There are only so many events and special moments that require you to be suited and booted. When that moment comes it’s usually your Sunday best. The James bond special.
My love for football is as much about the people in the stands as it is about those the players on the pitch. The heart of any club is its fans, and fans love to represent their clubs. One thing we haven’t focused on is the history of English supporter culture. And in particular one incredible movement that’s started in the 70s and still resonates today.
Enter the football casual
You can wear whatever you like. Football casuals aren’t quite as prominent as they used to be but the essence still remains, the history, clothing etc. I didn’t go to proper football games. The ones I did go to were Sunday league sides where clothing was just a means to stay warm.
Starting in the 1970s, football fans who would wear designer casual clothing – no scarves or colours – to go unnoticed by rival teams to infiltrate firms for fights in which it became associated with hooliganism and danger.
As these organised contests became more of an occurrence, the term football hooligan entered the game’s lexicon. Fans from rival teams would purposely meet up and settle disputes and arguments.
When watching films about these ‘firms’ – Green Street, The Football Factory – I realised just how important terrace wear and football casual clothing has grown to become a prominent part of British culture over time.
Italian brand Stone Island, founded by Massimo Osti, started as a high-end luxury product but became a staple part of the casual wear ‘uniform’ worn by football hooligans.
Osti, also founded CP Company, was another brand beloved by football hooligans and those who love the casual movement.
Italian menswear designs were popularised in the 1980s, when hooligans would wear clothes that did not feature the colours or insignia of their clubs in order to go undetected by the police.
The demand for designer gear and pricey sportswear to avoid police attention made brands such Ellesse, Paul & Shark, Fila, CP Company and Stone Island the look for any match day. But as it became more prominent, it became easier to spot football fans around Europe.
“Being a casual is a way to separate yourself from regular supporters through your clothing and lifestyle,”
As much as the clothes looked nice, UK football fans had to find clothing suitable to our unpredictable weather and switched to brands which made clothes better suited to the wind, rain and freezing temperatures.
By the 1990s, casual style was epitomised by the likes of Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, sporting the same designer brands the hooligans wore as his music being played up and down the country.
We live in an age now where these brands are worn as actual leisure wear. I now see Stone Island on my daily commute. Young, old, man or woman these clothes are now outside of the pitch and in unis, bars, libraries and anywhere else people wear clothes, too. This is a movement that will never die, I hope to join it. I’m still saving up for my first Stoney…
The Streets are silent, but they talk. Taps lightly at my door, inviting me out. Grab your skateboard, let’s go around.
The Coronavirus outbreak has forced the masses into to self isolation. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned people to be wary and avoid social contact, stay indoors if you can or work from home to stop the virus spreading.
The government has said to stay away from pubs, bars and restaurants, but has held back from shutting them completely. A lockdown would be the most effective way of handling this.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced that the Underground and various bus routes will be running a limited service after the number of passengers took a dip in recent days.
At a government press conference earlier in the week It was revealed that the coronavirus outbreak is at its largest in London and is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the UK.
On top of that there are no sports on TV. Not even a week has passed of self quarantine, and finding ways to entertain myself are running empty.
London is not on lockdown – but people are definitely attempting to keep a social distance.
The outbreak is causing people in London to do things they’ve never thought of doing; staying indoors involuntarily, stocking up on food and supplies. No insight on what to do next. Being fed a bunch of theories by Twitter and conspiracy analysts.
The roads however, are so silent and free. I’m a fan of cycling and skating. The feeling in the air may be eerie and apocalyptic, but I’m in heaven when I skate. No traffic, free roads. Sign me up.
Oxford circus, Moorgate, Bank, Buckingham Palace. All these places are void of people. it’s weirdly beautiful, barely any tourists, the ones that are here are masked up, pointing out landmarks. How long they’ll be here for, I don’t know
These places are also spaces that usually banish skating. Naturally when I went there a was greeted by fellow skaters who had the same idea in mind.
I spoke to some young skaters and asked them how the corona outbreak is affecting them and how they plan to see out the foreseeable future.
One told me: “We used to have to be so careful skating on roads now everything is free to use. If they lockdown then its peak, but ’til then I can just skate.”
We’ve seen schools shut, exams cancelled, graduations postponed, streets become silient. No one really knows how this will pan out. Stay vigilant but don’t be afraid. Maybe grab a bike or board and get out and about while you can. It’s beautiful when its quiet.
Skateboarding photo by indrarado via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Having arrived at the Emirates as Arsenal’s record transfer, costing £72m, Nicolas Pepe had a point to prove. Could he be the player to help restore the Gunners to glory after some of the darkest days in their history?
The French League is known in Twitter football circles as the Uber Eats League, a takeaway for some of Europe’s biggest clubs. In recent years, many of the Premier League’s most celebrated talents have arrived directly from France.
Eden Hazard, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva are just some of the stars to have hailed from French football, and Pepe joined the exodus last summer after registering 20 plus goals plus 11 assists in his second season at Lille.
Pepe had every top club in Europe vying for his signature. Arsenal were the ones who secured his services with that club record fee. A winger by trade, he can play along the front three and is a constant goal threat.
However, the early stages of his Arsenal career were perceived as being a little underwhelming, given his breakthrough campaign in the previous season. But is that a fair assessment?
Down to the stats
How does Pepe compared to other top wingers in their debut PL season:
Saido Mane: 10 goals, 3 assists
Heung Min Son: 4 goals, 1 assist
Raheem Sterling ( first season at Man City): 6 goals, 2 assists
Riyad Mahrez: 4 goals, 3 assists
Nicolas Pepe: 4 goals, 6 assists (to date)
Even Alexis Sanchez in his first season registered 16 goals and 8 assists in 35 games as a starter. Pepe has been in and out of the side, playing for three different managers whilst still trying to acclimatise himself to the English game. Despite this, he has already become one of the most feared players in the league, with opponents often double-teaming and triple-teaming him.
Known for his ice cool demeanour in defiance of all the haters, Pepe said when asked which Premier League defenders he has struggled against: “Honesty, nobody,” garnering even more hatred from opposing fans.
I love it. A bit of arrogance never hurt anybody, especially when he’s shown it in every game he has played. Even if he’s not scoring or assisting, he is affecting the outcome. The only Arsenal player to get voted man of the match more than once (four times in fact), essentially he has been Arsenal’s best player this season
My only criticism of Pepe’s game is that although he has shown on many occasions that he is Arsenal’s most effective and dangerous weapon with the ball at his feet, he also has a tendency of overplaying. He wants to do too much with the ball and is heavily dependent on his favoured left foot.
Although being new to the league, Pepe has made quite the difference to the way Arsenal play. Manager Mikel Arteta has taken a liking to him and has been won over by his obvious quality.
In a team that is going through a process of rebuilding, the best of Pepe is yet to come. With a bit more fine tuning, he could turn out to be another one of the Premier League’s great players.
Arsenal crest image by cactusbeetroot via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0
Fitness has now become cool, and attitudes towards fitness attire have changed in just a few short years.
If I had been told in Year 11 that most of the clothes I wear in 2020 would be some sort of hybrid between workout wear and casual wear, or my wardrobe would be full of outdoor hiking style clothing and shoes, I’d have laughed in your face.
And yet, craze or evolution, the rise of active wear is impossible to deny.
What is it?
Activewear and sportswear are two different types of attire for people leading an active lifestyle. “Sportswear” refers to clothes designed specifically for sports purposes, while “activewear” refers to attire or clothes designed for transitioning from exercise wear to casual wear.
Gone are the days when we’d rush home because being seen in public in your gym gear was weirdly embarrassing. Today, people do everything in their gym gear; commutes to work, being out and about – having comfortable and fashionable kit is essential.
The days when Balenciaga shoes and luxury brands were the only way you could boast about shoes. The price, the spikes, red bottoms. But you could never be a nerd about shoes, or go into intricacies of technologies that are being fused with clothing brands. We are seeing a resurgence of high quality shoes and clothing that provide high quality service. With cool names.
Invented in 1969 by Robert W Gore, Gore Tex is a membrane that repels water but allows vapour to pass through. This means Gore-Tex keeps you dry on the rainiest of days but also from the water vapour you make while sweating.
The membrane itself is made up from an expanded polytetrafluoroethylene fiber (also known as Teflon). The stretching of this polymer forms a microporous material with over nine million pores per square inch. This membrane is fused with fabrics in different ways and patterns to make the garments completely windproof and waterproof.
With the way we live our lives constantly evolving, the need of adaptability increases. The need for clothing that is sustainably made and suitable for all sorts of terrain and weather, which can keep you warm but is also enough comfortable enough for everyday use.
The majority of us don’t fight in wars, climb mountains, or take trips to the Arctic but our love for things that put us in touch with nature or speak of earlier, more physically active times, runs deep. North Face, Columbia, Arcteryx – the list of brands goes on. We don’t prepare for battle, but with the functionality of activewear it can feel like wearing a uniform and boy does it feels good.
Seeing it on the runway at fashion shows and being worn by popular folk such as Drake, Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, shows that this sort of clothing has become fashionable. And because it is such a niche part of clothing there are endless brands that make activewear with their own unique twist.
Japanese brands are becoming the new hot names, with the resurgence of mountain wear and hiking clothing. It’s not all Gore Tex, but from the sports casual page where it’s a nice mélange of sporty and presentable, Stone island, CP Company, Sergio Taccini, Ellese etc. often sported by the likes of Liam Gallagher.
Jonathan Calleri’s hat-trick clinched a 3-2 victory for Espanyol over Wolves in this Europa League second-leg encounter, but the damage had already been done in their 4-0 defeat at Molineux.
Away goals from Adama Traore and Matt Doherty killed off the tie, making it 3-6 on aggregate to the Premier League side and leaving Espanyol to focus on their fight against relegation from La Liga. They are currently rock bottom in the table, five points from safety.
The Barcelona-based club marked a return to the European stage after 12 years this season by topping their Europa qualifying group with 11 points from a possible 18, creating confidence for the round of 32 knockout phase.
However, the dreams of the 1,200 ‘pericos’ who travelled to England for the first leg against Wolves were dashed as Diego Jota scored three times and Ruben Neves also found the net to create a seemingly unassailable lead in the tie.
Abelardo Fernandez’s team were, though, given hope on home soil by Calleri’s opener just past the quarter-hour mark, only to see the visitors reply through the dangerous Traore in the 22nd minute.
Calleri, on loan from Deportivo Maldonado, restored Espanyol’s lead from the spot in the 57th minute after Max Kilman raised his boot his on David Lopez.
In a feisty encounter which saw six yellow cards, Wolves were able to sit back, with their hosts having 63% possession and double the number of passes.
But pressing forward left Espanyol vulnerable on the counter, and Doherty duly made it 2-2 from Daniel Podence’s cross with 11 minutes remaining. Calleri’s winner came via a header in the first minute of added time.
Afterwards, Abelardo said he took heart from Espanyol’s fighting display, adding: “Today the fans have seen again the team they want.”
Formula One has only seen five female drivers compete in races and qualifying in its almost 70-year history – and now might be a good time for that to change.
We are currently in one of those eras in which one team and driver – Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton – are dominating the sport. The Briton will be gunning for his seventh title since 2008 when the new season begins in Melbourne on March 15th.
So how can F1 be made more interesting? How can its appeal be widened in a way which wins over new fans and generates fresh excitement? Surely one easy way is to get female drivers taken seriously and on the grid.
In recent years, the likes of Susie Wolff have tried hard to break down barriers in the male-dominated competition and show that women can compete at the highest level.
The Scot served as a test and development driver for the Williams F1 team between 2012 and 2015, and drove in pre-race practice sessions during 2014 at Silverstone and Hockenheim.
However, she eventually grew frustrated at waiting for her chance to claim a Grand Prix drive, claiming that she was fighting a losing battle in a sport in which, until recently, the most visible women were the race-day grid girls.
Pioneering women in F1
Wolff is one of five female racers who have featured in F1 since its creation in 1950. The first was Italy’s Maria Teresa de Filippis, who competed in five GP races but only finished in one – the Belgian Grand Prix in 1958.
The next women to follow her was compatriot Lella Lombardi who remains the only woman driver to have points on the board. She started started 12 races and managed to finish sixth in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.
Britain’s Divina Galica competed in four Winter Olympics as a skier but also took part in qualifying for three F1 races, the first being the 1976 British GP for the ShellSport Whiting team.
The follow season, she was handed the chance to replace Rupert Keegan at Hesketh Racing, but after failing to qualify for both the opening two races in Argentina and Brazil she called time on her F1 career.
Next came South Africa’s Desiré Wilson who lined up in qualifying for the 1980 British Grand Prix but failed to make the grid.
The last female racer before Wolff to try their luck in F1 was Giovanna Amati. Another Italian, she took part in qualifying in the first three races of the 1992 campaign but never raced in a Grand Prix.
Female success in other competitions
Women seeking to gatecrash the F1 party have usually found themselves given a chance by teams with little hope of taking on the manufacturer-backed outfits. But when female racers are given the right level of support, they can take on their male counterparts and challenge for honours.
America’s Danica Patrick (main photo) stunned the motorsport world in 2005 when she led for the Indianapolis 500 for 19 laps before finishing fourth. In 2008, she also became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series when she won the IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300.
Patrick then moved from IndyCar to the NASCAR series, and became the first woman to take pole position for a NASCAR Cup Series event. Her eighth-place is still the highest finishing position ever by a woman.
France’s Michèle Mouton became an Audi works driver and won four World Rally Championship races. She had nine podium finishes and remains the only women to win a WRC race. In 1982, she was runner-up in the WRC drivers’ championship.
But who will be next to seek a breakthrough in F1? Jamie Chadwick, the inaugural champion of the women-only W Series, has moved closer to achieving her dream after joining Williams as a development driver but, as Wolff’s story shows, we have been here before.
So what will it take for women to finally take their place on the starting grid in motorsport’s most prestigious competition?
This season’s W Series winner will earn 15 points towards the 40 needed to gain the FIA Super Licence which any driver racing in Formula One needs. However, there is no guarantee that any number of points will open doors with F1’s teams.
Perhaps the winner of the W Series should at least get to try out for one of F1’s smaller teams. Who knows, if they succeed, they then might even get a chance with one of the bigger outfits?
I would also put forward the idea that any driver who finishes with less than the 25 points you get for winning a Grand Prix should be demoted, with their race seat given to an up-and-coming competitor.
Last season, for example, that would mean six racers ranging from Lance Stroll to George Russell would have been ‘relegated’.
Shaking up the grid
Another way of progression that could see more women in the driving seat is that every F1 team should have two female racers in their development line-up, with the main teams from F1 supporting them in the W Series to further expand their brands.
The first woman to make a breakthrough in this way doesn’t have to be the next Lewis Hamilton, but surely the likes of Jamie Chadwick are more deserving of a shot at racing in F1 than some of the drivers who are hired mainly on the strength of the sponsorship they bring in?
This ‘relegation’ concept would certainly shake up the industry and would make drivers even more keen to gather every point they possibly can towards the back of the grid. One point could possibly be the difference at the end of the season between staying in the sport and being demoted.
An all-female team?
Another idea which would certainly generate fresh interest in F1 would be to have an all-female race team and crew.
Critics might argue that having a such a team could be actually be seen as a negative for a woman driver – i.e. the only way she could get into F1 was through having an all-female outfit. However, once it became integrated into the sport and proven in competition, the other teams would start to see the potential of female drivers in real races, not just junior series.
Again, critics will say what if the all-women’s team came last every race? In F1, though, it’s a question of resources, not just driving talent, and if such a team had enough backing to properly develop and test its cars, it could ensure this wouldn’t happen.
It would certainly add a different dynamic to a competition where the outcome often suffers from being a foregone conclusion (see Hamilton, but also Michael Schumacher – seven titles in 11 years), and the rule-makers seemingly add a new layer of complexity every season.
Of course, F1 currently has lots of female fans, but how many more might it attract – to the delight of broadcasters, sponsors and advertisers – if women were competing and succeeding in the sport?
Feature image of Danica Patrick courtesy of John Steadman via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0. Susie Wolff photo by Lewis James Houghton via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
The time is almost upon us. The long-awaited rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury is nearly here, just over 16 months since their dramatic and controversial draw in Los Angeles.
Many felt that Fury came out on top in the first bout at the Staples Center, some even labelling the decision of a draw as a ‘robbery’.
You would imagine that then Fury is coming in as the clear favourite for the second fight, but some of the confidence in ‘The Gypsy King’ has waned among fight fans since that controversial draw in December 2018.
There are big question marks over whether Fury’s preparations for this fight have really given him with the tools to dismantle Wilder at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on 22nd February.
Here are five questions that the Mancunian needs to answer on fight night:
Has he improved since the first fight?
Fury has had two fights since that dramatic night in LA, producing wins against the previously unbeaten Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin. Despite both ending in victory, they were two very different nights for Fury.
As expected, the 31-year-old dealt with the lesser-known Schwarz in two short rounds which, at the time, suggested he may be packing more a punch and quashing suggestions that he lacks power. However, his encounter with Wallin at the T-Mobile Arena last September didn’t quite go to plan.
What was expected to be another routine win turned into a bloody, 12-round war that left the Brit with a nasty-looking cut above the right eye. Although it definitely wasn’t a performance that would fill anyone with added confidence about Fury’s prospects against Wilder, there is not a massive amount that you can read into it.
Fury is someone that has risen to the occasion in the past. He produced two sub-par performances against Sefer Seferi and Franceso Pianneta in the lead-up to the first Wilder fight, but still managed to conjure up an excellent performance against the WBC heavyweight champion.
Fury also took on Wilder just two fights into his comeback from a near three-year lay-off and he’ll be hoping to be fitter and sharper for the rematch than he was for their first bout. It will be interesting to see if getting 14 more rounds under his belt enables Fury to show improved stamina in the later rounds; the lack of which ultimately proved to be his downfall in the first contest.
Has he been focused enough on boxing?
Since the clip of him remarkably rising from canvas after Wilder’s brutal 12th-round knockdown in their first fight went viral across the world, it’s safe to say that Fury has made the most of his new-found global fame. He’s brought out an autobiography, released a Christmas single with Robbie Williams and fought Braun Strowman in the WWE, which have all raised his profile [and boosted his bank balance), but equally raised questions over his commitment to boxing.
The lineal champion has always come across as someone who lives and breathes fighting but, due to the other commitments he’s taken on, has he left enough time to sharpen his skill-set in the gym ahead of this huge second fight against the 34-year-old from Alabama?
We recently saw Andy Ruiz Jr become distracted by the glitz, glamour and fame of reaching the summit of the heavyweight division after upsetting Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden last June – and how that then ultimately cost him in their December rematch.
You simply can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for a second in boxing, especially against fighters at the top end of the heavyweight division.
Is it possible that Fury has fallen into the same trap as Ruiz?
Is changing trainers a good idea?
Former coach Ben Davison played a huge part in pulling Fury back from the brink of disaster after his mental breakdown led him to the cusp of suicide and stepping on the scales at a whopping 385lbs. He also masterminded the game plan that so nearly got Fury the win against Wilder which would have put him back on top in the heavyweight division.
However, following an on-screen lambasting from Fury’s father John, Davison was ditched and has now been replaced by American Javan ‘Sugar Hill’ Steward, nephew of famous trainer Emmanuel Steward.
The lineal champion isn’t unfamiliar with Steward, having spent a month training with him in the famous Kronk gym in Detroit a decade ago. Andy Lee, Fury’s cousin and a former world middleweight champion who has spent time at Kronk, has also been involved in the camp although it’s not been obvious exactly what capacity that’s been in.
It’s undoubtedly a gamble to switch trainers so near to a big fight, especially when you consider how well Davison’s plan worked in the first Wilder bout and how radically different Steward’s coaching philosophies are to Davison’s. In an interview with iFL TV, Steward said: “He doesn’t want that again [going to the judges]. I wasn’t raised that way. Emanuel [Steward] always taught me ‘Get the knockout.’.”
The change in approach, coupled with the limited time Fury has had to work with his new trainer, will surely have added disruption to his preparations. After coming so close to a victory last time, did Fury really need to change his approach so drastically?
Is he really going to go for the knockout?
Although Fury is recognised as one of the best heavyweights in the world right now, he’s never really been known for the power in his punch. The best victories of his career have gone the distance rather than ended in vicious knockouts, much in contrast of his next opponent. In fact, only around 66% of his wins have come via KOs whereas Wilder has stopped 95% of his opponents, with every single one touching the canvas.
Despite this, Fury has been adamant in the build-up that he wants, not only to beat Wilder, but to knock him out as well. He’s even rumoured to be coming in much heavier than the first fight in an attempt to add more power to his arsenal.
As we know, many of Fury’s comments have to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, but his decision to change up his camp suggests there may be some legitimacy to these claims. The risk is that the extra weight means he loses some of the movement that makes him so elusive and hard to hit and becomes a sitting duck for Wilder’s famous, straight right.
Will the cut above his eye come back to haunt him?
As mentioned, Fury picked up a hideous cut above his right eye that required 50 stitches after his last fight against Wallin. Without a massive amount of healing time having passed, the likelihood is that Wilder will target it and attempt to re-open it. The appointment of Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran – one of the best and most well-known cutman in the game – suggests that there is still some nervousness in the Fury camp regarding the wound.
There’s no way of knowing how problematic this will be until fight night. There’s no word on if Fury has had any plastic surgery to speed up the healing process, but you would imagine everything has been done in order to patch it up and make sure that it doesn’t come back to haunt him.
It’s unquestionable, however, that Wilder will be targeting this. In fact, he only recently said that he is ‘looking forward to re-cutting’ Fury’s right eye. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the big night and something to monitor as the fight progresses.
It’s not new to hear that an English team has signed a Spanish goalkeeper. Since 2004, 14 have played in the Premier League.
Young Spanish ‘keepers have seen big opportunities in the English leagues, and that is why many come very young to the Premier League and develop as professional players.
This table shows at what age the goalkeepers came to England. From the youngest goalkeeper playing in the English league to the oldest one.
Team / s
Brighton & Hove
2016 – now
2019 – (loan)
David De Gea
2011 – now
2016 – 2017
2013 – 2018
Liverpool F.C Aston Villa F.C.
2005 – 2013 2020 (loan)
2018 – now
2018 – 2019
Adrián San Miguel
West Ham United
2013 – 2019
2019 – now
West Ham United
2004 – 2011
2011 – 2012
2012 – 2014
2018 – 2019
Crystal Palace F.C
2018 – now
Leeds United F.C
2018 – now
2014 – 2016
2016 – 2017
2004 – 2005
West Ham United
2019 – now
2008 – 2009
Spanish goalkeepers have shown plenty of talent talent, and two are on the list of 15 Premier League ‘keepers with 100 or more clean sheets. In sixth position former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina with 134 shut-outs, and in last position of the list is Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea with 104.
This table shows how many appearances the goalkeepers have had during their careers in England.
David De Gea
Adrián San Miguel
Robert Jiménez Gago
Ricardo López Felipe
The Premier League is popular around the world, and this has been reflected in the variety of nationalities among its goalkeepers. But arguably its the Spanish ones who have captured the essence of the top division.
The first Spanish goalkeepers arrived in 2004, and this next list picks out some of the notable ones and when they began their careers in England:
2004 – Manuel Almunia – Arsenal
2004 – Ricardo López – Manchester United
2005 – Pepe Reina – Liverpool
2008 – César Sánchez – Tottenham Hotspur
2011 – David De Gea – Manchester United
2012 – Joel Robles – Wigan F.C
As the years have passed, Spanish ‘keepers playing in England have gone from being a bit of a novelty to a mainstay of the Premier League.
Current Spanish national team goalkeepers David De Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga, play here, following in the footsteps of other La Roja ‘keepers such as Pepe Reina and Victor Valdés.
This table shows how many Spanish goalkeepers have been playing in professional English teams down the years:
A dozen high-level teams have had Spanish goalkeepers during one or more seasons. This five teams are the ones that had a bigger number of them:
Manchester United – 3
West Ham United – 3
Tottenham Hotspur – 2
Liverpool – 2
Fulham – 2
With a good number of Spanish managers plying their trade in the Premier League, European football’s highest salaries on offer, and the global reach of the English top flight, the flow of goalkeepers from Spain to the UK looks set to continue…
In football, you’re always told to savour the moment when things are going well as you never know when you’re going to get it as good again.
Chesterfield fans were probably told that after reaching the League One play-offs in 2015. Hopefully, some took that advice – because it could be a while before they re-scale those heights.
Not even the most pessimistic of Spireites fan could have anticipated the four years that followed their team’s triumphant march to the play-offs.
Since that superb 2014-15 campaign under the stewardship of current Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook, it’s been an endless run of setbacks and unremitting failure. A period that’s seen them go through six managers on a dramatic slide from the cusp of the Championship to a relegation dog-fight at the bottom of the National League.
A club that famously reached the FA Cup semi-final in 1997 is at serious risk of suffering a third relegation in four seasons and heading into the sixth-tier of English football and all-time low point in their history.
But how have things gone so wrong so fast for Chesterfield?
Catalogue of mistakes
Liam Norcliffe, Chesterfield reporter for the Derbyshire Times and the Sheffield Star, believes poor decision-making from the top has played a massive part in the Spireites’ ignominious fall from grace.
“I think the main reason why things have gone so wrong for Chesterfield in the last four or five years is down to a catalogue of bad decision-making,” said Norcliffe.
“Paul Cook left and a number of key players were sold and not replaced with the same quality. They’ve been on a downward spiral ever since and not able to turn it around”.
“They had a struggling season in League One after they missed out in the play-offs and then suffered back-to-back relegations out of the Football League. A number of managers have tried to get the club going again but have been unable to.”
Owner Dave Allen has received the brunt of the fans’ frustration over the course of the miserable last few years. By his own admission, his only goal was to get the club into the Championship and then “flog it”.
After just missing out on achieving that feat in 2015, a bitter relationship between the owner and the club ensued as they tumbled down the leagues.
Fans have been staying away, attendances have dwindled and the atmosphere has often been toxic at home games this season. Norcliffe is of the opinion that this has done nothing to help matters on the pitch for the struggling Spireites.
“You can’t doubt the level of investment that Dave Allen has put in,” he said.
“But I think the fans think the club has been left to dwindle away and he’s lost interest. He doesn’t come to games anymore, he only appears and talks to the media when they announce a new manager or to ask for backing from the fans.
“I think that’s a lot of the frustration, there’s not much passion there anymore”.
Chesterfield sacked yet another manager in January when they axed boss John Sheridan, ending his second spell in charge of the club after just under a year at the helm.
Supporter Kurt Bigg thinks that Sheridan’s lack of experience in non-league was one of the main contributing factors behind his struggles.
“What went wrong for John Sheridan is that he was not a National League manager. He started off well but the difference between the EFL and non-league is bigger than people realise.
“It’s the same with the players as well, and that is where he went wrong. The side didn’t look like they want it as much as teams like Barrow and Bromley want it.”
Again, a bitter relationship between Sheridan and the fans began to brew, with fans desperate for change but with the journeyman digging his heels in and the club reluctant to pay him off.
Since Cook’s departure for Portsmouth in 2015, Chesterfield have tried everything to try and breathe some life back into the club.
They’ve gone for young and hungry managers like Jack Lester and Gary Caldwell, and they’ve also gone for more experienced coaches like Danny Wilson and Martin Allen – but no one has been able to restore the club’s fortunes.
Norcliffe feels that the environment that these managers have had to work in has left them with little chance of success and, again, the owners are at fault.
He said: “On paper, you can see why they went for them. Jack Lester is a legend of the club and they thought that might galvanise everyone, Martin Allen is an experienced manager with great knowledge of the lower-leagues, Gary Caldwell did a decent job at Wigan.
“In terms of why it’s gone wrong, it’s a number of different factors in terms of the way the club’s been run. There’s not much of a connection between the fans and the owners. They’ve never really replaced the players that left when they were in League One and it just needs someone to kick-start the club”.
Late last year, it was revealed that Dave Allen’s reign at Chesterfield could be coming to the end with Chesterfield FC Trust completing their due diligence on a deal which would see them increase their shareholding in the club to 84%.
However, on 17th January it was reported that the takeover bid had suffered a “setback” and the future of the club was plunged back into major doubt.
Bigg is desperate for the issues in the bid to be resolved and the takeover to go through, as he feels it would present the fans with fresh hope that the club can start moving in the right direction again.
He said: “We already saw an increase of 600 home fans for the game against Sutton and the takeover will bring back a lot more who are still staying away for the time being.
“A club like Chesterfield is too big to be in the National League. And once under stable ownership and with the right manager, we can march towards the Football League and a brighter future”.
The next managerial appointment will be key for the Spireites. John Pemberton, currently caretaker boss, is in the running and has already put smiles back on faces with two wins in his first two matches in charge.
“Pemberton knows the club well,” says Norcliffe.
“He was the academy manager, and the fans have taken to him really well as he had a little stint as caretaker boss last year as well and got a couple of decent results.
“He comes across really well, the players like him, he’s a good coach. It’s his job to lose.
“He’s definitely said the right sort of things so far, it’s just about whether he can get a couple of results over the next month or so to get them away from the drop-zone.”
Whoever takes charge has got a huge job on their hands, not just in keeping the club up, but also restoring the pride and enthusiasm back into the town. That will only happen once a fanbase that’s been battered and bruised by four years of hurt can learn to truly love their club again.
The Three Lions topped Group A in the qualifiers, suffering just one loss: a 2-1 away defeat against the Czech Republic. They are among the favourites to lift the trophy next summer, but it would be their first European title.
England have reached the Euro finals on 10 occasions, their best finish being third place in 1968, when Italy hosted. They have failed to make the knockout stages on four occasions, and in 2016 were famously beaten in the last 16 by tournament minnows and debutants Iceland.
In Group D, the Three Lions will again meet their Czech opponents from qualifying. Apart from October’s loss, they have beaten them in their three other encounters. Against Croatia, England have won five out of 10 meetings, but they ended English hopes in the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If Scotland qualify, they will resume the oldest rivalry in international football, having played England 114 times. England have won both of their two matches against Israel, their only game against Serbia, and defeated Norway in seven of their 12 meetings.
Coach: Gareth Southgate has now been England’s manager for three years. At the 2018 World Cup, he led them to the final four, giving young talent a chance – having been England’s Under-21s boss – and signalling that the Three Lions could become a major force again.
Key player: Tottenham’s Harry Kane will be crucial to England’s hopes next summer, To date, he has 32 goals in 45 international appearances, with 12 of those coming in eight Euro 2020 qualifiers. He also became the first English player to score in every match of a qualifying campaign. Kane won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup with six goals, and will surely be among the favourites to be the top scorer at Euro 2020.
Croatia were runners-up to France at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and topped their Euro qualifying group with just one loss. It will be their sixth appearance in the tournament, their best finish being as quarter-finalists. At Euro 2016 in France, they were eliminated by eventual winners Portugal in the last 16, and could face them again in next summer’s second round, depending on results.
Having defeated England in the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup, Croatia lost to them in the Uefa Nations League group stage. Croatia has never lost to the Czechs in their three meetings, and have one victory and a draw in their two games against fierce rivals Serbia. They are unbeaten in nine against Israel, and have had three victories, a draw, and a loss against Norway. They have yet to beat the Scots in five encounters.
Coach: After guiding Croatia to their first-ever World Cup final in 2018, Zlatko Dalic is a national hero at home. Since taking the job in 2017, his team have only suffered seven losses in 30 games.
Key player: At 34, skipper Luka Modric remains Croatia’s main man. The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner is his nation’s second most-capped player, with 127 appearances, only seven behind Darijo Srna. The Real Madrid and former Spurs star pulls the strings in midfield and is also a goal threat.
The Czechs have qualified for every Euro finals since 1996, when they were runners-up to Germany. The also sealed third place in 2004, but at Euro 2016 they failed to make it out of their group. They finished second behind England in qualifying Group A.
To date, they have lost two of their four meetings against the Three Lions, and have never beaten Croatia. Against their potential play-off path opponents, however, they have better records. The Czechs have only lost to Scotland twice in seven meetings, only once in seven against Norway, and have won both their games against Israel. Against the Serbs, they have a win and a defeat.
Coach: The former Czech international Jaroslav Silhavy took charge of the national team in September 2018. He also served as assistant coach from 2001 to 2009. Silhavy has won Czech league titles with Slovan Liberec and Slavia Prague, and the national team have eight victories in 14 games under him.
Key player: Forward Patrik Schick scored seven times during qualifying. Capped 19 times, the 23-year-old has nine goals in total and looks set to be his country’s main source of firepower next summer.
Who will become the play-off Path C winner?
Norway finished behind Spain and Sweden in their qualifying group, with two wins and three draws. Their only previous appearance at a Euro finals came in 2000, when their trip ended at the group stage.
Their only match to date against Serbia ended in a draw. Against Israel, they have had a win and a loss. Scotland have proved tricky opponents down the years, with nine losses, six draws, and only three wins in their 18 meetings.
Serbia were in Group B in the qualifying stage and notched up four wins in eight games. They have never previously qualified for the European Championship but have unbeaten records against Israel and Scotland.
Scotland have not qualified for a Euro finals since 2000, and in their two tournaments to date have never reached the knock-out stages. They have a good record against Israel, losing just once in five previous meetings. The Scots have the incentive of matches being played on home turf at Hampden Park in Glasgow if they make it through to the finals.
Israel will make history if they can reach the Euro 2020 as it will be the first time they have qualified. Their only previous appearance at a major football tournament was at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Israeli forward Eran Zahavi had 11 goals in qualifying, the same as Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Norway v Serbia 26/03/2020, 17:00 Scotland v Israel 26/03/2020, 19:45
Group D schedule
The team which tops Group D will meet one in the next round from Group F, which includes France, Germany. Whoever finishes second could play either Portugal or Spain from the Group F in the last 16.
England v Croatia 14/06/20, 14:00, Wembley Stadium TBD v Czech R 15/06/20, 14:00, Hampden Park Croatia v Czech R 19/06/20, 17:00, Hampden Park England v TBD 19/06/20, 20:00, Wembley Stadium Croatia v TBD 23/06/20, 20:00, Hampden Park Czech R v England 23/06/20 20:00, Wembley
Hampden Park photo by Justin Green via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0