There’s only Three Ronaldo’s


Ronaldo was at Wembley on Sunday. No, not that preening Portuguese. But a ton of beef and a champion in his own right, and to give him his full name, Hawkesbury Ronaldo. The Hereford bull was paraded around the pitch at Wembley before the match between Hereford FC and Morpeth Town in the FA Vase final.

If you thought Leicester City’s winning the Premier League was the stuff of football dreams, a similar story was unfolding at the club in the town where I grew up and started watching football seriously.

Only seven years ago Hereford United even played in the same division as Leicester City. Go back even further and they were part of F.A. cup legend, when Ronnie Radford’s 30-yard rocket toppled first division Newcastle United in an Edgar Street replay and West Ham were grateful to escape from Hereford with a 0-0 draw.

But Hereford have had a history of financial difficulties in recent decades as they bounced from Conference into the Football League and then back down again. Matters came to a head when the club were taken over by a group of London businessmen who many thought had designs on the Edgar Street site as real estate rather than a viable football club. In June 2014 United were expelled from the Conference over unpaid debts , and in December 2014 were wound up at the High Court in London when director Andrew Lonsdale failed to produce a required £1million proof of funding – claiming he was stuck in traffic!

But the club has risen from the ashes of financial oblivion with a new name – Hereford FC- and a new identity. After all the turmoil a fresh start beckoned in the summer of 2015. The supporters club set about starting a new club and, with the backing of four local benefactors, they registered to play in the Midlands League, the ninth tier of the English game.

Their first season as phoenix club has been a remarkable tale of redemption and success. A squad had to be put together from scratch, but they won their league with 108 points and with the Herefordshire County Cup and Midland Football League Cup already in the display cabinet, the quadruple was on at Wembley.

Hereford were due to bring not only a one-ton bull but 20,000 supporters to the national stadium. From a low of around 100 spectators under the previous, despised owners, home attendances have risen to an average of nearly 3,000 this season. The attendance at the Vase semi-final against Salisbury in March was 4,683 – an increase of 300 on when Leicester were the 3-1 victors in League One back in 2009.

Which must beg the question, where have all those 20,000 fans come from. Many,no doubt, like me (who went en famille) part of the Hereford Diaspora.

The Southern League awaits next term, so they will be competing, not for the FA Vase, but the FA trophy, the final of which was played at the same venue later in the day.

Hereford FC (1) v Morpeth Town (4) – Wembley Stadium – Sunday 22nd May 2016
The match could not have started better for Hereford. Rob Purdie opened the scoring with a fine 25-yard strike after 78 seconds for the Midland League champions. It looked good for the team who went into the final on the back of a 22-match winning run. They could even have been three or four goals to the good, such was their dominance for the first half hour, but found Karl Dryden in the Morpeth goal a formidable barrier.

Enter Morpeth defender Chris Swailes to write another chapter in football’s fairytale season. At the age of 45, and two years after heart surgery, the defender became the oldest man to score at the new Wembley. Hereford’s goalkeeper misjudged a corner, and allowed the former Ipswich Town player to bundle the ball home in the 34th minute for an equaliser. Hereford heads fell, and when Luke Carr put Morpeth in front after only 42 seconds of the second period, from Sean Taylor’s cross, it was clearly game over.

The Midlanders ran out of steam and ideas. Taylor added a third in the 59th minute before substitute Shaun Bell scored a fourth in stoppage time to rub salt into the wound. Northern League Morpeth Town deservedly lifted the FA Vase for the first time in their history.

Perhaps Hereford should have tried to get their Ronaldo on to the pitch.

Mike Miles

For sale – one England goal keeper’s kit – as new


16767042859_ae286e4fe1_kWhilst the biggest cheer in the second half came at Wembley in the 70th minute when Harry Kane scored with his second touch in international football just eighty seconds after coming on to replace Wayne Rooney, the most significant moment came a few minutes before. With 68 minutes on the clock Joe Hart got his hands on the ball for the first time since the break, and the third time in the whole game.  Even in the most one-sided of FA Cup games where Non-League minnows are pitted against a Premier League side the keeper will see more of the action.  Welcome to modern International football.

Hart actually got 3 touches of the ball in the first half, although 2 of those were in relation to back passes. At the other end, England scored four and could have easily got double that.  Nobody will really care though as 4-0 sits in that “comprehensive, yet respectful” result bracket that still allows managers to roll out quotes such as “There’s no easy games in international football”, “they were tough opponents” and “it was a professional performance”. It the grand scheme of things it mattered very little.  Since Platini got his way in increasing the size of the European Championships to 24 teams, or putting it in a statistical way, 49% of the nation’s affiliated to UEFA, England only really needed to avoid defeat in their toughest group game away in Switzerland.  That game was the first in the campaign and the Three Lions won with ease.  Since then San Marino, Estonia, Slovenia and now Lithuania have been brushed aside with efficiency rather than with panache. By the time they return from the game in San Marino in September I’d wager (if I was allowed by the ridiculous FA betting rules) that the 21 points will have already guaranteed a place on the Dover-Calais ferry for the finals in June 2016.

Hodgson will have learnt more from the friendly games again Scotland, Norway and the forthcoming games away in Turin and Dublin than these games.  The calls for Kane tonight started as soon as Rooney had smartly headed England ahead in the 7th minute, but Hodgson ignored the growing calls from the crowd for the nation’s latest great hope until the 70th minute. Kane waited 80 seconds before he headed home.  The Spurs fan next to me jumped for joy. “That’s my boy! Wizard Harry!” As he sat down a more dour chap reminded him that both Dennis Wise, David Nugent and Francis Jeffers also marked their debuts with a goal.  Harsh words indeed.

It was good to see the team keep possession of the ball so well and for long periods of time.  Passing at times was crisp and pacy – today’s coaches earn their Pro-licence money by trying to integrate often self-centred players with egos the size of small planets, who are used to playing for every million-pound point in the Premier League into a different style than at international level.  You can’t fault some of the approach play which saw the Lithuanian defence carved open time and time again. Each of the four goals showed touches of training ground moves rather than individual brilliance and that would please any coach.

16765523988_e22825595b_hThe news that Hodgson may be given a new contract should be welcomed.  He has affected a quiet revolution in the approach of the squad, failing to pander to the media.  His experience at managing at the top-level in different countries has given the squad a more humble approach.  There may have been a temptation to listen to those journalists who yearn for one last hurrah for the “golden generation”. Terry, Gerrard and Lampard have all been touted as coming out of retirement to play this season. That would be a massive backward step.  England looked assured with Jones, Henderson and Delph.  Clyne played with maturity at full back and Welbeck seems to raise his game on the International stage.  It is more than possible we will go through qualifying with a 100% record which will then translate in some quarters of the media to an arrogance that we have a God-given right to win the European Championships.  Whilst the Premier League may be lauded as the best league in the world by many, the truth (as borne out in some ways by the failure of any English team to reach the last 8 of either European club competition this season) is that it isn’t.  We have to accept that we are a solid, sometimes explosive team, that on its day will perform well.  We are no Germany, Netherlands, Spain or even France where decades of investment into coaching has put them on a different level to the English game.

Things are changing though, and with patience and most importantly an attitude from the top clubs to develop AND play home grown talent, we will start to close the gap.  Southampton and now to an extent Liverpool should be applauded for the investment they have made in their Academies as well as giving the youngsters a chance.  One day, Man City and Chelsea will realise that buying their way to the Premier League is actually damaging the national game.

16333126293_f4deb7f4b8_kThis was my first trip to see England at Wembley in almost three years.   It was good to see a few things had changed.  The tie up with EE meant that a mobile signal was actually possible during the game.  The whole concept of integrating the crowd into the event via social media worked well.  “Upload your Wembley selfie using the hashtag #WembleySelfie” saw thousands of fans posing, whilst the post match chaos at Wembley Park was managed well and within 15 minutes of the final whistle we was on a southbound tube.

Alas there are still some things that never change.  Sitting next to the bank of “corporates” behind the dugout (the ones that face the cameras and are always empty post half-time) it was disheartening to see people stumbling back to their seats twenty minutes into the second period, with no interest in the game at all. Half and half scarves seemed to be popular, selling at £10 – a 100% mark up from a respective Premier League version.  Oh, and the band.  They were still there, occasionally breaking into an out of tune version of Self-Preservation Society or God Save The Queen before giving up as no one joined in.  And talking of joining in, adverts run by Mars around the pitch encouraging fans to start a Mexican Wave? Please! Stick to making chocolate.

It was a great night for Harry Kane, a good one for Hodgson and most of the 84,000 (!!!) fans but my man of the match had to be Joe Hart.  How we kept his concentration is beyond me – a true professional performance.  At least the Kitman doesn’t have to wash his kit for the Italian game on Tuesday!

Economic Theory explained by Football – Part 8 – The Theory of Value


In the eighth of the Football-themed Economic articles, one of the world’s greatest mysteries is unravelled – The Theory of Value.

Former Morecambe, Stockport County and Grimsby Town striker Phil Jevons may not appear to be much of a deep thinker but the Jevons family are famous for defining one of the more interesting economic theories – that of utility and satisfaction.  His distance ancestor, William Jevons was a bit of a brain box, creating a piano that played itself based on logic and an early computer that could analyse the truthfulness of an argument.  Forward thinking indeed for the late 19th century.

Jevon’s theory was simple.  Too much football makes you bored.  Remember when live football on TV was restricted to the odd Home International and the FA Cup Final.  Match of the Day and The Big Match gave us a couple of highlights every weekend and that was it.  And we lapped it up.  Cup Final day was an eight hour footballing extravaganza that the whole family watched.

8710863386_841af277e1_bWhen England played Norway in a pointless early season friendly in September the official attendance was 40,181.  Official means that the FA included all those lucky people who bought Club Wembley seats some time ago…bought yes, attended the game? Maybe not, so the attendance was probably significantly lower than this.  Yes, but what about those watching on ITV I hear you say?  4.5 million people switched on at some point during the game – nearly half of that who enjoyed the delights of The Great British Bake Off on BBC at the same time.  Why?  Well, perhaps because of the theory that Jevons articulated.

Jevons said that the more that we consume of a product, the smaller the increase in satisfaction we receive from it.  With that statement he created the law of diminishing marginal utility.  Whilst we all want our team to be winning week after week, we would actually gain less and less enjoyment from each win.  Interestingly enough, according to Jevons, demand for the product should actually decrease and that will in turn reduce the price.  Think of going out after the game and having a few beers.  At some point they stop being enjoyable and actually start doing you harm as the hangover kicks in.

In footballing terms we can see both sides of the coin.  Teams who win week after week are actually more in demand.  Crowds go up, fan satisfaction increases and in the true economic sense, a club could actually charge more for the product and the fans would continue to a point where the price for “satisfaction” becomes unsustainable.  But if we start to lose, then we get less and less enjoyment out of each game and eventually even the most ardent fan gives up.  The moral here according to Jevons, spurned another famous saying – “You win some, you lose some” – that’s what keeps us football fans interested.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is The Theory of Value in a nutshell.

Football finally came home – Top that Pep


“Football is a religion in Dortmund. Bayern may have won a lot of fans and a lot of trophies because of the incredible number of good decisions they have made, but now there is another story. Along has come another club that is pretty good as well.” It’s hard to disagree with the words of Jürgen Klopp, the miracle worker behind the spectacular rise from the ashes of bankruptcy of Borussia Dortmund. Despite enduring a disappointing domestic season where Bayern had simply been too good for them and the rest of German football, Dortmund arrived en masse in London knowing that all of the pain could be erased in one ninety minute game.

20130526-214507.jpgLondon awoke on Saturday morning awash with yellow and black. Whilst 478,567, to be precise, Dortmund fans had been unlucky in trying to secure one of the 24,000 official tickets for the Wembley showpiece, tens of thousands had headed to the centre of London to party like it was neunzehn neunzig neun. By mid-afternoon Trafalgar Square was a sea of Dortmund fans tucking into traditional English beer (Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg) and traditional English food (Walkers family packs of crisps) soaking up the rare English sunshine.  Lord Nelson was looking down with an approving wink, especially at the girls who made the effort to dress in the full Dortmund kit. Football for life was the motto of the day for the fans. One game, one goal, one glorious night at the venue of legends. There were fans of all shapes and sizes enjoying the sunshine, although if truth be told some looked better in their Dortmund outfits than others.

Dortmund Chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke could barely raise his voice enough over the strains of Wonderwall to explain with immense pride how special this day was. “Ten years ago every member of our club would have had a chance for a ticket.” Today fans sat on the edge of the fountains with signs around their necks pleading for a ticket for the biggest game in German club football history.  Progress.

My mission was to try to document the day through the eyes of a fan with Allianz for their Football For Life campaign. Never an easy job with half a dozen Bitburger’s sloshing around your stomach, but even worse when every time I opened my mouth the German fans broke into a chorus of Football’s Coming Home. Both sets of found laughed at the irony that here they were in the home of “Your Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottingham Hotspurs”. Bayern fans were outnumbered 20 to 1 in Central London but they knew the score. Even a performance at 75% of what they have been capable of this season would see the trophy return to Bavaria. Dortmund needed all the skill of Reus, the fire power of Lewandoski and the sulkiness of Robben to snatch a victory. But if they could, it would be the most famous win in their history, one that would give them bragging rights over their rivals for years to come.  Despite their dominance of the domestic game, Bayern had been the bridesmaid in European football for so long, runners-up five times in the last twenty-five years with just a single trophy in that time against Valencia back in 2001. Continue reading

Die Klassiche comes to Wembley


The end of the football season. A time to reflect on all those moments of joy watching our beautiful game before the crashing realisation that there will be no more last minute winners, no more dodgy offside decisions and no more Robbie Savage – well, at least there is one positive. The biggest question on our minds is not where to go next Saturday but what excuses we could use to avoid the inevitable trips to DIY stores or fixing the leaking roof in the garage. These were the thoughts running through my head until I had an invite from those good people at Allianz to help them spread the good news – Football is for life not just for 37 weeks in the season. Their request was to help them celebrate all that is good about our beautiful game in one day. One glorious day. One day that I had to keep quiet from my nearest and dearest for fear of jealous retribution. A ticket to the Champions League Final. Of course I said….”YES!”.

8514941579_f28981bde5_bIf you are in any doubt about the anticipation for the Champions League final at Wembley then go an ask your average season ticket holder at the Allianz Arena or the Signal Iduna Park where they will be watching the game on Saturday night. Over 1 million people applied, but failed, to get tickets through the small allocations given to Bayern and Borussia for the most eagerly awaited European Cup final in decades. I cannot remember a final that has created such as buzz among the neutrals fans, none more so than the English who look on so enviously at the way German football is run. Make no mistake, this is THE best final the competition could have asked for. In some ways there is a poignant irony that the two teams competing at Wembley in the FA’s anniversary year are from our fiercest footballing rivals but in my opinion we are lucky enough to be watching two of the best teams in Europe at the moment compete for the coveted trophy. Continue reading

Win Wigan Athletic and Manchester City signed FA Cup Final balls


FA Cup with Budweiser logoThe Ball is Round has teamed up with the official FA Cup sponsors, Budweiser, to offer one lucky fan the chance to win a pair of footballs signed by this year’s FA Cup finalists, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City.

Wembley Stadium played host to one of the most dramatic finals in FA Cup history on Saturday as Ben Watson headed home a last minute goal to give Wigan Athletic their first major trophy in their 81-year history.

Before the match Budweiser premiered an epic Fan Film, embodying the magic of The FA Cup through the eyes of the fans who make it so special.

The film tells the story of this season’s FA Cup from the fan’s perspective and continues Budweiser’s commitment to bring The FA Cup closer to fans. Over the course of the competition thousands of photos have been submitted via Twitter using #tothedream. You can watch the film here

One image from Lewes FC, submitted by TBIR to #tothedream even made it onto Wembley Way as part of a display of images taken throughout the course of the FA Cup.

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize simply email tbir@gmx.co.uk the answer to this question, along with your name, age and telephone number:

How many minutes of stoppage time does the Fourth Official indicate in the Budweiser Fan Film?

a) 3
b) 4
c) 5

Competition closes at 12pm (midday) on 22nd May 2013

Competition is open to 18+ and UK residents only. Terms and conditions apply.

Winning Participant will be informed via email by 3pm on 22nd May 2013. The Winning Participant must confirm acceptance of the prize via return email by no later than 3pm on 24th May 2013.

Please ensure you read full terms and conditions available at http://tsandcs.budweiser.co.uk/budweiser/tbir before entering the competition.

© 2013 AB InBev UK Limited, all rights reserved. Please drink Budweiser responsibly.

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Ninety minutes from glory


Twenty four hours ago I was in a pub in the heart of Bavaria.  Munich to be precise, talking football with some die-hard Bayern fans from our German office who were telling me in graphic detail how this current Bayern Munich team were the best club side Europe has ever seen.  They could give me plenty reasons to back this up, including a statement around the fact that “Pep”, having broken all records at Barca would only consider joining a club more supreme – and hence why he is coming to Bavaria next season.  But my argument was despite romping to the Bundesliga, and being odds-on favourites to take the DFB-Pokal in a few weeks when they meet Stuttgart in Berlin, a failure to beat Borussia Dortmund in the most anticipated Champions League final for decades will mean this season counts for very little.

8514941579_f28981bde5_bAfter the crushing disappoint of losing out to domestic honours to Borussia Dortmund last season and then losing the Champions League final in their own front garden in Bavaria to Chelsea, this season was seen as a chance for redemption.  Their ruthlessness in winning the Bundesliga title has been breathtaking – currently 22 points clear with one game to go of Dortmund, scoring nearly an average of 3 goals a game, conceding less than half a goal a game, dropping just eleven points so far.  Two defeats in all competitions is certainly a record-breaker but could they really go on their sunbeds around the pool in the summer with a smug feeling of superiority if Klopp’s team win at Wembley.

It would have taken a brave man to bet against Bayern in any domestic game this season (and that brave man would now be significantly poorer) but in a one-off game on neutral soil I think the game could be a lot closer than people think.  An early look at the odds at Unibet shows Bayern are clear favourites to lift the trophy at 1.42 compared to Dortmund’s 2.8.  This season both league games ended 1-1 and their meeting in the Allianz Arena in the German Cup saw an Arjen Robben wonderstrike the only difference between the two sides.

The key for me is the form of Dortmund’s occasional false nine, Marco Reus.  We saw Reus destroy Eintract Frankfurt earlier in the season in the Westfalenstadion, scoring a fantastic hatrick.  When he is on his day he is unstoppable.  So unstoppable that the rumours of a move to Bayern have been circulating since he was voted German Player of the Year in 2012.  With Lewandowski potentially on his way to Real Madrid in the summer, he will also want to go out on a high.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for the game are like gold dust.  As the days tick down to the final we will preview the game more, including a visit to the Champions Park in East London.