1966 and Not All That


CaptureIn celebration of the 50th anniversay of our greatest ever footballing day as a nation, below is an extract of the chapter I wrote for Mark Perryman’s excellent book ‘1966 and Not All That’.  The book looks at the build up to the 1966 World Cup from a social and a sporting aspect in England as well as containing updated match reports 50 years on, written by some of the finest footballing authors around today (plus me).

My chapter focuses on the changing nature of the travelling English football fan in the last 50 years, starting 4 years before the 1966 World Cup in Chile and finishing up with the run up to the European Championships in France last month.  If you want to buy a copy then head over to Amazon by clicking here.

Have tickets, will travel

The England squad that travelled to the 1962 World Cup in Chile had to endure a flight with two separate changes to Lima where they played a warm up game against Peru before moving onto Santiago, then Rancagua where they would play their group games and then bus to their base in the Braden Copper Company staff house in Coya, some 2,500ft up in the Andes.  The journey of over 7,500 miles would have taken them more than 24 hours.  Hardly an ideal preparation for the tournament.  Very few fans could afford the high cost of travel (around £4,000 in today’s money) or the five refuelling-stop flight to the Southern Hemisphere on a BOAC Comet, meaning that England played their games in the Estadio El Teniente in Rancagua in front of less than 10,000 locals.   Today, that same journey would take 13 hours and cost as little as £500, with no stops. On the basis of England’s travelling support in the past twenty years several thousand would follow the team should they ever play Chile away in the near future.

When Walter Winterbottom’s squad left these shores for Chile in 1962 it was from the Oceanic Terminal at London Airport.  Four years later, when the squads for the 1966 tournament landed on English soil, the airport had a more familiar ring to it – Heathrow.  It would be from departure points like this that the shift in our boundaries as fans would start.  The travel revolution was still a couple of decades away when the 1966 World Cup kicked off on 11th July with England taking on Uruguay in front of nearly 88,000 fans, but there is no doubt that the staging of the tournament in England changed the perceptions of whole communities in terms of overseas visitors, the like of which many English people had never seen before.  If the North Korean, Argentine and Mexican fans could travel halfway around the world to support their countrymen then so could England football fans from Consett, Corby and Chatham.

It would however be a further 16 years before England fans got the opportunities to really experience what it was like to be a Football Tourist.  Four years after the tournament in England, Mexico offered better opportunities for the travelling fan than Chile ever did but still the cost and the misguided perceptions created by the media of what visiting foreign countries was really like restricted the number of supporters prepared to travel to Central America.  However the 1970 FIFA World Cup did see the first attempt to create an official England supporters travel club for those now intending to follow the team overseas.  The England Football Supporters’ Association offered members who wanted to travel to Mexico the opportunity to travel on an organised trip to watch the tournament, with travel, hotels, a full English washed down with pints of Watney Ale.  The downside?  Fans would need to part with between £230 and £250 per person for a three week trip, or around 8 weeks money for someone on the then average UK wage of £32 per week, around £7,500 in today’s money. Britain was on the verge of a recession, after the “never had it so good” Sixties.  The typical demographic of football fans at the start of the decade was more likely to spend their money on a new Ford Cortina or Teasmade for their semi-detached in suburbia.

English football in the intervening years between 1970 and our next appearance in Spain in 1982 went through a radical change.  To many, the watershed moment in the development of a culture of following club and country came two years earlier in Italy when England qualified for the new-look European Championships.  Thousands of fans travelled by plane, train and automobile to the group games against Belgium, Spain and hosts, Italy. This was a new generation of football fan who had not previously had the opportunity to watch their nation play in an international tournament. Many of these fans, only used to the passionate, if sometimes unruly terrace culture of England simply weren’t prepared for the way the Italian authorities treated them.  With few having experience of watching football abroad, many didn’t adapt their behaviour and faced with a new foe in the Italian police and the locals too, the English responded, by running riot.

Despite the experience of being tear gassed, or worse, or two years later even more fans headed to the World Cup in Spain. For some the appeal would be to repeat the Italian experience, while for others just like the Scots and Northern Irish they would bring their very English version of carnival football to the World Cup for the first time since 1966. This was the first major tournament where individual English national identity would come to the fore.  Whilst the English fans would still confusingly be waving the Union Jack, the Scots and the Northern Irish defined their support as ‘anyone but English for decades to come.  Spain was the founding moment for the Scots’ Tartan Army, whilst the mainly Unionist Northern Irish support would put their politics aside and proudly wear their own Northern Irish Green then, and ever since.  The Scots and Northern Irish, perhaps not weighed down with the expectations of a nation on the pitch, made the most of their time in the sunshine off it, while the troublesome reputation that wrapped itself round England at Italia ’80 was resurrected once more across the tournament at Spain ’82 too.

That reputation stayed with England and their travelling support for a number of years, and was one of the main reasons why the nation’s group games in the 1990 World Cup were held on the island of Sardinia.  The Italian police felt that by containing the fans in one place for the first part of the tournament would be a benefit for all.  Despite a tepid start and scraping through the group on goals scored, England woke up in the knock-out stages and gave the fans belief that nearly twenty five years of hurt could be put to rest.  Of course penalties were our undoing in the semi-finals but the national team had a new identity amongst the fans and the media back home.

To read more then buy the book!

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Post-season Blues….and Citizens and Spurs


A weeks after the end of the season used to be the reserve of testimonials for long-serving players and club officials. Football has moved on, and the likelihood of a player staying at one club for 5 years, let alone a decade is very rare. Look at the final top four in the Premier League – John Terry at Chelsea (11 years since debut) is the stand out exception to this; Man City could boast Micah Richards (10 years) although 179 appearances in ten years and spending the last season on loan to Fiorentina, whilst Arsenal of course have the £2m a year forgotten man (by most outside of the Emirates anyway) Abou Diaby who made his debut in 2006.

This week Crystal Palace honoured the service of their long-serving keeper Julián Speroni who had made over 350 appearances since joining the club in 2004 with a testimonial against former club Dundee. However, Palace appeared to be the exception rather than the rule of playing post-season games with any altruistic meaning.

Yet twenty four hours after Palace honoured their keeper, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were due to play games of their own. This time it wasn’t to honour a particular player, or reward any member of the club for long service. In fact it is hard to think of any reason apart from a commercial obligation why they would be heading to Canada and Malaysia respectively.

The clubs will argue it is all about building a fan base in new markets, but does that really stack up? With the Premier League season done and dusted less than 72 hours previous, why would Manchester City decide it was a good idea for their squad to fly 3,500 miles to Toronto? Assuming they left on Monday, that’s quite a strain on the players having just completed a full season, and one that was proceeded for many of the players by the World Cup in Brazil and also included a mid-season game in Abu Dhabi against Hamburg. Straight after the game in Toronto they then head to Texas (a mere 1,500 miles) where 24 hours later they take on Houston.

Tottenham Hotspur haven’t exactly been brimming with joy at the prospect of another Europa League campaign next season. Back in April Mauricio Pochettino admitted the Europa League is a hindrance to a Premier League club’s domestic aspirations, yet the club have already headed East for a game in Malaysia on Wednesday before flying onto Australia to take on Sydney on Saturday. They will be joined down under by Chelsea who also take on Sydney on Tuesday night after a stop in Thailand to play the”All Stars XI” on Saturday. It’s hard to have sympathy with the clubs when they complain about fixture congestion then take off on such trips.

What makes these trips even more strange in terms of their timing is a number of the players will be included in International squads for friendlies being played on the 6th and 7th June.  England, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, France, Argentina and Ghana are all due to play that weekend, putting further strain on the players.

These post season games seem to be a growing trend. Not that it detracts from their pre-season games – Manchester City will be heading to Australia to take part in the newly expanded International Champions Cup, taking on Roma and Barcelona in Melbourne, whilst Chelsea play in the North American edition against New York RedBulls, PSG and Barcelona. Spurs will be one of the other four current Premier League sides heading Stateside  as they take on the MLS All-Stars at the wonderfully named Dick’s Sporting Goods Store Stadium in he equally brilliantly named Commerce City in Colorado.

Football is a highly competitive global game on and off the pitch, but do these post-season games really help the players, who are the profit generators when viewed with commercial glasses on? Do you think Mourinho, Pellegrini and Pochettino have the same enthusiasm for these trips as adidas, Samsung, Nike, Etihad, Armour and AIA have? In some instances the club’s have to perform based on clauses in hugely profitable commercial partnerships, underlining the shift from the people’s game to a game dominated by money. That’s not a surprise. Tomorrow’s avid Chelsea or Man City fan is just as likely to live in Shanghai as he is in Streatham or Stretford, snapping up all the club have to offer in a digital format such as the ability to watch these games exclusively in the club’s online TV channel.

Tickets for the games in Thailand and Malaysia aren’t cheap. When Chelsea play in the Rajamangala National Stadium on Saturday in the Singha Celebration Match (Chelsea’s Global Beer Partner), tickets range from around £10 to close to £80, which is almost a third of the average monthly income in Thailand. Even Arsenal cannot boast that price to income ratio yet! Meanwhile over in Selangor where the average Malaysian earns approximately £900 per month, tickets for the AIA Cup (Spurs shirt sponsor) game will cost between £10 and £75 although there are no concessions at all.

I’m sure the fans who are following their teams across the world will enjoy the opportunity to visit some new cities, whilst the marketing officials and PR companies will do their best to get players to look happy at choreographed public appearances. The clubs will stand firmly behind the pretext of building their brand in new markets, but does this simply add more weight to the stealth plans of Game 39 once more?

Postscript – 28/5 – Man City’s game at the BBVA stadium in Houston was postponed after the team arrived in Texas due to issues with the pitch.  Well, that was worth it then.

Just the (fake) ticket


2014 promises to be another great year of global sport.  This summer we have the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to look forward to as well as the Commonwealth Games which is being hosted by Glasgow.  The feel-good factor generated by the 2012 Olympic Games has already been felt in Scotland with over 90% of the tickets for the 11 days of action already sold, and expectations of a complete sell out of the games is on the cards.

Technology is a wonderful thing and has made ticketing for major events so much easier.  Barcodes and Q-Codes allow immediate security and verification of the authenticity of a ticket and the identification of the holder.  Print at home technology means that tickets bought a few seconds ago on the other side of the world can be in your hand within seconds, meaning significant reductions in the handling and administration costs of ticketing events, as well as issues that arise when tickets go astray.

But unfortunately, technology has also driven up the number of criminals who see big events as big opportunities to make big bucks.  Major events, concerts and shows a decade ago were blighted by the spectre of ticket touts, who would acquire tickets at knock-down prices from Corporate Sponsors who had little interest in attending events, and sell them at inflated prices outside the venues.  Many of us have stories of picking up bargains in this way, only to see the name of a Multinational company on the ticket.  During the 2006 World Cup there were stories of football fans buying tickets outside one stadium in Germany that saw them sitting in the highly-secure area reserved for the VIPs and visiting foreign dignitaries.

For the really big events such as the FIFA World Cup, rogue ticketing companies launch websites on a weekly basis, listing events where demand far outstripped supply and simply take people’s money and never deliver any goods.  They have a window of opportunity thanks to the delays in dispatching the official tickets to make their cash.  For most events, tickets are not printed and dispatched until around 60 days prior to an event, by which time the criminals will have packed up shop and more than likely have moved onto the next big event.

In a recent report issued by the City of London Police, they estimate that the UK is home to over 1,000 ticket touts who are responsible for contributing over £40 million to organised criminal networks per annum.  Unfortunately, the recovery of that cash is virtually impossible. One in seven of us have been unwitting victims of bogus ticketing websites, according to their report.

Organisations such as FIFA, The International Olympic Committee and the Lawn Tennis Association spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to prevent both genuine tickets falling into criminal hands or simply criminals setting up businesses to commit fraud.  In the run up to the London Olympics in 2012, a specialist police unit, known as Operation Podium was set up to great effect.  In the 18 months prior to the start of the games the team shut down a number of high profile sites that had been offering fake tickets and criminal charges were imposed on the men behind the scams.  Despite there being only one authorised ticket seller in the UK, the Operation Podium team identified over 200 unauthorised websites and eight that were set up specifically for fraudulent purposes.  Unfortunately, with tickets for events being so scarce, buyers were forced onto the secondary market which created favourable conditions for fraudsters, especially with websites that were well designed, ranked high on search engines and mimicked the official website. One high profile case involved the website http://2012-londonsummergames.com which was reported to have defrauded over 400 people for a total of over €500,000 in just five weeks. The owner of the site was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2011.

In addition, the ticketing team behind the London Olympics, headed by Paul Williamson took the unusual step of reaching out to the more commonly known Ticket Touts.  They made it clear in no uncertain terms that their presence would be very unwelcome at any Olympic events and the full force of the law and tax authorities would be used should anyone be found plying their trade during the games.  In total 220 arrests were made during the Olympic and Paralympic games in London with an almost zero tolerance approach taken that certainly detracted many from chancing their arm.

The Operation Podium team conducted 19 separate operations designed to identify and shut down fraudulent websites selling tickets for a variety of events in the UK.  Whilst there is legislation in place to prevent reselling of many different types of sporting tickets (such as the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006), other events are not so lucky.  Two years ago Take That announced a series of concerts to mark their reunion.  The police knew of a small number of unlicensed websites that were planning on offering tickets, but within hours of the tickets being made available they were tracking hundreds of new websites, all offering tickets.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of these were fake and only shut down after damage had been done in terms of stealing fans money and damaging the reputation of the band through association.  The authorities are already predicting that the current craze around One Direction will see hundreds more websites pop up as their sell-out world stadium tour kicks off in a few months.

Come June time the eyes of the world will be firmly on Brazil who will be hosting the 20th FIFA World Cup.  So far over 1.1 million tickets have been sold through official channels, with a number of further phases to come.  Come tournament time and the greatest show on earth is bound to be played out in front of capacity stadiums.  Once again, huge demand coupled with scarce supply means football fans who are heading to Brazil will take a risk on trying to find alternative methods to get their match tickets.  A simple search for the term “Brazil World Cup Tickets” on Google throws up over 38 million results, with some organisations who have no official link to FIFA or the organising committee stating that they can “provide authentic tickets for all games” or “guarantee best tickets”.

The danger here is that tickets will not be produced until close to the start of the tournament meaning that fake ticketing websites will have already collected hard-earned cash from unsuspecting football fans and disappeared into the virtual wilderness before buyers realise that they have been duped.

In previous tournaments there was a way to acquire tickets through a travel package.  Many organisations hedged their bets that they would receive tickets closer to the tournament and sold expensive travel packages to desperate fans.  In many instances the flights and hotel bookings were real, but the tickets never materialised.  Some travel companies were victims just as much as the individuals were, never receiving the tickets that had paid for.  However, many simply used the cover of adding the extra value of travel to line their pockets even more.  For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year there are no official travel package partnership and thus no organisation is allowed to offer a package of travel and tickets.

Despite promises to crack down on the practice, there hasn’t been a major tournament in recent memory where you couldn’t pick up Sponsors tickets in the run up to the kick off outside the stadium.  In Portugal’s 2004 European Championship I collected almost the full set of “official” sponsors names on tickets I bought outside stadiums, right under the noses of the police.  The memorable TV adverts prior to France ’98 and Belgium/Holland 2000 of the lone England fan being turned away at the gate because his name didn’t match what was on the ticket was a romantic notion.  In reality, the queues and chaos getting into the grounds meant no security checks could take place.  In Germany 2006 I was actually asked for ID after turning up late for a game and the stewards had nothing better to do, but on the other hand when I asked about spare tickets at another venue during the same tournament at the official ticket booth I was pointed in the direction of the Corporate entrance and told to ask people outside there.

Prior to the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, one of the most respected names on the Internet, Symantec published a report that highlighted the problems major sporting events bring. They saw a massive increase in cybercrime, especially from traditional 419 Scams relating to fake competition winners in the run up to the competition as people desperate to watch the games were willing to explore any avenue to get their hands on tickets. The number of spam-related or phishing emails increased to over 25% of the global spam emails.

“Right now, spammers are reliant on the massive wave of excitement and expectation that typically surrounds an event like the FIFA World Cup,” said MessageLabs Intelligence Senior Analyst, Paul Wood at the time. “Riding this wave, spammers get the attention of their victims by offering products for sale or enticing them to click on a link. It is not uncommon for the event to appear in the subject line of an email but for the body of the same email to be completely unrelated.”

Symantec have already highlighted a number of websites that have been designed to look like official FIFA World Cup Sponsor websites in order to trick users into handing over personal details in return for the promise of big prizes, the biggest one leveraging the name of Brazilian payment card operator CIELO which has been used for a phishing scam.  In addition, one particular company who have been featured on BBC’s Rip Off Britain in the past are selling tickets for many World Cup games including the highly anticipated Germany versus Portugal game starting from €599 per ticket.  Ticketing expert Reg Walker, interviewed in the national media in January felt that World Cup fraud may be as high as £15 million.

My favourite shirt


“How take in steam
Recall your dream
Hey Camisas
Your favourite shirt is on the bed
Do a somersault on your head”

Favourite Shirts (Boy meets Girl) – Haircut 100 – 1981

I thought I would never get to mention Haircut 100 and football in the same post but earlier this week I thought I had lost my favourite football shirt.  We all have one don’t we? (worried look around the room), one that holds special memories for us, that we wear to remember a special moment or occasion.  It is like a comfort blanket, a superstitious chattel that only we know why we have kept it and what the rules are in terms of wearing it.

So back to my shirt.  My favourite shirt is a South Korean shirt.  It is a sort of pinkish/orange colour and was the exact shirt won by the Tigers in their 2002 World Cup campaign.  It is made of a starchy material, completely unlike the shirts of today but designed to repel the sweat from the near 100% humidity.  And the reason why it is my favourite?  Because how I came to get it.

Back in 2002 I was working for an American Internet company.  The pay was fantastic, the perks were brilliant and my travel was all Business Class.  With offices to look after in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris I was raking up air miles like there was no tomorrow.  Alas, it appeared that the company was more concerned about the bonsai tree fridges for the 7th floor than paying people like the tax man and so on the last day of May 2002 they went bust, owing hundreds of millions of Euros.  We were all out of work, as we were told by the  administrators at 11am.  Was we upset?  A bit but we had the small matter of the World Cup due to start in a few minutes in the pub across the road.  Senegal v France, a few pints of Guinness and a full English and the world was alright.

I acted quick.  A couple of phone calls to competitors and I had sorted a new job by the time that Papa Bouba Diop had scored the opening goal.  The only downside was that I couldn’t start for 2 weeks.  What would I do? I called CMF and told her the news.  She jokingly said “why don’t you go to the World Cup”.  I laughed but then opened my wallet and that Lufthansa Miles and More card just smiled at me. Continue reading

3 1/2 seasons in one day


When we want to break virgin territory around the world, we wheel out the big guns.  London, Paris, Munich, Billericay?  All covered by yours truly.  But what about New Zealand? What about events in the ASB Premiership?  We knew just the man.  Gary McDowell.  So we sent him off with no expense spared via London Southend, Riga, Vladikavkaz, Almaty, Saigon and Tuvalu with a small packed lunch.  We didn’t hear from him for 10 days and were starting to get worried for the return of our Tupperware box.  But then the following report arrived in our inbox today.  hallelujah! The legend is alive and well and still propping up the bar at Auckland City!

Now earlier this year, the fates transpired for me to provide my first @theballisround match review and I was truly honoured. I happened to be taking a long weekend in Washington DC and the rest, well the rest you can read here.

Now I’m not a cynical man [TBIR: oh yes he is] but when I had an upcoming trip to New Zealand and I mentioned this over a pint at the world-famous Market Porter pub in Borough Market, no sooner had the words passed my lips but theballisroundphone (like the bat phone but hard-wired to football) was whipped out, an app started and a match selected. It started to feel a little less like, ‘good last review Gary, how about another’ and more, ‘we haven’t had a review from NZ, can you go’. I’m not a proud man, and just like the last time, the footballing gods (not Pele and Chris Waddle) had worked things out beautifully. Not only were Auckland City playing at home whilst I was there, they we top of their league, it was my birthday (give or take a day) and they were 8 minutes from where I was staying. You can’t thumb your nose at fate like that!

A couple of quick calls later and Stu confirmed that he could indeed cover my expenses. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean my flight, accommodation and match ticket [TBIR: Don’t forget the Tupperware!]. It turned out to mean your ticket and a pie, but don’t go mad on the pie.

Now unless I’ve got this wrong, this will be the first NZ soccer…sorry football review for @theballisround so I hope it lives up to expectation and you enjoy. Continue reading