United City

Gutted. Obviously.

I’ll be honest I would have taken the nil nil but once Jack scored it was there for City to go on and win. Sadly over recent years City have seen these scenarios as games to sit back and see out. It is a frustrating tactic when you have De Bruyne and Haaland on your Fantasy League teams but its even worse when you end up losing all three points. Pep has finally paid for it.

There were many worries on display today for us City fans. We haven’t got up to our levels since the World Cup break. We aren’t reading passes and seem to need an extra touch. We haven’t found that final burst of speed. To be fair we are always a little rusty after the summer break. It is much more costly though post World Cup break. I thought Arsenal might struggle to get back to November levels. Not a bit of it. By the time City get up to speed it might be too late.

Erling Haaland? Has he been found out? He arrived as a breath of brilliant air. He was seemingly impossible to play against. Check out his post World Cup stats and his averages don’t look so good. Is that because he had too long a break without playing in the World Cup? Or is it because his team mates are not firing? Or have teams now watched, studied and worked out how to keep him out of the game? Time will tell.

Someone asked me where the City fight was? My quick answer was that he now manages Burnley but it might be a question for Pep to ask. When United equalised where was the leader to steady the ship and rally the troops. We perhaps don’t need Diaz as we used to as a centre half. Maybe we miss him most as a leader on the pitch.

Arsenal now have an open invite to win the League. Wins against Spurs tomorrow and United next Sunday and it is hard to see them being caught but they could lose both. If they win both games City need to turn their focus to finishing top 4. If they lose both then United are in the title race!

If I look across the City, United are very much back. Ten Haag was a great appointment and getting rid of Christiano was his toughest but best decision. Fernandes is flowing freely again. He has also got players like Rashford and Shaw back to their best. Casemiro has given a foundation to the midfield and they have players like Garnacho and Anthony to bring off the bench when you need a game changer. United fans should rightfully be refilling their confidence. Trophies are within grasp!

The only encouragement for City today was United fans response. I was getting the banter that I gave to them in the 80s and 90s when our only win that seemed to mean anything was against United. So, are United back/ You’ll know when you don’t overreact to a derby win! 

Enjoy though. I remember when we enjoyed in the same way. Remember that 5-1 in 1989. Enjoy it like that. Soon, it will still be important but not that important!

Oh, the goal? Well if Rashford with the ball at his feet in front of Emerson, shaping to shoot, is not interfering with Ederson’s then I don’t know what "interfering with a player” means? If it was technically right then the technicals need changed. Having said that… well left Marcus… well finished Bruno… well scunnered me! 



My daughter is at the University Of Reading and has got involved in the Women’s Soccer Club. The Lionesses have made football very popular. So, I was asking her if she was going to be watching the World Cup. She told me that the University Students Union had made a decision to not support the World Cup though she might see it in a couple of the bars. 

So, just months after the national joy of the Lionesses an English University is not showing the England Group games. It was a fascinating indicator of the messiness of the Qatar World Cup. We might want to see it but no one wants to look.

Human rights. Workers rights. LGBT rights. Our western liberal values are suddenly face to face with very middle eastern ones. We are uneasy. We are outraged. Universities are taking a stand.

About ten years ago, FIFA lost the run of itself. Russia 2018. Look where that country is now. Qatar 2022. Surely all the issues before us were foreseen but ignored at the modern day’s golden calf - riches is the bottom line. 

The world knew that something had gone amiss. The world knew that there were dodgy dealings. The world knew that this would be fraught with stupidity, corruption and injustice but the world let it get to this.

Many will rightfully call out the hypocrite in me. A Manchester City fan, glowing in a decade of success after 40 years of misery. That success has been aided big time with Middle East investment. Human rights in question again. I don’t lie. It sits uneasy.

Of course, we only have to look at our own hypocrisy as the tournament began. One minute pontificating against Qatar and the next celebrating joyously a Saudi Arabia’s goal and shock win against Argentina. The football has us distracted already from our morale compass!

Even England hosting the 1966 World Cup, all the way back then, should maybe have come into question. It was just coming out of a period of history where they stuck flags all across the globe and pillaged the resources and people of many many nations in gleeful colonialism. Rule Britannia! 

We might look back at all of that as history but let us not forget that in this past year the UK has attempted to send refugees to Rwanda. It sits more than uneasy.

Maybe Jesus refrain about our judgements being like planks and specs in our own and others eyes needs prayed over. 

Maybe we should consider that God didn’t boycott planet earth when its residents were miscreants. Jesus moved in among us. 

Maybe Jesus first sermon about liberation should be considered not only just at the World Cup and not only in Qatar but all around us.



It was predictable that Northern Ireland soccer team manager Ian Baraclough's head would be dangerously close to the chopping block this morning. 

It was a dismal display from Northern Ireland  in Greece last night. Bleak.  After a wonderful comeback against Kosovo at Windsor Par, at the weekend, hopes were high but that was as lethargic a performance as I have ever seen from a Northern Ireland in a while. Even our quality players like Stevie Davis and Jonny Evans seemed out of sorts.

BUT wait... before we sack Baraclough let us understand this Nations League thing. Or maybe understand how little we understand it! 

This relatively new competition came into the football calendar to give some meaning to friendly matches. If truth be told it was so that in becoming more competitive international games would perhaps gain a bigger TV audience. A competitive match between Northern Ireland and Kosovo might gain more interest than just a friendly. Understood.

What we then need to do is to understand what this does to the development of a team. 

The big two international competitions are the World Cup and the Euros. Both of these are played over two years. Just six years ago Northern Ireland reached the Round 16 of the Euros. It was obvious after that tournament that a rebuild was in order.

Now... this is where the Nations League becomes a distraction. In the pre Nations League days there would have been ample friendlies to blood young players, try different formations, developing and blending a team together. 

I think that Ian Baraclough has used the Nations League to do that because he had no other friendly options and is feeling the grief from fans because suddenly they haven't just lost a friendly to Greece in a time of transition and experimentation but almost got relegated from a division in a tournament that hasn't really caught anyone's imagination.

So, maybe go easy on Baraclough until the real Euros begin. That is where he should be judged.

I will be honest. It doesn't look good. Players like Saville, McCann and Whyte haven't maybe developed as well as we had hoped. Steven Davis cannot have long left and it is hard to see who fills that gap. Jonny Evans too though defensively we seem stronger. Conor Bradley is surely the brightest light in a while.

It is not Ian Baraclough's fault that Northern Irish parents haven't birthed many great footballers in the last 25 years. It might be that there is someone who can get more out of what we might have or not have than Baraclough. However, to make bad results in the Nations League as a reason for change might be wrong, in my surmising.



Mary P HJ 2

It is impossible to get through this weekend without a blog on Mary Peters. 

Fifty years since that amazing evening in Munich when she became the only Northern Irish person to win a solo gold medal at the Olympic Games. 

I remember it so well. The personal bests, particularly the high jump. Fearing Heidi Rosenthal’s long jump. That last race. “Run the race of your life Mary!” And then… that seemingly long long wait, Mary and Ann Wilson watching the screen, before… jumping into my excited mother’s arms and almost knocking her tooth out!

I was 10. I had only just started P7. I was just discovering Donny Osmond and T. Rex. Yet I was in the zone for the Olympics. I even remember getting up early to watch the Mexico Olympics as a 6 year old. 

My parents were athletes. The big clock on our mantle piece was a wedding gift from the Ballymena Athletics Club. My dad was disappointed he didn’t make the 1958 Commonwealth Games. My mum even claims to have been in a relay team with Mary Peters.

Two years before Munich we had great seats at the 1970 Commonwealth Games when before the hurdles race in the pentathlon my mum shouted down at her and Mary looked up and answered. Colour the son impressed.

As a ten year old my sporting views of my wee home country were a little askew. George Best was the best footballer in the world and Willie John McBride one of the best Rugby players. At those 1970 Commonwealth’s I has watched Mike Bull win a gold medal in the pole vault! I foolishly thought it would always be this way!

I was too young to make comment on how Mary’s gold medal lifted a country at the height of the Troubles. I do know though that that historical night in Munich was a very special one in our house and my memory. I have so enjoyed celebrating it. Thank you Mary!



Premiership-eve. The day we have waited for since mid May. It is a big and stressful evening for millions of us. Teams need picked for the opening day of a new season of Fantasy League.

For weeks I have been working out how to maximise my £100 million budget. 

How many big players can we afford. What are the cheap players that are going to come through? Over the past few years the big scorers have become defenders when at the genesis of Fantasy League you always needed goal scorers. 

So where do I invest? Will new signings fit in quickly? What about players from promoted teams? 

Of course it is a marathon not a sprint and my Fantasy League Team will bear little resemblance even in October to the team I will begin with tomorrow evening. 

However, a good start is better than a bad one though it is amazing how quickly the team at the top of your particular League this Sunday night might drop away within a few weeks.

I am a believer in starting solid. I will choose players who have proved themselves in the past couple of years. I will have to risk with my cheaper purchases but as little as possible. 

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 the final standings will have little to do with luck.

As I look at our league I know that reigning champion Jonny Fitch, Jude Holohan and John McMullen, who blew us away last season, will be the big 3 to beat. Isaac Orr, who I baptised about 12 years ago will be setting his sights on the top 3 too. Like cream the same names always come to the top season after season and David Hall is lurking!

Last season was a good one for me and a good start was vital to that. The biggest questions are how many £11.5 players you want to try to sneak in. My questions are about whether Haaland will hit the Premiership running? Will Salah be as great as ever? Are De Bruyne and Son as good for a million pound less? Oh and there are other questions about Eriksen, Diaz, Grealish, Foden and Maddison?

Then it is what formation? Five defenders? Three Strikers? Who to make captain? 

I took a rush of blood last night and changed 5 or 6 players before thinking better of it. This is the night to double doubt. “Solid Steve". You said “Solid”. 

Cannot wait to see your team tomorrow night! 

Bring it on!



I don't cry a lot but I cry a lot at sport.

I don't weep in defeat but in victory I can literally cry my lamps out. It is not necessarily a team I support. Actually it is more often an individual, very often times athletics.

It is a strange quirk, not my only one by any means (!!!), but I often wonder when I am crying for some Jamaican athlete who has just won a 100m Olympic final why my eyes flood. My parents were athletes and I grew up around sport - they also played rugby, soccer, hockey, table tennis and latterly golf. Something in my nurture causes joy to erupt from my inner being when I watch someone achieve that moment.

So, yesterday I was weeping freely when the Lionesses won the Euros. Every new interview. Chloe Kelly running off with the mic to sing Sweet Caroline mid interview!! Tears.

Now, there is the first thing about these Lionesses. I stopped trying to count the number of Irish friends who confessed to cheering them on.

Anybody But England is our usual posture not because we don't like the players but we are so fed up with the arrogance of the commentators. These women shifted the cultural boundaries of support and for 120 minutes wound the Union tighter than our politicians care to do.

Secondly, there. was the cheer joy. This entire tournament has been played in a spirit of utter joy. The Lionesses exuded it. This was something different from a men's tournament.

Women are different than men and they bring a different sensibility that together we need to share with equality. Football saw how it needed it. I would argue that the Church very much needs it and the world.

That joy was contagious. There were so many stories so forgive me if I use two Manchester City ones. Former City midfielder Jill Scott. 35 and currently unattached, was in the team that lost the 2009 final to Germany 6-2. Thirteen years later and she has redemption. Tears.

BUT... the most tears are for City striker Chloe Kelly. Injured in April she fought back to make the squad. This is the girl who used to get the bus from home to Wembley just to buy a programme and get the bus home again. Here she was... and she reacts quicker to poke in the goal that will be shown to and for generations to come. 

As if scoring the iconic goal was not enough, this morning's papers are littered with Chloe's celebration. Watch after she scores. She goes to lift her top. She waits. She is unsure if the goal will stand. Then, knowing she has possibly made history she takes her shirt off.

Many pointed to the USA's Brandi Chastain who took her shirt off after a winning penalty in the 1999 World Cup Final. I would suggest that the photo above hints at that Aguerooo moment from City's 94th winning goal to seal the Premiership in 2012. As a City player Chloe would have been overdosed on this image all year. That windmill effect. She was looking for iconic and she got it!

The shirt off and running around Wembley in her sports bra has already had Gary Lineker in bother. It needs to be seen for how it was. As someone else has written, it is an image of a woman's body freed from sexual exploitation highlighting that a woman's body should be respected at the peak of sporting achievement.

Make no mistake, these Lionesses are culture shifters. I have been enjoying the WSL for a few years. The skill and technique, check the utter quality of Ella Toone's opening goal, can be more enjoyable without the bullying in the men's game. How many young girls will take up the sport now? 

I am thinking of my Primary School friend Caroline McClure, first picked every lunch time. The Carolines of 2022 might have a professional future in the sport. I am thinking of my wee friend Hannah, 21 with all the ability, balance and strength. Get down for a trial at Reading young woman. These Lionesses might have opened a door in your world too.

So Lionesses, thank you. Continue to enjoy. Drink it in. And just to warn... after a couple of World Cup wins we might go back to default. It was a big ask cheering for England! 


Rory Travellers

Rory! Rory! Rory!

I say those words most weekends that Rory is playing. After a long iron to 2 feet from the pin... and after another collapse, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

I am a huge Rory McIlroy fan and maybe as a result his biggest critic.

Last night in the second round of the 2020 Travellers Championship, Rory played a caricature of his game. Starting the day at 8 under par he played quite beautifully to be 13 under on the 12th tee. Xander Schauffele was the only player able to stay with him.

And then… Rory went into Rory mode. Rory played the next 4 holes in 6 over par that included a quadruple and double bogey. 

I have been watching golf for 50 years and I have never known anyone like Rory. To be playing like he the best natural golfer in the world, that he without question is, and then play worse than I would expect to play myself. Nicklaus didn’t do it. Tiger didn’t do it. Only Rory.

I use the names of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods intentionally. After Rory won his first second Major in 2012 he made it clear that he was no longer playing for money but for records. He had his sights on Nicklaus’s 18 Major wins and when he picked up two more in 2014 it looked like that was very much on. 

No Majors since. Oh many will remind me he has been world number 1, Player of The Year a few times and he has just won his 21st USPGA tournament. BUT… that is not what Rory was playing for.

As the commentators floundered in disbelief - “bewildering” “unfathomable” - at his collapse on those holes yesterday my mind went back to that 2011 Masters when he blew a 4 shot third round lead with a mental collapse on the back 9. That evening my alarm bells rang loud. Rory was the most naturally talented golfer on the planet BUT did he have the head.

The head is so important. In sport confidence pulses from it. Resilience too. When a tee shot goes astray can you refocus? Too often Rory highlights his biggest weakness. He has head melts. It actually costs him almost every week. Some weeks I watch and feel deeply sorry for him travelling home knowing that he blew yet another win. Sometimes before he even begins. Remember the opening hole at Portrush?!

So… why? Well I have two surmises.

Firstly, I wonder about his leaving school too early. Rory didn’t need to stay at school. He was so unbelievably talented that he knew he’d never need A levels. He would manage financially.

It was a short sighted and flawed error. The mental side of sport is so much a part of it. Watch the footballers Guardiola and Klopp sign and you will see that as well as talented they are very strong mentally.

Golfers spend time in the gym to be as strong and fit as they can be. The mental muscle needs developed too. Most of Rory’s competitors did not leave school early. They went to Universities across America and developed their minds as well as their physiques. I surmise that Rory has suffered for not going own that route. 

Then secondly, there is his only child syndrome and his choice of caddie. Only children don’t like being told. I am one. I know. We had no brothers or sisters to call us out and put us right. We have a tendency to avoid those who will.

Harry Diamond is a good lad, a good golfer and I have no doubt a very good friend. Yet, as we watched Matthew Fitzpatrick winning the US Open with Billy Foster on his bag I couldn’t help wonder how many Majors would Rory have won if he’d had the courage to employ an experienced caddie. Someone who'd been there, talking sense to him, giving him a strong talking to when needed?

Now, Rory is only 33. He still has an opportunity to make a dent in that target of 18 Majors. I so really really hope he does. Whatever he does do this mental frailty in his make up has cost Rory many many Majors and other tournaments. It's a shame. 

I still think he can win the Travellers this weekend BUT I’m buckling in for the ride!


Gundoganwinner - cropped

“Are you watching that again?” Janice asks at tea time when I am watching Ilkay Gundogan’s winner against Aston Villa that won the Premiership for Manchester City.

“Again… and again.. and again.. and again…” I reply.

As a minister I take Monday’s off and today was dedicated to coming to term with yesterday’s final day of the football season and all its drama. I watched Match of The Day, then the aftermath of the Sky Sports live coverage. I watched various videos on the City website. At tea I am watching that goal… again… and again… I am watching City’s victory parade as I type!

Looking back it was almost predictable. As I sat down with my mate Boyd, with Monty and Philip on our WhatsApp Match Day Support Group, we were nervous. We all remembered QPR from 10 years ago. Lightning surely wouldn’t strike twice. We couldn’t save ourselves in injury time again. 

If we went one down… we did… if we we went two down… we did. We were there again. It was almost unbelievable but we had almost felt we would. Against a team whose season was over and should have been on the beach we find ourselves huffing and puffing with no real threat and we’ve conceded almost two similar goals to that game ten years ago.

As we said… it couldn’t happen again. Our heads were down. Our hearts were sore. It is hardest to take losing the title when you throw it away in the final game. 

We were starting to ask the what ifs? We were starting to question Pep’s team selection in big games. We were starting to complain about having no out and out striker. We were starting to say how Liverpool can get themselves out of these games but we struggle…

And then Sterling gets the ball. What’s he doing… that shimmy to the byline… that cross… GUNDOGAN… goal!

Wait a minute… well a couple of minutes and Zinchenko cuts inside like a tricky winger… precise pass… Rodri with pace and perfect placement… goal! 

What is happening? Can it happen again. It is the hope that kills you… loose ball… watch Kevin De Bruyne beat three defenders to the ball… pass… GUNDOGAN again… GOAL! Boyd and I are on our feet screaming with every sound that our bodies can release. 

What just happened. It will go down in Premier history as the magic mad five minutes but… stop… stop Stockman… surmise…

Stop questioning Pep’s big game implosions. Pep fixed it. Today he changed it at half time. Zinchenko on the left and Sterling on the right. Instead of cutting in where Villa had more than matched us, take them wide. Then Gundogan. He has been our most natural midfield striker. He seems to know just where to be and when to arrive. Today he knew that to perfection. Pep got it right.

Stop questioning the character. Not only were we two down this weekend. We were two down last weekend at West Ham. Two games in a row we needed to show courage and resilience and belief.

Start remembering this decade. 4 titles in 5 seasons. 6 in 10. As a City fan I couldn’t have dreamt this 15 years ago. Oh and I know that is the cue for people to talk about money from the Middle East. It sits very uneasy, I will admit. I wish it didn’t have to be like that. 

I wish it could be 1975 but it isn’t. And you can’t buy it. United have spent a lot of money and got worse. We bought Rodney Marsh in 1972 and it cost us the title!

I feel for my Liverpool supporting mates. They’ve topped 90 points twice recently and we’ve sneaked it. Maybe all teams that get 90 points should be given the title! They are also on for a possible treble though I’d say don’t assume anything at any time against Real Madrid!

In the 44 years between our 1968 and 2012 titles I thought winning once would be enough. Winning regularly could get boring and less emotional. I’ve had to rethink that surmise too. When you win it with all the drama, nerves, pain and utter euphoria of yesterday it is not at all boring. 

So let us see how Haaland makes us better next season? Whether Grealish can come into his own? How good Foden can become? And… if we can hold Liverpool off one more time! See you in August. All to to play for… and in the meantime… CHAMPIONESE! 

Now... Match of the more time.


Josh Adams

As if the result wasn’t enough. Italy beating Six Nations Champions Wales 22-21…

It was the unbelievable manner of the win. Leading for almost an hour it looked like Italy had ran out of steam. Wales began to dominate and as the time reached 78 minutes there was really only one team who would score any more points - Wales.

And then… then Ange Capuozzo picks it up well inside his own half and starts running. It seems that he has taken a wrong option and was running right into an army of Welsh defenders BUT a brilliant side step and he is away. A pass to Edoardo Padovani and he runs in under the posts.

Italy are within a point with a conversion under the post. Paolo Garbisi duly obliges and it has to be said that whatever happens in the rest of the evening, perhaps an Irish Triple Crown, and then maybe a close call between Ireland and France to win the Championship, this moment will probably be the definitive historic moment of the 2022 Six nations. 

Italy without a win in 36 games win. In such drama. With such genius.

As if all that is not enough commentator Jonathan Davies had given Welsh winger Josh Adams the Man of the Match award for what seemed to be his own moment of genius and try that seemed to win the match for Wales.

Just a second too late to give it to the iconic player of the match, perhaps Championship Ange Capuozzo.

Well on a day when genius had one over drama that had one over historic result… there is more…

After the final whistle when Italians are weeping tears of utter joy and Welsh players are hanging their heads in utter dejection, a beautiful moment of sportsmanship. 

Having been presented with his Man Of The Match medal Josh Adams immediately seeks out  Italian hero Ange Capuozzo and hands it to him. That is utter class and is to be celebrated. 


FL team

"Is this the real life/Or is this just fantasy" - Queen


“I suppose you’ll be happy if Brighton score twice in the second half and beat Liverpool?” says my father-in-law at lunch.

Bryan was 86 this week and like many of his age new tricks don’t come easily. I don’t think he can fathom at all my football fandom schizophrenia when I answer that 

I would like that Bryan because it would give City that extra wee gap at the top of the league but on the other hand I wouldn’t because I would like clean sheets for Van Dijk and Trent Alexander for my Fantasy League. A goal from Salah would help too!

Isn’t that what Fantasy League does for you in these last 10 games of the Premiership season. It is a sporting schizophrenia. In the real world you want this. In Fantasy League you want this.

Can I suggest that it is more difficult as a Manchester City fan. Pep’s squad rotation in the latter stages of the Champions League play havoc with your Fantasy League head and eventually after De Bruyne is rested for more games than you can afford you have to look elsewhere for Fantasy League consistency. As it stands I only have one City player in my Fantasy League team.

Jurgen plays a more consistent game although that is starting to change. Jota and Diaz seem interchangeable just now so Jota had to go. Salah though is in every team sheet. He is also the highest scoring player in Fantasy League and you never have to ask questions about who to captain as he rarely lets you down. He’s scored while I have been typing!

In the old days I would never have had a United player in my Fantasy team. I didn’t want to want Rooney to score a hat-trick to win my Fantasy League head to head. Now that I would sign them there is nobody worth signing!

As it was with United it should now be with City’s main rivals Liverpool but I take my Fantasy League more seriously now and need their points! I probably also like Liverpool more than I ever would United.

It all leaves me with a football schizophrenia. Football is a love that is deeply embedded at an early age. I do not remember a time that I didn’t have a ball at my feet and wasn’t watching football and working out the best players. 

Subbuteo was my first Fantasy League as my mate Frank Kelly and I choose our favourite players across clubs and indeed countries. Frank’s Peter Lorimer to my Colin Bell.   

As a result football results can effect my mood. City win I am a happy boy for days. They lose. Oh my. Don’t look at me. Janice suffers that mood! It is almost the same with Fantasy League. My captain scores, adds an assist and I have a clean sheet or two. Good times. On a week that no one making an impression… Unhappy.

So the next couple of months will know tensions inside of me, between my City fandom and Fantasy League interest. You might understand. Empathise. If you don’t, don’t laugh at me. Pray for Janice!