The ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ Will Kill Our Game

On Thursday the 23rd of October, the 72 Football League clubs voted in favour of the ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ (EPPP), a radical new overhaul of the current national youth system. The changes include the scrapping of the current tribunal system, which previously determined the fee a club would have to pay another for a youth player who is out of contract when no agreement between the two could be reached, and the implementation of a ‘tier’ rating for each club’s youth system, ranging from tier 1 to tier 4.

Instead of the tribunal system, there will now be a fixed tariff in place to determine the fee a club must pay for a youth player. It is £3,000 per year for a player aged between 9 and 11’s development, with the fee from 12 to 16 ranging between £12,500 and £40,000, dependent on a club’s youth system tier category.

Regarding the new tier formulation, clubs’ youth systems are now ranked according to how much staff they employ and how much they spend on their youth development. To be rated as tier 1, the club’s academy must have an annual budget exceeding £2.3m, at least 18 full-time employees, excellent training facilities as well as school places. What a tier 1 ranking gets you is the pick of pretty much all youth players in the country, considering the 90-minute rule has now been abolished. Contact time with youth players will also be increased with tier 1 academies. At the other end of the scale will be the tier 4 academies, acting as a ‘safety net’ and only allowed to pick up previously failed youth players at the age of 16. Tier 3 academies will have no contact with youth players until the age of 12. As it stands, the only academies in the country who will be rated as tier 1 when the EPPP is implemented at the start of the 2012-13 season are Southampton’s, Chelsea’s, and Manchester City’s, but you can expect Manchester United’s, Arsenal’s, and Liverpool’s to have reached this ‘prestigious’ status by that time.

The vote passed with 46 votes in favour, 22 against, 3 no-shows and 1 abstention. What is startling about these figures is that 3 clubs didn’t even bother to turn up to the vote of one of the most significant changes to English football, but more importantly, the fact that only 23 clubs had the  courage to stand up to the monstrous machine that is the Premier League. All are a credit to the Football League, with the ones who voted in favour a shameful symbol of how our game is being killed off.

The EPPP is an attempt to replicate Barcelona’s ‘La Masia’ academy system, leading to increased contact time with youth players

The EPPP is a plan drawn up by both the FA and the Premier League, and both these parties, along with several Premier League clubs, are hopeful it will be a success and achieve its aim (which, apparently, is to have all the best young players reaching their potential at all the best academies, thus strengthening the national side). A Premier League spokesman said of the EPP: “The new plan is a great example of English football working together to raise standards across the board.”

The questions that have to be asked are, that if the plan is bound to be so successful for English football as a whole, why did the Premier League have to threaten to withdraw the £5m funding they currently provide Football League clubs per annum if they voted against it? This is blackmail in its most blatant form, and is proof as to how flawed the plan actually is that it is required to force it through. More so, is this new scheme really centred on just strengthening the national team? No. It is simply about the big teams hoovering up all the talent in the country. Do you really think that Manchester United, owned by the American Glazers, Manchester City, owned by the Abu Dhabi Sheikhs, or Chelsea, owned by the Russian Abramovich, care one iota for the success of the national team? Of course they don’t, and once again the shortcomings that foreign ownership brings are highlighted.

I referred to an academy having a tier 1 status as ‘prestigious’ earlier. Under the new rules, Chelsea would have a tier 1 status, whereas a club like Crystal Palace would have tier 2 status, and thus Chelsea would have the pick of all Crystal Palace’s youth players, as well as increased contact time. But is an academy that currently has 2 home-grown players in its first team squad really ‘better’ than an academy that currently has 11 home-grown players in its first team squad and in fact more graduates playing Premier League football? The EPPP has in part been arranged so that apparent ‘better’ academies can have the best young players in the country. But this ranking system is flawed, and is accordant to the finance of academies rather than assessing just how effective they are at young players fulfilling their potential.

In my mind at least, the EPPP is frankly scandalous, and it is an outrage that it has been passed with so little reaction. What it means is that the days of going to watch local players play for your local team will soon be gone (it is estimated that between 30-40 youth systems in the Football League will now be scrapped, such is the pure worthlessness of having such systems with this scheme in place). It means that the rich will be getting richer, and whilst Premier League chief pigs such as Robert Scudamore can jolly it up discussing the ‘39th game’ over their prawn sandwiches, those silly little clubs in the Football League will be fighting to stay afloat, now that a great sum of their income has been removed. What the EPPP is doing is ripping the heart out of our game, the lifeblood of our clubs and it says it all that they had to extort the Football League clubs to make this ridiculous plan pass.

Most, if not all, of the Football League clubs who voted in favour are not actually in favour of the EPPP; the vote made for it is a direct result of the threat of the withdrawal of the £5m per annum the Premier League currently grants Football League clubs, money which without, they would find it hard to survive. Barry Fry, Peterborough’s Director of Football, has spoken of how the Premier League’s threat felt like blackmail, whilst co-owner of Crystal Palace Steve Parish has expressed his fury at the agreement, claiming that Football League clubs ‘took their 30 pieces of silver’, and condemned last Thursday as a ‘dreadful day for football’.

If you agree with how ridiculous the EPPP is (and I would hope you do; having non-football fans reading this is not something I planned for), I would also hope you agree with the fact that we cannot just sit there at let this happen. We cannot just treat this ruthless action with a vast degree of apathy and accept that our game is dying, and there is nothing we can do.

There is a movement, under the heading ‘The 72 Unite’, designed to combat this overhaul of the English game and the disgusting actions of the Premier League. They have made a statement (which I will post in a separate article) and the first course of action is a proposed boycott of the first five minutes of every league game in English football on the weekend of the 29th October, in order to draw attention to how we, the loyal supporters upon which our clubs thrive upon, feel about the prospective changes. This will not be the only event, with more being planned, and it is true that one 5 minute boycott will change nothing, but it is a start and brings a platform for us to voice our disdain.

Along with participating in the boycott, we ought to do our part and start circulating not only the group and its plans, but also just how shady and destructive the EPPP is. Something I have been astounded by is how little people know of it, or how many people do not even know of its existence. Football fans up and down the country must be made aware that our game is at risk from the greed of the Premier League; and consequently, the Premier League must be made aware that we are not going to allow this to happen without serious opposition.

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A Week Off the Real Football

There’s been three so far this season, and I don’t mean the amount of goals that Glenn Murray has scored. International breaks, now a by-word for deprivation, have disrupted the season still in its infant stages  and have forced football supporters across the country to look for activities to replace the giant chasm that has been created by them; and also search for new excuses to not go shopping with the missus.

What is worse than an International Weekend? International Fridays of course, and English supporters were treated to a fantastically drab one last night.  Yes, England did qualify for the 2012 European Championships, but right now, there is no excitement surrounding the national team. In truth, this has been missing ever since the World Cup in South Africa, which England entered with their chest puffed out and left humbled, with their tail between their legs. Usually there would be at least some sort of verve resounding through the country at the satisfaction of the knowledge that this Summer would not be a football-free one. All that I can feel is the feeble acceptance that this Summer would be one of just more torment and disappointment for the national team.


You have to go back to 2002 for the last time Ireland brightened up a major tournament. From the drama of Keano’s bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy to the ecstasy of the last-minute goal from another Keano against Germany to make it through to the last 16, it was a colourful tournament for the green, white, and gold army.

With that in mind, and it’s great to see that they go into their final group game against Armenia on Tuesday only needing a point to make the play-offs (with Russia playing against Andorra to win the group, the chances of them slipping up and the Irish being the group winners are extremely slim). If they manage to avoid having to play an opposing team with a basketball player on it in the play-offs, Poland and Ukraine will prove to be a very popular destination with the Irish in 2012.


18-year old Jonathan Williams was called up to the Wales squad for their games against Bulgaria and Switzerland , by virtue of his performances for Crystal Palace this season. He didn’t make his debut in the Welsh’s 2-0 win over Switzerland last night but could do against Bulgaria this week, and either way it is a great achievement to gain international recognition whilst you only have five professional appearances and a Wikipedia page only a month old.

  Only 5 ft 5, Williams has dazzled the Selhurst Park crowd this season with his ball control, midfield dynamism and non-stop running. Already having scored against Premier League opposition and orchestrated a win over arch-rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, the name is on every Palace fans’ lips and it won’t be long before he is noticed by the vultures of the Premier League.

Despite being born in Kent and living there for all his life, he qualifies for the Welsh national team through his father, and has been involved at all ages in the Welsh youth teams, playing regularly for the U21s when he was as young as 16. He remains eligible for the English national team (until/if he plays for Wales) and whilst it is unclear which country he would favour playing for, if he carries on how he has begun, in a few years he would be an integral cog in either national side. A bold statement to make, especially when England have similar players to him at a similar age such as Jack Wilshere, Josh McEachran and Ross Barkley (all of whom are tipped to have a big future within the game), but Williams has already been watched by England U21s manager Stuart Pearce and, with the right choices and right environment, there is no limit for him. Joniesta; remember the name.


Wayne Rooney put to bed the theory that he was finally getting rid of the failings of his game, namely his discipline, with an unnecessary sending off for England last night which opened up a way back into the game for Montenegro. To give him his due, his reaction to being sent off did show a pinch of maturity.

Although not having a winking Cristiano Ronaldo on the other team helped with that no doubt.

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We’re the haybales!

Brighton may well be flying high at the top of the Championship at the moment, but it seems their fans still seek to be every much as gimmicky and plastic as their new, completely distorted stadium. No, I’m not talking about them crowing already about sure to be top of the pile come May, or the amazement from them that they no longer have to sit an entire athletics track away from the pitch to watch their team play. I’m talking about this video:

Madness. Insanity. Humiliation.

Those are just a few words that come to mind when watching this video. A couple of more thoughts also crop up during the longest laughing fit of my life (2 minutes, 46 seconds).

“So, what do you do when you haven’t got a ticket for the hottest seat in town this afternoon, the Albion v Blackpool?”. Sorry. No, I heard you the first time, I was just apologising for your perception that a Brighton game versus gargantuan seaside giants Blackpool can be even remotely billed as the ‘hottest seat in town’. Yes, the Amex was sold out for this game, but, hottest seat in town? Really?

But let’s go along with this. This man (as he shall be referred to since the term ‘loony’ is non-PC) has just posed a very, very well thought out and probing question. Just what do you do when you are missing out on the encounter of the century, Brighton vs Blackpool? You certainly don’t go up to an empty field in the middle of the South Downs and decorate a haybale. Or do you? D’oh!

Having told us his method of transport to get here (he states a bike, but this is a very mysterious bike. There is no presence of it in the video; is it an invisible bike, did he just leave it further down the field, did some South Downs gangs come and steal it? Maybe he didn’t even ride a bike to the South Downs at all; is this the first sign that this man is a not only clinically insane, but a deceitful and compulsive liar too?), the man then proceeds to start a chant. “We’re the haybales”, he crows. No, you are a very weird and troubled man jumping up and down with a scarf on your head. Scarves are meant to go around your neck, you muppet. And haybales don’t sing…

We then see Brighton take the lead, followed by some great commentary on the man’s daughter’s attempt to hurdle one of the several haybales in the great big fucking field. She fails, and one can not help but feel sorry for her. First dragged up to the South Downs on a magical bike, second having to help her father ‘deck out’ a haybale, and then realising she is probably not going to be competing in the 200m hurdles in 2012. Born into a Brighton family, too.

We have not yet encountered the most harrowing aspect of this video, though. The man is about to reveal a most haunting revelation, one which is worthy of any top horror movie (presumably what this video is meant to be emulating-or perhaps comedy is the direction it is aiming for?); the ice-cream van only sells…wait for it…ice-creams. What a let-down. Should it be such a surprise though? Ice-cream vans only selling ice-creams does seem pretty logical, but perhaps the man was hoping for a ‘Everything £1 apart from a few things’ pound shop-esque ice-cream van.

The man has also now put on his shades. He may have had an enlightenment and realised that he really, really does not want to be recognised by anyone who may come across this video.

We are then treated to a short clip of the world’s finest fans.

Carling don’t do comedies. But if they did, they still wouldn’t be as funny as this.

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Playing the Panto Villain

Nothing more seems to rile fans than conceding a goal. Understandable. But what extracts rage from deep within our roots, summons profanities that have never been uttered before, and triggers physical responses often culminating in sticking two fingers up is the conceding of a goal followed by the opposition player(s) celebrating in front of us.

I am not talking about just a fist pump or a celebratory hug with team-mates. I’m talking about cupping of ears, fingers to mouths, hands to crotches (Troy Deeney of Watford, please stand up) and in some cases, a 100m sprint faster than Usain Bolt followed by a theatrical bow.

In essence, it winds all of us up-even those with the big Buddha within. But it is exactly that result which makes me question why players do it. I understand fans giving it large to each other, be it at the scoring of a goal or because there’s a fat man in the away end, but that’s different. That’s down to pride on the terraces and the tribalism of football. More often than not, these players who do goad the opposition fans after scoring just do it for the satisfaction that they’ve made a few thousand people very angry.  They are, effectively, wind-up merchants.

Why would you want to wind up the opposition fans though? Why get them fired up, why give them something else to berate other than their side’s poor defending and why give the opposition a chance to get back into the game? Is it really worth it? Why not just go and enjoy the moment of scoring a goal for your team by celebrating with your fans, and get them fired up with the jubilation rather than the opposition.

Besides, you look awfully silly when it comes back to bite you in the face. After Danny Graham had put Watford 2-1 up at Selhurst Park in November last year, Troy Deeney (didn’t even score, the cheek of it) waltzes over to the Lower Holmesdale feeling smug over either his 1 in 18 record for Watford or ostentatiously large pay packet (likely the latter), puts his hand to his crotch in some sort of odd, unforeseen gloating action. Yes it made my blood boil at the time, but 40 minutes later, Palace have won 3-2 and Troy Deeney is feeling like an idiot. Still collecting his pay, mind you.

There’s obviously the ‘love it when your team does it, hate it when you suffer from it’ line of thought regarding it, but in my case that just isn’t true. When my team score, I want the players to celebrate with our fans, and leave the ‘1-0, to the Londoners’ singing to us. When Glenn Murray nets his fifth against Brighton in January, however funny it would be for him to run down the Arthur Wait stand housing the Weed fans, doing his trademark ‘5-0’ celebration, I’d much prefer him to jump into Block B and share the celebration of a Palace goal with the Palace fans.

Is Adebayor enjoying the adulation from the City fans, or smugging it up over the anger of the Arsenal fans?

Of course, many would argue that if you dish it out, you have to take it when you get it slapped right back in your face. Players who have been booed all game must feel great when they pop up in the last minute to slam the ball home. A great way to say ‘I told you so’, or ‘Have some of that’. Isn’t the scoring of the goal enough for them, though? Mind you, I never do boo opposition players. There are many times that I’d like to (hello Mr. Bostock), but there’s something inside me that knows that if I do, then that player is sure as hell going to net against us. It feels inevitable, and part and parcel of supporting Palace.

 In last Saturday’s match against Blackpool, after Alex Baptiste put them 1-0 up, he cupped his ears to the Palace fans as he ran along the Holmesdale. To be fair to him, he was practically right next to the stand as the ball hit the net and it isn’t as if he legged it 100 yards to taunt us. And cupping your ears isn’t too offensive or out of order and the action lasted for pretty much two seconds before he was mobbed by his team-mates. Still, a Palace fan found it harmful enough an offence to complain to Ian Holloway at half-time. Ollie obviously agreed with him, and came out after the match saying this:

”I apologise to all the Crystal Palace fans. We’re nice people, we’re not show offs. Alex is not like that, he didn’t mean that and he’s gutted because he didn’t mean it like that but it could have done and we have to take responsibility. You shouldn’t be ignorant, the whole world has turned ignorant. Just look at the riots that were here in this area. You have to take responsibility for your behaviour and celebrate internally with your supporters.”

 He went on to threaten to fine the player if he did it again.

Fine words from Mr Holloway there, who, along with the fan who complained, most likely views the action as unprofessional. Perhaps the fan who complained was being a bit too touchy in the situation, particularly so considering he complained minutes after the incident occurred, when you would have thought that he would have cooled down and got ‘over’ it, so to say.

I don’t believe that celebrating a goal in front of the opposition fans is so far on the unprofessional side that they should be fined for it, or absolutely crucified for their actions. Players should be able to celebrate how they like, and in my mind at least, it reflects poorly only on them if they’d prefer to taunt and fire up the opposition than celebrate with their own fans.

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I’d 8-2 be an Arsenal fan…

So just under 48 hours of my article expressing my full support and belief in Arsene Wenger, his team went and capitulated at Old Trafford in such a futile manner. It is correct that five first teamers were out for Arsenal (Gibbs, Sagna, Song, Gervinho and Wilshere) but the fact of the matter is that a club like Arsenal should still have a squad competitive enough to deal with even the most fearsome of injuries or suspensions. And yes, the team that they put out was dreadfully young, but so was Manchester United’s.

Furthermore, following Carl Jenkinson’s sending off, Arsenal have now had a player sent off in every one of their three league games played to date. Gervinho’s was daft, Frimpong’s naïve, and Jenkinson’s unfortunate but the awful discipline record stands. Wenger has an awful lot to sort out.

Despite yesterday’s quite amazing result, and the seemingly bleak future, I do still stand by my belief that Arsenal will come good this season. Only a few months ago they put in one of the best performances by an English side on a European side ever, in their 2-1 win over Barcelona at the Emirates. At the moment, the tunnel which Arsenal fans find themselves in is very, very dark, very, very long and the only light at the end of it is probably just a firefly that has lost its way. But, after a few new additions and a win against Swansea in their next league game, Arsenal may well be within sight of a true light of hope, and back on the right track.

Can I offer any crumbs of comfort to Arsenal fans? Yes. Their form since the League Cup Final defeat to Birmingham looks like this: DDDWDDWDDLWLLDDLL. It can’t get any worse.

Can it?

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Le Prof is facing his biggest challenge yet

It would be a slight understatement to say that Arsene Wenger has not had a very enjoyable Summer. No renowned players coming in, his two best players (one being his captain) wanting out and a whole lot of pressure from both the board and fans. His despair has been compounded by Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri actually getting out, missing several transfer targets and still not having got a win in the league to his name thus far this season.

It is still early days, and who knows if Wenger has a trump up his sleeve, but many are tipping Arsenal, and the man who revolutionised the club, to have a miserably poor campaign. Manchester City look to have usurped them as title contenders, whilst a resurgent Liverpool and a Tottenham side who have still held onto Luka Modric are bound to give them a very large fight for the Champions League spots.

Wenger has looked a desolated man for the past six weeks. From saying at the start of the Summer that “you cannot call yourself a big club if you let two players like Fabregas and Nasri leave” to rubbing his hair like a haunted man during the recent home defeat to Liverpool, the anguish that he is feeling is clear for all to see. Many an opposing fan are, perhaps understandably, happy that Arsenal seem to be on the fall rather than the rise. But you would either have to be a person with few feelings or a Tottenham fan to take delight in Wenger’s demise.

Just remembered he's left his umbrella at home

If Wenger did depart Arsenal soon, it would be an awful shame that he would more likely be remembered for his recent turbulent time at the club and his perceived stubbornness to not bloody buy a half-decent goalkeeper than for the wonderful way his teams played football and that memorable ‘Invincibles’ season in 2003/04. Yes, Wenger and Arsenal did attract criticism for the way they loaded their squad with very few Englishmen (odd for an English team, and paved way for the nickname ‘L’arsenal’) and at the same time perhaps hampering the English national side, but I personally took far greater enjoyment watching Wenger’s apparent foreign Arsenal sides play with the ball on the floor than I would have done watching a team full of passionate, run through a brick wall Englishmen that ultimately were not too pretty to watch.

Wenger approaches the beautiful game as an art. To him, the end does not justify the means. Some may call it stubbornness, but I call it belief, belief in that his approach is the right approach to take. I don’t think that Arsene Wenger would swap winning the Premier League ugly to coming second with grace and elegance. At times, his sides may well be as timid as a ballerina put on the rugby field, but the beauty they show when they are on the stage trumps this.

The man, in my view, is a genius and should be fully respected for what he has done for the game, but also what he has achieved within it. Whatever the next few years for him may bring, he will retire knowing that he has gone a whole season (and eleven games more) unbeaten in the Premier League. At the moment, he is the only person to have done that.

I am not going to speculate about the ins and outs at Arsenal Football Club, about how much money Wenger has to spend (he has often been chastised in the past for not opening his wallet, but has he ever really had that much inside?) or about the limitations that have been put upon him from above. The forthcoming season is sure to be a tough time for both him and the team and no-one seems to have given them a chance of having a decent season. I understand the Arsenal fans’ despair at the perceived ongoing crisis at the club, but now is the time, more than ever, that unity and spirit is needed from everyone there. If they stick together, they will be allright. I wouldn’t put it past Wenger pulling an ace out of the pack before the transfer deadline on August 31st, and I certainly won’t be writing off them off just yet.

Le Prof is still teaching, but will be undergoing an examination of his own in the next few months. If he produces anything like what he has done in the past and is capable of, he will pass with flying colours.

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Better late than never…

Ever hopped on a train just as the doors were closing? Ever handed in that coursework assignment with minutes to spare until the deadline? Ever won the heavyweight boxing championship with a knockout in the last round? Okay, maybe not the last one but we’ve all experienced getting the job done just in time, and we’ve all felt just how sweet it tastes.

So, in football terms, is there anything better than a last minute goal for your team? As long as it’s not a consolation goal in a 6-1 loss, I’d say there may well not be. Scoring in the last minute is the opportunity to knock your opponent down and not give him the chance to get up, the chance to write the headlines and the chance to send the fans into delirium.

Some may say winning the Champions League or World Cup is better. That is a fair point, but you have to support a very good team to get that moment, whereas the last minute goal can happen for any team, at any level of football. Every football fan has experienced the relief of an equalising last minute goal, the joy of an injury time winner; but that comes hand in hand with the agony of your team letting in a goal with the last kick of the game to let a lead slip away.  

Last minute agony


As a Crystal Palace fan and a bearer of the drama that goes with that title, I’m no stranger to last minute goals. Mind you, they often come from the opposition against us. So imagine my ecstasy  and relative shock,  from not only scoring a last minute equaliser in Tuesday night’s game against Coventry, but a few moments after that a last minute winner flying into the net(perhaps more agonisingly dribbling over the line) to secure a vital three points. This late double-salvo from Palace was well deserved, and the manner in which it was scored almost did justice to the importance of it. The first, coming in the last minute of normal time, involved three local teenagers from the esteemed academy combining (featuring a cameo in the build-up from Australian international Mile Jedinak), with the end result being Sean Scannell firing an exquisite scissor-kick into the net from twenty yards.

As Coventry restarted the game, the announcement that five minutes of injury time are to be awarded are met with a roar from the 12,000 fans with red and blue in their hearts. Coventry are beaten, dejected, shell-shocked. They want the final whistle. They need the bell but they’ll take the towel.

A ball gets fizzed into the box. The keeper parries. And there, there is the winner! Jermaine Easter pokes out a leg and sprints crazily away from the goal, having already lost his marbles with the crazy equaliser has no idea what how to celebrate, so goes just as wild as the crowd and his ten other team-mates. Within seconds of the restart, the final whistle goes. Oh, victory, sweet victory.

Once again, Jermaine Easter wrote the headlines. After the ‘Easter makes it a happy Monday for Eagles’ (following his goal against Leeds on, yep, Easter Monday), now it was ‘Easter comes late’.

At the scoring of the equaliser, I managed to find myself a couple of rows lower than my usual seat in the eighth row. As the ball tricked over the line for the winner, I was in row 0. Don’t ask how. But that is the beauty of the injury time goal. We lose all sense of awareness, of calm mind and the dramatic delirium overwhelms us.

Last minute goals are the excuse to stay until the end of the game, even when your team is being battered and you have to beat the traffic. Last minute goals are the moments that Chris Kamara was born for, screaming ‘UNBELIVABLE JEFF’ at the millions of viewers watching. Last minute goals have more drama and meaning than the New Year’s Day episode of Eastenders. Last minute goals are the opportunity we have to bond with the stranger next to us, exchanging actions of affection, ranging from hand slaps to hugs (and maybe more!) Last minute goals are the result of those extra few ounces of effort in pre-season.

 Last minute goals are the reason we keep the faith.

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