What will you be watching on Boxing Day?

On the two days after Christmas, Amazon Prime will once again take over the screening of the Premier League games, offering back to back games for ten solid hours on Boxing Day. This is their second set of games they will be screening this season, having shown the midweek round of matches a few weeks ago as part of the deal they won back in 2018 for approximately £90million for the right to screen 20 games per season.

Amazon, and their streaming rivals Netflix, have already raised the bar in football coverage with their fly on the wall documentaries such as All or Nothing (Manchester City), Take Us Home (Leeds United) and Inside Borussia (Borussia Dortmund) so it was a logical step to bid for the right to screen games as well. They have promised to revolutionise the viewing experience for fans as they move into live streaming for the first time.

The key to their success is being able to increase the number of subscribers to their Prime service. It is certainly a compelling offer, starting from just £7.99 per month that allows subscribers to access the live games on any device in addition to their whole catalogue of movies and TV shows, a music library of over 40 million songs and the ability to get next day delivery on hundreds of thousands of items from their online marketplace. Compared to the cost of accessing Sky Sports, it is a bargain but what does the future hold for them?

There was some criticism for their first round of games in early December, ranging from the quality of the studio pundits to being able to access the games, especially when viewers switched between different streams. However, there can be no denying that Amazon have the technology and deep pockets to develop their offering. I’m sure Netflix, Apple and Facebook will be looking on with interest at the reviews and more importantly, viewing figures, for these games with an eye on the next round of bidding for the TV packages due to start in 2020.

Whilst the thought of watching any one of the six 3pm games on Boxing Day may be appealing to many, especially for those games where tickets are scarce, for Non-League clubs who hope to see bumper crowds over the festive period, it is another reason for fans not to come to games. Many clubs rely on the big crowds they get from local derbies over Christmas and the money they spend in the ground for the rest of the season. With little or no public transport, many Premier League fans choose to go and support their local team but with every game being shown live on Boxing Day (plus Wolves v Man City on the 27th), how many may decide to stay at home in front of the TV?

Indirectly some of the £90million paid by Amazon will make its way down into the Non-League game through the likes of the Football Foundation and FA Facilities Fund but it flows very slowly and the criteria to access it is strenuous to say the least.


Zeitgesting the last ten years


It’s been awhile.

You know what happens.  Life just gets in the way of all of the really fun stuff sometimes.

A growing family, a job that eats up the hours and being the Chairman of a football club have all conspired to stop me posting any new stuff on here for awhile.

But for one week (and a bit) only, I’m going to do what all good content publishers do and dust off some of the better (well, based on views, comments and shares) I’ve published in the last decade and give it a bit of a spruce up – a digital remastering of content so to speak.

Who knows, this may just spur me back into writing action in 2020.

I hope you enjoy some of the articles.

Happy Holidays to everyone and remember, your local football club is not just for Christmas, it is for life.


The FA Trophy starts to get serious

The Buildbase FA Trophy will enter its third round qualifying stage later this month, with the draw made at Wembley on Monday morning. There will be a total of 40 ties at the next stage, with games scheduled to take place on Saturday 23rd November 2019.

While Chester FC may not have an FA Cup draw to look forward to this evening like some non-league sides, they do have the not so small matter of the FA Trophy to look forward to. Chester joined the draw today at the third qualifying round stage, which is regionalised, and were handed a tough assignment away at fellow National League North side Brackley Town after the draw was made at Wembley HQ at 1 pm.

The tie will be played at St James Park on Saturday, November 23 and will be Chester’s second visit to Northamptonshire in the space of a month after the two sides played out a 1-1 draw in the league on November 2.

Chester managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley are keen to do well in the Trophy this year. It’s also true that today’s manager has seen his authority weaken to the point of not really being able to wield influence in some cases. Unfortunately, an early exit means blank weekends and a run in the competition can generate some welcome funds. With the bosses keen to keep their whole squad sharp for when the National League North season really kicks in, they view the Trophy as an excellent way to keep up the momentum.

So, regarding Chester FC’s upcoming match against Gateshead, the Blues are odds-on favourite for this match. Gateshead goes as a clear outsider in the game and we have absolutely no doubt about who will win this at the end of the match. So we think there´s no reason to cover this bet with a possible draw.

With games scheduled to take place on Saturday 23 November 2019, winning clubs at this stage will pick up £3750 from the competition’s prize fund, while the losing clubs will take home £1250.

Sutton United’s hopes for the FA cup end in Essex

The FA cup is well on its way with fans all around over England watching their favourite teams go against one another. As exciting as this already sounds, many fans also choose to bet on popular teams using betting websites. However, it seems like any fans betting on Sutton United may have lost their money recently.

Sutton’s failure to take advantage of their chances in Saturday’s first meeting returned to disturb them in the replay at New Lodge where, despite the boost of an early Harry Beautyman goal, they were on the end of a chastening defeat. It looks like their hopes for the FA cup have been crushed and their fans are left in dismay.

As might have been expected after the way they rescued their late equaliser on Saturday, Billericay started with energy and Jamie Butler had to react sharply to cut out a low Robinson cross, but in the 10th minute U’s won a free kick on the right and Rob Milsom’s inswinging delivery was saved by Harry Beautyman’s head.

If United hoped that the goal would take the wind out of Billericay’s sails they were to be disappointed. The home side attacked back, winning several corners before levelling when Sam Deering’s free-kick was headed down by Doug Loft and Robinson’s shot looped in off Jamie Butler, the far post, and possibly Milsom.

It was a huge hit for U’s but their response was what their supporters would have wanted. Will Randall, who had replaced David Ajiboye at half time, posed a pressing threat, with one shot deflecting to Wright, whose scuffed effort rolled against the foot of the post, and a low cross met by Omar Bugiel whose shot was scrambled off the line by Julian.

Wright did then score, following in after Bugiel’s low shot had come back off the post, and with over half an hour to go Sutton was right back in the game. Another goal in the next ten minutes would have set up a thrilling finish, but Beautyman’s low shot deflected over the bar off Julian’s legs, and Wright failed to direct a header when well placed and unmarked twelve yards out.

The game was still mostly played in the Billericay half, but U’s were unable to keep up the force and their last chance went when Kyel Reid, having done superbly to make space on the right, then shot over when a low ball into the crowded six-yard box might have yielded more success. Despite seven minutes of additional time, they couldn’t create any more opportunities, and at the end of the last of those Moses Emmanuel broke clear to set up Robinson, who took his time before lifting the ball over Butler and set off the home team’s victorious celebrations.

A harsh penalty

In the 78th minute of last Saturday’s game at Brightlingsea Regent with the score at 0-0 Callum Overton weaved his way into the area near the touchline. His way was blocked by Regent’s Aaron Condon and as the Rooks forward looked to go around him, Condon fell and perhaps to cushion his fall, put both hands out. Those hands landed firmly on the ball, stopping it rolling into the path of Callum.

Unbelievably, the two people in the stadium who didn’t see the offence were the two that mattered – the referee and his far side assistant. However, if you take a step back and put the rules to the side for a minute, it is hard to justify how an offence in that position actually warrants a penalty kick.

Whilst the handball occurred in the penalty area, it was in a relatively harmless position. Callum couldn’t have realistically scored from that position especially as another defender blocked his way to the goal. So why should that be considered a worse offence than one a few minutes earlier which resulted in a defendable free-kick when Dayshonne Golding was pole-axed on the edge of the penalty area almost dead centre?

Perhaps it is time we took a look at the rules around a penalty kick? At a time when the IFAB are keen to tinker with the rules, how long before the spot kick as we know it changes? Whilst it is sure to cause controversy, perhaps it is for the best.

Before we consider the ramifications, let’s go back 130 years when the idea created to goalkeeper and businessman William McCrum was presented by the Irish Football Association to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) 1890 Meeting. After a year of debate, the rule changes came into play at the start of the 1891/92 season.

However, the rules pertaining to the humble spot kick agreed by IFAB were very different to what we know today.

  • It was awarded for an offence committed within 12 yards of the goal-line (the penalty area not introduced until 1902).
  • It could be taken from any point along a line 12 yards from the goal-line.
  • It was awarded only after an appeal made by the attacking team to the referee.
  • There was no restriction on dribbling with the ball.
  • The ball could be kicked in any direction.
  • The goal-keeper was allowed to advance up to 6 yards from the goal-line.

The world’s first penalty kick was awarded to Airdrieonians in 1891 whilst the first penalty kick awarded in England was to Wolverhampton Wanderers in September 1891 in their league match against Accrington Stanley.

The rules as we know them today came into play from 1902 with the creation of the 18-yard box and whilst there has been changes to almost every one of the original rules, the basics have remained the same for over 115 years – an offence committed anywhere in the 18-yard box results in a penalty kick from 12-yards out.

But is now the time to rethink the rules? At their meeting in Aberdeen earlier In March, IFAB discussed the idea of making any follow-ups to penalties saved by the goal keeper or that strike the frame of the goal “illegal”. It is likely that in the next few years this will become entrenched in the rules of the game but perhaps one change could be under discussed in the next few years is that the penalty area is reduced from 18 to 12 yards, and made into a semi-circle similar to the hockey penalty area. Any offence committed in the area will result in a spot kick, taken from the point on the curve closest to the offence. The more central the offence, the better the angle the penalty taker has.

It may be a controversial change to one of the most recognisable aspects of the game but football needs to adapt. If we would have been awarded that penalty last Saturday we of course wouldn’t have complained, although based on our penalty record this year there’s no guarantee we would have scored it! But if we would have scored the only goal of the game, would it have been a just reward for an offence that took place in an area of the pitch where there was virtually no chance of a goal? The football fan says no, the Rooks fan says yes!

Non-League highlights at Steps 1 and 2

It’s been another exciting 12 months in National League circles, with plenty of notable events happening during the year.

With Christmas fast approaching this is a good time to pick our winners for The Ball is Round’s non-league awards 2018.

There are undoubtedly lots of candidates who could come into consideration up and down the country, but we’ve narrowed things down to three top prizes.

Team of the Year – Harrogate Town

Having bounced around the lower reaches of non-league football for many years, it was great to see Harrogate Town win promotion to the National League last May.

A 3-0 play-off final victory over Brackley Town in front of capacity turnout of 3,000 fans saw Town secure promotion from National League North.

There have been ups-and-downs on the pitch during Irving Weaver’s time as owner, but his quest to drive the club up the ladder while remaining financially self-sufficient ultimately came to fruition.

The story might not be over yet, with Town currently third in the National League as they chase a second successive promotion.

Player of the Year – Danny Rowe, AFC Fylde

AFC Fylde striker Danny Rowe finished last season with 28 goals and he has continued firing them home this time around.

His form drew attention from league clubs, with Cheltenham Town having a £175,000 bid rejected by the National League club back in August.

Rowe, who started out at Manchester United, has proved popular with punters using online payment providers for betting on first goalscorer markets throughout 2018.

His 15 goal tally this season has got Fylde in the promotion mix again and they could have a battle on their hands to keep him in the January transfer window.

Fairy Tale of the Year – Brackley Town

Brackley are another club who have spent plenty of time in the lower echelons of the non-league pyramid, but they finally got their day in the sun last May.

Their defeat against Harrogate Town in the play-off final could have dented confidence, but they bounced back in style the following weekend in the FA Trophy Final at Wembley.

National League side Bromley were strongly fancied to defeat their lower-ranked opponents, but Brackley had other ideas. Town bagged a stoppage time equaliser to send the game to extra-time where neither side could find a winner.

They held their nerve during the shoot-out, with Andy Brown calmly slotting home the deciding goal to spark wild celebrations amongst Brackley’s 7,000 fans.