Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Why cricket coverage hits football coverage for six

During the England cricket team's seemingly never-ending winter tour, one thing has shone out - the high quality of the TV and radio coverage when set next to that of football, in fact it has become an increasingly regular refrain from fans and other pundits alike that football coverage - Match of the Day being the main target - is of very low quality.

The seeds for this poor output were sown in the mid-Sixties by the rabidly tabloid approach employed in the newly launched Sun newspaper which targeted the working class with a reactionary and anti-establishment stance later developed in consultation with senior members of the Margaret Thatcher-led Conservative party, who themselves took campaign advice from Sun executives.

In the early-Eighties, then editor Kelvin McKenzie identified the average reader as "the bloke you see in the pub - a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he's afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and weirdoes and drug dealers."

A load of balls on Match of the Day (not for the first time)

Sport was of huge importance for this generalized reader and so the coverage of sport was of huge importance to the Sun and the other tabloids with which it was fighting a circulation war. Yet the reportage did not provide a technical analysis of the game instead it had two key elements.

Firstly there was a sensationalist interest in the off-the-pitch activities of star players and secondly, particularly where the England team was concerned, it took the tone of an imagined pub conversation with the reader, littered with patriotic invective ignoring and underestimating the quality of foreign opposition and attacking anyone deemed not to be doing their bit for the country.

Inevitably such tabloid discourse set the agenda for TV which eschewed analysis for 'up and at 'em' jingoism. During Italia '90, no one batted and eyelid when Jimmy Greaves blamed Scotland's defeat to Costa Rica on "Voodoo hoodoo" or suggested Cameroon needed a witch doctor to beat England.

Thankfully things have moved on a little since then, yet there is still a thinly-veiled racism in the criticism of Fabio Capello. Teams and footballers from other countries are ascribed certain stereotypes. Italians and Spaniards dive and cheat; the Germans are clinical but dour and  Africans teams provide joyous, plucky opponents which we can patronise.

Likewise, the debate over the dangers of tackling over the past few seasons has also framed in this jingoistic manner - the likes of 'Big' Sam Allardyce and Steve Bruce are on one side defending the rugged Englishness of the Premier League and weak foreigners like Arsène Wenger and Rafa Benitez are on the other undermining our way of life.

And, if you're called Alan Shearer or Mark Lawrenson it's OK to say that back in the day you'd have punched a team mate for wearing a snood, yet the same pundits shake their heads in disgust at Mario Ballotelli a young, black lad from Italy with a violent temperament.

In Why England Lose, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue the game itself overtly clings to certain aspects of it working class roots. This leads to a wilful exclusion of the middle classes from the sport and an overt anti-intellectualism (such as a rejection of tactics and coaching qualifications) which in turn weakens the depth and quality of the talent pool available to the national team.

As it's from that limited pool of players that most pundits are drawn, it's little wonder that their analysis of the game is both limited and increasingly at odds with the sports' growing middle class audience, the anti-intellectualism manifesting itself in the studio, with the likes of Shearer happily admitting he knew nothing of Hatem Ben Arfa when the player joined Newcastle or unashamedly confusing David Villa and David Silva.

Conversely cricket has historically developed as a sport for the upper and middle classes, but significantly the division between 'gentlemen' (unpaid, upper-class participants) and 'players' (paid, working-class participants) began to blur in 1952 when Len Hutton became the first professional captain of England (a move broadly approved by the Press). The divisions broke down completely in the late-Seventies when Kerry Packer established World Series Cricket, in part because it was perceived players were not paid a living wage.

The impact can be seen in the Sky commentary box where university-educated Nasser Hussain (Durham) and Michael Atherton (Cambridge) sit comfortably alongside David Gower (who dropped out of University College after six months) and state-educated David Lloyd and Sir Ian Botham (who left school at 15).

After a night out with Beefy, the boys are ready for work

There is a further reason for this easy integration; cricket is a more multi-cultural and open-minded game than football. International cricketers spend months touring abroad and while this can take a heavy personal toll, it also opens their outlook to other cultures in a way English footballers rarely, if ever, experience which means in the main the game lacks the fear of 'the new' or 'the foreign' - cricket commetary is not weighed down by the racial stereotyping found in football coverage.

The game in this country also has a long history and little problem of utilising foreign-born players including, among others, Basil D'Oliveira in the Sixties to Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen today. In fact when England took to the field against New Zealand at Christchurch in January 1992 seven of the XI were born outside England.

It's a selection policy employed by many other countries in football but which causes huge concern within the FA and the tabloid Press. Perhaps, not for the first time, it is English football that needs to re-adjust its outlook.

It is also significant that cricket, at least at the highest level, requires a specialised set of skills and deep tactical understanding. On any given day the weather, state of the pitch or even the state of the ball can influence the outcome. This means ex-players are able to provide a level of informed, enlightening analysis which escapes their football counterparts.

The sad reality seems to be that if we want football punditry to change, then the game itself has to develop but for now we're all going to have to keep watching Match of the Day with the sound off.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten: Vetch Field

Today we start a new series called Gone But Not Forgotten where we remember old football grounds that are no longer with us. First up is the Vetch Field written by Swansea fan Abigail Davies, who also writes for The Ball Is Round. You can follow her on twitter @swanabi 

'Take me to the Vetch Field way down by the sea,
where I will follow Swansea, Swansea City'

Over the years Swansea City fans have seen their fair share of highs and lows throughout the football divisions. During the roller-coaster years at Vetch Field many heroes and legends were born, while thousands of memories were built.

Often referred to as the Lovely, Ugly Vetch Field, Swansea's home ground was not prized on its appearance, but its history and the memories it held more than compensated.

Alan Curtis, Ivor Allchurch, Robbie James and James Thomas are amongst a long list of greats to have graced the stadium and are legends who will always be remembered for their services to the club.

Life as a Swansea Jack has never been straight forward. The turmoil between 2001 and 2003 was arguably the toughest of times for the Welsh side and definitely the worst Swans experience I have ever had.

Something old

As well as the club being sold for just £1, The Swans were relegated to the Third Division before almost dropping out of the Football League all together. City required victory at the Vetch on the final day of the 2002-03 season to retain their League status and for me it is one of stand out games to have been played at the ground.

More than 9,500 fans filled the stands to watch The Swans take on Hull on 3 May 2003 hoping their side could avoid the unthinkable. Brian Flynn's side managed to secure last-day survival with a 4-2 victory. The feeling that myself and I'm sure all Swans fans felt that day is one that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

After imagining the worst, the sheer relief felt when the final whistle was blown is indescribable. The Vetch erupted as though we had just won the greatest prize in football, with fans running onto the pitch from every direction. There were tears, smiles, laughter, screams and chants – it was an atmosphere I had never seen before and one I doubt will be repeated.

The Swans continued to play their home games at the Vetch for a further two seasons, gaining promotion in their final year at the ground which made sure the final memories of the Vetch were a fitting tribute to a ground that had been like a second home to so many.

The Swans moved to the Liberty Stadium in the summer of 2005. Despite the ground having almost twice the capacity of Vetch Field and being much more capable of entertaining football clubs of the highest calibre, it took time to adjust to the new surroundings. However, with the Swans now pushing for promotion to the top flight of English football its hard to imagine how we could have developed and coped at this level if we were still at The Vetch.

Something new

At the time of the move many fans were in favour of the switch, whilst there was also a large number of fans against leaving The Vetch. Personally I had mixed opinions and emotions over the move - there was a part of me that didn't want to leave the place where I had started my love affair with Swansea City, seen Jack legends such as Leon Britton, Alan Tate and Lee Trundle play and move into a stadium that despite having a lot of character, just wasn't the Vetch Field.

At the same time it was an exciting prospect to take the leap that would see my club playing in a stadium fit for Premier League football with a history waiting to be written, a place where we would hopefully see The Swans create moments as prolific as those at The Vetch.

Although we are only in our sixth season at The Liberty, we have already seen a number of stars born, achievements made and records broken and while I think its still important to reminisce on the The Vetch days, it is great to see we have already created many unforgettable scenes at our new home.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Why standing wasn't to blame for Hillsborough

Last week the Football Supporters' Federation re-opened the debate about terracing by launching a petition for the re-introduction of safe standing areas at grounds in England and Wales. This was met with both huge support (some 5,000 signatures on the first day) as well as criticism.

In response, for example, Telegraph journalist Henry Winter tweeted: "Surprised that heavyweight politicians floating possibility of a return to standing. Naïve. Not going to happen. Read the Taylor Report". Now, it's hard to articulate yourself fully in 140 characters, but I think Winter's implication is clear: Standing can't be reintroduced, because The Taylor Report said it was bad.

However, a full and proper reading of that report shows that isn't the case. Indeed, Lord Taylor acknowledged both that: "standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe" and that there are many sports were "viewing from standing areas is an essential element."

If anything, The Taylor Report was a rejection and implicit condemnation of the imposition on football of two themes of political discourse espoused by the Thatcher Government. The first surrounded neo-conservative law and order policies which saw criminality (or perceived criminality) as a problem that had to be contained, as opposed to a symptom of wider socio-economic ills. The second was the free market economic principles which place greater value on the pursuit of profit than the safety of paying customers.

Hooliganism played no part in the tragic events at Hillsborough, but the disaster happened at a time when violence was still very much part of the match-day experience. Some, not unjustifiably, complain there is less atmosphere in grounds these days but it can't be denied that along with it have disappeared the less palatable features of terrace culture, namely excessive drunkenness and masculinity as well as the tribal solidarity which bound supporters of one team together in an aggressive stance towards opposition fans.

In response, most clubs devolved crowd control to police, who dealt with it as a law and order issue, regarding every fan as a potential hooligan. Coupled with the political belief in containment as a solution, away fans were frog-marched under police escort between train stations and stadia and terraces at the majority of League grounds were turned into 'pens' or 'cages'. Lord Taylor recognised the role fencing had on the disaster and called for its removal. In fact he devoted at least as much space to the issue of fencing as to the issue of standing/seating. Henry Winter, please take note.

Of course, terracing, even fencing, would not necessarily have been a fatal issue had they been managed correctly. However, by the late-Eighties Thatcher's laissez faire economic policies were running rampant and the level of customer and worker safety was often determined by cost.

This meant the decade was scarred by a series of disasters caused by the breakdown in the provision of safety. Not only was there Hillsborough but four years earlier 57 people died in the fire at Bradford’s Valley Parade ground and 55 people died when a British Airways plane caught fire at Manchester Airport. In 1987 the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise claimed 188 deaths and the Kings Cross fire claimed 31.

A year later, 167 workers died in the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion; and 35 people died in the Clapham Junction rail crash. The inquiries into all these tragedies revealed common themes of a disregard for safety coupled with inadequate preparation for dealing with such events.

Lord Taylor recognised and condemned a similarly lax attitude towards safety at stadia, saying the was repeatedly met by the "chilling" refrain: "Hillsborough was horrible - but it couldn't happen here" before himself pointing out the ground was regarded as one of the best at the time and that near-misses had occurred around the country on numerous occasions.

Listening to the likes of Winter, you could be forgiven for thinking the Taylor Report was all about seating v terracing. Far from it; of the 76 recommendations Lord Taylor made, only four focused on seating with the rest focusing on other aspects of crowd management and stadium design.

Taylor ignored the Thatcher Government's political sensibilities and in pushing for the removal of fencing argued it "would signal the advent of a new future for football and especially a new attitude from the authorities to the spectators".

The Taylor Report also rejected Thatcher's moves to introduce a membership scheme as a means of dealing with hooliganism; called for a reduction in police presence at stadia and strongly denounced the squalid conditions football fans had endured at grounds.

If anything, Taylor's insistence on all-seater stadia, which he suggested would reduce violence among fans, was a sop he recognised he needed to give to the Government to ensure the general modernisation of grounds and the removal of perimeter fencing - which arguably had greater impact at Hillsborough than the terracing itself. Let's be frank: No fences, no crush.

Could standing be safely re-introduced today? I would suggest it could. Others have rightly argued that large sections of supporters stand anyway and that in Germany clubs switch between standing and seating for domestic and European games. More to the point the match day atmosphere is unrecognisable from that of the Eighties. For various reasons, not least the recommendations of the Taylor report, many of the factors that made terracing so unsafe have disappeared.

However, it seems that today's football administrators are just as deaf to the wishes of the fans as their predecessors. It's far easier for them to hide behind a misinterpretation of the Taylor Report (wilful or otherwise) than it is to have a proper, open-minded debate that might lead to a change that incurs a cost.

Whatever the outcome of the FSF's campaign, make no mistake – terracing did not lead to the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough; the real killer was the football industry's ineptitude and a lack of concern for its fans.

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Friday, 25 March 2011

Something For The Weekend - 25/3/11

The sun has got his hat on and all is right with the world (sort of) and once again we'd like to share with you the best of what we've seen on the net this week. So, grab a cuppa and some biscuits, put your feet up and enjoy.

The painful past and uncertain future of Diego Buonanotte
By Five in Midfield - Follow on twitter @fiveinmidfield
Just a few short years ago Diego Buonanotte was a young man with the world at his feet. Already a regular in the River Plate side by the age of just eighteen, the talented midfielder was even being mentioned in the same breath as the great Diego Maradona, a comparison not without merit. Dubbed El Enano – the Dwarf – Buonanotte stands at just five feet and three inches tall, but despite his tiny frame he was making a huge impression in his native Argentina. Full article >>

The Unwritten Law of Managerial Suitability.
The Tomkins Times - Follow on twitter @paul_tomkins
“You don’t know what you’re doing” has to be the harshest phrase for a manager to hear from his club’s supporters. (That said, maybe the name of another manager being chanted ranks up there on the hurtometer.) While many will think that Roy Hodgson doing well at West Bromwich Albion proves his critics (myself included) wrong, it seems to merely back up my oft-made point: he’s clearly a good manager, but only in certain situations. He has some great skills, but they are not universally transferable. Full article >>

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Goals on Film - Zidane: Un Portrait du 21e Siècle

The world of art has often had a fascination with football, from LS Lowry, whose 1949 painting The Football Match, is due to be auctioned in May, to Sam Taylor-Wood, whose 2004 video portrait David, a homage to Andy Warhol's 1963 work Sleep, which recorded David Beckham sleeping and was displayed in The National Portrait Gallery.

The makers of Zidane: Un Portrait du 21e Siècle (A 21st Century Portrait), video artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, also cite Warhol's films as an inspiration, but a more obvious inspiration for their work is Hellmuth Costard's 1971 Fußball wie noch nie (Football as Never Before) which filmed George Best to produce a real-time portrait of the player in a match against Coventry City.

Zidane does the same with its eponymous protagonist, training 17 cameras on the Frenchman during one La Liga game on April 23, 2005 in which Real Madrid hosted Villerreal at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Is it better to win 1-0 or lose 4-3?

So what's your favourite ever game? For me it's the 1994 Division One play-off final, which my team Leicester ended up losing 4-3 to Swindon. It was an emotional rollercoaster which saw us go 3-0 down before drawing level with three in 12 minutes before they stole a winner.

That's how it should be, right? A game full of goals, open and attacking? Sunderland fans might disagree though. I suspect for many of them, their favourite game will be their 1-0 win in the 1973 FA Cup final when, despite being Second Division underdogs, they beat the mighty Leeds United to lift the trophy.

They wouldn't be the only ones to choose that game. When Eurosport compiled a list of the 100 greatest games ever, the Leicester match came in at 94, with the Sunderland game at 91. Yet look at the list carefully and you find only three 1-0s hidden among the other results weighed down by goals.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Something For The Weekend - 18/3/11

Here at WAATG Towers whe haven't just learned how to write (sort of) we can read too. So, grab a cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy five of the best of what we've seen this week (apart from our own efforts, of course).

Three Lions Need Johns' Leadership
By Iain MacIntosh - Follow on twitter @iainmacintosh
It's time for John Terry to come in from the cold. If Fabio Capello wants to give the armband back to the Chelsea defender, he won't find much opposition in England. Put simply, we're all so accustomed to appalling behaviour from our footballers that Terry's bed-hopping is no longer enough to shock us. Full article >>

Homosexuality in an Asexual World or Why there are no Gay Footballers
On Good Feet For A Big Man - Follow on twitter @gdfeet4abigman
I have written loosely, and with my tongue slightly in my cheek, about homophobia in football before – in relation to what will likely go down as the Snood Era. The issue has come up again since then thanks to Sepp Blatter’s repugnant remarks that homosexual fans visiting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar would be advised to ‘refrain’ from intercourse. The stakes, however, were raised over the weekend. Full article >>

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Have a break, win a World Cup

Hurrah! England's cricketers aren't the also-rans we all thought they were and, er, as long as South Africa and India don't both lose their final group games the team will march triumphantly on to the quarter finals.

But let's be honest the Aussie-bashing superheroes look, well, a little tired, no? The desire's there and, fair play, they've dug out some great performances but they seem to be a team playing from memory, not one at the peak of its mental and physical powers.

Perhaps spinner Graeme Swann  hit the nail on the head earlier this week when he questioned whether cricketers can produce high-quality cricket given the number of games they play each year. Apart from three days, the team has been on the road since October 29th, a schedule Swann considers 'ludicrous' and in 'danger of overkill'.

In August 1999, England were ranked bottom of the nine Test playing nations and so central contracts which were introduced so the ECB would have greater access and control over the players. Not a perfect system, but one which has played its part in the team's renaissance. Yet this winter there's a sense that's been undermined as the team has been put through a punishing schedule. As Swann said: "We know the reasons why there are so many games and they are purely financial. Maybe one day commonsense will come into it."

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Review - Stokoe, Sunderland and '73

Orion. £12.99 Out now

Once upon a time the FA Cup meant more than finishing fourth in the League and in those days - before saturation TV coverage - the final itself was the football event of the year. This book, as the title suggests, tells the story of the biggest fairytale of them all - Sunderland's victory over Leeds United in 1973.

It's hard to underplay what a staggering achievement Sunderland's win was. Leeds, the Cup holders, were in their pomp at the time and fielded 11 full internationals, whereas Sunderland had none and were 250-1 outsiders at the start of the competition.

The appointment of journeyman manager Bob Stokoe turned the club's season on its head bringing much-needed pride back to club and town alike. He arrived in November 1972 with Sunderland in 19th and staring relegation in the face but by the end of the season they had beaten three of England's best teams - Manchester City, Arsenal and Leeds - on the way to the Cup and risen to sixth in the League.

Stokoe spent most of his playing career with Sunderland's bitter rivals Newcastle United, winning the FA Cup with them in 1955. The size of his achievement with the Roker Park club can be summed up by the fact that following their semi-final defeat of Arsenal, the fans would always hail him as the Messiah.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Is it time for David Moyes to leave Everton?

According to The People last Sunday, David Moyes is a "shock target for wealthy German club Hoffenheim". It might not have been the headline Everton fans wanted to read over their cornflakes, but let's be honest the time does seem right for their boss to pack up his bags and move on to a fresh challenge.

Moyes was appointed by Everton nine years ago today and there is a growing sense that he has taken the club as far as he can. Fourth place in 2005 was not capitalised on the following season as the Toffees failed to make the lucrative Champions League group stages and an FA Cup final place in 2009 ended in defeat to Guus Hiddink's Chelsea.

This season has been disappointing on the pitch and sparked a whole raft of speculation that the Scot is about to quit while amazingly some fans have been calling for him to be sacked.

Hurry up, Fergie

Worryingly for Everton, their manager is integral to their success. Since the creation of Premier League and prior to Moyes' arrival in 2002, Everton only once finished in the top half once while twice avoiding the drop by the skin of teeth. Since his arrival the club has only finished outside the top ten twice, including two fifth places and a monopoly-busting fourth spot.

However, the Scot has become increasingly hamstrung in the transfer market. Last summer saw him restricted to free transfers and the January transfer window saw Steven Pienaar sold Tottenham for £3m and strikers Yakubu Aiyegbeni and James Vaughan offloaded on loan with Moyes unable to replace them.

Everton's accounts, released last month, showed an increase in both borrowing and debt (from £37.9m to £44.9). This last figure would have been higher had it not been for the sale of the Bellefield training ground for £8m. The club is in need of a fresh injection of cash, but while effectively having been on the market since 2008, there have been no takers. Despite their fetching pink away strip, the future doesn't look too bright for the Toffees.

All this is a far cry from the Eighties when, in four glorious seasons, Everton won the title twice as well as the FA Cup and the Cup Winners Cup. Unfortunately that great side was never able to test themselves in the European Cup due to the post-Heysel ban but, none-the-less, the club was part of the 'Big Five' (along with Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham) whose calls for a break-away league led to the creation of the Premier League.

Yet, while once the club was once a driving force for change, now they seem stuck in the past. The recently-published 2009/2010 Deloitte Money League has seven English clubs in Europe's top 20. Everton are not one of them. They are the eighth highest-earning English (27th overall) some  £12.8m behind Aston Villa. But for Newcastle's relegation in 2009, Everton would have been a place lower this year; such is the revenue-generating potential of St James' Park (the extension of which is arguably the one thing the Toon Army's owners have got right over the years).

If anything, it's Everton's inability to fulfil their plans to relocate from Goodison Park which is really holding back the club. The importance of new ground is clear for all to see - Arsenal more than doubled their match-day revenue (from £44m to £91) in 2006/07 - their first season in The Emirates and this explains why so many clubs from Spurs and West Ham to Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool are desperate to find new, larger homes.

What might have been

Disastrously for Everton, in November 2009 they had their application for a new ground at Kirkby blocked and to date, no plan B has emerged, which creates a catch 22 for the club - potential new owners are unlikely to shell out knowing they will have to build a new stadium to make The Toffees financially viable, but a new ground is not possible without an influx of cash.

So where does this leave Moyes? As Jonathan Wilson points out in Sports illustrated, with Everton the cups present the best hope of silverware and, arguably, European competition but if Moyes prioritises them at the expense of the League, then a relegation battle awaits. Is that really what he should be aiming for at this stage of his career?

Because Moyes has been a manager for so long it's easy to forget that at 47 (a year younger than Jose Mourinho) he's still a baby well, maybe a toddler in managerial terms with a potentially great career ahead of him - Sir Alex Ferguson has already suggested Moyes should be his successor.

At the weekend, Everton owner Bill Kenwright said he wouldn't stand in his manager's way if Manchester United came calling. The reality is, Moyes might not want to wait at Goodison to see if that approach is made.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Goals on Film: The Manageress Series 1

Back in the day when we had a female Prime Minister and David Cameron was just a twinkle in Margaret Thatcher's eye, The Manageress, staring Cherie Lunghi, hit British screens. The series, which aired in the summer of 1989, came at a time when we began to look at Football differently.

Written by Stan Hey, it's the story of Gabriella Benson a successful businesswoman who is a keen fan of the club in the (unidentified) northern town where she lives. We see in a small prologue how she inherits her love of the game from her estranged, Italian father and it is through his influence as a Uefa committee member that she becomes manager of the club. 

In many respects the series provides a snap-shot of the way football used to be. The club is in the Second Division (that's the Championship for all you post-decimal kids) and facilities for fans and players alike are terrible - it's strange to remember quite how bad things were back then.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Why homophobia's the real problem (not snoods)

Phew! Finally the game's law-makers have spoken on the big issue of the day and we can all relax. Snoods have been banned.

The International Football Association Board's edict came into immediate effect due to the 'potential danger' posed by the neck warmers (despite the fact players have been wearing them for years in Europe with no ill-effects). Some other stuff came out of their meeting about goal-line technology possibly being used at the next World Cup, but who cares about that? As long as no one accidentally hangs themselves from the crossbar.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Are footballers really role models?

The Golden generation, eh? They've let us down at every turn. Mind you, when it comes to being naughty they're up there with the best of them.

Last weekend's revelations that Chelsea's Ashley Cole shot a student on work placement at the club with an air rifle are only the latest in a long line concerning Cashley and his pals. 

There's John Terry (celebrity Dad of the Year 2009) who was stripped of the England captaincy for having an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-partner of his best pal and fellow England teammate Wayne Bridge.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Gaddafi: Italian football's unlikely teammate

As we all know, football is officially The Most Important Thing In The World™. So forget about all the deaths, the huge oil price hike and the uncertain global political future; how does the argy bargy in the Middle East affect the beautiful game?

Well, for one thing it's making the future for Juventus a little bit foggy. Lafico, the Libyan state investment authority, is the club's second largest share-holder with a 7.5% stake (worth in the region of 13m). As tension has risen in the North African country so, conversely, the price of shares in La Vecchia Signora has fallen by around 3%.

Any hopes the club might have for a quick and tidy divorce are unlikely. Juve's spokesman Marco Re recently said he had 'no idea' what Lafico would do with its shares. Not that that seems to bother the club's president Andrea Angnelli, who only yesterday said: "We are not worried. There is nothing we can do."

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What price a goalkeeper?

So, there we have it. Arsenal's hunt for a trophy goes on and their supposedly inevitable coronation as League Cup winners was thwarted by a Wojciech Szczesny error between the posts - the one area continually identified as a weakness since Arsene Wenger failed to land an experienced replacement for Manuel Almunia prior to the start of the season.

Due to his unwillingness to pay more than £2m for Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, a player tried and tested in the Premier League, Wenger entered the season with Almunia as an unconvincing No 1 and two young, relatively inexperienced players - Lukasz Fabianski and Szczesny - as his back ups and all three players have made highly-costly mistakes this season.