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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 06/08/05, 3.00pm
Preston North End the speed of light
By Martin Blanc

The world changes so fast. In the blink of an eye, the click of a mouse, the kick of a ball - everything is new, and nothing like it was. Suddenly we live in a world where, if you're talking about the coming season anywhere near London, you really don't want to hear the words "surprise package" made in reference to your own or, for that matter, any other team - somehow it doesn't just mean "pleasant overachievement" any more, not if you commute anyway. And even this relatively quiet corner of the home counties isn't immune to change now, is it, Nigel? Neil? Sean? Marcus? Paul? Bruce? Jason? Jack? Bryn? Danny? H? Helloooo...anybody there...?

So, in the spirit of Betty's new broom, I'm not going to ramble for half a dozen paragraphs before jotting down a few half-remembered details of the game. I'm going for a newer, faster method of reporting, because you haven't got time to dawdle nowadays, have you? And I haven't got time to sculpt a multitude of artfully-composed vignettes about the squabs on show in golden shirts either. I've got a crumbling world to attend to/escape from. Hence, the New Improved (Totally Plagiarised) Ratings Method. Watch how it catches on like...bird flu.

Warm-up: 9/10
Got to say, they all looked impressive, whoever they were. I arrived in the blistering sunshine some fifty minutes before kick-off, so had a good long time to identify the unusual suspects from the incomplete set of mugshots in the programme (new design: 9.5/10 - nothing is immune from a rating). Things augured well.

Ben Foster (GK): 8/10
Saved us in the first couple of minutes. Unsighted for the first Preston goal. Helpless for the second. Has a nice long kick. Knows where his area is, and isn't afraid to fill it. Also quite easy to recognise, what with the long-johns and all.

Lloyd Doyley: 6/10
Started well, faded along with the rest. The warm-up and the first twenty minutes of the game seemed to take it out of the poor mites. Looked more settled on the ball and in the team than possibly ever before.

Jordan Stewart: 6/10
Left-back, then left wing-back once Macca was out of puff. Seems fractionally more likely to defend competently than the previous three or four incumbents of the position. At least looks like a grown-up. Which is nice.

Clarke Carlisle: 7/10
Can't argue with a big centre-half. Unless you're playing up front for Preston. Still, a welcome dose of testosterone who put himself about with the authority of a northerner. Who used to play for QPR...erm...

Jay Demerit: 7/10
His parents are both teachers. Well, well...

Ashley Young: 6.5/10
Nice flourishes, crossed for the goal, started and finished the game really rather well, but spent much of the second half mouthing off to the ref. Say what you like, though...just not to the ref, eh? He's just a lippy kid, sir.

Dominic Blizzard: 4/10
All right, when he runs he looks like the kid you used to pick on at school - although his invisibility shield makes him the envy of the Incredibles. But the bottom line is...Dominic? I mean, how would Real Madrid's number 23 be playing if his name was Dominic Beckham? Try it, say it out loud. Dominic Beckham. (It's stupider than Cruz.) And Dominic Helguson? Just no. This DB looked like he couldn't wait for his mum to pick him up. One word: Foley.

Al Bangura: 5/10
A generous five for little Al, who I believe was also being picked up by the unfortunately delayed Mrs Blizzard. Frankly, in mid-December, I'm not sure Al's going to be allowed to stay up till full-time. Booked for...coughing.

Anthony McNamee: 7.5/10
A personal fave of today's Ratings Judge, and a bedazzler whose ambition and sporadic skills merit more generosity than Preston gave him. Sadly, that's about as much as any defence in this division are going to offer. So he'd better start eating a few more shredded wheat, or else add a few more ball-keeping tricks to the repertoire. Go, Macca!

Darius Henderson: 7.5/10
We like Darius. He's blond, he's tall, at least he heads the ball - Darius, Dari-u-us. Promising. Very promising.

Marlon King: 6.5/10
Showed a lot of workrate, led the team, if not the line. Seemed to want it enough, just not sharp enough yet. Still, give him a week or two. No, really, just a week or two.

James Chambers: 5/10
New haircut, James?

Hameur Bouazza: 5/10
The original HB, now surrounded by a lot of other pencils - Youngie (2H), Macca (3B), little Al (the lead from one of those retractable Pilot thingies...he's that thin)...

The coach:
Mrs Boothroyd: 6/10
Betty raised some eyebrows around the school by selecting some third-years in the 1st XI for this crucial fixture. Her urging the team to always think about going forward seems admirable, but her ambition - another laudable trait - was, however, perhaps somewhat undone by the sheer size and brute force of today's opponents - as Betty was man enough to recognise in her programme notes which I hope you all read during the interval. I know I speak for all the parents when I say we're looking forward to her next production with much anticipation.

See - sometimes that's the thing with new-fangled methods: they might seem funkier, snappier, hungrier, but they're no quicker to write, and they probably give you much less beef for your report than the good old-fashioned essay. But, hey, if the essay's had its day, then we can't look back in anger, or rheumy-eyed nostalgia, for The Olden Days, right? Can we, Nigel? Nigel...? Graham? Tommy...? Gifton...?