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Wembley. 2/3/14.

A young Sunderland supporter describes what it meant to him to see his beloved ‘Black Cats’ compete in the League Cup final.

Avoiding The Drop

It’s when you’re walking around London and you see 2 lads in a red and white jersey and they roar in their deep broad north east accent “Haway The Lads” and then you enter a shouting match with them on the busy streets of London. It’s about walking for miles upon miles only to stumble upon a street party and celebrating the event with 3,000 random people you never met before. It’s about ,having you’re first drink, with you’re dad on Wembley Way. It’s about getting off at Wembley Park tube station and seeing everyone in awe of the arches and the walk, young and old. It’s about walking up that mile path seeing you’re teams flag flying over Wembley for the first time since 1998. It’s about hearing people share their experience about where they were in 73, when Porterfield scored that glorious goal and Montgomery pulled off the…

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Will it be another journey down the rocky road?

On the 5th of November 2013, Martin O’Neill was appointed as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team. This came as little surprise as the Northern Irishman was bookies favourite for the vacant managerial post following Trappattoni’s reign. What did come as somewhat of a surprise was his inclusion of Roy Keane as assistant manager. Despite the history Keane has with the F.A.I after the ‘Saipan incident’; a decade on he claims to bear no grudges with chief executive John Delaney. It is unknown as to whether the F.A.I, along with Denis O’Brien – who will contribute to the wages of O’Neill – believe that O’Neill and Keane are in fact the right men to progress football in this country or if they were just popular choice, guaranteed to increase ticket sales.

Despite the media painting a rather macabre image of Giovanni Trapattoni’s time in charge, he initially achieved what he had set out to do, by reaching Euro 2012. Of course, what followed was embarrassing to say the very least. Following the tournament, the problems began to mount, backlash started to heighten and things began to look very bleak indeed. A poor World Cup qualifying campaign meant that his departure was inevitable. Interim manager Noel King took charge for the remaining two games against Germany and Kazakhstan, a 3-0 loss and 3-1 win. The country is now ranked 60th in the FIFA world rankings, behind Uzbekistan, Cape Verde Islands and Wales.

Unfortunately, the national team is without a competitive fixture until September 2014 so it will be difficult to gauge how the team is doing under the new management team for almost 10 months but the two friendlies that the team has played so far have seen many positives, albeit they were against lacklustre opponents, Latvia and Poland. Speaking on the Lativa game, which Ireland won 3-0, sports writer for the Guardian, Barry Glendenning said, “I was very impressed with the manner in which the players kept the ball down on the floor and pinged it around. I believe their pass completion rate was well over 80%, which is remarkable for an Irish team, particularly when you consider the comparatively sterile dross served up during the Trapattoni regime. Admittedly we were only playing Latvia, who obviously aren’t very good, but some of our play was a complete revelation”.

What lies ahead for O’Neill (right) and Keane (left)?

Obviously, the main objective is to qualify for the European Championship while altering the playing style. There is no doubt that the players will be willing to give it their all, and O’Neill will offer a fresh start for those of whom that have been exiled in the past. e.g Wes Hoolahan, who impressed in the friendlies.

It will be difficult to draw a direct comparison between Trapattoni’s time in charge with the current era of management, as it will be expected that the Irish team qualify for Euro 2016, because 24 teams will participate, rather than 16 in previous tournaments. Glendenning said, We should realistically expect to qualify for Euro 2016. That should be the absolute bare minimum requirement and if we don’t, I think his [O’Neill] tenure will have been a failure. I don’t think expecting us to qualify for the knock-out stages would be too big an ask. After that, who knows?”

Currently, the Irish national team needs sustainability and patience, as short-term vision will ultimately lead to failure, once again. The World Cup 2018 is what the team should be really building towards, whilst qualifying for the Euros along the way. O’Neill is realistic with his ambitions and recognises how international management differs greatly with a club, and the challenges that come with it. “My concern of course is a very obvious one: That you don’t work with the players on a day-to-day basis…When you lose a football match at club level you can have a chance to put it right the next week. I’m not so sure what it would be like when they have three months to think about it.” He said in his first press conference at the F.A.I headquarters in Abbottstown.

Labelled as somewhat of a narcissist in the past, Roy Keane’s appointment as assistant manager was unexpected, especially after stints in charge of Sunderland and Ipswich town where he gained experience – good and bad. Putting the incident in 2002 in the past, Keane will install a winning mentality into the players and will expect each the players to act like professionals. “Yes, he’s made mistakes and isn’t always the easiest to work with, but it’s important to remember that the players he’ll be dealing with are grown men. If they can’t handle being pushed to improve themselves, or a bit of constructive criticism from somebody who has been there and bought the t-shirt, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the squad.” Glendenning said.

One has to wonder what his significance really is. O’Neill has already brought in two of his trusted backroom staff, Steve Walford, who will be coach and replaced goalkeeping coach, Alan Kelly, with Seamus McDonagh. They will more than likely be the ones who take hands on approach in the training sessions considering neither Keane nor O’Neill consider man- management as their main skills. Keane does look forward to dipping into the talent pool on offer, saying; “It won’t be hassle for me, I enjoy watching football matches. It’s in my nature.”

For the first time in years, there is genuine optimism around the footballing community in Ireland but it is hard to know if that feeling can continue unless there are changes implemented by the F.A.I in grassroots football. There is a long road ahead for the national team and soon enough the honeymoon period will end. It’s hard to know if much will change under O’Neill or if it’s just going to be somewhat of a continuation of Trapattoni’s team, lacking creativity, passion or any belief but early signs do give the Irish fans reason to be optimistic.

Qatar 2022: No longer strictly a footballing issue

FIFA announced in December 2010 that the 2022 World Cup would be hosted by Qatar. With the United States and Australia also prime candidates, it seemed improbable that the Arab state would get the honour. The tournament, which is nine years away, has been shrouded in controversy and sparked numerous debates on their ability to host. Straight away, there were accusations – that probably were not far from the truth – of bribery from the world’s wealthiest nation, Qatar, to footballs governing body, FIFA.

Zinedine Zidane, who has no allegiance to the country of Qatar, was paid $3 million to endorse their bid. FIFA claimed that these endorsements were important “because they helped Qatar establish its legitimacy within FIFA and connections to executive committee members.” Weeks later, Doha native, Mohammad Bin Hammam, received a ban from football – overturned by CAS – for his involvement in a corruption scandal centred on the FIFA presidential elections, 2011. Despite Qatar denying Bin Hammam’s involvement in the World Cup bid, he commented; “I served football that long, more than 42 years; I have seen a very ugly face of the sport, envy, jealousy. I will not talk about the corruption” raising the level of suspicion of bribery.

The country’s bid was centred on air-cooling technology in the stadia, as well as certain ‘fan-zones’ to help combat the desert climate which can reach the heights of 50 degrees in mid-July. However, this issue remains for players and fans travelling across the country. Harold Mayne – Nicholls, author of FIFA’s inspection report, stated; “It was a little bit obvious, it won’t be easy for the players. Now, after almost three years, it is still a subject on the table” Obviously, a health concern, one solution is to move the tournament to winter for the very first time, which disrupts the majority of club fixtures, leading to a season split into two. FIFA will decide what dates the tournament will take place following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. However, until then, Nepalese slaves will continue to die due to appalling conditions they are forced to work in, constructing the hotels, roads and stadiums in preparation for 2022.

Last month, a report from The Guardian exposed the truth that lay beneath the surface of the world’s wealthiest nation. The investigation revealed that 44 Nepalese workers died between 4 June and 8 August due to exhaustion, heart failure and workplace accidents. Some workers have been refused pay in order to prevent them from leaving the country, while others have their legal I.D cards withheld for the same reasons. Although they are not projects directly related to the world cup, it is related to the construction of Lusail City, a city that will be built from scratch – costing close to $45 billion – and will be the location of the 90,000-seater state of the art stadium that will host the final.

Qatar-World-Cup

It is estimated that nearly a dozen migrant workers will die per week, which will amass to almost 4,000 deaths by the time the World Cup commences. Sepp Blatter, commented, “It is not FIFAs primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye but it is not a direct intervention from FIFA that can change things.” An underwhelming response from the FIFA president. It may not be the primary responsibility, as he puts it, but the truth is that it should be. When human life is at risk, it should be prioritised before any sporting matter.

You do not have to scratch too far beneath the surface to discover the issues of Qatar hosting the World Cup. Populated with little over two million, located on the Northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, it is hardly a footballing hotspot. FIFA has to take responsibility for their wrongdoings. There should have been a re-vote when a winter world cup was being discussed as the original bidding process specified that it is be to be hosted in the Summer. Following that, the investigation into slavery should have been another valid reason for a re-vote as it is no longer strictly a footballing issue but instead, a human rights case that needs to be focused on.

At the time of the announcement, there were many questions raised in relation to the suitability of the World Cup being hosted in Qatar, now almost three years later, little to none of these have been answered. However, one thing is for certain, the onus lies on FIFA.

Confederations Cup 2013: Team Guide (Group A)

The Confederations Cup will kick-off with hosts Brazil taking on 2011 Asian Cup winners, Japan. The tournament will run for just over two weeks, concluding at the world-famous Maracana on June 30th.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Confederations Cup, it is a warm-up tournament for the World Cup effectively. The winners of various continental tournaments will take part. The eight sides participating in it are Brazil (hosts), Spain (2010 World Cup & Euro 2012 winner), Mexico (Gold Cup winner), Japan (Asian Cup winner), Tahiti (OFC Nations Cup winner), Uruguay (2011 Copa America winner), Nigeria (African Cup of Nations winner) and Italy (Euro 2012 runners-up).

 

Brazil

FIFA world ranking: 22nd

Manager: Felipe Scolari

Host nation Brazil will be aiming to win their third consecutive Confederations Cup after triumphs in 2005 & 2009. However, the lack of competitive games will hurt the team. “Spain are way ahead…the fact that we’re only playing friendlies doesn’t help” admits Lucas Moura. Despite falling down the world rankings – now at an all-time low position – Brazil will be hoping to put on a display for their fanatic supporters and the watching world.

Is Neymar set to shine at the Confederations Cup?

Key players:

While a majority of football fans around the world are familiar with Neymar, he is yet to justify the hype surrounding him on a ‘major stage’, or so they claim. At 21 years old, he has already found the back of the net a total of 20 times in 33 appearances for his country. However, a majority of the goals scored were against below par opponents in international friendlies. The Confederations Cup is the perfect stage for Neymar to silence the doubters before playing his football in Europe for Barcelona after the €57 million euro deal.

Arguably one of the worlds best defenders, Thiago Silva is a key figure in the Brazilian team. After a frustrating start to the season with PSG due to niggling injuries, he recovered well to help the star-studded French outfit lift the league title for the first time since 1994. At the age of 28, Silva is one of the more experienced players that features in the Brazil side. It will be down to him to organise the back line to ensure they do not leak any unnecessary goals.

Japan

FIFA world ranking: 32nd

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The Confederations Cup will offer a real test for the Asian side who will most definitely welcome the challenge. Former Milan, Inter and Lazio coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, has failed to find a clinical finisher for the national team which has led to a reliance on the talented midfield. A total of 14 of the Japanese squad play their football in Europe, a majority of which are contracted to German clubs so they are used to playing at a top-level. If the manager can finally strike a balance between attack and defence then Japan could cause an upset or two this month.

Key players:

Shinji Kagawa is possibly the most famous name on the team sheet. He is also the most creative player in the Japanese squad, who has the ability to stretch the opposition and leave defenders falling out of position. His first season in the Premier League was shortened with an injury but he still managed to score six goals in 20 games for the league champions. He will be out to impress new United manager, David Moyes with a string of good performances at the Confederations Cup.

Can Japan upset the odds?

Another player that will cause opposition problems, is midfielder Keisuke Honda.  The attacking midfielder caught the eyes of many with his performances for Japan at the 2010 World Cup, where they were narrowly defeated by Paraguay in the last 16. Considered a deal ball specialist who can slot into a second striker position if need be.  Honda will be a threat to opposing goalkeepers if granted the opportunity. He is out of contract at the end of the season, so there will be plenty of clubs keeping an eye on him.

The beautiful game no more, as modern football has sold its soul.

25th of May 1967, Jock Stein’s Celtic side just defeated Inter Milan to lift the European Cup for the first time in the clubs history.  An achievement made even more credible by the fact the ‘Lisbon Lions’ starting eleven were all born within 30 miles of the clubs ground.  This is unimaginable in today’s footballing world plagued with corruption and billionaire foreign investors.  Football was never a perfect game but it was beautiful, played and viewed by honest-hardworking people.  This is now lost.

Recently the Premier League sold the live rights to BT and Sky for £3.018 billion for three seasons, a figure which will probably further increase when the contract has expired. The amount of money being invested into the English game is becoming farcical and in truth, is killing off the charm of football.  However, England is far from the only country targeted by billionaires seeking a new club to guide to success – or in so many cases, send them into financial ruins.

Paris Saint Germain (PSG) were bought by a Qatari businessman looking to flounder some money in football – money that he will more than likely never see again – and for what?  PSG are a relatively new club in footballing terms, formed in 1970 but it is only now that Parisian side are making a real name for themselves in global football, despite previously winning multiple titles in France.  The fans seem pleased with the good times, naturally, but it is the other teams in France who are forced to sell their best players –that they produce year-in-year-out that suffer.

Ajax fans protest vs Man City

Rumoured by The Telegraph, PSG are one of the elite clubs backing the proposed Dream Gulf League (DGL), a club competition that is to be held in Qatar and neighbouring countries on a bi-yearly basis.  The competition is backed by the Qatari royal family who aim to set-up the tournament in the summer of 2015.  The DGL is to be ran during the summer in order to prove the doubters wrong – who believe it to be too hot in Qatar to host the 2020 World Cup – by hosting games in air-conditioned stadiums. The tournament is set to rival other competitions such as Uefa competitions and the Club World Cup.  Surely though clubs will not want to partake in a quite meaningless tournament in the Gulf regions over the prestige of winning a European Cup.  Sadly nowadays, most clubs are attracted to where the money appears.  It is rumoured that Sheikhs are prepared to off £175 million to each invitational club, a very appealing proposition once the Financial Fair Play rule comes into effect. Unlikely, but if this were to happen, it would be disastrous for the world game.

Clubs are viewed as pawns by these businesspersons and the fans voices fall on deaf ears.  The investors are the ones with the money, so they are the ones with the power (or so they see it).  In order for football to reclaim some pride, something has to happen

Mindless thugs or adrenaline junkies?

From one corner of Peru to the far corner of Poland, hooligans have been a part of football culture for a countless number of years and it doesn’t look like it’s going to disappear anytime soon.

 

Hooliganism has been associated with football as early as the ninetieth century. Then, like now, the biggest rivalries took place between sides from the same city or area. However after the two world wars violence at football matches started to decline.

The 1960’s was plagued with social uprisings by angry and misunderstood youths. Juvenile’s crime rates were increasing rapidly throughout Britain. Looking for violence – an adrenaline rush – the youths targeted football stadiums as it was an ideal place to fight due to the large number of people at the games. Following this, teenagers mainly from council estates began to form alliances among themselves, known as firms. This gave them a sense of community, a place where they felt like they belonged.

The “English disease” was now spreading rapidly in 1980’s Britain. A rise in unemployment, racism and inflation are among the main contributing factors for increased hooligan activity. Along with the growing numbers of hooligans came a decrease in the number of police due to government cut-backs. As a result to the cut-backs only 150 police were left to control 10,000 travelling Millwall supporters on their way to Luton for an FA Cup tie. During the game Millwall fans climbed out of the away terrace and stormed the Luton fans, ripping up seats and firing missiles at the home supporters. Following this incident, known as the ‘Kenilworth Road riot’ Luton Town banned away fans for the next four seasons. It was evident that hooliganism was getting out of control.

 

 

 

 

 

On the 29th of May 1985 the Heysel Stadium disaster occurred. On this day 60,000 supporters made their way into the stadium in Brussels for the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool. Roughly an hour before kick-off, the opposing fans began taunting each other but quickly things became violent as missiles were thrown and Liverpool supporters began to charge the Juventus section. This led to the wall dividing the supporters to collapse under the pressure which resulted in hundreds of fans being crushed and trampled. Thirty-nine fans were killed and another six-hundred injured, a majority of them Italian and Belgian. The Liverpool fans were largely blamed for the deaths; as a result of this English clubs were banned from European competition for the next five years. Six years for Liverpool. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported the ban, saying; “We have to get the game cleaned up from this hooliganism at home and then perhaps we shall be able to go overseas again.”

 

England was definitely not the only country prone to hooliganism as it was becoming a major problem in Italy, Netherlands, Germany and many parts of Eastern Europe. Social class was the main contributing factor in England but in Spain it’s down to sub-nationalist politics, sectarianism in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and historical regional antagonisms in Italy. In most European countries football related violence is an internal problem, meaning the violence occurs at club level. Most European sides international support is well behaved, but there are a few exceptions such as England, Germany and the Netherlands who are known for organising fights with opposing fans at major tournaments. It is believed that close to 10% of European football fans are classified as ‘violent’. So it is clear that hooliganism is not an English problem, but a European problem, and on a greater level, a world problem.

 

The government and police have worked side-by-side to prevent hooliganism and advanced techniques were being used to tackle the issue. One such technique is by using spotters. The spotter system involves a liaison officer being attached to a particular club. His job is then to identify and monitor hooligans when they are travelling to away games. The spotter would then co-operate with police forces from both the UK and abroad to inform them of any hooligans travelling who may cause trouble. As technology has developed over the years, it has as a result played an important and crucial role in the policing methods used to prevent hooliganism. CCTV cameras are now a common sight at any modern grounds, this has been the most successful method so far. The sale of alcohol has been reduced in a majority of stadiums across Britain which was seen as a catalyst to football related violence. The police have been successful at combatting hooliganism in the football grounds but these methods do not prevent the violence that occurs outside the grounds, at times organised between two rival firms. Despite the efforts of police and governing bodies hooliganism does not seem to be going away at any time soon. It may be less prevalent but it still continues throughout the world.

 

Are these die-hard fans that spend their hard earned cash travelling the country and continent to see their team play or are they thugs just using football as an excuse to locate violence?

Animated version of one of the greatest goals of all time.

Maradona’s goal vs England at the ’86 World Cup truly is one of the all time great goals and what makes it even better is the commentary from Victor Hugo Morales.