Can Politicians Deliver on a Promise?

Britain’s English Premier League may be the most watched league in the world but is not without its issues. The disconnect with the fans since clubs became public listed companies has been clear, the foreign ownership has also widened the gap between the traditional supporters and the clubs.

The British Parliament has looked to step in and return football to the fans, although not surprisingly football’s power brokers do not want to relinquish their iron clad grip just yet.

The opposition sports spokesperson Labour’s Clive Efford, who happens to be a lifelong Millwall fan and also a qualified football coach, spoke out last week. The MP for Eltham in Kent backed proposals to bring more people power to football.

The current Government in Great Britain has stated that it “is already completely committed to helping supporters have better engagement with the clubs they support and more of a say on how they are run. This is exactly why we have been working to establish a working group on the matter.” Sports Minister Helen Grant was quoted as saying last week.

The current plans mean that fans could hold the owners of their club to account on all issues on and off the field. Efford is quoted as saying, “we have reached a tipping point in the way football is run.”

Whether the Politicians will get their way and return football to the people is another thing, FIFA does not take kindly to Political interference in its sport, and countries such as Kenya have received international bans as a result of political interference.

However the goal to give fans a voice in every boardroom and the chance to buy shares in the club they support are positive moves for the good of the game. Certainly many clubs in various codes in Australia would welcome similar moves.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out, whether FIFA steps in or not and also whether the clubs actually back the recommendations based on an in-depth study into the game.

October 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm Leave a comment

High Noon in Switzerland

If many in Australia thought that “the sport we do not mention” was unco-operative when it came to Australia’s world cup bid and real football wanting them to move their fixtures, then watch this space as a far bigger squabble is about to break out.

Thomas Bach the president of the International Olympic Committee is about to square off against FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter.

Why you no doubt ask, it is all to do with the fact that the 2022 Winter Olympics and the rescheduled World Cup are set to clash.

With FIFA looking certain to shift the World Cup to avoid Qatar’s stifling temperatures, many are saying that the IOC are going to be forced to change the dates of their planned event, because of television scheduling for stations who have purchased both events.

Bach, has however has been quoted as saying that the showpiece event will not be shifting its dates, and will happen as scheduled in Beijing or Almaty, depending on who wins hosting rights.

To spice up the battle European Clubs Association Vice Chairperson Umberto Ghandi stated last week that the winter Games were of little consequence, so it would not be a major issue.

Blatter is an IOC member in his role as President of FIFA, and is due to meet with Bach to try and come to an amicable agreement. Many insiders claim that Bach is going to tell Blatter to take a running ski-jump, and is prepared to threaten the continuation of football as an olympic sport if Blatter does not move his event.

It should be an interesting meeting…

October 22, 2014 at 10:23 am Leave a comment

Sultan of Johor Cup Final Is One to Remember.

Great sporting contests live long in the memory. Great battles where neither side gave an inch, Bjorn Borg v Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1977, Belgium v Russia Mexico 1986, the Ashes Test Headingley 1981, all great contests, all standing out as the years pass by.

Sunday night this writer witnessed another such moment at the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia. The final saw the undefeated Great Britain come up against a fast improving India. India had 12 players in their eighteen man squad who had never been outside of their country. Great Britain had ten players from last year’s competition and the Junior World Cupc squad where they played as England. Great Britain were the second oldest team at the tournament, India the second youngest.

The tournament which is the only FIH sanctioned Under 21 event outside or Confederation competitions and the World Cup gives the players of the future a chance to play in front of big and loud crowds, learn to have to back up in competition with games back to back, and also to play in a major tournament. It is a great learning experience.

With players very much in the development phase often the standard of play can suffer with unforced errors often determining the outcome of matches.

Nothing could have been further from what happened in the final. India and Great Britain put on a performance that belied their years and experience in the game. The quality of the hockey on display was truly world class. The errors made by either side were few and far between as each side refused to give an inch. Each stuck to their game plan to the letter; however one could not help feeling that Great Britain pushing their talented Captain Jonathan Gall forward cost them attacking options, as all tournament he and Brendan Creed had been the supply sources for Britain’s attacks.

India scored from their first penalty corner courtesy of Harmanpreet Singh; his goal putting him level with competition top scorer Luke Taylor (GB). Five minutes later Great Britain won their first penalty corner, the unselfish Taylor worked a variation with Sam French who pulled Great Britain level.

The game looked certain to be heading for a shoot out. India launched one last attack, the ball was driven into the circle, it looked as if naught would come from the pass, but Parvinder Singh stabbed his stick at the ball, forcing the Goalkeeper of the tournament Harry Gibson to react and block. the ball spun up off his pads and India had another penalty corner. Harmanpreet stepped forward and beat Gibson. Great Britain had twenty seconds to fight back for a second time, it was never going to happen.

Britain’s players slumped to their haunches, many in tears. The most consistent well drilled team in the tournament had been outplayed in their final game; a game that was a final game for many at Under 21 level. The manner of their defeat will no doubt have sunk in by now, but hopefully they will look back on the part they played in a truly magnificent game, a game worthy of a showpiece final.

India’s young players, smiles spread across their young faces, danced in celebration, the first team to win the Sultan of Johor Cup for a second time having retained their title in dramatic fashion. It seemed as if many could not comprehend what what they had achieved.

This victory was memorable for so many reasons. The hockey was spellbinding from such young players. The discipline shown by both sets of players was top drawer and it really was a privilege to commentate such a game and not be just a spectator.

Hopefully as this young Indian team fly home today their arrival and victory will not be lost in the news that National coach, Australian Terry Walsh has stepped down. These young men and the manner in which they won this trophy will no doubt have given the success starved Indian Hockey fans reasons for hope. Technically they were excellent, they knew when to run with the ball, and when to stop and slow play down as support arrived. They also followed coach Harendra Singh’s tactics perfectly. It would be unfair to single out individuals as this was a true team effort. From the coaches to every single player, they all had a role and a job to do and everyone of them did it perfectly and supported each other.

This was a very special game that deserves to be ranked up there with the best of sporting contests. Once more congratulations and well done to both finalists.

October 21, 2014 at 7:21 pm Leave a comment

Lost in the Post

Australian football is preparing for its biggest party yet, hosting the 2015 Asian Cup. It is however becoming clear that this is not going to be a national celebration of the game, or if it is the invitations appear to have been lost in the post.

Many around the country were angered when Australia was pitching for the event that the bid was focussed purely on the East coast of the country. Despite the AFC not visiting other states and looking at the stadia in those cities, assurances were made by the FFA, we have an email stating so, that other cities such as Perth and Adelaide would be part of the event. Yet at the moment fans in these cities would not even know that the event was taking place, unless they go looking for news on it.

It seems very remiss of those appointing Ambassadors that they have not appointed people to such roles in the cities where games will not be held, so that they can actually promote the competition, and make people feel that this is a truly national event of which everyone should be proud.

Today it was announced that Ned Zelic would be another Ambassador for the tournament on top of working for Fox Sports as an expert commentator. Is there a conflict there? Will he now be able to speak freely if the tournament has any hiccups? He joins other “domestic football ambassadors” including Sydney-based Brett Emerton, Paul Okon, Rale Rasic and Ali Abbas, Queenslanders Matt McKay and Craig Moore, and Melbourne Ambassadors Harry Kewell and Alan Davidson. Ali Abbas’ and Matt McKay’s appointments also raise a few eyebrows as they are both still currently playing for Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar. Surely such a role should be going to former players who have the time to promote the tournament?

Why have we not seen any appointments in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory?

Zelic becomes the third current or former player in the Australian Capital Territory to be appointed as an ambassador along with Sally Shipard and Ellyse Perry.

It is interesting to note the population of the ACT is 385,000. The Northern Territory is 243,000 and Tasmania 513,000. Based on these statistics they should have at least two “Ambassadors” each. As for South Australia (1.6million) and Western Australia (2.6million) it is a very strange situation that no “Ambassadors” have been appointed, and we are only three months out from the start of the tournament.

It is great that Australia is hosting this event, but once again fans across the country want to feel a part of it. This dysfunctional “Football Family” has sadly, made many once again feel like the poor relative.

One cannot help feeling that once again the chance to make football truly inclusive has been missed. This is Australia hosting this tournament, sure the Government’s of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and ACT have lent financial support in order to host games, and we all understand that travel was a major issue in the running of the event, but it is time everyone across the country was made to feel a part of it. Most states are very parochial and they want to hear that their heroes of yesteryear are being recognised and appointed Ambassadors; to be snubbed is hard to take.

Hopefully an invitation will be received soon!

October 14, 2014 at 10:15 am 2 comments

She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain – Early!

Cycling is to be commended for its efforts in giving the average fan the chance to experience events that their elite athletes participate in, such as the Tour de France. It gives fans a unique insight into what their heroes go through. Sadly that wasn’t quite the case in Malaysia at the weekend.

The Tradewinds Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge had 800 cyclists participating in a leisure event that ran concurrently with the UCI MTB Marathon series event. These cyclists had signed up to participate in a 40km event, but that was not what they ended up with.

Race marshals and course signage meant that many finished well before ether had travelled the full 40km course. “It is unfortunate that the Jamboree participants got confused with some of the routes and check points as we wanted them to also have a feel of the UCI MTB Marathon trail. It is only the first day and we would like to move on from this and not have this happen again next year.” Race Director Geoffrey Kronenburg from Human Voyage the race organisers stated. He went on to suggest that next year they will host the public event on a different day.

That was however not the end of the shambles. Video clips popped up on social media of participants rushing to claim their participation medals after crossing the finishing line ahead of the planned presentation time, and some competitors seized more than one medal.


October 13, 2014 at 11:03 am Leave a comment

Managing United Not Child’s Play

When one takes over as head coach at a club steeped in success the new boss is faced with the tough question of whether to keep club traditions or smash them and create his own. Brian Clough disastrously smashed down many of the traditions that had made Leeds United successful under Don Revie; although Revie himself had also altered things when he took charge chaining United’s strip to white in reverence to Real Madrid.

The Boot Room at Liverpool was an institution. It was for three decades where the coaching staff would sit, drink tea and sometimes whisky, and discuss the team, tactics and ways of defeating their next opponents. It was therefore a surprise to many when under former Liverpool player Graeme Souness the boot room became a Press room. Souness has been blamed for the change but the club has always stated that change was a requirement not a request from the coach.

Now at Manchester United new coach Louis van Gaal is started his own renovations off the pitch as he rebuilds on it. It was announced this week that the creche where United’s players would leave their children on match days while the y socialised in the players lounge with Wives and Girlfriends is to be converted into a medical room.

The creche was apparently positioned between the medical room and the lounge but already the walls have been knocked down to accommodate a larger medical room. Funny how there are always more players in the medical room when a team is not doing well!

More of Van Gaal’s renovations have seen the old players lounge split in two. One half is now a pre-match warm up area, the other is an interview room for overseas journalists. A new players lounge and children’s area has been relocated inside Old Trafford.

According to a nameless source at the club quoted in the Daily Mail, “Scrapping the historic players room and creche has created a bit of a stir. But van Gaal was adamant with what he wanted and everyone has had to fall into line. The creche has gone and has not been moved elsewhere.”

Van Gaal also demanded a UKL3million overhaul of United’s Carrington training facility. Tow pitches were ripped up and replaced with the identical Desso surface that is used at Old Trafford. Also a UKL500,000 video surveillance system has been installed to allow Van Gaal to analyse his squad more closely at training. Sleeping pods have also been installed for players to rest between double training sessions.

One other change introduced is one that Guus Hiddink brought in with the Socceroos, strict meal times and rectangular tables so all of the players sit together at one. Whether United’s players are allowed to start before van Gaal sits down is not known; another Hiddink rule.

He has also insisted that all the players speak English at mealtimes.

He has certainly rung the changes, how the players react will be another thing, will they throw their toys out of the cot and so many changes remains to be seen. As for Van Gaal now all he has to do is hope the changes translate into results on the pitch.

October 13, 2014 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Champions to Receive Top Billing

An impending rule change in the European Champions League is set to make fans happy and also many of the successful clubs who are not necessarily one of the big name clubs in their national leagues.

Top seed status will only be given to the winners of the highest ranked leagues and titleholders. Currently UEFA ranks clubs based on five years of results which meant that national Champions such as Manchester City in the EPL Juventus in Serie A and Paris St Germain in France were placed among the teams seeded Number two.

Whereas clubs like Arsenal and Porto who finished fourth and third in their respective leagues in the season just past were seeded in the pot as number one ranked teams. This in turn meant that they avoided other top ranked teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was a case of the successful teams being protected and ensuring continued success and revenue.

The leagues that saw their teams given top seed status were Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia.

The rule change that is due to be ratified by UEFA’s executive Committee in December has come about as fans failed to understand how the Champions of one of these top nations was in a lower seeded pot than the teams that came third or fourth.

Some would say UEFA could easily have resolved this problem by once more making the competition open only to those teams who are in fact crowned Champions of their respective leagues. However that is never likely to happen with the Champions League now generating more income than the World Cup.  This is however a step in the right direction and may prevent a lop-sided and almost predictable outcome.

October 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

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