1990

I think I was reading the Presbyterian Herald when I noticed my good friends David 'Monty' Montgomery and David Baldock asking for a back up driver for their sponsored Cycle Ride for the Lucan Youth Centre, a Presbyterian  Reconciliation Centre in Dublin. The cycle was from John O' Groats to Land's End. I was the assistant minister in First Antrim at the time with no holiday plans for that summer. I gave Monty a call and so began the trip of a lifetime.

Monty and David were hoping to take around 17 days to complete the trip and had scheduled the trip to have days off for the Republic of Ireland's World Cup games! Jack Charlton had transformed the Republic's football fortunes. When I was a boy they were bottom of every World Cup qualifying group. There were political, probably sectarian reasons. Young Irish boys were discouraged from playing soccer which was seen as English and encouraged to stick with Gaelic football and hurling.

Jack loosened that grip with success and probably completed the transformation with a 1-0 win over England in the 1988 European Championships! Jack went one further and charmed almost the entire island into supporting the Republic. Almost, because of course there are many in Northern Ireland who hate the republic with a passion but it should n't be lost in this blog that Monty and I are northern Irish Protestants. I noticed many northern Protestants like us posting fond Jack Charlton posts today. 

Back to our Cycle Ride. The David's had some work to do peddling that bike and were joined through Scotland with the good company of Kristie Franck. My job was to go on ahead find a suitable spot for lunch and catch buy the papers to keep up with World Cup news. 

On our way north to John O'Groats we stopped in to watch the game against England. This was a strong English team who in the end should have made the final but lost on penalties to West Germany. Linekar scored early but the Republic hung in. Literally at the moment Monty suggested that Sheedy should be substituted Sheedy swung his leg and 1-1! Great opening result.

The next game was during a stop over in Stirling where Monty went to University. The problem was finding somewhere to watch it. We found a TV in someone's house just in time and watched a boring scoreless draw. The third game was worst of all. Coming over from Dublin we hadn't allowed for the fact that we had to watch England against Egypt. We were by then in St. Thomas's in Lancaster. So that was a long game, watching updates on the screen. Monty just questioned Nial Quinn's inclusion when... according to script it came up that he had equalised Gullitt's opener for Holland. Three draws and we were in the last 16!

For that game we had to find time on a bike day. Monty and Dave hadn't reckoned on needing another day off. I drove ahead. I was struggling. It was an afternoon game. Finally a pub in Cullompton. Where? I'll never forget it. Monty again was crucial to the drama. When Jack Charlton brought on David O'Leary in extra time Monty quipped "he's hardly on for the penalty shoot-out!" O'Leary of course scored the winning penalty that had us creaming and dancing all around a pub that had only us in it. I wonder if on hearing of Jack Charlton's death if that barman said to his children, "You know he managed the Republic Of Ireland and one day in 1990 this very wee Irishman man and this very tall Irishman man..."

It all ended in the Quarter Finals against the hosts Italy but what a bike ride that was. The Republic did it again in 1994 by which time I was living in Dublin and they beat Italy to again reach the last 16. It wasn't just as good as the bike ride but those were glory days.

Jack Charlton made it all happen. He had the whole of Ireland taking days off work and dancing in the streets. He took a bulldozer to the old nonsense that soccer was an English game. He raised expectations, He lifted a country's sense of itself. It is too much to say that along with a rock band called U2 he put a wee country on the world map... but just maybe he contributed to the Celtic Tiger about to descend.

Whatever, when Janice told me the sad news of Jack's death this morning, I was back in Cullompton, revelling in it. Thank you Jack for the utter joy.  



Well done Liverpool. It hasn’t been any doubt for some time BUT I know that Liverpool fans will be thrilled that it is official.

It is way overdue. A club like Liverpool should never have to wait so long. I personally was in a strange way disappointed that they didn’t win it it in 2014 under Brendan Rogers. He is from Carnlough for goodness sake. Somehow they lost a big lead to Crystal Palace and Stevie slipped against Chelsea and City stole it.

We had won it in 2012 after 44 years and so I would have been happy to share the joy. The first one after such a long time is utter joy. It is the best joy. That Aguero moment in 2012, stealing it from United deep into injury time on the last game. Well it will be pretty impossible to beat that.

That is my only regret for my Liverpool supporting mates. Not only will they get the trophy without the Kop being full to the gils but winning it when another team loses is not as good as it might have been if they had beaten City at the Etihad.

I do not think however that my Liverpool mates will worry about how it is done. I know the joy deep in their chests tonight. Enjoy. If any team deserves it then it is this Klopp team. Yes, City have let you down with by not competing as well as you guys did last season but to win the Premiership is not easy to win and to win it so early by so many points, maybe beating records that City set recently and that never seemed likely to ever be beaten.

Respect. Liverpool are Champions. Jurgen Klopp is the man. That front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino are scintillating. Van Dijk, Trent-Alexander and Robertson, what a defence. Champions! Party!


Stocki and the Treble

So, tonight, the football is back. City verses Arsenal at the Etihad. It should be like Christmas Day. Three months without football is almost like the end of one season into another. Except that it has been worse. No international tournaments or pre season. 

Yet, I am not at all excited. I couldn’t seem to care less. It has been the biggest mystery of the lockdown. Where did my love for football go?

I haven’t watched one kick since City lost the Derby 2-0 to United on March 8th. There have been all kinds of repeated matches on television from Cup Finals to Internationals to Match of the Day that apparently one week declared City’s 3-2 win against QPR to steal the 2012 title out of Sir Alex’s hands as the best Premiership game ever. I didn’t even watch that.

Why? It might be that as a Manchester City fan I wasn’t caring because Liverpool had already the Premiership wrapped up. Indeed, I feel for their fans who have waited for so long to win the Premiership and will now not be in the stadium to celebrate it when it happens in the next week or two. 

Yet, just before lock down, the Manchester derby aside, City had just won the League Cup and took a 2-1 first leg lead in the Champions League over Real Madrid at the Bernabéu! We moved into the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup too. Lots to play for.

And yet I still cannot muster any great anticipation. I thought that maybe I was a freak and then yesterday my good friend, poet and songwriter Paul Cookson posted a poem. 

Now when it comes to football and poetry Paul is the main man. He is not only the official Poet In Residence for the National Football Museum but as an Everton fan has written poems about many of their legendary players, having them read at Memorial Services and printed in Everton programmes… even Duncan McKenzie’s biography!

So, Paul is as up to his emotional neck in football as I am and so his poem really resonated. Had he become the spokesman for a football fan generation:


I’m not looking forward to football again
Not missing the beautiful game
My team are unbeaten since I don’t know when
I’m glad to be free of the strain


The strain. That might be it. If this lockdown was a breather from that life we lived up until March 2020 then maybe I was just glad to be rid of the strain. It doesn’t seem to be a strain. It is only football after all. Yet, somehow in these three months I had been freed from something:


My nerves are un-shredded, my pulse rate is even

Moods – they don’t dip or change


Sadly, in what is only a game, this so true. 

So, the question is… is this a new normal. Football has been a huge part of my life and given me a door into relationships across the world. It is a part of who I am. Is it gone? Will it return? Do I want it to? Can I manage it now? 

So many questions. Yet one thing is for sure… as Paul concludes:


Now football is starting again

I've not missed the depression

But here’s my confession

I’ll probably watch every game.


Here is Paul's complete poem... printed with his permission



I’m not looking forward to football again
Not missing the beautiful game
My team are unbeaten since I don’t know when
I’m glad to be free of the strain

I’m not looking forward to football again
It’s starting but won’t be the same
No doubt about it, since I’ve been without it
I’ve not had the heartache and pain

My nerves are un-shredded, my pulse rate is even
Moods – they don’t dip or change
No agitation, no aggravation
My passion, it seems on the wane

I’m not really bothered but no hesitation
Now football is starting again
I've not missed the depression
But here’s my confession
I’ll probably watch every game.


more about Paul Cookson here -