Thursday, June 07, 2012


German National Football Team

Original Source unknown

Friday, June 01, 2012


Football Supporters Federation (FSF) Writers Awards

Congratulations to those on the shortlist - even if you end up not winning. And maybe one day, this or a sister blog will be up there!

Football Supporters Federation (FSF)

FSF Football Writers Awards 2012

1st June 2012

Only one week later than promised the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Awards Panel has delivered the shortlists for our FSF Football Writers Awards 2012. Like troops returning from battle they have haunted looks in their beady eyes and tell tales of terror that the uninitiated could never truly comprehend. With almost 400 nominations, from more than 1000 fans, shortlisting was a Herculean task.

How will the winners be decided? The Writer, Podcast, and Book awards will be decided by the public – vote here. The winners of the Newspaper, Blogger, Website, and Fanzine Awards will be decided by an FSF Panel. The winners will be announced at the FSF Football Writers Awards 2012 on the evening of Saturday 7th July in Covent Garden. Buy your tickets here (only £5).

Why wasn’t my favourite shortlisted? The standard of entries across every category was very high and we received twice as many nominations as last year. For example, more than 100 bloggers, 70 websites, and 50 podcasts were nominated and the Awards Panel read or listened to every last one. With so many potential permutations it’s impossible to produce a ‘perfect’ list which everyone agrees with. Some people will inevitably be disappointed (the Awards Panel had its own fair share of disagreements!) and we’ll probably get the odd furious email. C’est la vie.

But most importantly. If your blog, fanzine, website, or podcast was nominated but didn’t make this year’s shortlist please, please, please don’t let that put you off entering 2013’s awards. Some who didn’t make the cut last year have this year, and some who were shortlisted last year have missed out this year. The FSF Football Writers Awards aim to showcase the depth and breadth of the best amateur and professional football journalism out there. We can only do that with your help and would like to thank everyone who got involved.


FSF Football Writer of the Year (vote here):

David Conn (The Guardian)
Iain Macintosh (Sports Illustrated, Singapore’s The New Paper, The Irish Examiner, various online)
Jonathan Wilson (The Guardian, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, editor of The Blizzard, various online)
Nick Harris (Mail on Sunday, editor at
Paul Hayward (The Telegraph)
The Secret Footballer (The Guardian)

FSF Podcast Writer of the Year (vote here):

Bluemoon (Manchester City)
Cafe Calcio
Football Weekly
The Anfield Wrap (Liverpool)
The Football Ramble
The Game

FSF Football Book of the Year (vote here):

A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke (Ronald Reng)
Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World (Graham Hunter)
50 Teams That Mattered (David Hartrick)
Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You (Jonathan Wilson)
Red: My Autobiography (Gary Neville)
Thinking Inside The Box: Reflections on Life as a Premier League Footballer (Louis Saha and Georgia de Chamberet)

FSF Fans' Newspaper of the Year:

Daily Mail
Lancashire Telegraph
Non League Paper
Sunday Mirror
The Guardian
The Times

FSF Football Website of the Year:

In Bed With Maradona (Middlesbrough)
Sporting Intelligence
The Anfield Wrap (Liverpool)
Zonal Marking

FSF Football Blogger of the Year:

Andi Thomas (The FCF/SB Nation)
Arseblogger (Arseblog)
Greg Theoharis (Dispatches From a Football Sofa)
Ian Rand (A United View)
Kieron O'Connor (Swiss Ramble)
Rangers Tax Case

FSF Football Fanzine of the Year:

A Love Supreme (Sunderland)
The Gooner (Arsenal)
The Seagull Love Review (Brighton and Hove Albion)
The Square Ball (Leeds United)
True Faith (Newcastle United)
United We Stand (Manchester United)

We’ll be in touch with shortlisted nominees ASAP…

The winners will be announced at the FSF Football Writers Awards 2012 on the evening of Saturday 7th July (Covent Garden). The award ceremony will be part of an FSF comedy panel show featuring, among others, ex-Arsenal legend Perry Groves, stand-up comedian, comedy writer and Match of the Day 2’s Kevin Day, The Guardian Football Weekly podcast’s mainstay Barry Glendenning, and the Football League Show’s Leroy Rosenior.

Buy your tickets here (only £5)...
The Awards are part of the wider Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct Fans’ Weekend which takes place on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th July. Read more here.

Join the FSF for free today from this link.  Football Supporters Federation


Welcome Back to Football Observer

Welcome back to Football Observer

- To put it mildly, it's been quite a while.

Hopefully, posts will be a little bit more frequent.

  There's a lot of material I come across, which is not directly specific to Queens Park Rangers (QPR) but is of more general interest - at least to me!

Sunday, September 05, 2010


A Good Place for Items of General Football Interest


- In lieu of frequent updates on this site, please go to the sister site, QPR Report Messageboard where items of general football (soccer) interest are generally posted every day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Football Observer Sunday: Football Gangs and the English Defense League (EDL)...The State of Portsmouth Finances


Mail on Sunday/Billy Briggs - This is England: Masked like terrorists, members of Britain's newest and fastest -growing protest group intimidate a Muslim woman on a train en route to a violent demo
27th December 2009
Their aim? To drive out Islamic extremism. Their weapon? The thugs of Britain's most violent football gangs

Some of the most violent football hooligans in Britain head towards Manchester to support a march by the burgeoning English Defence League (EDL), while a woman dressed in a black hijab appears intimidated

On Platform One at Bolton station a mob of around 100 men punch the air in unison. The chant goes up: 'Muslim bombers, off our streets, Muslim bombers off our streets...'

Their voices echo loudly and more men suddenly appear; startled passengers move aside. The group march forward waving St George Cross flags and holding up placards. The throng of men around me applaud. A train heading for Glasgow draws up on the opposite platform and the men turn as one, bursting into song: 'Engelaand, Engelaand, Engelaand.'
Some of the men hide behind balaclavas, others wear black hoodies. A few speak on mobile phones, their hands pressed against their ears to block out the cacophony.

'It's already kicking off in Manchester. This could be tasty,' shouts one. These are some of the most violent football hooligans in Britain and today they have joined together in an unprecedented show of strength. Standing shoulder to shoulder are notorious gangs - or 'firms' as they are known - such as Cardiff City's Soul Crew, Bolton Wanderers' Cuckoo Boys and Luton Town's Men In Gear.

The gathering is remarkable, as on a match day these men would be fighting each other. But it is politics that has drawn them together. They are headed for Manchester to support a march by the burgeoning English Defence League.
The police are here in force, too. 'Take that mask off,' barks a sergeant to one young man. He does so immediately but protests: 'Why are they allowed to wear burkas in public but we're not allowed to cover our faces?'
'Just do what you're told,' the policeman snaps back.
An EDL demonstrator is arrested at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester in October
'It's always the same these days. One rule for them and another for us. I'm sick of this country,' a man standing next to me says in a West Country accent.

He draws on a cigarette then flicks it to the ground in disgust. He starts to complain again but when the tannoy announces the arrival of the train to Manchester Piccadilly he raises his hands above his head and starts another favourite.

'Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves... Britons never, never, never...' His companions join in. As the train comes to a halt the crowd surges forward.
The carriages are almost full so the men pack themselves into the aisles followed by policemen speaking into radios. A group of lads drinking beer at a table eye the new contingent warily.
One man wearing a baseball cap clocks their fear and reassures them.

'It's all right lads, nothing to worry about. We're protesting against radical Islam. Come and join us.'
Further up the carriage another bursts into song.

'We had joy, we had fun, we had Muslims on the run,' he starts up. Nobody joins in and a couple of his mates tell him to 'shut up' as they point to a woman dressed in a black hijab sitting at a table.
A man standing close to her is masked and holds a placard. It has a picture of a Muslim woman crying with red blood streaming down her face. 'Sharia law oppresses women!' the slogan reads.
The rise of the English Defence League has been rapid. Since its formation at the start of the summer the group has organised nearly 20 major protests in Britain's cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Luton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Swansea.
Its leaders are professional and articulate and they claim that the EDL is a peaceful, non-racist organisation. But having spent time with them, there is evidence that this movement has a more disturbing side. There is talk of the need for a 'street army', and there are links with football hooligans and evidence that violent neo-Nazi groups including Combat 18, Blood and Honour and the British Freedom Fighters have been attending demos.
Violence has erupted at most of the EDL's demonstrations. In total, nearly 200 people have been arrested and an array of weapons has been seized, including knuckledusters, a hammer, a chisel and a bottle of bleach.
As the EDL gains support across the UK, Muslims have already been targeted in unprovoked attacks. In the worst incident, a mob of 30 white and black youths is said to have surrounded Asian students near City University in central London and attacked them with metal poles, bricks and sticks while shouting racist abuse. Three people - two students and a passer-by who tried to intervene - were stabbed.
Following the Manchester protest, when 48 people were arrested during street violence, the Bolton Interfaith Council Executive issued a stark warning that race relations were under threat and Communities Secretary John Denham compared the EDL to Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists, who ran amok in the Thirties. In response to these fears, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, a countrywide police team set up to combat domestic extremism, has been investigating the EDL.
'The concern to me is how groups like this, either willingly or unwillingly, allow themselves to be exploited by very extreme right-wing groups like the National Front and the British Freedom Fighters,' Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson has said.

Welsh Defence League members burn an anti-Nazi flag in Swansea
I had met the English Defence League for the first time in Luton three weeks before the Manchester demonstration. After several calls, key members agreed to talk on the condition that I did not identify them. We met at a derelict building close to Luton town centre. Eleven men turned up. All wore balaclavas, as they often do to hide their identities, and most had black EDL hoodies with 'Luton Division' written on the back. They'd made placards bearing slogans such as 'Ban the Burka'.
The group's self-proclaimed leader, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, did most of the talking. A father of two, Robinson explained the background to the rise of the movement.
'For more than a decade now there's been tension in Luton between Muslim youths and whites. We all get on fine - black, white, Indian, Chinese... Everyone does, in fact, apart from these Muslim youths who've become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. This is because preachers of hate live in Luton and have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups for years. Our Government does nothing about them so we decided that we'd start protesting.'
EDL demonstrators in Birmingham in September
Robinson could barely conceal his anger as he explained that the spark for him had been the sight of radical Muslims protesting when soldiers paraded through the town on their regiment's return from Afghanistan in May.
Following the incident Robinson set up a group called United People of Luton and, after linking up with a Birmingham-based organisation called British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists and another called Casuals United (largely made up of former football hooligans), they realised there was potential for a national movement.
'We have nothing against Muslims, only those who preach hatred. They are traitors who should be hanged and we'll keep taking to the streets until the Government kicks them out.'
More than 100 divisions have been set up across Britain and a careful co-ordination means the EDL is becoming efficient and a potential catch-all for every far-right organisation in Britain.
Robinson admits that he has attended BNP meetings in the past. Another prominent member and administrator of Luton EDL's Facebook group is Davy Cooling, a BNP member. Sean Walsh, an activist for the EDL in Luton, is a member of the BNP's Bedfordshire Facebook group.
Even within the EDL there are concerns over links to extremists. A former member called Paul Ray recently claimed that the group had been hijacked by BNP activists, including a man from Weston-super-Mare, Chris Renton, who helped set up the EDL website. Ironically, Ray himself has extremist contacts, including a German former neo-Nazi who is friends with Northern Ireland Loyalist Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair.
Casuals United was the brainchild of Jeff Marsh, a convicted football hooligan from Cardiff City's Soul Crew, one of the most feared gangs in Britain. Marsh operates behind the scenes, orchestrating activities with both Casuals United and the Welsh Defence League, a sister group of the EDL.
The public face of Casuals United is another Welshman called Mickey Smith. An avowed football hooligan, he is banned from Cardiff City's football ground. Together, Marsh and Smith organise the 50 or so gangs actively recruiting members across the UK.
The EDL insists it is separate from Casuals United, but dig a little and it becomes clear they operate hand-in-hand. Joel Titus is a cocky but politically naive 18-year-old Arsenal fan of mixed race. He tells me that the EDL youth division he runs has over 300 members across the UK.

'We want to hit every town and city in Britain,' he says.

Titus became involved with the movement through Casuals United. And according to anti-fascism magazine Searchlight, his role is to recruit football hooligans.
He sticks to the 'peaceful movement' mantra but a text I later receive from him ahead of an EDL demo in London reveals his involvement with the hooligans. It reads: 'Right lads, the "unofficial" meet for the 31st (London) is going to be 12 o'clock at The Hole In The Wall pub just outside Waterloo Station. I will be there just before that. Remember lads were (sic) going as Casuals Utd and if you could obtain a poppy to wear it would make us look good even if we are kicking off. lol. Cheers lads. Joel "Arsenal" Titus.'

EDL members meet at a rendezvous pub before travelling to Manchester
Alarmingly, the EDL is becoming more sophisticated and those orchestrating its activities at the top are far more astute than its foot soldiers. I meet two of the EDL's key figures in a Covent Garden pub - a respectable looking man called Alan Lake, and a man who goes by the moniker 'Kinana'.
Lake is a 45-year-old computer expert from Highgate, north London who runs a far-right website called Four Freedoms. This summer he contacted the EDL and offered to both fund and advise the movement.

'Our leaders in this country no longer represent us,' he says.

Lake's aim is to unite the 'thinkers' and those prepared to take to the streets. He describes this marriage as 'the perfect storm coming together'. Lake says that street violence is not desirable but sometimes inevitable.

'There are issues when you are dealing with football thugs but what can we do?'
He criticises fascist organisations, however, and says he will only support the EDL so long as it doesn't associate with the BNP. When I ask about extremists hijacking the movement, he says: 'There are different groups infiltrating and trying to cause rifts by one means or another, or trying to waylay the organisation to different agendas. The intention is to exclude those groups and individuals.'
These men are outwardly intelligent and their political nous combined with the brawn of the casuals makes them a quasi-political force.
Britain's neo-Nazis realise this. For Kevin Watmough, leader of the neo-Nazi British People's Party and a former member of the National Front, the rise of the EDL is reminiscent of the Seventies.
'The protests remind me of the National Front marches, but I wouldn't march with the EDL because they have blacks as supporters,' he told me.
But other neo-Nazis have joined EDL demos. These include members of Combat 18 and the British Freedom Fighters, who later posted videos of themselves on the internet.
Watmough lives in Bradford and can recall the 2001 riots, which came about as a result of tensions between whites and Muslims. Bradford, along with Oldham, another tinderbox northern city that witnessed riots in 2001, is a stated target for the EDL and Casuals United in 2010. Tension is likely here and in other towns where the EDL is also promoting spontaneous flash demos and the occupation of building sites for new mosques.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right organisations who has advised the Home Office, says that the police are right to monitor the EDL and to take them seriously.
'(The EDL) is now well-organised and not just a minor irritant. It has become a rallying point for a number of different groups and to have them marching through sensitive areas is a major concern.'

Communities Minister John Denham has also condemned the rise of the EDL: 'If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response. It's designed to create violence. And we must all make sure this doesn't happen.' Daily Mail

Mail on Sunday/Daniel King - No Christmas pay for Portsmouth: Debts mean Pompey must sell their stars just to keep going
Portsmouth's players and staff will be forgiven for being short on the Christmas spirit when they check their bank accounts on Thursday. At the end of the last three months, either those struggling on the pitch to keep the club in the Premier League or those firefighting off the field to stop them slipping into administration - or both groups - have neither been paid on time nor in full.

And even if their wages are paid by New Year's Eve, there is not much sign of 2010 being a new start. Over the past few months and years, a succession of businessmen of varying reputation and competence have passed the fit and proper person test of the richest league in the world to take ownership at Fratton Park. Yet one of the Premier League's oldest clubs continue to teeter on the brink of financial meltdown.

Yesterday, Portsmouth slumped to a 2-0 defeat against relegation rivals West Ham, a result which leaves them rooted to the foot of the table. Only once have the club who were bottom at Christmas survived, and the odds are firmly stacked against a happy ending for manager Avram Grant and his team.
Because if everyone does receive their December wages on Thursday, it will be the result of Portsmouth striking deals to sell key players such as French defender Younes Kaboul and England goalkeeper David James, who will move to new clubs as soon as the transfer window officially opens.

And even though the Premier League have given the club special dispensation to receive transfer fees before the window opens, unless they see evidence that the overall financial situation at Fratton Park has significantly improved and proof that outstanding debts to clubs have been paid, they will not lift the transfer embargo in place since October.
Grant, who as a former manager of Chelsea admits he is more used to dealing at the higher end of the table and the transfer market, was already facing a tough task to fill holes in his squad.

Without the ability to bring in players to replace the departing stars and to cover for the clutch of key men leaving for the Africa Cup of Nations, that now looks virtually impossible. Among those going to his continent's flagship event in Angola will be John Utaka, the Nigeria striker whose cross for countryman Kanu set up the only goal of the 2008 FA Cup final.

That triumph under Harry Redknapp, the club's first major trophy for 58 years, is the on-field highlight with which some of those involved seek to justify the current off-field crisis, but Utaka epitomises the reckless overspending that has brought the club to the brink.

Well-placed sources claim his contract costs Portsmouth a staggering £80,000 a week gross. Club officials deny his package is so generous, but admit a company with one of the lowest turnovers in the Premier League are paying some employees Champions League-level wages. Since signing from French club Rennes two years ago, Utaka has made 69 appearances and scored six goals, hardly the return you would expect from a striker who cost £7m and earns such high wages.

Portsmouth hope to sell him in January, possibly back to the Middle East where he spent four seasons earlier in his career. But the Utaka problem would not end even if they did find someone to take him off their hands.

Portsmouth have failed to keep to the payment schedule agreed with Rennes on the original transfer, and Rennes general manager Pierre Dreossi confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that his club are pursuing every avenue, including legal action and a complaint to FIFA, in order to recover their money.

How much do Portsmouth still owe? 'That is between us and them,' said Dreossi. Portsmouth say they have proposed a new timetable of instalments but are yet to receive a response. Rennes are just one of the football creditors Portsmouth will have to satisfy if they want the Premier League to lift the transfer embargo.

Chelsea are owed money from Glen Johnson's £18m move to Liverpool as part of a sell-on clause, Tottenham are due payments related to Kaboul and other players signed permanently or on loan, and cash-strapped Watford are expecting instalments on the transfers of Tommy Smith and Mike Williamson next month.

Football clubs, especially English ones, are unlikely to force the issue with Portsmouth unless it is absolutely necessary, thanks to the 'There but for the grace of God go I' mentality. But other parties may not be so tolerant.

As well as meeting a monthly payroll reported to total £1.8m, Portsmouth must find not only £1.5m to cover December's tax and National Insurance contributions but also about £2m as the latest instalment in clearing their £10m debts to HMRC.

If the decision to charge chief executive Peter Storrie, former manager Harry Redknapp and exowner Milan Mandaric with tax offences is any indication - all three deny any wrongdoing - the taxman is no longer in the mood to treat football with kid gloves.

The Mail On Sunday can reveal that French agent Jacques Perais met his London-based solicitor last week to discuss the £2m he is owed for his work on the £20m sale of Lassana Diarra to Real Madrid last January. Portsmouth, having already defaulted on the original contract, have missed the first two instalments of a revised payment schedule, the latest on December 20, and under a deal signed by Storrie and fellow director Tanya Robins on October 22, Perais can now claim the full sum of 2.25m euros.

Through a club spokesman, Storrie said Portsmouth were presented with a 'fantastic' deal for Diarra and it was standard practice to pay 10 per cent commission to the agent who facilitated it. The club's new owners are reviewing the Perais contract and a number of other deals as part of their efforts to get a grip on the debts, but the contract seen by The Mail On Sunday does not appear to leave much room for manoeuvre.

It is the ability of Perais, Rennes, the taxman and a number of other creditors to force Portsmouth to a new level of crisis that is focusing minds at the Premier League. They have already made it clear they will use all or part of the £7m television rights payment due to Portsmouth on January 10 to pay football creditors such as Chelsea if the club are unable to raise enough from transfers and other sources. But even if all those debts are cleared, those running the richest league in the world want to prevent a situation in which they lift the transfer embargo and Portsmouth bring in new players, only to fail to pay wages or meet debt repayments soon afterwards.

A Premier League spokesman said: 'The player registration embargo remains in place. We are in regular contact with Portsmouth and they are making us aware of any changes to their financial situation.'
The Premier League have also asked for clarification of the role of Daniel Azougy, the lawyer convicted of fraud and barred from practising in his native Israel. Portsmouth insist Azougy is acting as a short-term financial troubleshooter on behalf of owner Ali Al Faraj, not a shadow director or person of influence who would have to pass the fit and proper person test.
Ali Al Faraj's intervention in October saved the club from administration, unseating the laughable 'Dr' Sulaiman Al Fahim as owner after only weeks in charge, but since then Portsmouth have had to borrow £15m from Hong Kongbased businessman Balram Chainrai to stay afloat.

Research has revealed that Al Faraj is not listed as a director or shareholder of any company registered in Saudi Arabia. But there are suggestions that he may have connections with the Saudi Ministry of Defence. If that is the case, it might explain why he is shrouded in such mystery and companies might be held in other names. Sources have also told The Mail On Sunday that Al Faraj trades in commodities, including oil and gold, and that his property portfolio includes a building in the City of London with a value of £48m.

A number of issues remain to be resolved regarding property around Fratton Park owned by another previous owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, not to mention the multi-million pound loans he is said to have given the club. The fact that Chainrai, business partner Levi Kushnir, Azougy and others who have been linked to the club all have links to Gaydamak's father, fugitive from justice Arkadi, only adds to the confusion over Fratton Park. What is clear is that Chainrai, another financial backer or yet another new owner needs to come forward to refinance the club and secure their short and long-term future. And quickly.

On December 18, Companies House registered that Portsmouth had cleared a long-term debt, secured against Fratton Park, to finance house Singer and Friedlander. Despite the short-term cashflow problems, the Al Faraj regime remain upbeat, citing repayments to long-term creditors Standard Bank and Barclays as evidence that the club are in increasingly healthy shape.
Director Mark Jacob, a close associate of Al Faraj, said: 'We are confident that, both on and off the pitch, the start of the year will bring more positive news.'

The first test of that optimism will come on Thursday, when everyone from John Utaka to a part-time steward checks their bank balance. Daily Mail

Saturday, December 26, 2009


How - and When - Clubs Find Mangerial Replacements

The Guardian/Paul Wilson
We can laugh at Manchester City but finding a new manager is no joke
The sacking of Mark Hughes was bungled, but sounding out successors is the way of the world

The Manchester City joke doing the rounds towards the end of the last century involved Francis Lee, the then chairman, spotting an old woman struggling to cross Claremont Road with two heavy bags of shopping. Lee stopped his car and wound down the window. "Can you manage, love?" he asked. "Bloody hell, don't tell me you're fed up with Alan Ball already," the old lady shouted back. "I'll come if you're desperate but I insist on a three-year contract."

All right, I didn't say it was a great joke. Just an old one that shows how little has actually changed, despite eight managers, four chairmen and untold millions from overseas bank accounts. Garry Cook may be the butt of all the jokes now, not to mention some trenchant criticism that he richly deserves for the way he supervised the ousting of Mark Hughes, but in the dozen or so years that have passed since Lee realised that any joke he happened to make about City was likely to come true, one significant thing actually has changed.

City are no longer a comedy club to the extent where they sack a manager without having a replacement lined up. Cook is having to put up with all sorts of abuse for staging preliminary talks with Roberto Mancini while he was still offering public support to Hughes, but in the real world that is what football clubs do. Everyone knows it, and Cook's biggest crime is not covering his tracks particularly well. Anyone who doesn't believe that should take a second or two to consider the alternatives. Either the club withdraw public support for their present manager, hanging him out to dry in an even more public manner than was Hughes's fate, or they stick with him right up to the point of relegation or dismissal, then start looking round for someone else.

There is no doubt that the latter is the honourable course, but the whole point of club management is to avoid relegation or a run of poor results, and that applies to the people around and above the manager, not just the poor sap in the dugout. Plus, once you are relegated, or once you have sacked another manager for only winning one of the last dozen games, you tend to find replacements of the highest calibre are not beating a path to your door. Given that most managers leave their jobs due to failing in some way – there are exceptions, and Manchester City do not have to look very far to find one – the only way a smooth transition can be organised is to have a replacement ready to step into the breach. The caretaker manager is an old- fashioned idea that no longer really works. Either the team keeps bombing, in which case you still need to find a new man in a hurry, or the team does so well you end up making the caretaker permanent, which is fine until you want to sack him six months later.

Even clubs where things are going well under long-serving managers, such as Arsenal and Manchester United, will not allow the present incumbent to ride off into the sunset before beginning their search for a replacement. A club such as Manchester City, with an ingrained reputation for both under-achievement and comedy plus a not unrelated habit of changing managers every couple of years, have to be hard-nosed and businesslike about the matter. Yet one of the very few chairmen I can think of to state publicly he would have no truck with talking to successors behind his manager's back was Francis Lee. "I want to trust my manager and he needs to trust me," Lee said in the mid-90s. "I am not about to lie to him or go behind his back."

Quite admirable, really. Certainly more principled than the way Cook has just gone about things. Yet, inevitably, Lee did eventually find himself with a managerial vacancy that was difficult to fill. He also stuck with Ball for too long, because he was a mate, and the pair of them did not see relegation coming until it was too late. In point of fact, or at least a much-loved part of City folklore, Ball famously did not see it coming until the last few minutes of the last game, because someone in the crowd with a radio had misinformed him about results elsewhere.

Despite his evident love for the club Lee did not last long as chairman. He eventually sold his shares to Thaksin Shinawatra. First and foremost Lee was a businessman, and he quickly realised that football decisions cannot always be worked out with a calculator or a profit sheet.

Just before City sacked Hughes, the Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson revealed he had sounded out Gordon Strachan before removing Gareth Southgate, even though the latter was a mate. Because you have to, was the gist of his argument. Having no manager, or being turned down by one's preferred choices, is worse for morale than keeping faith with the original. Following a rather charming form of protocol, Strachan obliquely replied that he could not consider Boro while they already had a manager, though might be interested in a club of that stature and a challenge of that sort should a vacancy ever arise. That's how things are done in the short-term world of football management and, for all Lee's misgivings, there is nothing really wrong with it.

While there is no excuse for Hughes finding out he was toast from the media rather than his employers, having been sounded out when Sven-Goran Eriksson was still in charge at City he knows as well as anybody how the system works. He will be disappointed at the way things have panned out, but compensation will arrive in several forms. He will not have been all that surprised." Guardian


Manager Claims: Rich Owners Don't Really Understand Football

By Ian Parkes, Press Association Sport

Bolton boss Gary Megson believes football's mega-rich owners do not understand the game if they expect money to win matches.

Megson joined the debate that has raged all week relating to the controversial sacking of Manchester City manager Mark Hughes.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson claims the decision to fire Hughes immediately after Saturday's 4-3 win over Sunderland and announce the appointment of Roberto Mancini, was "unacceptable behaviour" on behalf of the City board.

Megson feels the axe that fell on Hughes underlined the impatience that runs rife through modern-day football, with owners like City's Sheikh Mansour demanding impossible standards simply because of the millions of pounds they have lavished on players.

"It (Hughes' sacking) didn't surprise me because nothing ever does surprise you in football," remarked Megson.

"It was really sad because you had a manager losing his job, and yet they've only lost two games all season.

"They were doing okay, people were talking about it taking a while for everything to bed down, and then he was not given a while.

"I think it's just purely and simply the nature of football in general, and the Premier League in particular.

"These people (the owners) when they put their money in, a draw away from home at Bolton or Birmingham, isn't an acceptable thing any more.

"It's as if the opposition doesn't exist, and just because you've spent a huge amount of money, you can plough on regardless and you are going to beat everybody.

"But it doesn't work like that."

Naturally, Megson joined in the chorus of sympathy for Hughes, adding: "I feel really sorry for Mark and the rest of the staff like Mark Bowen.

"I'm really saddened by it." Sporting Life

Friday, December 25, 2009


Football Violence, Fan Arrests and Banning Orders


Arrests for violence at football grounds dropped last season, the Home Office Minister David Hanson announced today.

The number of fans arrested overall also fell last year, with no arrests at 67 per cent of all international and domestic matches.

'Statistics on Football-Related Arrests and Banning Orders' Season 2008-09', published today, revealed there were 3,752 arrests last season - down two per cent on the year before.

They also showed violent incidents were down five per cent, with just 354 fans arrested for violence out of the total attendance figure of 37 million at football matches last year.

Policing Minister David Hanson said: "Hooligans once blighted our national game, but we now set an example for the rest of the world in how we police football matches.

"I am pleased with the way clubs and police work together, but we must also praise fans for realising violence has no place in the modern game.

"We are not complacent and will carry on working to ensure this success story continues into the future."

The new figures mean just 0.01 per cent of 37m supporters attending matches in England and Wales last year were arrested. Fans were also well-behaved abroad - more than 105,000 fans travelled to 49 games in European club competitions last year, but just 30 were arrested.

The latest statistics revealed during the 2008/09 season:

• 3,752 arrests were made at domestic and international matches in England and Wales;
• there were 1.18 arrests per game;
• the number of football banning orders on 10 November was 3,180 - representing 956 new orders imposed last year;
• 92 per cent of individuals whose banning orders have expired are assessed by police as no longer posing a risk to football disorder. Football League

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Football and Money Over the Past Decade

David Conn/The Guardian

The noughties: a decade when football's rulers ducked responsibility
The game boomed but so did insolvencies as the government called on football to rethink its relationship with money

When you take a longer view of English football than this week's managerial ousting or the latest results, to consider how the game developed over a whole decade, Sheffield Wednesday is a reliable place from which to get your bearings.

It was at Hillsborough, of course, that football's name as the people's game foundered in disaster on a landscape of neglect at the end of the 1980s. Ten years ago, at Christmas 1999, the Leppings Lane end in which 96 Liverpool supporters died had long become all-seated, and Wednesday's stint as a member of the breakaway, big-money Premier League was about to conclude in relegation.

Under the club's chairman, Dave Richards, a local engineer who joined the board six months after the disaster, and Trevor Francis as manager, Wednesday had, with the rest of the top clubs, enjoyed the luxury of no longer sharing their television money with the other three divisions of the Football League. Richards and his board had aimed to float on the stock exchange, like other Premier League clubs whose flotations made personal fortunes for their chairmen, but financially they were stricken by their excursion into the foreign player revolution.

Eric Cantona had spent a week at Hillsborough on trial in 1992 but the man who would define the elan of overseas stars left for championships with Leeds and Manchester United. Wednesday spent their TV windfall on outsized wages for the Holland midfielder Wim Jonk, the Belgium striker Gilles de Bilde and the Dutch striker Gerald Sibon. They were not exactly catalytic. Ten years ago this week Wednesday, bottom of the league, lost to Aston Villa, a 13th defeat in 17 matches.

Earlier that year, Richards had taken temporary charge as Premier League chairman following the exit of Sir John Quinton. Richards's appointment was supported by Ken Bates, then the Chelsea chairman, and approved by the clubs without a formal recruitment process.

In February 2000, with Wednesday looking certain to be relegated, Richards left the club to become the first paid chairman of the Premier League, a part-time position for which his salary in the first full year was £177,000. At the time his own business, Three Star Engineering, was in financial difficulties; in June 2001 it was placed in administrative receivership with debts of more than £1m.

Sheffield Wednesday went down with debts of around £20m from which they have never recovered. Richards remained Premier League chairman throughout the decade, becoming a Football Association director among several other senior administrative positions.

If the 1980s were a story of a great sport crashing into disaster because those who ran the game never kept pace with their responsibilities, the noughties can be viewed the same way. Football continued its 1990s revival, money poured in, the clubs became slicker on and off the field, yet the handling, harnessing, of the game's challenges lagged behind its development. The grounds remained safe because, after Hillsborough, that was the law. Even Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government was not prepared to leave safety to the clubs any longer.

Ministers in the new Labour government genuinely supported football, unlike Thatcher, who, according to her former minister Kenneth Clarke, had regarded fans as another "enemy within". Labour recognised that the commercial free-for-all which followed Hillsborough – the Premier League's breakaway, ticket price increases, players' wage inflation, club flotations, withering of the grassroots – had not been the best and only way the game could have rebuilt.

The government established the Football Task Force within weeks of winning its 1997 landslide, and its final report, on the bitterly debated financial issues, was delivered 10 years ago yesterday. The chairman, David Mellor, had striven for unity in other areas – in a remarkable accord, the Premier League agreed to contribute 5% of its next TV deal, matched by the FA and government, to improving the wastelands on which England's amateurs mostly play the game. Yet on the questions of financial control, the task force was divided, and two separate reports were issued.

The first, approved by a majority, including fan groups and academics, recognised that football was basking in success, but argued it needed reform to manage its good fortune in the interests of all. The report recommended a "fit and proper persons test" for club owners, democratic representation for supporters, a "Football Audit Commission" to oversee the game's governance, and reduced ticket prices "to embrace those who have felt excluded from football". Research had shown that although crowds were flocking back, many fans who had stayed loyal throughout the grimy years had been priced out, and the average age of a Premier League football fan climbed over the decade to 44.

The other report was produced by the FA and the Premier and Football Leagues themselves. It said they were "impressed" by supporters' trust initiatives, agreed that clubs should implement codes of conduct, even suggested an "independent scrutiny panel" to report on how well the game was governed. But repeatedly, the football authorities' argued against introducing any rules.

Clubs must have "freedom to act", the report said, and in a phrase of heroic confection, the men running football argued their "primary response" should be: "To adopt the contemporary principles of customer care and a more inclusionary approach to key stakeholders." With that clarity and keenness of vision, the game's rulers took football into the 2000s.

The Premier League was on the threshold of its next TV deal, from 2001-04; the live rights went exclusively to Sky again, and the total for the 20 clubs came in at £1.6bn.

Roy Keane, Manchester United's captain, made his memorable remarks about home supporters, having "probably the prawn sandwiches" and being unable "even to spell football, let alone understand it", in December 2000. At the time, Keane himself was reported to have set the new benchmark for players' wages, holding out for £52,000 a week.

Yet even such galactic earnings were eclipsed by the takings of chairmen selling out their shares. Alan Sugar, who had described the leaking of money to players as "like drinking prune juice while eating figs", made £22m when he sold part of his Tottenham stake to the investment group Enic in December 2000.

Martin Edwards, whose father, Louis, accumulated his majority Manchester United stake in the 50s and 60s, would make £93m from selling shares, in chunks, on the stock market, before the Glazer family bought United and ladled their borrowed multimillions on to the club. David Moores, the Littlewoods heir who had invested around £12m for his stake in Liverpool, would be paid £89m from selling his shares to Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who also borrowed to buy the club and made it responsible to pay the debt.

As Sky's profits soared from expensive subscriptions to homes and pubs, Carlton and Granada's joint venture, ITV Digital, paid £315m for three years of Football League rights. In April 2002, after one year, the company collapsed. Carlton and Granada refused to stand behind their company's agreement, Championship clubs each lost £4m they had fairly budgeted to receive, and the league plunged into crisis.

No Premier League club has collapsed into insolvency since the 1992 breakaway, but their overspending has been exported through relegation. Leeds, top of the Premier League 10 years ago with David O'Leary's sprightly side, "lived the dream" after that on borrowed money but did not fall into their £35m administration until 2007, under Ken Bates's chairmanship, and the unidentified offshore owners backing him. In 2002, of the three clubs relegated from the Premier League, Derby County were placed into receivership, and Leicester and Ipswich collapsed into administration.

Football, in its boom time, saw 40 professional clubs fall insolvent, leaving millions of pounds unpaid in tax, to police, fire and ambulance services, to hundreds of small businesses and, in all cases, to St John Ambulance. Yet the leagues' rules require that "football creditors" – other clubs and the players' rocketing wages – must be paid in full. Leeds owed HM Revenue and Customs £7m, West Yorkshire ambulance service £8,997, St John Ambulance £165, and Bates's backers' first offer, accepted by the administrator, KPMG, was to pay those creditors 1p in the pound. The former players still owed money from Peter Ridsdale's dream time all had to be paid in full, including, for example, Danny Mills, owed £217,000 on a contract which had ended three years earlier.

The grimmest spectacle in a gallery of mismanagement came at Chesterfield, the fourth-oldest professional club in England, formed in 1866. In May 2000 the club had been "bought" by Darren Brown, 29, who had, it turned out, borrowed the money to do so, then emptied the club of cash to pay his lenders and himself.

Brown was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office and ultimately sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of fraudulent trading. The club nearly went to the wall; it was saved by local businessmen in partnership with the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society, a supporters' trust newly formed as at clubs elsewhere to salvage the heritage from the wreckage.

An irony of football's jolt into finally recognising it did need some rules to protect its integrity in the cash cascade is that it was led by Lord Mawhinney, a former Thatcher minister. Mawhinney saw that the sport is not a free market, and that the Football League needed reforms to help it emerge from chaos. He was tough enough to insist solid changes were necessary, not waffle about "a more inclusionary approach to key stakeholders". The Football League introduced the game's first "fit and proper person test" in 2004, persuaded significantly by Darren Brown's pillage. Nobody convicted of a fraud offence could any longer be a director or 30% owner of a club, nor could anybody who had been involved with two club insolvencies. Observers noted that this would not have prevented Brown's takeover, because he had no convictions before he was handed the keys to Saltergate.

The Premier League followed, introducing the same test, five years after insisting in its task force report to the government that no new rules were needed. The league was flourishing, glittering, but facing a host of new challenges. Chelsea, in 2003, and now Manchester City, were bought by men from the world's rich list, willing to pump huge money in to increase players' wages and so skew competition. Other clubs were overspending to keep up, relying on burgeoning loans, from new owners or increasingly jittery banks. The Glazers' and Hicks and Gillett's "leveraged" buyouts were to saddle Manchester United and Liverpool with those enormous debts, which look to be biting at the decade's end. Contemplating their openness to all this, the Premier League introduced the rule designed to deter a small-time chancer in Chesterfield. And they wanted a pat on the back.

Mostly, the government acquiesced. The then sports minister, Richard Caborn, another Sheffield man, grew close to Richards, who was knighted for services to sport, largely for his work as chairman of the Football Foundation, which distributes the professional game's money to the grassroots.

Caborn, in tandem with Richards, seized on the 2004 sex saga involving Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England coach, the FA's chief executive, Mark Palios, and the secretary Faria Alam to demand a "structural review" of the governing body. That, carried out by the former Treasury mandarin Lord Burns, suggested modest changes, principally an independent chairman and two non-executive directors, which the Premier League itself does not have.

Lord Triesman, the former Labour Party general secretary and junior Foreign Office minister, was appointed as the new FA chairman, another interesting departure from the previous orthodoxy that businessmen must run everything. Triesman demonstrated that he wanted to lead reform, breaking with his predecessor Geoff Thompson's habitual public silence, and expressing reservations about the "Game 39" plan for global expansion of the Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore. Last October Triesman also warned of the danger, in an economic crisis, of professional football carrying debts which he actually underestimated at £3bn. Triesman found common ground with Michel Platini, the president of Uefa, who was feeling his way towards tackling excessive debt and "sugar daddy" owners, and Triesman also suggested to the government there should be a review of the game's financial affairs.

The response to this for the FA chairman has, mostly, been relentless attack. Andy Burnham, who as a young task force administrator had helped secure government backing for the Football Foundation and the establishment of Supporters Direct to encourage supporters' trusts, returned as minister for culture, media and sport nine years later and called for football to "reassess its relationship with money". Burnham asked seven specific questions, calling for a unified response from the two leagues and FA, but they replied separately. The Premier League, which had furiously rejected Triesman's warnings, nevertheless agreed to take debts more seriously and to investigate the solidity of the money when a club is taken over. The Football League cited "competitive balance" – the financial gap between it and the Premier League – as football's "greatest challenge", but still there are no moves towards seriously addressing it.

Triesman proposed strengthening the FA's role in financial governance, but he was shot down by the Premier League representatives who sit on the FA's own board. These internal politics, long the greatest barrier to genuine reform of football, spilled over into the FA's bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Last month Sir Dave Richards resigned from the bid's board – prompting another deluge of negative, anti-Triesman coverage – in protest, reportedly, about the precise role Richards would be given and how far he was consulted on key appointments.

Over the decade, the former Sheffield Wednesday chairman has rubbed shoulders and made alliances with football leaders all over the world. He was paid £350,000 last year as the Premier League chairman. His former club ended the decade with £26m net debt, mired in a Championship relegation battle.

For the families of those who died at Hillsborough, the 20th anniversary in April saw a wholesale change in the way the disaster was viewed and reported. In place of false accusations made against the fans which had lingered for 20 years, there was universal sympathy for the families and a recognition that their treatment by the police and legal system had been a travesty. Prompted by Burnham and the junior justice minister Maria Eagle, the government promised that all documents held by the police and public agencies will be released.

For the families, the purpose is to pore over the whole, horrible truth about what happened and maybe, after that, be able to grieve properly, their fight completed.

After the disaster football moved on without much of a backward glance. Reform, the game's history tells us, takes years to catch up. Guardian


Watford Players Training on Christmas Day

Watford Observer/Frank Smith
- Watford’s players will be in training throughout the Christmas period as they attempt to improve the poor form which has seen them lose four of their last five matches.
- The Hornets players will be coming in to their London Colney base every day from now until they face Bristol City on December 28.
- “The players have a game Boxing Day [against Nottingham Forest] so they will be in training Christmas morning,” manager Malky Mackay said.
- “Then we are in all the way through as we have a game Boxing Day and then another game again two days later.
- “We are travelling down there to Bristol so we have to make sure we are in all the time now.
- “Christmas is a busy time for footballers and it is not a time of the year for taking time off. Martyn Pert [head of conditioning] gauges the rest they need and the recovery they need but, in the main, they just work all the way through.”
- Watford beat Queens Park Rangers live on Sky TV but that is their only victory in five, although they were unlucky not to come away from St James’ Park with at least a point in the 2-0 defeat to league-leaders Newcastle United.
- Mackay said: “We have got to make sure we get back to winning ways. I would be concerned if we weren’t actually playing well in games and creating chances.
- “We are doing that and looking still as if we are in games and will win more than we lose. I think for the players to be where they are at the moment with so much going on is great credit to the boys.
- “But we need to get back to winning ways and making sure we do not get beat, especially away from home.
- “We have got to make sure we turn the defeats away from home into something better than that.” - Watford Observer

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