â€˜Nice colour Stevieâ€™ nods David Roberts, attempting a smile through the furrows channeled across his brow as a cleanly-shaven Steven Dunlop administers a final lick of scarlet paint to the weatherboarding at Predictorship HQ in Church Langley.
â€˜Iâ€™m happy with it Dave,â€™ acknowledges the Benfica man with a wry smile. â€˜and Iâ€™m thinking of putting an eagle in the middle, what do you think?â€™
The Chairman runs his eyes across the neighbouring houses which have also succumbed to Stevieâ€™s enthusiastic brushwork and gently wrests the can of Dulux from his grasp to steer him indoors for a nice cup of tea.
Janet Roberts, 4th in the table and still in with a shout for the FA Cup, seems to have been thinking along similar lines and the kettleâ€™s whistling away as she lays out the beetroot savouries on a doily, adjusting her verdant curls. The last week has taken itâ€™s toll on the runaway table topper and Janet listens with concern as the crest fallen leader pours out his heart:
Well, well, well… probably my worst week football wise in history, a lowly 4 points in the Predictorship, my “home” team Man U go out of the Champions League after being 3-0 up and my “adopted” team Benfica lose their first game since November and say adeus Europa. Only a top notch set of Predictorship selections can save my footballing soul now.
A desperate cry from the heart but it wasnâ€™t to be. John Collins itâ€™s rumoured is riding into town this afternoon. The Millwall man, now equal on points at the top, is riding shotgun with a moustachioed Mark Young (a man with nothing to lose after sliding yet another point down the table away from FA Cup finalist, the Moonerazzi) and Ted Warland wearing a mean look and an even meaner pair of two-tone western boots. Collins, having snatched a bunch of silverware from the Church Langley vaults only weeks before, is determined to hold the trophy aloft by fair means or foul and Warland â€“ sore from his Cup defeat by the Moonerazzi this week is a formidable accomplice. They wonâ€™t be giving their booty up easily and are intent on settling a few scores.
Meanwhile, hearing about the impending stand-off and being a little short this week, Matt White has turned up at the Roberts to offer his support and cadge a meal or two into the bargain. With a creditable 7 points (given the average score of 4.89 for week 34) and swapping places with the Chairman to rise to 9th in the table, itâ€™s a generally acknowledged truth that the success has gone to stat-manâ€™s head as he panders to the every whim of the troubled man at the top.
Stevie D hasnâ€™t been the same since Normanetta No-Mates equalled his score last week and, following her haul of three correct results (for 0-0s at Wolves, The first milestone is reached on Monday, when you reach a point where lucky Jupiter is just a month away from your romantic sector and by Wednes best-horoscope.com he’ll be just 4 weeks away. Blackburn and Liverpool) and 6 points to Stevieâ€™s 4, he reacted to the gleeful womanâ€™s taunts by ravishing the young maiden on the crazy paving.
Matt eagerly directs the assembled Predictors into their positions: Top scorer Gareth Jones with 8 points and 2 correct scores for the games at Aston Villa and Wolves (and also Predictor of the Week for the Aston Villa â€“ Chelsea result) â€“ is determined to see fair play and eagerly takes up his position behind the wheelie bins at the corner of the cul-de-sac; the â€˜242â€™ five: Chris Butters, Gabe Bevilaqua, Saleel Sathe, Matt White and David Roberts, all battling to move into the fifth placed spot, peep out of the velux windows, vegetables in hand; Ralph Hannah â€“ the only player to predict a Portsmouth win against Tottenham squats down behind the stable door of the neighbours caravanette; and Dave Taylor â€“ the only player to predict a Burnley win at Hull, shifts nervously under a blanket in the back of the Robertsâ€™ Mini Cooper.
The Enfields cruise past the filling station into the estate and the Predictors fall silent. Even the harsh wind blowing the leaves around the empty streets drops to a whisper as if sensing the battle ahead.
â€˜Thereâ€™ll be no crocodile tears here…â€™ leers Young, raising his umbrella to the Lion on his left. Collins nods his appreciation and spits a red mouthful of beetlenut into the pavement as Warland reaches into his back pack, ready to strike. But Stevie”s got other plans. He quietly turns the engine over on his Goldwing as they pass by and snakes around the corner to cruise up behind them.
Church Langley is buzzing with excitement this week for the annual Predictorship Donkey Derby.
The hairy beasts are lining up behind a gay selection of the Chairmanâ€™s ties carefully knotted together as moist nostrils steam and flare, ready for the off.
Pushing aside the ample rumps, David Jones Jostles through to the front to dart a sideways glance at Janet Roberts. â€˜Beat me and Motherâ€™s Day ceases to existâ€™ hisses the wayward youth. But Janetâ€™s eyes are fixed on the winning post, and moves only to adjust the blue and white silk cap perched on top of her immaculate beehive.
On her other flank sits a wiry Joe Roberts who has painted a question mark onto the forehead of his beast of burden and dyed the mane a shocking ginger. The Chairman taps his beetroot-stained beast to move up alongside him and casts his eyes over suspiciously.
He looks at his watch. Matt Wayne is overdue and the donkeys have begun to wander off in search of juicy snacks when a scuffle breaks out at the back. Matt has swooped in to jettison James Bradley, Rob Dimery, Tom Roberts and Maziar Sattari from the race. â€˜Iâ€™m taking you to the Chairman after this race,â€™ the Stat man chastises the younger Roberts and wags his finger sternly. â€˜Someoneâ€™s got to talk to you about your disciplinary record…â€™.
â€˜No bet, no race. They know the rulesâ€™. Matt shakes his head as he heads for the start line and takes up the slack on the tie string.
And theyâ€™re off.
The riders are swaying left and right, elbows flying. Only the acid beehive and a mauve topper rise above the dust to show one pitched battle being played out amongst the confusion.
Suddenly a rider in blue and white quarters lunges forward, swiftly followed by a bright red blaze. The Moonerazzi and Saleel Sathe are lobbing beetroots viciously across the racecourse ducking and diving to escape the burgundy blows.
Surging forward from the pack and hot on their tails, Ted Warland manages a vigorous rising trot, squinting hard to keep his monocle in place and kicking sporadically at the Tricky Trees man pulling up along side him. Predictor of the Week, Alex Iskandar Liew (Manchester City 1 Stoke 1) who reaches over to slap the old timer on the back. â€˜Reading and West Brom. Top prediction Ted â€“ a 2 all draw. I would have voted for that oneâ€™ Alex gushes.
David Roberts works his The Stainless steel buy-detox.com/shop/home-test-kits/cocaine-dipstrip-drug-urine-test-detail arrays are durable between around 40-60 uses each. way to the outside of the pack ready to spur his steed forward to see Steve Dunlop racing on foot up besides him. â€˜What are you doing down there?â€™ the Chairman shouts incredulously at the panting Benfica table topper.
â€˜Just finished a 20K run and missed the start … Thanks for the Benfica inclusion by the way, there”s amazingly 35 points between the two teams, so I canâ€™t believe they only won 1â€“0.â€™
Steve Dunlop wheezes to a stop as the Chairman pulls away.
Stirring up the dust behind him, Nick Watson (3 correct scores for Derby, Benfica and Millwall) and this weekâ€™s 8 correct results man, Dave McAleer are neck and neck. Looking like theyâ€™re ready to make a break Nigel Birrell ,frosty from his 3 point haul, vollies an icy blast up the rear of the two unfortunate equines sending them galloping off across the field in the opposite direction, but for all his dirty tricks Birrell is way behind the leaders.
Now third in the table himself, Matt Wayne wings his way to the finish line to commentate on the climax of the race:
â€˜And the Monacled Gunner is striding up on the leaders…
“Don”t look now but there”s a ginger mane nudging in front of a limey beehive which must mean Riddler Roberts will go hungry tonight! And now the Chairman”s passed her. My word. It looks like it”s the chip shop for you two! And it”s a cold shoulder for David Jones too who”s dropped behind, stunned by a well-aimed beetroot.
“But itâ€™s going to be a photo finish with the Blackburn Bullet and the Rampant Red. Oh and theyâ€™ve flashed their jokers. I donâ€™t believe it! Itâ€™s a joker-tastic finish for the Cup-tied riders as they streak over the line with 12 points followed by Ted Warland on a non-joker 9 point high!â€™
Matt Wayne flaps ecstatically as he congratulates the winners. An ill-timed moment to drop his guard: The caped crusader is oblivous as Mark Young”s ignites the tip of his purple umbrella and aims it at through the crowd….
Itâ€™s a day for celebration and with the photos safely stashed away, the Roberts emerge into the sunlight.
â€˜We wonâ€™t be getting any trouble now, my dearâ€™ the Chairman reassures his wife as they stride across the dusty yard to inspect the prisoners.
Janet Roberts idly adjusts the curls around her magnificent green beehive as they approach the dishevelled huts. She hadnâ€™t realised what a powerful aphrodisiac victory could be, but after gunning her way to the top of the table once again she was savouring the adulation with her co-conspirators.
â€˜Janet!â€™ Joe Roberts shouts urgently across the yard from the doorway they have just left.
â€˜Whatâ€™s brown and wrinkled and never stays where you put it?â€™
Joe and Tom Roberts along with James Bradley have all played their jokers this week and with 12, 14 and 12 points apiece Janet had noticed them behaving a little out of hand. Tom had been particularly surly after scoring 6 points from the first 4 fixtures on the scorecard but just 1 point from the remaining 6 fixtures, and his brother had been making the most of his mood.
â€˜No â€“ you donâ€™t understand…â€™ Joe enunciates slowly, beckoning them back towards the office.
Meanwhile, Ralph Hannah (aka The Cooler King) is striding around the Predictorâ€™s hut recounting a chance encounter the previous evening and tossing his baseball casually into the air for effect.
â€˜Well my scores were decided then,â€™ admits Ralph, â€˜I met Maradona”s daughter last night and she said she would be happy with 1-0, who am I to argue…â€™
“Then of course, off my guard, The Chairman came up behind me and â€“ well, here I amâ€™.
The Predictors nod sadly at the story, recalling their own painful tales of capture.
â€˜Keep your spirits up guysâ€™, Pete Yoder (The Scrounger) jumps up, seizing an opportunity to offer â€˜supportâ€™. Iâ€™ve got a small stash of liquor they missed when they picked me up from New Orleans. Guess the drunk act worked huh?â€™
â€˜That was no act, Peteâ€™ retorts Andrew Thraves (Intelligence), observing quietly from the corner as usual. You reeked of bourbon when they threw you in here last night… but we wonâ€™t hold that against you!â€™
The Predictors gather around Pete to find out where the stash is hidden, while Andrew goes back to studying his papers. With 3 correct scores (a feat only matched by Janet Roberts) for Finland, Ukraine and Japan, Andrew is slowly heading his way up the table, but not without the finger of suspicion resting upon him. After an unpopular Predictor of the Week award for Englandâ€™s defeat in Ukraine, morale and Andrewâ€™s popularity are at an all time low. Ted Warland (The Forger) is making his own award for predicting Irelandâ€™s 2-2 draw with Italy and Matt White (Big X) joins him to finalise the plans.
â€˜Whatâ€™s Auntie Margaretâ€™s leg doing sticking out of that trunk?â€™ screams Janet in horror as they enter the room.
â€˜Get it back in their quick, boys before somebody sees it!â€™ urges the Chairman, ushering the Tom, Joe and James towards the wrinkled stocking sticking out of the half-open lid.
â€˜She should have handed over the photos when she had a chance, Janetâ€™ David mumbles distractedly. â€˜Come on, letâ€™s get back to the prisonersâ€™.
But as they enter the hut, the room in empty.
Matt pulls The Moonerazzi from the tunnel onto the damp grass.
â€˜Why are you shaking? I thought you were the â€œTunnel Kingâ€!â€™ asks Matt, concerned.
â€˜Itâ€™s not that,â€™ she sighs gratefully. I think Iâ€™ve had a bad reaction to all those beetroots theyâ€™ve been feeding us. Never let me see a beetroot ever again!â€™
Silky saxaphones at the ready ???‚¬??? it???‚¬?„?s time for a sultry round-up of festive Predictorship blues …
As Predictors around the globe cheered in the New Year to their medley of Abba hits, only a solitary Ted Warland dusted down his Billie Holiday collection to soak up the ???‚¬??festive seasonal blues???‚¬?„?. All this is no surprise given Ted???‚¬?„?s disappointing form this season as he shuffles soulfully around in 32nd place.
But swinging to a much more up-tempo beat is former champion Chris Butters. Losing only one point of her 6-point lead since week nineteen, Chris???‚¬?„?s ???‚¬??Super Blues???‚¬?„? Manchester City are still strutting around ???‚¬??manfully???‚¬?„? on top of the table, in the manner of Guy Mitchell (unlike Mark Hughes who looks more likely to be skulking out of the stage door).
Soul sister Cathryn Gregory has also slipped into her silver Lurex to reveal a natural rhythm, as she rises up the chart faster than Whitney HoustoN on acid: top scorer in Week 19 with 11 points ???‚¬??? climbing 10 places to 10th, and again in Week 21 with 10 points to raise her up to 5th place.
Blue is definitely this season???‚¬?„?s colour ???‚¬??? also picked by ???‚¬??Stato???‚¬?„? Matt White to skilfully modify the Predictorship table with a little extra colour coding. Look out for the ???‚¬??funky???‚¬?„? blue boxes to denote seasonal highs, and you will see champion Mike Dufficy???‚¬?„?s return to form with scores for Week 19 of 10; highest point-scorer for all 20 Christmas fixtures with 18 points and a more than creditable 9 for Week 21.
Other predictors crooning over their seasonal highs are: Janet Roberts, Nick Watson, and Mark Young (fresh out of rehab and inspired by the pickled onions in his Salvation Army food parcel) in Week 19. Alex Iskandar Liew (last season???‚¬?„?s FA cup winner) in Week 20 and again in Week 21 along with Cathryn Gregory.
Queuing up in the chorus line wearing their spangly costumes, our weekly Star Predictors step forward to receive their applause:
In Week 19 for Blackburn 3-0 Stoke: John Collins (unfortunately not matched by the rest of his scores); Fulham 3-0 Middlesbrough: Mark Young (a remarkable feat given that Fulham hadn”t been involved in a Premier League game this season in which either they or their opponents had scored more than 2); West Brom 2-1 Manchester City: the ubiquitous Janet Roberts.
In Week 20 for Aston Villa 2-2 Arsenal: Patrick Bevilacqua, Cathryn Gregory and Rob Molloy; Blackburn 2-2 Manchester City: Mark Lawrenson and Dave McAleer; Fulham 2???‚¬???2 Chelsea: Ted Warland; West Bromwich 2-0 Tottenham: (no surprise) “Baggie???‚¬?„?s Boy”, Mark Young.
In Week 21 for Arsenal 3-1 Plymouth: “soulful” Sally Moon, “Jumping” Janet Roberts and “swinging” Iain Starr.
But before the gospel choir in the roomy smocks even think of entertaining us… there???‚¬?„?s a host of points still to play for in 2009 (even for red-carded Gabe Bevilacqua). So a toast to you all from Predictorship House with our finest Babycham and may the best predictor win.
I’ve watched it a few times now, both online and on the DVR. The online copies were all a bit too grainy to actually capture the detail of the move he pulled, though once you know it’s there, it’s easier to pick out. The DVR does it a ton more justice.
I’m talking about the USA U-20s’ second goal (also the winner) against Brazil on Friday, a goal that Freddy Adu didn’t score (he set it up) but which may have been the most exicting piece of skill we’ll see from a United States player this year. Say what we will about the overblown Freddy Adu hype machine, the outsized expectations, and the occasional whinging from the kid who was annointed the Chosen One at age 14 — what he did against Brazil the other night stands on its own. Never mind that he had scored three goals against Poland earlier in the week or that it was his defensive work that created the USA’s first goal against Brazil. That’s all well and good and it suggests very good things for his future as a player. I’m fixated on the trick he pulled to win the game.
Said trick: Adu receives throw-in from Zizzo just yards from the right Brazilian corner flag, drawing the attention of two Brazilian defenders, who immediately crowd him from behind. Instead of just settling the ball on the ground, Freddy pops it into the air with the bottom of his foot (a trick that’s very doable on the Field Turf) and then juggles it toward the corner flag (with defenders in tow). With a defender on each shoulder (as he’s juggling), Adu loops the ball over his own head, wiggles between the defenders, and begins running at the goal (!!!!!!). Another defender approaches; Adu slaloms to his left, finds a little bit of space and snaps off a left-footed shot. The shot is deflected to a waiting Altidore who maturely thumps it into the net.
Maybe the first goal against Poland was a better highlight (because Adu scored on that one). Maybe. But I’ve just never seen an American player pull a trick like that (the overhead flick), much less pull it TO SET UP THE MATCH-WINNER AGAINST BRAZIL.
Freddy Adu, your bandwagon is waiting. Someone get me a Sierra Mist!
Sure looks like Canadia got hosed last night, eh?
Whilst I think that the U.S. looked like the better team for most of last night’s Gold Cup semifinal against Canada (though not always by much), there is absolutely no way Canada’s injury-time equalizer (Did I just type “injury-time equalizer”? Yes I did.) should have been disallowed. Sure, it was a poorly officiated match throughout (the card that Landycakes got for diving was ridiculous, and the cards for Bradley and Hejduk were a little harsh, but understandable…also, the debacle with the indications for extra time was straight out of an Serie B relegation match), but that was a goal at the end of the game. No one was offside.
Sigh. Looks like the Maple Leafs will need to head home and console themselves by clubbing some baby seals; don’t forget to bring your passport!
Quick hits on the game:
The defense was terrible: we wouldn’t be talking about Canada getting jobbed had GOOCH NOT INEXPLICABLY HEADED THE BALL TO HUTCHINSON’S FEET! DEAR GOD MAN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! The guys in the back (with the exception of HeyDude — more on that in a moment) were bad to the point of embarrassing all night. Their touch was just awful: I lost count of the number of balls that they fumbled out of bounds or coughed up directly to the opposition; like a U-12 game, I was happy when they just booted the ball upfield. Is this really the best we have? Our national team back line can’t trap the ball? I thought Bornstein looked over his head. Nice kid, but, um, I hope we can do better. Also, Gooch and Bocanegra weren’t in sync, and they certainly weren’t on the same page with Keller.
Speaking of Keller: that may have been the worst game I’ve ever seen Kasey Keller play. He made a ton of mental errors back there. I hope we see Tim Howard in the final.
Max Bretos speaks the truth: I have to say that I found Max Bretos’ outright homerism in the booth to be vaguely refreshing. The non-stop apologies for bad plays (that’s a “one in a thousand miss for Donovan”) and questionable calls (“that may not have been offsides, but shouldn’t stoppage time have been over?”) were just fantastic. America, f*ck yeah!
HeyDude can be my wingman any day: I’ll admit that I’ve talked some smack about the talents of Frankie Hejduk in the past. I officially take back every disparaging word I’ve ever spoken about him. He was the surest tackler on the backline, the most comfortable on the ball, AND he scored a goal. I might also add that he seemed to want to win more than any other player in white. He will be very very missed in the final (I don’t fault him for the card — he got punked, and it would have been next to impossible not to get in trouble for that).
Landycakes remains our best player, which is good but not great: he’s our most dangerous guy, and I liked that he was trying to beat people off the dribble last night (even if he was failing). Means he’s trying to win the game. Also, he looked like a clown fanning on that pass from Beasley, but Beasley should have taken on the keeper himself there. Too cute.
Eddie Johnson/ The Striker Position: so when is Altidore ready for his chance with the Big Boy team? Please don’t make me watch any more Eddie Johnson.
Michael Bradley? Really?: I expected to be hating on Bradley, but I thought he was excellent all things considered. His workrate was awesome, his touch was solid, and he tended to be in the right spots on the field. He needs some polish still and he needs to get more comfrotable striking the ball, but hey, he’s 19. This is a good thing for the future. The card was stupid and unnecessary, though. We’ll miss him in the final, but I don’t hate seeing Feilhaber get a shot in a big game.
And now for the Bad Guys in the final (!). I hope we crush them in a matter akin to Stalin!
Canada gets ripped off at the 2007 Gold Cup [YouTube]