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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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.

Suárezʼ Alleged Bite Mars Uruguayʼs Win

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2013)

Third Bite

Atlético de Madridʼs Diego Godínʼs 81st minute winner put Uruguay into the last 16, almost certainly to face fellow South Americans Colombia. The story should have been about their performance, but it wonʼt be. FIFA will examine footage of an incident two minutes earlier as Liverpoolʼs Luis Suárez and Juventusʼ Giorgio Chiellini clashed.

Both should have been dismissed, but the fall-out is likely to be far more serious as Suárez appeared to bite Chiellini. If the footage confirms it it will be the third time Suárez has bitten a fellow player and will surely lead to a very lengthy ban. Chiellini certainly believed that Suárez had bitten him and tried to show the officials his shoulder.

It was ridiculous not to send Suárez off for biting me”, Chiellini said to RAI TV, but the Méxican referee Marco Rodríguez Moreno was unmoved by Chielliniʼs attempt to show him the bite marks.

Actions

FIFA will investigate further. If confirmed as seems likely Suárez will miss the rest of the World Cup and face further sanction. FIFAʼs Disciplinary Code allows it to be reviewed and its maximum sanctions are 24 matches or a 2 year ban, even though the harshest punishment imposed in a World Cup was the disgraceful elbow in the face of Spainʼs Luis Enrique by Italyʼs Mauro Tassotti in 1994.

It would be the third time that Suárez has bitten a player. In 2010, while playing for Ajax he was banned for seven matches for biting PSV Eindhovenʼs Otman Bakkal. Last year the FA banned Suárez for 10 matches for biting Chelseaʼs Branislav Ivanović. He missed the start of the season and then played so well that he became the Player of the Year and deservedly so.

Controversy

Italy began the match needing just a draw to progress to the last 16. Despite rough treatment of Mario Balotelli – he was withdrawn at half time – Italy were inn pole position until just before the hour mark. Claudio Marchisio was shown a straight red card for a studs up challenge that connected with Edigio Árevalo Ríos shin. Italians protested vociferously, but it made no difference.

They held on until two minutes after the bite Gastón Ramírez Pereyra crossed for Godín to powerfully head across Gianluigi Buffon – advantage Uruguay. They held on to set up a last 16 clash against the winners of Group C. Italyʼs second consecutive elimination in the first round proved too much for coach Cesare Prandelli. He resigned immediately after the match.

 

Historic

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by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)

Omens?

Not even Androcles can remove the pain of the three lionsʼ recent exit from the World Cup, but for some there is an awful sense of deja vu that offers a crumb of comfort. Almost 64 years ago to the day England played only their second ever match in the World Cup Finals in the city of Belo Horizonte and fell to a defeat that shocked football. The current crop, who had arrived with high expectations too, will bid farewell to Brasil and the World Cup in Belo Horizonte.

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Itʼs too late to learn the lesson, but the scene of the unlikeliest result in World Cup history still exists – rebuilt in 2012, but still there. Roy Hodgson should take his young England team to visit the Estádio Independência to remind them what happened there 64 years ago, when England claimed to be the best in the world and were humiliated. Let the current generation realise that 1950 was infinitely worse and learn those lessons.

This afternoon the current generation of England players face Costa Rica, the supposed minnows of the group. England will return home, while if the Central Americans avoid defeat they will top the group – a group that contained three former winners of the World Cup. Belo Horizonte may just witness another shock of seismic proportions in football involving England

Giants

England was the ceded team in their group, which included Spain, Chile and ʻabsolute no-hopersʼ the USA for the first post-war World Cup. England had dispatched Chile on June 25th 2-0. Stan Mortensen scored the first goal – Englandʼs first in the history of the World Cup. Wilf Mannion got the second.

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They arrived in Belo Horizonte to play a group of part timers and expatriates not good enough to make it in Europe. It wasnʼt that the USA hadnʼt read the script – they had – they just decided to rewrite it. While England rested their best player Stanley Matthews, top quality players such as Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and Tom Finney played, but despite bombarding the US goal they could not find a way past an in form Frank Borghi.

Somewhat unsportingly some claimed that the winning goal was a fluke – something the American players refute. Walter Bahrʼs shot was glanced past Bert Williams by the Haitian-born Joseph Gaetjens after 37 minutes. Word got out that a shock was on the cards and locals flocked to the ground to witness an upset. They also hoped that their team could avoid playing England in the final group phase.

The Reluctant Hero

The actual result was so unbelievable that some media reported that England had beaten the USA 10-0. In fact Gaetjens, whose tragic story we told previously (see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/footballs-shame-archive/ for our report on Gaetjensʼ fate) had scored the winner and it was for the USA. History had been made, but shamefully there is not so much as a plaque to commemorate Gaetjens at the scene of his greatest triumph.

Nor are there plans to hold a minuteʼs silence or applause for Gaetjens at this World Cupʼs last match in Belo Horizonte – the semi final that takes place on the 50th anniversary of the abduction of Gaetjens. He was never seen alive again. In our opinion this was an iconic match in footballʼs history and the scorer of that goal should be remembered by football at Brasilʼs fiesta of football. The US Federation and the FA should join forces to demand that FIFA honour the legacy of Joseph Gaetjens.