Tag Archives: Premier League

Carlisle reaches out after taming his demons

Not a day passes where Clarke Carlisle does not think about 22 December 2014. On that wet, gloomy morning he stepped in front of a lorry travelling at around 60mph on the A64 in North Yorkshire. 

Having been charged with drink-driving just hours earlier, the former Queens Park Rangers and Burnley defender had hit rock bottom. No hope remained. The only way out was to end his life.

Two years after his near-death experience, the first thing that strikes you when speaking to the one-time chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association is how open he is when discussing his suicide attempt.

The 37-year-old says his outlook is now more positive, but admits that life is still far from perfect. He still has dark times but the worst has passed and now his main focus is discussing these issues with the wider public.

“Things are incredible right now but that doesn’t mean life is a bed of roses,” he says.

“What it means is that whenever pressures or stresses come on in my life or when I get uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety or anger, I now know how to cope with them and process them.

“I know how to handle that in a constructive manner so on a day to day basis, life is very good.”

Depression

Many factors contributed to Carlisle’s fragile state of mind but the main one was struggling to adjust to retirement from football.

Although he suffered from depression throughout his career, when he finished his career at Northampton Town in 2013 aged 34, he no longer had a sense of purpose or direction in life.

“There are a lot of outside factors that can contribute to a deepening depression,” admits the Lancastrian.

“One of the factors for me was the transition from playing football and going into another industry. Even though I had another job lined up and I went straight into broadcasting with ITV, the loss of structure and the loss of identity was hard for me.

“When you’re an elite athlete, every day has a strong goal and focus, but when I came out of that and I was working in broadcasting, I was only contracted to do 36 days a year, which even if it was an overnight stay it was 72 days a year.

“I had no structure in what to do and even if I did fill that time with going for a run or anything like that, it wasn’t something that contributed to a greater goal.”

Carlisle says being part of an industry which kept reminding him of the one he had left was also not particularly helpful.

“I was commentating on players and I knew I was better than them or I could do just as good as job as them.

“There was a lot of feelings of failure that came around that and that was very tough to deal with, plus the standard pressures of bills to pay and the loss of income.

“The fundamental factor was that I didn’t have a coping mechanism. I didn’t have a way to understand what those stresses were and how to process them in a constructive manner. I was basically running away in the destructive way that I used to.”

Aftermath 

Life after his suicide attempt and deepening depression was difficult for Carlisle’s friends and family, a situation which in hindsight he calls “disgusting”.

“It’s incredibly hard to articulate the [impact] it had on my wife when I was married at the time, my children, my parents and on my siblings,” he said.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life”

“They were coming to visit me in hospital to offer me love and support but I was still there telling them I wanted to die.

“It’s not as though I immediately changed my mindset and my approach around life as soon as I got into hospital.

“There was a long period of purgatory where I was in that frame of mind that I wanted to kill myself. The impact on those around me was disgusting.

“Going through psychiatric hospitals was hard but being there for six weeks was incredibly important to start the beginning of me turning that journey around.”

Handling depression 

The man named as Britain’s Brainiest Footballer in 2002 after appearing on a TV quiz says his progression from running away to now confronting his problems is a big factor in his recovery.

“I was an emotional retard when I went to psychiatric hospital,” he admits. “However, the journey that I have gone on since has been all about understanding myself.

“I now understand the individual emotions that I’m feeling and I understand that I need to feel them, and I need to be able to be at ease with those emotions.

“When I’m feeling incredibly sad or fearful or anxious, I now know what to do in order to help me get through that. It might be going and talking to someone or it might be calming and centering myself by using prayers or meditation.

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel or I hide or avoid emotions, it means I now understand and acknowledge them and I meet them face on and that’s made such a huge difference to my life.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life because I know they aren’t necessary.”

Lack of understanding 

In the past, sport has been criticised for failing to understand depression, and Carlisle says the main reason why people within football take physical injuries more seriously is down to an absence of awareness.

“There is a distinct lack of understanding but it’s just not in the game, it’s in society in general,” claims the former England U21 player.

“Even though things are being done to address the issue, the fundamental knowledge in how to support someone in these situations is lacking across all industries. It isn’t football’s fault, it’s a societal problem.

“Football has the money, the time and the resources to be able to create a support template that other industries could adopt. They need to look after the health and safety of their employees at the workplace.

“People don’t engage and understand what mental health is. One of the factors is that it’s intangible. A broken leg is visible whereas with mental health issues, it’s the mind that is injured but it’s not something that can be seen.

“It is all about basic understanding and education. The way we can try and change that is by educating children so when they grow up and become the decision makers, they will know how to make far more informed decisions about situations and circumstances that are relevant to sufferers.”

Support network 

Although his life will continue to have good and bad moments, Carlisle is now aware on how to face his problems head on.

He speaks at awareness events for many charities, but his own foundation the Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis is continuing to help others with mental health issues.

“You don’t have to stand up and tell the world… but it is mandatory that you tell somebody”

“By being public about it and putting support mechanisms out there, it’s given people permission to acknowledge what is going on in their lives and has given them a chance to seek support and seek an emphatic ear,” he explained.

“It’s wonderful but it’s also good for me because as much as I’m helping others, it’s helping me because it normalises with what I’m going through as well. The illness itself makes people believe that they don’t have no one to speak to and no one wants to listen but that is utter rubbish.

“There is always people out there, whether it be your GP or charities etc, but there are so many people out there who want to listen and want to help and who can help.

“My advice would be: you don’t have to stand up and tell the world and you don’t have to tell everybody, but it is mandatory that you tell somebody. It’s from there that you can begin to engage with a support pathway.”

Follow Clarke Carlisle on Twitter @CCforDD 

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255

Where are all the British Asian footballers?

According to Uefa B licence coach Rajab Noor, one of English football’s perennial thorny issues has a simple solution.

“We need more players playing and more coaches coaching,” he says when discussing why more British Asians aren’t involved in the professional game.

A lot has been written and said about the lack of Asian players and coaches, and perceptions are still skewed by cultural stereotypes.

Noor (left) with BBC sports presenter Manish Bhasin (centre)

What is your son currently studying,’ my mum asked her friend a while back. ‘He’s studying to become a surgeon,’ she replied.

‘It’s a very respectable job and he will earn a considerable amount of money. It’s the best decision.’

I have grown up in Asian family but mine have never pressured me into choosing a career path I was not keen on.

However for others in the Asian community, where many place a high premium on getting the best possible education, this isn’t the case.

There are plenty of British Asians playing football at grassroots level, although cricket doesn’t seem to have the pull anymore that it once had.

But why don’t more of them go on to establish careers and make names for themselves at professional level?

Talent pool

The dearth has been blamed on racism in the past, but Noor, a full-time coach studying for his Uefa A licence, believes that times have changed.

“You only have to see statistics to see how few Asian coaches are out there,” he said. “Same with players. Why are there virtually no Premier League Asian players? The talent pool is simply not big enough.

“Look at the amount of Asians playing football. Let’s say it’s 100,000 across the country. If we had more, for instance 500,000, then things would look different.

“Many people may want to point at the FA and point at issues such as racism, but honestly we need more players playing and more coaches coaching.”

Black & ethnic minorities 

Noor with caretaker England U21 boss Aidy Boothroyd

The 2011 census revealed that Asians made up 7.5% – or about 4.2 million people – of the population in England.

This is in no way reflected by the number of British Asians involved in professional football.

Initiatives such as tournaments to find Asian’s next star have helped increase the number of homegrown Asian players and coaches at grassroots level, and Noor says progress is being made.

“The FA is certainly doing its bit by getting coaches on courses. A lot more are coming through now, more than ever.”

Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaches have, he says, been held back by racism within the sport, but things are changing.

“In the past they’ve been neglected,” he admits. “At the same time, I’m just a coach or manager like anybody else. I wouldn’t want to say ‘Look, I’m an Asian coach’. I’ve got to where I am today for who I am.

“I don’t like to blame anybody but I do feel that there’s a lot more being done now, and the Premier League is doing a lot for BAME coaches.”

Role models 

Examples, of British-born players with Asian heritage who are plying their trade in English football are Neil Taylor at Swansea, Adil Nabi at Peterborough United as well as Northampton Town’s Kashif Siddiqi.

Neil Taylor of Swansea and Wales

Taylor who is of Welsh-Indian descent as his mother is a Bengali from Kolkata in India, played for Wales at the 2016 European Championship in France and has also been a pivotal figure for the Swans.

But despite his achievements, there is still a very limited amount of role models for aspiring young Asian players to look up to, and this – according to Noor – is a worrying issue.

“The lack of role models is a huge thing. When I’m coaching young Asian kids and I ask them if they know any Asian footballers and they reply ‘no’.

“I think we only need one or two to breakthrough and be on TV and have kids running around with their shirts on their back and wanting to be just like them.

“Until we have that, I think it’s going to be very difficult to inspire the kids of today.”

Progress 

But, returning to those cultural perceptions, are parents in Asian communities largely apprehensive about and unwilling to see their children pursue a career in football?

The film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, which came out in 2002, highlighted the issue as an Indian girl Jess finds her obsession with football at odds with a culture which seemingly frowns on women playing sport.

To this day, the stance that many Asian parents have is that football is not the way forward for their sons (or daughters), and Noor, 27, insists this needs to change in order for Asian football to progress.

“It was the same with my parents, they never wanted me to pursue a career in football. They thought it was just a game and they didn’t really understand the industry behind it.

“I think it’s getting better and progress is being made, but I think parents need to be more informed and more educated about the sports industry and how much football has to offer.”

Noor highlights the FA’s latest community development initiative as evidence.

“It introduces football for the first time to children who usually don’t play the game. I’ve set one of them up myself and we have 100 on the register. People turn up each week and they are all new to football.

“They usually play at school or in after-school clubs, but they have never been involved in any organised football.

“More of this needs to happen because once you have a development centre up and running, you can ensure there are more Asian footballers wanting to play the game in the future.”

Ambitions 

The future is seemingly looking far more brighter for British Asian footballers hoping to make it big.

More youngsters from the Asian community are progressing in the sport at academy level, while older individuals are keen on coaching roles.

“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship”

“I’m really positive and confident about seeing an Asian footballer or coach in the Premier League,” Noor added.

“We are not far off. I think there’s good Asian players and I think there’s a good number of Asian coaches knocking about.

“I’m a mentor and I have young leaders alongside me and the advice I give them is to do something that they enjoy.

“If they enjoy coaching for example, they will express themselves as a coach. Regardless of any qualification somebody gets, it is crucial to put the hours in on the grass.”

Rewarding

Noor added: “The more hours a person coaches and delivers sessions, the more they will learn about themselves and the more they will learn about their players.

“The important thing is to not be afraid to try and most importantly give it your all.”

The talented coach is hoping to make his mark at the highest level and has lofty ambitions of his own.

“The most rewarding thing in being a coach is seeing a team or an individual succeed. No matter what age group I coach, whether it’s five-year-olds or adults, seeing somebody improve and have a smile on their face during training and on a matchday is very rewarding.

“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship. I want to succeed in England but if that’s not possible, I will look to go abroad, so fingers crossed.”

You can follow Rajab on Twitter @CoachNoor 

Why are so many ex-footballers taking to our screens?

Since leaving Manchester United in the summer, Ryan Giggs has become the latest high profile ex-player to step into a TV studio and chance his arm at punditry.

The Welshman’s transition from Old Trafford’s left wing, to the ITV sofa, (via the dugout), is a path trodden by many in recent years. Tune in to football coverage, be it on TV, radio or the internet, and you’ll struggle to not find the opinions of a former player.

So why exactly are so many ex-pros finding their second careers within the media?

Peter Lovenkrands played at the highest level for clubs such as Rangers, Schalke and Newcastle United, and also represented Denmark in two major tournaments.

As is the case for many an ex-sportsperson, replacing the buzz of competition proved difficult following his retirement.

Struggle

Yet, while nothing can ever replicate the feeling of 90 minutes on a football pitch, for Lovenkrands, media work provides the perfect way to remain closely involved in the sport.

“I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching”

“For me, it’s the closest thing to playing. When I stopped playing, [punditry] was the thing that helped me get over missing it,” said Lovenkrands, who co-commentates on German Bundesliga games.

He explained: “There’s a thing in the football world, people who don’t have anything to go into after playing kind of struggle, and some people get depression, even.

“It’s something that a lot of players find hard. I even find it hard still sometimes when I’m sitting in commentary, you think ‘I want to be out there, I want to be playing’.

“But by sitting watching and talking about it, that’s the closest thing to getting the atmosphere in the stadium and being [out] there. I really enjoy it and that’s what helps me get over  retirement.”

Enhanced

Lovenkrands working as a summariser. Pic @lovenkrands11

Giggs may believe that coaching or management is the closest thing to playing.

After the disappointment of being overlooked for the United hotseat, some might argue that his regular appearances on our TV screens serve only to keep him ‘relevant’ in the eyes of fans and club owners alike, reminding us of his suitability for a role in management.

In his excellent book, Living On The Volcano, Michael Calvin discusses the way in which Tony Pulis left his post at Crystal Palace, only to find himself the new manager of West Brom, thanks to a little help from the media.

Wrote Calvin: “He maintained his profile as a media pundit, refused to enlarge on the circumstances which led to him leaving Palace by ‘mutual consent’, and watched the stakes rise. He would join West Bromwich Albion almost as soon as his gardening leave ended.”

Gary Neville, of course, is a fine example of an excellent pundit who enhanced opinions of his highly thought-of coaching ability, by educating (rather than patrionising) us on screen.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach”

Neville provides no catchphrases, no clichés and certainly none of the ‘faux-intelligence’ displayed by many of his peers on alternative channels.

However after three tournaments with England as part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff and a short-lived spell as Valencia manager, Neville himself feels it will be difficult for him to step from commentary box into the dugout once again.

But what about everybody else? Jamie Carragher once joked on Sky’s Monday Night Football that “no pundit on TV will ever get a job again, he’s [Neville] ruined it for us all”.

Praise

Lovenkrands, who now works for Rangers TV, makes the point that the demands and differences between working ‘on-pitch’ and working ‘on-screen’, may make it difficult for others to follow in Neville’s footsteps.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach,” said the 36 year old.

“He [Neville] was kind of the first one to go from being a proper Sky pundit, to go and take the Valencia job. Even though he was a pundit, he had the England job, but that’s not full-time.

“I praise him for taking the chance and trying to go and do his thing. I love him as a pundit, I think he’s fantastic. Him and Jamie Redknapp are two of my favourites.

“But I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching.”

Caution

Neville’s success as a pundit can be attributed to his obvious desire for hard work, his undoubted knowledge for the world of football from training ground to boardroom and, quite simply, his knack for talking honestly and passionately on air.

Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm Game
Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm game

Other pundits choose to go down a different route, offering controversy and sparking vicious debate amongst viewers, listeners and people within the football industry alike.

Neither approach is wrong or right; success for Neville could look different to success for Robbie Savage. Either way, they are both successful.

For Lovenkrands, controversy should come with a hint of caution.

“I’ve spoken about that with people before and a lot of people say you can go two ways. One is knowledge, knowing so many things. And then there’s the controversial side of it,” said the Dane, who still holds a close affinity with the fans of many of his former clubs.

“Chris Sutton, for example, has been quite controversial with a lot of things, especially up here in Scotland. He’s had a lot of criticism because of the controversial way he’s been talking about the game.

“But for me that becomes a little bit like the X Factor and Simon Cowell, where somebody’s being negative. The same as Strictly Come Dancing where one of the judges will be negative, it creates a lot of interest for people watching it because they’re thinking ‘what’s he going to say next?’.

Controversial

“I feel like you have to be careful when you’re going down that road because I don’t like being hated. I like to be positive, but of course you have to be honest if certain things don’t happen right.

“A lot of people don’t care about being controversial and that seems to have helped them in getting more jobs because people want to hear what they have to say, even if they maybe don’t like what they’re saying.

“My view on it is you can be negative and controversial, but try to put a positive spin on it and not upset too many people.”

The reality is that football is a sport in which no matter how positive one may be, someone will always be upset.

Like anyone, footballers can be sensitive to the comments of others; they are human beings after all.

Criticism

John Terry has been the captain of his club and country, played in major games in front of some of the most hostile supporters, and faced public disgrace over his racist comments to a fellow professional.

Yet for Terry, receiving criticism from Robbie Savage over his form last season was not something he planned on taking lightly.

He responded by comparing his own successful career to Savage’s, and insinuating that criticism offered by a less successful player was not welcome.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all”

Lovenkrands however believes that criticism is to be expected as a footballer, as long as opinions never become personal.

Having played with Joey Barton at Newcastle, the Liverpudlian’s current situation with Rangers could potentially have put Lovenkrands in a tricky situation.

“Sometimes it’s something you need to think twice about. But if you want to be in that kind of business you have to just say what you feel because you get paid to be honest and talk about what you see,” said Lovenkrands, who finished his playing career in the Championship with Birmingham City.

“If I feel like there’s certain things that have happened that I feel are negative, I have to say it and I have to just deal with it. To be fair, most people in the football world would understand.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all.

“I think that’s the fine line I’m finding as a commentator.”

Lovenkrands (right) prior to co-commentating on a Champions League match. Pic @lovenkrands11.

Allegiances

Carragher and Neville hold the prestige of being one-club defenders who gave everything for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.

Whilst their rivalry on the pitch has turned to admiration in the studio, the passion they have for their old clubs still remains.

Yet a major strength of both, is that through their media work you would struggle to work out their allegiances.

Being fair and balanced is a must for any journalist, however, were the ex-defenders to work for their club’s own TV channel, would their approach be encouraged to change?

Shedding some light on the subject of bias, Lovenkrands said: “The Rangers commentary that I do, it’s for Rangers TV, so I don’t need to be biased in any way.

“I really enjoy that because I’m a Rangers fan as well so when they score I can celebrate and be part of it in that way. That’s really exciting.

“But when I do the German football, or sometimes when I’ve done Premier League games, or Scottish football for radio, then of course you have to make sure you commentate on both teams and be professional about it.

“I like that as well, that I have to be that aware.”

So to revisit the original question as to why football coverage is now saturated with former pros, each individual will have their reasons. Some will say the salary appeals, whilst the job security far outweighs that in management or coaching.

Others may see it as a profile booster, a public job interview every time the ‘ON AIR’ light is switched on. For those who have no interest in coaching, media work provides a no-pressure involvement with the game.

But for Lovenkrands, his reasons are far simpler. “I just love football,” summed up the former striker.

“I get carried away when I commentate so when a goal happens, no matter what team it’s for, in the Bundesliga for example, I get carried away and start celebrating.

“That’s the way it should be. It should be coming across for people to listen to that you’re excited about your job and what you’re doing.”

Review – Box to Box by Curtis Woodhouse

Many youngsters grow up dreaming of becoming professional footballers, but for every one that makes the grade, there are so many that fail to fulfil their potential and drift into obscurity. We’ve all heard that story before. 

Similarly, the tale of the ageing boxer who somehow manages to pull off one last shot at the big time is something of a cliche.

Combine both stories, however, and you have something a bit different – people don’t just go from being nearly men in football to really men in boxing. But somehow Curtis Woodhouse managed to do just that, and his autobiography ‘Box to Box’ tells his remarkable story.

The start and the end

When he stepped up from Sheffield United’s academy to the first team at the age of 17, the outlook was bright for Woodhouse as he moved from earning £42.50 a week as an apprentice to taking home more money than he had ever seen before.

Once he broke into England under-21s team alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, his future looked even better. But something was missing. Desire.

“Ever been trapped in a loveless relationship?” he says in his book. “One day you’re head over heels and all set to take on the world together, a few years later it’s all gone to shit.

“You’ve fallen out of love and you don’t know how it happened. The dream has gone and it’s impossible to get it back. Love and hate are similar emotions. And I really hated football.”

Whilst to an outsider, a Premier League footballer may be living the life of a king, for Woodhouse, the reality was very different.

For sure, he enjoyed the parties and the drinking culture, but for the young child who grew up on Northfield Crescent in Beverley, outside Hull, with dreams of being the next John Barnes, the lustre had faded.

‘Living in my own little Beirut’

Despite a close relationship with family members, particularly his father, Woodhouse’s childhood was permeated with violence and anguish. Fighting and arguing were all around him.

“Between the ages of 10 and 14, I lived in a war zone,” he writes. “Northfield Crescent was my own little Beirut. I wouldn’t wish those years on my worst enemy. Please, Dad, don’t kill her. Please, Mum, don’t die.”

“He brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed”

The challenges Woodhouse experienced as a youngster left mental scars, and when his mother fled the family home with his siblings, fed up with rows and heartache, for years Woodhouse despised her.

As he got older, though, he realised the challenges she had faced – and also that his father, whilst being his hero, was by no means a saint.

The bitter youngster descended deeper into chaos, taking solace in drinking and fighting with anyone who got in his way. Although he says he was not by nature confrontational as a youngster, he changed his ways after a piece of advice from his father.

“Listen, do you want to be running for the rest of your life?,” said Woodhouse Snr. “It’s embarrassing, son. Get out there and fight. From now on, if anyone ever calls you nigger, smack em as hard as you can, straight in the face.”

Problem after problem

Throughout his footballing career, Woodhouse’s combative personality was a problem, and the book lists his series of run-ins at every club he played for.

Off the pitch, he brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed.

“Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, aged 33 and in his 28th fight, Woodhouse became the British light-welterweight champion”

Inevitably, his Premier League career came to an end when he was sacked by Birmingham after a 44-day bender. Not that he has much memory of his actual dismissal, however.

“I thought [manager] Steve Bruce was a wanker. I thought [club director] Karren Brady was a bitch,” he writes. “When I was smashing up Indian restaurants and playing for the first team, they pretended it didn’t happen.

“But now I was in a mess, they wanted me off the wage bill. I couldn’t tell you what was said or even the official reason I got sacked. I haven’t got a clue, because I wasn’t really there.”

Dreams can come true

With Woodhouse filled with rage, Barry Fry – manager of his next professional club, Peterborough United – suggested he take up boxing as an outlet for his anger.

This proved to be the turning point, as Woodhouse began his journey from the laughing stock who was pummelled by kids in sparring into a seriously talented and dedicated fighter, motivated by those early humiliations.

In September 2006, Woodhouse made his debut as a professional boxer. Just a few months later, in May 2007, his already ill father suffered a stroke, and shortly before he died, Woodhouse made a promise to his ‘superhero’.

“Dad, I promise that I’ll win the British title. I promise… I promise.”

And this he duly did. Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, on February 22 2014, aged 33 in his 28th fight, Woodhouse beat Darren Hamilton to become the British light-welterweight champion.

‘Box to Box’ is compelling, honest and very amusing, telling an amazing story of a remarkable sporting life.

It is a bruising ride through adversity and a lesson in shattered dreams, wasted opportunities, and the power of not giving up.

Despite the demons he faced, Woodhouse has conquered all.

“The demons are still inside but now I’m their master, rather than the other way round,” he writes. “I’ve succeeded in two sports and also overcome all the bad shit that happened when I was a kid.”

Box to Box is published by Simon & Schuster (Amazon £12.91). 

How do you get your football fix?

With Sky’s live football audience figures down by a reported 19% so far this season, it seems our viewing habits may be undergoing a radical transformation.

Are we swapping watching whole matches – with all the over-hyped build-up, endless punditry and overdone post-mortems – for highlight shows, video clips on YouTube on other platforms, following the sport on social media or finding free (and illegal) streams to get our fix of the beautiful game?

According to some of the football fans, who spoke to Elephant Sport on the subject, the grip of ‘appointment to view’ must-see match coverage is being loosened as technology converges and we get our football ‘on the go’.

Joseph Mensah, 21, say if football is live on TV he will watch it, but adds that he will never go out of his way to view a match because there is always a highlights show on later.

“At home, I have Virgin TV which gives me both Sky Sports and BT Sports, which are the main broadcasters of Premier League football in the UK, so whenever football is on TV I will always watch it.

“I never bother streaming it from illegal websites because the quality is poor or the commentary will be in another language, so I would rather wait and watch the highlights where I can watch all of the weekend’s games at one time.”

Illegal streaming

Finding an overseas stream to view the action is becoming more widespread, despite Sky and BT’s best efforts to stamp out this illegal practice.

With the ban on televising 3pm Saturday kick-offs in the UK still in place to protect attendances at games across the country, the temptation to find a way of catching those matches as they are screened abroad is too tempting for some.

“In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof”

One viewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said  he has been using overseas streams to watch football for around eight years.

“Why would I pay for subscription TV when streaming is so easy? I don’t mind the lower quality on the screen because it’s free.

“Also with streaming, it allows me to pick and choose which games I watch, I don’t have to rely on the company’s TV schedule, which means 3pm on Saturday afternoons I’m watching the match for free, instead of paying to watch live commentary in a TV studio.”

Another factor in the rise in online streaming is the price of the sports packages on subscription TV.

The cheapest option on Sky is £42 a month, which is just over £500 a year. To add BT Sport to you Sky Package it’s an extra £21.99, so for both Sky and BT Sport it’s a £63.99 a month.

And don’t forget to add the cost of your annual TV licence (£145.50) to the total…

Social media

In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof.

Twitter alone has with 313 million active users (as of June 2016), and there is a community of football clubs accounts, news outlets and broadcasting companies that provide users with a live feed of matches.

Younger audiences are glued to their phones and social media accounts so live commentary of football matches on Twitter are quick and easy wBT Sport Twitter screenshotays to follow games. Twitter also allows users to have their say so people are able to reply and retweet.

Organisations such as BT Sport release clips of key moments such as goals, missed chances and sending offs in as little as two minutes after it was broadcast on live subscription TV (right).

Student Randy Adu, only consumes football through live Twitter feeds and highlight clips on Twitter accounts.

“I think Twitter is the best way to follow football, you can choose what games to follow. I also like that I can find clips of the key moments, which means I can skip all the boring bits.”

News outlets have also taken to social media to encourage fans to follow football using their “on the go” services.

The Times have put together packs which include different ways to view exclusive, video highlights, live feeds and expert analysis with chief football Writer Henry Winter as the poster boy of the campaign.

The ‘Classic Pack’ offers in print, on your smartphone and online 24/7 access to the latest news, with a complimentary Nespresso machine and many more offers available through Times + for only £7 a week.

Stats and timelines

Accounts such as Opta and Squawka always provide interesting match stats during and after games, and many people follow them to find out exactly what happened in the game rather than watching it.

Opta Joe Twitter FeedRandy added: “Opta Joe is fantastic. After reading their timeline post-match you feel like you’ve watched the actual game.

“You can also tweet them directly asking for specific stats and if you are lucky they get back to you with an answer.”

The way we consume football is undoubtedly changing, and there are many factors involved in this.

However, one thing that has not changed is the love for the game and that is emphasised by the lengths that people go to follow the latest action.

The NFL now gives access to live game coverage through Twitter – how long will it be before football supplies a similar service to its fans?

Academies suffer as football grows richer

The Premier League is watched all over the world, admired by adoring supporters and a target for ambitious foreign players.

With its global appeal and fan base, the scouting networks of Premier League clubs are now engaged in worldwide search to sign the best footballers for their clubs.

But are their academies suffering as a result? The list of players regularly turning out for top-flight teams who are academy graduates is a very short one.

As the London and South regional officer for League Football Education, Gavin Willacy knows only too well the impact that this global pull is having on academies.

His organisation is a partnership between the Football League and the Professional Footballers Association which oversees educational programmes for young players at clubs up and down the country.

So Willacy has seen how hard increasingly hard it has become for academy hopefuls to make the transition to first-team squads.

Established

“We’re all very critical of academies bearing in mind that 20 years ago that youngsters trying to get into Premier League teams were up against some of the best players from a few European countries.

“Now to get in to a Premier League team, you’ve got to be among the best players in the world.

“At some clubs, there’s an ethos that ‘we’ need to bring young players through. At others, that is not there at all”

“We’re spending more money than nearly every other league in the world so the challenge is absolutely massive, far harder than it ever used to be for a player to become an established Premier League player.”

Globalisation doesn’t just stop with the talented pools of players. Managers from all over the world are courted to become the next ‘top boss’ in English football’s elite level.

But what effect does that have on a club’s vision for its academy?

Club culture

Willacy said: “What’s the incentive for a manager to play a young local player, unless he’s encouraged by the whole club? At some, there’s an ethos that ‘we’ need to bring young players through. At others, that is not there at all.

“It’s not about the size of the club either. Take Chelsea, going back a hell of a long way, there is no history of bringing young players through, it’s not in the culture of the club.

“At Manchester United, it’s a massive part of what they are and what they do. They need to have Mancunians in the team. When Danny Welbeck was sold, everyone slaughtered [team boss Louis] Van Gaal because there was no Mancs left.

“Then suddenly he started picking a load of young players. I think he knew it would buy him some time in getting some sympathy, for want of a better word, from the fans if he put young locals in there.”

Nightmare

So high are the stakes, and so great the rewards for Premier League membership these days that many managers view it as almost impossible to risk integrating young players into the first-team fold. The danger is promoting youth from within might means curtains for their Premier league careers.

From next season, a new £5bn TV deal for UK rights alone kicks in, meaning the incentive for fighting tooth and nail to stay in the top flight has never been greater.

“Unfortunately, aspiring young academy players at elite-level clubs may have to look lower down the leagues to get a game”

Will that money filter its way down to academy level and be invested in nurturing young talent, or is the value of maintaining Premier League status too great for clubs to think long term?

As Willacy says: “If you have only seen someone at U-21s and they have been very impressive, but you’ve also got somebody that has played 400 league games in the squad, who do you trust the most when your jobs on the line and relegation is a possibility?

“If there was no relegation you have to assume young players would get more opportunities, but I don’t think that would solve anything.”

Born in 1992, the Premier League is again on the cusp of further establishing itself as the leading marketing and money-making machine in football’s global market.

Unfortunately, aspiring young academy players at elite-level clubs may have to look lower down the leagues to get a game.

Photo by Steven Depolo via Flickr Creative Commons

Fifa and chill with Tommie Hoban

YouTube Preview Image

At the age of 22, it’s fair to say Tommie Hoban has been through his fair share of ups and downs.

The Watford academy graduate played a huge part in helping the Hornets gain promotion to the Premier League last term under Slavisa Jokanovic, although his season in the top flight has been blighted by injury.

Defender Hoban talks about Watford’s season, striking duo Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, playing against his boyhood club, top memories in his career so far, as well as being asked about the best manager he’s played under.

Interview filmed and conducted by George Thomas and Oliver Warburton; edited by George Thomas.

Premier League needs to go with the flow on streaming

Anyone serious about watching American sports in Europe these days, will have become used to streaming games via subscriptions packages, which allow fans of both big and small teams to access every game live and on-demand for a yearly fee.

It’s only going getting bigger and increasingly fitting to the busy life of a modern-day sports fan.

When I first discovered the joys of American sports, I started watching the NHL (National Hockey League) back in 2004, all I could see was one game a week on Channel 4 through the night on a Wednesday. As a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes – a relatively small franchise –  that meant I could only see one, maybe two games a year.

Nowadays, and only a few years after I fell in love with the sport, for roughly the price of a couple of DVDs a month during the season, I can see all the games, and every post-season game involving not only the Hurricanes, but every team live and on-demand via streaming.

Not only that, but it’s available not just on my laptop, but on almost every device I own that can connect to the internet.

One sport, multiple devices

I now watch NHL plus NFL, MLB, College Sports and the NBA in my room, on the train, in the car, on my TV via a streaming box and while I’m abroad; all for one price, using one service for each sport.

“It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!”

Watching the Hurricanes has never been easier; and it’s the same with all the major professional American sports and who year-on-year expand on their already versatile streaming services.

On the flipside, watching my BPL team Tottenham Hotspur seems way too difficult for a sports fan in 2015.

Unable to see every game in full, I, and most other fans who choose to watch their teams legally find ourselves having to constantly juggle between BT Sport, Sky Sports and the BBC’s Match of the Day to see our teams each week during the season.

It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!

It baffles me that those of us who don’t have the time or money to see live games often should have to go through so much to see our team each week.

UK Premier League fans are forced to watch 3pm games from the stands
The only way to see every Spurs home game is to be at White Hart Lane

A successful trial

“It was amazing,” said Daniel Greear, a Washington Redskins fan living in Virginia after the Bills-Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium last October.

The NFL made the game available for free via Yahoo! to a global audience, broadcasting it over the internet for the first time.

It enticed millions of fans who would normally watch the NFL on TV to try a new way of watching the sport without having to pay.

“Usually I watch games on TV, but being able to access a high-quality broadcast on my phone and tablet made the experience of watching a game that didn’t matter as much to me extremely convenient.

“Does it make me want to pay for an NFL Gamepass subscription to see the ‘Skins as well as all the other games I don’t usually watch on a Sunday? Absolutely, if I can watch them anywhere, it’ll make my lunch break at work fun during the season.”

The viewing figures were staggering. Across the world, a game between two teams that didn’t make the playoff, had 15.6 million viewers online. 33% of them, came from fans outside of the USA. (According to Yahoo! Sports’ public data)

“The current Premier League TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive”

This, for the league’s first attempt at mass-streaming was extremely encouraging and has sparked a bidding war to secure streaming rights between Apple, Verizon, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T. The price for the Thursday Night Games – which are touted to be the first big prospects for free-streaming going into next season – are therefore likely to be high.

“The streaming quality is fantastic,” said Marcelo Fujimoto, a Cleveland Browns fan who watched the Bills game in São Paulo, Brazil on Twitter. “It’s just like watching a game on TV.”

Easier said than done?

In the UK, the current BPL TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive. For one, Sky and BT are paying between £7m and £10m for the rights to each live game, and unless they got a piece of the pie for a very small fee, wouldn’t be interested in someone cannibalising their viewing figures.

“Outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind”

The FA also want to encourage people to attend the games not shown during primetime. This is a totally different issue though. No 3pm games on a Saturday are televised domstically due to a fear that attendance figures will be hit. Instead, in an average week, just six BPL games are shown on TV, out of a possible 20.

The NFL created a similar system known as the ‘Blackout Rule’ during the mid-00s, meaning each team wouldn’t be broadcast in its own market if the the game didn’t sell out (the rest of the country still saw it however).

However, a couple of years ago, the NFL eliminated the rule and found that, according to Colin Cowherd’s investigation on Fox Sports Radio: “Attendance only dropped a couple of percent. It was a similar sort of fluctuation that happens each year anyway.”

Flexible

Across the world, outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind.

” I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…”

“I can watch every Premier League game, on every device, and I get all sorts of pre- and post-game coverage,” explains Jake Swann from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It works perfectly, as it’s on in the morning before other major sports start. I’ve adopted a team off the back of it. American coverage is both flexible and entertaining.”

Some 3,000 miles away from Lambeau Field, I can see every moment of the Green Bay Packers season. Four miles from White Hart Lane, I can see one Spurs game every two weeks if I’m lucky.

It’s a shame. I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…

David Goldblatt talks ‘The Game Of Our Lives’

Released at the tail end of 2014, polarising football historian David Goldblatt’s book The Game Of Our Lives, The Meaning And Making Of English Football was recognised as an all-time classic when it won the 2015 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

But just what was it about the process of researching writing which elevated it to such a prestigious level and made it stand out?

The Game Of Our Live was by no means a side project for Goldblatt, it’s a stunning, detailed and often controversial history of English football.

Unsurprisingly then, writing the book was no easy task, as delving into such a polarising topic as the rise of the Premier League in meant unearthing as many negatives as positives, attempting to understand how the juggernaut was created.

‘Am I on my game here?’

“When I was writing it, never did I think it would be up for an award,” says Goldblatt. “It was one of those books that while I was writing I really didn’t know if anyone would really understand what I was trying to write, or get enough out of it.

“I mean, the experience wasn’t the fear of the blank page, because I never get the blank page. I was just asking myself constantly ‘am I on my game here?’ But in the end I’d said what I wanted to say, and if the world likes it then great, but if they didn’t then at least I wrote from the heart and for myself; that’s what’s important.”

Goldblatt’s previous books The Ball is Round and Futebol Nation were very different books, with a different voice; one focusing on Brazilian culture and football, and one providing an overview of the world game.

“The experience wasn’t the fear of the blank page, because I never get the blank page.”

But the reason Goldblatt and critics alike thought The Game Of Our Lives stood out was that it was told from the heart, from the place which he was most consumed.

“I had to write it in a very different voice,” explains Goldblatt. “The Ball Is Round was very Olympian, from the mountain top looking down, whereas this book has a lot of personal experiences in it. And first person that made it a different kind of writing enterprise with a different kind of research.

“I was able to draw upon personal experience, like my time as a fan of Bristol Rovers.”

Aladdin’s cave

Despite writing about the part of football more dear to his heart however, it didn’t make it easier when it came to sitting down and consuming himself in the real story of the Premier League.51mKHrAGG0L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

“I think in the eight years between The Ball Is Round and this one, so much more content has become available for me to search through. The online archive has gotten out of control. When I was writing The Ball Is Round in 2004 I was scratching around trying to find stuff about Uruguay for instance, and now you cannot move for material, particularly visual material,” he chuckles.

“I watched for example, for a piece in the book about mascots and how they fight each other or players, and there’s so much of that sort of thing on youtube, thank god someone is uploading the fights between mascots. I give praise and thanks!

“The online archive has gotten out of control.”

“This is a book that has got a lot of visual evidence, and we watch football so I think again English is my first language so I was able to in a way that I couldn’t with The Ball Is Round, engage with the mad sad world of the football blog or chat rooms. I was going into old chatrooms to look for, you know, what do Liverpool fans really feel about the team. It’s incredible.

“In regards to method though, I think of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now: ‘Method? I see no method at all? I wonder whether there is one, but definitely in terms of intimacy and types of material, it’s my home, there’s a lot of anger and political passion. It’s politicised reading, but that’s not right at the front.”

A more informed reader

There was also not only so much to learn, but an overlying sense of pressure because as he put it: “The readers of this book were always going to be far more knowledgeable and passionate when reading about their national leagues.”

It touched on so many subjects up and down the country, that inevitably it would spark a debate.

“Are we going to fight for a new football?… It’s a case of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will”

“I think there is pressure. I don’t think it was overwhelming, though. In a book like this where you’re representing or describing something as complex as amazing as a football club’s culture, you choose your words very carefully, you have time to craft it. It’s a gauntlet though, as I want people to respond, I want fans, people in power, the people I disagree with to come at me.

“It’s meant to be provocative, I’m waiting for a response from Greg Dyke and the rest of the FA board. Though I don’t expect one…

“You do have to be confident to write it. It was really good as an author to get into a groove and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“In football culture, there’s a lot of banter, a lot of people disagreeing, but not many people lay it all on the line and say ‘This is what I think, and this is why’. This book is two fingers up at football, but they don’t care, they’re raking in billions in TV rights, they don’t need to talk to me.”

It can’t be that bad, can it?

Even to someone like Goldblatt, who has been researching and writing about football for decades, there were still some surprises in what was unearthed – no matter how trivial.

“It’s meant to be provocative, I’m waiting for a response from Greg Dyke and the rest of the FA board.”

“I was surprised by just how bad the FA is. Obviously everyone knows it’s hopeless and has an impossible job, but nobody has written a history of the Football Association, not a proper one. The official one is one we all laugh at. I think that’s amazing.

“It was really surprising just how incompetent they are, and that may seem strange coming from me.

“On the other hand, I was pleased by the extent by which despite every effort between Sky and BT complex to drain every element of spontaneity of the staging of the spectacular, there are innumerable forms of resistance by crowds in and outside stadiums.

“That’s what’s great about football, most of the time everything is about London and the South East, but football is Grimsby, Halifax, Sunderland, they get their moment in the sun. I got to tell interesting stories about those places.

“The depth of it surprised me.”

The football we deserve?

In the end, Goldblatt is still as outspoken about the top-end of English football now, as he was before. What The Game Of Our Lives has done, is given him a platform to express his true feelings in depth, rather than rehabilitate his views on the Premier League.

The beauty of the book, is that his opinion hasn’t changed on the subject only grown stronger. After further investigation, the politics behind the Premier League it is what David Golblatt thought it was; his assumptions have been right all along.

“We get the football partly that we deserve, and partly what we want. Are we going to fight for a new football, for a different kind of football, make it a better culture?” he pondered.

“The possibility is there but the likelihood is that we won’t. It’s a case of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.”