All posts by Harry Dunning

Chris Green talks about the issues surrounding ‘Every Boys Dream’

In 1997, the FA decided to revolutionise youth development in this country. Doing away with the national football school based in Lilleshall, Premier League clubs would now provide an academy system.

Late last year, Howard Wilkinson – the man who helped transition the league from the old to the new 21 years ago – called for a review and overhaul of the current system claiming clubs are failing in their ‘moral responisbility’.

With young players being churned out at every decreasing ages – do clubs properly care for the well being of those prospective kids?

Chris Green, along with being the late Cyril Regis’ biographer, has previously worked for BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4 as a broadcaster.

Along with having written three other books on football, he also charted the trials and tribulations of the academy system since its inception.

Every Boys Dream

‘Every Boys Dream’ is his fourth football tome and was written after years of following various academy systems as a journalist.

He tells me that he decided to write it nine years ago due to the well-being of young players seemingly being a non-issue in football.

“Nobody had really covered what had happened after setting up the academy system in 1997.”

The catalyst for finally writing the book being a local story he had been gathering for Radio 4.

“After I did a really small piece on the FA coming down on a small club in Gloucestershire called Cirencester Town, because they had set something up called an academy and the FA were attempting to take legal action against them for using a word that they deemed in football now belonged to them.”

Howard Wilkinson now believes that the academy system has failed young footballers.

“Cirencester had actually trademarked their academy before the FA had set up the academy system. It was a satirical piece talking about how the FA now think they have ownership of a word with Ancient Greek origin; it was a place where Plato taught his students and now they are claiming it’s theirs.”

This then led Green to writing to the then technical director of football, Wilkinson, to gain a broader knowledge of just what the FA were proposing.

“He kindly sent me the blueprint for how the academy system was going to operate and that was called ‘a charter for quality’.”

Too much too young?

As he began mulling over what was supposedly the new layout for how the future of English football would play out, the journalist was surprised to find that the new regulations meant kids in Primary School would now be scouted.

‘It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this’

Previously the scouting system dictated that players aged 13 and upwards was the past policy when identifying young talents.

“It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this. It’s going to be fraught with issues surrounding the education of kids, the distance they travel to academies and the safety standards being brought in – many welcome – some I believed were a distraction.”

“I then found out by speaking to people, that was indeed the case. Although, it didn’t mean clubs were getting more players through or producing necessarily better players.”

Chris then highlights the role the media have played in hyping up young kids – after a newspaper in Sunderland published a piece about a young prospect recently signed by the Black Cats.

“They were parading a child around as the next Wayne Rooney. He was five and they had on him on the pitch before a game against Arsenal signing something.”

Green then detailed a story he had also heard recently of “how a Premier League club had signed a four year old and when he got to training, one of the coaches noticed he was still wearing a nappy.”

He continues, “Anybody who says they can spot a five year old and predict that he can be a footballer at 18 is mad, in my opinion. I think there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to be coaching kids at that age, and I know because I’ve spoken with many.

“They don’t see the value in it, they think it’s all about trying to make sure you have kids signed to your academy; just in case.”

Pay to play?

Based in Worcester, Chris now operates from his media centre where I am speaking to him. He believes that since stepping away from his job as an active journalist recently, little improvement in standards have been made.

“Scouts, as I hear it, are currently being paid to get five year olds to development centres that are unregulated – they are getting paid by clubs just simply to fill up the surrounding local centres.

“I know there are scouts operating in the local area, I say scouts in inverted commas of course. We often have no idea whether these are club officials or qualified coaches due to the lack of regulation.”

In light of the recent case of Barry Bennell at Crewe Alexandra – where young players were sexually abused over the course of many years in the 1990s and 1980s – this kind of dream weaving opportunity could present an even greater immediate threat for young footballers.

With no presence of proper regulation, Green questions how the club can truly protect that child and the motives behind this method of recruitment.

“They can get any number of these kids to a centre and go to these things because there is no paperwork; and to me the whole area is where the money is being spent.”

Mental well-being in youth football

More and more we are seeing cases of players after or during their playing careers, struggling and attempting to deal with personal demons.

However the same level of understanding – which is now afforded to those who have been lucky enough to play the game – is often found lacking for those who do not make the grade.

Chris tells me that he considers it “the biggest scandal of the whole system”.

“The fact that clubs can have such a big influence on young people and then just completely wash their hands of any responsibility.”

Often for those who cannot quite realise their ambition after years within a system, this can prove devastating. It has even led to some former academy players taking their own lives after being released.

Whether the FA decide to take advice from the man who provided Chris with the academy system blueprint in 1997 remains to be seen.

But with the emphasis so far simply on putting academy prospects into a professional setting from early; the other issues within the system seem to still be largely ignored.

Chris finishes with a quote from a man he says was a highly respected Premier League youth coach: “He told me that ‘the child is supposed to be first and foremost in the minds of Premier League clubs and that is a f*****g million miles away from how they think’.”

Photos Courtesy of @ChrisGreenMedia

Hughes appointment highlights a tired trend in English game

The recent appointment of Mark Hughes at Southampton outlines a greater problem within English football.

With few options for clubs to turn to mid-season, where are all the young British managers ready to step into the frame?

The Bundesliga has recently seen a shift from the old guard to the new – young managers under the age of 40, sometimes promoted from running youth sides, are being ushered through the door and making their mark in the league.

And as other European nations are still seeing an increases in their numbers of top-qualified coaches, it is now all the more important that both the FA and Premier League clubs begin cultivating a managerial revolution of their own.

Jobs for the old boys

So far, it appears that the only real managerial opportunities offered within the English game are for those who have had expansive playing careers.

Although if you do have those aforementioned playing credentials, it can seemingly be fairly easy to drag yourself out of managerial obscurity.

‘Whether it be Mark Hughes, Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce, the same merry-go-round of managers appears to be prevailing in the Premier League’

Phil Neville, with a pretty dismal record as a coach, was appointed England Women’s manager this year after reportedly not even applying for the job.

Then soon after came the appointment of his former team-mate, Ryan Giggs, as Wales national team manager. A poor playing record for his country, and a lack of managerial experience, meant that questions were raised.

Only time will tell as to whether their transition to the sidelines is a success or not, but it continues the trend of only employing familiar faces.

Hughes, on the other hand, is in the old guard of familiar Premier League faces. Undoubtedly, the former Man Utd, Barcelona, Chelsea and Saints striker has had varying success over the years and on occasions put together some excellent sides.

But if you considering he guided Stoke into the relegation places before being sacked earlier this season, was he really the best option Southampton had at their disposal?

Whether it be Hughes, Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce; the same merry-go-round of managers appears to be prevailing in the Premier League, and you feel it is beginning to become stale.

A German coaching renaissance

One young outlier in the Premier League would be Eddie Howe at Bournemouth; who was forced into early retirement due to injury, affording him a quick route into management.

Current Hoffenheim manager, Julian Nagelsman, similarly had his career cut short by injury. This immediately led him into coaching both Augsburg and Hoffenheim’s youth sides from 2008 to 2011.

A rapid rise within the infrastructure at Hoffenheim led him to be appointed assistant in 2012 and eventually manager in 2013, as then boss Huub Stevens suffered with health issues.

Still only 30, Nagelsmann has now reportedly been earmarked as the next Bayern Munich manager after almost guiding Hoffenheim to the Champions League group stage this season for the first time in the club’s history.

Nagelsmann has quickly been earmarked as the future of German Coaching. @achtzehn99en

Nagelsmann is now offering a fresh and exciting face to German football, to go along with coaches such as David Wagner (Huddersfield), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and Daniel Farke (Norwich) that have since departed Germany for the shores of England.

The Hoffenheim boss, unlike Howe at Bournemouth, is not the single example of this kind of internal promotion within the Bundesliga.

Domenico Tedesco, 32 (Schalke) and Hannes Wolf, 36 (Stuttgart) have all been similarly gifted the opportunity to coach early on at the highest level – both so far having great success and neither household names in German football.

Norwich City and Huddersfield Town so far have been the only clubs to make this move so far in England – both poaching their current managers from Borussia Dortmund, neither previously having top flight managerial experience.

Though Norwich currently sit in an underwhelming 13th in the Championship, it undoubtedly has been a gamble that has more than paid off for The Terriers.

After getting them promoted to the English top flight last season for the first time in more than 50 years, they currently sit 15th in the Premier League and strong survival prospects.

Whether clubs decide to begin promoting coaches internally in the Premier League remains to be seen. But with many experienced Premier League coaches staring down relegation this season, it may soon be the key to injecting fresh ideas into the first team.

Disparity in numbers

At a grass roots level, the coaching statistics suggest a lack of young coaches coming through – Matt Scott reported in the Guardian in 2010 that there were only 2,769 UEFA A, B and Pro Licence English coaches.

‘In Germany, it costs just £800 to take your UEFA A licence badge, whereas in England the same badge would set you back £2,965’

Spain on the other hand had 23,995, Italy 29,420 and Germany 34,790 top qualified coaches. After an official report was published back in 2007 that said coaching was the ‘golden thread’ to international success, it seems odd that English football still is yet to fully tackle this issue 11 years on.

The crux of the problem has always appeared to be funding – reported in 2016 that it still could set you back £4,000 in England and £5,000 in Scotland to gain all the badges required for an UEFA A licence – their seems to be little progress in terms of accessibility.

Just one example of the large disparity in pricing is in Germany; where it costs just £800 to take your UEFA A licence badge, whereas in England the same badge would set you back an extortionate £2,965.

It seems no surprise then that young coaches may be deterred from this career path, given that its a self-funded venture.

So far the FA has only reshaped the Level 1 and 2 badges to incorporate ‘fun’ back into it; along with releasing half of their coaching tutors after an internal review.

All these reactions however seem to be somewhat missing the point – young people who aspire to be coaches are not simply bored by the courses or are badly tutored – it’s the fact those in power have made these qualifications un-achievable to a large proportion of the population.

With all the money now in the English game, the thought of an in-accessible system to learn your coaching stripes should be ludicrous in this country. Yet, in 2018 it sadly is the reality.

As the revolving door of ex-player-turned-manager continues to spin and the FA continue to make no real effort to aid young coaches, British football is at risk of stagnating.

Six-a-side footballers up their game at Sixways

Worcester’s Sixways stadium is known throughout rugby union as the home of the Warriors.

But since 2016, the Aviva Premiership club’s impressive 11,500-capacity venue has also played host to local six-a-side football teams such as 1860 Worcester and Gangs of Dwight Yorke.

It’s only made possible by Sixways’ state-of-the-art synthetic turf Limonta Max S Turf playing surface.

Organised by Leisure Leagues, who run other Astro Turf leagues in the Worcester area, games cost £34 per team.

And it offers a stark contrast to the city’s other not-so-state-of the-art, litter-strewn astro turf pitches – this is a ground with history, character and status.

Inception

Photo: Worcester News

Set up in 2016 originally by Soccersixes, a successful first season paved the way for Leisure Leagues to continue it today.

Terrific feedback from players and organisers alike, it has been a great success in the City it would appear.

Miguel Passaro has previously played for Worcester City’s youth sides and sees Sixways as a great opportunity for all in the local area.

“For young and old, I just think it is an amazing opportunity to play in this kind of stadium.

“Me and a lot of the lads have been coming here for well over a year now and it’s just made us all want to get our boots on again.”

 The Pitch

Replacing an injured regular on a soggy Tuesday night just off of the motorway to Birmingham, I began to get what Passaro was talking about.

1860 Worcester have been playing at Sixways since the idea’s inception, and on the night we came away with a 2-0 win against the mighty Makeshift Ballers.

Considering my distinct lack of fitness, this was a result that can be classed in the category of far beyond my wildest dreams.

‘One difference that was also noticeable between other Leisure Leagues I have played in before was the quality of refereeing’

What struck me most, as I bagged an okay goal, was that the surface was far superior to any other astro turf or 3G pitch I had played on before in the local area.

Being lucky enough to play on West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City’s 3G indoor Premier League-sized pitches as a junior, I found Sixways to be very similar in quality.

And when you consider that ‘Play on the Pitch’ tournaments in London, where adults and kids can often pay hundreds of pounds to play at a top Football League ground, £34 per team for a game seems a bargain.

Better facilities, better refs

One difference that was also noticeable between this and other Leisure Leagues I have played in before was the quality of refereeing.

Often with Leisure Leagues you can get some kid who doesn’t really want to be outside, texting whilst you take a corner, which can get frustrating.

So if you’d rather not find yourself shouting expletives at someone who is barely out of school, this is the league for you.

It was as if being in a top stadium forced the officials to take notice and act appropriately.

As the level of football rose on the pitch due to the playing surface, as did the standard of the officiating, it would seem.

A testament to community spirit

Worcester Warriors, though they have suffered relegation in the past few years, have recently stabilised themselves in the Aviva Premiership.

Royal Grammar take on The Kings School at Sixways. Photo: Worcester News

In stark contrast to the struggles of the city’s football club, the future of its professional rugby outfit looks to be a bright one.

Several high-profile victories in recent years have continued to lift the status of the club as they look to cement themselves as regulars within English rugby union’s top division.

Although it was reported before Christmas that the owners, Sixways Holding LTD, will be looking to sell the club after recently announced financial losses it should not pose major cause for concern.

After all, legendary owner and the man who took the club fully professional, Cecil Duckworth CBE, is still sitting president.

And as its venture into hosting six-a-side football shows, the club has a strong sense of community allied with a willingness to innovate when it comes to creating new revenue streams.

Welcoming the beautiful game into its oval-ball citadel is a win-win situation for club, footballers and the city alike.

‘Young British football coaches are not getting career support’

Football coaching in the UK is in the midst of a participation problem – compared to other large footballing nations, numbers are on the decline.

So if coaching and management is how you wish to make your career in football, what support are young British coaches getting in a bid to achieve their goals?

Aaron Blackwood, nephew of Eastenders actor Richard Blackwood, fell out of love with playing the game but sought a route back into football from the touchline.

If you starting playing competitively at an extremely young age, the trials and tribulation of Sunday league kids football can often become exhausting.

Be it expletive-shouting parents on the sidelines or over-zealous coaches roasting kids barely out of nappies for not winning a header; the joy of football can sometimes be lost.

Return and disillusion

Blackwood, 23, found that his passion to coach became his eventual gateway back into the game.

“My interest in coaching developed more and more as I went through a frustrating period of falling out of love with the playing side of the game,” he said.

The Ex-Worcester City youth player started coaching in the sixth form at school

After he stepped away from playing, he decided whilst at sixth form he wanted to realise his new found ambition to coach. He also found that stepping onto the touchline gave him a new vigour for the sport.

“I started to watch the game through a different set of eyes, asking a lot more questions and started to pick the brains of other coaches – I suppose you can say that’s where my interest really sparked from.”

But where to begin if you are a young coach with no coaching badges and lack of ability to pay?

“My experience started in sixth form helping coach the year-9s (U-14s) and organising the sixth form (U-19s) team. At 19 years old, I set up and managed Studley FC U-18s in the Midlands Floodlit Youth League ahead of the 2013/14 season which was a real eye-opener, mainly because of the off-the-field running of the club.”

Building a CV

As with most careers or passions, you often have to try and gain plenty of experience as quickly as possible, which is what the newly-blooded coach set out to achieve.

Blackwood is carving a career in non-league football

“I spent three seasons at Studley FC U-18s, winning the Midlands Floodlit Youth League Western Division (14/15) with a fantastic group, before being asked to take over Highgate United’s U-18s ahead of the 2016/17 season, a good club with a lot of ambition – I was involved at Highgate for a year before leaving to set up Feckenham FC U-18s.”

Playing football in a league which often turns out plenty of academy system players in the West Midlands, helped play a role in setting himself up for a momentary switch to men’s football.

“My experience in mens and senior football came on an interim basis, when West Midlands (Regional) League side Bartley Green Illey FC removed their Manager in January 2015.

“I knew the chairman and he asked me to oversee the team until the end of the season who were rock bottom, we had a good 14 games together and managed to put a string of positive results to eventually finish 12th.”

“My intention was to stay involved with Bartley Green Illey FC for the 2015/16 season, but I was asked in the summer if I’d be interested in taking charge at Midland League Division Two side Feckenham FC, and with the club playing at a better level and closer to home I jumped at the opportunity – which is where I am ’til this day.”

The support system

The problems facing football in this country are varied and plentiful, but and a lack of coaches doesn’t appear to be particularly high on the FA’s agenda.

But plenty would argue that more needs to be done to cultivate a better culture of turning out young coaches. Blackwood believes that badges and levels could be funded just like university.

He argues: “If you were to go to university to study for a degree to pursue a career, you’d spend £9,000 per year, but there’s help in paying that tuition back. In football, earning your badges should be no different.

The young coach believes advice from his peers has stood him in good stead

“The costs are nothing short of ridiculous, but in this country, in my opinion, there is also a cultural issue which isn’t just in football and sport, it’s across everything within society.

“I received no real help directly from the FA, but that’s not to say others haven’t [helped].

“Without the guidance of previous managers and people’s footballing opinions that I hold in high regard, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today and that has nothing to do with the FA.

“They have updated the coaching badges and improved certain facilities and given grants for 3G pitches, which is what we train on, but is that enough?”

A lack of minority managers

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Chris Hughton last month became the first black team boss to win the Premier League manager of the month award.

But, despite black British players featuring prominently in professional football, non-white senior coaches and managers remain a rarity.

‘There seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches’

Blackwood said: “I’d like to see more people of colour being encouraged to pursue a career on the sideline – those that have ambition, drive, a willingness to learn and be successful will eventually get opportunities.

“But I feel more needs to be done. The figures are alarming, considering the pool of talent out there. I believe at all levels, but at the elite level especially, there seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches.”

So is positive discrimination needed to make things fairer? “I’m a strong strong believer in people being given opportunities on merit, so for me it’s important regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity people are given managerial and coaching posts because they’re deemed the best person for the vacancy.”

Whether Blackwood will be given chances to further develop a career in coaching remains to be seen, but he is optimistic.

“If it’s something I really want, then why not?”

“I’ll continue in non-league football, which is improving in quality year on year. Each level is becoming more and more professional in regards to matchdays, training, how players now look after themselves, and if I do well and opportunities present themselves, then we’ll see.”

Soccer Painters — the club curing post-university blues

Mental health issues can affect both new students and those who have graduated. Which is why LCC graduate Connor Winks set up Soccer Painters FC last August in an attempt to beat the university blues.

It can be a big step to leave your home and camp in a grubby death-trap for £190 a week. So it’s understandable to feel slightly lost and isolated in your first few weeks. This can also be the case for those who have left university, with ever decreasing job markets adding further pressure.

Photo: @g_daughtry

“I’m sure if you asked others who helped me set this up you’d probably get a few different answers. It’s quite a personal subject for me as the project was born out of quite a dark place,” says Winks.

“I suffered from post-graduate depression when leaving university after being in education for all of my life. I found it really difficult to adjust.

“I moved back home to Hastings and felt completely cut off from this whole life I had built for myself. Whilst I kept in contact with my closest friends I found I had stopped talking to a lot of friends I had made playing for Arts.

“I was struggling to rekindle those friendships with the lack of time I got to spend in London, really having to pick and choose who I saw when I was up.”

‘I found a few of the boys who had graduated felt the same; a little bit isolated and a little bit lost’

Winks was heavily involved in UAL Football during his time studying in Elephant and Castle and captained the now disbanded third team to undoubtedly their best season in recent memory. Those UAL sporting connections meant that when visiting London from Hastings he found that many of his former teammates and friends who had graduated also felt the same.

A dark place

It can be especially isolating in London, where the housing market is relatively impenetrable for new graduates unless you get a well paid job immediately. Winks, a Sports Journalism graduate, found it difficult going into a thinning media job market and was left feeling puzzled at what to do next.

‘It’s amazing what a couple of hours with your pals not thinking about anything other than football can do for your mental health’

“When visiting London I found a few of the boys who had graduated felt the same; a little bit isolated and a little bit lost. There’s such little research into post-graduate depression and a real lack of support for something that is so prevalent and affects so many.

“I felt that doing this would not only help me and the guys who had mentioned it, but maybe a few of the other boys who might have been having trouble but didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.”

“It’s amazing what a couple of hours on a Sunday morning with your pals not thinking about anything other than football can do for your mental health. Now I hope it can carry on for anyone who might be feeling the same coming out of UAL We want to be welcoming as many graduates from Arts as possible and hopefully get something really special going.”

Soccer Painters play their football in Hackney and Leyton Division 4, with all the games at Hackney Marshes. The name reflects the players’ University of the Arts background. Winks has found the experience immensely positive.

“The main thing is everyone is still enjoying it. We marketed and ran the club at minimal cost, meaning we only charge exactly what it costs to run. It’s London, so the boys have had to put their hands in their pockets a little bit, but I would imagine we are one of the cheapest teams in the league to play for.”

Fitting in with football

Winks believes the UAL sports teams prove a vital tool for those struggling to fit into their chosen school and more could be done for those who take on the responsibility of captaining and running a side.

“The students who are voluntarily running the clubs need more support from paid employees of the SU in terms of reaching students and keeping them in the societies. Are there fliers in every uni? Every hall? Could you have a scheme helping members struggling to pay memberships but who do want to play?

Ex-UAL student Oliver O’Callaghan captaining the side. Photo: @g_daughtry

“London can be a lonely place and I know the football club at uni really helped me adjust and settle when I first arrived. Most of my friends and best memories come from being involved with the sports societies and it was a huge part of my three years at UAL.

“It would be sad to think someone would not be able to experience that because there wasn’t room for them as there is no third team anymore or they just simply don’t know the university has a football team.”

Soccer Painters are a club ultimately wanting to expand, so opportunities for a game are expanding. Winks encourages those post and pre-graduation to contact the club if it you would like to get involved.

“We definitely have bigger plans. I’d personally like to get to a point where we have recruited enough graduates to have a Saturday and Sunday team and try to enter the proper English football pyramid at the bottom.”

The future looks a bright and lasting one as the club aim to utilise some of those skills he learned whilst studying at UAL.

“On top of that a few of the boys have some really interesting ideas on how to establish Soccer Painters as a brand.

“Coming from UAL we have a hugely talented team of people in terms of stuff like graphic design and we do want to utilise that. I think we’ve seen such an upturn of Sunday League teams getting huge publicity, such as teams like the The Gun, and it’s something we’re exploring currently.”

@SoccerPainters on Twitter for more info

Photos courtesy of Gabriel Daughtry – @g_daughtry on Twitter

Worcester City – a club in freefall

It’s only four years ago that Worcester City were slaying giants in the FA Cup – a 2-1 away win against Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena.

That was followed up by a draw away to Scunthorpe United. The replay was at the home of Kidderminster Harriers, the game ending with an historic FA Cup penalty shootout – United winning after 27 spot kicks.

With the background of a newly dismantled stadium and multiple failures to get planning permission on several sites for a new ground, it was far from plain sailing at the club.

However that seemingly did not matter back then, as a results on the pitch continued to improve under then-manager Carl Heeley.

With plans accepted last year for a ground to be built on Parsonage Way, the owner now claims it may take the club becoming “amateur” to fund it.

Decimation of funds

The away end was packed on a sunny day in Coventry back in 2014; when me and several friends were lucky enough to be present.

A former Manchester United youth player who had been in the same side as Danny Welbeck  as a junior, Sean Geddes, got both goals for Worcester on the day.

This was all new to many of those who had watched City in their previous iterations. Players deemed to have an experience of higher levels of football were often preferred to local lads as the club continued to live outside of its means.

In fact only a few years ago did former striker, Mark Owen, begin to look for local talent to incorporate into the first team – setting up a footballing programme incorporated into the local Tech College.

Relegated three divisions last season due to financial mismanagement, City now play their football at the home of new league rivals, Bromsgrove Sporting, in the ninth tier of English football.

So where has all the money gone? After a successful cup run which saw their home replay against The Irons shown on BT Sport, you’d expect the club to be in good shape.

However, City Owner Anthony Hampson told the Worcester News newspaper recently that the club could go “fully amateur” by next season.

Lee Hughes has moved onto Halesown Town
Lee Hughes had been co-managing with John Snape this season

Now playing in the Midland Football League, Hampson believes next seasons playing budget will have to be axed to fund the proposed stadium in Parsonage Way.

There will be about £150,000 left at the end of this season. If everyone works together, we could scrape to phase one. It is a much smaller club now and will be run in a far more realistic way.”

Hours before this news, former co-manager and player Lee Hughes quit the club. Taking on a playing role at Halesowen Town, the former West Bromwich Albion and Notts County striker seemingly made his dash for the exit.

New money in non-league football

In truth, Worcester City have always been a fairly small club which often overachieved by retaining their almost football league status for 25 years and having the odd good cup run.

Salford City and Billericay Town having budgets which dwarf that of Hampson’s, and it is true that competition in the leagues have become somewhat skewed.

‘Des Lyttle, was signed back in 2005 and was rumoured to be pulling in over £1,000 a week’

City have attempted to counteract that over the years with high-profile signings such as Elliot Deeney, brother of Watford striker Troy, and the aforementioned Geddes.

Also, former Nottingham Forest and West Bromwich Albion defender, Des Lyttle, was signed back in 2005 and was rumoured to be on over £1,000 a week.

Which is the kind of unrealistic deal that has contributed to where the club see themselves today. This may be a good argument as to why they should have invested more into the local community.

After all, the county has recently produced players such as Joe Lolley (Huddersfield Town), Nathan Baker (Bristol City), Harry Hooman (ex-Cheltenham Town) and Bobby Dale (Cheltenham Town) – fortunately in those cases other clubs got involved.

Hampson and the cost of ambition

Many fans see serial mismanagement as the main problem, evidenced by past failed attempts at negotiating a deal with Worcester Warriors owner Cecil Duckworth to head the club. It currently has little hope of any large-scale investment.

Worcester City owner Anthony Hampson

Hampson also claimed in the Worcester News that the hole left in revenue from last season, leading to eventual relegation, was due to the large wage bill of the previous campaign. His assessment of Carl Heeley is that he stretched the club too far.

“I think Carl should have cut the budget much sooner after the cup run did not materialise. The manager has to accept what the deal was at the beginning of the season. He knew what it was but held on to the players. From there, it is quite difficult to cut back.”

Losses of £290,000 for the year ending May 2017 showing a huge spike from the previous financial year in which losses were reported at £150,000.

Worcester City vice-chairman, Colin Layland, also told the Worcester News: “It hasn’t helped us playing away from Worcester, paying another club while trying to compete in National League North. The playing budget and overall expenses would have been higher at that level.”

However when questioned on who then decided the budget he said: “It was a board decision after consulting with the manager.”

Whether the board or former manager decide to publicly take responsibility for the state of matters, remains to be seen – Heeley so far has stated that he will not speak until he has “fully digested the comments” made by the owner.

Photos courtesy of Worcester News

Vladimir Putin posters

Doping claims won’t go away as Russia prepares to host World Cup

Russian sport right now has a struggle for power. A struggle between  legitimate sport and sport controlled by President Putin.

With a Russian-hosted World Cup in June, recent news of further Russian controversies should have FIFA doing more.

Firstly, let’s look at the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s premier ice hockey league. The team Vladimir Putin supports, SKA St Petersburg, are reportedly winning Russia’s Premier Ice Hockey League by default.

This can be paired with claims by a whistle-blower that Russia has already doped at a previous football World Cup. A Russian-hosted World Cup this summer, much like in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, could present a much greater threat to the legitimacy of the tournament.

Putin will be desperate for at least a knockout phase performance from Russia’s footballers in an election year, despite their current lowly world ranking of 61st.

Putin’s team win gold

At this year’s Winter Games, a team of Russians competing as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ won ice hockey gold in Pyeongchang. The OAR tag had to be used because of Russia’s ongoing doping suspension from the Olympics, with only clean individual athletes allowed to take part.

It just so happens that many of those gold medal-winning OAR players also play for SKA St Petersburg.

Russian sports writer Slava Malamud posted a thread on Twitter that went viral within the North American ice hockey community.

Malamud expressed his distaste for the state of Russian domestic hockey and Putin’s grip on the league.

“SKA is allowed to ignore the salary cap, its payroll is six times that of an average team, it has dibs on every star who considers the KHL. Most of its players are rabid Putin supporters who took part in his campaign rally last week. I repeat: SKA must win. It’s not an option.”

The KHL league has offered an official explanation that for many within the Russian sporting media that doesn’t exactly allay suspicions, claims Malamud.

‘Everyone in Russia knows what’s going on. The fans, the officials, the media’

It goes like this: ‘Allowing all the best players to concentrate in one team has created unique chemistry that transitioned seamlessly to the Olympic squad. Making the KHL season easy for them has safeguarded against injuries and bad morale. This is why we won the gold.’

“Everyone in Russia knows what’s going on. The fans, the officials, the media. It’s out in the open. And the people who have made it happen (all KHL bosses are Putin’s close friends) have already announced that the system has proven effective and should continue.”

Given what Malamud says, it would appear that Putin remains unconcerned by any sanctions or investigations that continue within the international governing bodies of sport.

Flying too close to the sun

Even more timely is the recent victory of Icarus at the Oscars. Directed by Bryan Fogel, the documentary inadvertently charted the fall from grace of the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov. The film also covers his subsequent flight to the United States, where he testified under a newly-assumed name and identity.

Though it may not sound like fun having Putin and his special agents allegedly hunting you down, Rodchenkov has been the lucky one so far.

Two former colleagues died in mysterious circumstances following the revelations of the fleeing Russian.

In Icarus Bryan Fogel met the murky world of Russian doping  Photo: @bannabaynard

Although ice hockey and hootball are not directly connected, they are inexplicably connected by Rodchenkov.

The former Russian lab director who now has taken asylum in the US, claimed he was ordered to apply the same kind of doping craft to all Russian sport.

Vitaliy Mutko, who was Russian sport minister during Sochi, was promoted to deputy prime minister after he and Putin were implicated by Rodchenkov.

Just a couple of weeks ago Rodchenkov told Associated Press: “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

He also told AP that while Mutko was president of the Russian Football Union he was ordered to provide “protection for Russian footballers.”

Rodchenkov claimed: “He [Mutko] told me directly to ‘avoid any scandal by hiding positive results’ and ‘doping would be handled internally,’ meaning that those doping irresponsibly or without protocols could be disciplined or reported.”

Give ’em enough dope

Rodchenkov moved to the US two years ago and the state-sponsored doping began to be uncovered in 2014. Yet, only in the past few months has FIFA reportedly attempted to gather evidence from his claims.

‘Two former colleagues of Rodchenkov died in mysterious circumstances’

Though Mutko was subsequently banned from the Olympics due to his involvement in Sochi, he is yet to face any footballing sanctions. With Mutko recently departing from his roles as head of Russia’s Football Federation and the World Cup organising committee, it will be interesting to see how FIFA responds.

There are 34 historical cases of doping identified by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which are said to include members of the 2014 Russian World Cup squad.

It has been a sluggish investigation by FIFA. You would have assumed that the federation, recently embroiled in corruption itself, would be making larger efforts to resolve such a situation.

Gianni Infantino and his media team tried to pre-empt criticism with a comment: “If there was a big issue regarding Russian players who would be doped, we would by now already know it.”

However from the evidence gathered, it appears many may have known for some time.

The chances of this being a deliberate delay could be high given the World Cup time-frame. Saudia Arabia kick off against the hosts at the beginning of June and any delay could be disastrous.

Timid response

FIFA responded to these allegations in a bizarre question and answer session in which they both asked and answered their own questions.

“There has not been any delay in our investigation,” stated FIFA. “Since the very first moment, FIFA has undertaken comprehensive action to determine whether football players were involved.

“We have been regularly informing and exchanging information with WADA about our progress and they have agreed to our approach. It is obviously in FIFA’s interest that the investigations are finalised as soon as possible.”

When asked about Infantino’s comment on Russian players, Rodchenkov told  Associated Press: “This is more burying heads in the sand.”

A slap on the wrist by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and a turbulent investigation from FIFA ahead; there is still yet to be a proper and effective response to all of Russia’s sporting misdemeanours.

@SlavaMalamud on Twitter for more on Russian Ice Hockey

Vladimir Putin posters photo by Antjeverena via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Review: Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation

The widespread outpouring of emotion sparked by the recent death of Cyrille Regis underlined the fact that he was not just simply a footballer but an inspiration to so many.

Part of West Bromwich Albion’s swashbuckling ‘Three Degrees’, Regis – along with Brendon Batson and future Real Madrid star Laurie Cunningham – would terrorise defences throughout the late 1970s and into the 80s

Arguably the first real black stars of the English game, they even had racists on the terraces – and there were plenty of them at the time – talking about how good they were.

The sad demise of Regis at the age of 59 gave the BBC another opportunity to screen a documentary made by TV sports presenter Adrian Chiles, a lifelong West Brom fan, in 2016.

It chronicled the testimonial match for Baggies stalwart Len Cantello in May 1979, in which the ‘Three Degrees’, along with other black players from as far down the footballing pyramid as Hereford United, took on a team of white players mostly comprised of the WBA starting XI.

In the cold light of 2018, the very thought of such a contest might make many a person wince.

However former Wolves, QPR and Leicester City defender Bob Hazell, who played on the black side that day, said in the film that it was “fantastic, great memories and a great day everybody wanted to be a part of”.

A galvanising moment

What was noticeable about the differing views on the game was that the black players remembered it with far more clarity than those the white players.

John Wile, Albion club captain at the time who played for the white team, reminisced: “I remember all these kids and faces that we’d never seen before, because there wasn’t that many black players playing at that level.

“The game itself I don’t really remember. I think that year I played something like 76 games. So it was just something else that happened at the end of the season.”

This could well be because the team with Regis and Co. won 3-2 on the day; or more likely, because this simply was an historic moment for black footballers in this country.

“This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate”

Only a few years before this match in May 1979, it would have been impossible to configure a side solely comprised of black players from the English footballing leagues.

This game, if anything, represented a burgeoning progress which the ‘Three Degrees’ would go on to encapsulate.

The film portrayed the feeling that the game brought those black players on the pitch that day together, and in a sense, the entirety of the black contingent within the leagues.

It was an important moment to those players even if it was not for their white counterparts. As former Wolves defender George Berry commented in the film: “We wanted to win.”

Institution of hate

However, the game itself was not the sole focus of the documentary, which in a case such as this would have been far too reductive in nature for the subject matter.

Horrific stories of racist abuse were recalled in the documentary, one of the most striking being that told by Berry about playing against West Brom.

“All I can hear from this West Brom fan is, you black b*****d, effing get back up the tree, you effing gollywog – and I’m marking Cyrille Regis!”

‘Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes’

“I just said to this bloke doing the shouting ‘Who are you talking to? Me or Cyrille?’ Cyrille just shook his head.”

The partners, families and friends of black players were forced to stay away from matches even as the far-right National Front infiltrated the terraces. The higher-ups at the FA even refusing to permit Hazell to dreadlock his hair for fear of a backlash.

This was an age where racism around football was almost entirely unpoliced. According to one former NF member and Birmingham City fan, as huge quantities of bananas were bought pre-match ready to be hurled onto the pitch.

The presence of the NF on the terraces, at a time when football seemed to be a dying sport played in crumbling stadia, exacerbated those weekly displays of hatred and bile.

The documentary captured perfectly how the NF aimed to manipulate impressionable young people into doing their bidding.

One rather rotund National Front leader proudly proclaimed: “There is a lot you can do with a football hooligan,” adding that “football fandom is a form of patriotism”.

Happily ever after?

Today, 30 percent of British footballers are black. So given this, why are there so many barriers that still exist within the game?

And, putting the obvious lack of black and minority managers aside for a moment, has that racially-motivated hatred on the terraces gone for good?

Some would argue that improved facilities, leading to higher ticket prices, leading in turn to the gentrification of football, simply priced racism out of the game.

“In the now immortal words of Regis, ‘you’ve got to overcome’ “

Jason Roberts, nephew of Cyrille Regis and former Premier League striker, suggested as much during the documentary. The question posed in the film was: have the racists simply moved online?

Death threats, racism, sexism, homophobia – social media risks becoming its own form of National Front-led terrace before our very eyes.

People with Union Jack flag headers and a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ profile pictures scour the internet looking to aim internalised hatreds directly at people who look, feel and are different to them. Let’s not pretend many of them aren’t football fans – nationalism and fandom again side by side.

However, in the now immortal words of Regis – “you’ve got to overcome.” Thus the opinions of the faceless few on the internet should not denigrating the progress that has been made and which was sparked by the likes of Regis, Batson and Cunningham.

Achievement

Regis and Batson would prove vital cogs in what was the most successful period in West Brom’s history.

Ironically this was overseen by manager Ron Atkinson – a man who whilst working for ITV in 2004 was accidentally heard describing Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly a “f*****g lazy thick n****r” – a sad reminder of how little some mentalities have changed over the years.

Cunningham would go one better than his fellow ‘Three Degrees’ and become the first British player to ever player for Real Madrid. Given race relations in Spain following the Franco years, this was no small achievement in itself.

Cunningham went onto bedazzle defenders at several other clubs before losing his life in car crash in Madrid aged 32. Dion Dublin and Ian Wright paid emotional tributes to their heroes, as if they were kids again, when reminiscing to Chiles.

Thankfully, we now live in a time in which racial hatred has no place in football, or anywhere else, although issues such as that glaring lack of non-white managers persist.

So much progress has been made, however and for that we have in part to thank the ‘Three Degrees’. They helped pave the way towards a far more beautiful game.

Whites vs Blacks: How Football Changed A Nation is currently on BBC iPlayer.

Palace and Everton stalemate suits neither team

A rainy afternoon in South London was the setting for a lively 2-2 draw between Crystal Palace and Everton as both sides fought for a victory they desperately needed.

With both hosts and visitors in trouble at the wrong end of the Premier League, a single point suited neither, but defeat would have been unthinkable.

The game began horrendously for Toffees caretaker boss David Unsworth as the hosts were ahead within a minute at Selhurst Park. Palace’s first attack of the game was finished off by James McArthur, who found the net after Ruben Loftus-Cheek had forced Jordan Pickford into an early save.

However, that lead was short-lived as the Evertonians fought back to level matters soon after. Eagles defender Scott Dann fouled Oumar Niasse in the penalty area, and Leighton Baines made no mistake from the spot.

There was a real question mark over whether Niasse was touched at all in this one – and that doubt led to an FA charge for ‘simulation’ in the days following the game.

Wilfried Zaha then put the Eagles back in the driving seat, as he was brilliantly picked out by a cross from Joel Ward, allowing him to roll the ball into an empty net at the far post on 35 minutes.

Calamitous

What then followed was a calamitous piece of Palace defending as Everton were handed their second gift of the day, thanks again Dann and goalkeeper Julian Speroni.

‘Referee Andrew Taylor was booed and jeered off the pitch by the home support after the game, the Palace faithful laying the blame for the dropped points on his shoulders’

The pair nervously exchanged passes before Idrissa Gueye stepped in to intercept, and Niasse took the opportunity with great aplomb, rolling home to put his team back on level terms on the stroke of half time.

There was far less goalmouth action in the second half but it was not for want of trying. Palace dominated throughout but ultimately were not being able to find the key to unlock the Everton door. In fact for all of their possession and attacking intent a key element of the forward line did seem to be missing all day.

A certain Belgian sitting on the bench looked on longingly, and in fact there were a few deliveries again from Ward in the second half that might well have been more of a problem for Pickford if Christian Benteke had been on the pitch.

In the second half, both defences were tightened up and even the eventual late introduction of Benteke, left out of the starting line-up, could not deliver a winner.

Referee Andrew Taylor was booed and jeered off the pitch by the home support after the game, the Palace faithful laying the blame for the dropped points on his shoulders as the full-time whistle blew.

Hodgson irritated

Sitting down for just three minutes to chat to the media, Palace boss Roy Hodgson was irritated by his side’s inability to turn possession into victory.

‘We can discuss it till the cows come home, but the referee gave it as a penalty they took it and they scored it’ – Roy Hodgson

“If you look at the performance over 95 minutes, I believe we played well enough to win the game,” he claimed.

In combative mood, the ex-England manager was then asked whether it was time to turn these dropped points into wins. “Yeah, well how do you do that?” he shot back at his inquisitor, staring into his soul.

When it was suggested it was his job to galvanise his team, Hodgson then asked pointedly: “So what do I actually do then?”

On the issue of the penalty, he said: “I’m pretty certain you’ve asked Dave Unsworth the same question and he’s said it was a foul, and now you’ll ask me and I’ll say it wasn’t.

“We can discuss it till the cows come home, but the referee gave it as a penalty they took it and they scored it.”

When the press conference cameras were switched off, Hodgson turned to journalists and began a small rant, visibly irritated by the way the game had gone.

In fairness to him, many would agree that Loftus-Cheek and Zaha have breathed fresh life into his side.

Unsworth praises team

Everton’s heroics in coming from behind to beat Watford may feel a distant memory, but Unsworth’s credentials as a potential Everton manager may well be enhanced after recent weeks.

A lot of Blues fans will argue that Ronald Koeman failed to get any kind of response during the final weeks of his tenure. At least the team are playing for Unsworth.

He could yet remain in the role, given Everton’s unsuccessful tug-of-war with Watford over Marco Silva.

After the game Unsworth was in fairly good spirits. “They’ve been terrific since the first training session that we came together, up until today’s game. They’ve given me everything and I can tell the Everton fans have given me everything as well.”

Then on the penalty and with the smell of an FA charge in the air, Unsworth understandably took the “I haven’t seen it since and couldn’t see it from where I was sitting” approach.

Only time will tell whether his efforts thus far will be enough for majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright to give him the job on a permanent basis, but the former player continues to stake a claim.

West Ham v Liverpool

Bilic woeful but Moyes is an odd choice for Hammers

A day of remembrance at the London Stadium quickly turned sour for Slavan Bilic on Saturday. His side were simply all over the place as they sunk to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Liverpool.

It proved to be the final nail in the coffin of what has been a fairly prolonged exit. In the press conference after the game, the Croatian looked in an understandably sombre mood.

He proclaimed he was “not a broken man” when asked whether he would be given more time, however David Sullivan and David Gold apparently thought differently.

However, given the essential goodwill and patience Bilic was shown by the owners, you would be hard pushed to suggest they were in the wrong to show him the door.

Craig Shakespeare (Leicester) and Ronald Koeman (Everton) had a lot less time and better results comparatively, but West Ham’s slump extends further back than this season.

Toxic atmosphere

However, Bilic is now yesterday’s man, and in his place is David Moyes: damaged goods in the eyes of most West Ham fans and many neutrals after his unsuccessful stints at Manchester, United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland

Rumours of the former Everton manager’s imminent appointment saw Saturday’s toxic match day atmosphere continued on social media, and there were even reports of the owners considering a volte-face, given strength of the backlash.

With the Hammers 18th in the table with just nine points from 11 games, Sullivan and Gold – in something akin to a pre-emptive strike – released this bizarre welcome/hostage video with Moyes promoting unity within the club.

Some might argue the Scot’s reputation was unfairly tarnished by huge task of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at at Old Trafford, but few Real Sociedad and Sunderland fans will remember him fondly either.

His failures to admit what truly went wrong at United also seem to plague him. Just a few months ago, he claimed it was due to not landing major transfer targets.

Global brand

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live in October, Moyes claimed: “We offered more money to Tottenham [than Real Madrid for Bale]. Cesc Fabregas, who I spoke to on the phone several times, was not sure of his place in the Barcelona team, and I remember him saying if he didn’t start the first game for them, he would definitely be looking to join us.”

Moyes seems to be ignoring the fact he inherited a side which had comfortably won the Premier League the year previous and had started the season with a 4-0 away thumping of Swansea.

But by the end of it United, finished seventh and midfielder Marouane Fellaini – who Moyes had signed from his old club – was taking flack on a weekly basis.

Moyes is also ignoring the fact he never quite got to grips with the global brand that is Manchester United.

On their summer pre-season tour, the United side were reportedly forced into hiding on the roof of an Australian restaurant as fans massed beneath. Having been at Everton so long, Moyes never seemed to grasp how big a deal the Red Devils actually are.

Criticised

Then there was early disenchantment among the players over his tactics and training methods. Weirdly, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back was reportedly Moyes banning the players from eating chips…

‘Relegation, having only moved to the 60,000-seat London Stadium ahead of last season, would be disastrous for the East Londoners’

The former Everton manager even showed Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic videos of Phil Jagielka to help them defend; the response of Ferdinand was reportedly “What has he ever won?”

Ferdinand also criticised his communication skills, recalling in his 2014 autobiography: “You heard a lot of guys complaining ‘I just don’t know what he wants’. He had me doubting everything.”

These are all aspects of the managerial game which Moyes cannot afford to get wrong at West Ham.

At 54, he is not old in managerial terms, but somehow seems diminished from the forceful character who kept Everton in the upper reaches of the Premier League for so long.

Maybe Moyes and the Goodison Park club were simply a perfect fit, but his subsequent travails have convinced many Hammers fans that he’s not the man for their club.

Relegation from the top flight, having only moved to the 60,000-seat London Stadium ahead of last season, would be disastrous for the East Londoners. Moyes certainly feels like an odd – even desperate – choice to get them out of trouble.