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.
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.
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!
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/
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.
No player likes to be told by their club that they’re no longer wanted and effectively unemployed for the foreseeable future. They sit down in the gaffer’s office for a so-called ‘meeting’ where he politely/rudely tells them that they are surplus to requirement because they are too old, not fitting in or simply not good enough. Some players immediately bounce back from this rejection and sign for a team in the lower division or, in some instances, a club of the same calibre they were recently dismissed from. With so many players of reasonable quality being released from Premier League sides this season, The Pig Bladder Project has brought it upon itself to design a 23-man squad where all the best Premier League no-man’s landers (yes, that is a technical term) can be included. Hopefully, all these players will be signed in due course and won’t be forced to go down the same route as Michael Johnson and Adriano.
Choosing this squad proved to be quite difficult with an array of declining talent (yet still half decent players) on offer, especially in the form of centre backs and central midfielders. Some internationals had to be dropped in order to make way for regular club starters and vice versa. Notable absentees include Johnny Heitinga, George McCartney, Mahamadou Diarra, Johnathan Parr, Robert Koren, Zoltan Gera, Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young and Guly Do Prado. This bunch of lowly lads would no doubt be managed by David Moyes following his release from Manchester United last month.
Please note: these players were designated as released as of the 24th May 2014. It has not officially been stated that they have signed a new contract or joined another club.
- Julian Speroni (Crystal Palace)
- Mark Schwarzer (Chelsea)
- Costel Pantilimon (Manchester City)
Julian Speroni must be wondering how he has not been awarded a new contract already on a silver plate surrounded by applauding locals. The Argentinian shot stopper was voted Player Of The Season for his heroics in goal and Pulis’ side rocketed up the table as a result of his performances. As well as him, Pantilimon will count himself unlucky that City no longer wish for him to be Joe Hart’s understudy following three clean sheets in as many games at the start of the campaign. He even took over the number one position midway through the season while Hart was suffering from a lack of form. Finally, Mark Schwarzer is still going strong at the grand old age of 41, recording clean sheets for Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final and a vital top-of-the-table clash against Liverpool. But with the inevitable return of Thibaut Courtois, Schwarzer will not be needed next season at the West London outfit.
- Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion)
- Danny Gabbidon (Crystal Palace)
- Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
- Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
- Diego Lugano (West Bromwich Albion)
- Liam Ridgewell (West Bromwich Albion)
- Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
- John Arne Riise (Fulham)
Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole are shock inclusions in the squad following their releases from Chelsea and United. The latter will be hoping for a big move abroad or perhaps a contract extension, but it’s hard to know with a player such as Cole. Steven Reid is the only recognised right back and is part of a West Brom trio in defence, including Uruguay international (who is set to play at the World Cup) Diego Lugano and consistent starter Liam Ridgewell, who recorded 33 appearances this season. Joleon Lescott was unlikely to be offered a new deal by Manchester City and will probably be replaced by a young, foreign superstar whilst experienced Danny Gabbidon should receive plenty of offers from the Championship, having kept four clean sheets in his last six games for Crystal Palace. Champions League winner John Arne Riise completes the defence following Fulham’s relegation from the Premier League.
- Damien Duff (Fulham)
- Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)
- Joe Cole (West Ham United)
- Georgios Karagkounis (Fulham)
- Steve Sidwell (Fulham)
- Kagisho Dikgacoi (Crystal Palace)
- Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
- Gareth Barry (Manchester City)
England internationals are prominent in the midfield. Frank Lampard hasn’t officially signed an extension with Chelsea and will be going to the World Cup as a free agent if his contract issues aren’t resolved. Gareth Barry has fallen out of favour with Roy Hodgson but had a fairly impressive season on loan with Everton, whilst Joe Cole’s return to West Ham wasn’t as successful as his time at Upton Park a decade ago. Fulham stars in the squad include ancient (but still) Greek captain Georgios Karagkounis and former Chelsea man Steve Sidwell. Damien Duff was injured in an FA Cup match against Sheffield United in February but will get into the starting XI of the Dream Team as the only right midfielder. Finally, irregular starter Matthew Etherington takes his place in the squad alongside tough-tackling South African Kagisho Dikgacoi.
- Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea)
- Federico Macheda (Manchester United)
- Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United)
- Matty Fryatt (Hull City)
Samuel Eto’o decided to end his Chelsea career with a bang by hitting out at boss Jose Mourinho several times after the manager’s discrepancies about his age. The Cameroon striker will be the main attraction of his team at the World Cup and has proved he is still a natural goalscorer, netting 12 times in 34 appearances. Federico Macheda was a massive flop while at Manchester United but is slowly turning his career around following an impressive loan spell at Birmingham, where he was top scorer for the Championship side. Shola Ameobi’s 14 years at Newcastle came to end following his release and Matty Fryatt should be happy with his contribution to Hull this season, having helped The Tigers reach the final of the FA Cup (which he started).
Without further ado, here is the starting XI of the free agents dream team lining up in the incredibly mainstream 4-2-3-1 formation. This team is available to any club at the price of just £0 and a shed load of cash in wages. Not too shabby, right?
To see a list of all the players released by Premier League sides at the end of the 2013/2014 season, click here.
There was a time when the beautiful game was the sport of the working class people. The public would work their mundane, manual labour jobs from Monday to Friday and treat themselves to watching an affordable game of football on the weekend.
As sad as it is to say, times have changed and financial matters have been put before the enjoyment of supporters. Ticket costs have reached a disgusting high, pricing out a large number of fans who have to be content with watching their chosen game on the TV or illegally via a free live stream.
It is clear that football has evolved from recreational entertainment into a business. Clubs are intent on sucking their die-hard supporters dry to watch 22 individuals kick a ball around for an hour and a half. The protests of Manchester City and Liverpool fans during their February 2013 encounter is proof of this. A jointly-held banner displaying the slogan ‘”£nough is £nough’ is an emotive message to those at their respective team’s hierarchy. Will they listen? Probably not, why should they?
The question now is, can the working class afford to still be followers of the world’s most popular sport? At the way inflation is going, the answer is no. According to this writer’s research into ten London football teams using sources from the BBC and official club websites, the average price of a league ticket in English football is £41.90, which is the equivalent of paying 47p per minute. Some fans would be content about splashing the required amount of cash to watch top quality players, but the fact is that only a small minority of football across England can be considered world class. Paying £23 to watch Brentford at home is not most supporter’s idea of value for money.
Ticket prices are not the only essentials that are on the up financially. Merchandise is crucial to the football fanatic’s day out and everyday life. Last season, QPR fans would have to pay £60.99 to have a half time pie and be decked out in the latest kit and scarf, on top of the £40 cost for a ticket. You’d think that empty pockets would be less common in the lower leagues, but expenditure is still rather high. Followers of Championship side Millwall would have to pay £53.98 for the same day out, including the £28 ticket.
The most expensive ticket in the country belongs to Arsenal at a whopping £127, whilst the cheapest in the sample was fellow North Londoners Barnet at a somewhat more reasonable £14. The question football fans must be asking themselves is the football at the Emirates £113 better than games played at Underhill. For a typical working man, £127 is going to be a significant dent in the monthly wage, and prices like those would probably be considered criminal by many.
The overpricing doesn’t stop there. Out of all the London teams in the sample, not one of them charge under £3.00 for a pie, costing significantly more than the same refreshment at your local supermarket. The priciest pies belong to White Hart Lane who charge £3.70 for their pre-match delicacy. One most assume that the most premium of horses are involved in the ingredients.
Following the recent reports of match fixing combined with the current economic downturn, it may come across some chairmen’s minds that fans might actually start abandoning and boycotting matches over these issues. Therefore, in order to restore some dignity to this already corrupt sport, lower prices from the official club store to the ticket office would seem like a plausible idea.
Whether those at the top of the football pyramid will see it in this light remains to be seen.