The Euroooopppaaaaans

Aren't Europa League finals great, when they're proper cup finals? When neither side involved is dealing with a sense of temporary embarrassment, or here for the back door to the Champions League. When both sides want the cup for the cup's sake: for the glory, for the adventure.
Leipzig draw 1-1 at Frankfurt and miss chance to go top
21/11/2020 AT 20:23
If anything, we were spoiled by Rangers against Eintracht Frankfurt. Not one but two heroic underdog stories, two incredibly dedicated groups of fans, two worthy and interesting potential winners. With all that narrative weight bearing down on the occasion, is it any wonder that the opening exchanges were a little… well, you can choose your euphemism. Tactically intriguing. Closely fought. Tense. Scrappy. And so on.

Frankfurt players interrupt press conference to celebrate UEL title

Maybe it was the heat. Climate change is real, kids, and it's coming for our cup finals.
But there are two ways to open up a tense final. The first is for one side to overwhelm the other with a moment of sudden quality: a slick set-piece move, perhaps, or something violent from 40 yards. These are difficult and unlikely.
The other way, the simpler way, is for some guy to fall over.
Whatever your allegiances, we can be grateful that this final won't go down in history as The He Fell Over Final. It was a proper pratfall, too: unprovoked and inexplicable. Tuta went down like one of those elasticated wooden toys; somebody pressed the big button underneath and he just went flop. Then he went off, not the first player to sprain his dignity and certainly not the last.
Will it be remembered, instead, as The Oh Aaron Ramsey What Was That Final? Perhaps. Being the only miss among ten near-perfect penalties does rather grab the attention. In another world, one where Kevin Trapp jumped just a little further, Ramsey's kick ended up looking cool and clever, one wily veteran outthinking another. In this world: Arsenal jokes, theories about the wisdom of bringing on a player just to take a penalty, a miserable final act to an underwhelming loan spell, and more Arsenal jokes.
But we don't have to orient history around the disasters. Perhaps we could call this The Rafael Santos Borré Is Ice Cold Final. Somebody had to actually walk up and score the last penalty, after all, and Borré hit the ball hard and high into the corner of the net, that dangerous zone where the keeper won't get you but the combination of physics and adrenaline and nerves just might. But not Borré, the coolest man on the pitch.

‘Couldn’t be more proud’ - ‘devastated’ Rangers after losing UEL final on pens

It is one of the odd wrinkles of the season that Eintracht Frankfurt have looked like the best team in the Europa League but have finished as the eleventh best team in Germany. Similarly Borré, who paired his winning penalty with a fine equaliser, has been a menace through this competition but picked up just eight goals in the league campaign. It's enough to make you believe in all that wonderful stuff about the magic of cup competitions and the thrill of the occasion.
And perhaps, with that in mind, it'll end up as the Kevin Trapp's Big Legs Final. The trailing leg to keep out Ramsey's penalty was a smart piece of insurance, but the stop from Ryan Kent a few minutes from time was bordering on the miraculous. Everything was against him: the angles, the pace of the move, the fact that Eintracht's defence had dissolved into the sticky air. But there he was, nonetheless, embodying the first principle of goalkeeping: get in as good a position as possible, make yourself as big as possible, and hope the forward doesn't put it in any of the places you're not.
However. Watching this back, it seems clear that Eintracht's defenders have violated one of the rules of modern football. There's their goalkeeper, just made a great save. And none of the defenders, not a single one, charges up to him and bumps him in the chest or shouts in his face. How were we meant to know this was a great save, without the supporting cast playing their part? What is this, the 1950s?
Makes sense, perhaps. Eintracht were pretty good in the 1950s. But there we are: first Trapp earned his team the right to contest the penalties, and then he saved the crucial one. His final, on balance, and Eintracht's competition. Rangers will rue their missed chances, and Ramsey's penalty will follow him wherever he goes from here (unless he goes to Wales, where nobody will care). But both teams had themselves a famous night at the end of a grand adventure, and that's the real prize here, right? Right, Rangers fans?
No, okay, you're still upset about the actual prize. Fair enough.


The celebratory pitch invasion is, in theory, a wonderful thing: the expression of a collective joy so powerful and transporting that it collapses the boundaries of the game. The white line is swept away as those that watch first take, then reconfigure the territory of those that play: We're not supposed to be here, but this belongs to us. Invasion becomes reclamation. And if you're quick you can get your hands on a corner flag.
In practice? Well, sometimes somebody goes for one of the players. Sheffield United's Billy Sharp has issued a statement announcing that he's not going to let "one mindless idiot," "one scumbag" ruin his respect for Nottingham Forest fans, which is remarkably gracious of him given the circumstances.
The Football League are taking a harder line. Citing "a number of unsavoury and unacceptable incidents," the League have announced that they are considering further measures, including capacity reductions. Thus far, celebratory pitch invasions have more or less escaped serious censure, a recognition on the part of the authorities that there is something carnivalesque about these moments. But as the EFL point out, they have the law on their side, with the accompanying threat of club bans and criminal records.
Even without the question of assault, you can see why hundreds of people charging onto the pitch is pretty miserable for the opposition. There you are, game done, adrenaline draining out of you, and oh no: suddenly you're in the middle of somebody else's party and everybody knows you're not invited. Yet there is something very odd in the Football League's description of these moments as "anti-social behaviour". To watch the majority of Forest fans on the pitch was to see something utterly and entirely social: people together being people. Laughing and dancing, hugging and singing, crying and taking selfies. There is, of course, already a law against assaulting people. You'd hope that would be enough.

Crunch Time

Tell you what, the Premier League is doing great work at rehabilitating Thursday evenings. Last week it was the north London derby, and this time around we've got another chapter in the thrilling farce that is the Premier League relegation battle.
Burnley are heading to Aston Villa, and there'll be claret everywhere. A point moves them out of the relegation zone on goal difference; a win would put them two points ahead of Leeds going into the final day. Meanwhile, Everton are hosting Crystal Palace, in what is by far the more crucial of the two games this evening.
A win for Everton would do two things. First, it would move them four points clear of Leeds and so, in the process, secure them Premier League football for next season. Half of Liverpool will let out the biggest sigh you've ever heard, and Lampard will unleash his most sensible chuckle yet.
But more importantly, it would reduce the final day relegation battle down to just two games. And with the races for first and fourth looking half-won already - sorry Arsenal, sorry Liverpool - we'll be needing all the drama to come from the bottom of the table. If Everton win, we all spend Sunday swinging back and forth between Burnley vs. Newcastle and Brentford vs. Leeds.
Now, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. But imagine how much more exciting it will be if we can expand that into a triangle by getting Arsenal-Everton involved as well. Assuming we get away with our fate-tempting in last paragraph, we'll need Everton to slip up this evening. Just a little. Think of the product, Frank. Think of the drama. Think of the sheer unbridled Barclays of the thing.


A note here for Eintracht Frankfurt's fans: their skeleton banner, their circles of hell stadium. All the way to the trophy, with goth on their side.


The end of the season is a good time for these little retrospectives. Something weird has happened on almost every day in May. Nine years ago, for example, Alex Ferguson managed his last game for Manchester United, and circumstances conspired to deliver up the Premier League's first and so far only 5-5 draw.
But whatever happened to Manchester United after this game? Actually, the club retired to live out the rest of its days in quiet contemplation on the shores of the Mediterranean, and nobody ever heard from them again.


While we're on our Weird Things Happen In May tip, let's look back further. It was 52 years ago, give or take a day, that Bobby Moore went jewellery shopping in Bogotá. Perhaps he just went for a browse. Or maybe he was - gasp! - stealing.
Either way, he got arrested, nearly ended up in prison, and the whole thing ballooned into one of football's weirdest scandals. Even today, nobody really knows quite what went on, although we find it very hard to believe that Moore, in conspiracy with Bobby Charlton, actually did something as peculiar or interesting as nick a bracelet. Fine footballers, both. Not where we go for hijinks.
Here's Carl Worswick for the Guardian, from a couple of years ago, looking back at the "myth, lies and political intrigue" that nearly robbed England of their captain for the 1970 World Cup. We particularly enjoyed this line, from the owner of the shop: "He might be the best footballer in the world, the most attractive, distinguished and most highly regarded of anyone, a friend of her British majesty even. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a kleptomaniac."


Villa against Burnley is the televised game this evening. And if the Premier League doesn't do it for you, we've got the first leg of the Bundesliga relegation play-off, Hertha vs. Hamburg, and the second leg of the League Two play-off semi-final between Port Vale and Swindon Town.
Andi Thomas was nowhere near that bracelet, officer, and nobody can't prove nothing. And if he gets out in time, he'll be here with tomorrow's Warm-Up.
Europa League
Benfica teenager Joao Felix nets treble in 4-2 Eintracht win
11/04/2019 AT 21:10
Premier League
Paper Round: United want Zidane to replace Mourinho
01/08/2018 AT 05:57