Premier League: December 2019

Premier League: December 2019

Happy New Year to all you football fans! With the Christmas and New Year period, December is always a busy time in the Premier League as we had 6 rounds of matches (or 7 in the case of teams who played on Sunday in Round 14). Losses to Manchester City and Liverpool over the space of a week all-but ended Leicester’s title chances and it now looks like Liverpool’s first Premier League title is as good as won, barring a monumental slip up.

December saw 3 managers given their P45s, with Manuel Pellegrini, Marco Silva and Quique Sanchez Florez being replaced by David Moyes, Carlo Ancelotti and Nigel Pearson respectively.


Premier League Round-up


The ugly side of the beautiful game

Football may be the beautiful game, but far too often it is being overshadowed by the acts of the so-called fans watching the game.

When we hear of the racism that is rife in the Italian leagues or incidents like the racism from the Bulgarian crowd directed at England players, we decry it… and yet December’s Manchester City v Manchester United and Tottenham v Chelsea matches made it very clear that it is an issue here as well! In the Manchester derby, the abuse of Fred from Manchester City fans was obvious, with footage clearly showing a fan making monkey chants and gestures, while objects were also thrown at him. Then in London just a few weeks later, Antonio Rüdiger reported hearing racist chants towards him in the crowd, which seemed to stem from an incident with Son Heung-min.

In both cases, the home clubs came out with public statements saying the right thing, but this means nothing if we’re being honest. You just need to watch the footage of the City v Liverpool game and a number of the culprits are there clear as day standing right in front of the stewards… who do nothing.

The thing is though, why should we stop at racism. Why should any player be getting abused by rival fans, regardless of his race/religion. The behaviour of so many fans is disgusting. Banter and some fun chants is one thing, but the vitriolic hatred that we see fans spewing towards players every game really puts me off my enjoyment of the game and makes me never want to go to a live match, whereas at a rugby game I feel safe and feel like I could still have a great time even if i was the only Gloucester fan who turned up to the Rec.

Football needs to take a no-nonsense attitude towards abuse of any kind, or we can say goodbye to the beautiful game.

Some fine tuning needed

Shock! We’re moaning about VAR again. It’s understandable, as it’s impossible to go a weekend without some VAR controversy at the moment. This month, we have had a spate of goals disallowed for the most marginal of offsides, often so narrow that I’m still struggling to tell if the attacker is onside or not when I look at the graphics.

A couple of times this month we heard chants along the lines of “It’s not football anymore” and to be honest, I think you’re a moron if you think that football is better without VAR. We want to make sure that the games are not ruined by the wrong refereeing call, we just need to get to the point that VAR is being used right, as it we see in rugby, cricket, tennis… all these other sports that have had it for years that the Premier League could and should have learned from when they decided to implement it.

The way I see it, there are 2 words that would massively improve the use of VAR: clear and obvious. In rugby, a referee has to make the call of try/no try and it is then the job of the TMO to review and see if there is any clear and obvious reason to overturn the on-field decision. Meanwhile, cricket has Umpire’s Call when checking LBW on reviews – an area where regardless of whether the umpire has called Out or Not Out, the decision will stand as it is too close to accurately call whether the original call is correct or not.

Imagine if football brought this in for offsides. The official awards the goal but checks VAR, which has a graphic with 1 line/vertical plane marking the offside point. If we can clearly see a part of the attacker beyond that mark, then the goal is chalked off. If it is clear that the attacker is behind the mark, or if it is unclear without zooming in until the screen is about 10 pixels, then the on-pitch call stands. Likewise, if the offside is called but the review clearly shows that the player was onside, it is overruled, but if not clear then the call stands. Technology is not good enough for us to pause the image at the exact moment the ball is played away, and it is certainly not good enough for us to get close in on an image without the pixel quality making it unclear. Making a margin for error may lead to some calls that were technically wrong, but it will still bring an end to the bad missed that lead to people complaining about the work of the officials.

With VAR being given an easier job there, though, I would also extend its use elsewhere to correcting any clear and obvious mistakes, such as in Everton’s 1-2 win over Newcastle, where Everton’s opener came from a corner that replays clearly showed should have been a goal kick after Moise Kean headed over. With the number of cameras at these games, there should be enough time for VAR to notice a clear and obvious mistake of this kind before play continues.

Hopefully we see some improvement soon.

Where is everyone?

Earlier this month, I saw a story on BBC Sport that I couldn’t help have a quick chuckle at. Newcastle were offering their season ticket holders a free additional half-season ticket in a bid to help fill St James’ Park.

Now I have respect for Newcastle and its fans, so it has been horrible watching the decline of such a great club with Mike Ashley at the helm. The Newcastle fans would come to support their team regardless of results, but they are sick and tired of Ashley’s reign and the way that he has turned such a proud club into a business. The only way they can get their point across is by not turning up to matches and denying the club ticket revenue.

So, Mike Ashley, kindly get out and let this club get back to where it should be.

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Premier League: October 2019

Premier League: October 2019

The 100% record is over! After 8 rounds of football, Liverpool was the only team to have won all of their games, but a Round 9 trip to Old Trafford brought an end to their streak as they could only manage a 1-1 draw courtesy of a late Adam Lallana equaliser, though they remain the only team without a loss to their name heading into November and a loss for Manchester City at home to Wolves saw their lead grow. Chelsea were the only team to get maximum points in October with wins over Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley. Every team earned at least a point this month, but Southampton will be worried after dropping into the bottom 3 following a huge 0-9 loss to Leicester and with a trip to the Etihad next up in the league.


Premier League Round-up


What a VARce

It took until Round 10 for VAR to overturn a decision relating to whether a penalty should be awarded, but once it started, the floodgates opened. The first decision to be overturned was for Michael Keane catching Aaron Connolly in the box as they both went for an aerial ball forward – initially not given, but a penalty soon awarded by VAR, which was well dispatched by Neal Maupay. With the floodgates opened “dive” from Wilfried Zaha was overturned into a penalty for Crystal Palace, scored by Luka Milivojević to begin their comeback from 2-0 down to 2-2 at the Emirates, while Manchester United were awarded a penalty after VAR adjudged that Ben Godfrey had had illegally pushed Daniel James over.

While it is great to see VAR finally being willing to overturn a referee’s initial decision, this has ended up really muddying the water. While Zaha was clearly fouled, both of the penalties VAR awarded were extremely soft and less clear-cut than Jan Vertonghen’s challenge on Gerard Deulofeu, where VAR upheld the referee’s decision to play on. To muddy the water even more, VAR adjudged that Manchester City had scored against Aston Villa following a review, deciding that David Silva had not made contact with Kevin De Bruyne’s ball in, so Raheem Sterling was not offside, however Silva appeared to be trying to claim the goal with the referee and it was officially given to him by the Dubious Goals Panel (in which case the goal should have been disallowed for offside).

The most disappointing thing about all of this is that every Premier League ground has a screen pitchside for the referees to use alongside VAR if necessary, but is yet to be used in a match. As it stands, the screen is for if what the referee is being told dos not tally with what they are seeing. Surely that is the case with every VAR referral, or otherwise the referee would have made a different decision. Not only that, but aside from offside, most VAR decisions are subjective, so surely it would be beneficial to have the referee come over and look at the picture on the screen and talk it through with the VAR official rather than stand uselessly in the middle of the pitch with a finger in his ear.

The Premier League is possibly the best domestic league in the world, and VAR is definitely a step forward, but the league needs to figure out how to utilise it correctly, otherwise the league will become a laughing stock.

Early goodbyes

The official figures state that 28,726 fans attended Southampton’s Round 10 match against Leicester… There definitely weren’t that many by the end! A man down and with 3 goals conceded after just 30 minutes, the home fans were already beginning to leave in droves.

Now I don’t want to make this sound preachy, and I understand in this case it was a Friday night with horrible weather and the chances of a comeback were slim-to-none at best (they eventually lost 0-9), but I don’t understand why fans would leave so early. Tickets to a match are far from cheap, so to leave early just feels like throwing away money. I also can’t imagine how that must feel as a player to see so many of your fans walking out early – if your head wasn’t already dropping, surely that would finish you off.

When teams are struggling they need their support more than ever, hopefully this run of bad results doesn’t put people off going to cheer on their team.

Gunning for the captain

There is something not right at Arsenal at the moment. Think back through the years at the players who have captained Arsenal, does Granit Xhaka really fit the mould? The Swiss midfielder has never really cemented himself with the fans due to a number of costly fouls and moments where his desire have been questioned, so to make him the captain highlighted the depth of leadership options available at the Emirates.

During Arsenal’s 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace, there we ugly scenes as Xhaka (who had again struggled to positively impact the match) was substituted to a chorus of boos from the Arsenal fans. Things only got worse as he reacted to the boos while walking off, goading the fans even more before taking off his shirt and walking straight down the tunnel.

Now I don’t think it’s nice seeing fans boo their own players, but they are invested in their team and have a right to be heard if they feel players aren’t pulling their weight. Xhaka meanwhile is the captain of this team and has to set an example. Like I just mentioned about Southampton, the support of the fans is huge, and they need to have them on their side. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Xhaka taken out of the firing line for a game or two, but then the question of who captains the team starts again. I bet they’re regretting letting Aaron Ramsey leave right now…

Fantastic Foxes

In the 2015/16 season, Leicester City shocked the world by winning the Premier League in only their 2nd season back in the top flight. After 10 rounds, they find themselves in 3rd place, just 2 points behind Manchester City and ahead of Chelsea on goal difference. Just how far can they go this season?

Leicester have been in great form since bringing in Brendan Rodgers, while Jamie Vardy continues to defy my expectation that he will begin to decline now he is beyond 30, with 9 goals in 10 league games this season. They may have lost Harry Maguire over the summer, but put the money to good use by bringing in Ayoze Pérez from Newcastle and Youri Tielemans from Monaco, both of whom have played big roles already this season.

While Leicester have improved, they have also done so at a time when a number of the classic big 6 are struggling. Chelsea and Manchester United are in the middle of a rebuild, Arsenal are struggling for consistency and Tottenham find themselves in the bottom half of the table, already 8 points behind the Foxes.

Can they keep a top 3 spot? Personally, I think that the other clubs mentioned still have the strength in depth that Leicester are missing, but I am confident that they will be able to keep a place in the top 5, and if pushed to make an exact prediction right now, I would guess that they will finish 4th, with Chelsea jumping above them.

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October 2018 in the Premier League

October 2018 in the Premier League

Just the 3 rounds of football in October as the international break took place after the first week of matches. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea continue their unbeaten starts to the season with 2 wins and a draw each. City’s results were probably the most impressive of the 3 as they drew with Liverpool (who remain level on points) and won against Burnley and at Spurs. Arsenal matches the results of the teams ahead of them, as did Manchester United – who were denied a win at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a late Ross Barkley goal – and Bournemouth, who continue to surpass expectations and hold onto a spot in the top 6. The only team to win all their games in October was Brighton, who managed 3 consecutive 1-0 victories, while Fulham were the only team not to pick up a single point this month.


The best of football

Football fans don’t always get painted in the best light – often for good reason – but there were some instances this month that really caught my eye and thought were worthy of praise.

The biggest of these has come in circumstances that we wish had not happened, but centres around the reaction to the helicopter crash following Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham that saw 5 people including Leicester owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Football fans have not always been the best at showing respect for other clubs’ previous tragedies, but the way that the entire football community has responded to the incident is highly commendable.

On a lighter note, the other moments of class have been related to former players returning to their old home ground with new teams. I remember the shock when Juan Mata was sold to United. Mata was a fan-favourite at Stamford Bridge and has understandably become one at Old Trafford too, so it was wonderful to see both home and away fans give him a standing ovation as he left the pitch during United’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Similarly, it was great to see Manchester City fans give keeper Joe Hart such a warm welcome on his return to the Etihad with Burnley. He was such a big piece of the club through their early years of success and it never felt right with me the way he was so easily discarded by Pep Guardiola, so it was great to see the fans give him the respect he deserved. It’s just a shame that he was left picking the ball out the back of his net 5 times, especially given a couple of huge decisions from the officials really went in City’s favour during the game.


Kick it out

From some of the best of football to some of the worst.

We quickly find ourselves back at Stamford Bridge and in the final moments of the match as Ross Barkley salvaged a point for Chelsea. While I can understand that emotions would run high at a moment like that, there was no excuse for Chelsea coach Marco Ianni to come running out of the dugout and celebrate not just in front of the United bench, but also to direct his celebration towards them. There is no need whatsoever, it is taunting plain and simple and I have to comment José and the United bench for not reacting the first time. But because they didn’t react, Ianni decided to do it again, sparking ugly scenes at the tunnel. It’s great to see that Sarri apologised and that the FA reacted to the incidents, but a £6,000 fine is pathetically small. This is the Premier League, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – and most popular leagues in the world. Children will be watching Ianni’s actions and thinking that’s acceptable. It isn’t! It was a disgusting and blatant act of disrespect towards Mourinho and the United team and the punishment should have been much more severe.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t it this month as the diving epidemic continued in October. Now first things first, credit to the referees who are coming down hard on the players, with Laurent Depoitre, Aboubakar Kamara and Willian all booked this month for blatant dives, while Alvaro Morata was also cautioned for going down easily during a face-off with a couple of Burnley defenders. Diving is disgusting and needs eliminating from the game. The only problem is that as the referee has picked up on these instances of simulation and given the punishment they can (a yellow card is the maximum punishment on the pitch), the FA cannot give any further punishment. This needs to change if the FA are serious about stamping out diving. If a player knows that they will face a 3-match ban for diving regardless of whether or not they deceive the officials (or better yet get a longer ban if their deception is successful) then after a while players will not want to take the risk as they will know they are putting themselves at risk.


He needs to go!

At almost £90m Paul Pogba was always going to be considered an expensive signing, but I would also call him a costly one. The player has often felt like a distraction in the changing room this season, and if it comes to a matter of someone having to leave Old Trafford and the board picking between Pogba or Mourinho, then I am firmly behind keeping Mourinho.

Pogba has been frustrating on the pitch this season. He has some wonderful moments where he plays beautiful passes, but then he also has plenty of other moments where at best he is anonymous and at worse a liability. He lost his man Antonio Rüdiger far too easy at a corner to allow the German to open the scoring and his showboating lost the ball against Everton, leading to the foul by Chris Smalling that earned a penalty.

And then there’s the penalties. The most pathetic thing I have ever seen on a football pitch. forgoing a run-up for over 20 tiny steps, leaving no power in the shot and making him look stupid if he doesn’t score (he was lucky against Everton that Pickford’s save sent the ball back to him to score on the rebound). With the players in the United squad, there must be someone who can take a proper penalty and if United can get some decent players in January then I will have no problem with them selling Pogba for what will likely be a loss financially.


Attitudes need to change

It was good to see that Glenn Murray made such a quick recovery following Brighton’s win at Newcastle. Murray and Magpies defender Federico Fernández clashed heads competing for an aerial ball and as Murray landed, his body folded and his arms did not protect his fall, leading to his head hitting the floor with sickening force.

Full credit to the players and officials for stopping the game immediately and the medics for their quick actions to stop things from getting worse, but watching Match of the Day, I was shocked to hear commentator Guy Mowbray describe the incident as “something and nothing” as the replays showed Murray’s head hitting the ground. Concussion is a serious worry and this is unfortunately not the first time that the actions of people involved in the Premier League have made it look as if they are not so focused on it. I really hope they prove me wrong.


Top 6 prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Chelsea
  4. Arsenal
  5. Tottenham Hotspur
  6. Manchester United

 

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 30

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 30

Manchester City took another step closer to winning the title on Monday night with a 0-2 victory over Stoke. This victory means that a win against Everton on 31st March will set up the chance to win the title at home to United on 7th April. United took a great stride towards finishing second by beating Liverpool 2-1 over the weekend, while Spurs’ victory at Bournemouth allowed them to leapfrog the Reds. In London, Chelsea and Arsenal both got back to winning ways with wins over Crystal palace and Watford respectively, but I still find it unlikely either will be able to make up the gap to the top 4. Towards the bottom of the table, Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Southampton brought an end to Mauricio Pellegrino’s time in charge of the Saints with them just 1 point outside the relegation zone.


Too little, too late?

It was a while back now that I suggested Pellegrino’s job could be in danger, so I am surprised they have waited until so late in the season. They don’t have another league match until 31stMarch (at West Ham) so they have a bit of time to get used to a new manager, but the performances have been so poor the extra points earlier in the year would have likely been a big help. Their 8 remaining games include trips to Arsenal, Leicester and Everton and home matches against Chelsea and Man City, so with so few matches remaining there is no guarantee a new manager will be able to save them. Clearly something needs changing as they were dire against Newcastle with the defence not dealing with Kennedy’s run and a simple ball forward for the first goal, while the second goal was far too simple for the Magpies to break downfield following a Southampton corner. They have sold their best players for years and it was always going to catch up with them eventually, I just hope that they are getting a manager who will not run if they don’t avoid the drop.

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Swansea held out for a goalless draw at Huddersfield despite going a man down within 11 minuted – From http://www.premierleague.com

Bad scenes in London

Next time I want to remind myself why I prefer rugby over football, I just need to watch West Ham’s match against Burnley. I can understand that the fans are not happy but there is a way to show it and that was not it! To invade the pitch on multiple occasions not only disrupts the game, I would also argue it disrupted the focus for the West Ham players. The defence were at sixes and sevens for the second goal and I can’t help but wonder if Joe Hart would have dealt better with Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson’s long range shot for the third goal. Not only that, a football match is a family day out, and yet the actions of some fans were so bad, the Burnley players felt they needed to empty the bench to make room for children from the crowd (max respect to them for this). Scenes like this should not be seen at football matches in 2018 and I hope we don’t see a repeat anytime soon. If I was a West Ham player, I would want to get out of that toxic atmosphere as soon as I could!


The good, the bad or the ugly?

Within the space of a few seconds during Leicester’s 1-4 win at Leicester, I saw the best of Jamie Vardy before being reminded why I struggle to like him as much as many people do. His goal to pull Leicester level against the Baggies was a contender for goal of the season! The skill required to volley that ball as it came over his shoulder – with his weaker foot! – and not just get it on target but control it beyond the keeper and into the far corner without taking eyes off the ball was absolutely sublime. Unfortunately the celebration was less sublime as he appeared to goad the fans and front up to someone in the crowd. I can imagine that if someone is hurling abuse from the crowd (again going back to why I prefer rugby) it can be hard not to react, but Vardy often appears to toe the line between celebrating and provoking the fans. If he put that extra effort into playing, then he could perhaps push Harry Kane for a starting spot in the England squad.


Seeing red

There were 2 red cards in this weekend’s matches, but there really should have been 3. Jordan Ayew and Anthony Knockaert both received straight red cards at the weekend for poor challenges with high feet and neither of them have any grounds to argue the decision.

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West Brom are as good as down, who else will be joining them in the Championship? – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

Knockaert appeared to see the red missed having had the ball kicked into his face moments before by Leighton Baines, and then seconds later dived into him and was lucky to not make more of a contact. I can understand that it won’t feel nice taking a football to the face at close range, but that was pathetic!

I have more sympathy for Ayew as I genuinely feel he was reaching for the ball and got his challenge wrong, but he made contact high up Jonathan Hogg’s leg with his studs. Hogg was lucky to not receive a red though as his boot was also off the ground and he did (accidentally in my opinion) stamp on Ayew as they collided, much like Pogba’s sending off against Arsenal earlier this season.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tackler and tackle both get sent off before – unless the tackle has reacted and struck out – but in this case a double red would have been warranted. With the incident happening in the 11th minute, I can’t help but wonder what impact that would have had on the game.


Round 31 predictions:

So this will be a bit of an odd round as only 4 games are being played in this round at the moment, with the other games to be played at a later date (still to be confirmed). As injuries and form fluctuations could affect my predictions for those games, I will just be predicting the confirmed games for now and will add in the other games as they come up.

AFC Bournemouth v West Bromwich Albion – Bournemouth win

Huddersfield Town v Crystal Palace – Draw

Stoke City v Everton – Everton win

Liverpool v Watford – Liverpool win

Taking Sport to Another Level

We all know that technology is being used to improve sport. From GPS technology to help in training to Hawkeye and other systems being used to ensure correct decisions are made in a game. These things are obvious. But there is another way that sport is being improved by technology that probably doesn’t get enough of a mention: the fan experience.

Now I’m only 26 and it’s only in recent years that I’ve become sports mad and started paying attention on a larger scale, so I can’t properly say what it was like “back in the day” but some of these changes are so big they are clearly improving the experience for fans and possibly even drawing fans into the sport:

First up is one of the obvious ones: TV. It wasn’t that long ago that the average household only had 5 television channels. Now that we’ve had the digital switch-over, even someone without paid-for channels still has a much wider range of channels, including ones like ITV4 that will often show sporting events – just these last few months we have had live coverage of the Tour de France, Tour of Britain, Women’s Rugby World Cup and World Rugby U20s Championship! Red Button channels like on the BBC add even more chances for fans to watch sport, as we see events like Wimbledon and the Olympics shown almost in their entirety. Subscriptions for Sky and BT are much more common too, giving viewers access to multiple channels dedicated to sport, so we can see not just sport from the UK but also other countries (Sky show NFL, Super Rugby and Rugby Championship matches live). tvFor those who don’t have the time to sit down and watch all the sport that is on, we are also treated to plenty of highlights shows on free-to air TV. Match of the Day has been a staple of the Premier League for as long as I can remember – except for those few years where we had The Premiership on ITV – and there are many similar shows for other sporting events, from daily highlights of the Grand Tour cycling events to Channel 5’s football highlights covering the Championship to League 2 and their Premiership Rugby highlights show, which they have recently acquired from ITV. If it is easier for someone to watch a sport on a regular basis, then they will be more likely to become fans of the sport. We are also starting to see some sports like the NFL and Rugby League using player mics to improve the fan experience even more by putting you right in the action. I love this as not only do we get some wonderful moments on the field like banter between opponents, but we also get a chance to see the way that players communicate in a game, much in the same way that the referee’s mic in rugby allows people watching on TV to understand what is going on.

 

Even with all these extra TV channels, it is still impossible for everything to be televised. That’s where online streaming comes in. I was disappointed by ITV’s lack of live coverage for the U20s World Championship this summer (they had highlights shows for each round but only the final was shown live) but World Rugby are very good at streaming games online if there is no TV coverage available in the country. I’ve lost count of how many matches I’ve watched on their website or Facebook page so far this year! NFL.com also has the option of signing up to NFL Gamepass, which allows you to watch all NFL matches live or watch them back during the week. Much like the increased TV coverage, the extra online coverage gives people more chance to watch a sport that they are interested in, and allows them to widen their experience of the sport to other competitions.

I mentioned Facebook above, but social media in general has been huge for sports fans. Just this last week I’ve had a conversation on Facebook that I haven’t seen since i left school about 8 years ago as he saw me post about the NFL! Personally I think that Twitter is brilliant for sports fans as you will find that the majority of teams/clubs will have their own dedicated account, as will many of the players, especially at the professional level. Twitter_Icon_(Official_1)I absolutely love Twitter as it gives fans like myself the chance to not just keep up with games and news, but also interact with players and pundits in a way that fans would not have previously been able to do. It is also a brilliant place for fans to interact with one another, even if they have never met before. I doubt I’ve met even 10% of my followers on Twitter and yet a number of us can be discussing the exact same thing together from completely different countries. I can’t talk about Twitter without mentioning #rugbyunited which is led by fans and has helped bring rugby fans around the world together and even played a big part in arranging the RugbyAid charity match a couple of years ago. If you’re a rugby fan and haven’t checked them out, I highly recommend it!

Finally, there are games, a brilliant way to get people into a sport and help them get to know the rules and teams. EA are one of the biggest companies in the gaming world and they put out annual sports titles including FIFA (football), Madden (american football), NHL (ice hockey) and NBA Live (basketball). madden-18-brady-ogUnfortunately there has not been a decent rugby game for over 10 years now, but I will continue to hold out hope that we will get one soon. It was Madden that got me into the NFL, as I had seen games on TV when visiting family in the USA but had been too young to understand. However back in 2004 a friend from school let me borrow his copy of Madden 2004 and to say I was hooked is an understatement. When a game gets it right, like Madden and FIFA do, they can help you learn not just the basics but also enough of the intricacies of a sport and are a great way of learning the rules in a fun and engaging way. Not just this but they allow fans of a sport to broaden their knowledge by finding out about less known players and leagues – I think everyone has found at least one star before they were famous on FIFA career modes or playing Football Manager.

While video games are a great way for fans old and new, another type of game that is more tailored to existing fans would be fantasy leagues. For those who have never tried a fantasy league, they take real life matches and assign points to players according to their performance. ‘Fantasy managers’ select their squad and compete against friends in leagues for bragging rights, while many fantasy competitions will also have leagues for everybody from an individual country, fans of individual teams and also an overall league that contains every competitor. 20170910_190538.jpgI have been doing the Official Premier League Fantasy Football for over 10 years now, competing originally against my classmates, then uni friends and now my work colleagues. However this year I wasn’t organised enough and missed the first gameweek so have instead focused on other fantasy leagues. I frequently use the ESPN fantasy 6 Nations competition and this year have also decided to attempt a fantasy NFL league and Fantasy leagues for the Pro14 and Premiership Rugby. The Rugby Magazine’s fantasy game for the Premiership is by far the deepest fantasy game that I have ever played and I am thoroughly enjoying it 2 weeks in! The good thing about these is that it encourages people to keep up to date with how a league is going in order to stay competitive against their peers, and it allows players to spend anything from a couple of minutes sorting their team to a couple of hours, depending how serious they are taking it.

 

And the best bit about technology: It continues to improve! Live sport will continue to become more accessible and companies will continue to find new ways to improve the fan’s experience with apps and games. And all the while, us fans will continue to interact on social media. Long may it continue…

Kick it Out!

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has spent time this week reading the stories of Pescara midfielder Sulley Muntari’s suspension for walking off the pitch last weekend after receiving racist abuse from a group of Cagliari fans. The Ghanaian international was initially booked for dissent after complaining to the referee about the abuse, but when nothing was done to stop the abuse he walked off the pitch in protest, for which he received a second yellow card and a subsequent one-game ban. Thankfully after a number of calls for players to strike, the Italian Football Federation have overturned the ban, however this is still another ugly blotch on the record of European football.

Racism as a whole is ugly and unnecessary. There is no excuse for it in 2017. For people (and I hesitate to use that word to describe such disgusting pigs) to behave this way at a sports event where children are certain to be present – not to mention possibly watching at home on television – should be unforgivable! And yet the Federation stated that they cannot act against Cagliari as fewer than 1% of their fans at the game were involved. The only thing I have seen from Cagliari is a comment that their fans as a whole are not racist, no suggestion that the incident will be investigated and the guilty parties punished. In my eyes, this reaction is absolutely disgusting!

This is by no means an isolated incident of racism in football:

  • December 2012 – Fans of Zenit Saint Petersburg published a manifesto demanding that the club exclude all non-white and homosexual players from the club’s roster
  • January 2013 – Kevin Prince-Boateng and his Milan teammates walked off the pitch midway through a friendly against Pro Patria after racist abuse from the lower-league team’s fans
  • April 2014 – Possibly the most well-known of the incidents on this list, Barcelona’s Dani Alves had a banana thrown at him mid-game by Villarreal fans. The Brazilian picked it up, peeled it and took a bite from it
  • May 2014 – Bananas were thrown at Milan players Kévin Constant and Nigel de Jong by Atlanta fans
  • September 2014 – Dynamo Moscow’s Christopher Samba was racially abused by fans during a local derby against Torpedo Moscow. Torpedo were punished, however Samba was also banned for two games for swearing at the racist fans.
  • 2015 – Benfica’s Renato Sanches was subjected to monkey chants from Rio Ave fans as he left the pitch
  • February 2015 – Chelsea fans were filmed pushing a black passenger off a Metro carriage in Paris ahead of a Champions League game against PSG. They were heard to be chanting “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it!”

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the racist incidents in European football over the last 5 years, a quick trawl of the internet will find you plenty of other examples.

Though rugby is by no means perfect, one of the things I am really proud of in my sport is how inclusive and respectful the fans are as a whole, there is plenty of banter between fans and players, but everyone generally knows where the line is and avoids crossing it. Unfortunately that line appears to be crossed far too often in football. I am sure that the people involved are just a small minority of football ‘fans’ but they unfortunately make such a spectacle, many innocent fans are tarnished with the same brush.

I look forward to the day when people are able to play the game they love without having to worry about the way they are treated by other players and fans. If footballers are still getting abused for the colour of their skin, why would any player want to reveal their sexuality?

Hopefully big steps will taken by all the authorities and governing bodies to make sure that any abuse if properly dealt with. We want to be discussing the actions of the players on the field, not the pigs in the stands!

 

What are your thoughts on the Sulley Muntari situation? Have you witnessed other fans doing/saying anything that made you ashamed to be part of the same group? Or have you yourself been abused while playing? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Avoiding the blame game

When Ben Stokes began his run up for the first ball of his final over on Sunday, it looked like England were 6 balls away from winning the World Twenty20 Final. 19 runs from 6 balls seemed an all but impossible task for the West Indies. Four balls later, the West Indies had made history by becoming the first team to become two-time winners of the tournament courtesy of 4 consecutive sixes from Carlos Brathwaite.

To hit a 6 at any point is a great achievement. To hit 4 in a row is fantastic. To do so in such a high pressure situation… I don’t think there is a word to do such a feat justice! This is a moment for the history books.

And yet when I glanced at Twitter, all I could see were comments saying that Ben Stokes had bottled it, that he had lost England the game.

I’m no cricket expert, but watching that last over from Stokes, I didn’t think that the balls were that bad. I’m sure if he could have them back he would try to do something different, but they did not look like the kind of balls that were destined to be hit over the boundary. We’ve just been lucky enough to witness moment of sporting greatness, yet all we’re doing is battering someone who was clearly gutted at his part in the event.

But why was Ben Stokes getting all the blame? Substitute fielder Sam Billings dropped Dwayne Bravo at 73-3, with the ball eventually crossing the boundary for 4 runs. Bravo was eventually caught out for 35, but not before hitting the first 6 of the West Indies innings. But despite this, England could have still won if they had been able to reach a higher total themselves. England lost three of their top order batsmen for a combined 6 runs. As captain Eoin Morgan said post match “We’re all in this together… We enjoy our wins and suffer with our losses.”

That said, to focus on England’s loss is to take away from the West Indies’ achievement. The headline here should be the great finish, whereas we make it an English failure. And this isn’t a one-off. When it comes to British sport, we are more inclined to negativity and finding someone to blame than we are enjoying the great spectacle.

England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign was certainly below expectations, becoming the first hosts to exit the tournament at the group stage following losses to Wales and Australia. With 77 minutes gone and trailing 25-28 against Wales, captain Chris Robshaw chose to kick a penalty to the corner rather than take the attempt at goal. He chose to go for the win rather than the draw. England won the line-out but were promptly driven into touch and that was the Welsh victory confirmed. It was a positive move from Robshaw and showed the trust he had in his team, but he took a lot of abuse from rugby ‘fans’ who blamed him for the loss. He was also heavily blamed for a couple of losses earlier in his captaincy after similar decisions at late penalties also did not pay off.

When the England football team were placed in the same group as Italy and Uruguay, FA chairman Greg Dyke was seen to be making a cut-throat gesture. Rather than coming out and suggesting that playing such difficult opponents would bring the best out of Roy Hodgson’s team, he was effectively suggesting that the team stood no chance. Not really the vote of confidence you want from the man at the top.

And lets not even get started on when a questionable refereeing decision affects the result!

Players thrive on the support of the fans, if the fans are going focus on the negatives, how can they be giving the players the added boost that they deserve. It is understandable to be disappointed in a result, but there does not always need to be someone to blame, often the better team won. Look at the positives and the event will be so much better.

Rather than focusing on a gutting loss for England, think instead where this team was a year ago as they were dumped out of the 50 over 2015 Cricket World Cup. They have come so far in a short space of time and, with the right support, will only get better.

So lets all try to stay positive moving forward, all we can ask is that the players out there representing us do the very best they can. And if it doesn’t work out, let’s get behind them and get ready to cheer them on again the next time out.

As the classic Monty Python song goes: Always look on the bright side of life…