Ugly scenes as Preston steward trampled by horse. The FA must act now

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Last night in the first round of the Capital One Cup local rivals Preston and Blackpool battled it out, literally, at Deepdale.

The atmosphere was bubbling throughout the contest and when Preston’s Tom Clarke scored a late winner, pandemonium broke loose.

League One side Preston celebrated the cup win against Championship team Blackpool like they’d won the competition. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what it’s all about. Passion, glory, rivalry.

But at the final whistle, things got ugly very quickly.

Hundreds of Preston fans streamed onto the pitch to taunt Blackpool’s 4,000 traveling supporters congregated at one end of the stadium. Then the police tried to intervene as more of the 17,000 plus fans tried to get onto the field of play.

That’s when one unlucky safety steward found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A fan he was trying to move off the pitch pushed him and he fell. The steward was then trampled on by a huge police horse and was hospitalized with shoulder and chest injuries.

While all this was going on, players of both Blackpool and Preston were trying desperately to get back to the the tunnel and the locker rooms.

Blackpool’s manager, former Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter Milan and England midfielder Paul Ince, was not happy at all.

It’s an absolute joke. Who knows what could happen? It’s going to take someone to get stabbed or something else to happen before we’re going to listen. I wonder if there are enough stewards there. You see enough situations in football where fans are hitting a player. We sit down at these management meetings and talk about these respect campaigns, but what about getting enough stewards to control people? Who are the stewards anyway? Are they Preston fans? If they are they shouldn’t be stewards. They just let people run on the pitch. It’s not just Preston – it’s football in general. We need to knuckle down because you can’t have fans running on the pitch. I don’t care whether they win, lose or draw.

Ince has got a point, the man is clearly talking sense. In the American sporting arena we often see fans of college basketball rush the court if their team has completed a huge upset win.

But in English soccer this has become a huge problem over the past few years. In a Yorkshire derby last season, a Leeds United fan ran on the pitch and punched Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland in the face. And plenty more instances like this happen in the lower leagues, week in, week out.

source: Getty ImagesLast weekend fans of beleaguered club Coventry City walked on the pitch and headed to the bench, protesting about the clubs perilous financial situation. The list goes on and on.

Will the soccer authorities do something about it before it’s too late? At many grounds fans sit extremely close to all the action, and with no safety fences or real obstacles to get onto the pitch, anyone can do it. This is no an indictment on English society, but there’s a definite knife culture within the country. What if one individual takes it upon themselves, like Ince said, to stab or harm a player? There’s no protection for that.

I’m not quite sure what the answer to this is. More policing is probably the best method against these kinds of outbreaks. You don’t want to take anything away from the experience, passion and excitement at soccer grounds. But the players must be safe.

Fans running onto the pitch, in a jovial mood or not, has to stop. Now.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.