All posts by Yusuf Ali

Premier League preview

Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are all favourites – but there can only be one crowned champion.

Defending champions Manchester City will look to retain their title. However, the season ahead looks to be more competitive than the previous campaign.

The pressure is on for new managers Unai Emery of Arsenal and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri. Both managers are new and will have to adapt to the Premier League

Manchester City

No manager has retained the Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United in 2009.

Pep Guardiola was the first to lead a team to 100 points in an English top-flight season, but retaining the trophy would arguably be every bit as special. “I am read,y” said the Spaniard ahead of the new campaign.

“The fear of losing the games makes me starving and hungry again. I don’t like the feeling of losing games. When you lose, you feel guilty, you feel bad. Your private life is not good. Your relationship with the players is not good. So that is why to avoid that. Just that simple fear of losing a game makes you hungry.”

Guardiola’s desire to continue winning was showcased in City’s win over Chelsea in the Community Shield. City will want to retain the title, but their supporters – and owners – also crave Champions League success.

“It’s important to be in it every season,” said Guardiola of club football’s biggest prize. “And we are going to try with all our effort to win it. But if you ask me what the most important competition is, it is the Premier League.”

A comfortable win at Arsenal in their first fixture was an excellent start is a great start, but not th one Emery was hoping for at the Emirates.

Manchester United

Manchester United were not able to challenge City in the title race last season despite spending £400m since Jose Mourinho took over. His side were 19 points behind their city rivals and even failed to play entertaining football for the Old Trafford faithful.

Mourinho had said his side face a “difficult season” unless they sign a new defender, but the Red Devils failed to add anyone new to their backline.

Despite their runners-up spot in the league and reaching the FA Cup final, which they lost to Chelsea, United still seem a work in progress and Mourinho appears to have a frosty relationship with some of his players.

Many pundits believe his pre-season negativity can only have a detrimental impact on his squad’s morale, and a failure to make a good start to the season could see the Portuguese considering exit strategies.

Tottenham

Spurs had a positive 17-18 season, finishing third in the league, but have failed to add any new players to the current squad.

Tottenham are the only side in the Premier League history to have not added anyone during the summer window.

However, manager Mauricio Pochettino feels they have, “achieved their objective” and did a “great job” by keeping their best players in the transfer window.

They did attempt to sign Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, but were unable to come up with a deal in time.

Spurs have had top-four finishes for the past three seasons, but delays in the completion of their new stadium could have a negative effect both on and off the pitch.

North London rivals Arsenal were restricted in the transfer market by the cost of their move to the Emirates for several seasons, and some Spurs fans fear the same happening.

Their team got off to a good start with an opening victory 2-1 at Newcastle, but bigger tests await them.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp spent over £100m in the transfer window with Alisson, Fabinho, Keita and Shaqiri all added to the Liverpool squad.

Klopp knows the pressure is on to deliver trophies, but said: “We are Liverpool; there is no-one on this planet that expects more of us than we expect of ourselves. I really love how the players have reacted this summer and I cannot praise them enough for the way they have stayed hungry.”

Liverpool had an outstanding run in the Champions League and losing 3-1 in the final to Real Madrid was devastating, however, the football played was certainly memorable.

Klopp added: “The attitude in training and in practice, matches have been outstandingly good, the highest level. And when you consider, as it has been for other clubs also, the build-up has been disrupted by players coming back at different times [after the World Cup], it is even more impressive.”

Liverpool hit four past West Ham in style in their opener and are favourites to win the Premier League according to a Sky Sports online poll.

Alisson is seen as player to end their goalkeeping woes and should create more confidence at the back where Klopp’s teams have been lacking in previous seasons.

Chelsea

New boss Sarri is looking to make his mark in the Premier League by getting Chelsea back into the top four after Antonio Conte’s reign ended in acrimony last season despite the FA Cup win.

Having spent £71.6m on 23-year old goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao, Sarri has been given the funds to get Chelsea back in the title race.

Their opening win against Huddersfield will build confidence, but they looked well short of Man City’s standards in their Community Shield defeat at Wembley.

Sarri has said simply “My job is to win matches”. But having kept hold of key players such as Eden Hazard and Willian, the Italian will be expected to deliver by Chelsea’s ever-impatient hierarchy.

 Arsenal

New manager Emery began his Arsenal venture with a comprehensive home defeat against defending champions Man City.

He has made it clear what he expects from his current squad: “I want ambition from this team, I want them to be ambitious in every match. I want for 90 minutes in every match for them to be in the game and to be working hard. I want this every day, this is my ambition”.

The Spaniard is under a lot of pressure from fans to perform well following the departure of Arsene Wenger, although the Arsenal board have made it clear, he will be given time.

Arsenal have failed to reach the top-four in the league for the last four seasons. New defensive midfielder Lucas and centre back Sokratis were among the players signed this summer on a fairly conservative budget, with fan favourite Jack Wilshere released and signed by West Ham.

To conclude, the Premier League title race this season could potentially be more competitive and exciting than ever before. Expect Manchester City to become the first team to defend the title since 2009, but also expect their rivals to push them harder, with Liverpool hot on their heels.

Video: Hiking, climbing and sliding on beautiful Box Hill

An outstanding area of woodland and chalk downland managed by The National Trust, Box Hill has long been famous as a destination for day-trippers from London.

The natural attraction is visited by over 800,000 thousand tourists each year, and is known for its amazing viewpoint, stepping stones and the River Mole.

This video contains hiking, climbing and sliding down trails on Box Hill.

Shot edited and produced by Yusuf Ali.

Click here to watch the video.

 

 

 

 

Ambitious Hudson’s career on an upward curve at Whyteleafe

Harry Hudson wants to continue blazing a trail for younger managers in non-league football after joining Whyteleafe from Croydon FC.

The 28-year-old took his former outfit to fifth in the Southern Counties East division last season – up from 11th in the previous campaign – before parting “on good terms” after just a year in the hot seat.

His good work at Croydon was noted by Whyteleafe chairman Mark Coote, who wants the Surrey club to push on in the Isthmian League Division One.

Hudson’s reign at Church Road began in positive fashion with a 3-1 home win over Guernsey at the weekend.

The Uefa B licence coach, who has also managed Merstham FC Under-21s, told Elephant Sport: “This is a better and bigger club.

“The move was made for me to continue progressing in my management career.”

Development

Hudson has not severed his ties with Croydon completely, however. He remains a director at the club and will continue to help them develop young players through the Kinetic Foundation Academy.

Harry Hudson
Harry Hudson is making a name for himself in non-league football

Former Under-18s manager Craig Davies is now in charge of the first team at the Croydon Sports Arena.

Hudson believes he left Croydon in good shape, bringing in a different brand of football and establishing a fresh sense of optimism at the club.

“It went well,” he said. “We improved our league position on the season before I took charge and our style of play was a joy to watch. Many of the players improved on where they were at the beginning of the campaign.

“The most important thing is we have created a philosophy within the club which everyone is aware of and follows; it is how we play. So thing are looking very positive going forward.”

Hudson also played his part in helping Croydon to become more stable after many years of financial problems, and the club now has the funding in place to improve its stadium

Kinetic 

Hudson is proud of his involvement with the Kinetic Foundation Academy, a registered charity, which has proved to be a great production line of young talent for both Croydon and bigger clubs.

“Most of Croydon FC’s players have come through my academy, and this is what gave us the quality and style of play last season. We provide a platform to develop these aspiring footballers which includes regular training and 11 a-side matches.

“We have a tight budget. However, I have proved in the past that I can work within a club’s means and have a good season”
– Harry Hudson

“There are lots of professional clubs in and around South London and beyond and, if young players really buy into our set-up, we allow them to showcase their talent.”

In the past four years, clubs such as Manchester City, Burnley, Charlton and Crystal Palace have recruited from the Kinetic Academy, while other players have been snapped up by non-league teams.

Hudson is continuing his work with Kinetic, which has gained a tremendous amount of respect from scouts and clubs, alongside his new managerial role.

“We have an outstanding reputation for recruitment and have many players who want to join our programme,” he added.

Future

Hudson is aiming for a top-half finish with Whyteleafe this season and believes a push for the play-offs is not out of the question, despite lacking the resources of some of their rivals.

“We have a tight budget,” he admitted. “However, I have proved in the past that I can work within a club’s means and have a good season.

“We have brought a number of players into our squad from Croydon and also have attracted new talent. I’d say we’ve made a great start so far.

‘The players are on a high after the first win [over Guernsey], but we must focus and make sure we put in a good performance in our next game.”

The future is looking bright for both Whyteleafe and their ambitious young manager.

Sailing solo from the Isle of Wight to Norfolk

Abdullah Thompson has been sailing since the age of 16 and recently undertook his longest solo voyage, from the Isle of Wight to Norfolk, where he lives.

The 42-year-old chiropodist spent three days at sea, sailing along the English Channel, across the Thames Estuary and up the coast of East Anglia to his final destination.

He first began sailing in Zeeland, Holland, and now spends most of his free time passing on his skills to his two children, aged 15 and 13.

Here, he tells Elephant Sport about the challenges he faced during his 300-mile trip.

What boat was used for this trip?

 The boat is called a Newbridge Virgo Navigator; it’s 23ft long, one metre deep and weighs two tonnes.

What technology did you have on board?

A GPS chart plotter, which ran out by the time I got to Brighton, then I began using paper charts. I also had an automatic pilot which steered the boat whilst I was doing other things as I was alone.

What other equipment did you have on board?

 A VHS radio which meant I could speak to the Coastguard and other boats, and and other equipment such as a water depth sensor.

What was the weather like?

Windy at times which was good for sailing, but overall it was nice. Some moments were a bit rough, but it was enjoyable.

Where did you stay overnight?

I did it two stages, I went to Ramsgate first. You move with the tide, so when it changes you stand still. Then I would drop an anchor and fall asleep.

Then I decided to continue sailing at night as its becomes light quickly, and the visibility was very good as there are many wind farms now, and they are always lit which helps with navigating.

As the tide was against me I was not going that far, so I decided to sleep whilst sailing. I had an alarm set for 30-minute intervals, when I would check that I was on course then continue my nap.

It was a bright, clear day with no other shipping around.

 Did you choose a specific time of year for the trip?

I left on July 13th;, the weather in the UK was hot and it was great timing from when I purchased the boat. This usually is the time most people decide to sail, as the wind is steady, and the weather is often good during daylight hours.

 Talk to us about your route?

I got very far the first day, 80 miles to Dungeness power stations then sheltered from the wind to wait for the tide in the morning in order to continue and ended up in Ramsgate by 2pm the next day.

As I was coming to Dover, I got a radio call saying that there were swimmers in the Channel, therefore, I had to keep a look out. I was standing whilst steering which was hard work as the sea became rough and this was tiring.

What other ‘traffic’ rules exist?

You got to have specific lighting on the boat so that during the hours of darkness you can see other boats, see the pattern of the lights and understand what it means.

I had a lot of problems with the boat in the beginning, electrical problems with the lights and I was re-wiring them as I was sailing, which was part of the adventure.

Was this the longest trip you have done solo?

Yes, this was the longest trip I completed alone. I usually have another sailor friend who I have done trips with in the past. Usually it’s day trips, however, so this was the longest and one of my favourite journeys so far.

What are your plans for future trips?

The main thing now is to teach my two kids seamanship, which is a great skill. You put yourself in a survival situation when you’re at sea, relying on your knowledge and skill. Safely going out on a boat and know what you’re doing is an adventure in itself.

I have spent so much time on boats and the main and reason I do it is to escape from daily life. In the future, I would love to fly to Holland, and sail a boat back from there.

England Three Lions

Does the future look bright for England?

Despite the defeat by Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup, England  and their fans have taken more positives from the Russia 2018 then negatives.

But after the Three Lions had their limitations exposed by a decent but by no means great Croatian side, the challenge must be to get better if they are to be among the favourites for Euro 2020.

Boss Gareth Southgate has undoubtedly set England on the right path by guiding them to within a win of reaching the final, and getting to their last four of a World Cup for the time since 1990 was a considerable achievement in itself.

But as Southgate said: “We’ve got to use it as a springboard to consistently reach the latter stages of tournaments.”

Improvements needed

There is no ignoring England’s problem with creating opportunities; they scored only four open-play goals from inside the box in Russia.

Although they scored more goals (12) than in any previous World Cup, they were over-reliant on their ability to score from set plays, and pundits have highlighted a lack of creativity, and the importance of having an impactful playmaker in midfield.

Converting more chances into goals is another issue for England. In the semi-finals, they could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up in the first half but squandered several opportunities and allowed Croatia to get back into the game.

Overcoming the Croatians to reach the final was entirely possible, but a youthful England team allowed their more experienced opponents to stay calm and work themselves into a winning position.

By the end, Southgate’s men had run out of energy and ideas – no one more so than Harry Kane who looked a shadow of the striker so feared by opponents early in the tournament.

The next steps

Southgate has grown into his role and his positive but realistic approach created an England team maturing young talents in the image of their manager.

Most pundits and observers regarded reaching the quarter-finals as a success with the young squad that was chosen, but more respect and admiration was added by reaching the final four. England as a nation fell back in love with its national team.

Of course, their group loss to Belgium offered England a more advantageous path to the later stages. The third youngest squad in Russia didn’t have the experience to take things a step further, but they will have learnt from their disappointment, and can hopefully apply those painful lessons at future tournaments.

Formation

England played well in a 3-5-2 formation, but the question moving forward is whether it can work in all situations. When Croatia began pressing and running the ball down the flanks, swinging in dangerous crosses, a switch to 4-3-3 would have helped. But it would have been a big call if not rehearsed and it is understandable that, to build confidence, Southgate has focused on specialising in one system.

However, when opponents work out how to exploit the weaknesses of your preferred system, it’s vital to have a Plan B. This is definitely a critical aspect of improving England’s young squad for the tournaments ahead.

At least, in Jordan Pickford, England seem to have found a goalkeeper who can rise to the big occasions – something they have not always been able to rely on in recent tournaments.

Pickford made his competitive debut in Russia and gained widespread respect thanks to his fine performances, as did Harry Maguire as a centre back with an unquenchable desire to get forward.  Both have bright futures as essential parts of the national team.

Management

It felt like Southgate managed to get away with making dubious changes against both Columbia and Croatia. The introduction of Eric Dier played a significant role in preventing England from keeping the ball, and during the semi-final, this impacted the team towards the end of extra-time.

Southgate has accomplished more than any other England manager in the past decade by picking players with the ability (or potential) to strengthen his preferred system.

However, there was a case for having the likes of James Milner, or another experienced player on the field, at least towards later stages of each match, encouraging the team to stay focused and keeping everyone motivated.

In the semi-final, Marcus Rashford replaced Raheem Sterling but this failed to answer to the problem of Croatia’s dominance during the second half. Should Southgate have made more use Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has game-changing abilities as an attacking midfielder?

Southgate admitted: “There was just a period in the second half where it looked like we had the lead and didn’t want to give it away, rather than keep playing. We just lost a bit of composure in that period, and Croatia’s experience told.”

Southgate deserves credit but accepts being in front and allowing the lead to slip away, as it did against both Columbia and Croatia, is something that needs to change. It could have made the difference between being one match away from a final and actually reaching it.

Future

Southgate joins that handful of England managers who can rightly feel they have done a good job at a major tournament.

The transformation in England’s fortunes that he brought about with a young squad made the nation proud of its team again as football fleetingly appeared to be ‘coming home’.

With key players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana hoping to return to the national set-up, Southgate’s options may be boosted ahead of Euro 2020, some of which will take place in the UK.

“We have to keep improving, and these guys will improve,” he asserted. “I think we’ve managed to get a lot from this group of players, and play in a way that highlighted some of our strengths and hid some of our weaknesses.”

England have taken significant strides towards becoming a team who work hard for each other and believe they can succeed. Winning two knockout games will have boosted their confidence, particularly the victory via a penalties against Colombia as England finally banished their World Cup shootout hoodoo.

Further improvements are needed, and some of England’s more inexperienced players need more game time for their clubs in the Premier League.

Southgate’s pool of talent is not a deep one, and England’s recent success in age-group tournaments won’t count for much if the young talents involved don’t get the chance to kick on at domestic level.

The future looks bright for England if those upcoming talents can be fully developed, and the senior team’s success in Russia will have fuelled their dreams of representing their nation.

The 2018 World Cup seemingly fired up the whole of England again after a period when successive poor tournaments had sapped the spirit and energy of supporters. Their achievements in Russia give Southgate and his young team, who made the country proud, a chance to take things to the next level.

England Three Lions photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons

Liverpool stun Man City in Champions League quarter-finals

Mohammed Salah, Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain and Sadio Mané all scored as Liverpool took control of  their Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City.

The Reds ran out 3-0 winners in the first leg at Anfield, leaving Pep Guardiola’s team shell-shocked and needing to regroup before this weekend’s crucial derby against Man Utd, when they could clinch the Premier League title.

Liverpool made their home advantage count, scoring all three of their goals before the half-time break. City took control of the game in the second half but failed to register an away goal despite their attacking intent.

Jürgen Klopp’s side lost intensity after the interval but are now in prime position to qualify to for the semi-finals if next week’s second leg at the Etihad Stadium goes their way.

Security concerns cast a shadow over this eagerly-anticipated clash when City’s team coach had bottles and other objects thrown at it en route to Anfield.

Guardiola said after the game: “We come here to play football, and I don’t understand this situation. The bus is destroyed, and I didn’t expect this from a club which is prestigious like Liverpool. Of course, it is not Liverpool it’s the [fans]. But hopefully, this doesn’t happen again.”

Failure

Having endured a torrid journey to the stadium, City’s evening got even worse as the match officials failed to spot Mohammed Salah was marginally offside in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal in the 12th minute.

But even the most die-hard Blue must accept that Liverpool were hungrier, more determined and fully deserved their victory on one of the great nights of European football at Anfield.

Guardiola erred tactically by starting Ilkay Gündogan in midfield. Seemingly overwhelmed by the occasion, the German had a poor game and failed to step up to when needed in his role as a box-to-box player.

Liverpool’s defending was brilliant on the night, allowing the front three of Salah, Mané and Roberto Firmino to stay high up the pitch, ready to counter-attack, which was how the first goal was scored.

Leroy Sańe sloppily gave away possession deep in the Liverpool half, James Milner drilled the ball down the right, and Salah had anticipated the options when playing in Firmino who got a shot off.

City’s clueless defending saw Kyle Walker failed to clear the danger, allowing Salah to score and send the home fans wild.

Unstoppable

Moments later, Milner was too strong for Gündogan, and the ball was released to allow Oxlade-Chamberlain in space just outside the box before he thundered an unstoppable shot past ‘keeper Ederson and into the top left corner.

Guardiola turned away and closed his eyes in disappointment and disbelief at the concession of such a goal.

City lacked character and organisation in defence, with Aymeric Laporte, an excellent centre-back, struggling out of position throughout the match.

With Andy Robertson and Mane on the left flank causing problems for Walker, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi looked like strangers in the centre, failing to deal with Liverpool’s menace.

Firmino set the scene for the third, pressing from midfield before releasing the ball to Salah who attempted a cross that was blocked.

He calmly regained the ball before lifting it towards the far post, cutting out Kompany and finding Mané who headed accurately past Ederson who did not stand a chance.

Impressive

The second period saw Liverpool defending for most of the 45 minutes, but doing so expertly and remaining organised, allowing no space for Sané or Raheem Sterling, who came on as a replacement for Gündogan, to run in behind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was particularly impressive at right-back. Up against Sańe, the 19-year-old was composed and played a big part in preventing City from creating any clear-cut chances.

Liverpool left-back Robertson also looked sharp, intercepting crucial passes, and has established himself as a fixture in Klopp’s starting XI.

Attacking hungrily to try and cross the ball in the danger area, the  £8m signing from Hull City is looking increasingly like a real bargain for such as a developed young talent.

Only the horrific pre-match scenes outside the stadium took a shine off Liverpool’s night, and Klopp apologised before kick-off, saying: “I have to say sorry for Liverpool FC.”

The tie is not over, but it is hard not to see Liverpool scoring at the Etihad, meaning City would need to score five times if they concede on the night.

Basketball in the UK faces an uncertain future

A sparsely-attended game between two mid-table teams of modest ability, and a scoreboard that isn’t working. Welcome to the British Basketball League on a Tuesday night in East London. 

A lack of finance, talent and interest threatens the future of professional hoops in the UK, despite the efforts of those with the sport’s best interests at heart.

To sample what the BBL has to offer, I visited London’s only professional team, the Lions, as they hosted Bristol Flyers at the Copper Box Arena in Stratford.

It was 8th in the 12-team BBL versus 7th, with prime play-off spots still very much up for grabs, but only a few hundred seats in the top-class 7,500-capacity former 2012 Olympics venue were taken.

The Lions took a comfortable victory, defeating Bristol 84-55, but it was hard to keep track of the game due to the faulty scoreboard.

Instead, we had to rely on the courtside announcer to keep us up to speed which, in a fast-paced sport such as basketball, was very frustrating. Plus it meant not being able to keep tabs on individual players’ stats on the night.

Although the game was ultimately very one-sided, there was a decent level of talent on display, and some satisfying examples of great skill.

But anyone who’s acquainted with the BBL knows it’s not a league that bears comparison with the strongest in Europe, never mind the glitz, glamour and supreme athleticism of the NBA.

Participation

In some ways, it really shouldn’t be like this.

Over one million youngsters aged between 11-15 play basketball in the UK, thanks to the sport being part of the physical education curriculum in schools.

Around 160,000 adults also play hoops on a weekly basis, making it the 4th largest sport played in England.

Over the last decade, access to courts has increased, enabling more young people to play, and British Basketball has a 10-year strategy to grow the sport.

However, funding for British teams at international level has been in short supply since the 2012 Olympics. UK Sport and Sport England, which control spending on elite athletes, do not view basketball as a sport where Team GB can realistically hope to win medals.

Combine this with the comparatively poor standard of the BBL, and it’s no wonder that the best young British talents have to look abroad to further their careers.

Improvements

One man who has seen it all in British hoops in a career spanning four decades, is London Lions owner and head coach Vince Macaulay.

Although realistic about basketball’s place in the pecking order of British sport, the former BBL chairman remains doggedly optimistic about the prospects for the game he loves.

“The sport has a lot of good people involved in it who, I’m sure, would continue to run it even with limited funds. The BBL, which has not been the strongest in the past, continues to grow with games shown nationally and on free-to-air television.

“There are also some young British stars at the moment, and I think we will see some of them make it at the top level.

“I think the funding has led to a real struggle to get the very best to play for GB. The game in this country also needs to improve as the best players continue to move abroad whether that’s to American colleges or Europe.

“I don’t think there will be a day when the UK can compete at the highest level, simply because UK Sport don’t see basketball as a medal-winning sport.

“It’s one of the biggest sports in the world, but regardless of coaching and raw talent, without money, the fact is you can’t compete.

“Basketball in the UK is just not in a good place. The BBL may be getting more exposure than ever, but it is still some way off from competing with the best in Europe.

“We see new arenas and some better talent competing here, but there is a huge gulf between the UK and the very best leagues.

“London 2012 aside, as far as I’m aware, GB has never been able to field their best side in tournaments, so regardless of anything else, winning without your best team unless you’re the USA is impossible.”

The future

It’s clear that British basketball requires attention financially and needs to offer more opportunities for young British players who are ambitious and have a dream to achieve success in the game.

London Lions are the only professional basketball team in the capital, and have a great venue to call their home.

And yet, the team’s profile on the city’s sporting scene remains very low, and they struggle to attract fans to the Copper Box, grab media attention and generate enough sponsorship.

Sometimes, when other events have first call on the Copper Box, they even have to play nearly 12 miles away in a sports hall in Brixton.

In truth, Tuesday night Lions games are less well attended than those on Fridays and Sundays, when attendances of over 1,000 allow the venue to at least begin to live up to its nickname of ‘The Box That Rocks’.

Cheerleaders, giveaways, and chances for fans to win prizes by demonstrating their shooting prowess also help to create an atmosphere, as does the partisan courtside announcer, who does his best to get supporters cheering for the Lions.

With BBL title and trophy finals filling major venues such as the O2 Arena, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom for British hoops.

Rising participation figures are also good news, but the issue of funding for GB’s national and age group teams needs to be resolved after several years of piecemeal and stop-gap solutions.

As Vince Macaulay says, it’s unlikely that British basketball teams will ever challenge at the very highest levels, but UK hoops definitely has the potential to grow and become more high profile than its current state suggests.

Espanyol: fan culture thrives in the shadow of Barcelona

How does it feel to live in the shadow of one of the most popular football clubs in the world?

Not many people know that there is another professional club in Barcelona. That club is Espanyol, currently in the lower reaches of La Liga.

Attending Espanyol’s match against Villareal, I noticed the fans were nearly all Spanish citizens. Everyone wore clothing in the club colours and the stadium atmosphere was alive for all 90 mins, even when the home side was 1-0 down.

Almost two years ago at Camp Nou, I watched Barcelona take on Athletic Bilbao in a league cup game.

The majority of the fans were tourists who hardly paid attention to the game, only there to take selfies. This was the difference between a local club and a global one.

Local passion

At Espanyol, you were looked at strangely by local fans if you weren’t wearing the famous blue and white colours.

Almost all the adults in the stadium are allowed to smoke. I was among local fans who had so much passion for their club and the game.

Villarreal needed all three points to edge closer to a top-four finish. Espanyol, on the other hand, managed to equalise late on to gain a point, giving them a 10-point gap from the relegation zone.

Espanyol’s 40,500-seater stadium is almost full at most fixtures. It has an atmosphere that is hard to forget and most importantly, local fans that have stuck with the club regardless of the success of FC Barcelona.

Barca’s poor relations

Espanyol were promoted in the 1993-94 season, and since then the club has managed to stay in La Liga. The club has not won a La Liga title in more than 80 seasons, despite coming close at times.

In contrast, just over five miles away from Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium lies Camp Nou, the Barcelona stadium with a history of showcasing the greatest players ever, with over 120 trophies won and a capacity of over 95,000.

Espanyol was founded by Spanish citizens, unlike Barcelona, which was established by Swiss, English and Catalan players in 1899.

Barcelona has more than 150 million followers worldwide. An estimated 1.6 million people visit Camp Nou each season. The club also has one of the best youth academies in the world. Eleven products of their academy all played in a La Liga match in 2012.

Espanyol’s trophy cabinet does include winning the Spanish Copa Del Rey on four occasions, the latest in 2006.

That same year Espanyol lost in the UEFA Cup Final to Sevilla on penalties. This was a devastating defeat as they had never won the UEFA cup ever before.

Teams that aren’t challenging for trophies each year struggle for mainly two reasons, poor youth development or their finances are low.

Espanyol is a club who have recently improved on both aspects and seem to be attracting big names, such as having a goalkeeper Diego López and midfielder Esteban Granero who both played for Real Madrid.

The difference between the two cubs is marked. At Barcelona, there’s the selfies, an atmosphere full of tourists who aren’t watching the match and fans repeatedly shouting ‘Barcelona!’

At Espanyol it’s full of vibrant local fans singing the club’s songs, wearing the club colours with eyes glued to the game. And they are hoping to someday become as successful as Barcelona, to step out of the shadows and be known worldwide.

AUDIO: Interview with Harry Hudson, Croydon FC

 

Harry Hudson has been in charge at Croydon FC for just a year but has made dramatic changes to improve the club.

Croydon have had many managers and financial issues in the past, but since the arrival of Hudson, ‘The Trams’ are rolling in right direction.

Currently sixth in the Southern Counties East League Premier Division, Croydon are a hotbed for local talent and producing players on the radar of clubs including Manchester City.

In this interview, Hudson explains how he has managed to accomplish so much in just a year; click here to play it in SoundCloud.