Blog: 4 Minutes Of Time Added On

Mandaric's Magic Unforgettable As Takeover Talk Grows

posted 14 Jun 2014, 08:29 by Richard Brook

I wonder how Milan Mandaric feels. With every new media mention of a takeover at Sheffield Wednesday, and there have been plenty, the frenzy that is whipped up amongst their fan base is palpable. You could not blame the Serbian-American businessman if he felt the supporters cannot wait to see the back of him. That is not the case.

No Wednesday fan has such a short memory as to have forgotten the struggles of the second half of 2010; the prelude to Mandaric’s own takeover. The South Yorkshire side’s grip on solvency appeared perilous. Every month brought another new tax bill and another day lost to monitoring all possible news sources, to keep abreast of developments in the Owls’ latest High Court appearance.

Mandaric stepped in late in proceedings, but not so late to have let the club slip into administration, to arrange a deal which had hitherto looked impossible due to the fragmentation of Sheffield Wednesday’s ownership and their mountainous debts. Mandaric succeeded in progressing Wednesday year on year: from ensuring the club did not unthinkably drop into League Two for the first time ever, during his first season, through the dramatic final day promotion in the following season and two years of Championship consolidation thereafter.

It would be fickle, even by the supposed notorious level of football fans, if the Hillsborough club’s supporters were in a rush to see Mandaric leave, given where he found the club and where they are today. It would be hyper-critical to talk of Mandaric’s reliance on loans and free transfers, with the effects of spending that cannot sustain failure so recent in the club’s history.

The only reason that takeover speculation is met with such glee by Sheffield Wednesday fans is Mandaric’s two-fold position on the matter. Mandaric has openly and honestly told the supporters that he is willing to listen to offers for the club, for a considerable time. More importantly he has said he would only sell to someone who he feels can help Sheffield Wednesday regain their Premier League status faster than he could himself, stating he was neither desperate nor under pressure and that he wanted to do the right thing for the club. With this in mind there can be little wonder that any whiff of news that Mandaric might be taking an offer seriously set Wednesday hearts racing.

The latest news on the issue of the Owls ownership is that, this week, reports from France indicate that Hafiz Mammadov is in advanced talks with Mandaric taking over the fallen Yorkshire giants. Mammadov is a wealthy businessman from Azerbaijan who has made his money, as founder and chairman of the Baghlan Group, in the fields of oil, transportation and construction.

Wednesday would not represent Mammadov’s first steps in football. In 2004 Mammadov acquired his local team, FC Baku. Since this investment, Baku have won both the Azerbaijan domestic league and cup competitions. The club have also become the nation’s first side to reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League. The businessman also has financial interests in clubs whose names will be more familiar to most English football fans, Porto and Atletico Madrid. It is however in France, the country where the speculation linking Mammadov to the Owls originated, where Azerbaijani businessman has displayed the form that will interest Wednesday fans the most.

Having been a dominant force of English football in the early 1990’s the Owls’ fortunes tailed off throughout that decade and they slipped out of the Premier League without a whimper in 2000. Amidst the financial issues that ultimately led to Mandaric’s takeover, they have failed in their efforts to return and have endured two brief detours to League One along the way.

It is as RC Lens owner, that Mammadov has made a name that makes his being linked with Wednesday such a thrilling prospect for their fans. He made an initial investment of €20m into Lens, and got them promoted to their perceived rightful place, Ligue 1, at the first attempt. Between this and Mandaric’s description of who he will sell to, fans of the Owls, who are approaching their longest spell away from the top flight in their history, could be forgiven for wondering if Mammadov might herald their own return to the promised land if indeed a deal can be struck.

Aside from his on the field achievements at Lens, Mammadov has cultivated a reputation as a good owner in his time at the French club. Foreign ownership of clubs is less common in France than in England, and as such is greeted with arguably a higher degree of suspicion than exists in this country. Mammadov has turned that opinion around with prudent spending the catalyst behind realised ambitions. He has reportedly been interested in purchasing an English club for some time, and is believed to put importance in the right club for him having a wealth of history and tradition. Wednesday appear a good match in all regards.

Of course this takeover remains pure speculation at this point. Speculation that Sheffield Wednesday fans became battle hardened towards over many years. Wednesday fans have become very familiar with Mandaric’s well rehearsed dismissal speech, regarding “tyre kickers”, “interested parties”, “nothing tangible” and “when something happens you’ll hear it from [Mandaric himself]”. This time the dismissal is notable by its absence.

If Mammadov has made the reported €50 million offer for Sheffield Wednesday, and the club are in the process of a change of ownership, then the associated excitement should not be interpreted as the fans being eager to part ways with current chairman. If there is nothing in the rumours, which appears ever less likely, or should any potential deal stumble then the club will still have a leader who delivered them from the jaws of financial oblivion and the lower reaches of League One to a much more stable platform coupled with steady progress in terms of league position.

The clamour for a takeover is not inspired by the anticipation of Milan Mandaric’s departure, but by the prospect that someone who has delivered so much to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club in just four years, and who promises to be such a diligent custodian as regards to whom he hands the reins, might think he has found someone who can deliver greater progress faster still.

Palmer Plays Down Perennial Put-Downs

posted 14 Jun 2014, 08:26 by Richard Brook

This is an impassioned plea in the interests of justice. Every four years, when the small matter of the FIFA World Cup comes around, at least one person in either the broadcast, print or online media thinks themselves to be highly witty and original in producing either a team or list comprised of the ‘worst’ players ever to pull on England’s famous three lions. This time the culprits are BBC Three, offering an updated rehash of a programme they made in 2010. Yet it is not the unimaginative, contrived and formulaic nature of producing England’s worst ever XI that is the issue in hand for the purposes of this article. Instead the subject is the acute unjustness of a one particular perennial selection for the dubious honour of a place in this lazily, imagined side.

Carlton Palmer is a particular hero of mine. I was not quite eight years old, and a year shy  of attending my first football match, when Palmer signed for my beloved Sheffield Wednesday, on February 1st 1989. When I finally was allowed to go to a game we saw the elegant skills of John Sheridan and Trevor Francis eloquently combine as Wednesday comfortably beat Plymouth Argyle 3-0. Yet as we walked back to the car all my parents and I talked about was Carlton Palmer.

I was fortunate to grow up at a time when the Owls were among the absolute heavyweights of English football. Rivals and neutrals alike remember Wednesday reaching both cup finals in 1993, only to lose both to Arsenal and some remember Wednesday beating Manchester United in the 1991 League Cup final. In my experience however, virtually no-one remembers that the Owls finished third in the top flight in 1991/92, and indeed were in with a shout of the title up until the last fortnight of the season. Palmer was an integral part of this team and these achievements.

There are no illusions here: Palmer was not a flair player, but that has been said of other accomplished, defensively-minded centre midfielders, who are more celebrated. Claude Makelele, whose name became synonymous with the position of central defensive midfielder, was famously spoken of in disparaging terms by Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, as he left Madrid for Chelsea:

“We will not miss Makelele. His technique is average; he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres.”

The role is rarely the most eye-catching on the pitch, but depending on how the team is set up, both in terms of tactics and the skill set of the rest of the side it can be crucial one.

Palmer’s physique may have made the sight of his ceaseless running look like an awkward, ungainly blur of limbs, but the midfielder’s game was anything but clumsy. In truth the last statement features two of Palmer’s biggest assets. Firstly, his tireless engine was paid tribute to in Paul Carrack’s 1991 League Cup Final song It’s A Praise For Sheffield Wednesday, as he sings “Big Carlton covers every blade of grass”. A clichéd description of a hardworking footballer’s performance – that is beyond doubt. Strange then that it would never have occurred to me to write this of Palmer, but it is because I never saw him give any less than to cover every inch of turf, for the cause. Secondly his already long legs, at times appeared positively telescopic at times, appearing to unfailingly grow the required inched to break up opposition attacks with a last ditch interception or challenge.

Another facet of Palmer’s game is interestingly viewed as a damning criticism by Perez. Palmer knew his own game’s limitations. Palmer did not have the attributes to be a flying winger, or the range of passing to be a playmaker, any more than the object of Perez’s tirade. Whether breaking up play or supporting attacks Palmer would always look to play the simple ball first. This is not a reason to fault a player. It would be unfair, however, to paint the player’s game as one dimensional. Few Wednesday fans will have forgotten Palmer scoring a hattrick against QPR in August 1991.   That said the midfielder consistently evidenced that he knew not only his own best attributes, but also the strengths of those around him. He would bust a gut to break up the play and then strive to get the ball to someone better able to hurt the opposition than himself. Not necessarily the most glamorous of jobs, but not to be casually dismissed either.

Fiercely patriotic, Palmer’s commitment to England could never be called into question. Ahead of Euro 2012 Palmer and I exchanged views in relation to the rights and wrongs of retiring from international football, and refusing places on standby lists. Palmer recalled that he would never turn down the chance to represent his country whatever the circumstances, or pressures. He explained that in the run up to the all Sheffield FA Cup semi final in April 1993, he was asked by Sheffield Wednesday manager Trevor Francis, not to play for England days before the FA Cup game. Palmer characteristically ignored the request, and sustained a cut to his foot while on international duty. He played the semi final with the aid of a painkilling injection. This is testament to pride and commitment that Palmer feels for his country.

Palmer, to his credit, always shrugs off the type of criticism levelled at him in the programme in question. His response via his twitter account was:

“The facts are I have played for under 21, England B and have won 18 full international caps. They can say what they like I have done what every school kid dreams of and am very proud to have done so. You can say I was one of the worst players to play for England but I did, time and time again.”

Put simply it is untrue to say that Carlton Palmer was amongst the worst players to ever play for England. He was a very talented defensive midfielder that was able to read the game exceptionally, break up play and give the ball to his own side’s danger men. Football team selection and tactics has to do with achieving the correct balance in a side, and a strong defensive midfielder is an integral part of that balance unless your team is blessed with two or three complete all-rounders to fill the centre of the park. Sheffield Wednesday would not have been the team they were in the early 1990’s with two John Sheridans any more or less than if they had two Carlton Palmers. The same is true of England: two Paul Gascoignes would not have provided enough bite and at times the midfield looked devoid of flair with two of David Batty, Paul Ince and Palmer being played together.

Palmer himself points, with some justification, to a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands in April 1993 as a validation of his international credentials. Netherlands coach, Dick Advocaat praised the midfielder’s performance, as he put in a man of the match performance against the likes of Ruud Gullit, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard and Frank De Boer. By no means was Palmer a one cap wonder. He played 18 times for his country and cannot possibly be rated amongst those who have won a single cap, purely because England no longer has a B team. England were unquestionably underperforming at the time, reflected by the fact that Palmer finished on the losing side as often as the winning side during his time. Such underperformance is never the fault of a single player.

The criticism Carlton Palmer receives is wholly unwarranted by the ability he possessed to play his position, and by his total commitment to his country. It is a commitment that many players since then would have done well to seek to emulate.

Managers Need Clear Heads, No Butts

posted 14 Jun 2014, 08:23 by Richard Brook

“If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

…you’ll be a man my son!”

Above are the great words of Rudyard Kipling in his famous poem, If. Those who have seen the film Mike Bassett: England Manager will know that keeping your head can, on occasion, lead you becoming a mason, if you run out of space. The antics in the Newcastle United technical area, on Saturday, were those of someone who could do with heeding Kipling’s wisdom. It was also a showcase for behaviour that would provided a good laugh had it been portrayed by Ricky Tomlinson, as Bassett – instead of playing out for real during a professional football match.

With the media attention the incident has received over the weekend it seems wasteful to devote too many words to the bare bones of the incident. In summary, as Newcastle were leading 3-1 at Hull City’s KC Stadium, the ball went out for a throw to the home side. The ball went into the Newcastle technical area. Hull midfielder, David Meyler went to retrieve the ball and with no evident intention brushed past, Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew. Apparently incensed by the faintest of collisions, Pardew’s response was headbutt Meyler in the face. It was an extraordinary error of judgment on Pardew’s part, and one that ought to have seen him lose his job as manager of Newcastle United.

Pardew remains in situ – and the club say they have drawn a line under the matter. Newcastle have deemed the incident “unacceptable”, issued a warning and fined their manager £100,000 over the incident. Pardew himself displayed remorse and offered little in the way of an excuse:

“It was a heat of the moment thing – I massively regret it. I think I am going to sit down now because that’s two or three incidents I’ve been involved in. I didn’t mean to do anything aggressive but I moved my head and that’s enough.”

The problem is there was not actually that much heat in the moment. Pardew’s team were in control of the game and the last decision was a throw in. It was not even a particularly contestable throw in. Added to that Meyler’s contact on Pardew was not dissimilar to being the last person off a busy commuter train with a platform of people eager to board. The moment would be better described an innocuous.

Pardew has tried to play down the incident: “I have moved my head forward. I have tried to push him away with my head. I don’t think it was a headbutt.”

The dictionary definition of a headbutt is “An aggressive and forceful thrust with the top of the head into the face or body of another person.”

As Pardew himself alludes to this is far from the first time he has become embroiled in less than desirable situations on the touchline. Earlier this season pitch-side microphones picked up a vulgar, tirade of abusive language aimed at Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini. Going further back Pardew has earned himself a two game ban for pushing an assistant referee and a £10,000 fine for an altercation with Arsene Wenger during a 2006 match, while Pardew was manager of West Ham.

If we were talking about a player rather than a manager, while headbutting an opponent would not be any more excusable, Newcastle’s position on the matter would be. Gone are the days when players are sacked for dragging a club’s name through the mud. They are simply too valuable a commodity, in monetary terms, and in terms of their ability and the successes they can bring to a football club. As soon as Eric Cantona remained a Manchester United player, after aiming his famous kung fu kick at a spectator, the boundaries of what a club would tolerate from their stars was redefined. I always found it fascinating that Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who absolved Cantona, went to claim that Luis Suarez should never play for Liverpool again, over a missed handshake during the Uruguayan’s race row with Patrice Evra. Indeed not only did Liverpool stand by their player through this but also when he bit, Chelsea defender, Branislav Ivanovic during a match last season.

For players abhorrent acts are no longer enough to end their time at a club but for a manager they should be. A football manager is the voice of a football club, interviewed before and after every game. A manager’s face, voice and values become synonymous – to the watching world – with a football club during his tenure. The manager is a club’s moral compass dictating how a team will set up to play, including how physically the side will compete with their opponents.

More importantly, within this role, the manager is the person to enforce club discipline. How can Pardew look a Newcastle player in the eye, were he to have to discipline someone for violent behaviour going forward? Will the players even still afford him the authority to do so when they will always have an easy answer of Pardew’s own making? To fulfil this side of the manager’s role, an inch of moral high ground is required. Unfortunately for him, Pardew may well have lost that inch on Saturday.

Beyond this, were these the actions of someone who thinks clearly on the touchline? It is a trite understatement to say that football management is a high pressure job. Under such pressure, a manager is expected to function lucidly, regardless of the score or any other factor, to make constant judgment calls for the benefit of the team. Whatever is going on in the match, the manager needs to be able to, almost objectively, assess the need for substitutions and tactical decisions amongst other crucial decisions. The manager requires a certain clarity of thought to make these calls, and to time the correctly. Alan Pardew’s decision to headbutt David Meyler points to a decision that seems far from clear-headed rather one taken in clouds of red mist.

For a person to headbutt another person is an intolerable act of violence, whatever their profession. For a top football manager who seeks to maintain the respect of his players and the reputation of someone able to make good and instant decisions under pressure, it is professional suicide. Pardew made an absolutely terrible snap decision, and in doing so he behaved in a manner he would not tolerate from a player, and undermined the hard work of his players who, let us not forget, won the game 4-1.

For a manager, such actions are not merely ill-judged and morally incorrect; they call the individual’s decision making in to question. Can a man paid purely to make pressurised decisions be permitted to lose his head in such a disgraceful way? For me the answer is no and Alan Pardew is a lucky man to still be manager at Newcastle United.

Nolan Stars As West Ham Ascend

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:38 by Richard Brook

Originally posted here:

Is it always the early bird that catches the worm? Not in a league season in my observations. Whatever league, whatever the level, the entire bottom half of any division of association football teams must beware the inevitable late season risers. Every league has one: a team that start to find a run of form and results that elevates themselves away from the relegation zone, and in turn drags other clubs into the battle to beat the drop.

Over the month of February, West Ham United have taken strides towards becoming that club in the Premier League. The Hammers have propelled themselves up the Premier League table with a 100% record in the month of February. The East London club’s four wins from four games represents the best current winning streak in the top flight, ahead of Liverpool’s three consecutive victories. Sam Allardyce’s men ended January in the relegation places ahead of bottom placed Cardiff City by a single point, and 19th placed Fulham on goal difference.

The club finished February in a much healthier position, following their impressive run of victories, having not only hauled themselves from the drop zone but by doing so in some style. West Ham now occupy 10th spot in the Premier League – the very mid-point of mid-table.

It truly is a case of what a difference a month makes, as beyond their League position a month ago, the manner of the defeats was at least as concerning as the lack of wins. It must have felt more like being a nail than a hammer, in the opening weeks of 2014, as West Ham were hammered with alarming frequency in all competitions. One win against Cardiff and a creditable draw with Chelsea the meagre rewards. Meanwhile five defeats were racked up, with an astronomical 18 goals conceded along the way. This figure was vastly affected by the 5-0 FA Cup defeat to Championship Nottingham Forest and the 6-0 loss to Manchester City, in the League Cup semi-final – a tie which finished 9-0 on aggregate. It is safe to say that January 2014 was a month to forget for West Ham supporters.

The horror show of the previous month only serves to make the Hammers’ February resurgence more impressive. At the heart of the turnaround has been the goal scoring form of Hammers midfielder and captain, Kevin Nolan. February marked something of a new start for Nolan himself having been branded “irresponsible” by Allardyce as the year turned. The midfielder began 2014, by picking up his second red card, over the course of December and January, for aiming an off the ball kick at Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta. Allardyce was particularly frustrated by his captain’s actions given the nature of the contest. West Ham had already surrendered the lead afforded to them by Mohammed Diame’s seventh minute strike when Nolan retaliated, when referee Mark Clattenberg denied him a free-kick. Fulham made the man advantage pay in the 66th minute as Dimitar Berbatov wrapped up the points. At 1-1 both teams would have remained in the Premier League relegation zone. Berbatov’s winner lifted Fulham to 16thplace, on 19 points. West Ham were left second bottom on 15 points. Beyond this Nolan had already seen red in a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, in early December, meaning the player was suspended for a considerable portion of both months. The manager’s anger at having been hamstrung by his captain was understandable:

“Our captain was irresponsible. He’s let everyone down and himself. I know their centre-half fouled him but it’s still not an excuse for what Kevin did. That’s two [red cards] in the space of a month now. It’s not something I will allow to happen.”

Nolan has been instrumental in West Ham’s form over February, however, finding the net five times during the four game winning streak. The goals have put the player top of the Hammer’s scoring charts with seven for the season. It was another West Ham player, Andy Carroll, making headlines for a sending off – which was highly controversial – when West Ham opened the month at home to Swansea City. Carroll did last long enough to offer both assists for Nolan to convert before he departed early. Nolan drove home the opener, after neat control, from Carroll’s knock down. The second saw the powerful forward head the ball across to the Hammer’s skipper who found the net with a header of his own.

A week later, at Villa Park, Nolan again bagged a brace as his side ran out 2-0 winners, with the result enough to lift West Ham out of the relegation zone. Stuart Downing displayed deft touch to dance past Ryan Bertrand into the area before pulling the ball back to Nolan, whose neat back-heel beat Brad Guzan via a deflection, straight after half-time. Two minutes later Nolan scored again. This goal was all about his own graft and determination as he caught Fabian Delph in possession on the edge of Villa’s box, before firing home in comprehensive fashion. Allardyce was as quick to praise, as he had been to criticise on New Year’s Day:

“Kevin came up with the goods again. That is four in two games and he showed he doesn’t need Andy Carroll, to score.”

Against Southampton in West Ham’s last match Nolan played in Matt Jarvis to cancel out Maya Yoshida’s early strike for the Saints, with a terrific through ball from a deep position. With 20 minutes to go the midfielder made the result certain by firing home the last goal in a 3-1 win, with a close range volley from Carlton Cole’s header.

Nolan’s creative side to his game should not go unnoticed amongst his recent goal scoring exploits. He has eight assists for the season, including setting up two of West Ham’s three goals in a 3-3 draw with West Brom in late December. Between his February form, his assists and his ability to play centre midfield and as a forward, as well as his favoured attacking midfield role it is unsurprising that there were calls for Nolan to be selected for England.

Allardyce greeted the likelihood of a call-up with scepticism, while rating Nolan as amongst the Premier League’s best. The West Ham manager’s cynicism proved to be not without foundation as Nolan was overlooked for England’s clash with Denmark, on March 5th, as part of their preparations for Brazil 2014. Even before the squad was announced Allardyce commented:

“There are very, very few players better than him at scoring goals from midfield. He has had a lot of times that he has knocked on the door [of an England call-up] and I don’t think that’s going to make much difference for him now. He is in his 30’s now, so he has got to continue his career as long as he possibly can by doing what he has always done, and that is score goals.”

Nolan’s form has been instrumental in West Ham’s revival and club and supporters will be keen to see the collective and individual runs of player and team continue over the rest of the season. The Premier League relegation fight is so close that ten points separates tenth place from 20th. West Ham still have work to do to ensure they stay clear of the pack, but they are now top half requiring just three wins to hit the mythical 40 point mark. In this fiercely fought season, a lesser tally looks like it would be enough to stay up.

West Ham United have six of the current top seven still to play in their remaining 11 games, so nothing should be taken for granted, but with fixtures against four of the bottom six, their form and an on song Kevin Nolan the outlook is much brighter than a month ago.

Crawley's Earthquake To Cure A Flood

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:33 by Richard Brook

Originally posted here:

A winter break has been a much talked about potential introduction to English football for many years, whether for the protection of players, pitches or to accommodate a deeply controversial choice of World Cup host by FIFA. As topical a subject as it may be, no-one was expecting the unlikely and unscheduled pilot scheme to be undertaken by Crawley Town.

Who could have known, on January 25th 2014, when Kieran Agard fired home an equaliser for Rotherham United, in the sixth minute of time added on against the Red Devils, that it would be the last football that Crawley played for almost a month?

Thanks to a series of postponements due to water-logged pitches, not least their own, that is the scenario that Crawley faced up until Saturday when they finally played a match, away to Walsall. The enforced break did not appear to have disrupted the Red Devils as they ran out 2-1 winners, thanks to a brace from Matt Tubbs. The striker converted a penalty after four minutes, and headed in a Billy Clarke cross, close range, in the opening minutes of the second half. The Saddler’s replied as Sam Mantom turned home Craig Westcarr’s corner. Clarke was dismissed having received a second yellow card for time wasting, but Crawley saw out the last ten minutes regardless.

The club, who have a history of issues with their pitch, have played just one home game since December 29th and had seen their last five matches home and away postponed. Crawley’s efforts have been hindered by the wettest winter since records began and the club acknowledge the need to address the long term issue in the summer. Meanwhile in the short term, it is a situation that has seen the club resort to quite literally earth shattering measure to remedy the situation at the stadium. The club have brought in a machine called Earthquake. Chief Executive Michael Dunford explained:

“The Earthquake literally shakes the ground up. In recent weeks water has not been able to get through the surface because of a black silt layer directly under the surface. I would like to thank all those supporters who have worked so hard, with our staff, to try and get the last two games played.”

At the time of the 2-2 draw at the New York stadium Crawley were sitting 15th in the League One table, and already had a game or two in hand on most teams in the division. On 25 games and 31 points they have remained for four weeks. As the side prepared for Saturday’s trip to Walsall, they sat in 20th place – only kept out of the relegation places by the fact their superior goal difference.

Yet John Gregory’s men now have seven games in hand on some clubs, and six on many sides. Of course this is bound to lead to fixture congestion as we reach the business end of the season, which is always disruptive and physically demanding for players. On the other hand, while unlikely, maximum points from six games would put Crawley on 52 points which would currently put them level on points with the last play-off spot.

There is nothing in Crawley’s recent – or as recent as is possible – form to indicate such a climb might happen, but in the six games prior to their month without a match they took nine points, by winning twice, drawing three and losing once. The run was sufficient for them to occupy eighth place in the League One form table.

The Crawley players headed to the Midlands on Thursday just to get an opportunity to train on grass ahead of the Walsall fixture. The club have made use of the facilities in Burton, at the FA’s National Centre, and of Bodymoor Heath – the training ground of one of John Gregory’s former club’s Aston Villa. Captain Josh Simpson commented:

“It has been such a frustrating month. But we will get two good days of preparation in on grass, although the training has been really good over the last month and the boys have remained positive.”

The true effects of such a long break midway through the season have yet to be seen, but the Red Devil’s have hit the ground running by beating Walsall. Crawley will undoubtedly hope to pick up where they left off, as the run of postponements has drawn the club towards the relegation places, when their form hardly warrants it. Before the bizarre misfortune regarding the weather and the surfaces they have been due to play on they were a mid-table team, and on a mid-table run of form. If they are able to take nine points from their six rearranged fixtures, as they did in their last six games, they would be level with the 10th  placed side in the division as it stands.

Crawley play away at Swindon Town on Tuesday, but are due to play at home again on March 1st . Hopefully the club’s efforts to improve the pitch are a success and the weather is kind, so that the club can catch up their postponed fixtures for their own sake, that of their fans and indeed the rest of the division, so that a clearer picture of the League One standings can be established.

Welcome To The Machine: Why Madine Warrants A Last Chance

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:28 by Richard Brook

Originally posted here:

Gary Madine, the “goal machine” of Sheffield Wednesday’s 2012 League One promotion, has been released from prison having served five months of an 18 month sentence for assaults on two men in separate incidents in Sheffield nightclubs. The striker’s future is a divisive issue amongst Wednesday’s fan base.

Reaction on the club’s official social media accounts and on unofficial fan sites broadly falls into three groups. A number of Owls fans feel that the actions, of which Madine was found guilty, are not befitting of the club and that he should not pull on the famous blue and white stripes again. Others feel that Madine’s on field performances, since Wednesday’s arrival in the second tier, are indicative that the player is not up to the rigours of Championship football.

The third section are supportive of Madine and, while acknowledging that getting into fights is not acceptable behaviour for a professional footballer or indeed any member of society, they wish to give him a chance to put such incidents in the past, and to prove his worth on the pitch. Although the Owls later announced that neither the club nor the player would make a statement at this time, a seemingly contrite, Madine had already taken to twitter earlier in the day to thank supporters:

“Thanks for all the nice messages. I’m sorry for letting so many people down. Can’t wait 2 get back training, feel stronger than ever!!”

Reading between the lines, it appears that Wednesday are closest aligned to the latter group of their supporters, on this matter. Surely if the club were to take a stand that this behaviour should lead to the striker being sacked, then the time to make that stand was at the time that it became apparent that there was no chance of Madine successfully appealing the verdict. Instead, head coach, Stuart Gray – appointed as the replacement for Dave Jones, who was sacked while Madine served his sentence – has visited the striker in Armley prison, in Leeds. Although Gray stated that he is “not going to jump to any conclusions” over Madine being back in the Wednesday squad with talks planned for the middle of next week reportedly involving, Wednesday chairman, Milan Mandaric and vice-chairman Paul Aldridge, as well as Madine and Gray.

Without seeking to make any excuses for violent assault – which very obviously not to be condoned, it seems to me that the sensible course of action is to afford Madine a last chance. Some Wednesday fans are quick to point out that Madine has been in trouble with the police before over an arson in Gateshead, of which the player was cleared of any involvement, and a previous incident for which Madine was sentenced to community service, for punching a customer in a pub, while Madine was a Carlisle United player. Without wishing to trivialise acts of physical violence, Madine was not the first and nor will he be the last young man to get into a fight in a drinking establishment. I have a degree of sympathy for the point that Madine has had chances before, and the line certainly must be drawn somewhere, but some people need a louder wakeup call than others. Hopefully five months in prison and nearly throwing his favourable lifestyle away will prove just the wakeup call that the striker needed.

It does not make good business sense for Wednesday to off-load the player. According to, local newspaper, The News & Star Gary Madine’s transfer to Sheffield Wednesday was worth around £800,000 to Carlisle – although a significant amount was tied up in appearance and performance add-ons. Madine still has a year remaining on his Owls contract and with proven form as a goal-scorer at League One level, he scored 18 goals in the Owls promotion campaign, and if Wednesday did decide to dispense with his services it is to be imagined that they would look to recoup as much of their initial outlay as possible.

The assertion that Madine has struggled to come to terms with Championship is unfounded. There is no evidence either way. Looking at the bare statistics suggests that Madine did flounder last season, on the face of it he played 35 matches and scored four goals – close to one goal in nine. Digging a little deeper reveals a truer picture. Madine came off the bench 20 times in those 35 appearances often with an hour or more played. Even including the fact that he started 14 league and cup games, and was only replaced five times, Madine’s average playing time was only around 40 minutes per match. Like many strikers, Madine is a confidence player and might have benefitted from an extended run of games – and then a fairer judgment could be applied to his ability to make the step up a division.

Given the stop start nature of his season Madine’s scoring record was actually far more impressive than it appears. The striker averaged a goal every 385 minutes. If you translate that into 90 minute matches that is a goal every 4.27 games. Allowing for the fact that Madine did not get many full games, or a consistent run of them, that is not a bad benchmark.

Not only is Madine’s Championship record better than it first appears it should be noted that a number of players that were out of favour and apparently written off by former boss Dave Jones, have appeared rejuvenated since Gray replaced him. Chris Maguire, bought and started once by Jones, has shone under Gray. Player of the Year in the Owls’ promotion season, Jose Semedo had again found top form as Wednesday’s midfield enforcer, prior to his injury, having been written off by Jones. Kieran Lee has moved in to midfield, having been used fairly occasionally to execute defensive duties on the right hand side under the previous regime, and looks a very accomplished all round player.

Who is to say that Gray cannot both see and unlock something in Madine, where Jones was unable to? Madine may not create many goals for himself, and may have appeared too easy to knock off the ball to play as a hold up man, for Jones, but he can finish. Wednesday certainly make plenty of chances under Gray.

If Madine is in the right frame of mind, inspired by his enforced break from football, and willing to work for the team and for himself, then his return could be like a new signing. He has everything to prove both on and off the field and it is up to him to do that. I have a sneaking suspicion that a character like Madine might just be at his best when he feels he has a point to prove.

For me Wednesday, and their supporters, should give Madine one more chance to make things right. It is not the right time in the season, in the player’s contract or in his development to let him go. Who would not want a revitalised goal machine in their ranks?

When Madine joined Wednesday from Carlisle United he said: “I’m going to work hard and intend to become a better player and a better person too.” I sincerely hope he gets one more chance, from the club and the fans, to achieve both these goals with the Owls and I sincerely hope he grasps it.

The Mindless Eye In A Game Of Opinions

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:23 by Richard Brook   [ updated 1 Mar 2014, 07:24 ]

Originally posted here:

There have always been controversial refereeing decisions in football and there always will be. No amount of technology will change this. Some decisions are, of course, more controversial and higher profile than others.  A number of decisions have occurred over the last couple of weeks and football’s conversation has focussed on the refereeing calls that had Yaya Toure, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll at their respective hearts.

All of them have one thing noticeably in common: The FA’s video review procedure. This procedure introduced this season, has only served to make the decision reached more controversial, when would assume the intended consequence was to get closer to the elimination of doubt. Instead the review itself has become the cause of the controversy. It was all a lot simpler when clubs, players, fans and the media respected the referee, trusted him to make an honest call and accepted that honest calls are sometimes made in error.

The system, brought in to coincide with the start of the current Premier League season, sees a permanent panel of three former Premier League referees convene on the next working day, after a match. Their mandate is to review incidents of which the referee states he had either no view at all, or only a partial view of, with the power to hand out retrospective punishments for incidents where the referee has misjudged the severity or missed the incident altogether. The three ex-officials must reach a unanimous decision to issue a charge and they have no power to issue a retrospective booking, focussing on instances that may have warranted a sending off.

In the dying moments of last Saturday’s fixture between Manchester City and Norwich City, Toure became embroiled with Ricky van Wolfswinkel. The pair challenged innocuously for a high ball on the halfway line and Toure won the header landing on his feet, whereas van Wolfswinkel fell to the ground. Toure then very much appeared to connect with a kick on the Norwich striker. Replays from various angles seem to confirm this conclusion.

In Bellamy’s case the Cardiff player seemed connect with a forearm aimed at Swansea’s Jonathan de Guzman, during the south Wales derby at the weekend. Still photography of the incident seems to show Bellamy’s blow landing on the Swansea player’s head.

Yet the three man FA disciplinary panel of former referees could not conclusively agree that Toure had deliberately kicked out at van Wolfswinkel, and the Manchester City player will escape punishment. It had been expected that Toure would face a three game ban for the incident that was missed by, referee, Jon Moss. Meanwhile Bellamy will miss three Cardiff games for striking out at de Guzman.

Earlier this month West Ham United striker Andy Carroll clashed with Swansea defender Chico Flores. The defender climbed on Carroll and rolled across his back challenging for an aerial ball. In the moments that followed Carroll’s arm made contact with Flores’ face. Referee, Howard Webb produced a red card and ordered Carroll from the field. Upon first sight, the red card seemed harsh, and no amount of replays has changed my opinion. Carroll did not look behind him to see exactly where Flores was now standing; his arm appeared to be shooting out to steady himself after the coming together and the arm did not appear to be swung hard enough to be an act of temper or aggression.

West Ham subsequently failed in an appeal, when the incident was reviewed and threatened High Court action before eventually settling for an independent arbitration tribunal.

Never one to sit on the fence, former Sheffield United, Leeds and QPR manager Neil Warnock spoke of the Carroll incident on talkSport:

“[The FA] have upheld it because [Webb] is our top referee and he’s going to the World Cup and they don’t want to embarrass him. Everybody in football knows [the Carroll incident] wasn’t intentional.”

Warnock’s comment has not been the only strongly worded objection to the above events. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho feels that the FA have granted the players a license to act as a law unto themselves off the ball. Mourinho’s interest is particularly keen, as the decision not to ban Toure means the Manchester City midfielder will be available to play against Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Speaking ahead of the announcement of the verdict in the Toure review Mourinho said; “If he’s not suspended, the message is clear: the players can do what they want if the referee doesn’t see. If the FA defends football, he’d have to be suspended. It has to be the same for everyone. If they make the rule that action can be taken if a referee has missed something, they have to apply that rule.”

By contrast, former referee, Graham Poll – in a column for Mail Online – stated that neither Toure nor Bellamy’s actions needed further action from the FA stating; “Neither incident is a major one or particularly violent”.

So the old adage is true: Football is a game of opinions. This fact makes a mockery of the very idea of video review, in itself. The national debate over these incidents in the football, in the media and on the internet shows that reviewing video footage does not alter the fact that visual perception differs from person to person. All these incidents have been seen over and over again on television, online and in the review room, but you only need to talk to fans about these decisions to realise the scope for differing interpretations of these players’ actions.

There is no way of knowing what goes on when the panel of ex-officials decides upon such incidents, but what chance have they got of regularly reaching unanimous verdicts, when the fans on the terraces, current managers, and those paid by media companies for their opinion on the game cannot manage that same goal amongst themselves?

Video review is showing no signs of reducing the controversial incidents in football matches. It merely provides a new focus for the backlash. Those appointed to review can only watch the same footage that the wider football world has seen, and just like the incident in real time that the match referee may see or not, they can only give their opinion – albeit an expert and experienced opinion – on what they see.

Football as a sport is heading in the wrong direction. It needs to accept that referees are human and while they do not set out to make incorrect decisions, they will sometimes make them. As long as we believe referees are not subject to outside influence, they should be treated with trust and respect. The ever increasing trend of players surrounding officials to bemoan a decision is one indicator of the erosion of this respect. Another indicator is that football is increasingly taking decisions out of the referee’s hands.

The diminishing respect for officials appears to have been corollary to the exponentially increasing financial side of the game. The more money clubs spend the more pressure the managers and players are under. The greater the pressure the more exaggerated the inquest into each and every conceded goal and lost point.

Managers are not allowed to call refereeing decisions into question in post match interviews without fear of sanctions. There is an inherent hypocrisy that the FA hold referees above question on Saturday, but by Monday reserve the right to overrule them.

The sport needs to let referees get on with making their decisions and their mistakes and embrace them the way we always have, as the talking points of the game. It is the stuff the debate on the journey home from the stadium, and radio phone-ins, are made of. Football after all is a game of opinions and only the mindless eye of the camera is without one.

Chris Maguire: Recalling Wednesday's Forgotten Man

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:19 by Richard Brook   [ updated 1 Mar 2014, 07:24 ]

Originally posted here:

“Chris is not only a good player now, he also has a lot of potential for the future and will become an even better player. He’s a talented lad, he works hard, he runs the lines really well and he’s a team player. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

These are the words of former Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones shortly after bringing Chris Maguire to Hillsborough. Maguire joined the Owls from Derby County in the summer of 2012, for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £250,000 – in terms of Sheffield Wednesday’s recent purchases, this makes him one of the club’s more costly buys.

These facts make his almost immediate ostracism from the side, under the very manager who bought him and offered such a glowing critique of his attributes all the more astonishing. They also make Maguire’s re-emergence under the Owl’s newly appointed head coach, Stuart Gray, all the more frustrating. It is impossible not to wonder whether Maguire might not have made a difference, during the periods of struggle that the club have endured since the signing of Maguire, which coincided with the Wednesday’s 2012 promotion back to the Championship.

In the entire 2012/13 season, under Jones, Maguire appeared in just ten of Wednesday’s games, nine of the appearances from the bench. It should not be forgotten that in spite of his chances for first team action having proven so sparse, Maguire still had a decisive part to play in the Owls season, in which their second tier survival went to the very last match. At the end of April, away at Millwall, Maguire lashed home from a tight angle, from a Danny Pugh corner. The goal came in injury time to turn a creditable draw into a much needed win.

The current season began every bit as badly for Wednesday as did the previous season and again Maguire found himself not being viewed by Jones as having any part to play in trying to reverse the club’s ailing fortunes. Indeed in Jones’ last days as Wednesday boss, Maguire was allowed to leave the Owls to join Coventry City in League One. Maguire joined the Sky Blues on 28th November and Jones was axed by Wednesday following their 2-0 defeat at Blackpool on 30th November, having won just once to that point. Stuart Gray, then caretaker manager – now head coach in his own right, recalled Maguire before Christmas. The versatile forward had turned out twice for Coventry scoring two goals and contributing two assists, which cannot have gone unnoticed by Gray.

Both of Maguire’s Coventry goals came in a storming 25 minute debut for the Sky Blues away at MK Dons. The game had appeared to be heading for a draw when Maguire capped off his first appearance for the club scoring two stunning free kicks in the 86 and 90th minutes. Having been introduced in the 65thminute Maguire might have had a hat-trick but for, home keeper, Ian McLoughlin who stood up bravely to the Scot’s fierce shot from the right, before his late goals.

Wednesday are now unbeaten in ten matches, in all competitions, and have dragged themselves up to 17th in the Championship table, which is a remarkable feat given the fact that they went into December having won just once. There are of course multiple factors in this change of fortunes. Stuart Gray must take a large share of the credit. Wednesday fans initially met the prospect of him being appointed with a degree of suspicion, many preferring a manager who was more of a household name, with loftier achievements on his CV. However the players, when interviewed, repeated a common theme, in hoping that Gray would be appointed. His achievements during his caretaker spell left most doubters conceding that the caretaker had earned his chance.

It is also impossible to overlook the contribution of loan hero Connor Wickham, since recalled by Sunderland. The striker rattled in eight goals in 11 appearances during his games for Wednesday this season. Wickham’s form was a real catalyst to the South Yorkshire side’s on field improvements. Kieran Lee, who was another Jones signing that struggled to get games for the man who signed him, has made an impressive transition from right back, or defensive right sided midfielder, to central midfield. In truth Lee has looked Wednesday’s most complete and natural midfielder. His tenacious defensive qualities are complemented by an ability to pick a pass – not least in Wednesday’s 6-0 rout over Leeds United, above that which might have been expected. The difference in Lee’s case is that he did have an opportunity to make an impression last season, and did so during Wednesday’s survival winning run-in.

Maguire on the other hand has been well and truly frozen out making just one start, making it even harder for supporters to believe the quality of the player that has been unearthed within their own squad. The forward could not get a game while, one of Wednesday’s most potent attacking threats, winger Michail Antonio was deployed out of position as a striker – a move that seemed to have a marked, detrimental impact on Antonio’s form and confidence.

Yet since being brought in from the cold, by Gray who also worked with the player at Portsmouth, a revived Maguire has displayed guile, craft, creativity, vision and an eye for goal. In fact Maguire has displayed all the attributes that Jones spoke of upon signing the player. In this time he has made ten Championship and FA Cup appearances, making one goal and scoring four, including last Saturday’s 97thminute winner against Barnsley.

Owls’ boss, Gray is clearly appreciates Maguire: “Chris just keeps going and going, all game. He only had one thing on his mind, which was going for goal. He doesn’t hide. Him and Liam Palmer down the right hand side complement each other very well.”

Speaking after the Barnsley match, Maguire said those wanting to know why he was not involved under the previous manager would need to speak directly to Dave Jones, because Maguire himself did not know. Given the player’s appearances under Stuart Gray I suspect many Wednesday fans would relish the opportunity. Whatever the reason behind his omission, a rejuvenated Maguire is one of the principal catalysts behind Wednesday’s recent form as they seek to continue the rejuvenation of their season. Maguire is making a mockery of Jones’ decision to leave him out of the Wednesday team with such stubborn regularity, and both Owls fans and their ex-manager himself must surely be wondering as to what might have been.

Hull City AFC: A Rose By Any Other Name?

posted 6 Feb 2014, 14:10 by Richard Brook

Originally posted here:

Hull City owner, Assem Allam is as misguided as when Juliet addresses Romeo, in the famous play by William Shakespeare named after the two characters. While Juliet’s point might be a modern one, that we are all the same at our base level, a name is not an aesthetic triviality that can be casually dismissed and replaced.

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;’

Those are the words the Bard of Avon assigned to Miss Capulet. The trouble for Allam, is that the supporters of Hull City, do not find the smell relating to the name change he proposes in the least bit sweet. And why should they?

In the last few days the club’s owner has issued a clear and unveiled threat to those opposing his prospective, insensitive name change to Hull City Tigers. Allam has stated that he promises to go away “within 24 hours” if the Hull City community tell him to do so. The owner also stated the same applied if the FA do not ratify his wish, retaining – as they do – an absolute power of veto.

At least Allam’s recent comments are more moderate than his previous assertions. In December he echoed of another of the great writers Charles Dickens, when Ebenezer Scrooge speaks on people in Victorian workhouses to say: ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’

Allam’s actual comments on the supporters group, City Till We Die, were that “they can die as soon as they want”. He continued, of fans displaying a protest banner: “How can they call themselves fans, these hooligans, this militant minority, when they disturb and distract the players while taking away the rights of others to watch the football, and of companies who have paid good money for sponsorship.”

At the time a statement from the City Till We Die group read: “The intemperate suggestion that singing “City Till I Die”, or holding a banner with Hull City’s name on it, constitutes disorder is ill-informed, unhelpful and will be considered by many to be offensive.”

Almost as offensive as to brand Hull City, the name of the club of which he is the appointed caretaker, as “lousy” and “common”. The businessman believes his choice of name symbolises power, and will increase worldwide merchandise sales.

Anyone hoping that Allam might have been visited by three spirits over the Christmas period will have had such hopes crushed by his most recent statements, that he will be gone in 24 hours, if the fans or the FA oppose him in his quest to rebrand the team.

The threat of the owner leaving brings with it great uncertainty given the club’s financial situation. Fans will have happier memories of Allam, from him taking over a club in financial difficulty in December 2010 and immediately lending the club a reported £41 million. Last summer the figure was reportedly £72 million, with these loans are charged at 5% interest. In the Championship, the club’s wage bill was reported to stand at £26 million, a figure which also is believed to equate to the loss they made in achieving promotion to the Premier League. The club’s income was said to be £11 million for the same season.

Amongst his comments this week Allam remained bullishly unperturbed on the subject: “No one on earth is allowed to question my business decisions. I won’t allow it. I can give you my CV to give you comfort, for what I do in business, what I have achieved, but for someone to come and question me is not allowed. I’m here to save the club and manage the club for the benefit of the community. It will never, never be the other way round.”

For the second time in a week I find myself writing this sentence. Football, at least within this country, is not a business like any other. Football fans are without doubt paying customers of a football club but in no other mode of business are the customers so emotionally caught up in the company they are dealing with and the product they are receiving. It is quite conceivable that the 74 year old, Egyptian born business man could change the name of the generator company that made his millions, and experience the benefits of a more marketable moniker. That is simply not the case with a football club that have played under their current name since 1904.

There can be no benefit in naming Hull City anything other than that, to market it more globally, if in so doing their bread and butter fans – the ones who live in Hull, buy tickets, programmes, food and merchandise – are alienated by the move.

A football club is a matter of family history, tradition and tribalism. A name gives it identity and continuity as it is passed from parent to child. A name gains value from the repetition, people know what is being spoken of and what is to be expected of it. If you blindfolded a group of people and asked them to sniff a rose, but named it as some new variety of flower, and compare its scent on a scale of one to ten, to the scent of a rose would they say it smells the same? Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That could be a very interesting psychological experiment.

Foreign owners such as Allam and Vincent Tan at Cardiff are ditching our game’s rich tapestries in the blink of an eye, with no apparent understanding for the industry in which they are operating. Given their financial dependency on their owner, it would be quite understandable if Hull City fans did not agree, but I believe English football would be much better off if all the club owners who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, did disappear from the game in the next 24 hours.

Does a football club abandoning its heritage, to whatever end smell, as sweet? No it does not. In fact it stinks.

Press Bans: Supporter's Don't Know What's Happening

posted 6 Feb 2014, 14:07 by Richard Brook   [ updated 6 Feb 2014, 14:08 ]

Originally posted here:

“Systems of government that are centralised and dictatorial and require complete subservience to the state”; that is how oxford define the totalitarian regime. It is a modus operandi, of which English football fans should be increasingly aware, that draws ever closer as football clubs plummet to new depths to control the flow of information that is made available to supporters. While news still comes forth through official club channels every supporter in the country should be appalled and vocally opposed, in equal measure, if their club seeks to prevent the press from reporting on club affairs.

Never has this been more evident than in the recent spate of football clubs banning particular reporters, newspapers or media agencies, from attending their matches in an official capacity. That is to say that, although they can turn up as a paying fan and cover the games to the level that such circumstances will allow, they will not be afforded any of the usual privileges. This essentially means no access to the press box or press conferences and no one-on-one interviews.

To the club and fan, on the face of it, such bans have less impact than ever. Information on our national game is more widely available than ever before, the meteoric rise of the internet has given a voice to vast numbers of fans with an opinion and computer.

As regards what happens behind the scenes, the clubs have increasingly taken control of affairs themselves. It began with premium rate telephone services such as ClubCall and TeamTalk, which promised you the big news first at an exorbitant rate per minute. Then, as the internet took off, clubs relinquished the monetisation of their news and took full advantage of having their own website to connect directly with supporters. More recently we have seen a combination of the two methods as club websites, which continue to provide free news, are invariably linked in with a paid for premium content provider which gives more depth alongside videos and live commentaries. We also see clubs utilising social media networks like twitter, facebook and YouTube to keep fans appraised of developments. Some fans are even fortunate enough for their club to have their own dedicated television channel.

Beneath the surface press bans may represent a larger problem.

The most recent occurrence involves Swindon Town and the Swindon Advertiser. The paper have been banned after their chief sports writer, Sam Morshead, tweeted that Nile Ranger was in the team to play Peterborough United, last Saturday. The reporter tweeted his information 45 minutes before the team sheet deadline, on the strength of a photo of Ranger’s shirt hanging in the dressing room posted on twitter by a fan on a ground tour. Ranger’s inclusion had been in doubt due to a series of disciplinary issues led to, manager, Mark Cooper admitting to the press he was unsure over the former Newcastle United player’s future at the club.

This is not the first instance of such a ban. In October last year, Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew ignored questions from the local press after a derby defeat to Sunderland. The reason was that the club had taken exception to the coverage of a protest against, owner, Mike Ashley earlier in the month. Supporters had protested on the basis of the controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear, as Director of Football, the rebranding of St James’ Park, the shirt sponsorship deal with, pay-day loan company Wonga and their dissatisfaction with the club’s transfer activity.

Port Vale took the decision to charge a local paper £10,000 to continue covering their home matches. Owner, Norman Smurthwaite commented that the paper received free content by covering matches and that “other local media outlets pay for that access”. It was noticeable however that the first mention of a charge came shortly after Smurthwaite took exception to a question from the paper regarding the late delivery of the club’s limited edition third strip. The paper in question The Sentinel had, in their own words, “helped to expose the wrong-doing of a previous board” and had championed a campaign to save the club from a winding-up order, only 18 months earlier.

The Guardian and The Observer were both banned from Nottingham Forest, who weeks earlier had completely ostracised the Nottingham Post, after football writer Daniel Taylor, attended a game with press box tickets and did not write a match report. Taylor commented:

“It is what a football correspondent does, watch games, meet people, see the managers, get information. Forest say it broke their rules. It has never been a problem before.”

With current media available to facilitate communication between club and fans, it is perhaps no wonder that the clubs feel able to remove the press privileges of individuals and organisations. It is also easy to understand the apathy of fans, as news consumers: While you are getting the news it does not really matter from whom you receive it.

Therein lies the problem, and the reason for my contention that fans must fight against press bans. It is right there in the phrase; “while you are getting the news…”

In the cases above reporters and newspapers were banned for reporting a detail the club did not want reported and would not have reported themselves. There can be no dispute that a club has an absolute right to express its anger if something is reported it would not have wished to be reported. There are even instances when it is easy to see the club’s point of view. Tweeting about team selections based on shirts hanging up in the dressing room, is obviously unhelpful for preparations.

What of stories that do not meet the sugar coated standards of the official website and where publication could be avoided?

Fan’s rarely own top-level football clubs, but they are the moral custodians of these great and historic institutions. The press provide a much needed check on the almost unfettered powers of a modern football club owner. That is not to say that the press catch everything, but between their sources and their right to ask questions, reporters make fans are better empowered to look after the best interests of their club. A club is hardly likely to take to its own website to draw attention to financial mismanagement, below-par signings or ridiculous ticket prices. A well placed, investigative journalist stands half a chance of finding out about such matters while there is still a chance for the fans to act.

Swindon Town Supporter Club’s chairman, Roger Bunce has spoken similarly in words reported by the Swindon Advertiser:

“What worries me is that Lee’s [Power, Swindon Town chairman] actually gone and done this. The supporter’s don’t know what is happening.”

Football clubs that do not permit, the press into their press conferences are reminiscent of a totalitarian regime. Seeking to control attitudes and the likelihood of a dissenting fan base by censoring the flow of news is morally wrong and bad for the club itself. Democratic accountability is a phrase more associated with government than business, but it is essential to football. Business men must remember, rightly or wrongly, that a lot of people have less passion for politics than football. Football supporters have a long history of holding directors to account by protest – this is not the same as any other business.

Owners, in the business sense, come and go but a football club always truly belongs to its fans. A club that bans the members of the press from covering the club is a club exposed; unprotected by its supporters and for that reason the ban must be fought.

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