All posts by Brandon Prangell

London Stadium

Preview: West Ham vs Tottenham (23/11/2019)

José Mourinho’s return to the Premier League starts as his Tottenham Hotspur side face Manuel Pellegrini’s West Ham at the London Stadium.

The two are former foes and have faced off a total of 15 times already, with Mourinho being the more successful of the two, winning on eight occasions.

The last time they met was September 2018, when Pellegrini’s Hammers overcame the Portuguese’s Manchester United team 3-1 at home.

The London Stadium faithful are currently missing two of their key players with Lukasz Fabianski (thigh) and Manuel Lanzini (shoulder) unlikely to feature for the hosts.

However, Jack Wilshere, Michail Antonio and Mark Noble could all be match fit to face off against their bitter rivals.

As for Tottenham, Paulo Gazzaniga will have to assume regular duty in goal as both Hugo Lloris (arm) and Michel Vorm (calf) are currently out. Winger Erik Lamela (thigh) is also still yet to return.

There is some good news for Mourinho’s side, though, as both Jan Vertonghen and Tanguy Ndombele have made a full recovery and could feature for the first time under their new boss.

When the two London sides last met, the Hammers won 1-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium courtesy of a winner from Michail Antonio in the 67th minute.

The Hammers have failed to win any of their last seven matches in a streak that started with a 4-0 loss in the Carabao Cup to League One side Oxford United.

Conceding goals has been the issue this season as Pellegrini’s men have shipped two or more seven times this season with their goal difference sitting at -6.

Their Chilean boss knows that form has been an issue: “Of course it was very unexpected because we finished last season very well and we’re playing well this season also. For different reasons we must find why we didn’t continue playing in the same way and winning games. Especially against Palace and Sheffield United at home, there were games we deserved a better result.

“The Premier League this year is very tight – within three points there are eight teams. We must try to recover our performance, and I hope that this will be a good game to try to return to winning our home games.”

Tottenham have been underperforming hence the change in management, with Spurs currently sitting 14th, only six points above Watford in the drop zone. This is due to the London side failing to win in the league since September 28th, when they beat Southampton 2-1.

For Spurs, the Champions League has been a welcome distraction from Premier League football, with their last two wins being a 4-0 and 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade.

The North London side’s mentality has been criticised in recent months, with them either losing or drawing from a winning position in six of their 17 games so far this season.

Mourinho came out backing his players who are in dire need of a win with the Portuguese boss announcing: “The best gift for me is that, I don’t need players, I am happy with the ones I have.

“I just need more time with them. I know them well from playing against them, but you never know them well enough.”

For West Ham, a loss could be disastrous and even though Pellegrini has been given the dreaded vote of confidence, failing to win could end with him out the job as there isn’t many more chances he can be given.

If Tottenham were to lose, it shouldn’t have a major effect with their manager easily being able to say that he’s not had enough time with his squad yet.

London Stadium photo by Dan Dyer via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

England run riot in their 1,000th international to reach Euro 2020

Gareth Southgate’s team confirmed qualification for the 2020 Uefa European Championship in style with an emphatic 7-0 win over Montenegro.

There was already celebratory mood in the air at Wembley as the FA marked the Three Lions’ 1,000th match, and the party really got going as the hosts raced in a 5-0 lead by half-time against their game but limited Group A rivals.

Harry Kane was the star of that first 45 minutes, notching a quickfire hat-trick after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had opened the scoring 11 minutes in, and Marcus Rashford also got on the scoresheet on the half-hour.

England, perhaps understandably, let the tempo drop after the break, but an own goal from Aleksandar Sofranac and Tammy Abraham’s first senior strike for the hosts completed Montenegro’s misery on an historic night.

Perfect ball

England’s youngest-ever starting XI looked a little anxious early on as the visitors – with no hope of Euro 2020 qualification – pushed forward, but any nerves were soon settled by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s accomplished finish.

Kane now has 31 goals in 44 games, which leaves him 22 off the record held by Wayne Rooney, who he replaced for his first cap

With England knocking on the door, Ben Chilwell drove towards the box from the centre of the pitch and flighted a perfect ball over the top for the Liverpool midfielder who took a touch before nestling the ball into the bottom left corner.

It was the first time Oxlade-Chamberlain, a relative veteran at 26, had started for his country since March 2018, and his first goal in an England shirt for over two years.

Skipper Kane missed a golden opportunity to open his account just minutes later as his goal-bound header hit Sofranic, but the Tottenham striker got off the mark before 20 minutes were on the clock.

It came from a free kick on the edge of the box as Chilwell – playing only his 10th England match but looking every inch an established international – again came up with the assist. He planted the ball perfectly onto the captain’s head and Kane made no mistake this time.

Crushed

The number nine was crucial to Southgate’s plan, dropping deep and carrying the ball to make space for the midfielders to get involved, and it bore fruit again in the 24th minute.

It was that Chilwell-Kane combination which crushed any lingering hopes that Montenegro had of getting back into the game. This time from a corner, the Leicester City full-back presented his team-mate with another header that ended up in the net, bringing up 30 goals for the prolific Spurs star.

Chilwell, later named as man of the match, became the first England player since Glen Johnson in June 2009, to bag three assists for his country.

Montenegro were not quite done, however, and there was almost a shock to the system as Jordan Pickford was forced into making a point-blank save to deny defender Marko Simic in the 27th minute.

Normal service was soon resumed, however, this time through Rashford. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross was met by the head of Harry Maguire, but Milan Mijatovic’s save fell to the Manchester United forward, who twisted and turned his way through the defence before burying the ball into the net.

Montenegro were 5-0 down by the interval as Kane completed his hat-trick in the 37th minute. Trent Alexander-Arnold was the creator, playing in his in-form skipper to find the far left-hand corner of the goal.

A mix-up in England’s defence meant that Pickford again had to come to the rescue as Fatos Beqiraj found space between John Stones and Maguire, but the Everton keeper was quickly off his line to deny him in the 41st minute.

Smashed in

Gareth Southgate gave both Kane and Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to rest, with James Maddison and Tammy Abraham coming on in the 57th minute, as the game – no longer really a contest – entered a less explosive phase.

Kane departed with 31 goals in 44 games which leaves him 22 off the record held by Wayne Rooney, who was among a group of former England stars greeted with warm applause on the pitch at half-time.

Still only 26, Kane looks set to be England’s main goal threat for several years to come, and surely has every chance of surpassing Rooney’s total.

No England player was required for the next goal as defender Sofranic found himself in the wrong place at the right time for the hosts. A Rashford cross came off Jadon Sancho before Mason Mount’s shot hit bar, only for the unfortunate Sofranic to divert the rebound over the line for 6-0.

With sections of the 77,277 crowd starting to drift away to beat the Wembley post-match rush, Abraham completed the scoring, combining with winger Sancho who played the ball across for the Chelsea striker to slide it home with six minutes remaining.

The only blemish on an otherwise perfect evening for England came when some fans booed Joe Gomez as he came on as a substitute, following his minor fracas with Raheem Sterling which led to the Manchester City striker being dropped for the 1,000th game.

Sterling later took to social media to defend Gomez and again accept the blame for their bust-up. Southgate will want to draw a firm line under the row and begin his planning for next summer’s tournament.

Photos by Brandon Prangell.

Three Lions badge

What do you know about England’s 999 matches?

As England go into their 1,000th senior men’s game, against Montenegro at Wembley Stadium on November 14th, Elephant Sport takes a look back at some of the stats, facts and figures involved in their first 999 matches.

Overall

Games won: 571 – England’s first win was against rivals Scotland at The Oval on 8th March 1873. William Kenyon-Slaney netted a double and was the first-ever player to score in games between the two nations; the first match had ended in a 0-0 draw in the previous November.

The Three Lions most recent win was a 6-0 win away to Bulgaria in Sofia; both Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling got doubles as England edged closer to qualifying for the 2020 European Championship.

Games drew: 232 – The first-ever draw for England came in their first-ever match as they took on fierce rivals Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Partick, Glasgow on 30th November 1872, this match ended in a 0-0 draw.

Last time that the Three Lions drew was 12th October 2018 as they were held to a 0-0 draw against Croatia in a behind closed doors Uefa Nations League qualifier. That draw saw England register their 400th clean sheet, while Jadon Sancho became the first player born in the 21st century to represent the senior England side.

Games lost: 196 – It only took three matches for England to lose with it being against their rivals Scotland who they played annually when the national football team was created. The game was held at Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow, and despite the Three Lions taking the lead they lost 2-1 after Frederick Anderson and Angus MacKinnon scored, cancelling out Robert Kingsford’s earlier effort.

The most recent loss for Gareth Southgate’s side came at the hands of Czech Republic on 11th October this year at the Sinobo Stadium. Harry Kane had given the away side the lead, however, Jakub Brabec scored to equalise in Prague while Zdenek Ondrasek ensured that his side inflicted England’s first qualifier loss in 10 years.

Goals scored: 2,188 – The first goal scored for England was William Kenyon-Slaney as he netted in England’s second-ever game back in March 1873 in the three lions 4-2 win over Scotland. Harry Kane was the last player to score in their last match when England won 6-0 in Bulgaria.

Goals conceded: 983 – Henry Renny-Tailyour scored the first goal against the Three Lions in the same game that William Kenyon-Slaney scored in, his team-mate William Gibb also scored as Scotland lost 4-2. The most recent goalscorer against England was Zdenek Ondrasek, who scored five minutes from time to win the game for the Czech Republic.

Results-based

Highest ever win: Ireland 0-13 England – 18 February 1882 at Knock Ground, Belfast, Northern Ireland

This game still stands as England’s biggest-ever win, and it came in the first-match between two countries. To this day, it is still the largest-ever defeat for Ireland; it was also the first match they’d ever played. This game also yielded two hat-tricks for England, with the first making history in doing so.

Biggest loss: Hungary 7-1 England – 23 May 1954 at Puskás Ferenc Stadium, Budapest, Hungary

After famously losing 6-3 to the Magyars at Wembley, England travelled to Hungary with the idea that defeat was just a blip. However, the hosts destroyed them. They led 3-0 at the break, and things only got better for the home side.

Highest ever score-line: England 13-2 Ireland – 18th February 1899 at Roker Park, Sunderland, England

Playing at the now-demolished Roker Park, England took on the Republic of Ireland in the British Home Championship, a tournament in which Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England played for the trophy. This is the biggest scoreline to this day. Gilbert Smith scored four times while Jimmy Settle also netted a hat-trick.

Most matches played against: Scotland – 114 – England v Scotland is international football’s oldest rivalry. The first-ever encounter between the two nations came in 1872 and they continued to play annually from 1872 until 1989.

The most recent of those 114 matches ended in a draw in June 2017, as Leigh Griffiths gave Scotland the lead in the final minute before Harry Kane equalised in stoppage time to earn a point in World Cup qualifying. England have won 48 times in total, while Scotland aren’t far behind with 41 wins over their rivals.

Most wins against a nation: Wales – The Welsh have lost 67 times in the 102 games they have played against the Three Lions. The first meeting between the two ended in a 2-1 win for England at the Oval on 18th January 1879, with goals from Herbert Whitfeld and Thomas Heathcote Sorby for the hosts.

The two last met for the first time at a major tournament when they were in the same group at the 2016 European Championship. Gareth Bale gave the Dragons the lead from a free-kick before substitutes Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge won the game for England.

Managers

England Three Lions

Longest-serving England boss: Sir Walter Winterbottom is by far the longest-serving England manager, with 17 years of service for his country between 1946 and 1962. He was the first-ever national team boss for the Three Lions and managed them for 139 games in total, taking them to two World Cup quarter-finals (1954 and 1962). During his time in charge, England won 78 matches while losing only 28.

Following him was Sir Alf Ramsey who of course guided England to World Cup glory on home soil in 1966. He was in the dugout for 11 years.

Shortest-serving England manager: Sam Allardyce – Some caretaker managers have lasted more than his one game for the Three Lions. He’d won that courtesy of a late Adam Lallana goal to give his side a 1-0 win over Slovakia in a 2018 World Cup qualifier.

The former Bolton, West Ham and Newcastle boss had signed a two-year contract on 22nd July 2016, however, allegations of professional misconduct meant that he left his role by mutual consent on 27th September, having managed the team for just 67 days.

Managers to serve for England: 15 – Sir Walter Winterbottom (1946–1962); Sir Alf Ramsey (1963-1974); Don Revie (1974–1977); Ron Greenwood (1977–1982); Sir Bobby Robson (1982–1990); Graham Taylor (1990–1993); Terry Venables (1994–1996); Glenn Hoddle (1996–1999); Kevin Keegan (1999–2000); Sven-Göran Eriksson (2001–2006); Steve McClaren (2006–2007); Fabio Capello (2008–2012); Roy Hodgson (2012–2016); Sam Allardyce (2016); Gareth Southgate (2016–current).

Only Don Revie (Scotland); Sven-Göran Eriksson (Sweden) and Fabio Capello (Italy) have managed to become boss of England despite not being English.

Biggest win ratio as Three Lions’ boss: Sam Allardyce – 100% – On the technicality of him only managed a single match in which England beat Slovakia 1-0, technically Allardyce is their best-ever boss. Fabio Capello won 28 of the 42 games in his three-year tenure.

Players

Record appearances for the Three Lions: Peter Shilton – 125 (1970-1990) – His first match was on 25th November 1970 as he helped the Three Lions to a 3-1 friendly win over East Germany, while his last was on 7th July 1990, as the veteran goalkeeper failed to stop the hosts winning the third-place play-off at the World Cup in Italy, as they won 2-1.

Most capped outfield player: Wayne Rooney – 120 (2003-2018) – Wayne Rooney made his debut in a friendly on 12th February 2003 after coming on as a substitute against Australia. In doing so he at the time became the youngest player to play for England at the age of 17 years and 111 days. He played at three European Championships and three World Cups before announcing his retirement from England on 23rd August 2017 with 119 appearances for his country.

He did, however, come out of retirement for one match on Thursday 15th November 2018 when the Three Lions faced the USA at Wembley. Rooney came on in the 58th minute, replacing Jesse Lingard, with funds generated by the match going to the Wayne Rooney Foundation.

Most appearances as captain: Billy Wright and Bobby Moore, 90 – Two players hold the record for most appearances wearing the England armband: Wright, who featured for 70 matches in a row as skipper, and Moore, who famously lifted the 1966 World Cup.

Wright’s 70-match streak started in a 2-2 friendly draw with France at the Arsenal Stadium on 3rd October 1951 and ended in the 8-1 win against the USA at Wrigley Field on 28th May 1959.

Moore’s first match as England captain was on 29th May 1963 in just his 12th appearance for England – he was the youngest man ever to captain England at the highest level. England won 4-2 against Czechoslovakia. His last match was a 1-0 friendly defeat to Italy on 14th November 1973.

Longest international career: Sir Stanley Matthews – 23 years (1934-1957) – Forward Matthews made his England debut on 29th September 1934 as he scored a goal in their 4-0 win over Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff in front of 51,000 people. His career was interrupted by World War II, but Matthews then resumed international duty, with his final appearance coming against Denmark in a 4-1 victory on 15th May 1957 in Copenhagen.

Matthews was the first-ever England player to be knighted.

Most goals for England: Wayne Rooney – 53 (2003-2018) – Rooney would become the youngest ever player to score for his country in his sixth appearance as he equalised in a Euro 2004 qualifying match win over Macedonia on 6th September 2003 at the age of 17 years and 317 days.

The Croxteth-born striker overtook Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals for England, which had lasted for 45 years, on 8th September 2015 scoring a penalty against Switzerland. He went onto score three more goals, with his last being in England’s 2-1 loss to Iceland at the 2016 European Championships.

Most appearances as a substitute: Jermain Defoe – 35 (2004-2017) – From the start of his international career, Defoe was utilised as a substitute, making his debut on 31st March 2004 under Sven-Göran Eriksson coming on in 12th minute for Darius Vassell. His final match for England came on 10th June 2017 as he came on in the final minute of stoppage time against Scotland.

Out of his 57 matches, only 22 were as a starter, though Defoe does have the record for most goals scored by a substitute to his name with seven. The last time he scored after coming off the bench was against Italy on 15th August 2012. He scored 20 times overall for England.

World Cup

Most goals at a World Cup: Gary Lineker– 10 goals in 12 matches (1986 & 1990) – As it stands, Match of the Day presenter Lineker is the highest scorer for England overall at World Cups with the striker going to Mexico 1986 and Italia 90.

England’s home – Wembley Stadium

He scored six in five matches in Mexico with his last being in a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Argentina, while he managed four in seven in Italy, scoring the goal that took the semi-final to extra-time against Germany though the Three Lions went on to lose on penalties.

Of the current players in the team, Harry Kane could come close to Lineker’s record as, after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Tottenham striker finished with six in six for England, therefore, needing five to beat his fellow Englishman.

Most World Cup’s scored in: David Beckham – 3 (1998 & 2002 & 2006) – As it stands, Beckham is the only England player to score in three World Cups. The attacking midfielder scored the first goal against Colombia in a group stage game in 1998, getting his second in a 1-0 win over Argentina in 2002, while final one came in a 1-0 win over Ecuador in the 2006 round of 16.

Most caps at major tournaments: Ashley Cole – 22 – Left-back Cole featured the most times for England at major tournaments after making his debut on 28th March 2001 in a 3-1 win over Albania in a World Cup qualifier. His first major tournament was 2002 World Cup where he played all five matches for his country; he went on to feature for the Three Lions at the 2004 and 2012 European Championships and the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

His final match at a major tournament was the 2012 European Championships where England and Italy drew 0-0 and then Italy scored all their penalties to win the shootout.

Current Players

Current players with the most appearances: Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling – 55 – Former skipper Henderson made his debut on 17th November 2010 at the age of 20 as England lost 2-1 to France, with him picking up a yellow card.

Sterling first played for the Three Lions on 14th November 2012 as England lost 4-2 to Sweden courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic masterclass as the striker scored all four. The winger was 17 when he played in the first match for his country.

Highest goalscorer still playing for England: Harry Kane – 28 goals (2015-current) – Just like his Tottenham career Kane burst onto the scene for England after making his debut on 27th March 2015 with the Spurs striker coming on as a substitute in 71st minute for captain Wayne Rooney, it took him two minutes to score his first goal for his national side.

Since then the striker has been a revelation for England being handed the armband for the first time on 10th June 2017 against Scotland and after Rooney retired, he’s been the leader ever since, scoring 28 goals in 43 games. In the 2018 World Cup Kane became only the third England player to score a hat-trick at the World Cup.

Current number of capped player for the Three Lions: 1,244 – For the 1,000th game, all players that have ever played for England have been handed legacy numbers with 1,244 players already putting on their nation’s shirt. The first three players to be capped by England were Robert Barker (1), with Harwood Greenhalgh the second and Reginald Welch the third. The three most recently capped players are Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi (1,242) and Mason Mount (1,243) and Aston Villa’s Tyrone (1,244).

Feature image of England Three Lions badge courtesy of Ben Terrett via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wembley Stadium courtesy of Cushdy via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0. Second Three Lions crest photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons.

Should have kicked-off earlier – Review: Inside Borussia Dortmund

German film-maker Aljoscha Pause has scored a winner with Inside Borussia Dortmund, but a bit of added time would not have gone amiss.

Whilst most documentaries covering a football club pick things up either before or at the start of a new season, this one opens at Dortmund’s winter training camp in Marbella halfway through the 2018-19 campaign.

Filming also coincides with a downturn in their fortunes, and the series ends up tinged with misery as the club’s players and coaches keep blowing their chances.

Given that Dortmund ended up finishing second to perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich by just two points, joining them at the season’s midpoint feels a bit odd.

Impactful

That criticism aside, Inside Borussia Dortmund gets off to an impactful start as team boss Lucien Favre explains his footballing philosophy and sets up how the series will continue.

It is an interview-led production by Pause, who is best known best in his country for creating Trainer!, a documentary that follows three German football managers during one season.

Pause was born in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, which is home to BVB, and much of his other work has been on the club or based around individuals such as Jurgen Klopp and Mario Gotze.

Inside Borussia Dortmund strikes a decent balance between showing the inner workings of a major sporting institution and also promoting it to a new audience

UK football fans will want to know how this series compares to others they might have seen such as All or Nothing: Manchester City and Sunderland Till I Die, and in truth there are a couple of things that could have been done better overall.

Limiting factors

Non-German speakers have to rely on subtitles, but this did not spoil the experience for me, especially as the interviews were brilliantly shot.

It felt as if the subjects were at put an ease by their questioner, and that each interview was done with the purpose of adding to the sporting drama being played out on the screen.

As well as players, coaches and club officials, the series also features a couple of journalists who know the club inside out and clearly care about its fans and their region, providing context not necessarily shared by those on the inside.

The CEO’s words sound rather callous, especially considering all the issues that footballers have with mental health these days

Inside Borussia Dortmund strikes a decent balance between showing the inner workings of a major sporting institution and also promoting it to a new audience.

Each episode features history lessons about the club, although these do not sit that well with this production, particularly if you know Dortmund, plus just four parts feels very short compared to other series in a similar vein.

Honesty

It is informative to see how the club acted in the aftermath of the bomb attack on their team coach in April 2017, and eye-opening to hear the thoughts of CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

He recalls: “So we had a big clear-out; perhaps we needed to do that a year earlier if we had realised. But then I’m sure we’d have been accused of scaremongering, of dumping players who were victims of a bomb attack two months previously. At the end of the day, we couldn’t find a better solution, because there is no blueprint. No club can claim ever to have experienced this.”

His words sound rather callous, especially considering all the issues that footballers have with mental health these days, but his honesty also feels likes a bold stroke.

Unlike other club-based series, Inside Borussia Dortmund focuses less on the team manager, with more emphasis on Watke, sporting director Michael Zorc and other big names behind the scenes, possibly to the detriment of Favre and his players.

With that all being said, even a non-Dortmund fan would surely agree that the series deftly explores the inner workings of the German giant. There’s no getting away from the issue that it picks the story of their season rather late, but overall it bears comparison with the best of its type.

Documentary poster courtesy of amazon.co.uk. For more about Inside Borussia Dortmund, click here.

A day to remember for Gary Rowett

A win in his first match in charge, and over the club who sacked him earlier this year, plus getting the home crowd onside from the outset – it was a good day at the office for Millwall’s new manager Gary Rowett.

The 45-year-old came in following a caretaker spell under coach Adam Barrett who guided the Lions to a win, a draw and a loss in three games. Rowett watched the last of those – the 2-2 home result against Cardiff City – before succeeding club legend Neil Harris as Millwall boss.

Rowett may not have wanted to come against Stoke City – who fired him in January – before putting his stamp on his new team, and he had never won his first match in charge at any of his former clubs. So Saturday’s 2-0 victory over the Potters was the perfect start in more ways than one.

Proven track record

If some of Millwall harder-to-please fans were less than impressed by his appointment, one look at his managerial CV tells you why his new employers opted to hire him.

Rowett has a proven track record in the Championship, and joining Millwall could be seen as a step down compared to his previous jobs at Stoke, Derby County and Birmingham City, all clubs with larger grounds and fanbases.

After a decent playing career, he first caught the eye as a manager at Burton Albion, twice taking them into the League Two play-offs.

Having earned a move to Birmingham City, he took the Blues from 21st to 10th in his first season, only to find himself out of a job when new owners came in and appointed Gianfranco Zola as team boss. At the time, Birmingham were seventh in the league – a position they have never reached since dispensing with Rowett’s services.

It was Millwall’s Remembrance Day match

His good work at St Andrews had not gone unnoticed, however, and Derby owner Mel Morris took him from the West to East Midlands.

The Rams finished that season in ninth, and Rowett improved on that in the 2017-2018 season, guiding them to sixth spot and picking up two manager of the month awards along the way.

Despite winning the first leg of their playoff-semi-final, they lost to Fulham over two legs – no disgrace as the London side would go onto achieve promotion to the Premier League.

Rowett’s great run at Derby had got Premier League strugglers Stoke interested, to the point of wanting to recruit him mid-season, but he rejected their advances and signed a new deal at Pride Park. However, following Derby’s play-offs disappointment, newly-relegated Stoke came back and agreed to pay £2m in compensation to make him their new boss.

Things did not go to plan at the Britannia Stadium, though, and Rowett again found himself looking for work at the start of the new year.

Times are changing at the Den

He arrived at Millwall with the south Londoners in 17th place and five points off the relegation zone, having endured a shaky start to the season under Harris, their former striker and manager since an initial caretaker stint in 2013-14.

Rowett made two changes to the Lions side that drew 2-2 against Cardiff, which meant a switch from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 as Matt Smith and Aiden O’Brien dropped out, with Shane Ferguson and Jayson Molumby given a chance to prove themselves under the new regime.

Both Harris and Barrett tended to favour 4-4-1-1, with the formation being used eight times out of 15 this season, so it was a simple yet straightforward change, using a system already familiar to the first team squad.

“That’s all it took to raise the noise at the Den, and choruses of ‘Ben Thompson, he’s one of our own’ blasted out of the home support.”

Millwall fans

Just over 14,000 were there to witness Rowett’s first match, designated by Millwall as the club’s Remembrance Day fixture, and it would certainly be one to remember for home crowd.

Whilst the Lions are known for having some workhorse players in midfield, the likes of Molumby, Shaun Williams and Ben Thompson worked tirelessly from the get-go and their energy levels were impressive throughout.

Despite the rain, which added to the thrills and spills at times, Millwall’s defence – a weakness in many matches so far this season – looked regimented and solid; clearly something that had been worked on in the training ground.

Barking orders

By the 28th minute, the hosts were ahead as Thompson latched onto a Jed Wallace cross to volley home from 10 yards and score his first of the season. That’s all it took to raise the noise at The Den and choruses of ‘Ben Thompson, he’s one of our own’ blasted out of the home support.

Rowett was barking orders from his technical area as he willed his team on to get that all-important first victory under his belt, and he seemed able to tactically deal with anything Stoke manager Nathan Jones threw at him.

View of the pitch

There could have been a penalty awarded as Thompson went down in the box just minutes after scoring, however the Lions got a corner instead, much to the displeasure of their fans.

The half-time break arrived, and for the first time in a long time, Millwall were cheered off the pitch. The second half was much more of a test for Rowett’s new charges, but they were able to adapt and deal with what was, in truth, a very weak Stoke side.

Thrilled

Not that the visitors did not have their chances, however, with Molumby and Williams needing to supply some defensive aid to the backline, but the Stoke’s attacks were mostly blocked and repelled with ease.

The home fans were also pleased to see a substitution in the 64th minute (Ferguson replaced by Conor Mahoney), as one of their criticisms of Harris was that he left it too long and too late to make changes.

Wallace scoring the penalty

Millwall gained a vital two-goal lead in the 75th minute after Jed Wallace went on an incredible solo run before being hacked down in the box. The winger picked himself up to scored from the spot, his fifth league goal of the season.

The win took the Lions to 15th in the Championship, six points away from the drop zone.

Players celebrating the second goal

By the end of the match, a large portion of the home support were singing ‘There’s only one Gary Rowett’. Will they still be belting out the same tune after next weekend’s away clash with struggling Reading?

If Rowett can win that one as well, it will stand him in good stead for the all-important derby against Charlton Athletics at The Den coming soon.

All photos by Brandon Prangell.

Stamford Bridge

Build for the future – give the kids a chance

There is something special about giving your one of own a chance. No matter all the cash being splashed about in football’s modern era, a homegrown young player breaking through will always mean much more to the diehard supporter.

This season has seen plenty of academy graduates being given opportunities to shine. At Chelsea, manager Frank Lampard has been forced into calling on the youthful talent at his disposal due to the club’s transfer ban.

The Lampard effect

For many years, Chelsea have had a reputation for nurturing and developing young players who then never got the chance to become established in their first team squad.

Until recently, the last one to actually do so was John Terry. Back in 2017, the Blues skipper said: “We’ve got so many [talented young players] at Chelsea who are ready. Monaco have a couple and everybody’s saying how good they are – believe me, we’ve got better players at Chelsea.”

Finally, Chelsea have given those youngsters a chance, and to good effect. The team currently sit in fifth place in the Premier League, two points off last season’s winners Manchester City. In many instances when the London club have struggled, it’s been the older, wiser heads that have been the problem.

When Chelsea lost two games on the bounce at home to Valencia and then Liverpool, Lampard locked his players in the dressing room and blasted his experienced players. He later said: “Without a doubt, there’s a responsibility on senior players to set the tone. The young players will look up to them and follow their lead, hopefully in the right way.”

Someone believed in them and thought ‘let’s give them a chance, what have we got to lose?’

During this campaign, Lampard has integrated six former academy players, including three who had limited game time last season under former boss Maurizio Sarri – Andreas Christensen, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Already this season the Blues legend has given debuts to Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori with Christensen and Hudson-Odoi also featuring, with a combined total of 3,370 minutes.

Another reason Lampard should be proud is that since he took over, three of those players have been called up by their national teams.

It might be too early to say that a majority of the young prospects who have come through at the Bridge this season are future stars of the international game, but they have made a real impact. Abraham has repaid Lampard’s trust by scoring nine times in 11 games for Chelsea.


Ole’s youthful plan

There is, however, a contrasting situation at Manchester United, where Ole Gunnar Solskjær has, like Lampard but for different reasons, had to lean on academy-produced talent in the early months of the season.

There has been widespread criticism of a transfer policy which is perceived to have left a lack of leadership and experience at Old Trafford, especially in the front line after Romleu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were shipped to Italy.

This doesn’t meaning the younger players are failing, although they have so far been off the standards that United set themselves, having gone into the international break sitting 12th in the table. The youngsters have done pretty well, but their lack of experience, combined with some ineffectual displays from established stars, is hindering hopes of a Solskjær-led revival.

Playing consistently from the age of 19-22 really does put you above the rest

Before playing Leicester City, who United beat 1-0 courtesy of academy graduate Marcus Rashford scoring from the spot, Solskjær echoed the club’s message to the younger members of the league’s second-youngest squad:

“It’s a good test, it’s a great test and a great challenge for our players who want to push on. A few players are out, so the others can step up. Here’s your chance. That’s the thing here. The young kids do get chances and when they take them, it can be life-changing.”

That being said, the likes of Daniel James, who joined from Swansea City for £15m in the summer, have dovetailed nicely with Rashford, who has already played 180 times despite only turning 22 at the end of the month.

Even though there has been very little to celebrate so far this season, Red Devils supporters can at least feel happier seeing Axel Tuanzebe and Mason Greenwood turning out impressive performances despite this being what is perceived as one of the worst United sides in 20 years.

The overall benefit

For Rashford, this sort of exposure has seen him be ever-present in England manager Gareth Southgate’s plans and play at the World Cup, European Championship and in the semi-finals of the Uefa Nations League.

Ultimately, if young players are given the chance, alongside more experienced ones, to play week in week out, it really does make a difference. Playing consistently from the age of 19-22 really does put you above the rest.

With Lampard’s project in full swing, it would be a real shame – when they transfer ban ends – if Chelsea were to undo all of the hard work he has by reverting to a policy of big money signings. They have shown that using younger players alongside an experienced core can make them competitive.

Southgate must be delighted as many of the newer faces at Chelsea are English and fit his current desire for young talent ready to prove a point.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what happens in the league if you give youth a chance. In this high pressure and constantly demanding game, diamonds will appear from the rough of indifferent form and become players to lead their teams forward in years to come.

At Chelsea it’s almost puzzling to understand why it has taken so long for a project so ambitious but forward-thinking to come to the fore. A look at that Blues squad confirms there are many young players who will potentially star at the highest level for a decade or more, and all because someone believed in them and thought ‘let’s give them a chance, what have we got to lose?’.

Feature image of Stamford Bridge courtesy of Ungry Young Man via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0

Fans gathered for Non-League day at Champion Hill (C) Brandon Prangell

Dulwich Hamlet, a staple of the community in SE22

Despite the uncertainty swirling around the future of fan-owned Dulwich Hamlet FC, the local community’s love for the club is manifest on a sodden afternoon in south London.

A visit to its Champion Hill home on National Non-League Day – which saw Dulwich attract nearly 3,000 fans; the highest attendance in National League South – confirms the affection in which ‘The Hamlet’ is held in SE22.

It’s a club that is thriving in many ways, but is also currently in talks with Southwark Council about building a new stadium on an adjacent plot in partnership with developers Meadow Partners, which owns the site.

The outcome of their joint planning application is by no means certain, potentially threatening Dulwich’s continuing existence at Champion Hill, where the club has been since since 1912.

New home or no home?

In a statement to support its planning application, the Hamlet said:

“As a fan-owned club, DHFC could not afford the estimated costs of longer-term renovation (over £2m) or the estimated costs of a replacement stadium compliant with the demands of the modern game (over £10m).

“Only a new stadium at Champion Hill will allow DHFC to deliver the current standard of football to the current level of crowds and continue its work with local schools, groups and charities on a long-term basis.”

The statement added: “At the current level, with our crowds, our players and staff, this is the only viable option. Without this plan, a new home would be required and there are no viable alternative locations in the local community, so we would either be playing locally on a much smaller scale or forced to move outside of the community.”

In the meantime, Hamlet fans continue to turn out in large numbers, especially since the club’s return to Champion Hill in December after a dispute with Meadow Partners which saw them playing at Tooting & Mitcham’s ground for several months last year

Dulwich have the second-highest average attendance in the National League South at around 1,700, not far behind former EFL outfit Maidstone Utd.

Atmosphere

Heavy rain failed to deter nearly 3,000 fans from turning up on Saturday

As a first-time visitor to Champion Hill, it is not hard to see why so many supporters have embraced the club as a kind of antidote to the money and hype that, for some, so disfigures the elite tiers of today’s professional game, particularly the global behemoth of the Premier League.

The pink and blue of the club’s colours are prominent among the fans, and their lively chatter over a craft beers or two – available from three bars -generates an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere.

The club has its rituals, including a ’50/50′ draw in which the winner get half of the money raised, and the holder of a second ticket get to take part in a crossbar challenge at half-time for another prize.

The great part about this simple but effective money-making scheme is the cash raised was going to two charities: Prostate UK (the cause back by National Non-League Day) and one tackling the issue of youth violence.

A piece in local newspaper Brixtonbuzz about the club’s uncertain future included a quote from Hamlet fan Jack Thompson, who said: “DHFC is not just a football club. It is an essential part of the local community, offering inspiration to youngsters and the elderly (like me at 81) alike.”

Community

The torrential rain which fell all afternoon as Dulwich, 13th in the table, took on high-flying Weymouth (4th), failed to dampen spirits, despite most the 2,906 present not being sheltered by any kind of roof.

Families and groups of adults alike were talking, which in this modern era of technology doesn’t happen so much at games at the highest levels. People nowadays are too busy recording goals on their phones, then their reaction to those goals, but their was very little of that at Dulwich (although the persistent downpour may have played its part).

Bulb is Dulwich Hamlet’s shirt sponsor this season

What Hamlet fans and their club do specialise in, however, is lending their support to issues and causes that affect both football and wider society.

Just this year, they have been involved in a walk from Selhurst Park to Champion Hill to raise awareness for mental health and male suicide in support of the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably. They hosted a friendly against Stonewall FC, the Gay World Champions, as part of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month, and have been sponsored by trade union UNISON and renewable energy company Bulb.

No protests broke out during an exciting 2-2 draw with Weymouth, but the banners, signs and countless stickers around the compact ground tell their own story of current concerns, just as the name of the main stand – in honour of Dulwich legend Tommy Jover – links back to the club’s past.

Fans outlook

Out on the pitch, a Hamlet legend in the making, Nyren Clunis, was playing his 463rd match for the club – still 113 off the record set by Reg Merritt.

Clunis came through the club’s youth academy and is one of only seven players to hit a century of goals. Keeping him in the pink and blue is a popular move among the fans.

This season’s shirt sponsor also seems in keeping with the club’s ethos, with Bulb being all about climate change and sustainability. It certainly makes a change from the corporate giants and online betting companies whose logos feature on the strips of many Premier League and Championship teams.

There is a strong sense at Dulwich that both club and its fans think that little changes can add up to making the world a better place, and surely that is a philosophy that bigger clubs would do well to adopt.

One of the rainbow-painted murals on the floor (C) Brandon Prangell

You can tell that this club has made a difference in the community, with its rainbow-painted murals on the floor and a wall next to the south side covered terrace where you can read about the many good things the club and its fans have done for the local area.

It’s no wonder that Southwark Council, for a short period, named Champion Hill as an asset to the community as it is a proud part of the make-up of Dulwich.

As one of the few fan-owned clubs in England, any neutral supporter will surely hope that Dulwich’s future can be secured in the coming months. And any fans in south London looking for a game when their team are away or without a fixture should pay Champion Hill a visit. Up the Hamlet!

Photos by Brandon Prangell.

Does the London Stadium now feel like home for the Hammers?

On Thursday August 4th 2016, West Ham United kicked off a new era in the club’s history at the London Stadium after bidding farewell to Upton Park, their home since 1904.

Has the move to Stratford been the fresh start and the springboard for the Hammers to step up to elite level, as owners David Gold and David Sullivan claimed it would be?

Three years on, and with encouraging signs both on and off the pitch, Elephant Sport has talked to two die-hard Irons supporters about whether the troubled settling period at the former 2012 Olympic Stadium is well and truly over and the club can look forward to better days.

Since switching from the old Boleyn Ground, which has since been redeveloped as flats, West Ham fans have witnessed a slow progression at their new home, and last season the club recorded their best-ever points tally at their new ground, taking 31 Premier League home game points from a possible 57.

Life at the London Stadium

Pete May, who writes the hammersintheheart blog and is the author of several books on West Ham, believes that life for the Hammers and their fans at their new home has been difficult to say the least.

“The move has undoubtedly been problematic, with a lot of teething troubles in those early days. For example, there were issues with the matchday stewarding and, of course, you saw it all boil over in March last year in the 3-0 loss to Burnley, when captain Mark Noble had to deal with pitch invaders.

“There were also chants aimed at the owners of ‘You’ve destroyed our club’ as well as some of the fans moaning about lack of money and transfer investment in the team.

“I do, however, think there are signs of the stadium doing us good as the club is stronger now financially and able to sign players such as Felipe Anderson for £36m and Sebastien Haller who cost £45m.

“Another great thing that helps is they have named one of the stands after club legend Billy Bonds. There was a big naming ceremony and Billy came out and broke down in tears, which was very moving.

“Little things like getting the correct colour for the carpet over the running track have also helped; it is now claret with the club badge, as opposed to a green one, and that does actually make it feel a bit more like West Ham’s home.”

The pitch invasion which accompanied that defeat by Burnley, when Sullivan and Gold had to exit the stadium for their own safety, was certainly a toxic low ebb of their tenure at the London Stadium, but it also served as a turning point.

The recruitment in May 2018 of manager Manuel Pellegrini, a Premier League winner with Manchester City, signalled a statement of ambition.

With the Argentine at the helm, and more revenue being generated by their 66,000-seat new home, West Ham have been able to attract higher profile players. This enabled them to finish tenth in the English top-flight last season.

Missed opportunities

Comedian and Stop! Hammer Time podcaster Phil Whelans thinks that the club missed a huge opportunity in the past and simply couldn’t turn down the opportunity to move into the London Stadium.

“It felt like there was a sort of opportunity to aim to be one of the solidly top three of four clubs in London rather than vying with the likes of Watford or Crystal Palace.

“West Ham have had a history of missed opportunities, I think the dynasty that had control of the club at the advent of the Premier League should have seen what this new league was going to become. I think they should have developed a massive new stand or made the old stadium bigger because the catchment area for the club goes out in Essex and Kent.

“I think the club could have speculated to accumulate at some point a long long time ago.”


“People are getting used to it, however, there was a lot of resentment at first”

Since the arrival of current boss Pellegrini, the Hammers have broken their transfer record three times in just over a year including bringing in Issa Diop, Anderson and, most recently, Haller. May believes that the stadium is a huge reason for this.

“I think being in a bigger stadium has definitely helped in a way as players are attracted by the thought of playing in it. We seem to be getting bigger names now like Anderson, Haller and Fornals who has just cost £23m, so I think that players like the idea of living in London and having a 60,000-plus capacity stadium to play in.”

Fan opinion

Overall, there has been a positive change for the claret and blue side of London since moving away from Upton Park and May feels the general mood around West Ham has improved.

“People are getting used to it, however, there was a lot of resentment at first. The other mistake that they made was lumping all of the families in with fans who like to stand up and sing, and so there was a mix of people who were standing up and sitting down.

“The problem was exacerbated by the club getting rid of a lot of the old stewards and bringing in people who were more used to stewarding concerts rather than football matches. It took a while, but these issues were ironed out after the first season or so, and generally it is getting better.”

There is a significant chance that either Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United may fall out of the top six this season, leaving a space or even spaces for newer sides like Leicester and West Ham, who have made great starts to the current campaign, to make a breakthrough.

“If you could somehow be a team that supplements that elite rather than displaces any one from it, then that is something to go for”

Phil Whelans told me: “I think certainly that the potential is there. Sometimes it all goes wrong for teams, and it’s currently going wrong for Manchester United. You have just got to keep it tight, keep building, keep investing and not just thinking the 11 players that got you seventh place will do even better next season. You have to keep freshening the squad, but certainly the platform is there.

“I think last season and this one so far have been good. We finished mid-table last season, and it feels like something we can build on this one. I guess you probably attract better players if you have become a bit more of a ‘glamour’ side, and possibly being in a big stadium with global TV coverage has helped in that respect.”

Atmosphere

Even though attendances don’t affect the financial standing of a club in the English top-flight like they used to – it’s all about TV money these days – the atmosphere generated by big crowds is a key weapon in a home side being able to generate the buzz that is needed to see off visiting teams.

West Ham United are currently only behind Manchester United and Arsenal in terms of average attendance at home this season with 59,917 being their average after four matches this season.

May feels his side have done well to fill their stadium.

“A lot of people didn’t think that West Ham would, but it hasn’t been much of a problem. The London Stadium has been getting noisier. That being said, when we win 5-0, it is loud and if we are losing it is quieter, and there isn’t a great deal we can do about it.”

There is still a lot of growing to do for the Hammers at their new stadium, on which the club has a 99-year lease, and Whelans has a perfect picture of what West Ham can become in the next 10 years.

“I feel like we need to start challenging for a bit of silverware and be a top European side in either the Champions League or the Europa League. We can definitely be a top eight team, but to be a top six team would mean displacing one of those existing clubs, and that will be tough.

“There would have to be a significant withdrawal of funds. I suppose it is conceivable that if, for example, Roman Abramovich’s visa problems continue, he might sell Chelsea, but I feel someone [equally rich] would step in and buy them. If you could somehow be a team that supplements that elite rather than displaces any one from it, then that is something to go for.”