UPDATE: FA Futsal Super League Reporting

It has indeed been a while since I’ve written anything sport related on this blog – normally these days, no news is really so substantial that it can’t be expressed in less than 140 characters. However, this one is a bit different!

I’ve been an FA Futsal Reporter for nearly a year and a half now and it’s something I’ve loved doing. Going up and down the country to watch such a gripping and fascinating sport take place on a Sunday afternoon, interviewing plenty of friendly folk on the way and then seeing my match reports online on englandfutsal.com is always a great feeling.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a complete restructure going on at The FA, which I’m somewhat in the dark about, that has meant that all my superiors have now left the organisation. All the people who told me what to cover and who paid my expenses have departed over the last four months or so and this has meant that I am currently out of a job (of sorts at least – I still pour pints and clean toilets in order to fund my student lifestyle). If I had a few hundreds pounds spare in the bank then I would happily cover the FA Futsal Super League in my own time because it is something I truly enjoy doing – but alas, my disposable income is essentially non-existent.

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Hopefully, there is still enough interest in futsal on a regional level to fill the voids left by the likes of Simon Walker, a thoroughly nice chap who I wish all the best success in the future. But at the moment at least, my role as an FA Futsal Reporter is at an end… cue the violins.

There’s been plenty of great memories – the first ever game I watched was in Swindon between Oxford City Lions and Middlesbrough, where I saw arguably the greatest futsal player in England, Lucas Toti, in action and he completely astonished me with his technical ability. I had to walk up the side of dual carriageway for 15 minutes in order to get to the game but it was certainly worth it. Other notable moments include chatting with Chema Jiminez and Ernest Cardona following Baku United and Birmingham’s progression to the Futsal Super League finals, getting several free mars bars at the FA Cup Finals 2015 just for having an ‘access-all-areas’ pass, watching the most brutal games in the form of Maccabi vs FC Siauliai and meeting plenty of decent fans along the way, all of them sharing passion for futsal and one day hoping that it will gain mainstream recognition.

Best of luck to all the Super League and Division 2 sides this season – hopefully I will be match reporting at the games again soon! Good luck also to the seven teams in the National Ladies Futsal League which kicked off last month, which is another step forward for English futsal in this country.

If you’re still reading at this point, make sure you buy yourself a copy of Futsal Pro Magazine! Look out for the second edition too, which is steadily coming together.

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The Football Blogging Awards plea…

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I’m certainly not the most regular writer of articles. With constant work and university commitments to contend with, I’d say that I write sporadically whenever I have a rare moment of inspiration or when I’m asked to by certain websites. I imagine a majority of young writers have more time on their hands than I do, and kudos to them if they can post an article every week – I admire their dedication. However, saying that, I do like to think that in the last twelve months I’ve improved dramatically with my writing style. I aim to create something more intriguing and innovative for the reader so that my articles are both analytical but also have a storyteller element to them. So, I decided that I wouldn’t mind having a go at trying to get shortlisted for a Young FBA award.

To anyone who had ever read an article of mine and enjoyed it, I would be awfully grateful if you could vote for myself, Billy Taylor, as Best #Young Football Blogger 2014. To those who haven’t read any of my musings, it’s never too late! I have a variety of articles on pigbladder.co.uk, footballpink.net and most recently, thinkfootball.co.uk. So why not have a look to see if I’m any good.

You can vote in three different ways:

1) FACEBOOK – If your favoured social network is indeed Bookface, follow this link – https://www.facebook.com/FootballBloggingAwards/app_126231547426086 – and simply type Billy Taylor in the ‘Young’ section and then submit. What could be simpler?

2) TWITTER – For all you tweeters, post this tweet on your timeline – I’m voting in the @TheFBAs for @billyfreelancer as the best #young football blogger. Alternatively, just click on this link – http://ctt.ec/vhe80 – and then click post!

3) FBA WEBSITE – Or if you prefer a more direct approach, click on this link – http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/vote-now/ – fill in the small details section and put my name, Billy Taylor, into the ‘Young’ voting box.

Anyone who is kind enough to vote for me will earn my eternal respect

Regards,

Myself

My Short Life as a Football Journalist So Far…

With the scarcity of football currently available in that annoying period between an international tournament and the start of the domestic season, it leaves me with seldom topics to explore for writing articles. It got me wondering how I actually got involved with sports writing in the first place. As a stereotypical male, I naturally liked football during my early secondary school years (although when I started properly watching the beautiful game, I wasn’t that interested in women, alcohol, wrestling or whatever else males were supposed to like at that age) but after realising I wasn’t very good actually partaking in a kicking-a-ball-around-a-pitch scenario, I decided it wasn’t the career for me. Up until the age of 16, I always thought I was going to be a musician. My parents had shelled out vast amounts of cash on piano and guitar lessons and I was fairly decent at that, often playing the odd classical piece in several local concerts. Nevertheless, that dream died when I achieved a C in my music GCSE – a grade which I didn’t consider good enough in order to pursue music making as a career.

I wrote my first article for my previous blog, BeeTeeSports, three and a half years ago. I’m not quite sure how I got involved in the whole blogging shenanigans but I recall that I used to fancy myself as a writer. My first article was a preview of an upcoming Champions League game between Tottenham and AC Milan, a match that clearly excited me enough in order to write both a preview and review for it, scrawling illegible notes throughout the match and wondering how I could incorporate humour into them at the same time – one of the qualities that I still think is important in order to create an entertaining article, as long as the issue isn’t too dour. If you wish to read my first ever article, you can do so clicking here, where I’m sure you can find an abundance of successful stand-up comedian potential.

After accumulating a few thousand views on BeeTeeSports over a year which gradually increased the size of my ego, I started looking for opportunities to expand my audience, which I managed to do by getting a place on the writing team for transfersblog.com in July 2012. The task was simple: find interesting transfer stories/hearsay from various different sites, rewrite them and then post to the website. Although this was initially stimulating to begin with as I felt like a professional journalist, it began to get progressively more tedious, especially when there was a certain lack of transfer news to write about during the spring and autumn months. I think I wrote over a hundred pieces for the website before finally calling it a day – wanting to be more challenged as a writer.

I wrote sporadically for several other publications before finally being approached by Mark Godfrey, who had a website called The Football Pink. This turned out to be one of the bigger breaks of my career since it was the first time I actually had been able to earn money from writing – something that had become an ambition of mine when I initially entertained the thought of football writing as a career. Mark had managed to assemble a team of creative types to write for his website before suggesting one day that The Football Pink should become a publication available for purchase. Without trying to sound like a try-hard from an Oscar-winning acceptance speech, I felt very privileged to become part of such a project, since I considered myself to be one of the youngest and least prolific writers among those chosen. The sales of the first issue meant I managed to earn £6, which doesn’t seem like much but was more than a sufficient amount to spend on a day’s supply of alcohol. The article that I had written was complaining about how mediocre England was as a footballing nation, something that I enjoy writing about for the mere sadistic pleasure.  The Football Pink has since evolved dramatically and has recently released its 5th edition on the subject of war, where I have written a piece on Crimean Football… ORDER IT NOW> http://footballpink.net/2014/07/31/out-now-the-football-pink-issue-5/

Once I moved to Nottingham in September 2013 I suddenly discovered a lot more journalistic opportunities, largely thanks to university staff such as Andrew James, a commentator for BBC Final Score. I had the opportunity to experience non-league football at Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground with the journalist Rod Malcolm, who I met at an NUJ (National Union of Journalists) meeting. One of the bigger chances I had to make my way up the rungs to success was becoming a cameraman for Mansfield Town Football Club, being handed the role of shooting footage for their Youtube channel. Their media officer was a chap called Mark Stevenson, and a few exchanged emails later I was on a bus heading straight for Field Mill for a quick chat about the position. This was one of the first instances where I had to encounter Nottinghamshire public transport, which lead to an awkward situation between me and the driver as I wasn’t quite familiar with the procedure of getting on a bus. It slightly differed from the process of boarding a London bus since I actually had to have interaction with the man behind the wheel. I was interviewed in this cosy looking room overlooking the stadium as I blagged the role by pretending I had in-depth knowledge of HD Video Cameras. Alas, Mark S. was an incredibly strenuous man to communicate with and I never got round to filming anything for Mansfield as my dates were constantly being rearranged, so in the end I just gave up on the ordeal in bone-idle fashion. Not for the want of trying though.

It was a few months after the Mansfield fiasco that I heard about a position being offered by the FA as a futsal reporter. I originally had no idea what futsal was and got it confused with fussball, the popular table football game probably found at your local arcade. It turned out that futsal, in simplified terms, was a 5-a-side, indoor variation of football with a smaller goals and a heavier ball.  After a bit of extensive research and a few draft match reports I was given the job, coincidentally the first job I have ever been given – I wasn’t really into the whole part-time retail working life until recently. The brief involved travelling to far and wide regions of England, writing match reports for Futsal Super League games and interviewing the managers at the end, which was right up my alley.

My first match I got to report on was in Swindon, a two-hour coach ride away from London, for a game between Oxford City Lions and Middlesbrough. Swindon was quite a deserted town and the Swindon Futsal Arena was in the middle of nowhere, about a half an hour walk from the coach station. There’s nothing quite like walking down the grassy, muddy side of a motorway in semi-formal attire, not being totally certain that you’re heading in the right direction, that makes you think that you’re actually putting effort in for something you love doing. The match finished 9-2 to Oxford, a pretty thrilling match, although it was rather difficult to write all the important information down while simultaneously concentrating on such a fast-tempo spectacle. Since working for the FA, I have also travelled to a dodgy area in Birmingham (where I thought I might get violently assaulted, it had that sort of atmosphere), a quite pleasant area in Sheffield and also the brilliant St George’s Park for the Futsal Super League Grand Finals at the end of May. It was also thanks to my futsal reporting career that I managed to get my first sport’s article published in print, which was a preview of the aforementioned Grand Finals. If you happen to have a programme from the event, you’ll be able to find my name on the back cover… fame at last! To view some of the pictures I took at the event, click here.

At the present moment I am still working with the FA and The Football Pink, as well as writing the occasional article for other various websites. I’m also part of the Futsal Focus team, a website that will soon be up and running after obtaining quite a vast following on Twitter and Facebook. The last year or so I think I have developed well as a football writer, all that’s needed now is a few hundred more followers, a wider vocabulary range and more money. Onwards and upwards!

The Football Pink Issue 5 Preview

Allow me to create an imaginary scenario for you, reader. The year is 1940, World War II is still ongoing and the Nazis are preparing to launch an assault on Britain. They prove unsuccessful in taking over England but manage to invade Wales in bizarre circumstances whilst the rest of the Isles remain relatively unharmed. Strange as this seems, it presents a multitude of problems for the football clubs in Wales that were currently residing in the English leagues, namely Swansea City and Cardiff City, who were participating in the second and third divisions respectively. Under German leadership, would they be able to stay in the English divisions or be forced to travel hundreds of miles each week to encounter opposition in the various tiers of German football? This is the ultimatum that has already been considered by two football clubs based in the Crimean Peninsula.

To read the rest of my article on Crimean football and many other thought-provoking and intellectual pieces based on the connection between football and war, buy the 5th edition of The Football Pink: available for kindle and in print!

All the purchase links and various other information can be found here >http://footballpink.net/2014/07/31/out-now-the-football-pink-issue-5/

Oh, what a wonderful World Cup… (World Cup 2014 Review)

Inspired by a piece written earlier by Alex Stewart, which you can read here, I decided to do some sort of light-hearted review thing on this World Cup. I had initially intended to write article upon article during the proceedings full of wit, analysis and witty analysis, but I was too transfixed by my television screen to contemplate doing much else. As a fairly young, nearly-entering-my-twenties football fan who didn’t become particularly interested in the beautiful game until 2002 (largely thanks to the tournament held in South Korea & Japan 12 years ago… Jesus Christ, that makes me nostalgic) I haven’t had much personal experience of the World Cup. I enjoyed watching the spectacles in 2006 and ’10 without wholeheartedly loving them with thorough enthusiasm. 2002 remained my favourite tournament purely because it acted as my introduction to football and captivated me in such a way that I started becoming a devoted follower of such a beloved sport. This year’s championship in Brazil was the first major football tournament where I could define myself as a journalist/blogger as well as an avid watcher – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

About one month before the opening ceremony had begun, I was already doing my research. I had got myself involved in a good ol’ fashioned game of Fantasy League Football courtesy of the Sun and was thus contemplating which players to put in my starting XI. As well as this, I also (like almost everyone who watches football) predicted who was going to make the final – and without trying to seem smug, I had guessed correctly, but more on that later.

When June 12th came around, I was anticipating excitement and entertainment. The first team to beguile me (and consistently did so until they were knocked out in the quarter finals) was Colombia. Written off by a couple of cynics due to the loss of Falcao, I was crossing my fingers that they would prove the doubters wrong, which they naturally did with ease. Not only were they a team full of pace and exuberance, the individual performances of key players were breath-taking and added so much more to the fabric of the side. I was particularly impressed by: Mario Yepes for his abundance of composure despite being 103 years old, Juan Cuadrado for his ability to beat opponents and desire to bomb forward and finally James Rodriguez… or is it just James?… or just Rodriguez? The 23-year-old was not only top scorer but my favourite player of the tournament. Unbelievable passing and having a good eye for goal made him incredibly compelling to watch. Following England’s abysmal showing (you can read my review on England here) I decided to support Colombia in the knockout stages, with only the brilliance of Brazil (NOTE: it wasn’t such an oxymoron at the time) halting their progress to the semi-finals.

Unfortunately I had other commitments whilst Spain and Netherlands were playing, but I was expecting a mediocre draw or maybe a slim win for the 2010 World Champions (who are still ranked numeral uno might I add). Although Van Gaal’s side had impressed throughout qualification, I was fairly certain that they would be overcome by the strength of Chile and also their European counterparts. Imagine my surprise when I looked up the results later that evening. It turns out the Oranje young guns had only gone and thrown a massive middle finger in the face of tiki taka and tournament experience. Van Persie’s flying Dutchman goal just looked incredible when I watched the highlights and the devious Robben was also impressive. It’s also worth pointing out how exceptional the Dutch have been in defence. They conceded three goals in the entire tournament, two of which were near impossible to prevent (a Xabi Alonso penalty and a Tim Cahill wonder volley). You will probably find some of the defensive quintet – Janmaat, De Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi and Danny Blind – in various different World Cup XIs or dream team’s. Their most impressive showing was probably against Argentina in the semi-final, despite succumbing to penalties and eventually elimination.

Group stage performances from France and particularly Germany (who were the most entertaining side to watch and, SPOILER ALERT, were the eventual winners) both performed in a very aesthetic manner whilst everyone’s dark horses Belgium were overly underwhelming. The shock team of the group stages was undeniably Costa Rica. The traditionally optimistic English fans probably hadn’t bothered to research them and as far as everyone was concerned, it was a contest between three footballing giants and one relatively small puppy. The 34th ranked outsiders turned Uruguay into a walking, playing joke, with the South Americans clearly lacking any bite in attack… (they just clearly didn’t have the teeth… although they did take a chunk out of England… shall I continue?). A 1-0 win over Italy was thoroughly deserved as they cruised through to the knockout rounds in facile fashion. Keylor Navas has to be given a large slice of credit for his nation’s accomplishments. During the entire tournament, he conceded as many goals as Manuel Neuer did in a chaotic ten minutes against Ghana. The Costa Ricans performed admirably as a unit whilst also having attacking prowess with the likes of Premier League stars Joel Campbell and Bryan Luiz… Wanchope who?

I spent a duration of the knockout stages on holiday in Menorca with my girlfriend for a week and annoyingly Spanish terrestrial television doesn’t screen World Cup matches… who would’ve thought it. I made sure that I was in a local pub/venue showing live matches for the Brazil, Colombia, Germany and Argentina games (teams who I particularly enjoyed watching) but didn’t bother checking out any of the other teams, choosing to follow the matches on Twitter. Apparently watching two matches a day isn’t deemed as socially acceptable when abroad with the missus.  One of the biggest mistakes I made was walking out of the Holland and Mexico match with five minutes to go, frustrated with how tedious the proceedings had become and that I was about to lose a tenner due to gambling on the Dutch.

Before the tournament had begun, I had predicted Brazil to cruise through to the semi finals before being finally knocked out by Germany, but they hadn’t really fulfilled my expectations of playing the beautiful Samba football that I had seen in previous months. Neymar and Thiago Silva were predictably key players but the rest of the team seemed fairly average. Annoyingly, they decided to put on an impromptu display of excellence to eliminate my new favourite team and advance (arguably undeservedly) to the last four, during which they would face their biggest annihilation in World Cup history. Brazil vs Germany was a funny game to say the least. I was originally anticipating a 2-1 Germany win, but with the loss of Silva and Neymar, Brazil could either pull together or crumble to pieces. It was the latter they chose. Returning to the UK in time to watch this game, I was literally laughing at how bad Brazil were. David Luiz seemed to believe he was there to replace Neymar despite having central defensive duties, and thus wandered aimlessly into the attacking half, leaving a gaping hole for ze Germans to ambush. The four goals that Scolari’s team conceded in the brutal seven minutes looked like the sort of goals I conceded many years ago on the primary school playground. The defence just seemed to follow the ball everywhere, not noticing that there were any other professional footballers on the pitch at the same time as the bloke in possession… it was hilarious and will most likely haunt every yellow-shirted fan in Belo Horizonte for the next few decades or so.

There were some games I slept through in the World Cup, largely due to the fact that I had a fairly exhausting day or they were just plain boring. Examples include Iran vs Nigeria, Japan vs Greece, Ivory Coast vs Japan and Nigeria vs Bosnia (all from groups C and F strangely). I also managed to doze off during Holland’s semi final against Argentina, which unfortunately was the result of two defensively impeccable sides cancelling each other continuously. Not only has this tournament been memorable for its magnitude of goals, it has also given us teams who have been admirable defensively, with players who have slipped under the radar proving their worth on the grandest stage of them all. Ron Vlaar, a centre-back who plays for Aston Villa, showed us how well he could perform as part of a terrifyingly young and gifted defensive force, despite plying his trade in the arse end of Birmingham.

The final itself was a terrific presentation of tackling, stamina and passing – elements that are vital parts of every footballers arsenal. Regardless of the fact there was a certain lack of goals, it did have a true World Cup final essence – two equal sides desperately trying not to concede. It was disappointing not to see Messi step up and single-handedly destroy the hopes of the opposition, but alas he played fairly averagely, although he did have a half-decent tournament (not worthy of a Golden Ball, mind you). As I was anticipating the inevitability of extra time, I wondered how much better this game would be as an attacking showcase if Di Maria and Gotze would come off from the bench… Gotze did and the rest is history. The favourites won the trophy after scoring a late goal in extra time following a 0-0 stalemate in the original 90 minutes – sounds very much like the final four years ago. I would type some sort of cliché about history repeating itself, but that would be far too easy.

So there you have it. A brilliant World Cup with shocks, scandal, goals, more goals, superstars, and some more goals. What more could you want? I shall conclude by naming my World Cup XI, most of which have already been mentioned in the article…

WCXI

The defence was fairly easy to choose. Mats Hummels and Philip Lahm were outstanding for their country whilst Ron Vlaar was an unexpected bright spark in the heart of Van Gaal’s defence. The surprise inclusions in the back line come in the shape of Marcos Rojo and Keylor Navas. Rojo is a very aggressive player who normally picks up the odd booking or two, but can be very productive when going forward, which I think he showed in the final. Keyler Navas was probably expected to concede a truck load of goals, but this conjecture didn’t quite materialise as his Costa Rica side fought their way to the quarters, despite being very much unfancied. Toni Kroos and Javier Mascherano have been highly rated for their sheer defensive effort and ability to spot a good pass, both players facing off in the final whilst being regarded as their respective country’s top performers. James Rodriguez has been the best player at this tournament and also picked up the golden boot on the way, a remarkable achievement for such a young midfielder. Arjen Robben and Juan Cuadrado (apologies for the misspelling on the graphic, it wasn’t me, I swear) have scared defenders with their speed and have been a constant source of assists. Cuadrado in particular has statistically created the most goals at this World Cup. Lastly, Thomas Muller (or Mueller if you want to be technical about it) has been a lively poacher during Germany’s cup triumph and his goals propelled them to dizzying heights in the tournament.

 

 

FA Futsal Super League Grand Finals 2013/2014 Photos

On the 31st of May, I travelled to St George’s Park in Burton (England’s national training base for football) on behalf of the FA to report on the most significant English futsal games of the season in the Futsal League Grand Finals. Participating on the day were Baku United, Helvecia, Loughborough and Manchester Futsal Club. It was an entertaining afternoon with goals galore as Baku triumphed for the second consecutive season and remained England’s futsal champions.

Below is a gallery of some of the photos I captured throughout the semi-finals, final and third-placed play-off. Admittedly it’s not like me to dabble in the realm of photography but since I have a fairly professional camera at my disposal, I decided to give it a go. Any feedback is appreciated since sports photography is a lot trickier than I anticipated.

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Flutter Friday – 30/5/2014

This Friday sees a handful international friendlies being played across the world, which will give us a glimpse of some of the countries who will be travelling to Brazil in a few weeks time to participate in the World Cup. I strongly advise against betting on friendlies but since there is a lack of competitive football on show today, the only hope for you betting enthusiasts is to place money on the unpredictable. So let’s see what there is to offer…

Spain vs Bolivia

The Spanish have seemed unsettled in their three most recent friendlies. Marginal wins against Equatorial Guinea and Italy sandwiched a 1-0 loss to 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa. Spain arguably played one of their strongest possible line-ups against Italy in March (only missing Xabi Alonso and Xavi as key players) and still seemed to under-perform, even though they boast a good defensive record. Opponents Bolivia won’t find themselves at the World Cup tournament this year and thus have a lot less to risk in terms of injury to key players. The South Americans are composed of large majority of players from the regional league, with only main striker Marcelo Moreno making his club appearances outside the country, in Brazil for Cruziero. Bolivia had a rough time in the CONMEBOL qualification region and recorded their last competitive win in the shock 4-1 victory against Uruguay in 2012. Although Spain will undoubtedly win, expect Bolivia to play with more freedom and grab a goal or two against the reigning world champions.

Spain to win and Both Teams To Score – 11/5

Austria vs Iceland

Two teams in contrasting runs of form go head-to-head in a game that doesn’t particularly matter for either of them. Austria are unbeaten in four of their last five matches, conceding only three during that time to Uruguay and Sweden respectively. On the other side of matters, Iceland have not won since October 2013 and have scored only one goal this year… against Wales. Both nations won’t have an impact on the proceedings in Brazil, but Iceland came closest to qualifying, losing their play-off against Croatia 2-0. With Austria being a full 18 places ahead of their European counterparts in the world rankings, the safest bet would be to back the home side, but I doubt there will be many goals.

Austria to win – 8/13

England vs Peru

In the last fixture before Roy’s lads attempt to take on the world with their new-found pessimism, Peru visit Wembley in what could prove to be a tricky encounter. England will be desperate for victory as a morale booster following disappointing showings in their last three friendlies. Despite winning against Denmark, the Three Lions were far from impressive and home defeats to Chile and Germany could be an indicator of how tough life will be in Brazil come June. Saying that, Peru have lost four of their last six games, but they have been against fairly strong opposition in the form of Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela. The Peruvians do like to score goals though, striking first in their last three matches. A player that might be familiar to the English audience is Claudio Pizarro; former Chelsea flop and current Bayern Munich striker, he is still going strong at the ripe old age of 35 (update: he has bizarrely been dropped in order to make way for younger players). With England inevitably going to make a cock-up somewhere along the line, put money on both teams to score.

Here’s an interesting fact though. According to statistics recorded in 2001, there are around 4000 Peru-born citizens in the UK. Fancy that…

BTTS – 6/4

The treble will win you £64 with a £5 bet if you happen to bet with Coral. I suppose that isn’t too bad…

flutter 30-05-14