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?

Bees Vanquish Eagles

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 2nd 2014)

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Recovery

Mark Warburton saw his Brentford side bounce back from last Tuesdayʼs 0-4 defeat to Osasuna in style. The five goal thriller saw Brentford emerge with a morale-boosting win over Crystal Palace. Last seasonʼs Manger of the Year Tony Pulis saw his team lose by the odd goal in five. “Obviously, weʼd just come off the plane 48 hours ago, so we needed a good run-out and we knew this would be a good run-out today for us and I thought that Brentford played really well”, Pulis said.

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He took positives from the match. “The game got stretched, which was again good for us, because it was end to end”, he said. “I thought our lads worked their socks off. You know quite a few of them were tired and it was a good game for them – really good game”.

All the scoring came in the second half. Brentford raced to a two goal lead, but were rapidly pegged back before scoring the winner.

Advantage Bees

Wayne Hennessey was quickly called into action, tipping over Stuart Dallasʼ header after a minute. He denied Alan Judge from the left of the area shortly afterwards. Mile Jedinak squandered a chance before calling keeper David Button to save his header. The impressive André Gray lobbed Hennessey, but was thwarted by Adrian Mariappa on the line. He made a total hash of a far better opportunity – the last of the half – blasting over from close range.

Jason Puncheon wasnʼt worried by the result. “Oh I thought it was a pre-season game”, he said. “You get games like that. Some teams are obviously a week ahead of us and thatʼs obviously a good game.

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Turning Points

Jonathan Douglas opened the scoring in the first minute of the first half by curling an excellent effort past Crystal Palaceʼs goalkeeper Julián Speroni, who replaced Wayne Hennessey for the second half. The Man of the Match turned Damian Delaney inside out before beating Speroni.

The Argentinian international was disappointed not to make Alejandro Sabellaʼs squad for the World Cup run. “It was great They managed to win the games over there up to the semi-final. Yeah it was fantastic”, Speroni said. “Well itʼs a dream for me to play for my country so maybe if I get another good season in the Premier League I will get that recognition”.

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André Gray doubled the Beesʼ lead ten minutes into the half after making space on the right of the area to beat Speroni at his near post. Within two minutes the lead had been squandered, both from close range. Glenn Murray got the first, dinking it over a prone defender on the line after Button failed to deal with Yannick Bolasie cross and Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh tapped in from a yard out to level with over half an hour remaining after Button spilled Joe Ledleyʼs shot.

With fifteen minutes remaining Moses Odubajo emphasised what a prodigious talent he is. Odubajo lifted the ball over Joel Ward on the right of the area before shooting across Speroni to score a magnificent winner. “He [Odubajo]was okay”, Puncheon said. “Like I said it was a pre-season game and I think everybody played their part”.

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Ambitions

Crystal Palaceʼs ambitions for the coming season are clear – survival. “Stay in the Premiership”, Pulis said. When questioned further on whether that was the limit of his ambitions Pulis said “Yeah. Just that? Here we go”. Puncheon and Speroni agreed on the priority, but hoped for more.

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“My ambitions for the season?” Speroni said. “Well just what I said before. I want to have a good season. We all want to have a good season. We did fantastic last season. We end up half way up the table and really we need to carry on in the same way. Well weʼre always trying to improve and we finished eleventh last season and try to improve this season”.

Puncheon agrees. “We take one step as it comes and the next step is the Arsenal game, so weʼll take that step and obviously the main objective is to stay in the Premier League and then see where we go from there”, Puncheon said. “The most important thing is the Premier League. A cup run is a bonus”.

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Speroni is glad there is competition for playing time at Crystal Palace. “Of course, as I said before this is the Premier League and we always have high competition for places, so I think itʼs healthy, yeah” he said. “Yeah, I think they are good signings. We need new players to strengthen the squad. And I think the Chairman said they are not going to be the last ones, so looking forward to see who else is joining us”.

So what about ambitions for the club? “I think we need to establish ourselves as a Premier League club and obviously the first two or three seasons are key” Speroni said. “If you manage to stay in the Premier League for two or three seasons, then you can say, we are now an established Premier League club, but it takes hard work. Thatʼs our aim”.

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And if and when they achieve that, what then? “To improve every year try to go as high as we can” Speroni said. “I think every club is the same”.

The Final Word

Brentford, promoted to the Championship last season, begin their season next weekend. Mark Warburton wonʼt outline his plans, but sees aiming for survival as negative. Defender Kevin OʼConnor agrees. “To do as well as possible and win as many games as possible”, OʼConnor says is his ambitions for himself and his club.

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He doesnʼt rule out promotion to the Premier League either. “Who knows”, OʼConnor says. “I think itʼs possible. Every team starts with zero points, so you just have to try and win as many games as possible and see where it gets you”.

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