Tuesday, 19 June 2012


The clock was close to midnight, with desperate sports journalists scrambling down some late thoughts in a last-ditch attempt to make the first edition, as England's players approached their small but incredibly vocal band of supporters in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

"England's number one," was belted out by the travelling army and in turn Joe Hart turned to them, punching in the air in more of a manner of a local non-league player simply delighted to be getting an opportunity to be playing semi-professional football for his hometown club. It was refreshing. Hart's actions were followed by similar recognition towards the crowd from his fellow players.

England had just beaten Sweden 3-2 in extraordinary circumstances. Coming from 2-1 down to win meant it was the first time since Cameroon in 1990 that the Three Lions had recovered from a second half deficit to win at a major tournament. It was essentially an away game for England, just three or four thousand fans in a 60,000 crowd, with thousands of Swedish fans inside the stadium.

It was also the first time I had watched England play in a competitive game since 2007 (Russia). Due to a combination of factors, including work reasons, finding time to watch England has become impossible. I was there purely as a fan. Events like Wayne Rooney's outburst at supporters after England drew with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup (where he publicly criticised Three Lions fans who had turned on the players) hardly helped. An unloved England - until now.

But I saw an opportunity to have time off and booked a few days in Kiev, a beautiful city, with friendly people, remarkably different to the hostile and sullen residents of Moscow. I'm glad I did. I saw the rapport between English footballers millionaires and their supporters return.

Having an English manager helps. Roy Hodgson has shades of Sir Bobby Robson in him, a decent likeable gentleman who just wants to do the right thing. His players clearly understand him and are also wanting to play for him.

A small gesture like singing the national anthem also helps the players become liked. England supporters belt out God Save the Queen and they expect the men representing them to be equally passionate. All eleven starting players and manager sang the anthem for the first two games in Euro 2012, and most bellowing it out in the manner of a rugby player.

It also looks like England's players are bothered about playing for their country again, after years where club football appeared to be the be-all-and-end-all. England fans can put up with a lot. They know this crop isn't the best, they know the sides of the last 20 years have been so much better. But just giving their all helps: Scott Parker flying into challenges, Steven Gerrard's surging runs just like at Liverpool, Andy Carroll competing for every header and the defence calm and well organised.

It did not take much but with thanks to the small things, England's supporters found it considerably easier to get fully behind the team when they went down to 2-1. In recent years, the Three Lions would have crumbled and the team would have been severely criticised during the game. Not so this time. Walcott, 2-2. Welbeck, 3-2. Job done.

England supporters stayed behind for half an hour after the game. Not because they were forced to for security reasons. They wanted to revel in the victory and more importantly than that, they at last felt part of a win. Three Lions was played over the tannoy. It seemed fitting. Whatever happens in the remainder of the tournament, it seems as if, for the first time since 1996, this England side have become loved again.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A Grim day for football

With a rare Saturday off, I decided to progress with my ambition to "do the 92" (attend all Football League & Premier League grounds - I'm currently on 80-odd).

My destination was the Pirelli Stadium for Burton Albion v Grimsby Town, a match that the visitors needed to win to maintain their 99-year Football League status.

I was told that although tickets would be available on the day, security would be tight and you needed identification of a Burton Albion association. Armed with my Premier League & Football League press accreditation, I thought that would be suitable back up to help me out if necessary.

But what happened? I turned up at the turnstile about 2pm, paid my money and walked in. Easy as that.

It was no surprise therefore to see Grimsby fans dotted all the way around the entire ground. Although a large number of these were keen only to ensure the best possible atmosphere, sadly a fair percentage were seemingly there exclusively for trouble.

First, when Greg Pearson had given Burton the lead somewhat against the run of play, one Grimsby "fan" ran on to the pitch and pushed his own keeper Nick Colgan. There were similar attempts from visitors from the away end to encroach during the rest of the half especially after Shaun Harrad's scrappy second which sealed the Mariners' fate.

The second half was even worse. Harrad scored a wonder third from a free kick. He ran to what he thought was his own fans and slid on his knees. One Grimsby fan ran on and attempted to belt him, prompting an incident between Burton players and a Grimsby contingent. No police in sight because they were all at the other end of the ground.

Grimsby fans spent the last five minutes of the game on the pitch from all sides with stewards and police having a difficult job to ensure the match reached its conclusion.

Violence then erupted at the end with Grimsby supporters attempting to attack anyone they could see. They picked up advertising hoardings before police only managed to gain some kind of control with a baton charge.

Fans from the likes of Plymouth Argyle and my own Wycombe Wanderers have taken this season's relegations with great dignity. However the actions of a large number of Grimsby supporters ensure they will certainly not be missed from the Football League.

And I used to have a soft spot for the men from Cleethorpes.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Santa Clause

The complexity of football transfers sometimes bears no bounds. Fees can be dependant on appearances, a new club's league position or a percentage of sell ons.

It is the one that specifies a club will be due a certain amount of money if player makes x number of appearances that really gets my goat.

This week Middlesbrough's Gary O'Neil did not travel with his side to Plymouth. Why, I hear you ask? Because O'Neil has made 99 appearances for Boro. One more will mean they have to pay another £1 million to Portsmouth as agreed when a transfer was arranged in 2007.

Ridiculously unfair on the player who is now in limbo. And also an insult to the fans that watch the game.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Christmas is for football. Apparently not.

Once upon a time Football League clubs scheduled plenty of matches around Christmas, Easter and the Bank Holidays. Peak times for peak attendances.

Now it seems as if the league wants the cash-strapped clubs to play more matches on Tuesday nights in November and December in freezing temperatures.

Many clubs will have just two festive fixtures this season - Boxing Day and Monday, December 28. The FA & Football League have decided to schedule FA Cup 3rd round day for Saturday, Janaury 2 meaning there will be no New Year's fixture for many League 1 & 2 clubs (there is a League 1 & 2 programme scheduled for that day but with a few clubs still in the FA Cup some of these will be cancelled).

The league recently removed the August Bank Holiday as a fixture date while Easter Monday will be without Premier League fixtures.

You have to be a real football obsessive (or a masochist, one of the two) to watch the game on cold wintery evenings when full snowman outfit is required. Southampton had to play a league match at Hartlepool only two weeks ago.

Yet another example of the FA, Football and Premier Leagues shooting themselves in the foot.

Seeds of doubt

I can't decide whether I'm looking forward to tonight's World Cup draw or not.

On the one hand, we can discover who everyone is playing, where England fans will scramble for accommodation and look forward to the greatest sporting event there is.

On the other, the draw is over-hyped (especially by Sky Sports who don't even have the rights to show the event) and there should be no great surprises. Once again FIFA's seeding system leaves a lot to be desired. Favouring the big teams (or the ones that give them the most money), all top eight seeds should qualify for the next stage even given the worst case scenario. Two of the eight seeds will have to face the not so mighty France and Portugal. Bless.

After the ridiculous seeding system for the play-offs, surely FIFA need to have a re-think. Everyone has qualified for the World Cup on merit. Surely they should have equal chance in the competition proper?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Raking it in

If ever football can be confirmed as being out of touch with the masses, now is it.

The FA, on behalf of FIFA, have released World Cup ticket prices to the Englandfans members (to become a member fans pay £85 every two years). To see the World Cup Final, members can apply for cheapest priced tickets @ £265 rising to £592 for the most expensive. Even quarter-final matches will set you back over £100.

This in a country where you can get a bottle of beer for £1 and comfortably get a three-course meal in a restaurant for less than a tenner.

And to put things into perspective, ticket prices for the test matches in South Africa over the next two months can be bought for merely £2.50 a day (rising to £7 a day for the most expensive seats).

So the next time you hear one of those Sepp Blatter speeches on what FIFA are doing for familes, the game, the community, the masses, ignore it. He'll only be talking claptrap.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

arrogance.com @ St James' Park

Yes, Newcastle fans and observers are right to be up in arms over the decision to rename St James' Park, sportsdirect.com @ St James' Park Stadium. But the fact that Toon disgust has reached the Commons only sums up just how arrogant supporters connected to that club are.

Why are Newcastle so special? Why has the issue of stadium naming rights being sold off in the name of sponsorship only come into fruition now?

Bradford City's famous Valley Parade ground is sponsored. So too is Bournemouth's Dean Court, Dagenham's Victoria Road, Shrewsbury's New Meadow, Walsall's Bescot Stadium, Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road. All of these names are no longer - certainly according to their official titles.

The situation is just as bad in non-league football. Even UniBond North Division One side Bamber Bridge's famous Irongate ground has been renamed in favour of a few extra pounds.

Bradford once warned all media that their ground must be referred to by its sponsored name - or journalists would face the consequences.

My own team, Wycombe Wanderers renamed their Adams Park ground (named after the gentleman that donated the old Loakes Park ground to the club for free) to the Causeway Stadium earlier this century for a fee of just £10,000 per annum before coming to their senses.

All this is wrong, wrong, wrong. It crosses the line between a viable business revenue and something that is sacrosanct. It upsets the fans who matter the most.

But Newcastle are definitely not a special case.