All posts by Harry Currall

Jamie Day – The Englishman in charge of Bangladesh

When you think of sport in Bangladesh, you immediately think of cricket. However, football is on the rise, and Englishman Jamie Day is in charge of the national team as they seek qualification to a major tournament.

From an early stage in his career, Day held ambitions to get into coaching.

“When I was playing, I always liked the coaching side of it, the sessions which the coaches I was playing for did, and I was always interested in doing that once I finished.

“I went into part-time football around 25 or 26, and then it was a time for me to get my coaching badges. I started working in the community scheme at Charlton and then progressed into management and where I am now.”

At the age of just 30, Day became player-manager of Welling United, a challenge he says he really enjoyed.

“It was something I wanted to do and it was an opportunity, obviously I’d played for Welling before, it’s a really good club and it’s local, a club that I was used to and I got on really well with the owners which made it easier for me.

“I think in non-league you can get away with being a player-manager if you have good staff around you and I had really good staff at that time who took care of stuff when I was playing and I trusted their judgement.

“For me it was a really good five years, I had fantastic times there. Probably the best I’ve had as a manager in terms of success.”

Asian adventures

Day, a former Arsenal trainee, enjoyed several more spells as a manager in non-league football, before the opportunity of international management arose.

“I had an agent in Australia who knew a company which wanted a Bangladesh coach. So, he got in contact and asked if it would be something which I would be interested in and I said yes.

“Obviously, it’s an international job and I’ve always wanted to work abroad. After a few weeks I met the vice president of the Bangladesh FA in London, we had a good chat and spoke about how we wanted to try and take Bangladesh football forward and what was needed. I felt it was a good opportunity and wanted to take the challenge up.”

Whilst cricket dominates in Bangladesh, football is certainly gaining popularity. Whilst it is unlikely to rival cricket anytime soon, Day sees an opportunity for the sport to become bigger.

“It is a popular sport. Bangladesh is associated with cricket more than football, but I think that a lot of people do like football at the minute.

“There’s more money, sponsorship and commercial aspects in cricket than football so that gets a lot more exposure. But if Bangladesh was to have some success, which will take time, football has potential to grow.”

Currently ranked 187th in the Fifa World Rankings, Bangladesh have a limited record of success, qualifying just once for the AFC Asian Cup, way back in 1980.

“The league is probably lower league in England, Conference South level,” Day explained.

“A few of our players could probably play Conference, they might struggle with the physical side of it but technically they could play at that level.”

Looking to the future

For Bangladesh to qualify for tournaments, Day believes better structure is needed within the game at club level, with academy sides not existing in the country.

“There are professional clubs but there is a lack of structure. There aren’t any academy systems at the moment, they basically all just have one men’s first team.

“It is slowly getting better, but we need to filter that down to a younger age so they’re playing football from 5, 6, 7 all the way up. At the moment the structure isn’t there to do that.”

One possible route Bangladesh could go is selecting players of Bangladeshi origin who currently play abroad. Day explains that is an option they have considered.

“We’ve had a look at that, obviously our captain Jamal Bhuyan was born in Denmark but now lives in Bangladesh. There’s a few Bangladeshis in Canada and a couple in Sweden, but the one’s we have spoken to would like the opportunity to play for the country they’re currently in, which we understand.

“If further down the line they become available then we would look into it. We want to give the home-grown players the first option. But if we want to progress, we need to look further afield and if those players have a change of heart we’ll look into it.”

“We want to try and qualify for the Asian Games if possible, that’s the target. We knew we weren’t going to qualify from the group we were in, but it’s been a good experience for the younger players.”

Day spends a lot of time away from his family, something he has previously struggled with but is now getting used to.

“It’s tough. I do four to five weeks at a time, then come back home for ten to 14 days. It depends if there are competitions, obviously if there was a World Cup game then we’d have a camp lasting three or four weeks, possibly longer.

“It is tough for the family but they’ve been fantastic, very supportive and I appreciate them letting me do this job.”

The future for Bangladesh football seems bright with Day at the helm, and the Londoner is looking to extend his stay with his current contract due to run out in May.

“We’ve had some discussions already, which were very positive. I think there’s still some good work to be done in Bangladesh,” he explained.

“I enjoy working with the players in international football. We’re close to getting a new contract done, it just might take a little bit longer than we first thought.”

Review: Drive to Survive (Season 2)

It has long been said that what happens on the track is just a small proportion of what goes on in the world of Formula 1. What goes on behind the scenes has long been off-limits for fans, but Netflix’s Drive to Survive changes that completely.

The first season gave fans an insight into the emotion in the sport, including a look into the personal lives of those working in it. The second season is no different, but this time includes F1’s two biggest teams, Mercedes and Ferrari.

The series begins with a scene-setting episode, unsurprisingly titled “Lights Out”. It’s a rather slow start, looking at the off-season driver changes with particular focus on Daniel Ricciardo’s move from Red Bull to Renault and his disastrous debut in the Australian Grand Prix, his home race.

The most interesting nuggets to come from the first episode are Red Bull team principal Christian Horner’s admission that star driver Max Verstappen has an exit clause in his contract were he not among the top three in the championship by the summer break, and also Horner’s suggestion that Ricciardo left because he couldn’t handle the pressure of being Verstappen’s team-mate.

Steiner loses it

The pace soon quickens, with a full episode focussing on Haas and one of the stars of the last series, team boss Günther Steiner. The Italian became much-loved by F1 fans for his swear-filled rants, and he hasn’t calmed down.

It is a turbulent year for the American team, who suffer a dramatic downfall in results following an impressive race in Australia, where their two cars finished 6th and 7th.

It can often be hard to work out whether Steiner is being serious or joking. One standout moment is an exchange with driver Romain Grosjean, where the Frenchman reminds his boss that despite success with his former team Lotus, they went bankrupt. “We’re not bankrupt,” Steiner replied. “Anyway, not yet. It depends how many cars you destroy this year.”

Frustrations reach boiling point after yet another disappointing result at the Spanish GP, with Steiner launching into another trademark tirade aimed at chief race engineer Ayao Komatsu. “Find out the problem and make progress out of it instead of ‘this is better’. It isn’t ‘this is better’, it f***ing isn’t. I want to see the progress. I mean otherwise I make changes, you know?”

The tension erupts at the British GP, after the two cars collide with each other on the first lap. In arguably one of the moments of the series, a post-race debrief featuring Steiner and both drivers goes horribly wrong, with Danish driver Kevin Magnussen smashing the glass door on the way out.

“He smashed my f***ing office door,” Steiner rages. “I don’t know where he is but he can f*** off, I told him. Both of them. We have got two f***ing idiots driving for us.

“This is not acceptable and we will make changes. If it would be my decision now I would sack them both.”

Disappointingly, the episode ends abruptly, and Haas’ progress is not followed throughout the rest of the campaign. Whilst those who watched the whole season would know their struggles continued, casual fans of the sport would be left wondering how the season played out.

Mercedes meltdown

Another standout episode features Mercedes, who were not involved in the first series, celebrating their 125th year in motorsport at their home race in Germany. The race is a disaster, Lewis Hamilton finishing 9th whilst teammate Valtteri Bottas fails to reach the chequered flag.

Team boss Toto Wolf’s angry reaction to Bottas’ crash – pounding the table and exclaiming “F***! How is this possible?” in German, is one of the most iconic moments from the series.

Despite being left with red faces, Mercedes to their credit do not deny Netflix access to anything, with the cameras allowed to film their post-race debrief, with Hamilton apologising numerous times for his costly crash.

Grief to glory

One narrative followed closely throughout the series is the driver change at Red Bull. Pierre Gasly begins the season as Verstappen’s team-mate, but is demoted during the summer break, with Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon making the step up to replace him.

Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko can be heard telling Horner at the Canadian GP: “Gasly is poor, he’s lost four tenths in the last two corners, which I think you or I could do.”

The French driver is at a loss to describe his failings, offering the explanation: “I’m f***ing fast but at the moment I’m f***ing slow” as it is presented as being inevitable he will lose his seat.

Drive to Survive brilliantly captures the raw emotion fans rarely get to see from drivers. The tragic death of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert in Belgium is presented fittingly. Gasly speaks emotionally about losing his “best friend”.

“I’ve grown up with this guy since I was seven in karting, we’ve been roommates, we’ve lived in the same apartment for six years. I’m still shocked. I don’t realise how it can go so fast. It’s just terrible.”

The final episode focusses on the penultimate race in Brazil, where Gasly secures an emotional and unlikely second place for Toro Rosso. His narrative is perhaps the best of the series, with viewers left rooting for him to succeed after a year in which he was demoted and lost his best friend. It’s a fitting way to finish, with him securing his first ever podium.

Disappointingly, several drivers and teams are barely mentioned throughout the 10 episodes. Fan favourites such as Lando Norris and Kimi Raikkonen are given very little screen time.

Norris’ McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz’s journey from joining a new team to securing an unlikely podium is tracked, but the English rookie receives little attention. Similarly, teams such as Alfa Romeo and Racing Point are mentioned only in passing.

Overall however, the second season of Drive to Survive is very entertaining. Whether you watch every race or have never seen an F1 GP in your life, there is something for everyone.

Images via: Flickr (Haas https://www.flickr.com/photos/105731165@N07/46549269174 )

Wikimedia Commons (Red Bull
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FIA_F1_Austria_2019_Nr._33_Verstappen_1.jpg)

Pexels (Mercedes
https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-shot-f1-f1-car-formula-1-1414483/ )

Meet Jamie Barrow – the British snowboarder targeting 200kph

From the devastating low of a serious back injury which shattered his Olympic snowboarding dreams, Jamie Barrow’s career has reached heights – and speeds – never before seen in his sport.

Born and brought up in Switzerland and on the slopes from a very young age, Barrow was seemingly destined to make his mark in the world of winter sports.

“I started skiing when I was about two years old, somewhere around that time,” Barrow explains. “When I was eight, I decided I wanted to do something that I was better than my older brother at, who was always a little bit faster than me. That’s when I discovered snowboarding.”

The 27-year-old credits growing up in the Alps as a big factor in his subsequent success. “It was amazing. At the time I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I would do now, but I absolutely loved it. I had the snow so I could go wherever I wanted during the winter season and that definitely helped me get to the level I am at now.”

Shattered dreams

Like most young snowboarders, Barrow dreamt of competing at the Olympics. Following several impressive results in senior competitions, he looked in good shape heading into 2013, the year when qualification for the 2014 Winter Games would be decided, before disaster struck.

Barrow suffered a serious back injury on a qualifying run that January, after the high-back on his binding broke and he ended up off the slope. His hopes of competing at Sochi 2014 were in tatters.

“That was one of the lowest points of my life,” he revealed. “It was really quite depressing after that crash, I lost everything, and it was a to come back again, but the motivation for me was to prove the doctors wrong. They told me I would never be able to run again never mind snowboard. I wanted to prove them wrong and get back to what I loved.”

Even follow a crash of such magnitude, Barrow was determined to make his mark on the sport, even if he was unable to compete for his country.

“I came up with the idea of doing ski records. I knew I’d be in a lot of pain snowboarding, but if I just went straight down a hill for 20-30 seconds I could put up with the pain for that long.”

Breaking boundaries

In April 2013, just months after doctors told him he would never be able to run again, Barrow broke the British snowboard speed record, recording a time of 151.6kph, before three times breaking the world record for the fastest speed whilst being towed by a vehicle.

“The first time I did it, it was a huge achievement for me as I’d always wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records, and to finally do it was a great achievement,” he explained.

“The first two times there was always something which held me back and stopped me from going faster, whether it was the car not being fast enough or we didn’t have a long enough track or just the conditions weren’t right.

“So, this third time I wanted to find a new place so that nothing held me back and that’s why I went out to Norway. I wanted to see just how fast I could go, and I was lucky enough to break the record again, going faster than I ever had done before at speeds of over 183kph.”


‘When I was falling over at 180kph, that was the scariest moment of my life for sure’

Despite setting yet another world record, Barrow described the achievement as being “bittersweet”, with several things going wrong which prevented him from going even faster, including another scary crash.

“Don’t get me wrong I was so happy to have broken the record, but so many things went wrong on the day. Firstly, the weather came in a little bit and it was -14°C. On the first run it was so cold that the spray from the car was freezing to my goggles, I went completely blind at 180kph and ended up crashing which was the fastest snowboard crash ever recorded.

“I wasn’t really expecting to get up from that. I knocked myself out a bit and slid for over 100 metres, but when I came to, I was okay.

“That wasn’t a great way to start the day, but I eventually pulled myself together, knowing I had worked so hard with the preparations for the record. I shook myself of and went for it again with a couple more runs and was able to break the record.

“I didn’t go as fast as I wanted to go as we didn’t have the right conditions and the equipment was messing up a little bit, however I did go faster than I’d ever been before, so I was really happy with that.”

Barrow has experienced several major crashes in his career but revealed this latest one at 180kph to be the most frightening of them all.

“Being knocked out and waking up in the snow is not a nice feeling. When I was falling over, that was the scariest moment of my life for sure. When I injured myself the first time it wasn’t that big of a crash, it wasn’t scary. Whereas this time was the scariest thing that I’ve ever done.”

Far from putting Barrow off, however, the snowboarder is aiming to break his own world record once again in the near future.

“My next target is definitely to hit 200kph. That’s always been the aim and I was hoping to have done it on my last attempt, but things didn’t quite go to plan.

“It’s not always about trying to get it on the first go, it’s about dealing with these setbacks and coming back stronger. I’ve got a few other world records I’d like to break as well, they’re in the pipeline, but we’ll see how this goes.”

Korean adventures

Away from the records, Barrow has visited many different resorts around the world and describes Japan as being his favourite place to snowboard.

“The snow over there and the powder is absolutely incredible. It was my dream, somewhere I’d always wanted to go. It was just incredible, unlike anywhere you can go in Europe.”

By far the most unique place he has visited however is North Korea. Very few would associate ski resorts with the most isolated country on the planet, but Barrow was lucky enough to experience them first-hand.

“Snowboarding there was a very strange experience. We pretty much got a whole private resort to ourselves. It was an interesting trip. They’ve just opened up a new ski resort and we’re in talks at the moment to be the first journalists to visit to film a documentary with National Geographic.”

Jamie has his own website and is on Twitter at @JamieBarrow_GB.

Featured image via https://www.facebook.com/barrowboarder/

Why there is still a future in New England for Tom Brady

Fans at Gillette Stadium held their collective breath. Tom Brady had the ball with 15 seconds remaining, in his own end zone, the Patriots trailing by a point. We’d been here before. New England would find a way out of it, right?

Wrong. Brady’s pass went straight into the hands of former team-mate Logan Ryan, and the Tennessee Titans secured the upset. This time there was to be no miracle, no ridiculous pass down field, no trick play. The Patriots’ post-season ended with a whimper.

If that is to be the last we will ever see of Brady on a football field, it will be a travesty. Not all great careers have fairy tale endings, but one as good as his at least deserves better than that.

Struggles

On the face of it, it seems crazy that his future is even in doubt. Less than a year ago he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy aloft, following victory over the much-favoured LA Rams. He has featured in the last three Super Bowls, winning two of them. It seems age really is just a number when it comes to the iconic quarterback.

However, the age factor is not something which can be ignored. At 42, he is unable to do what he once could. Much of his talent remains, but it became increasingly evident towards the end of the season that he is being overtaken by the younger generation.

Brady has previously stated on numerous occasions that he wants to play until he’s 45. Whether his body will let him do that is a question we cannot answer yet, but it would seem unlikely.

‘It would certainly not be fair to place the blame for this entirely on Brady. While he may have had one of his worst seasons by his own high standards, the Patriots offence in general was short on talent’

This season, the Patriots became extremely reliant on their defence. They conceded a mere 195 points in their 16 regular season games, considerably less than Buffalo, who conceded 237, and a huge gap to the third best defence, Baltimore with 270.

On offence, however, they struggled considerably. Six teams outscored them, with the Patriots managing just 420 pre-playoff points. In terms of total yardage gained, they ranked 15th.

Their early season form masked their flaws, with the team winning their first eight games against relatively weak opponents, before falling from 10-1 to 12-4, missing out on a first-round bye before crashing out in the wildcard round.

It would certainly not be fair to place the blame for this entirely on Brady. While he may have had one of his worst seasons by his own high standards, the Patriots offence in general was short on talent.

Tight-end Rob Gronkowski, one of Brady’s most reliable teammates who was with him for three of his Super Bowl wins, retired following their last title. Wide-receiver Chris Hogan, who was part of the Patriots team for their last two championship victories, departed to join Carolina in the off-season.

Other than Julian Edelman, the MVP of Super Bowl LIII, Brady had few dependable targets. Bill Belichick’s men did attempt to fix this with the signing of Antonio Brown, but that always felt like a move destined to fail, with the controversial wide-receiver lasting just one game before being cut amidst various misconduct allegations away from the field.

In many ways, it feels as if Brady was somewhat hung out to dry by owner Robert Kraft. At his age, talent alone was not going to be able to deliver another championship. Last year he was provided with the tools he needed to win, but this year too much offensive talent was not adequately replaced.

Future

So, what of the future? Can Tom Brady still win football games? Of course he can. It is the question of whether he is still capable of winning Super Bowls which both he and the Patriots must answer.

Brady will be a free agent come March 18th if he has not agreed a new deal to stay in Foxborough.

He will have no shortage of options should Kraft and the Patriots decide to move on, with several teams, most notably Miami, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and the LA Chargers all actively searching for their next quarterback. Even with several talented options available in the draft, the prospect of adding a six-time Super Bowl winner to your team could be too good to turn down.

‘It would appear mutually beneficial for the Patriots to keep him. It would give them time to search for his successor, whilst giving him a chance to avenge this season’s disappointments’

But Brady’s heart belongs in Boston. It would seem wrong to see him pull on another team’s jersey. Never playing again would be a better ending than seeing him struggling with a rebuilding team with little to no chance of getting near a title game.

New England’s options at quarterback are limited. They don’t have a young superstar waiting in the wings to take over. Jarrett Stidham is their current back-up and not considered by anybody as QB1 material.

Had Jimmy Garoppolo not been traded to San Francisco in 2017, he would’ve been a natural replacement. But he’s long gone and unless they are planning something drastic, such as a costly trade-up for a high draft pick, it’s hard to work out what their next move would be were they to cut ties with Tom.

Keeping Brady would not be a costly exercise, as he would likely agree to a short-term deal worth considerably less than his last contract. Retaining him, for one more year at least, would seem the obvious thing to do.

In the end it depends as much on what the man himself wants as it does his team. Would he really be willing to play elsewhere? Moving his family across the country, for one last contract on a team most likely not ready to win, is something it would be hard to see him doing.

Following that loss to the Titans – who have also since dumped No.1 seed Baltimore out of the playoffs – he reiterated his desire to continue playing and all but ruled out retirement. Whether he would feel the same if an offer to stay with the Pats was not on the table remains to be seen.

It would appear mutually beneficial for the Patriots to keep him. It would give them time to search for his successor, whilst giving him a chance to avenge this season’s disappointments.

If Brady bows out, he will do so as the greatest ever to throw the ball. But don’t bet against him walking out at Gillette Stadium again next autumn.

Photo via Flickr by Keith Allison at https://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/3866185527

Preview: Euro 2020 Group B

Denmark

After failing to qualify for the 2016 Euros, the Danes will be looking to impress this time around. All three of their group stage matches will be played at the 38,000 capacity Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, giving them an extra advantage.

Denmark went unbeaten during qualification, finishing second in their group behind Switzerland. Their star player is undoubtedly Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen. The midfielder has scored 31 goals in 95 appearances for his country so far and his form will play a major part in determining how successful their campaign will be.

Captain Simon Kjær is also a vital player for the Scandinavians. The Sevilla centre-back has spent the season so-far on loan at Atalanta, and is likely to reach the 100 cap milestone during the championships next summer.


Parken Stadium in Copenhagen

One of Denmark’s most underrated squad members is 28-year-old midfielder Thomas Delaney, who has been one of the Bundesliga’s stand-out players in recent seasons. He joined Borussia Dortmund from Werder Bremen in 2018 and is a regular in Die Schwarzgelben’s midfield.

As well as being packed with experience, Denmark also have plenty of youth to call upon. Kasper Dolberg joined Nice from Ajax in the summer and the 22-year-old has already amassed 17 appearances for the Danes. 21-year-old Borussia Dortmund forward Jacob Bruun Larsen made his debut last summer and will be pushing for a place in the squad, as will young Bournemouth midfielder Philip Billing, who is yet to win his maiden cap.

While Denmark’s recent record in the competition is not great, they famously won the Euros in 1992, despite failing to qualify. After Yugoslavia were kicked out, the Danes were selected to replace them, going on to beat Germany 2-0 in the final to create one of the most famous shocks in international football history.

Finland

Finland will compete at their first ever major tournament next summer, after finishing second behind Italy in their qualifying group. Considered the weakest side in the group, they will need to get off to a good start in their opening fixture, the Nordic derby against Denmark, to give themselves a chance of reaching the knockout stages.

Whilst their squad doesn’t contain many household names, one is Norwich striker Teemu Pukki. The 29-year-old was top scorer in the Championship last season as the Canaries won the title, and got off to a superb start in the Premier League, winning August’s Player of the Month award in a month which included him netting a hat-trick.

The Fins will be pinning much of their hopes upon Pukki to score the goals to bring them success at the tournament, but he is not the only talented player within their ranks. Former Arsenal midfielder Glen Kamara has impressed in Scotland since joining Rangers and will be a key part of their plans next summer.

Captain Tim Sparv is amongst their most experienced players, and the midfielder will face the country where he plays in their opening game, with the 32-year-old currently at Danish side Midtjylland. Goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký is another of their more accomplished players; he joined Bayer Leverkusen from Eintracht Frankfurt in 2018.

Belgium

Undoubtedly favourites to finish top of the group, and arguably to win the competition outright, Belgium have a squad stacked full of talent which they hope will help them improve on their previous European Championship performances.

Belgium reached the semi-finals in 1972 and the final in 1980, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany, but have only qualified for three tournaments between then and next summer’s competition. They will be looking to build upon both their performance in France 2016, where they reached the quarter-finals, and the 2018 World Cup where they secured a third placed finish.

Among the star names manager Roberto Martinez has to call upon are Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard.

De Bruyne has been nothing short of sensational since joining City from Wolfsburg in 2015 and will be looking to continue that form at Euro 2020. He has already featured in three major tournaments for the Red Devils and was named in the 2018 World Cup team of the tournament.

Real Madrid’s Hazard is another big name certain to be included in their squad. The captain, who moved to Madrid last summer following seven seasons at Chelsea, has also featured in three major tournaments and won the World Cup Silver Ball in 2018. He has won over 100 caps for his country, scoring 32 goals in the process.

Romelu Lukaku is arguably Belgium’s third most influential player. The striker, who left Manchester United to join Inter Milan last summer, boasts an incredible goal record in international football, scoring 52 goals in just 84 games. He has similarly played in the last three major tournaments for Belgium and scored four goals at the 2018 World Cup.

Belgium also boast an impressive crop of young talent, with perhaps none as impressive as Leicester midfielder Youri Tielemans. He earned a permanent move to the Foxes for £40m last summer having impressed on a six-month loan spell from Monaco, and will surely have a big part to play in next summer’s tournament.

Belgium will open with a clash against Russia in St Petersburg; they also met in qualifying where Belgium won both their meetings en route to topping the group.

Russia

Russia, who qualified for the tournament after finishing second behind Belgium, will play two of their three group games at home in the 68,000 capacity Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg.

Competing as the Soviet Union, they won the first ever European Championships in France in 1960, which was followed by two final appearances and a semi-final. However, since competing as Russia, they have failed to get out of the group stage all bar once, when they reached the semi-finals in 2008.

Almost their entire squad play at home in the Russian Premier League, with just a few notable exceptions. One of these is Monaco midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, who joined the French side from CSKA Moscow in 2018. The 23-year-old is arguably Russia’s most talented player, and much of his nations hopes will rest upon his shoulders.

Golovin is not the only talent within the Russian squad, however. Valencia winger Denis Cheryshev was one of the stars of the 2018 World Cup, scoring four goals as Russia reached the quarter-final stages. The former Real Madrid player will be hoping to play another starring role and his goals will be crucial to determining how far they can go.

Russia’s main threat up front however will be 31-year-old striker Artem Dzyuba. The Zenit St Petersburg frontman has 24 goals in 42 appearances for his country, including three at the last World Cup and eight in qualification. While he might be getting on a bit, his physical presence will be no less of a threat next summer.

Group Fixtures:

June 13 – Denmark vs Finland – Copenhagen

June 13 – Belgium vs Russia – St Petersburg

June 17 – Denmark vs Belgium – Copenhagen

June 18 – Finland vs Russia – St Petersburg

June 22 – Russia vs Denmark – Copenhagen

June 22 – Finland vs Belgium – St Petersburg

Image Credits:

Featured image by Сергей Петров from Pixabay 

Copenhagen Stadium image by Валерий Дед for Creative Commons

Eriksen image by Дмитрий Неймырок/Dmitriy Neymyrok/Dmitrij Nejmyrok for Creative Commons

Sparv image by Petteri Lehtonen for Creative Commons

Belgium image by Эдгар Брещанов for Creative Commons

Russia image by Кирилл Венедиктов for Creative Commons

Selhurst Park

Preview: Crystal Palace v Liverpool (23/11/19)

Liverpool will look to increase their eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League with victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Reds have dropped just two points this season, and head into the match on the back of a 3-0 victory over champions Manchester City before the international break.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, sit 12th and have failed to score in three of their last four games, with their last win coming back in early October away at West Ham.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will have to do without the services of Mohamed Salah, with the Egypt forward suffering from an ankle injury and unlikely to be fit despite his return to training this week. Divock Origi, who played 10 minutes for Belgium in their 6-1 victory over Cyprus in midweek, will take his place in the side.

Left-back Andy Robertson is also dealing with an ankle knock meaning he too is set to miss this weekend’s fixture. James Milner is likely to deputise in the Scot’s absence.

Virgil van Dijk missed the Netherlands’ 5-0 win against Estonia for personal reasons, but the talismanic centre-back will be available to start in South London.

Jordan Henderson and Joe Gomez both missed England’s victory over Kosovo and the pair are doubts for trip down south. Xherdan Shaqiri returned to training this week but is unlikely to be involved.

Roy Hodgson will have the services of star man Wilfried Zaha available, despite the forward suffering a foot injury during their defeat at Chelsea two weeks ago. Zaha has yet to score in 12 appearances but will start alongside Palace’s top scorer Jordan Ayew, who has four goals this campaign.

Joel Ward was also forced off at Stamford Bridge, with the right-back set to be replaced by Martin Kelly in the eleven. Long-term absentees Mamadou Sakho and Connor Wickham remain sidelined.

Former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke will be looking to kick-start his season against his old side; the Belgian is yet to find the net but could play a role coming off the bench.

Hodgson will also be facing his former club, having spent five months in charge of the Reds in 2010, and will be looking to add to his three previous wins against them in his managerial career.

Liverpool have won their last four meetings with the Eagles, including a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park early last season. Palace were the last club to win a league match at Anfield, defeating the Reds 2-1 in April 2017, but last won the reverse fixture back in November 2014, two second half goals securing a 3-1 win.

Perhaps their most famous meeting came in May of that same year, when Palace, then managed by Tony Pulis, fought back from three goals down to earn a 3-3 draw, with Dwight Gayle scoring a late brace.

Klopp’s Reds will be hoping to avoid a similar outcome this time as they look to lay down a marker ahead of the weekend’s big game between Manchester City and Chelsea, which kicks off at 5.30pm on the same day.

Selhurst Park photo by Patrick via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0.

Mourinho is a big gamble by Spurs – but one worth taking

In a small corner of the Johan Cruijff Arena, the Tottenham fans are blasting out their famous Mauricio Pochettino chant. Lucas Moura has just scored a 96th minute winner against Ajax to send them to a first-ever Champions League final, following one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of the competition. It feels like a culmination of all the Argentinian’s hard work – he has transformed the club into realistic contenders.

Had someone told you that night that Jose Mourinho would become Tottenham manager by the end of the year, you would have laughed at them. But just 19 games later, with Spurs languishing in 14th position in the Premier League, that is exactly what has transpired.

Despite a horrific run of form which has left them closer to the relegation zone than the top four, Pochettino’s sacking still sent shockwaves through the football world.

He is undoubtedly one of the world’s top coaches and has already been linked with several high-profile jobs. Not many would argue against him finding a job at a club bigger than Spurs before the end of the season.

It is easy to forget that the club made the top four just twice in the Premier League era before Pochettino’s arrival. He has made Champions League football the norm at White Hart Lane, all whilst operating on a shoestring budget relative to many of their rivals.

He also built a special rapport with the fans, as scenes such as those following their dramatic win over Ajax demonstrate, when the Argentine cried tears of joy amid the celebrations.

Demolished

But in football there is no room for sentiment; chairman Daniel Levy had to act on what he felt was best for the long-term future of the club.

In truth, Pochettino’s downfall began well before their historic Champions League run. Tottenham have not won away in the league since January – and even that came in injury time against relegated Fulham.

They have earned just 25 points from their last 24 games, and have won just three league games this season. They were also demolished 7-2 at home by Bayern Munich and knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties by Colchester.

There had been doubts for several months surrounding Pochettino’s long-term future, and a feeling that he would jump ship the moment a bigger job came his way. He has been growing increasingly frustrated with the club’s lack of willingness to spend big in the transfer market; they didn’t make a single signing last season.


“In Mourinho, Tottenham have a man who knows how to win”

Sacking arguably one of their greatest ever managers so early in the season may have seemed a rash decision by Levy had he not had a proven winner ready to take over.

In Mourinho, Tottenham have a man who knows how to win. Not just football matches, but trophies, something Pochettino was unable to deliver during his five years in charge.

The contrast between the two could not be greater. One actively seeks to bring through youth, looking to improve individuals rather than replace those who may be struggling, and build a team over a number of years.

The other is a winning machine, who will stop at nothing to achieve success, regularly looking to the transfer market to solve problems.

Turbulent

On the face of it, Mourinho does not seem the perfect fit for the North London club. One of the main reasons’ thing turned sour for him at Manchester United was over the hierarchy’s failure to deliver his transfer targets. Levy will need to dip his hand into his pocket far more often that he has previously in order to satisfy the Portuguese’s wishes.

Levy was not put off by his bitter Old Trafford exit, where he was sacked after a turbulent last six months at the helm. His second-place finish the previous season looks impressive now, and he managed to win two trophies during his tenure, but fell out with many during the process, most notably Paul Pogba.


There is hope that Mourinho will be able to convince several big names to remain at the club

Mourinho often feels like a ticking time bomb, ready to explode as happened in his third season at both Chelsea and United. However, he knows this is potentially his last chance in English football, so will surely come into it with a different, more measured approach.

The three-time Premier League winner is not known for undertaking rebuild jobs, but that’s exactly what he faces in North London. Three key players – Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen are all out of contract at the end of the season, while others such as Serge Aurier, Danny Rose and Victor Wanyama have been offered around Europe with little success.

It shows the mismanagement of the club that Eriksen, who was dead set on leaving following the defeat in Madrid, wasn’t sold and could instead leave the club for free next summer.

There is hope, though, that Mourinho will be able to convince several big names to remain. Surely at least one of the out-of-contract trio could be persuaded to sign a new deal, but even if this happens, there will still be a considerable rebuild needed.

Keeping Spurs talisman Harry Kane will be a priority for the new manager. His social media tribute to the departing Pochettino showed how strong the bond was between the two. But it is likely the future of his star man was on Levy’s mind when he decided to opt for Jose – if anyone can convince him to stay, he can.

Levy has made a tough decision, but the right decision. Mourinho is a gamble, but one worth taking. Expectations are far lower at Tottenham than any of his previous clubs. Jose has won 10 trophies since Spurs last lifted silverware – there are few people better placed to end their drought.

Featured image via www.youtube.com/watch?v=63apDKKx1o4

England’s 100 Club – Three Lions most loyal servants

A total of 1,244 players have earned at least one cap for the England men’s international football team. However, only nine have reached 100 or more. Elephant Sport takes a look back of the careers of those history makers.

Peter Shilton – 125 caps

England’s record appearance maker, the goalkeeper made his debut in a 3-1 victory over East Germany in November 1970. He spent two years as understudy to arguably England’s greatest ever shot-stopper, Gordon Banks, before the World Cup winner lost his sight in one eye following a car crash in 1972.

England failed to qualify for either the 1974 or 1978 World Cups, so it was not until 1982 in Spain when Shilton made his debut in the Finals, playing every game as the Three Lions remained unbeaten but were knocked out in the second round.

He started every match in both Mexico 86 and Italia 90, helping England reach the quarter-finals in Mexico, where they lost to Argentina, before finishing fourth in Italy following a semi-final loss on penalties to Germany.

Of Shilton’s 125 caps, 17 of those came during his three World Cup appearances, while three came in European Championships. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Wayne Rooney – 120 caps

England’s most-capped outfield player, the former Manchester United and Everton forward is also his country’s leading goalscorer with 53, ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton in scored on 49.

His international debut came as a second-half substitute in a 3-1 loss to Australia, and he later became the youngest England goalscorer at 17 years and 317 days in a 2-1 win over Macedonia.

It was Euro 2004 when Rooney truly burst onto the international stage. He scored four goals and was named in Uefa’s team of the tournament. Were it not for an injury suffered during England’s quarter-final loss to hosts Portugal, many pundits believed he could have led his country to glory.

He struggled, however, at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, failing to score in either and was sent-off during England’s quarter-final defeat to Portugal in ’06. His World Cup record overall is disappointing, with just one goal – against Uruguay in 2014 – from his 11 appearances.

He has a much better record in European Championships, netting six in his 10 appearances in the tournament. He was appointed England captain by manager Roy Hodgson in 2014.

Rooney’s record-breaking goal came from the penalty spot at Wembley in a qualifier against Switzerland in September 2015, and he retired from international football in August 2017, before returning for a farewell match against the USA in November 2018.

David Beckham – 115 caps

Perhaps England’s most famous player worldwide, Beckham made his debut in a 3-0 victory over Moldova in September 1996. He was picked for the 1998 World Cup in France and scored his first England goal in their final group match against Colombia, which the Three Lions won 2-0.

However, he was infamously sent-off in their last-16 clash with Argentina, after kicking out at Diego Simeone. England went on to lose the match on penalties.

Beckham featured in all three of England’s Euro 2000 games as they crashed out in the group stage, but scored perhaps the most famous of his 17 goals for his country a year later. With England needing a point to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, they trailed 2-1 to Greece before Beckham scored a sensational free-kick in stoppage time to secure their ticket to the finals.

He scored the winner in a group-stage victory over Argentina at the tournament, before they were knocked out by eventual champions Brazil in the quarter-finals. He had been appointed captain by then-caretaker boss Peter Taylor towards the end of 2000.

Beckham played a star role in England’s Euro 2004 campaign, before scoring once in his final international tournament as England exited the 2006 World Cup at the quarter-final stage. He played his final England match in October 2009 against Belarus, before injury ruled him out of the upcoming World Cup. Of Beckham’s 115 caps, 20 came at major tournaments.

Steven Gerrard – 114 caps

A key figure in England’s “Golden Generation”, his debut came in May 2000, a 2-0 victory over Ukraine, and he was included in their Euro 2000 squad, making a solitary substitute appearance.

The first of his 21 international goals came in England’s famous 2001 qualifying victory over Germany, a 5-1 thrashing in Munich. After missing out on the 2002 World Cup squad, Gerrard started every game at Euro 2004, scoring once.

The Liverpool legend was England’s top scorer at the 2006 World Cup, scoring twice in five matches, but did miss his penalty in England’s shootout loss to Portugal. After failing to qualify for Euro 2008, his next tournament appearance came in the 2010 World Cup. Gerrard scored in England’s opening group-stage draw with the USA as they went on to crash out to Germany in the last 16.

Gerrard was named captain by Roy Hodgson ahead of Euro 2012, where the midfielder excelled, being named in the team of the tournament despite England losing on penalties to Italy in the last eight.

His England career ended in bitter disappointment, as the Three Lions were eliminated from the 2014 World Cup at the group stage, with Gerrard’s final cap coming in a dead rubber against Costa Rica. He played 21 times overall in major tournaments for England, scoring four goals.

Bobby Moore – 108 caps

Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley

An icon of English sport, Moore captained England to their only World Cup victory in 1966. His debut came in a 7-1 win over Israel in September 1961, and the central defender started every game at the back for his country in the 1962 World Cup, where they were beaten by Brazil in the quarters.

It was 1966 where Moore made his name, playing every minute as he led his country to World Cup glory on home soil. After beginning the tournament with a goalless draw against Uruguay, England beat Mexico and France before victory over Argentina in the quarter-finals.

A 2-1 semi-final win against Portugal was followed by England’s most famous match; a 4-2 extra-time win over Germany to seal World Cup glory. Moore was even able to provide an assist alongside his defensive work to help his country become world champions.

Moore’s final World Cup was in 1970, where they again faced extra-time against the Germans, this time losing 3-2 at the quarter-final stage. Moore managed two goals during his international career and was in 1994 named in Fifa’s all-time World Cup XI.

Ashley Cole – 107 caps

Regarded by many as England’s greatest ever left-back, Cole’s 107 caps include 22 appearances across five major tournaments. His international debut came in a 3-1 victory against Albania in March 2001, and he went on to start all five games at the 2002 World Cup.

He also started all four of England’s Euro 2004 matches, scoring his penalty in their shootout defeat by Portugal. He played every minute in the 2006 World Cup, this time not taking a penalty as England again lost to Portugal in a shootout. He was again ever-present in both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, but this time missed his spot-kick in England’s 2012 loss to Italy.

Cole earned his 100th cap against Brazil at Wembley in February 2013, helping his country to a 2-1 win. The former Arsenal and Chelsea defender’s last cap came in a friendly defeat to Germany in November later that year, as he was controversially left out of the 2014 World Cup squad by boss Roy Hodgson, prompting him to announce his international retirement. Cole was named England’s Player of the Year in 2010.

Bobby Charlton – 106 caps

The second World Cup winner to earn over 100 caps, the Manchester United legend was handed his debut by boss Walter Winterbottom in 1958, scoring in a 4-0 win against Scotland. He was selected in the squad for the World Cup that year but didn’t play, with his debut in the competition coming four years later; he played every game as England were knocked out by Brazil in the quarters, scoring once.

Charlton played every minute of England’s victorious 1966 campaign, scoring three goals in the process, and registering an assist in the final. He went on to feature in Euro 1968, scoring in England’s third place play-off win against the USSR, before his final World Cup came in 1970, where he featured in every match as England lost to Germany in the quarter-finals.

This match proved to be his last for his country, as he retired at the age of 32. Charlton won many awards during his career, including the Golden Ball at the 1966 World Cup and the Ballon d’Or in that same year. He was named alongside Moore in FIFA’s all-time World Cup team in 1994 and knighted in that same year.

Frank Lampard – 106 caps

Another of England’s famous “Golden Generation”, Lampard was handed his Three Lions debut by Kevin Keegan in October 1999, a 2-1 win against Belgium. He did not play again for England until a friendly against Spain in February 2001, playing 45 minutes of a 3-0 victory.

After failing to be picked for the 2002 World Cup, his first major tournament came at Euro 2004, where he impressed, scoring three goals. He also converted his penalty in England’s shootout defeat by Portugal and was named in the team of the tournament.

The Chelsea legend played every minute of England’s 2006 World Cup campaign, seeing his penalty saved as the Three Lions crashed out once again to Portugal on spot-kicks.

After England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, his next major tournament came in South Africa, where he started every match. He was involved in arguably one of the most controversial moments in the history of the tournament, when with England trailing 2-1 to Germany in their last 16 clash, his shot from distance hit the bar and bounced over the line, but was not spotted by the linesman. With no goal-line technology, it wasn’t given, and Lampard’s side went on to lose 4-1.

A thigh injury ruled him out of Euro 2012, and he returned to major tournament action in 2014, which proved to be a very unsatisfactory end to what had been a fantastic international career.

He was forced to watch from the sidelines as Roy Hodgson’s men lost their first two group games, returning to captain his country in their final match, a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica. He announced his retirement following the game. Overall, Lampard scored 29 goals in his 106 games, 14 of those coming in major tournaments.

Billy Wright – 105 caps

Billy Wright statue outside Molineux

Wright featured in an era when England played fewer games, so to reach 100-plus caps is quite an achievement.

The centre-back spent his entire career at Wolves, making 490 appearances for the club, and went on to manage Arsenal for four years.

His international debut came against Belgium in January 1946, England’s third game since the war and one of several ‘Victory Internationals’.

He was the first footballer to earn 100 caps for his country, and he never received a yellow or red card throughout his long Three Lions career.

Wright also scored three goals, and captained England a record 90 times, including at the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cup finals. His retired in 1958 following a 5-0 victory over the USSR. In 1957, he was the Ballon d’Or runner-up and was inducted into the England Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Featured image by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. via flickr.com

Wayne Rooney photo by Rogelio A. Galaviz C. via flickr.com

Steven Gerrard photo by http://football.ua/galleries/ for Wikimedia Commons

Bobby Moore photo by OttoKristensen is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Frank Lampard photo by BikeMike for Wikimedia Commons

Billy Wright photo by Jaggery and licensed under Creative Commons license cc-by-sa/2.0

Josh Taylor delivers in fight of the year contender

Josh Taylor became Britain’s newest boxing star with a sensational points win over unbeaten American Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena.

Taylor is not only the World Boxing Super Series winner, but now unified champion in the super-lightweight division, holding both the IBF and WBA world titles, as well as the Ring Magazine belt.

The pair could barely be split by pundits before the first bell and this was reflected in a fight which was decided by very fine margins.

One judge was unable to separate them, scoring the contest 114-114, with the other two giving the nod to the Scot, 117-112 and 115-113 respectively.

Ever since the tournament began back in October 2018, there had been much anticipation amongst boxing fans over a potential final involving the pair.

Both made it through the opening two stages with relative ease, each picking up their maiden world titles at the semi-final stage, setting up a mouth-watering clash for the Ali Trophy.

Not all fights of such magnitude live up to the hype they receive, but this London bill-topper undoubtedly did.

Headline worthy

The early build-up was in part overshadowed by comments from heavyweight Dereck Chisora, who claimed he should be headlining the show in his fight with Joseph Parker, who later pulled out due to a spider bite.

“I’m not going to sell out the O2 for them guys to be the main event,” the Londoner exclaimed at the announcement press conference. “I’m being serious, you want me to sell it out to the London crowd, my London fans, then put these little guys that no-one knows about on my show and mug me off.”

However, any suggestion that the wrong fight was heading the card was put to bed almost as soon as the first bell rung.

The atmosphere in the O2 was electric. There were many Scots in attendance, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at Hampden Park with “Flower of Scotland” being belted out around the arena.


Pure heart and desire from both men, a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.

It was all action right from the off. You could tell straight away that it was going to be a tough one to score – the opening rounds could’ve gone either way.

Prograis impressed early on with his fast hands and slick head movement, showing off the skills which earned him a record of 24-0, with 20 of those coming by way of knockout.

However, it was the less experienced Taylor, boasting a record of 15-0 pre-fight including 12 KOs, who dominated the middle rounds. He appeared to be throwing considerably more punches than his opponent, and although Prograis was evading many, the ones that landed certainly did enough to win him rounds.


“In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with.” – Referee Marcus McDonnell with high praise

The American finished strongly but it wasn’t enough to stop the 28-year-old from Edinburgh etching his name into the record books.

It was all action, pure heart and desire from both men, and a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.

It was a fight so good, referee Marcus McDonnell said: “In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with. It was an honour to share the ring with two great champions.”

There was no protesting from the New Orleans native following the announcement of the result, as he admitted: “He won, I can’t make no excuses. The best man won tonight. I’ll be back.”

It almost seems unfair that someone had to lose. Taylor walks away the victor, deservedly so, but Prograis gained far more than he lost. He won the respect of everyone watching and can certainly come again. Far too many boxers fear getting that first ‘L’ on their record, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when it comes against the best.

Respect between the two warriors following an epic battle

Road to undisputed?

For Taylor, his next goal will ultimately be becoming undisputed champion at super-lightweight. The man who stands in his way is Jose Ramirez, who became unified champion earlier this year, beating fellow American Maurice Hooker to retain his WBC title and win the WBO strap.

A fight between the pair certainly seems realistic and likely to happen sometime next year, once Ramirez has dealt with his next mandatory challenger.

Should the Scotsman win, he would become Britain’s first ever four-belt undisputed champion. Lennox Lewis was the last fighter from Britain to hold all the belts in a division, securing the three belts in existence back in 1999 to become undisputed champion at heavyweight.

Should Taylor manage this achievement, he would undoubtedly go down in boxing history as one of Britain’s greatest-ever fighters, and one of the greatest overall in his weight class.  

Chisora marches on

The highlight of a packed undercard was undoubtedly Chisora securing a third successive win over David Price, whose corner threw in the towel at the end of the fourth round.

It was an entertaining scrap while it lasted, with Chisora landing several nice shots before being buzzed by a lovely uppercut from Price right at the end of the third.

But it was a knockdown, delivered by the man from Finchley in the fourth which ended the night for Price. The brave Liverpudlian got up and wanted to carry on, but his corner took matters out of his hands.


‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely

For Chisora, a fight with Joseph Parker seems likely to finally happen next year. Having been talked about for months, it was finally set to happen on this bill, before the Kiwi was forced to pull out.

‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely unless he is able to work his way up to a mandatory position.

Amongst the other fights, Welshman Lee Selby got the better of the other Scotsman on the card, veteran Ricky Burns, in an entertaining lightweight clash which went the distance. The British derby was not short of controversy; it spilled over at the end of several rounds, with Selby accusing Burns of punching him after the bell. The man from Barry has now moved himself back into world title contention.

Laurence Okolie picked up the European title, knocking out previously unbeaten Belgian Yves Ngabu in the seventh round of their cruiserweight scrap. Okolie is now set for a world title challenge at some point next year and looks well placed to become the latest British world champion.

Nigel Benn might be set for a comeback, but it was his son Conor who shone in the first televised fight of the evening, moving to 16-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of tough Belgian Stephane Jamoye.

Overall it was a fantastic night of boxing, topped off by a sensational main event which delivered beyond expectations. Britain now has a new boxing superstar, and you can only see Taylor’s career going from strength to strength.

Photo by Harry Currall

Why the NFL is still a long way from having a London franchise

“This is definitely if not the, then one of the best stadiums I’ve ever been in my life.”

Those were the words of Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr following his team’s 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in the first-ever NFL match played at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“Playing at Wembley was really cool, with the memories and all the different games that have been played there,” the Raiders star continued.

“But being able to play here and being able to see what could be done. It’s amazing that they could do all this. First class.”

Being in the stadium a week later to watch the Carolina Panthers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-26 in a hotly-contested AFC South matchup, you could understand Carr’s praise.

While Wembley, and previously Twickenham, have provided fine venues for the NFL’s annual International Series, they had an exhibition-type feel, despite them hosting competitive, regular season matches.

The difference at Tottenham was huge. This felt like a proper NFL stadium.

Having been to the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home to both the New York Giants and Jets, you could tell it was modelled on US stadia and built with American football in mind.

Every detail left both players and coaches alike expressing nothing but positivity. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said: “The amenities in terms of the locker room, the way the locker room is set up, structure as far as the training room, the hydrotherapy room for the guys, it’s top-notch. Whatever they did, they did it right.”

The video, played on the big screen, of the pitch being changed in preparation for the visitors from across the pond underlined the feeling that this state-of-the-art arena has finally given the NFL a home in London.

The incredible transformation of Tottenham’s new stadium from Premier League to NFL

Franchise ready

Over the past five years, talk of London getting its own NFL franchise has only increased. 31 of the 32 teams will have played in London following the end of this season, with the Green Bay Packers the only team yet to do so, and they are likely to make the trip within the next few years.

There are many reasons why British fans should be hopeful that the dream of getting their own team could one day become a reality, with of course the main one being Tottenham’s new stadium.

“I remember running out of that tunnel, I was psyched to play here because it was packed to the brim”

– Panthers QB Kyle Allen enjoyed his time in London

However, a stadium is nothing without fans to fill it – and London certainly has them. Both games at Tottenham were sell-outs; every game played in the capital since the first competitive game was played here in 2007 has been at least 90% full, and there are now 47,000 season ticket holders, who purchase tickets to every match played in the city each year.

The strong support certainly didn’t go unnoticed amongst the players, with Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen remarking: “It was a really cool stadium. Packed to the brim. I remember running out of that tunnel, I was psyched to play here because it was packed to the brim, man. Fans were loud, stayed the whole game, rain or shine. It was a good experience.”

This support has led to four games being played in London this year, although it remains to be seen if this level of appetite could be maintained over the eight home games which a franchise would play here.

But one thing which remains without doubt is the appetite for the sport in the UK. Walking to the stadium, you could count jerseys of almost every one of the 32 teams in the league. The vast majority of those in attendance clearly knew their stuff about the sport.

The NFL estimates it has around 13 million fans in the UK, with four million of those described as “avid”. This would suggest there is more than enough interest for a franchise to not only be a success but grow and its stars become household names amongst British sports fans.

Who could move?

However, whilst the city certainly has the fanbase, and now the stadium to boot, there are issues which mean the franchise dream may not be as close to coming to fruition as some supporters hope.

The major reason why it seems some way off is that no owner seems overly keen to relocate their team overseas, at least not imminently.

The NFL has long since ruled out expanding the league – the current format of 32 teams, split into eight divisions of four, works perfectly. There is no space to add one more team, and any expansion efforts would require probably eight new teams to want to join the league at the same time, something not considered realistic.

The only chance for a London franchise would be for a current team to move from their home in America to the UK. The Jacksonville Jaguars seem the most likely of any to make a permanent move across the Atlantic.

Should the NFL decide a London team is a necessity, it would almost certainly be the Chargers it would attempt to move

In 2013, the team agreed to play one home game every year in the British capital, an agreement which runs out in 2020 but is likely to be extended. Their owner Shad Khan also owns Fulham Football Club, and last year attempted to purchase Wembley Stadium, before pulling out after he was advised the Football Association would reject his offer.

While Khan denied the motive behind his bid was to secure a London home for his Jaguars, there can be little doubt that was a factor behind his attempt to buy English football’s HQ.

While for many teams the idea of relocating to another city in America, never mind another country, would be madness, the Jaguars are not one of them. The team joined the league in 1995, but since then have made the playoffs just seven times, and only once since 2008.

So far in 2019, they rank 26th in terms of their average attendance. Relative to other teams in the league, they are a small franchise who are also towards the bottom of the league in terms of financial revenue.

Khan nevertheless seems content with the current arrangement, which allows the Jaguars to build their support in London through playing there every season while continuing to play seven matches in Jacksonville. The team would likely look to increase the number of games played in the capital before making any decision on moving.

The only other team where a strong case for moving to London could be made is the Los Angeles Chargers, who have failed to attract much of a fanbase since their move from San Diego in 2017. They currently play in a 30,000-capacity arena but will move to the 70,000-capacity SoFi Stadium in 2020, which they will share with the LA Rams.

Should the NFL decide a London team is a necessity, it would almost certainly be the Chargers it would attempt to move, although there is no chance of them switching before they have had a few years at their new stadium to see whether they can generate a fanbase in LA.

Stumbling blocks

The other major issue which is yet to be fully worked out is scheduling. The NFL have experimented with having teams play the week after a trip to the UK, but in the majority of cases they are given a bye week.

Mark Waller, the NFL executive vice president of international and events, is optimistic, however: “We’ve proven all the logistical variables now. Last year we played three games on consecutive weekends. That was an important test for us because in the event we ever did have a franchise in London, it’s likely our schedule would be blocks of three or four games, then three or four games over in the States so the team wasn’t travelling every other week.”

This is an important point, given the London franchise would be unlikely to be competitive were they flying back and forth every week. However, the issue of competitiveness remains.

Waller added: “The one thing we can’t ever test for unfortunately is, if you have a team based in London, could it be competitively successful over time when it’s travelling significantly more than any other team?”

Teams in the NFL are used to travelling large distances, such as from east to west coast and vice versa, but they are not making these trips regularly during the season and they are usually spread out across 17 weeks of the campaign. This is clearly an issue the league would need to consider before bringing a team to London.

Map showing the current NFL teams

Another issue would be the play-offs. Were a British franchise to earn a home post-season match, it could be seen as them having an unfair advantage, with the opposing team having to travel such a great distance.

With games likely to be played in blocks of four at home then away, the team would also need to factor in the need for a training base in the US, as they wouldn’t be flying back to London after every away trip.

This could turn into a positive, however, as they would probably be able to attract more players to join the franchise who may have been put off by having to live in a foreign country for half the year, as they’d probably only be there for about two-and-a-half months.

It’s clear London now have a stadium, and they’ve always had the fans, but what is also clear is there are several hurdles that need to be jumped before the city finally lands its own team. But with the success of the London games year-on-year, it looks only a matter of time before a franchise makes the trip for good.

Main photo by Harry Currall