Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

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Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

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Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

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Football – In Tact as Ever (Part One)

by Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 4th 2015)

Hmmm!

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Qatar 2022: World Cup fall-out could tear football apart …” – Dan Roan BBC Sports-editor

If they donʼt believe it, why are they saying it, if they do believe it, they shouldnʼt be soccer analysts, so one way or another, they are wrong. Sometimes when you see these clowns…..well, then, you would have to wonder not about my sanity, but the BBCʼs sanity …”

The latter quote was made by the Former Manchester United and Milwall player, Eamon Dunphy, reflecting on BBC Match-of-The-Day Pundits during the 2006/2007 Premier League Season. So where does this leave us?

Weʼve been here before. Either the BBC donʼt believe what they are broadcasting or publishing, or they have gone mad. If they do believe it, they arenʼt fit for purpose, that purpose being to follow their mission, ʻTo enrich peopleʼs lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertainʼ.

So, what is the BBC saying? In perfect keeping with the tone of their attack which commenced with gusto on December 2nd 2010, the BBC continue to react to every utterance by and announcement of FIFA with a contrary response which both finds fault with whatever pronouncement FIFA has offered whilst seeking to always remind the viewer/reader that FIFA is corrupt, is upsetting football, is racist, is out of touch, hates women, and is just generally no good.

The New Mission

The BBC is no opinion-piece merchant. Funded by the taxpayer, and with an explicit mission to ʻenrich, entertain and educateʼ, they appear capable only of one of above trifecta, namely entertainment. 

Entertaining their own opinion, entertaining the opinion of conventional wisdom, entertaining the opinion of whatever agenda must be pushed, foisted and promoted until the target audience is left in no two minds about how things are and how things must be. Regarding FIFA, they operate a one-size-fits-all policy, employing key words in their riposte, irrespective of what it is that FIFA may have said.

Roan doesnʼt run the BBC, and is merely an agent of same. He is however the sports-editor of the BBC News. Fresh from goading, rather than entertaining, informing or educating Liverpool fans during the protracted takeover of the club by Fenway Sports Group (then a Sports Correspondent) Roan now today finds himself charged with spearheading BBCʼs latest thrust against that perennial threat to Global Peace and Harmony – FIFA.

Knock, Knock, Knocking

The door of FIFA has been kicked, yet the rest of the rotten structure seems not at all close to crashing down. FIFA, the masters of largesse, have pushed out the boat in many quarters, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and now Russia and Qatar. This largesse has made them very popular, especially in Asia and Africa.

It is no surprise that these are confederations that have many votes, which comes in handy at election time. Carry Asia and Africa and simple arithmetic tells the result – a lesson some have not grasped. Sepp Blatter certainly understood it.

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FIFAʼs major product – the World Cup – is something nations compete with each other to host. Football is increasingly popular and is the dominant global sport. England wanted to host the 2018 World Cup and failed to get enough votes. The results were a national embarrassment. It was not a bad bid, but it was out of step with FIFAʼs intentions and also those of individual federations.

Ever since, we have been treated to a monologue on the ills of FIFA. We are now expected to believe that Football itself is on the very verge of destruction because FIFA has decided to host the 2022 World Cup during the ʻWinterʼ of that year.

What is Football?

Football? Torn Apart? What is football? What does somebody mean when they say ʻFootballʼ. Do they mean the ball itself? Football, the game or sport? Football, the TV slot? Football, the Industry? 

When Roan and the BBC opine that ʻFootball could be torn apartʼ, they think, or more accurately want us to think, that they are talking about football in the Global, organized grass-roots sense of the word.

Football associations, football clubs, jumpers-for-goalposts, Football tournaments, the very fabric of football itself, the very essence of the game, is at risk. Uncle Sepp is going to get us all. In fact, the BBC are are referring, perhaps blithely, to their own narrow, oblique view of what football is and what football is about. Football the business, football….our businessOur gameThe game we gave the WorldThis thing of ours. 

Outraged?

It is no great leap to suggest that their contrived outrage stems from a sense of loss, a sense of exclusion, that they are no longer running the show and are merely instead a bit part of an organization that pays them no heed.

Third-party private organizations are entitled to organize their events as they see fit. It is up to other parties how they respond to this. Jérôme Valcke, FIFAʼs General Secretary, has told people to “Get on with it”. BBC pundits Danny Mills and Phil Neville agree with Valcke, but Roan has responded by kicking and screaming. He could do worse than consider the sentiments of the aforementioned home-grown pundits and others who have asked candidly, “Whatʼs the problem”?

The problem is that certain people have a bee in their bonnet about FIFA and rather than express it, they prefer to engage in tangential oblique nonsense. Mr Roan wants the reader to consider how the Winter World Cup imposes on the ʻCherished Festive Fixture Programmeʼ. It is lovely alliteration. It is also terrible reason. This ʻFestive Fixture Programmeʼ is not in fact a programme as much as it is semi-organized chaos, itself the subject of no small perennial, year-round criticism by domestic parties, It is bemoaned and criticized by players and managers alike, all year, every year. It is not liked. It is due for reform.

Hedged Bets

The author has hedged his bets. Perhaps aware that the ʻfestive disruptionʼ claim was as tenuous as it was false, Roan claims that More international friendlies are almost certain to be sacrificed.”  But International Friendlies are themselves the bane of the very Premier League whose best interests Mr Roan says are being interfered with.

However, we know how important some of these international friendlies can be. Consider one in particular. England tried to do business with Jack Warner by travelling to Trinidad & Tobago for a nothing friendly in 2008 in order to court Warner into providing support in CONCACAF to vote for England to host the World Cup of 2018. It was a fiasco as extracts of Michael Garciaʼs report on corruption in FIFA show. FIFA gleefully released those extracts, which suggested that Warner et al received a quid pro quo from that ill-advised friendly.

After this match Warner was exposed as corrupt and quit FIFA, exposing some of his dealings with the very dubious former head of the USAʼs federation, Chuck Blazer. Warner has a history – he was caught selling his complimentary tickets for the 2006 World Cup. He paid it back and it was business as usual until Blazer, once Warnerʼs protégé, decided that his apprenticeship had lasted long enough and tried to oust Warner.

It is conveniently forgotten that the fall of Qatari football executive and once cheer-leader of Blatterʼs 1998 bid for the Presidency of FIFA, Mohamed bin Hammam, was originally expelled from FIFA due to his attempt to ʻbuyʼ Warnerʼs influence for his own Presidential bid – exposed by Blazer. The American is no whistle-blowing anti-corruption pioneer. Blazer was neck-high in Warnerʼs shenanigans. But Warner was targeted by England to help their World Cup bid. Does this not question their anti-corruption credentials?

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England now wants to talk about corruption, but what was the football reason for the 2008 fixture in the Caribbean? What did then England manager Fabio Capello gain or learn from it? Did Capello request that particular opponent and if so why? For FIFA, attack became the best form of defence – given an open goal by the FA.

Perhaps England would do well to hold her tongue. but they try to berate FIFAʼs corruption. The BBC was at least consistent. Andrew Jennings has highlighted FIFAʼs corruption issues long before it became fashionable to do so. The FA complained that the BBCʼs Panorama programmeʼs exposé of corruption in FIFA on the eve of the vote impacted negatively on Englandʼs doomed bid.

A cursory examination of recent events lends no small credence to the opinion that England should keep its counsel. England had hoped to host the 2018 World Cup which instead went to Russia – worse still the Russia of Putins, Abramovichs, Usmanovs and Berezovsksy, etc.

England was shocked – outraged even. They had after all run a ʻgreat campaignʼ, part of which had been courting the influence of Jack Warner. Their bid had been officially presented by Prince William, nephew of Prince Andrew, the former trade envoy who told the Serious Fraud Office to keep out of the British Aerospace deal with Saudi Arabia. Glass houses?

Development Path

the ICC,by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Two days ago cricketʼs 50 over-per side World Cup produced its first major shock – well Ireland outplayed the West Indies, chasing down a target of over 300. The West Indies had recovered from a rocky start and Ireland had a major wobble near the end. Nobody could argue that Ireland deserved their win. At least one cricketing great, the West Indiesʼ superb fast bowler Michael Holding, sees no reason for Ireland to have to wait.

Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. We agree. It is essential for Ireland to continue to develop and that cannot happen as it should if Irelandʼs best players have no option, but to seek eligibility for other nations – England – if they want to test themselves. For top cricketers Test Matches are the real deal.

Twenty20 is the popular format and the one that carries riches, but Test matches are the measure of greatness. As Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sagakkara told us in 2009, “No player talks about scoring 2000 runs in Twenty20 internationals, but they all want to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket”. So what choice do the best Irish cricketers have? If they want to test themselves they have no choice at the moment – itʼs England or no Test Matches for them.

Joyce

Almost five years ago we secured an exclusive interview with Ed Joyce – a player who has experienced everything possible as an Irish cricketer. He made his name with Ireland before they achieved their great upsets and played First Class (county) cricket in England. He developed as a cricketer as far as he could with Ireland at that time.

He wanted to test his skills in the cauldron of Test cricket. He had no choice. It had to be England. He was in and out of Englandʼs side – too good for Ireland, but not good enough for England. Joyce was eligible for England between 2006-2010. He wanted to play Test cricket, believed that he was good enough, but never played one. So what remained for him?

Joyce chose to play for Ireland again in 2010 and was fast-tracked through eligibility in order to play in 2011 World Cup. He played in the ODI World Cup of 2007 as well, but for England, thereby missing Irelandʼs most successful World Cup to date. Ireland announced their arrival in that tournament with wins over Pakistan and also Bangladesh.

Reward

In 2011 they beat the old enemy England and this year they added the scalp of the West Indies, albeit a team in disarray after an ugly spat between Board and players over payments. Nevertheless, Irelandʼs performance is impressive. They chased down 304 with 25 balls to spare, winning by 4 wickets.

It could have been more as with victory in sight, mainly thanks to 92 from Paul Stirling, 84 from the 36-year-old Joyce and an unbeaten 79 from Niall OʼBrien, Ireland suffered a wobble. But Ireland has a strong case to join the élite nations. Scores of 300+ have only been chased down 5 times – three of them have been by Ireland.

They have performed consistently in the last three World Cups, knocking off their supposed betters. Itʼs time the ICC rewarded the progress they have made with the ultimate prize. For a decade they will most likely be awful. So what. Everyone else was too when they first became Test playing nations.

They must not be afraid to lose – they need to learn a new format. It may take several years. Again, so what? If the popularity of Test cricket is to grow, the ICC must not duck the Ireland test. It is the only way that future Ed Joyces and Eoin Morgans will stay and play for Ireland – they need to keep their best players if they are to continue to develop and achieve their potential.

Return

Well I’ve thrown my hat in with Ireland, being an Irishman”, Joyce told us, “so I just came over and played for England and as I’ve always said before I wouldn’t give those England memories up for anything, but I feel my future is with Ireland”.

But why? “They’re an improving cricketing nation and I would like to be a part of that improvement, so hopefully I’ve got five or six years playing for them and do good things for them in the World Cup and what not”, he said.

Forward-Planing

So how did he see Ireland progressing? “I think it’s important that we keep getting into the big tournaments”, Joyce said. “That’s the most important thing. Exposure’s important at home, because it’s one of the lesser games. There’s obviously three or four sports much bigger than cricket, so we’ve just got to keep trying to get to the big competitions – the World Cups – and keep performing and keep getting games against the big teams and putting in decent performances, because I think that’s the key to keep the exposure there and all the young players will come up and hopefully the standard will improve and there’ll be a bit more money coming in and it becomes a virtuous circle where everything starts improving”.

He wasnʼt wrong. Joyce didnʼt think that Ireland was ready for Test cricket. In fact he thought it was a long way off. It seems that five years is a long time in cricket. No less an authority than Michael Holding wants to see Ireland take the next step in their development – Test status. Who are we to disagree?

The Concrete Test

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Rewarding Success

Are Ireland minnows any more? Despite losing some of their best players to England – understandably lured by the desire to play Test cricket, they still manage to produce good cricketers. They have beaten England and Pakistan and this week added the scalp of the West Indies after chasing down a target of over 300.

They should have won more comfortably than they did, but with an easy victory in sight they had a wobble. Theyʼll learn from it. Well, they will if the International Cricket Council (ICC) give them the chance to.

One of cricketʼs greats Michael Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. They need it if they are to develop. Letʼs not forget that it took decades for the West Indies to turn from outclassed minnows into one of the most dominant sides cricket has ever seen.

Convenient Memories

India were terrible at first and South Africa were not in the same class as England and Australia. New Zealand were awful too at first. And the swash-buckling Sri Lankans were no different. They too had a rocky start – look at them now. Two of the greats of cricket are in their swansong. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara will go down in history as greats – not just of Sri Lankan cricket, but of cricket.

So letʼs ignore the convenient memories that focus on Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – the most recent additions. They still need time to learn and adapt to Test cricket and Ireland will too. Thatʼs no reason to deny Ireland the chance to grow. If cricket is to appeal beyond its traditional support base it must give the ʻlesserʼ nations a seat at the big table.

Ireland is cricketʼs most important test of that currently. Do we want to see another Netherlands? The potential was there to develop Dutch cricket less than a decade ago. A sensational victory against England in the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009 demonstrated that there was talent in Dutch cricket. They developed in that format, but not in the longer ones.

The Netherlands lost their ODI status last year after holding it for 8 years. Canada lost theirs too, but the biggest surprise and waste was Kenya, which had held it since 1996 – the same year they surprised the mighty West Indies. But none of these nations got to take the next step – nor were they developed for it. They still havenʼt been. The price was stagnation and then regression.

This must not happen again with Ireland. Almost five years ago we spoke exclusively to one of Irelandʼs stalwarts – still – Ed Joyce. His thoughts on Irish cricket were illuminating and coming very soon!

Harsh Lesson

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

Germany Poops Party

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The European champions are currently ranked second in the world. England came into the historic and prestigious friendly oozing confidence from an impressive run in World Cup qualification – both sides had won all ten of their qualification matches, but the gulf in class was clear. Nevertheless, Karen Carney celebrating her 100th cap and striker Eniola Aluko still believe that England could pull a surprise at next year’s World Cup.

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6 minutes into the match Melanie Behringer’s corner was headed past Karen Bardsley to give Germany the lead. The goal was credited to Simone Laudehr, although other angles showed that it was an own-goal by Alex Scott. Six minutes a team huddle heralded further organisation was necessary after conceding a sloppy second.

Miscommunication between the captain Stephanie Houghton and their most experienced player Fara Williams resulted in Williams prodding it into the path of Germany’s skipper for the afternoon Célia Šašić1, who was playing her 99th international. Šašić needed no second invitation. Her progress was easier than it should have been. Scott couldn’t get to her and Lucy Bronze fell between two stools – neither challenging her nor covering another attacker. Šašić found the far corner from the left.

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Awed?

The Lionesses have never beaten Germany in 19 attempts. Five years ago they were beaten 6-2 in the final of the European Championship. There was no shortage of spirit, but German quality and organisation was superior. The benefits of their infrastructure, development policies, youth structures and longer established league were plain to see.

Carney showed that spirit to dispossess Tabea Kemme near the halfway and press forward before Lena Goeßling came across to snuff out the danger at the expense of a corner. Williams was poised to take it, but Swiss referee Ester Staubli raced across and refused to let her take it – apparently ordering her to go and get treatment for a leg injury. The corner was wasted.

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Šašić’s goal – assuming that the first is credited as an own goal – was the first conceded by England to a European on home soil since 2009 against Iceland. The defence was normally their greatest strength at home, but the opponents were a different class and uncharacteristic errors and perhaps awe. Meanwhile, the Germans had insisted that they were excited about playing at Wembley, but would not let pressure get to them. They were good to their word.

Positives

It could have been different as England almost got the perfect start within seconds of the start. Jordan Nobbs’ swerving 22 yard effort thudded against the cross-bar with keeper Almuth Schult, deputising for team captain Nadine Angerer who couldn’t make it over from Australia in time, beaten. Germany countered swiftly. Bardsley denied Melanie Leupolz’s effort from the right of the area.

Nobbs went close again with a looping header that Schult claimed and took to the line. Nobbs appealed for a goal, but there was no evidence that the whole of the ball had crossed the line. Another marginal decision occurred around the half hour mark.

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Leupolz was denied again after savvy defending by Arsenal striker Lianne Sanderson defending a free-kick. As Behringer took it Sanderson stepped up to catch Leupolz offside. It was needed as Leupolz headed it in. It was rightly disallowed for offside. Interestingly the officials got both major decisions right without the aid of technology.

Williams almost profited from a poor defensive clearance by Jennifer Cramer, which she controlled neatly and then volleyed at goal, but too close to Schult. In first half injury time Alexandra Popp found Kemme on the right wing. Her cross was headed in to Bardsley’s left. A record attendance for a women’s international of over 45,000 was a positive too.

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Improvement

The Lionesses failed to score, but they held the European champions in the second half, although Silvia Neid’s team lost the fluency of their first half play in the final quarter with one notable exception. Just over 20 minutes into the second half substitute Anja Mittag crossed from the left wing.

Šašić sensing a hat-trick stretched to connect, but her header was weak and easy for Bardsley. Šašić was unaware that substitute Luisa Wensing coming in behind her was in a better position. Wensing was not amused.

Mittag had been quite rightly booked for a sliding tackle that sent Williams flying ten minutes earlier. With injury time beckoning England went close. Bronze found space on the right wing and pulled it back to Jodie Taylor who put Jill Scott through, but her shot hit the side netting.

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1 Šašić, formerly possessed the longest surname in German women’s football – Okoyino da Mbabi – before marrying Croatian footballer Marko Šašić last year.

A Long Time Coming

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

A Change is Gonna Come

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It;s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”, sang the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. Just 42 years ago Englandʼs womenʼs football team played their first international against Scotland at Greenock since the FAʼs 50 year-long ban on womenʼs football was overturned. Prior to that outrageous ban womenʼs football had been popular. Before the ʻWar to End All Warsʼ it had even threatened to eclipse menʼs football.

The ban had a seriously detrimental effect. Other nations had not stood still and there was now a lot of catching up to do as the lack of exposure, investment and development of infrastructure all took a heavy toll on the sport. The first international that England played was in Scotland, but that squad had trained at Wembley Stadium ahead of that match. That team captained by Sheila Parker, who was later inducted into the Hall of fame, never got to play a match on the famous turf.

Against the Odds

This afternoon – almost 50 years after Cooke was murdered – a seismic change will come to Wembley Stadium. History will be made and itʼs long overdue, as Englandʼs women will play at Wembley Stadium against European champions Germany in front of around 50,000 football fans. Five years ago England met Germany in the final of the European Championship, losing 6-2. Both teams have a very impressive record in qualifiers for next yearʼs World Cup.

Just five years ago the best English talent had to go abroad to develop their skills to the maximum. There was no professional league here. Lianne Sanderson is a classic example. She had the dedication and talent to become a professional footballer, but like Kelly Smith before her, she had to go to the USA where the sport was taken seriously.

She had played for both Arsenal and Chelsea before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. She also played in Spain before another stint in the USA. After that she returned to Arsenal, the club she started her life in football at, a better player, having benefited from a commitment to womenʼs football in the USA that was absent here at the time.

Now the Football Association has demonstrated that it is committed to womenʼs football. In 2010 the FA delivered a long-awaited promise – the Womenʼs Super League. Liverpool recently won the title after a nail-biting conclusion to the season. Sanderson has returned, helping to build that league and pass on what she has learned.

Making History

The challenges are immense. Television wasnʼt interested in womenʼs football at first, but that has changed. The first time they will play at the home of football, the BBC will cover the match live. Another piece of history will be made as Birmingham Cityʼs Karen Carney will receive her golden cap.

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Carney, like Sanderson, has come full circle – a journey that took her to Arsenal and then Chicago before returning to Birmingham. She won her first cap in 2005 – the youngest player given a debut by former manager Hope Powell. The winger has scored 14 times for England. She also played five matches for Great Britain during Londonʼs Olympic Games in 2012 including at Wembley against Brasil.

She will become only the seventh English female player to reach the landmark. She will join Gillian Coulthard, Kelly Smith, Casey Stoney, Rachel Unitt, Fara Williams and Rachel Yankey as Englandʼs female centurions. She will also be the youngest, aged just 27. Carney hopes that this afternoonʼs match will be the first of many at Wembley.

Coulthardʼs record of 119 caps was beaten by Yankey two years ago. Yankey is Englandʼs most capped player with 129, but she is over 200 caps shy of the most capped player ever, the USAʼs Kristine Lilley who appeared for her country a staggering 352 times.

No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

Slovenia Celebrate

Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

Slovenia Celebrate

Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

England Celebrate Goal

Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa