Tag Archives: Sky Sports

Battle of the boxing broadcasters

Broadcasters have long had an important influence on boxing, but in the past year it has intensified to another level.

For most of its history, the sport has been all about battles in the ring, but we are entering an era in which the biggest fights are those between media companies.

The USA and UK are seen as boxing’s biggest markets, and both countries now have three different networks competing against each other.

For British fight fans, it is common practice to turn to Sky Sports to provide the best and biggest contests in the sport. However, Sky’s arch-rival BT Sport is also becoming a major player, especially after the success of its pay-per-view (PPV) coverage of Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury.

If that wasn’t enough, ITV have decided to join the battle of the broadcasters by signing a deal with promotional company Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) last December.

PBC have had great success in America, especially through their dealings with Floyd Mayweather; now the company is venturing into the UK market and spicing up the party.

Shockwaves

The situation has long been similar in the States where boxing fans are accustomed to the ongoing stalemate between boxing broadcasters. However, as in the UK, things have escalated.

For a while, the competition in the US market has been between Al Haymon (PBC), Bob Arum (Top Rank) and Oscar De la Hoya (Golden Boy Promotions), all on separate TV networks.

In addition to its recent contract with ITV, PBC also have ongoing deals with Showtime and FOX, whilst Top Rank’s dealings are solely with ESPN.

However the introduction of DAZN  last year may change boxing for good, and has already sent shockwaves throughout boxing in America.

Branded as the Netflix of sport, DAZN is a streaming service that shows various sport events for monthly subscription fee – potentially signalling the end of PPV.

DAZN have already teamed up with Golden Boy and UK-based Matchroom to create a great triple-threat fight between ESPN, Fox and DAZN.

Why is this so important?

Promotional deals

Boxing works differently to, say, football, where organisations such as the Premier League and Uefa sign broadcast deals for their ‘product’ to be shown in various markets.

Promoters have always been the key figures in boxing, and their stables of fighters become aligned with whichever media companies they do deals with.

More recently, individual boxers have been signing with broadcasters directly. Mayweather fought under the Showtime banner; last year, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez signed a £278m deal with DAZN; Tyson Fury has just announced an £80m tie-up with ESPN.

How does this affect viewers?

When fighters sign long-term promotional deals with media companies, all of their fights for the duration of that contract will have to be shown on that platform.

One of the most common criticisms of boxing nowadays is that the best do not fight the best – well, it’s quite difficult when two fighters are contracted to two separate broadcasters.

Now we have the three best heavyweights on three separate television stations. With Fury signed to ESPN, Wilder with Showtime and Anthony Joshua to the DAZN.

Resurgence

This has been an ongoing problem in boxing over the past decade and has put several mega-fights on hold, including Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.

After being talked about for several years, it finally went ahead in 2015, when former multi-weight champion Pacquiao – at the age of 36 – was deemed by many to be past his best.

Boxing has seen a resurgence in its fortunes in recent years, and is now generating a much larger following worldwide.

The key to this upsurge isn’t easy to pinpoint, but one thing is clear – large sums of money are being invested in the sport with a view to making even larger sums.

So, what will happen going forward?

Record-breaking

The most alarming issue, as mentioned earlier, is the battle of the broadcasters could make it much harder to ever see certain fights happen. A few that spring to mind include:

Big fights that may not happen…

  • Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua
  • Anthony Joshua vs Deontay Wilder
  • Errol Spence vs Terrance Crawford
  • Canelo vs Genady Golokvin III
  • Vasyl Lomachenko vs Gervonta Davies

One thing that has been evident since these networks have been going head to head is fighters have been getting extremely big paydays thanks to broadcast budgets increasing significantly.

DAZN broke into the US market last year with a record-breaking budget of $1bn over the next eight years. Fox and PBC have a budget of $120m a year for the next four years.

With these unprecedented amounts comes huge financial incentives for fighters, as broadcasters will offer ridiculous amounts to have the biggest draws on their platforms.

We have already seen the consequence of this already. Last year boxing saw the ‘richest contract in sports history’ when Canelo Alvarez signed his 11-fight deal with DAZN.

Since then we have seen many top-tier fighters in the majority of weight classes sign contracts for career high paydays.

Fortunately for fans, this means fighters are much more active. There is no longer a situation where boxers are fighting once a year.

However, that also means more expense for boxing fans who want to be able to see as many key bouts as possible across all the media platforms now involved in the sport.

This cold war between the broadcasters is already creating unsavoury situations such as White v Chisora being on Sky Sports PPV on the same night as BT Sport’s Warrington v Frampton PPV last December.

However due to the power of these companies, the resolution to this dilemma is further away than ever.

Seema Jaswal: from TV runner to Premier League presenter

Meet Seema Jaswal, a multi-talented British TV anchor and presenter. She is a representative for the Premier League post-match reviews, Fantasy Premier League shows and Premier League Fan Zone show on Sky Sports.

The sports industry has always been seen as a ‘man’s world’ and many women have had discouraging experiences.

But Seema has become one of the first Asian women presenters to represent the Premier League and reaches 750 million viewers globally. Her experience has been nothing but positive in every field.

Jaswal, who is extremely popular on social media, says her favourite hashtag is #lovemyjob, “because I genuinely do!”

No negativity

Her success in the industry is a huge inspiration to a lot of females. She truly believes that everyone should do what they love, despite any blocks that may come your way.

“I am fortunate to have been in the industry at a time when things have changed so much for women in sport. especially in the UK,” she says.

“I have never faced any negativity about being female and have always worked with professionals that appreciate the work I do based on merit.

Jaswal wanted to get a job in research or marketing after graduating from university. However, as she started applying for jobs she soon realised that her career needed to be both fulfilling and something she enjoyed.

She has always had a passion for tennis, and at one point she was determined to become a tennis coach. But she decided to keep that as a hobby and soon after she applied for a job at Sky Sports and started off her career as a runner.

Seema Jaswal

“Being a runner is an interesting job as the role varies from day to day. Occasionally you’re thrown into the deep end and asked to help out with shows, which opened my eyes to the possibility of presenting,” says Jaswal.

Her family have a Ugandan Asian background. Even today, girls with an Asian background can struggle to follow a path into the sports industry.

They are forced into careers which are more socially acceptable in their traditional society.

It is uncommon for a young Asian girl to be supported by her entire family, as Seema was, in pursuing a career in sports presenting.

Families look at the sports industry as very male dominated and panic when their daughters choose that path.

It is comforting for young girls to look up to role models like Seema Jaswal and aspire to be as successful.

Moving to India

After years of being a runner, Jaswal finally felt confident and ready to embrace any new opportunities that came her way.

She started off presenting CBBC’s Sports Round, a show that involved trying out lots of different sports on a weekly basis.

Jaswal was also the presenter on The Wright Stuff before relocating to India for 18 months to become the face of Indian football for Star Sports.

Soon after she moved to India she was offered an opportunity to work for the Premier League, which is when she decided to move back to London.

Seema Jaswal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup

The live events presenter was thrilled with an opportunity to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

It was her most recent and successful venture and it filled her with excitement, turning out to be one of her biggest achievements. It was great days for England as they went on to win the trophy.

“I really enjoyed seeing the tournament through from start to finish and it was an honour to host India’s first ever FIFA event with the likes of David Moyes, Stuart Pearce and Luis Garcia to name a few,” says Jaswal.

Role model

Many people seem to think women are treated worse than men and have no chance of growing within the sports industry. Seema, who has always been appreciated for her work based on merit is a prime example that the industry is very open towards everyone. The effort you put in is always rewarded in any field, irrespective of gender.

A lot of different countries treat women differently in the sporting world. However the UK has always been one of the more accepting and encouraging countries for women to pursue a career.

Jaswal covers two very different football leagues in The Premier League and the Indian Super League. The Premier league is an established league that is 26 years old with 20 teams competing in it and the ISL is a newly established league in its early stages of development.

The Premier League showcases some of the world’s greatest talents and the most exciting aspect in that any team can beat another on their day regardless of where they sit in the league table.

Jaswal has come very far in the industry. She has worked in many fields and she is destined for a big future within the industry. Being a female with an Asian background she is a huge role model to a lot of young girls.

Daily Mirror front page

How should Carragher be punished after a very public spat?

After Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at the weekend, a bitter taste was left in the mouth of Anfield legend Jamie Carragher after he was videoed spitting in the direction of a 14-year-old girl.

After being subjected to ‘banter’ from fellow motorists on his drive back to Merseyside, something snapped inside the Sky Sports pundit.

Footage uploaded to social media showed Carragher’s car pulling up alongside one being driven by the girl’s father and, after a brief verbal exchange, the former England defender is seen spitting at them before speeding away.

What he describes as a “moment of madness” and the “worst mistake” of his 25-year career, has not gone down well with public or his employers, who have suspended him from his punditry role.

A Sky spokesperson tweeted: “Jamie Carragher has been suspended from his duties… after he was filmed spitting at a family in their car following Liverpool’s defeat against Manchester United on Saturday.”

As vile as his act may have been, the debate to whether he should keep his job at Sky Sports rumbles on. TV sports presenters and pundits have been fired for a lot less.

Apologies

When footage of the sexist antics of Sky Sports duo Richard Keys and Andy Gray was leaked in 2011, both were fired. But while sexism is not accepted in this day and age, their behaviour didn’t break the law, unlike Carragher’s.

What has followed since the spitting episode is a lot of apologies and a few tears shed, but is this enough?

Should the Liverpudlian be fired for his behaviour because not only is he a sporting legend, but a role model for many young people, and this wouldn’t be tolerated if he wasn’t famous.

But should Carragher no longer be able to do what he loves for a living simply because he reacted badly after being provoked?

Gary Neville, Carragher’s punditry partner and once-bitter rival tweeted: “I have just watched @Carra32 say sorry. No excuses he’s made a big mistake.

“He’s massively passionate about football and he’s overstepped the mark and shouldn’t have reacted. I’ve been on TV for 3 years with him and imo this isolated incident shouldn’t stop us working together.”

Many believe Neville is trying to help his now good friend, rather than seeing the situation for what it really is.

Others argue that if that it was an ‘ordinary’ man involved, he would be charged with common assault, which could lead to a conviction and result in him losing his job.

So why isn’t Carragher losing his job and being treated like everyone else would be over something that is documented and undeniable?

Mistakes

Before this incident, Carragher had become extremely popular with the football public through his great punditry skills and his back-and-forth banter with Neville, so should we look at this one incident or his career as a whole?

Speaking to Sky, Carragher said: “Some people may like me, some people may not like me even before this incident, but hopefully going forward I can show them that I don’t feel this is the real representation of me.

“As I said, hopefully Sky or the general public will look at the 25 years – and I’ve made mistakes in those 25 years – but this, the mistake I’ve made is a huge one.”

Following intensive media attention, the father of the teenager – who was also breaking the law by filming on his phone while driving – went on to release his own statement, saying: “We don’t want him to lose his job. It’s not about that.

“We wanted an apology and explanation. He seems contrite. Everyone makes mistakes, we are all human. He did seem extremely sorry.”

So is this something that simply went too far and exposed both men’s law-breaking behaviour, or has it not gone far enough and do they need to be prosecuted for something that would not be tolerated in any other situation?

Isaac Chamberlain – from Brixton to the big time?

“Growing up in Brixton was hard. You had to be tough or you would get walked over.”

When boxer Isaac Chamberlain talks about his upbringing, there is menace in his words. After all, Chamberlain is a born fighter.

The 22-year-old cruiserweight is emerging as one of Britain’s brightest young talents in the ring, with his unpredictability, burning desire to succeed and raw emotion making him a growing favourite amongst fans.

But these characteristics were developed on the troubled streets of south London.

“I never had any big brothers, so I had to fight nearly every day so that people would leave me alone,” he recalls. “From a young age, I grew up fighting in school and on the streets. Boxing gave me a way out of all that.”

Not calling it quits 

His most recent fight, at the end of September at Bethnal Green’s York Hall, provides a good snapshot of the man known to his fans as ‘Chambo’.

Chamberlain celebrates beating Camacho

His sixth professional bout was against Wadi Camacho, a 31-year-old from Canning Town, who in the pre-fight trash talk had promised to bury his opponent.

Chamberlain was already on the backfoot even before his right shoulder went, and from that point he struggled and could barely raise his arm as Camacho took advantage.

But somehow he overcame the injury and fought back to win his biggest title so far, the Southern Area Championship. He hopes this is just the start of things to come.

“The victory felt good, but I want more than this,” admits Chamberlain.

“I knew I could do it because I’d thought of it a million times in my head. It made me hungry for more success and glory.”

Sparring with Wilder 

In his short career so far, the cruiserweight has trained and sparred with some of the biggest names around.

But Chamberlain says it was a month in Alabama with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay ‘The Bronze Bomber’ Wilder ahead of his 2015 pro debut that was most instructive.

Chamberlain training with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in 2015

“I learnt how a champion prepares and trains,” he says.

“The team he has around him is incredible. To have a champion and win fights is a team effort as they are all working hard to help the contender win the title. It was like a tight-knit family.”

‘Straight Outta Brixton’ 

Chamberlain, also nicknamed ‘The King’, starred in Sky Sports’ documentary ‘Straight Outta Brixton’ which focused on his troubled childhood and how boxing transformed his life.

He said he was keen to show how his upbringing had changed his attitude.

“Going back to my roots showed how far I have come,” he adds.

“I’ve always been the type to look forward, never back. My upbringing and journey showed the perseverance I had when I was growing up and how tough I must have been.”

Support 

Under the guidance of his uncle and trainer Ted Bambi, Chamberlain has flourished.

Training alongside heavyweights such as Dillian Whyte at Miguel’s Gym in Brixton, he has received expert advice to keep him on the right track. Despite his tough training regime, Chamberlain says Bambi has been crucial to his development.

“I learnt the meaning of hard work with Ted,” he says.

Chamberlain with his uncle and trainer Ted Bambi

“He pushes me to the limit nearly every training session but also teaches me a lot about the business and life itself.

He’s so hard on me because he doesn’t want me to make the same mistakes he did.”

Chamberlain also says that being around a character like Whyte every day means there is never a dull moment.

“Dillian is a crazy guy but also fun to be around. We used to take the bus home from training together and he would always say he was going to fight Anthony Joshua again after their amateur bout early on in their careers. And he did.”

‘No easy fights’

Signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable, so far Chamberlain has a record of six wins and no defeats.

He says his manager has been an important figure in his professional development.

“Eddie has influenced my career a lot,” he says. “My career’s been different from other boxers because I’ve never had any easy fights and my record shows that.

“When I’m a champion, I’ll know what it’s like to go deep in a fight and take someone’s heart in the ring. I’ve been through the hard fights before, so I know what it takes to dig in.”

Ambitions 

An admirer of former three-weight world champion James Toney, Chamberlain has set his sights high, and the likeable character is not only hoping to reach the top in his profession but also inspire youngsters to follow in his footsteps.

“I want to make my mark in boxing like the old school fighters such as James Toney. I hope to show my the sheer guts and grit to match my skills”

“My advice to anyone facing hardship in life is never give up, no matter how hard it gets,” he insists.

“There will be low times, but it will all pay off. I hope to continue to provide support and the right advice whenever I speak at my local youth club.

“I’d love to fight for the WBC world title at some point in my career. Hopefully, I can become a future Hall of Famer but that’s only once I have defeated some of the top names and unified the division and ensured that I am the best UK cruiserweight to have ever stepped in a ring.

“I want to make my mark in boxing like the old school fighters such as James Toney. I hope to show my the sheer guts and grit to match my skills.”

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?

BDO’s Silencer out to make a noise at Grand Slam

Jeff Smith insists he and his fellow British Darts Organisation players can “go deep” in this year’s Grand Slam of Darts.

The annual showdown in Wolverhampton (November 12-20) sees the best of the BDO take on the top talent from rival organisation the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).

jeff smith arrows
Jeff Smith on the oche

The winner of the tournament will take home £100,000, the runner up bags £50,000 and the losing semi-finalists will get £25,000 each. Overall the prize fund for the Grand Slam is £400,000, making it the fourth biggest tournament in the world of darts.

Smith stated that this year’s line-up of BDO players at the Grand Slam is “one of the best the organisation has ever brought to the competition” since it began in 2007.

The 40-year old Canadian, who’s been around the darts circuit for a number of years and threw his first dart at the age of just four, is currently flying high in the BDO.

Smith, nicknamed the Silencer, reached the semi-finals of the 2015 BDO World Championship and this year reached the final, losing out to Scott Waites.

The Silencer is now set to make his first appearance at the Grand Slam of Darts and will be joined by seven other BDO players, all of whom are currently in the top 10 of the organisation’s rankings.

This means it is the strongest BDO line up in the history of the competition. Alongside Smith will be:

  • Scott Waites; former Grand Slam winner and current BDO world champion
  • Glen Durrant; current BDO number one
  • Scott Mitchell; former BDO world champion
  • Martin Adams; three-time BDO world champion
  • Daryl Fitton; BDO Masters champion

All five men are returning to the Grand Slam stage, while making their debuts are Danny Noppert from the Netherlands and Jamie Hughes from Tipton, both in the top five of the BDO rankings.

“Don’t be surprised if a few of us BDO boys go deep into the knockout stage”

Causing the PDC a problem

As the dart season rolls into its crucial months of major tournaments, Smith is aiming to cause the PDC a headache or two.

“Obviously the talent level is off the charts in this tournament, but don’t be surprised if a few of us BDO boys go deep into the knockout stage”.

The likes of Phil Taylor, Gary Anderson and Michael van Gerwen from the PDC could be up against any of the eight BDO players – a mouthwatering prospect for any darts fan.

waites-gsod
BDO’s Scott Waites won the Grand Slam in 2009

The format begins in the Group Stage with a seeded draw from four pools.

Pool A; seeded players from the PDC, this could be Phil Taylor for example. Pool B PDC Automatic Qualifiers, Pool C PDC Qualifiers and Pool D; the boys from the BDO.

2009 was the last, and only time a player from the BDO won the Grand Slam; current BDO world champion Waites.

However, Smith is confident he will have a few of his rivals from the PDC concerned. “I’m just going to focus on my own game; I’d rather it be them having to worry about my game rather than the other way round

“My overall goal is to literally take one leg at a time, try and grind out a place in the knockout rounds and see what happens”.

The Big Stage

The Canadian admitted he “cannot wait” to be up on the stage at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall in November.

“There’s something about playing on a big stage I love”

“To be honest, I can’t wait. I’ve been playing a lot of tournaments recently; my form is in good shape. But there’s just something about playing on a big stage I love”.

Smith has become somewhat of a crowd favourite in the BDO of late, with his distinctive specs and cool attitude as he makes his way to the oche, to the sound of “New Orleans Is Sinking” by Canadian rock band Tragically Hip.

There’s no doubt The Silencer will receive a warm welcome in Wolverhampton from the darts fanatics. “I’ve been very fortunate to have crowd support,” said Smith. “It gives you a sense that you belong on the stage, it definitely helps motivate me”.

Canadian darts

Typically, darts is a sport dominated by Europeans, particularly British and Dutch talent. There are only a handful of players outside of Europe who’ve actually made it to the big time, Smith being one of them.

smith n part
Smith and Part teamed up at the 2013 World Cup of Darts

John Part, also of Canada and labelled Smith’s “hero”, is the most successful darts player to date outside of Europe.

‘Darth Maple’ as he is known, has won both BDO and PDC World Championships in a glittering career spanning over 35 years.

Smith did hold a place on the PDC tour at one point, but unfortunately had to give it up.

“The PDC was awesome to play, but unfortunately being based out of Canada with a wife and kids, it makes it impossible to challenge the Order of Merit [PDC world ranking system] properly”.

“The fact that BDO events are available to play throughout North America, makes sense for me to focus on the BDO.

“Canada has several good players, past and present, but for the most part they struggle to cope with the level of the UK play.

“Practice, practice, practice. Get out and support the game by playing”

“Canadian players need to keep on qualifying, exposing our players to the pressure is key” said Smith.

The Silencer added that practice is the key for those up and coming. “Practice, practice, practice. Get out and support the game by playing. Grass roots to the top pros, there is a place for everyone in darts.”

Live coverage of every dart thrown at the Grand Slam will be shown on Sky Sports.

The 24 PDC representatives will include major tournament finalists from the past 12 months and eight qualifiers. The full PDC line-up is soon to be confirmed.

 

Review – Out of Contract

“You’re a product. If you are doing well, people would want to buy you.”

Sky Sports documentary Out of Contract followed five professional footballers from different levels of the game and in different stages of their careers.

According to the Professional Footballers Association, 75% of pro players who find themselves out of contract at U-21 level fall out of full-time football for good.

Out of Contract revealed the struggles that players released by their clubs go through as they search for a new one.

Michael Collins is a journeyman midfielder who you might not have come across as he plied his trade with the likes of Huddersfield, Scunthorpe an Oxford.

The former Republic of Ireland U-21 international made a bold choice when he left Oxford by mutual consent and went to play for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Premier League in order to provide for his family.

Collins, 30, won his first ever career title with Bengaluru. However since then, he has struggled to find a new club.

Contrast

Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood said: “You can earn more here [in India] than in League Two.”

As the Indian Premier League is gaining popularity, more players in the same situation as Collins, are making that move abroad in order to earn a living, find fresh challenges and remain in the sport that they love.

Of course, football is a game of huge contrasts, and whilst millionaire superstars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic line up their next lucrative move, lesser lights may have to consider entirely new careers.

Out of Contract highlighted the case of Bradley Pritchard who, after being released by Leyton Orient last season, decided to enter the legal profession and now has a new job as a paralegal.

The documentary brought home that these footballers are normal people just like us; often facing life-changing decisions as they battle to make the best of things for themselves and their families.

Factors

There can be a long list of factors that can jeopardise a potential transfer.

Peter Odemwingie (above, main photo) was due to move to Hull City before the 2016/17 season. The manager at the time, Steve Bruce, was a huge admirer of the player. Everything was all set until Bruce resigned and the move was off.

Odemwingie also turned down offers from across the world to focus on his family. Sometimes, it is not all about football and there are other commitments which are more important.

Success

Most of the footballers featured eventually found new clubs, but often at a lesser level and, consequently, on lower wages.

Emmanuel Sonupe, 20, was at Tottenham for 10 years before being released when his contact expired. The midfielder had trials at clubs such as QPR and Leicester before signing a one-year deal with League One Northampton Town.

Former Watford and Bolton forward Marvin Sordell found himself in the same situation as Sonupe, albeit at the age of 25.

Released by Colchester at the end of an initially promising but then injury-hit 2015-16 season, Sordell had various offers from around the world before deciding to join Coventry City on a one-year deal.

Hope

The message that came across in Out of Contract was if you continue to work hard and strive to stay in the professional game at some level, you will see success at the end of the road.

For those whose best efforts are still not enough, the PFA provides training courses and support for players who find themselves having to hang up their boots and consider other options.

Any footballer who find their career not going to plan should take some inspiration from Bradley Pritchard and his new vocation in the legal profession.

Out of Contract wove his and the stories of other players into an exceptional documentary. Whether you’re a football fan or not, their tales of overcoming adversity and battling the odds make it a must-watch programme.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

‘Doing TV is harder than boxing’

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Elephant Sport gets an exclusive interview with former cruiserweight world champion Johnny Nelson.

Nelson who now works for Sky Sports, talks about the highs and lows of his boxing career, the current ‘golden era’ for British boxing, David Haye’s return to an open heavyweight division, and the feud between Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte.

He also reveals how he considered a one-off comeback nine years after his retirement, and just how hard he found transition from being in the ring to working in the media.

Wales – Zombie Nation no more

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock this past year, you’ll know that Wales have qualified for their first major football tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

It’s a privilege some teams and their fans might take for granted, but the Welsh are rejoicing after such an impressive qualifying campaign under manager Chris Coleman.

Now, for the first time in the majority of their fans lives, transport and accommodation are being booked for this summer’s Euro 2016 party in France.

Among those travelling will be Sky Sports reporter and proud Wales supporter Bryn Law, whose book Zombie Nation Awakes documents the Dragons’ long-awaited qualification.

“It has sunk in, planning has started for everyone, including me, so it is now ‘real’,” he told me.

Concern

Had he ever began thinking that Wales would never make it to either the European Championship or World Cup Finals again?

“I’m not sure about ‘never’, I always had hope, as did many others. Without that, you’d just give up wouldn’t you?” he said.

“Pottering around France for a couple of weeks as a fan – something I’ve always wanted to do”

“I’ll be heading to France and the ferry is booked, as are the hotels. I’ll be going as a fan.

“Sky Sports have no rights to cover the tournament, and Sky Sports News get very limited access so, having been right in the thick of it for all the qualifiers, I’d rather do it completely differently.

“That means pottering around France for a couple of weeks as a fan – something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Of course, two of the home nations ended up in the same group, with Wales meeting England in Lens on June 16th – a clash that’s causing Law some concern.

Security

“The game I’m least looking forward to of the three is England,” he admitted. “Given Lens’ relative proximity, I think it could attract people from both sides who may be more interested in confrontation.

“Wales can lose to England and still qualify, and I’ll be very happy”

“After the events in Paris last November, France doesn’t need any added security concerns at the moment, and Wales doesn’t want any negative coverage from what should be a hugely positive experience.”

Law is adamant, however, that a loss against England wouldn’t take the wind out of Welsh sails.

“The full focus of the English-based media will fall on that one game, as if it were the be-all-and-end-all. It isn’t. Wales can lose to England and still qualify, and I’ll be very happy.”

After seeing his beloved national side fall short of reaching major tournaments time and again, Law is happy to see the book he was so desperate to write – about Wales actually making it – published.

For the fans

“I wrote it to be enjoyed by Wales fans, if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus,” he explained. “I’ve one guy having a bit of a pop on Twitter because we were all getting so excited about actually qualifying, that we felt the need to write books about it.

“I get that to an extent, it must seem strange if you’re used to seeing your country qualify for everything, but that’s actually the point of the book – for us it’s literally a dream come true.

“Plus, I’ve always enjoyed writing so having a book to my name is another dream I’ve had come true.”

For Wales as a nation, Euro 2016 qualification has been uplifting and uniting, a chance to finally be able to step up alongside some of the best national teams in the world.

Recognition

“I think the qualification could be very important,” said Law. “Wales suffers from stereotyping, it’s all coal mines, choirs and rugby. But, of course, it isn’t.

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Bale is a global superstar of the sport

“The football team’s success helps to debunk at least one of those three.

“Wales as a nation suffers from lack of recognition, so to be seen on what is a world stage could be very beneficial.

“Gareth Bale is one of the world’s most recognisable and popular sports stars, and he plays for Wales. If he tears it up in France, the country derives tremendous benefit.

“But all the Welsh players are potential stars, and they’re the sort of people a nation can properly be proud of.”

Groundwork

Law’s late friend Gary Speed, who died aged 42 during his tenure as Wales manager, laid the majority of the groundwork that Coleman built upon.

“I’m sure Gary would have done it [qualifying for a major tournament],” Law insisted.

“Gary’s death threw everything to the winds for a while and it’s taken a time to get everything set again”

“He was making rapid strides in improving the infrastructure, modernising the preparation and enthusing the players.

“The last campaign offered a great opportunity because of the expanded Euros format, but he might have done it sooner. I was in touch with him as the draw for the Brazil World Cup was taking place, he was out there for it, and we both agreed there was a chance of getting there from that group.

“Gary’s death threw everything to the winds for a while and it’s taken a time to get everything set again.”

Diehards

Here we are though, on the verge of Wales’ first major tournament in more than half a century, with excitement building and confidence is high for a reason.

“You don’t make much money from writing books – unless you’re JK Rowling”

Law predicted: “I think Wales have a good chance of going through to the knockout stage. I’m not getting carried away, but it’s actually easier to go through than go out this time.

“Of the 24 teams, 16 advance, and we don’t appear to have the worst group. If we could get through round one, I’d be delighted but I think being there is enough for most of the diehards.

“But we do have players who can win tight games with something out of the ordinary, and that might be a factor in knockout football.”

Enjoyable

With sights set on France now, we will be seeing a follow-up book on Wales at Euro 2016 itself?

“A few people have asked if I’m planning a book on the tournament in the summer and it is a possibility, from a fan’s perspective this time.

“If someone wants to publish it, I’ll probably do one. Beyond that, I am looking at writing more [books].

“You don’t make much money from writing them, by the way – unless you’re JK Rowling – but it is an enjoyable exercise and it’s nice to see your name on the cover.”

Zombie Nation Awakes by Bryn Law is available on Amazon.

Feature image courtesy of the Welsh Football Trust

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.”