Just How Refreshing is the England Women’s World Cup Team?

Notwithstanding the cruel manner of their exit, the England women’s football team has quite rightly been gaining universal plaudits from the good and the great, both in the media and in the game itself, for their wonderful achievements in the women’s World Cup. Additionally, they have also been highly commended by pundits on their refreshing approach and attitude as to how to play football matches.

However, I contend the team’s approach is only considered ‘refreshing’ by those whose usual diet of football consists of men’s Premier League, men’s Champions League and men’s Internationals. Those that watch football outside of the top echelons of the game will see this ‘refreshing’ approach and attitude at all matches (although the skill levels will vary).

When the ‘refreshing’ comments are being made they are done so in the context of comparing the attitude shown in the women’s game versus the attitude shown in a typical men’s game. However, this ‘typical men’s game’ really only refers to the top level of the men’s game, despite the inference to men’s football per se. This subtle but important distinction is critical in understanding why so many commentators of the beautiful game are in awe of the way the England women’s team play.

If one just watches the top level of the men’s game one will just see matches that are riddled with what’s laughably called professionalism, underhandedness, slyness, deceit, winning at all costs, bad sportsmanship, goading of other players, pressurising of officials, mind games and a whole host of other unsavoury traits and tactics, all played out in the name of ‘the beautiful game’. Of course there is a high quality of football, but the odd exception aside, all these undoubtedly talented footballers seem hell bent on developing the nastier sides of their characters to the same high level as their footballing talents. What that translates to is a game that is often unpalatable to watch because professional players devote as much time, if not more, to ‘getting away with something’ as they do with trying to play great football.

So anyone who only ever watches top level men’s football is going to be surprised when they see that it can be played in a different way. The England women’s team typically haven’t used those underhand tactics to win, nor have any of the nations competing in the Women’s World Cup. Rather, on the whole, they were all trying to play football, trying to play the game in the way it is supposed to be played, trying to beat the opposition by playing better football than them. There were some great examples of skill on display, but the real stand out was how the games were played. They were competitive, including a n expected fair quota of crunching tackles and late fouls, but matches were played in the true spirit of the game. Played in a style akin to how the game is usually played week-in, week-out on football pitches across the country in both men’s and women’s football, everywhere except at the top level of the men’s game.

So for me, watching the women’s World Cup matches was not too dissimilar to watching the non-league football I see every week. Both teams trying to win the match, not trying to avoid defeat. Both teams focusing on playing football (although standards and skill levels may vary) rather than trying to ‘kid’ the referee. Both teams trying to play football as it should be played: football first, everything else last. It would do all those pundits and commentators who only seem to watch top level men’s football the power of good to be exposed to more of this lower level football, and maybe then they wouldn’t be so surprised by the approach taken by teams at the Women’s World Cup.

Unfortunately, given that they hardly ever reference anything below the Premier League that is very unlikely to happen.

Hiding Its Light Under a Bushel

The draw for the early rounds of the 2015/16 FA Cup takes place this Friday 3rd July, but you would never know about it given the complete lack of publicity coming out of The FA headquarters. The early round draws are so clouded in mystery that people are actually unclear as to whether the draws are made by people or by a computer.

The FA perpetually remind anyone who will listen how The FA Cup was THE first and is THE best cup competition in the world. You cannot argue with the first aspect of their claim (although knockout style competitions were being held in Public Schools during the mid-nineteenth century), but whether or not it is the best competition in the world there are many who will have a different viewpoint. However, I for one tend to agree wholeheartedly. There is no cup competition like the FA Cup. A competition that generates excitement for anyone involved with any of the 730 or so teams that enter the competition, no matter the likelihood of that team getting anywhere near to the final itself, or even going beyond a second match.

So why is The FA so silent about the impending draws for the Extra Preliminary, Preliminary and First Qualifying Rounds of this year’s competition? After all there is a brand new sponsor, even changing the name of the competition to The Emirates FA Cup. Given that company’s apparent purpose in life to sponsor anything possible, it is surprising that they haven’t insisted on maximum publicity at all times. It’s not as if there is no-one interested in knowing about the draws.

Over 560 clubs will be involved in the draw for these three early rounds. If you do the maths it’s possible to work out how many people are affiliated with those clubs who have a vested interest in the outcome of the draws. There’s the squad numbers, let’s say on average each club has 30 players on their books (to cover first and reserve sides). Then there’s the management and administration. Whilst some clubs are one-man bands it is fair to presume an average of 20 people involved in the running of the club if you include all the volunteers. Then there are the fans of each club. For some clubs at these levels they’d be fortunate to get into triple figures, but based upon a club’s average number of followers on Twitter I’d say that 500 would be a fair average of interested supporters.

So 30 players, 20 management and admin staff, and 500 fans per club multiplied by 560 clubs. That’s two hundred and eighty thousand people connected to the clubs, all interested in which team they will be pitted against in their first FA Cup match. Adding onto to this the tens of thousands of individuals with a keen interest in the competition per se, that makes over 300,000 people being kept in the dark by The FA with regards to these early round draws. In this day and age of on-line live technology there is no excuse for not broadcasting these draws in a similar way to how the ‘proper’ round draws are broadcast. And what great publicity for the competition, and for the sponsors, would it be for The FA to do so.

It’s a missed opportunity and I know I’m not alone in wishing The FA would recognise that fact and treat these early rounds of the competition with the same energy, effort and promotional vigour as they do the later rounds. It would be a real boost to grassroots football, really make the FA Cup stand out from other cup competitions, and make everyone involved in these early stages feel like an equally valued member of the competition.

No Sense of History

No Sense of History

The new logo for the FA Cup was unveiled yesterday, or rather it wasn’t, as the FA Cup as we know it is gone. The logo that has been created is for The Emirates FA Cup.

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For 143 years and 134 seasons The FA Cup has prided itself on being the oldest football competition in the world, the competition that instigated organised football, the competition that others around the world wanted to copy, THE competition in football. And throughout those years it has proudly (or vainly) referred to itself as The FA Cup. Even during periods of previous sponsorship the competition was known as The FA Cup sponsored by Budweiser or whoever. But not anymore; The FA Cup name no longer exists. Charles Alcock will be spinning in his grave.

In its place is The Emirates FA Cup, a subtle but significant change in the way that the sponsors name has been incorporated into the title of the competition. It is no longer The FA Cup, but a knockout competition funded by an organisation that has absolutely nothing to do with this illustrious competition. Greg Dyke and his FA team will talk about ‘moving with the times’, ‘investment can keep the competition alive’, or ‘prize money can be used to help football at all levels’. Let us not kid ourselves. This decision was all about the money, but it definitely wasn’t about the betterment of the game.

The new logo shows how much influence the sponsors have over the competition with the money invested giving them the right not only to change the name of the competition but also allowing them to give prominence of their name on the logo. Yes, it might appear as a small influence now (although still one that no other sponsor had been able to pull off), but it has major ramifications. If, as it seems, money talks, why would the sponsors stop there? What other changes will they insist upon under the threat of withdrawing their funding? How might they try to affect the competition as a whole, the way the rounds are played, the number of entries, when the ‘bigger’ teams come in, where matches are played?

To some it seems like a small price to pay to give up the name of the competition in order to secure significant funding, but for me it smacks of Greg Dyke and the FA knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

What’s In a Name?

“Welcome to the third round of the FA Cup where it’s Manchester versus Sheffield for the right to play West who beat Bournemouth earlier today”.

Hearing that report on the radio or TV, the listener or viewer would have no idea of which two teams were playing and who they would face in the next round. Is it Manchester United or Manchester City? Are they playing Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday? And surely no-one would use the word ‘West’ to describe West Ham United or West Bromwich Albion? But that kind of ambiguity is exactly what every match commentator, TV pundit, football journalist and news reporter does every time they talk about the fourth team in that quote, AFC Bournemouth.

Bournemouth Rovers was formed in 1875 before changing its name to Bournemouth Dene Park in 1888, a name it played under for just one season before amalgamating Bournemouth Arabs in 1889 and renaming the club as Bournemouth FC. Ten years later Boscombe FC was formed out of the Boscombe St John’s Lads Institute Club, four years after that joining the Hampshire League West at exactly the same time as Bournemouth FC.

Boscombe FC changed its name to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic when it joined League Division Three South in 1923 moving up from the Southern League. Bournemouth FC at this time remained in the Hampshire League where that club continued to ply its trade until joining the Wessex League in 1986. By this time Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic had been playing as AFC Bournemouth for 15 years and was competing in League Division Three.

Quite obviously Bournemouth FC and AFC Bournemouth are two completely different clubs, even playing each other in a First Qualifying Round FA Cup tie in the 1921/22 season, so why do all the football commentators, pundits and reporters insist on referring to AFC Bournemouth as ‘Bournemouth’ now that the younger club has made it to the Premier League? It’s very disrespectful to both clubs, in particular to the older Bournemouth FC who are still competing in the Wessex League.

Is it ignorance on the part of all these football experts? That would seem out of place with all the other in-depth facts they are always capable of sharing with us. The depth of knowledge that supports often wonderful articles, most recently during the coverage of the scandals at FIFA, would suggest that reporters and commentators are not ignorant. Then it can only be one other thing: laziness, a laziness borne out of a complete disinterest for football below the Premier League, a laziness that insists on calling Leeds United ‘Leeds’ and Derby County ‘Derby’. It is AFC Bournemouth, not Bournemouth.

If the football writers and presenters find that a difficult concept to grasp, maybe they should try making a Bakewell tart out of poppies and see if that makes any difference to how that confection is supposed to taste. It’d be a fantastic reminder that the Poppies of Bournemouth FC are definitely not the Cherries of AFC Bournemouth.

Money Talks

Updated October 2nd 2015

So now McDonalds, Coca Cola, VISA and Budweiser have all called for Sepp Blatter to resign for the sake of FIFA and football. If ever anyone wants to define irony then they should quote the previous sentence.

FIFA is in its current turmoil because of one simple factor, the pursuit of maximising revenues. Making a healthy profit is one thing, but maximising the levels of income at the expense of every other consideration is another thing altogether, especially when the soul of what your selling is also sold. Sponsors pay more money for exclusivity rights. Sell our beer only and we’ll give you more cash. Make sure we’re the only unhealthy burger brand associated with your sport and we’ll fund all your lavish tournaments. And by association all your lavish accommodation, travel and lifestyles.

So FIFA got greedy, took the money, forgot what football was all about (the people’s game) and eventually and unsurprisingly where there are wads of money there are likely to be large scale corruption. The investigations will hopefully root out any corrupt officials and corrupt practices, but for those organisations that have been the root cause of the problems in the game being the ones to advocate change in the game, for the good of the game, is laughable.

As football fans (and players) we don’t need to have just one sugary soft drink, we don’t need to have just one credit card we can use to buy the only tasteless beer available, and we definitely don’t need the excessive presentations of the game that come with having too much money to spend on it, in order to play or watch the game we love. Yes, money is important to help develop football across the world and bring all nations up to as best a standard as possible, but five star hotels for officials, luxury cars to transport them from match to match, first class travel to visit potential World Cup hosts; all those things are not necessary and serve no purpose but to enhance the lifestyles of those involved in organising the game.

So VISA, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Budweiser, your demands for Blatter to go could easily be thrown back at you. Football doesn’t need you in the same way we don’t need Blatter and all the suspect FIFA officials. Why don’t you just disappear as well?

Original article

Whilst the football world rejoices in Sepp Blatter’s resignation, well fans and the media anyway, it might be prudent to understand the reasons behind his decision before putting up the bunting for the street parties. Just four days prior his resignation Sepp Blatter stood up at the FIFA Congress to thank its members for giving him the mandate to lead the organisation for the next four years. This was a defiant ‘there’s nothing on me’ Sepp Blatter, who was sure he was the right person to drive the necessary changes to reposition FIFA in the eyes of the footballing world. This wasn’t a person who was in any doubt; Sepp Blatter knew he was the right man and knew that FIFA members believed him to be, too.

So what happened since his re-election to turn a four year mandate into a four day mandate? Of course the full details of what caused this momentous turnaround may come out in the course of time, but there are likely to be only two scenarios that could have caused it: he was made aware that the FBI had discovered something about him that might suggest criminal malpractice, or the sponsors, the money men, made it clear to him that he should step down or else they would pull their funding.

It’s very telling that three main sponsors, Coca Cola, VISA and Adidas, all came out with favourable comments with regards to Sepp Blatter’s resignation. If they have applied pressure on him with the threat of withdrawing financial support for FIFA, then Blatter’s decision will be one of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Regardless of whether or not the FIFA president was corrupt, and he certainly believes he has acted within the rules, the trouble with football and FIFA is that money talks. It’s all about the money, never about the football. Even if FIFA was the cleanest organisation in the world the stench of money would still overpower it. The sponsors pull the (purse) strings.

Now is the time for FIFA, and the football world in general, to take a long hard look at itself. If football interests are at the heart of FIFA operations then take those billions in sponsorship money and re-distribute it amongst all member clubs and associations supporting grass roots football across the world; now that would be in the interests of football. Or forego sponsorship altogether. Forget lavish presentations of World Cup Finals. The fans don’t want that, the players don’t want it. All that ostentation, all that showing off, it’s only for the benefit of FIFA members and the sponsors. There is absolutely no need to pour billions of pounds into staging a World Cup tournament, and there is no need for it to have exclusive drinks, credit card of sportswear manufacturers.

But of course nothing will change whilst money rules the roost. Just look at the Premier League in England where a team that finished bottom can be rewarded with over £64million and more to come in the shape of parachute payments. For FIFA it will be ‘Welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss’. The FIFA apple is most likely rotten to the core, and even if there are people within the organisation with unquestionable ethics and morals, it will be difficult for their voices to be heard over and above an unhealthy soft drinks manufacturer dangling their dollars around … as long as FIFA does what it’s told, of course.

B+ for the Beeb

I hold my hand up, I never thought the BBC could produce quality coverage of the FA Cup, but they proved me wrong, showing a passion and a reverence for the competition long lost by their commercial rivals. The question, though, is: Did they really do it justice?

The 2014/15 FA Cup competition started with eight Extra Preliminary Round matches on Friday 15th August. Were these, or any other of the 184 contests that took place that weekend covered by the BBC? On TV, definitely not. On Radio, there was a spattering of local coverage. On the Internet, there was a dedicated web page on the BBC Sport website providing previews, scores, some facts and reviews, and for that the organisation is to be applauded.

The Internet coverage of the early FA Cup Rounds was a welcome addition to the BBC service, but by not being complemented by the mainstream TV media, it lost a considerable amount of its impact. This was a golden opportunity missed by the corporation, a miss that was compounded by the desultory references to these early matches once the coverage moved to TV in November and January.

Those first two ‘proper’ rounds were freshly presented, providing new and interesting styles of coverage including the excellent Sunday afternoon score updates programme. Whilst there was little in the way of mention of the six rounds that had gone before them, the ‘getcarriedaway’ hashtag and the obvious enthusiasm for the competition shown by the presenters and commentators promised that the Cup was going to be in good hands with the Beeb.

But then the Third Round came along, and all that had gone before it was almost forgotten. A repeat of the 2014 final was chosen as a live match at the expense of coverage of any of the five non-league teams that had battled to make it that far, a match that even die-hard fans of both sides would have found it difficult to be enthused about. Sadly the non-league teams failed to progress, although both Blyth Spartans and Wrexham gave us cup romantics some hope, but even then the BBC more or less ignored the lower league sides. Yes Cambridge United were chosen to be shown live, but only because they were facing Manchester United and the Beeb hadn’t covered them in the Third Round. Even after Bradford City stunned the eventual Premier League Champions, they were still ignored despite being drawn against another Premier League side at home in the Fifth Round.

Even the ‘much better than usual’ documentary fronted by Gary Lineker failed to give any recognition to the Qualification Rounds. That’s 624 clubs, across the length and breadth of England and Wales that were completely and utterly disregarded. It was as if their contributions to this fantastic competition had no worth. Well try telling that to the thousands of players and fans who were involved in those games. Having attended these early cup ties over the past 30 years or more, I know that the passion and desire to be involved in the FA Cup by these clubs is at least as intense as it is for those who get close to tasting actual glory.

So BBC, well done for taking the competition seriously. Congratulations for creating new resources, adding more angles, showing more enthusiasm and giving the FA Cup more airtime than your rivals. However, if you really want to present this illustrious, historical competition in all its glory then please bring the cameras and the reporters and the TV pundits to matches played in August. Come talk to the players, the managers, the fans, the volunteers of local clubs up and down the country who, despite knowing there’ll be no glory in it for them, all love being involved in the FA Cup and who all would love their clubs being given the recognition for helping to make it the number one football competition in the world. Overall then it’s a B+ and ‘could do better’.

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

On the day that FIFA Congress elected Sepp Blatter for a fifth term as President of that questionable organisation, something more uplifting was happening in Manchester where fan owned FC United of Manchester were playing their inaugural match at their new Broadhurst Stadium.

If you were new to football you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was rife with corruption and malpractice, with those involved focused purely on what was in it for them and less about what was right for the so called beautiful game. But dig deeper and you will find the real soul of football, a heart so full of spirit that it belies the money grabbing approach of those in control of the sport.

FC United of Manchester’s story is not new news, but it is heartening to know that there is hope for football, hope that springs up when people put football at the heart of their decision making processes and not financial return, when communities come together for the benefit of all and not for the benefit of the wealthy few.

Tomorrow is the FA Cup final, where all those in the media aghast at the financial greed of those running our game, will once again trot out the financial benefits of winning this illustrious competition. It’s always the same: the £120m Championship play-offs, the £5.4bn Premiership TV deal, the value of parachute payments, the weekly wage packet of the Premiership stars – all focused on by certain duplicitous media who give not two hoots for the sport itself. Money is first, everything else is nowhere.

But up and down the country there are thousands of community clubs run not for the financial gains available, but for the pride of maintaining a piece of history in the town or the village, a continuation that matters so that future generations will get the chance to experience what football should be all about.

So if you’re angry about the machinations of FIFA and wish to do something about it might I suggest two immediate courses of action? First, boycott those products that fund this bloated organisation and second, find out which is your local club, go and visit that club, offer your services to help run the club, get others to become involved. Follow the example of FC United of Manchester, turn your back on the greed and focus on the need. After all, it’s at that end of the spectrum where you will find the real pot of gold.