Bulls plunged into dispair


There have been so many appalling scandals involving football teams in the last 20 years that it is difficult to pick out one for special mention, but the shocking going-ons at Hereford United take some beating.

A proud club, Hereford will always be remembered for that Ronnie Radford thunderbolt in the FA Cup victory against mighty Newcastle United in 1972.  But as recently as 2009 the Bulls were in League One, upsetting the football betting odds left, right, and centre by playing and beating the likes of Leeds United, renowned for their attacking football and financial security.

Fast-forward five years and Hereford United is a club in turmoil, its heart broken by greedy businessman, and the fans boycotting the team’s matches.  Relegated from League Two in 2011-12, just six years after clinching promotion from the Conference, the Bulls finished sixth in their first season back at level five under the stewardship of Martin Foyle before the problems really started.

Former chairman David Keyte somehow managed to increase the club’s debts to £1.5million despite a deterioration in the quality on the pitch and annoyed Foyle so much that the former Port Vale striker launched a winding-up petition against the club in May.

Lurch from one crisis to another

More winding-up orders came and went and the reviled Keyte eventually sold the club to Tommy Agombar, who became one of the few men to fail the FA’s owners and directors test. He then sold up to a company specialising in distressed debts, Alpha Choice Finance.

Despite handing the club several new deadlines to sort out their debts, the Conference finally lost patience with Hereford and threw them out of their league, ironically just weeks after a last-gasp Michael Rankine goal had staved off relegation on the pitch.

Hereford were accepted into the Southern Premier League despite still lurching from one crisis to another, a league two levels further down the football pyramid than the Conference.  A rag-tag of players continue to wear the Hereford shirt but less than 250 people paid to watch the team lose 2-1 to Corby Town in October, just ten per cent of the numbers that regularly turned up at Edgar Street less than five years ago.

In an attempt to draw more attention to their plight, more than 200 United fans took their protest against the club’s current regime to Kidderminster for their game against Welling United at Aggborough.

Future looks bleak

Banners explaining Hereford’s situation were on view at a match which was televised by BT Sport, and applause broke out around the ground in the 24th minute to mark the club’s foundation in 1924. But the future looks bleak. Agombar’s holding companies have sought to take control of the club’s leases on Edgar Street, although the council, who own the land, opposed the moves and the requests were withdrawn. The whole situation remains a mess and, as usual, it is the fans who suffer.

 

Great Scott – The best British football awaydays


Over the past week or so the BBC’s survey into the cost of football has been dissected to death.  We have questioned the validity of the survey, especially when looking at the costs of some of the ticket prices submitted by the clubs in question, especially in the Premier League category.  Earlier this week, the chaps at Scotts Menswear revealed the results of their survey, taken from questions posed to their customers and football pundits alike.  The results, which can be seen in all of their glory here, have certainly thrown up a few surprises.

Best Overall Match day Experience – Wembley Stadium (2nd – Man Utd, 3rd – Tottenham Hotspur)
8728975011_2d1a4f0641_bComing from the Non-Leagues I shouldn’t really agree with this one but there is no doubt that every fan wants to see their team play at Wembley.  Whilst the fans of Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd plus smaller clubs like Arsenal (joke) moan about the cost and the travel arrangements, try telling a fan of Tunbridge Wells or Gosport Borough, both of whom have played at the World’s most famous stadium in the past two seasons that it was over rated.  I can only assume that lots of West Ham fans voted to make Spurs the third best away day after last seasons two wins out of two there!

Best Pie – Wigan Athletic (2nd – Kilmarnock 3rd – Kidderminster)
I was disappointed to see that Brighton & Hove Albion only came in 4th in this one with their locally made pies which every home game feature a special “guest” pie.  At the game last week we tucked into the delicious Sausage and Cheesy Beans pie..outstanding.  So what is on offer at Wigan must be really special.  Poole’s Pies is the name on everyone’s lips in Lancashire it appears.

Best Pint  – Derby County (2nd – Newcastle 3rd – Brighton)
Pull on your best Fred Perry clobber and head to the game early for a beer or two.  But let’s park the Stella and Fosters for one minute and try something different.  No arguments in this category for the winner as the pubs on offer around Derby offer some top class ales.  Newcastle has the advantage of a city centre location and so around 200 match day choices whilst Brighton has the superb local beers from Harveys and Dark Star on sale in the Amex Stadium.

 

 

Seagulls brought down to earth by busy Boro


This week has once again seen the cost of watching the beautiful game hit the headlines with the release of the BBC’s annual cost of watching football survey.  Like last year (and the years before that) the results of the survey simply proved a platform of out-of-touch politicians to bleat about how unfair it was on the average fan and their family whilst not actually having the balls to do something about it.  Football clubs on the most part hid in a corner, not prepared to justify the true reasons behind the rise in the whole matchday experience.

The situation wasn’t helped by the comments of rent-a-gob Robbie Savage who added fuel to the flames by saying that “To be completely honest, during my 20-year playing career, I never once thought about how much it was costing fans to go to game”.  Why did he think that would be a good thing to say?  Why not just keep his mouth shut.  Comments like this just make him look even more out of touch.  His frequent responses on Radio5Live’s 606 to fans phoning in of “have you played the game?” to try and put down people’s valid opinions have simply added to the irritant factor that he developed as a player.  In all of the years I have been watching football I have never found anyone who has a good word about Savage.

The main reaction to the results for the English clubs was to compare it to watching football in Europe.  The BBC somehow managed to concoct a figure that 1,000 (an amazingly exact figure) watch Borussia Dortmund at every home game.  How on earth do they know that?  Having been a relatively regular visitor to the Bundesliga, you rarely hear an English voice.  With demand for Dortmund and Bayern Munich far outstripping supply, where these 1,000 tickets come from is still a mystery. Likewise, the mythical sub £100 season tickets are on available to those on a long waiting list.  Of course there are some English-based fans who do own season tickets with overseas clubs and make frequent trips overseas, but these are in the minority.

Arsenal came out of the survey poorly, once again, with their cheapest season ticket the most expensive in British football three-times more expensive than Premier League Champions Manchester City.  In their AGM, held just 24 hours after the result of the survey were released, the club tried to justify that paying over £1,000 for a season ticket or £97 for a seat was value for money.  After all, they did beat Wigan Athletic and Hull City in the FA Cup last season.  According to the survey, you can buy a ticket for West Ham for £20.  That is correct.  For the Leicester City game only.  For seven other games in the Premier League this season that same seat would cost between £50 and £60.

Nowadays my viewing pleasure is almost exclusively restricted to the Non-League game…and European matches.  But today I would be making a rare excursion in the SkyBet Championship.  According to the survey, a trip to watch Brighton & Hove Albion is the most expensive in the whole Football League, and five pounds more than a trip to Upton Park.  Exactly. That’s why some of the results of the survey cannot be taken on face value, a comment echoed in the match day programme by CEO Paul Barber.  What you cannot fault The Seagulls for though is the imagination they put into their match day catering.  For this game we had the choice of a Sausage with Cheezy Beans Pie and a pint of Hobgoblin.  Take that Pukka and Fosters!

IMG_3534Every couple of weeks I drive past the monument to the Seagulls on my way to The Dripping Pan. The Amex is one of the best new stadiums built in this country in the last fifty years.  A bold statement but one backed up by the views of the fans who flock there every two weeks. In the first season the “sold out” signs were a frequent occurance leading to the club increasing the capacity by adding an additional tier on the East Stand leading to the club having the highest average attendance in the Championship for the last two years.  Part of the reason for the growth has been the expectations set on the pitch – two consecutive appearances in the Play-offs have been bitter-sweet rewards for the fans who have experienced the pain of defeat and the subsequent loss of their manager.

The club will have looked on enviously as Leicester City, Burnley, Hull City and especially bitter rivals Crystal Palace move up into the land of milk and honey.  With the new TV deal in place for the lucky twenty clubs in the Premier League, The Seagulls acted quickly in the summer to bring in a manager with top league experience, recruiting ex-Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypiä.  Results haven’t so far been stellar, with four draws in their eleven league games so far.  Depending on how you look at results, they came into the game against Middlesbrough on a five game unbeaten run, including a win in the League Cup that has taken them into the last sixteen and a game against Spurs, or they had only won once in the last eight.  Football, eh!

The visitors also had their eye on the Premier League, having endured the last six seasons in the Championship and dispensed with the services of club legend Tony Mowbray last year, replacing him with Spaniard Aitor Karanka.  So far, so good this season as Boro’ arrived in East Sussex just one point of top spot.  Had a score draw written all over it.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Middlesbrough 2- The Amex – Saturday 18th October 2014
Despite the late, last-gasp rally by The Seagulls they were clearly the second best team on display at The Amex despite what the stats say.  Brighton had 62% of the possession and sixteen shots on target yet it Boro’ keeper Konstantopoulos hardly got his gloves dirty as the the visitors defence held firm and threw themselves at everything heading their way.

The visitors, starting the game with just one up front, could have possibly been down to ten men in the first fifteen seconds when George Friend’s “welcome” to Brighton’s Teixeira was late and high.  Ref Andy D’Urso (remember him?  The stress of refereeing has turned him grey) elected not to play the advantage despite Teixeira’s pass having sent one of his colleagues free on goal.  D’Urso adopted the “well, it’s early in the game” rule meaning Friend escaped any censorship at all.  Fifteen minutes he finally went in the book after another “robust” challenge.  Teixeira would only go on to last half an hour.

The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute when a well-worked move saw Tomlin sweep the ball high into the Seagulls net after Brighton had failed to clear any danger.  Whilst Albion huffed and puffed around the edge of the box they lacked the cutting edge that put the Boro goal under pressure.  The half-time break couldn’t have come quick enough for Hyypiä, nor by the look of the queue for beer on the concourse the vast majority of the Seagulls fans.DCIM100GOPROHyypiä made a change at half-time and for the first few minutes they played with some pace, but then in the 52nd minute they were undonw by a Middlesbrough counter-attack and when the ball was played into the danger area Adomah reacted quickest.  Although his first effort was well saved down at the near post, he Boro’ forward was on hand to squeeze the rebound home from a tight angle.  Two-nil and it appeared game over.

With just ten points separating the promotion from relegation positions in the Championship, teams can move up and down the table quickly and the in-play score saw Middlesbrough heading to the summit whilst Brighton headed towards the League One trap door.  Some fans around us high in the West Stand started to vent their frustration and headed for the exits…although in truth they were really going to the bar and would watch the rest of the game on the TV screens.  There’s almost 3/4th of the season to play for – plenty of time for things to go right (or wrong).

A late spell of pressure on the Boro’ goal resulted in Greer heading home after a spell of aerial pinball to give Albion hope but even with five added minutes to play they never really looked, or in truth, deserved an equaliser against a very well marshalled Middlesbrough team.

To relate back to the BBC survey – had we had value for money?  Absolutely.  Whilst the cold, hard stats suggest The Amex is not the cheapest place to visit, it certainly is one of the best in the Football League and certainly a favourite among away fans, especially when they don’t have to work too hard to come away with three points.

A former State of mind


Modern football is rubbish.  We’ve all heard that and at some point we have all bemoaned fixtures being moved by Sky, the rising cost of a bit of plastic to sit on and those football tourists who turn up at grounds and just take lots of pictures rather than watching the game (shocking).  But sometimes it is actually bloody great.

With our footballing authorities doing everything possible to ensure that every “big” country qualifies for major tournaments, the International Break now lasts for six days, every month.  Premier League clubs (and the fans) must hold their head in their hands, holding that the underpaid, over stressed footballers return safe and sound on their private jets from 20 minutes of exertion against Andorra or San Marino.  Of course, there are no such things as easy games in International football, and the qualifying games for France 2016 are taken very seriously indeed.  With 53 nations competing for just 23 places it means that countries have to win at least three games to get a playoff spot in all honestly.  And there were those who thought that it was tough when the tournament used to be just 8 teams!

But, with the new structure of qualifying games there was the opportunity for an ultimate road trip, if you are interested in that sort of thing.  Six games, potentially six different countries?  Sounds rubbish I know.  I mean who would fancy seeing Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Estonia, Norway and Denmark on consecutive days? Well me for a start.

Alas, this was one trip that I was never going to get official sign off for.  Despite being the most understanding wife in the world, even I could n’t swing that trip, especially as it was the Current Mrs Fuller’s birthday in the middle of the set of games.  But being the good lady that she is, we reached a compromise that would see me jet off to the Baltic’s before heading back in time for jelly and ice cream.  I was happy with that – after all I’d seen enough of Norway and Denmark in the past five years, yet never set foot in Lithuania or Latvia.  That’s enough to get anyone’s pulse racing.

15487437071_3f37759af7_oI’d heard good and bad about Vilnius and Riga.  The good – UNESCO Heritage Old Towns, cheap food and drink, the world’s best Christmas tree (Vilnius – as voted for by CNN); The bad – the gloomy weather, the stag and hen parties, the language; and the downright ugly – the Soviet-style architecture and the fact I had to fly with Wizzair, one of those airlines that lure you in with cheap prices and then want to charge you for wearing clothes or breathing their oxygen on board.

My plan quickly came together – afternoon flight to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania where I would take in the game against Estonia.  The following morning up before the dawn chorus and on a bus to Riga where Latvia would be taking on Iceland. Two new countries, two new grounds.  What could possibly go wrong?

One downside was that I wouldn’t see much of Vilnius, landing as the sun went down. It’s supposed to be a beautiful city but from touch down to departure on my executive bus it would be 11 hours of darkness. My taxi driver from the airport offered to show me the sights of the city on the way to the hotel.

“There is Ikea. Now we go to McDonalds and then a brothel” I managed to convince him that McDonalds, being opposite my hotel was actually a better alighting point.  “But no titty-titty?” He looked crest-fallen that I preferred a McFlurry to a “naked help-yourself buffet” but soon cheered up when I gave him a 10 Litu note as a tip (which incidentally had a picture of the Kemp twins on).

I’d struck lucky in picking a hotel not only because it was opposite a 24 hour fast food outlet but because it was a 5 minute walk to the LFF Stadium. Oh, and a bar offering 50 pence beers open until everyone had gone to bed, which as I learnt later, was about 6am.

15303880200_62d9376dea_oFootball isn’t exactly one of the most favourite past times in Lithuania.  According to my taxi driver guide watching domestic football ranked alongside ironing and stoning olives in terms of leisure activities.  Last season the SMSCredit.lv A Lyga, the top division in Lithuania had an average attendance last season of 744. It’s all about basketball on a Saturday and a Sunday, with the national team having won bronze at the Olympics three times out of the last six Summer Games and are currently ranked 4th in the World Rankings.  But come national team football team games, the fans come out in force which was evident as I walked up to the LFF Stadium with an hour to kick off.

In terms of current UEFA rankings, Lithuania are down in 41st place, alongside the likes of Albania, Moldova and Cyprus.  Drawn in a group with England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia and San Marino they would have targeted games such as the visit of Estonia as a “must-win” if they were to stand any chance of qualification.  A 2-0 win in San Marino in the opening game was all that could have been asked.  Now was the time for Igoris Pankratjevas’s team to step up to the mark and get one over on their Baltic rivals.

Lithuania 1 Estonia 0 – LFF Stadium – Thursday 9th October 2014
Good job the weather was a little bit kinder in Lithuania than back in London.  The LFF Stadium would be a brilliant place to sit back and top up your tan in the middle of Summer, but in mid-October where temperatures and rain can fall there is little shelter from any of the elements.  This stadium, which wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Conference Premier, albeit a three-sided, 3G version.  Despite their apathy for the domestic game, the national team was a different story.  By the time the teams had lined up for a UEFA sponsored “Say No to Racism” PR photo, the ground was almost full.

15490233582_e118b063f6_oThis was a must-win game for Lithuania and that is exactly what they did.  The very impressive Bundesliga (two) winger Arvydas Novikovas was the stand out player, causing all sorts of problems for the Estonian defenders although it was his left-wing counterpart who set up the winner. for Mikoliunas to clinch the points with 14 minutes to go. Estonian keeper Pareiko spilled a shot from distance into the path of Matulevičius, but appeared to make up for the slip with an excellent smothering stop. However, the ball rebounded to the centre-forward who crossed for the substitute to nod in the winner.

With the game finishing a few minutes before England’s game with San Marino, Lithuania leaped to the top of Group E.  Was that the high point in Lithuanian football history I asked the coach in the press conference?  It appeared my question got lost in translation as his answer was “Our football may not have been beautiful but three points are the most important thing,” Thanks for that.

I headed back down the hill to the hotel.  Despite the Estonian fans with bulging wallets queuing for the bar, the hotel decided that a 12pm closure meant just that.  Boo.

5.30am was a cruel mistress on Friday morning but I had a bus to catch.  The Lux Express rolled into Vilnius bus station bang on time, looking like a tour bus used by rock giants such as REM, The Rolling Stones or Right Said Fred.  I’d paid a whopping €25 for my “executive” seat which turned out to be almost airplane Business Class quality.  Throw in free drinks, free Wi-Fi and free movies on demand and you couldn’t have spent a better four hours.  Well, perhaps if they had a few stewardesses wandering up and down selling….best stop there.

15493547971_954346c647_oThe landscape looking flat.  And gloomy.  It was fair to say that the highlights of the trip could be packaged on a Vine video.  The gloom gave way to rain as the coach eased into Riga.  First impressions weren’t good.  It looked like I had been transported back to 1970 Soviet Union.  Depressed looking people, huddled together around sparsely stocked market stools and old fashion trolleybuses rattling up and down the streets.

First impressions can be wrong.  A five minute walk from the confines of the bus and train station and the outstanding beauty of the Old Town (another UNESCO Heritage Site) revealed itself to me.  Wow.  I had “New York Neck” after 30 minutes, constantly looking up at the stunning architecture.  Lunch (£3.50) was a huge local dish of chicken and potatoes, washed down with a pint of Livu (35p).  After an afternoon snooze it was time for dinner – huge steak, pepper sauce and more beer (£8).  Good job the plan was to walk to the Skonto Riga stadium although a couple of bars along the way were too good to miss, for local aesthetic reasons.  I passed one of the Irish Bars in town.  With England playing next door in Tallinn in 24 hours, a number of England fans had descended on Riga and taken up residence in the Irish Bar, belting out almost note-perfect versions of Wonderwall and Park Life.

Latvia 0 Iceland 3 – Skonto Stadium – Friday 17th October 2014
It seems to be a common theme developing here of incomplete stadiums.  Whilst the stadium in Vilnius had three sides, Riga’s national stadium had 2 3/4.  At one end the present of a large sports hall had taken up part of the stand giving the stadium a strange unfinished look.  Latvia haven’t had the best of times since their appearance ten years ago in the European Championship in Portugal.  That team featured Marians Pahars and Aleksandrs Kolinko and impressed the watching world, coming away from the sunshine with a 0-0 draw with Germany.  A decade later and the dynamic duo were back together, although Pahars had swapped his magic boots from a snazzy black raincoat and was now the national coach.

15495449221_2632b88166_oAlas, Pahars couldn’t recreate the magic.  Iceland were head and shoulders above the home side, cheered on by a rowdy contingent as they scored three second half goals, including one apiece for Sigurosson (Swansea City) and Gunnarsson (Cardiff City) to give us some British interest.

The game wasn’t a classic but once again it was good to see the home fans had turned out in big numbers.  Over 6,000 home fans were in the Skonto Stadium, about 5,700 more than would normally be in here for a domestic league game.  Like their neighbours in Lithuania, football isn’t the biggest leisure activity.  Excluding tucking into the superb food and drink, Ice Hockey is the sport of choice here with crowds for domestic games often topping five figures.

I headed back to the Old Town for a nightcap.  Some of the quaint pavement cafes and bars had been replaced by megatropolis-style clubs, all touting their wares through women wearing nothing more than strategically placed flannels.  This was the Riga that I had read about not the one I had enjoyed earlier in the day.  I resisted the temptations on offer, with that small voice in my head reminding me I had to get up in four hours for my flight home.  See, sometimes I do listen to common sense!

Luton at most times of the day isn’t something to sing about, but after a nearly three-hour flight, squeezed in between Mr Sweaty and Miss Fidget I felt like getting down on my knees and kissing the tarmac.  Welcome home.  As the saying goes, the greatest journey starts with the smallest step. Two new countries ticked off the list, two decent cities that ticked all the EFW boxes.  Go, before it’s too late!

 

 

I heard it on the Twitter Vine


Football has much bigger things to worry about than six second videos being shared across Social Media hasn’t it?  Well not if you read some of the more recent news stories and official comments made by the governing bodies that run the game in England.  Statements using words such as “crackdown”, “unlawful” and “infringing” have elevated the issue to headline status with organisations including the BBC, Bloomberg and The Financial Times covering the story in depth in the past few weeks.  But is it all just a storm in a tea cup?

It is important to take a step back and understand the context before we can really pass any judgement.  The facts on face value are simple.  Any distribution of copyrighted material, irrespective of the medium, is piracy. Back in the day it used to be confined to taping the Top 40 off Radio 1, finger ready at the pause button to avoid Mike Reid’s voice.  Technology has presented us with so many opportunities to take our media with us wherever we go in a digital form, but that has increased the problem of piracy to untold lengths.  Illegal distribution of latest film releases is still a major issues for film studios as well as cinemas who need to constantly police their theatres to ensure nobody is covertly recording movies.

Vine-LogoVine seems to be the latest problem child.  The app, designed specifically for the smartphone, allows users to make their own 6 second “movie”, condensing video and pictures, then sharing with the world at the touch of a button.  Formed in June 2012, the start-up was acquired by Twitter before it even officially launched for a reported $30 million having been seen as a natural rival to what Facebook were trying to do with Instagram.  Today, with over 40 million users, Vine is a platform for those with creative vision, challenging users to make those six seconds unique, compelling and above all worthy of sharing on Social Media.  According to an article published by US Library of Medicine earlier this year, our attention span has dropped to just eight seconds on average, meaning that Vine is becoming the perfect media for advertisers who want to grab the attention of Internet users.

The fact that the word “vine” has now entered the modern day lexicon along with Tweet, SnapChat and Like shows how we consume digital content.  So why is there a problem?

During an average 90 minute football match, the ball is only actually in-play and live for around 50 minutes.  Out of that period how many minutes are taken up by goal mouth action or incidents?  Five minutes at the maximum?  You only have to watch the final game every Saturday on Match of the Day to see how brutal an editor can be with a mediocre game, reducing 90 minutes down into 90 seconds.  So if you are able to compartmentalise the key moments, Vine becomes the perfect medium to share the action.  With our short attention span, do we really need to see the same incident for every angle or just be able to pause and rewind it ourselves?

The Premier League is the richest football league in the world. The excesses in our national game have been driven by outlandish commercial deals, spiralling ticket prices but above all, multi-billion pound TV deals.  Having invested so much money into these deals, broadcasters such as Sky have to get the return on their investment in terms of subscribers.  One way to get new viewers and keep the old ones coming back month after month? Invest in the technology.  Sky Plus, TiVo boxes and hard disk recorders are all now staple items in living rooms up and down the country allowing us to record, pause, rewind and access additional content as standard.  By being able to rewind the action to the point where the latest action starts, Vine users can then simply take a screenshot of the action then press publish.  Seconds later the goal can be seen on timelines of millions of people across the world on Twitter. This has been the catalyst to the high-profile issue that the Premier League want to clamp down on.  So in summary, the commercial rights that they put on the table have essentially fuelled a problem they now want the broadcasters and Social Media to stop.

So what exactly is the issue?  In its simplest form it is one of copyright infringement.  Everything that happens on a Premier League football pitch is copyrighted, owned by the clubs, the governing bodies, the advertisers, the broadcasters or the sponsors.  Even taking pictures within a stadium can get you ejected or even arrested – the use of any device that can capture or distribute digital content is explicitly banned according to the stadiums conditions of entry, although few will mind you taking the odd snap or two.  The reason is that every time you capture an image it will contain copyrighted material.  A shirt sponsor, a perimeter board even a player’s face themselves.  Companies pay millions to have exclusive rights to be associated with the players, the clubs and the stadiums and they take a dim view of anyone else having a free ride.

Good old technology again has made the professional production of instant highlights possible and so the Premier League has been able to offer additional rights packages to commercial partners.  Last season the Premier League sold the online digital rights for the distribution of goal action to News International to mobile devices. Their paid-app product touts “almost immediate” access to every goal in the Premier League.  Yet before they can push the net-rippler out, thousands of people have already shared the moment through a Vine on Social Media.  What is the value then in a subscriber using their service if they can get it quicker, and cheaper, elsewhere?   If existing subscribers simply walk away from the paid service, what value are News International getting from their significant investment and are they likely to renew it?

Match of the Day used to be our only way of seeing the day’s main action.  Today, before the famous theme tune starts just after 10.30pm on a Saturday, all of the day’s main talking points have been shown around the world thousands of times. What football fans want to see are those incidents that the TV broadcasters never show.  Take the example from the opening day’s Premier League game between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.  An eventful game with two sending offs, a missed penalty and a late winner for the visitors.  But the main event which was shared across the world via Vine was when a pitch invader ran on the turf and took a free-kick on goal that was being lined up whilst being pursued by stewards.  Yet that one incident will never be shown on Match of the Day, Sky Sports or BT Sports. Why?  Because it may encourage others to do the same? Maybe, but the main reason is that it could be deemed to undermine the value of our game to those commercial partners.

So what can the Premier League do to enforce the laws on copyright infringement on Vine?  Practically, very little.  The one aspect here is one of the fundamental principles of English law.  To be found guilty of an offence the perpetrator has to demonstrate the “mens rea” and the “actus rea”- the guilty mind and guilty act.  In theory, if someone didn’t mean to do something wrong, they can’t be found guilty of an offence.  It is not always as simple as that but does someone who takes a Vine of Aaron Ramsey’s 90th minute winner for Arsenal versus Crystal Palace doing so because he is intent on infringing the Premier League, among others, image rights or because he wanted to share the moment with millions of fellow Arsenal fans across the world?

Once infringing content has been identified, there is still the issue of removing it.  The beauty of Social Media is that it’s instantaneous.  I can quickly search using hashtag for the material I want and see immediately.  But if material needs to be removed there is a set process that has to be followed and that takes time.  The reason why hundreds of millions of people use Twitter is that it allows free speech.  If it was heavily policed then people would simply move elsewhere.  So whilst the Premier League can request that content is removed for legitimate copyright infringing reasons, it will have been seen by thousands of people already.

So is this just sabre-rattling by the football authorities, or will they genuinely crackdown on users sharing illegal content?  Brand and reputation monitoring solutions are becoming more effective every month but they would still need to justify the investment in a comprehensive solution would be effective in eliminating the problem.  We see technology advancing all the time, so who is to say what medium we will using and consuming in six months let alone six years.  Football has far too many other issues that need to be addressed before it can genuinely think about policing social media to stop these issues.

PS – I wrote this a few weeks ago.  On Saturday I noticed that a very well-known ex-Premier League footballer who is now a commentator on a national commercial radio station tweeted a “Vine” from the Liverpool v West Brom game whilst it was still in-play to his hundreds of thousands Twitter followers, breaching the rules.

England C get A Team treatment


England C head coach Paul Fairclough has been able to use the state-of-the-art training facilities at St George’s Park for the first time as he prepares his squad for their crucial Challenge Trophy Group A clash against Turkey. On the back of the summer’s disappointing 1-0 defeat to Slovakia, England know they need to come away from Turkey with a victory if they are going to maintain their place in the tournament, with England C then set to face Estonia in November.

Made up of players competing outside of the Football League (which you can follow and receive all the latest news and updates at bluesq.com), England C have now officially been made a part of Club England – opening the door for the squad to use the country’s £105m national football centre – and Fairclough has admitted he still has plenty to think about before the trip to Turkey.

“I’m not closing the door on anyone because we’ve still got a few weeks before the Turkey game. The lads who have been selected are in pole position. We’ve got to be sensitive to the needs of the clubs. The boys will come to us off the back of a very fierce league game.”

Bristol Rovers duo Lee Brown and Tom Parkes have been named in the squad for the match at Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium in Istanbul on October 14th. Both players are now expected to miss the trip to Aldershot in order to participate in the England C clash, although the twosome are due back at their club for the game against Forest Green on October 18. Both Brown and Parkes have been stand-outs in the Rovers team under Darrell Clarke this season, playing key roles in Rovers run of five wins in six games to leave the club sixth in the Conference and still very much in touch with league leaders Barnet.

With am or without you


Every Non-League club starts the season with a dream of progression in the FA Cup.  For the players it is the thought of walking out at a Premier League (or Championship) ground, or pitting their wits against professional players.  For managers it is the thought of adding a famous scalp to their CV.  For the fans it is the thought of supporting their team in places or against clubs they would never have thought of and for the club owners it is the thought of the pot of gold that grows with every win.  More often than not all of those dreams are brought crashing down to reality by the end of September, with 540 clubs already “concentrating on the league”.  For those that have progressed from the Extra Preliminary Round, played in late August, the chances of them making it through three rounds is less than ten percent (7.3% based on last season to be precise).

IMG_1305However, those odds didn’t frighten us as we headed up the A12 to Witham for the second time in just seven weeks.  Back in August we were undone by a stand-in referee who seemed to have forgotten his cards (and rule book) and a pitch that looked as if it had gone through the same type of treatment as an Elton John hair weave, coming away with a point from our opening game.  Since then it has been a story of injury, suspension and some down-right poor refereeing.  Yes, we can all find excuses to explain our poor league form but this is the FA Cup.  Success is simply based on progression.

As a club we never budget for cup runs.  That would be a foolhardy approach, although many clubs fact in a win or two and the associated prize money into the budget.  An away draw is never a good thing at this stage in the competition (in most instances).  Despite the clubs sharing the gate receipts, attendances tend to be much lower in the cup than in the league. It seems that the magic of the FA Cup fades in the Extra Preliminary Round these days.  It seems that someone at the FA seems to have it in for Lewes when it comes to home FA Cup draws.  Out of 25 initial games we have played in the competition in the past decade (not including replays) we have been drawn at home only 8 times and only once in the past four seasons (eight ties). The good news is that we have a higher than 50% win rate on our travels in the cup.  What could possibly go wrong today?  However, whilst we still believed in the magic of the FA Cup, has it disappeared elsewhere?

On Non-League day back in early September over 2,800 squeezed into Champion Hill to see Dulwich Hamlet take on Hampton & Richmond Borough, one of the biggest attendances in the Ryman Premier League for many-a-year.  Seven days later they hosted Worthing in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup yet only 489, including a fair few from the South Coast, watched the game.   In Manchester, England’s biggest fan-owned Non-League club, FC United of Manchester struggled to break the 1,000 mark for their tie against Prescott Cables, almost 50% down on their average Evostik Premier League crowd. Likewise on the same day at Nywood Lane, just over 400, with a significant following from Lewes, watched Bognor Regis Town’s local derby.  Last season the corresponding league game saw 603 watch the Boxing Day game.

Football doesn’t exactly get the pulses racing in these parts – in fact the sheer number of clubs playing at this level in the area probably hinders rather than helps them.  Just a short drive away from the Village Glass Stadium there is Heybridge Swifts, Maldon & Tiptree, Burnham Ramblers and Ryman League North new boys, Brightlingsea Regent.  However, surely the whole village of Witham (population 25,532) would be out supporting their side today?  Who knows, perhaps the town’s most famous residents, Olly Murs and Dotty Cotton would come along, rattle in hand to cheer on the The Town?  I don’t think so but the FA Cup can do strange things to teams and their fans.

IMG_1294After Wednesday night’s game against VCD Athletic, it was hard to see how Lewes could actually put a team out based on the number of injuries they had.  I think it was touch and go whether Garry Wilson considered giving me the nod although my knee operation on Monday would have put pay to my long-overdue FA Cup debut.  However, the Lewes Lunatic Fringe would be out in force, putting the indifferent league form to one side and dreaming of a home tie against East Preston in the next round.  The script was all but written.

Witham Town 4 Lewes 2 – The Village Glass Stadium – Saturday 27th September 2014
What did I write earlier?  Ah yes, “What could go wrong?” Well how about everything!  The FA Cup holds no magic on days like these.  Played off the park by a team who had 10 men for a third of the game, scoring one of our goals because an idiot of an official decided to give a penalty (to us) for an offence that nobody in the ground saw and seeing players bicker with each other.  It wasn’t a good day.  Take nothing away from Witham – they kept their shape, played to their strengths, were as hospitable as they come and their goal-keeper once again got stuck into the banter with us from the first whistle – Martyn Guest always a pleasure.

Thirty minutes after the final whistle, the Lewes team were still sat on the pitch, taking part in an “interactive” heart to heart.  Under normal circumstances this was a bad day, but defeat in a winnable game cost the club £4,500 in prize money as well as the possibility of a decent home tie in the next round.  Whether all of the players really understood what was at stake when the game kicked off is unclear.  However, Lewes started sharply and should have been ahead early doors when Terry Dodd flicked an effort over the bar.

Boysie, the club snapper,  turned up late.  We pretended that we were already 1-0 up, all sticking to our story.  Of course he didn’t believe us, and soon we were 1-0 down.  One became two when Brinkhurst clattered into a Witham forward in the area.  No question that it was a penalty, although the referee, who whilst he didn’t impact the final score was as poor as you will see at this level, booked Rikki Banks for kicking the ball back to the centre circle which hit a Witham player on the way.  He soon angered the home fans by giving a penalty to Lewes – I cannot even speculate what it was for as no one saw any offence.  Dixon stepped up and made it 2-1 at the break.

IMG_1296One bright spot for the travelling Lewes fans was the appearance of Jack Walder at the start of the second half.  Walder had been out since he dislocated his ankle at Thamesmead Town back in March and his return would surely lift the team?  Alas a few minutes later a mix up between Brinkhurst and Banks that will be a cert on one of those crap “guffs” DVDs voiced by Chris Moyles gave Witham a 3-1 lead.  Three one?  Make that four minutes after the home side were reduced to ten men.  Game over, start the bus.

We still had time to miss a couple of sitters before Blewden pulled a goal back to make the score line a little more respectable.  But this defeat hurt.  More so than any other game this season.  Not just for the financial consequences but because of the performance.  The magic of the FA Cup certainly wasn’t floating around the Lewes dressing room today.

So Witham Town join a growing list of teams who have embarrassed the Rooks in recent years in the FA Cup.  Still, there is always the Ryman League Cup to look forward to.