Tag Archives: The FA

Wembley dream over as Not for Me Clive go out of FA People’s Cup

For the second consecutive year, my team, Not For Me Clive FC,  participated in the FA People’s Cup at the Shoreditch Power League.

The People’s Cup is a superbly organised event run on behalf of the FA. This national five-a-side football tournament is free to enter and welcomes male, female and disabled players from under-14s to veterans.

It’s a fun but competitive environment, with all games lasting ten minutes.

The tournament starts at hundreds of 5-a-side centres across the country, with the winners from each one gradually moving through the competition to regional qualifiers, and the eventual final being played at Wembley Stadium in April.

Clive and kicking

Last year’s People’s Cup performance saw our team lose every single game, after being placed in one of the most difficult groups in the history of the competition.

When my cousin Alex created the team WhatsApp group at the beginning of the year, it was time to prepare for the Cup all over again. We couldn’t do any worse than last year… could we?

But this year was a new year, a new team, and a new team name: Not for Me Clive FC.

With the addition of my cousin Robert, previously of Southend United and recently returning from a football College in Canada, the team’s expectations of success were somewhat higher than in 2017.

Football focus: The Clive ‘keeper Harry sporting eye-catching gloves

Shoreditch sensation

After months of anticipation, we arrived at Shoreditch Power League on a freezing cold afternoon alongside hundreds of other players, kitted out in base-layers, gloves and hats, eager to get playing.

Following a sizing up of the competition, our group was announced. Our team name was the only one of any comedy value, so it became evident we were going to be playing serious teams with experience and ability.

On the back of a brief warm-up of dynamic and static stretching and a few shots at the goalkeeper, we were ready to play our first game.

“Up the Clive!” shouted Alex, our manager/captain/general day organiser, as we kicked off against a side in actual matching kits, opposed to our mish-mash of red coloured tops. ‘They must be decent,” I thought.

A tense, cagey affair, we went 1-0 up through a tidy finish from yours truly. A goal! We were winning a game! An FA People’s Cup first for our team. All we had to do was hold on.

Then came an unbelievable moment. The ball fell to me in our own half with seconds remaining. The score still 1-0, I tried my luck at a Tony Yeboah-esque thunderbolt.

The ball flew past the opposing defenders and goalkeeper into the top corner of the net. Teams from the side-line applauded the finish, and the final whistle blew. Two-nil to the Clive, and a 5-a-side career highlight for myself.

The next few games saw us draw one, lose one, and win two; keeping us in the race for top spot. Our Wembley dream was still alive.

Parking the bus

As the late-February sun set in Shoreditch, we took to the pitch for our must-win decider. It was win or bust.

Charlie in action during the first game, pre-wonder goal

I’m sure their manager had been taking notes from Jose Mourinho, and we witnessed a possible moment in history: the first team to park the bus on a 5-a-side pitch.

Almost impossible to break down and score against, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, and it was time to call it a day, at least until next year. We were proud of how we had done, it was a sure improvement on last year.

‘The ball flew past the opposing goalkeeper into the top corner’

As they say, though, every cloud has a silver lining. There was an underlying sense of relief amongst the Clive team after our elimination, with the entire side looking near frozen.

With most of the side Arsenal supporters, it was time to hit the pub, watch the Carabao Cup Final, and have a well-deserved pint.

It was only at full-time after watching the Gunners embarrass themselves against Man City, that one of the boys proudly announced: “The Clive would’ve put up more of a fight than that!”

Despite the heart-breaking exit right at the death, it was a fantastic event once again, and we will be sure to be back competing stronger than ever next year.

Badge war with FA puts Wembley FC on the brink

Just two miles from Wembley Stadium lies Vale Farm, the home of ninth-tier Wembley Football Club. It’s where John Barnes began his semi-professional career and where England trained ahead of their historic World Cup win of 1966.

Wembley FC usually play in front of around 40 or 50 people in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division. Yet now the club’s future is threatened by a bizarre legal dispute with the Football Association over the fact the club’s badge contains the word “Wembley” and might be confused with Wembley Stadium.

Wembley FC’s chairman, local builder Brian Gumm, was brought up just down the road in Stonebridge. He has run the club for more than 30 years and holds dear all 10 of the teams he presides over, from the under-eights to the senior side.

Just over a year ago, Gumm was on holiday in Mexico when he received what he terms a “threatening letter” from the FA, detailing why he should sign over the trademark of Wembley FC’s badge, which has the word Wembley above a shield with a lion’s head.

Being a proud man, the 65-year-old refused and what followed has been a drawn out legal dispute with the FA.

The root cause of the issue arises from a 2012 sponsorship deal Wembley FC made with Budweiser, who, at the time, registered the club’s crest.

War over Wembley

The promotion with the beer company saw Martin Keown and David Seaman play for Wembley FC in FA Cup matches, and Terry Venables also came in as technical advisor.

However, when that deal ended, the trademark rights were then passed down to the club.

A few years later when the FA endeavoured to expand its brand in various countries in Europe and the United States, it was restricted due to the outstanding trademarks of Wembley FC.

In response, the FA applied to the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to cancel Wembley FC’s European trademark.

Legal wrangles

The FA won the ruling in July, but the non-league club claims the application was submitted behind their back and are now appealing against the decision.

An FA statement said: “We have never objected to their use of this logo in the UK or elsewhere.

“This case is about Wembley FC registering their logo in several countries outside of the UK, such as Russia, China and the US, and then refusing to co-exist with us in those countries. We have not asked and will not ask Wembley FC to pay the costs to date.”

As Gumm has no qualms in telling me, this dispute is very much about money and getting a fair deal for his club. He feels that the FA have been difficult to deal with and, from the outset, have never tried to be courteous or reach a sensible solution.

“The FA has spent thousands in legal fees over this,” says Gumm. “Who knows, if they made me an offer, this could have all been resolved.

“As far as I’m concerned, the FA think that we are a little club, so we shouldn’t have trademarks and that we’re not going to get anything from them. They should be trying to look after us, not fight us.”

What price a badge?

Gumm wouldn’t reveal what kind of figure would clinch a settlement. However, the publicity the legal battle has gained is certainly helping his case.

Indeed, along with all the media attention, a petition, with 31,000 signatures, has even been set up online by a mystery supporter, Susan Gale. Gumm has never met the woman who created the page, but says he will thank the campaigner if he ever sees her in person.

The FA believe the petition unjustifiably shows them in a bad light and that, as a non-profit organisation, they shouldn’t have to pay for the trademark of the badge.

Yet the fact remains that Gumm has now lost trust in the organisation who are supposed to protect grassroot clubs like his.

He says that if they are forced to alter the badge, with no compensation in return, the club, which has existed since 1947, will likely go bankrupt as the funds are not there to change all the kits and signage.

“It’s costing me, personally, a lot of money, which I can ill afford,” emphasises Gumm. “I’ve spent £3,000 already. But it’s the principle of it.

“It’s a legacy. If we do go bankrupt, ‘what have I left my grandchildren?’ I’m going to give it the best shot I can. I’m in my sixties but I’m working harder now than I ever have. If it kills me, it kills me.”

Featured image: Paul Grover

Images courtesy of Wembley FC

England Three Lions

Five things that need to change for England

After years of England underachieving in major tournaments, many Three Lions fans find themselves looking ahead to the 2018 World Cup Finals expecting little from their team beyond yet more failure.

If that sounds a bit harsh, cast your mind back to Euro 2016, and the implosion against Iceland – a country with a population of just 332,000.

That defeat sounded the death knell for manager Roy Hodgson, who also oversaw two losses and a draw (0-0 against Costa Rica) at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Understated current boss Gareth Southgate doesn’t play hype game, and has some decent young players at his disposal, but few believe England will really shine in Russia.

It may be too late for this summer, but there are still some things that could be put in place to boost their prospects on the biggest stages.

Winter break

It’s a commonly held belief that the likes of Spain Germany, France and Italy tend to do better at major tournaments because their domestic leagues take a mid-season winter break.

The argument runs that this gives players a chance to recharge their batteries, get over niggling injuries, and feel less burnt out come the end of the campaign.

There are, indeed, plenty of players getting injured during the December-January, when the Premier League fixtures come thick and fast, particularly over the festive period.

In December 2016, 113 missed games due to injury, and the figure rose in January 2017 to 143. There was 150 hamstring injuries in the 16/17 season which resulted in a total of 4,165 days missed.

England often go into tournaments missing key players through injury, or praying that no-one else picks up a knock in the early games.

Mind you, even without injuries, England performances in tournaments are often described as fatigued and boring.

Some claim the relentless physicality of the Premier League takes it toll, but is this – and not having a winter break – just a poor excuse for England’s underachievement?

Squad selection

Players are often picked on reputation and get the benefit of the doubt if they play for one of the so-called bigger teams; a prime example of this is Jordan Henderson.

His selection in the England squad is baffling when based on current form, and Southgate should now take him out of his plans and be ruthless like he was with Wayne Rooney.

Right now, players such as Jack Wilshere, Harry Winks and Eric Dier all offer more. Dropping Henderson and Gary Cahill would be just the start.

We’ve also had players switch allegiances. The main one that comes to mind is Wilfred Zaha, who represented England at under-19, under-21 and full international level in friendlies before opting to play for the country of his birth, Ivory Coast.

England have no one like him; skilful, pacy and unpredictable, someone who loves to take on and beat players.

Because his career at Manchester United didn’t work out for whatever reason, he found himself back at Crystal Palace putting in great performances but still being ignored by England which eventually led to him playing for Les Elephants.

What we will most likely see in the next major tournament is Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck being thrown out on the left wing, even though he is naturally a number nine, because he ‘works hard’ off the ball. It’s easy to see why Zaha made the decision to switch.

Taking responsibility

The players also need to take more responsibility. Making sure that they are mentally and physically able to deal with the expectations of international football is something that is forefront.

Good performances at major tournaments is key to re-gaining the enthusiasm of England fans.

One of the major things that has kept England from moving forward is the way they play. Being able to think for themselves is something that is easy to avoid at a club level, but it’s where the problems start in the international game.

England’s failure to express themselves under pressure, and actually looking scared to fail, has left them playing in stagnant, robotic patterns.

Compare England to a team like Wales who, although they only have one stand-out player in Gareth Bale, have a fearless and hardworking attitude that served them well at Euro 2016, beating Belgium, who were favourites to win the tournament, and then losing to eventual winners Portugal in the semi -finals.

If England take more risks and try to win games rather than trying not to lose them, they might stand a better chance.

High targets

The feeling exists that because the Premier League is deemed the best league in the world (which is a debate for another day), England should at least make the semi-finals at major tournaments.

But if you dig a bit deeper, you realise that most of the Premier League teams have large numbers of players from different countries playing for them.

Nearly 70% of players in the EPL are actually foreign, and this doesn’t leave much room for the young English talent to come through.

Prime examples of this are two of Chelsea’s many young players out on loan, Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both have not really been given a fair crack at Stamford Bridge because the club would rather go out and buy tried-and-tested foreign talent than giving their academy prospects a chance.

It is understandable that fans demand their clubs recruit world-class players, but if they don’t promote homegrown young players, the team that really suffers is England.

Without getting first team experience in the league and European competitions under their belt, the best young English players won’t realise their potential.

Do the fans care anymore?

Due to England’s lack of achievement, many in their fanbase England have lost interest in the team. Wembley is a great stadium but hardly ever sells out, and attendances are significantly lower for friendlies.

In my opinion, what would revive the interest in England is if the team went on the road.

By playing international matches all around the country, the team would reconnect with their fans, much as they did in the interim period when the new Wembley Stadium was being built.

England’s recent success at age-group tournaments shows they have reasons to be optimistic about the future, but only if these action points are turned in reality.

England Three Lions photo by Keith Williamson via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Neville’s appointment shows the FA in yet more bad light

Phil Neville was appointed as England women’s manager this week – but just days into his new role, he’s been embroiled in a sexism scandal.

Despite the 41-year-old having no previous managerial experience, he was made Lionesses head coach up to the European Championship in 2021.

Many people’s misgivings about him getting the job were further fuelled when old tweets of a sexist nature posted by Neville came to light.

The former Manchester United and Everton defender has apologised for any offence these caused and deleted his Twitter account.

But the FA’s stance – deciding that the tweets in question did not meet its “threshold” to be worthy of punishment – sends out the wrong signals for all sorts of reasons.

One of these it that the governing body’s attitude will surely torpedo the likelihood of a gay male professional footballer deciding to come out any time soon.

Sexist tweets

Neville found himself in the dock in a trial by social media over tweets posted a while back.

One said: “When I said morning men I thought the women would have been busy preparing breakfast/getting the kids ready/making the beds – sorry morning women!”

Another made light of domestic abuse, saying: “Relax – I’m back chilled – just battered the wife!!! Feel much better now!”

Neville’s supporters will argue that he meant both to be light-hearted, no matter how ill-judged they now appear.

According to The Guardian, FA bosses already knew about the tweets – and yet still chose to appoint the former United and Valencia coach.

But what does that say about the FA’s stance on dealing with abuse within the sport?

Sampson was sacked after the Aluko scandal

Misconduct

One thing is crystal clear – after the Mark Sampson/Eni Aluko scandal, in which the former England women’s boss was alleged to have racially abused the Chelsea striker – the FA needed its next appointment to be sound.

Having been warned about Sampson’s misconduct in a previous job, he was hired and had a successful stint in charge.

But when Aluko’s allegations were made public, the FA was heavily criticised for appointing him in the first place and seeking to cover up the row by making a payment to the player in return for a non-disclosure agreement.

Now that the FA has said it will not charge Neville with any offence, it’s clear that its policy for dealing with abuse is flimsy, if not downright weak.

Neville has argued that the episode “doesn’t reflect” his character, but plenty of people feel it makes him unsuitable to lead England, on top of his lack of managerial experience and knowledge of the women’s game.

Of course people can change, and these tweets were five years ago. However, allowing someone who has been so derogatory into a top job, on the back of what happened previously, isn’t wise of the FA.

Support and protection

The FA’s approach is, at best, confused. In 2016, for example, it handed then-Burnley striker Andre Gray a four-match ban over homophobic tweets he posted in 2012.

But even taking that into account, would a gay player look at the FA and trust it to offer support and protection if they decided to come out?

Whoever becomes the first elite footballer to confirm publicly that they are gay will need a strong FA to deal with the abuse they would surely – and sadly – receive.

That’s why we probably won’t see it happen in the near future. Who wants to be the guinea pig for how the FA would handle the situation?

Kick in the teeth

The FA have undermined women’s football

Neville’s appointment is also a kick in the teeth for women’s football. Surely there had to be someone out there far more qualified that him?

He’s using the job – and the women’s game – as a stepping stone to further his career, and that is wrong.

He never applied initially and was last choice behind Chelsea’s Emma Hayes, Manchester City’s Nick Cushing, ex-Arsenal coach Laura Harvey and Canada’s John Herdman, who all reportedly pulled out of the running.

Of course, it’s not the most left-field appointment they could have made. He does, after all, have vast experience in football and has a winning mentality.

But he would be nowhere near a job in men’s football, let alone the national job. It’s belittling to the female game that he has been chosen.

He never should have been picked, based on his lack experience and his sexist remarks. Once again, the FA has made a real mess of things.

Three players unlucky to miss out on England’s latest squad

When the England squad was announced on Sunday via Twitter for the Three Lions’ upcoming fixtures against Scotland and Spain, a host of frustrated names were omitted.

The likes of Jermain Defoe, Wilfried Zaha and Adam Forshaw to name a few, were all mentioned as players deserving of a call-up, especially compared to some of those selected by interim manager Gareth Southgate.

However, the decision to omit three other players in particular, continues to come under scrutiny – and rightly so.

Charlie Austin

After a lacklustre start to life at Southampton, Austin is now finally starting to replicate the form he displayed at QPR in the 2014-15 Premier League season.

So far this campaign across all competitions, the 27-year-old has registered more goals (eight) than any other England forward, making his exclusion from the England squad a surprise to most.

“Does Austin have the pace of Vardy or the technical finesse of Sturridge? Probably not, but in his current form he is arguably a more viable option than the pair”

The Southampton striker is outperforming both Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, who have been called up as attacking options despite the different problems they are currently facing at their respective clubs, and Southgate’s failure to recognise such is a concern going forward.

Too often in the past with England, it has felt like that the inclusion of certain players has been based on club and reputation rather than form and, judging by this showing, things are unlikely to change should Southgate become Roy Hodgson’s permanent successor.

Does Austin have the pace of Vardy or the technical finesse of Sturridge? Probably not, but in his current form he is arguably a more viable option than the pair.

Nathan Redmond

Redmond
©Wikimedia Commons

Austin’s Southampton team-mate Redmond has also started the season in good fashion and can count himself unlucky to have been denied the opportunity to make the jump from the England Under-21s to the senior squad.

The 22-year-old is relishing the forward role Saints boss Claude Puel has been deploying him in, chalking up three Premier League goals in the process of forming a promising partnership with Austin.

Redmond’s £11m transfer from Norwich City in the summer is already being touted as one of the signings of the season and given his performances to date, it is a view that is not hard to fathom.

Like Austin’s predicament, it is difficult to understand why Redmond has not been called up bearing in mind some of Southgate’s other inclusions.

Despite operating as a striker since his transfer, Redmond is naturally a winger blessed with pace and great dribbling ability.

While Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott are likely to occupy the wide positions for England’s game against Scotland on Friday, Redmond would have been a solid option for Southgate to have and a much better alternative to Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend — who have both done nothing to warrant a call-up.

Redmond is far from the finished article. But Puel is crafting him into a fine and more consistent player, who without a doubt deserved to be included in England’s latest squad.

Ben Gibson

After a long absence from the Premier League, Middlesbrough can be pleased with how things have gone since their return to the top flight.

They sit 15th in the table and Aitor Karanka’s men have put in some good defensive performances of late to add to the five out of nine points they have collected in their most recent fixtures against Arsenal, Bournemouth and Manchester City.

©Middlesbrough FC’s official Instagram account

Central defender Gibson in particular has been singled out for praise, especially for his performance away at the Emirates in which he helped inspire his side to a point and clean sheet against an Arsenal team boasting the attacking talents of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and an in-form Walcott.

With that in mind, in addition to the current options England have at the back, Gibson’s omission from Southgate’s squad has raised eyebrows.

Chris Smalling is out injured, Gary Cahill has been shambolic when not playing in a back three (something England will not implement) and John Stones always looks like he has a costly mistake in him.

Then there is of course Phil Jagielka, likely to still be recovering physically and mentally from the battering he got from Diego Costa last Saturday in Everton’s 5-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Gibson should feel hard done by, he has done more than enough to earn the chance to win his first international senior cap.

Featured image: ©Southampton FC‘s official Instagram account

‘Openly gay footballers? It’s a long way off’

“My sexuality and football are equally important in my life… it’s just a shame that the two can evoke a lot of conflict”

Sadly, being openly gay in football, as a fan or player, is to risk the homophobia that has run through the game for years.

Attitudes are gradually starting to change. A handful of footballers have come out as gay – mostly in retirement – and someone like Neil Beasley is able to tell his story, which is simply a must-read.

book cover 2Coventry City fan Beasley, also the player and chairman of Birmingham Blaze from the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN), talks honestly about growing up gay in the game and fighting for his right to enjoy the sport he loves without prejudice.

The author describes his opportunity on telling a story from a point of view that hasn’t been told before.

“There are grassroots players who are out and nobody ever talks about them,” he told me. “Nobody talks about their lives and no-one cares or asks what it’s like for lesbian, gay, bi and transsexual (LGBT) fans.”

His story, which took two years to write, touches on Beasley’s youth, playing football, coming out to his team-mates and the macho culture that views gays as weak and somehow not masculine enough to play a ‘man’s game’.

The book also raises awareness about the GFSN and the ugly homophobic abuse that still dogs the beautiful game at all levels.

As well as his own struggles, Beasley’s book offers views from a former Premier League professional, an openly gay non-league manager and a current gay non-league footballer.

“It wasn’t too hard to be open with my feelings telling the story. Trying to get hold of a professional player to talk, now that was hard!” Beasley said.

“We tried lots of people and lots of football clubs to get help. It was difficult, when it came to the subject hardly anyone wanted to talk and when we finally got somebody they didn’t want their name put with it

“The reason we think the professional didn’t want his name in the book was because of what happened with Matt Jarvis, who appeared on front of Attitude gay magazine and got a lot of abuse.”

jarvis_2442657b
Matt Jarvis appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in 2013

Jarvis, who is heterosexual, appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine in January 2013 whilst at West Ham and gave an interview stating that gay footballers should be open about their sexuality.

In the book, the anonymous Premier League player discusses his views on homophobia and how he played for a team with an openly gay footballer in the set-up.

“I never would have known that he was gay if he hadn’t come out. It makes me wonder if I have played with other players who are gay. I must have.

“The courses that organisations like the FA are running, coupled with campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces are improving peoples’ awareness and understanding,” he adds.

Are we close to having openly gay footballers?

In 2016, we are yet to have an openly gay footballer across all professional leagues in England, and Beasley told me that he believes it won’t happen for a while yet.

“There will gay footballers right now. When do we think they’re going to come out? I think we’re a long way off

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly”

“Every time we get somewhere, somebody else says something stupid. You can’t go more than six months without someone bringing it to a negative light

“I don’t know why you would want to come out. Life would be difficult, if you were having a bad game, the fans are going to hate you and what’s the first thing they look for? Weakness.

“Being gay is always seen as a weakness, not being macho, it’s the first thing they’re going to go for.

“People say it’s no different from when the black people played in the 80s. Yes, it is – you could see that they’re black.”

Coming out

Most football fans are familiar with the case of former Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 came out as gay. No-one else followed suit. The first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee tragically hanged himself in 1998.

However, the author of Football’s Coming Out believes in 2016 there would be a chain reaction if one high-profile footballer came out.

“We would see an initial delay because everyone would want to see what would happen.

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or police? Nothing”

“There would be quite a distance between one and two coming out but between two, three, four etc, they’d come quite quickly.”

Being open with his sexuality to fellow team-mates at Non-League Heyford Athletic was courageous of Beasley, but for him a situation which, bizarrely, he found “disappointing”.

“People ask what it was like coming out to team-mates, they’re after a meaty story but I always say actually nobody really cared!

“In a roundabout way it was a real disappointment! In my mind I was going to get kicked out of the club,” joked the author.

But he remains adamant there have been no real improvements in relation to homophobia in the sport.

“What I think there is, is a media interest that was never there before, trying to push a positive spin on it. From a fans point of view, it’s not a great deal different.”

Abuse from the terraces

In the book, which was nominated for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, Beasley describes how we still hears homophobic abuse on the terraces today; specifically at a recent England World Cup qualifier.

“Outsiders enter a football stadium with this fear of hooliganism, and their fears are often compounded through the aggressive, hostile atmosphere at games.

beasley
Beasley kisses the Birmingham Blaze badge

“And when the outsider is gay? Well, they’re definitely going to be pretty fearful of the hateful, often homophobic, attitude.”

Beasley recalls Tom Cleverley having homophobic abuse hurled at him at Wembley.

“Fans love a scapegoat, and this idiot picked out Cleverly, the reason for the midfielder’s underperformance was that he was a ‘faggot’

“The vocal fan carried on with a volley of aggressive homophobic abuse as the game continued. Inside, I was seething”.

Beasley said the homophobic abuse we hear at football matches needs to be questioned.

“It needs to be challenged. If you stood there and shouted something racist, it would be challenged by other supporters

“What would happen if you went and reported someone for making homophobic comments to a steward or the police? Nothing. That’s what I think would happen.”

Emergence

A recent BBC 5live survey showed that 8% of fans would turn their backs on their team if they had an openly gay footballer. A percentage that Beasley believes is worryingly “high”.

“They say, on one hand, they’re fanatical about supporting their club. On the other, if you get a gay player which doesn’t affect you in any way shape or form, in fact makes no difference to your life whatsoever, you’re just going to quit supporting your team? It seems barmy to me.”

Until the Football Association have an openly gay player to support, Beasley believes it’s always going to be tricky for them

“It’s difficult for the FA, I’m always kicking them, always! But it is difficult and always will be till they have a gay player to support. At the moment it’s all just words.”

But the Birmingham Blaze chairman remains positive: “Things will change, maybe not in the near future, but they will.

“We’re seeing now an emergence of LGBT fan groups at various clubs and with this, we may get a different response down the line.”

Football’s Coming Out is published by Floodlit Dreams Ltd (£9.99 Amazon)

Fifa blocking ‘political’ poppies is madness

By a quirk of the fixture list, Armistice Day on Friday, November 11th, sees England host Scotland in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. 

Two British national teams who, of course, will want to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Traditionally, Remembrance Sunday weekend sees football clubs across the UK, their, fans, players and staff, coming together to show their respects.

Fifa, however, would rather England and Scotland didn’t make too much fuss when they renew international football’s oldest rivalry.

“Nothing is more powerful than the yearly tribute shown by thousands of people grouped together at a football match”

Football’s world governing body has remained defiant on refusing permission for poppies to be worn on players’ shirts, with president Gianni Infantino describing it as  “political” gesture.

Rare chance

For as long as I can remember, wearing the poppy has been something we can be proud of, and supporting one of the worthiest causes out there each year is something us football fans look forward to.

Nothing is more powerful than the annual tribute of a minute’s silence at stadia up and down the country.

“The Three Lions’ clash with Scotland for many has been seen as a rare chance to unite in tribute to the war dead at a home international.”

So for Fifa to step in and tell the Football Association and Scottish FA that their players cannot mark the anniversary of WWI ending – especially in a fixture between two of the home nations – is ludicrous.

The Three Lions’ clash with Scotland for many has been seen as a rare chance to unite in tribute to the war dead at a home international.

Personally, I don’t see how a poppy has any political, religious or commercial connotations? It’s a charity, a worthy cause and a mark of respect to those men and women who’ve passed away fighting for their country.

It about casualties from all sides, so really it shouldn’t be upsetting anybody. I can understand Fifa’s stance on political statements but this simply isn’t the case here.

Blocked

You would’ve thought a bit of common sense and flexibility on the part of Fifa would allow the wearing of poppies. But then again this is an organisation that’s notoriously inflexible.

poppy armbands
In 2011, Fifa allowed England to wear poppy armbands in a friendly against Spain

Not to mention corrupt. With all the bad press Fifa has had in recent years, you’d think it would be keen to win friends, not antagonise two of its oldest members.

Both Wales and Northern Ireland have also been blocked from allowing their players to wear poppies on their kits against Serbia and Azerbaijan respectively.

If England go ahead and flout the ban, the FA would likely face a fine but other sanctions could also be in store, with a points deduction possible.

However the FA have been urged to take Fifa on over the issue by Falklands veteran Simon Weston.

Tributes

Speaking to The Sun newspaper, he told the FA and SFA to “swallow any potential fine” rather than sacrifice the commemoration.

The 55-year old said: “The FAs of both ­Scotland and England should stand up and be counted.

“Both those countries took part in both World Wars and should take the lead. They should pay any fine Fifa give them. This is not a political gesture.”

The FA is currently in talks with Fifa over how they can add their own tributes to the day, which will see commemorations across Britain.The FA’s statement

Support

An FA statement read: “We are working closely with the Royal British Legion once again this year to honour and remember the sacrifices made by those serving in the armed forces.

theo walcott boots
Theo Walcott dons a poppy on his boots in 2011

“In recent weeks, the FA has led Remembrance discussions with Fifa to allow the England team to show its support for the poppy appeal during the World Cup qualifier with Scotland.”

Previously, in 2011, Fifa eventually backed down after threatening to ban the England team from wearing poppies in a friendly against Spain, allowing them to display the symbol on black armbands.

Many players wore the poppy on their boots to show their support.

David Cameron, prime minister at the time, also wrote to Fifa to urge the governing body to reconsider its stance. Hopefully, Theresa May will follow suit.

The British Legion’s red poppy has become a powerful symbol to remember servicemen and women killed in conflict.

In light of many negative opinions of the governing body in recent years, letting our national sides pay their respects is the least Infantino could do.

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.”