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Roker Ramble: ‘Spiky’ Mike Ashley & Rafa Benitez, VAR, Women’s World Cup, Dion Dublin & SPITTING

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“There are much more important things than Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United to worry about, like why they don’t paint caravans nice bright colours but are only available in beige or white” says John Crocker in this week’s Roker Ramble!

Fulham FC v Newcastle United - Premier League
Just a girl, looking at a boy.....
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images

And the big news this week, in football at least, is not that Rafa left Newcastle but that he stuck it out for as long as he did. And ‘Spiky’ Mike Ashley is being painted as the villain, letting the best thing to happen to the Club since Keegan (Part 1) walk away after everything he’s done. And given Spiky Mike’s history that does seem like the most likely scenario, but, also given that he wants to sell the Club, why would you let your best asset go?

It’s the big scene from ‘Notting Hill’ – Rafa (Julia Roberts, a.k.a. ‘the hottest actress on the planet’) is standing in front of Spiky Mike (Huge Grant, aka ‘the bumbling nobody’) asking him to love her. And they - both Spike and Huge, give the wrong answer. The difference is that Newcastle don’t have Richard Curtis to script a manic chase across town in the final scene’s to put it all right. Life imitating art right up to the bit that matters - unlucky.

So is Spikey Mike a complete idiot or has Rafa been a bit sneaky here as well, playing the PR card for all he’s worth? Well, Spike lost £150 million at a stroke when Debenhams restructured their debt, and has been buying up every failing business on the High Street just at the time when everyone else understands why every business on the High Street is failing.

Aston Villa v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play-off Final
Not Rafa - no waistcoat.
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

But then on the other hand he does have an awful lot of money, so I don’t know the answer – and to be honest, I don’t care, there are much more important things than Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United to worry about, like why they don’t paint caravans nice bright colours but are only available in beige or white.

Rafa, of course, in any sane and sensible world, would walk straight into the Chelsea job for which he’s eminently qualified and has already proved himself a success. But it’s not going to happen because the fans don’t like him. Probably because he was in ‘Notting Hill’ and that’s the wrong part of London.

And as far as the Women’s World Cup goes, it was all heading down the toilet at one point this week. Last week I said it was a big improvement on the men’s game – no spitting and no band. One game against Cameroon later and they’re gobbing all over the place, including at each other and the bloody band have had their passports returned (to punish us) and are repeatedly parping out-of-tune throughout the whole game.

The fouls were starting to fly in, tears are flowing, there’s on-pitch demonstrations, ranting at the refs - and then there’s VAR.

I was all for VAR, and still am but it can’t continue like this. It’s like being refereed by an unforgiving God –it’s omnipresent, it sees all and dispenses justice without sentiment. You never know when it’s going to pop up and say that some player was a millimetre offside ten minutes ago and everything that’s happened since didn’t happen. It gives me the jitters, like a choir boy in a seminary.

England v Cameroon: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
and the Lord taketh away.
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

It also gives us a small taste of what life would be like in an Orwellian society if only they could find enough people to sit in the back of a van and watch everything all the time.

Women are up-in arms at their flagship tournament being used for both VAR trialling and changes to rules and quite rightly so, the games descend into farce at times.

Take the new rules at penalties where part of the keeper’s foot has to be on the line when the ball is kicked. France were awarded a VAR penalty against Nigeria and the centre-half missed the goal.

However, VAR spotted that the keeper was about two inches off her line so ordered it to be retaken. She’d missed the goal! The bloody keeper could’ve been in another country when the ball was kicked and it not made any difference. So, logically then, had France scored with the first penalty, shouldn’t it have had to be retaken for exactly the same reason?

Since we’re moaning, why is it that when a player is substituted we have to watch them high-five the rest of the subs, the medical and coaching staff, the pie seller and anyone else who’s lying around? The fact that they do it at all I find a bit strange, but to be honest they could have a mass sex-therapy session on the touchline, I really don’t care, I just don’t want to watch it three or four times a game.

How tall is Dion Dublin? The BBC studio looks like a scene from Gullivers Travels. And who is ‘Hope Solo’ and why don’t I remember her from Star Wars?

England v Argentina: Group D - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
He’s actually standing on Alan Shearer....
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The African Cup of Nations started this week and games are being played in forty degrees of heat, because European clubs objected to losing players mid-season when the tournament is normally played in January. The alternative therefore is that their African players don’t get a break over the summer and miss pre-season with the club.

Life is just full of tough choices - I’m sure if enough of the clubs complained to FIFA they could get the tournament banned altogether.

Mad dogs and... temperatures are rising in France as well, with up to forty degrees also predicted for games this week. Now I am warming to Little Neville but can someone please tell him to take his tie and waistcoat off for the next couple of matches?

He may be trying to give a good impression but in conditions like that it’ll come across more like being a bit of a dick. And I don’t want to be over-critical because we may yet win the World Cup, but there again the USA are likely to roll straight over us, at which point my interest in the tournament will promptly wane.

Japan v England: Group D - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
It may look like a wedding....
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

If you ever want to see what rampant commercialism can do to an institution, then look no further than what used to be the League Cup. It’s been renamed about ten times in the past fifteen years, continually sold to the highest bidder, which is now an Asian sports drink (single-use plastic and an excess of sugar – just the sort of association you want for your product these days – nice one EFL).

And Carabao announced their sponsorship last season by f*cking up the draw on Facebook from both Malaysia and Thailand at three in the morning.

This year they went one better and held the draw in a Morrisons store in north-west London, which isn’t the end of the world, but neither is it a class act. They wouldn’t let it happen to the FA Cup who’s integrity they guard like a daughters virginity, nor, I’m sure would the Premier League take a sponsors millions without signing off exactly on what was being bought and paid for and making sure it didn’t negatively impact the brand image.

The EFL should take note, otherwise send notice to Disney that there’s a marketing opportunity out there that Mickey Mouse can’t afford to pass up on.