Long shots: Fulham Love to Draw… (Week 15)

The Christmas season is in some ways a turning point in a footballing year. A good couple of weeks (crammed with games) can certainly be the difference between relegation and a relatively comfortably end of the season, and my five strugglers went in distinctly different directions over the holidays.

Fulham are looking more realistic survivors, for example, while Metz go from strength to strength compared to expectations. Elche and Arminia Bielefeld, though, have slipped into trouble. It’s back to normality this week instead of the big round ups. Here’s how it went down…

Fulham 18th, 1-1 away to Tottenham

Fulham drew their fifth game on the trot away to Tottenham, and it’s kind of working for them, as they slowly but surely close the gap in Burnley and Brighton ahead of them with games in hand, too.

In truth, Tottenham should really have been out of sight in this one, with Kane putting them ahead after numerous decent chances. Spurs have that very Mourinho habit of trying to sit on leads, though, and they did it again here. By the time Fulham got level with 15 to go, they deserved it. A 2-0 away win to QPR in the cup won’t do confidence any harm, either.

Long shots: Spezia Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

I’ve loved watching Spezia. They have exactly the kind of pluck I was looking for when I started this project; an entertaining underdog from a small town looking to put it up to the likes of Juventus, Roma, Inter Milan and Napoli.

Before Christmas they were hovering in about their best case scenario for the season in my view: outside the drop zone, and ahead of a couple of proper Serie A big guns:

Spezia have kind of ground out results when it’s mattered so far this season, and while their Christmas wasn’t a great one, it ended with a real bang.

First up were Bologna, who are one of those kind of hovering teams in Serie A who are beatable but still solid. Spezia should really have won this one, with star man Nzola putting them two up with less than half an hour to go.

Spezia should have been out of sight, in truth, but Bologna fought back in a game they’d been utterly outplayed in, equalising with a lob from just short of the half way line (worth a watch!), before a great stop from a late penalty denied Bologna what would have been a daylight robbery of a win. 2-2.

Long shots: FC Metz Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

Metz’ pre-Christmas part to the season has been easily the biggest success story of my ‘long shots’ project: the team, who were an astonishing 1/6 to go down this year, got off to a poor start, though looking competitive, before going on a long unbeaten run. They had lost two before the break, but still looked solid in mid table, as below.

From that position, a team like this should really be looking to consolidate their safety from relegation and then worry about what kind of achievements they can pull off in the remainder of the season. Metz went ahead and did exactly that with their four Christmas games.

Montpellier had won five in six when Metz traveled there in mid December, but Metz are great away and grabbed a win in a scrappy game that kind of suited them. Montpellier didn’t look up to all that much going forward, and Metz got a silly penalty in the second half, and added polish to win 2-0 in the dying seconds.

Long shots: Arminia Bielefeld Christmas round-up (weeks 12-14)

Germany, of course, famously has a Christmas break in their football season, something that various non-native Premier League managers have been campaigning for en masse for years, usually once they first encounter the mad rush that is the seasonal football fixture list. I’d miss Christmas football, but they probably have a point.

Arminia’s break lasted from December 19 to January 2, which meant they’ve played three games since the table looked like this:

Those games have gone exactly as the table would suggest, and they have helped Arminia a little in what is – below the top few at least – a fiercely competitive league.

First up were Augsburg, who are a side who don’t get a lot of credit or acknowledgement internationally, but have become increasingly competitive in the Bundesliga.

Arminia actually had slightly the better of this game, but conceded late on when they really deserved more. The struggle to score goals continues.

Long shots: Fulham Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

This is the second of my bulky Christmas round ups now that the calm has settled in after the Christmas football binge.

I left Fulham struggling in the relegation zone, though perhaps performing as well as many of us expected. The standings before the Christmas chaos left Fulham three points and some significant goal difference away from safety, as shown here:

As a side note, how bad does that look for Arsenal? They’ve had a massive Christmas.

Anyhow, Fulham have essentially drawn their way through life since, oddly, given they’d had only one draw in the whole season before the Christmas period.

The opening one was a great one to grab, against Liverpool, though in truth they were really unfortunate not to win this one, with Liverpool given a very harsh penalty to equalise late on, and Fulham dominating much of the game and with a decent penalty shout themselves turned down along the way. A bit of a daylight robbery of a draw for the champions, 1-1.

Long shots: Elche CF Christmas round up (weeks 12-14)

So, five of these are incoming – as much as I’m enjoying the weekly write ups, I couldn’t bring myself to spend my Christmas trying to follow the day-by-day in five different European leagues, so one big bulk review per club in the aftermath it is.

I left Elche here:

Which is, let’s be honest, a hell of a start to the season for relegation favourites in what’s widely considered to be one of Europe’s toughest leagues. Since I left them, Elche have had five league games and two cup games (the second of which is, bizarrely, being played at 11am pretty much as I write this – I don’t know, either!). An exceptionally busy Christmas period that hasn’t gone well at all…

First off was a vibrant contest with Granada, in which both teams created penty of chances, though Granada certainly had the better of them, and deserved to come out one nil winners. Some of the saves in this game are really quite exceptional…

My Top Five Books of 2020

It’s become an annual tradition of mine to write up my five favourite books of each year. Not books that have been published that year, you understand, or even any attempt to summarise the annual highlights (let’s face it, given the sheer volume, that’s ludicrous), but simply what’s crossed my path and impressed. Reading is a big part of my life – I’d esimate I average several hours a week on books alone – and we;ve slowly edged it more and more into family life, too.

We now celebrate ‘book day’, for example, a kind of bastardisation of an Icelandic tradition, on Christmas Eve, which involves buying new books and chocolate and spending an evening in bed consuming both. This year has seen our son’s reading come on from struggling to do more than a page to reading books in a couple of sittings, too, which has been great to watch.

Anyway, rambling narrative aside, here are the books – this time, it turns out, exclusively not released in 2020 – that have lit up this weirdest of years for me. I got through 56 books in total, so this is a kind of top 10%-ish. The common themes seem to be travel and escapism, which I guess makes sense. Want some more? Here’s what I wrote for this very same post in 2019, 20182017, and 2016)

Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood on the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu

Yang Erche Namu is a folk singer from a fairly obscure mountain-based minority group in China, and this is her biography, though that slightly dull introduction disguises the surreal genius of this book. Namu comes from a society that’s utterly alien to our day-to-day lives, and seemingly untouched by modernity (though the book does date back to 2003). In a culture very much female-led and rejecting traditional marriage, the book’s early narrative about family life and the steadier women owning and keeping the home while the flitting men respond to symbolic sexual rituals is not as titillating as that might suggest, but so utterly away from my own experience it’s like uncovering a totally different concept for society. Which I guess it is.

As the book progresses, Namu moves on to describing her slow forays into the rest of China, including, eventually, places you’ll have heard of, away from her homeland of Himalayan Moso County, and her first encounters with things like paid performance, hotel rooms, modern transport and business-style exploitation. Namu is a rebel, someone who departed her own society against its implicit rules, leaving behind its conventions, and in doing so she uncovers for us in text an entirely new but distinctly engaging view on humanity itself. One of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

Dubh Lee: “Sonically, I was inspired by Led Zep’s The Lemon Song”

I interviewed Dubh Lee, below, via email. It’s something I’ve done a bit more recently, as absent the choice to talk face-to-face amid the covid crisis, I’ve found people are putting more time and consideration into written answers, but rarely do you receive answers as full and complete as the below, which give a real taste of the lively blues singer’s story so far (so I thank her for that!).

Her style is one that mixes blues, folk, and teenage rock influences into a distinct sound, one that grew vocally out of time busking on the streets in Germany and has slowly but surely established her on the Irish music scene.

Like everyone else, Dubh Lee has had a weird 2020, but topped it off with a beautiful single called ‘Carousel’ part of an EP recorded in Wicklow earloier this year. Here’s what she had to say…

Congrats on the new single. How was it releasing the track into this kind of situation?

Thank you! Honestly I’ve been chomping at the bit to put out some music this year so I enjoyed releasing the track immensely. I intended to have a whole EP out by the end of 2020 but the recording process got delayed due to COVID complications.

Carousel was recorded for the EP back in March before the first lockdown and I was excited to share it with the world so I decided to put it out as a single on November 20th in order to end this strange and trying year on a more positive note. Usually I’d plan a couple of gigs around a release but obviously that couldn’t physically happen this time. Other than the lack of a single launch gig the process was the same as usual – lots of time spent in front of the computer sending emails, posting updates on social media and the likes.