Who wants to live forever?

Football is a passionate game, tales are passed from man to boy, generation to generation, whole communities and even countries are united for its purpose. It is huge, the participation is on an almost unimaginable magnitude but is the game larger than life and death itself? Surely it couldn’t be….

Ex-Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly (1913-1981) once said: “Someone said to me, ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen’, it’s more important than that’.”  Years down the line Shankly’s precious club were to embark on six years away from European football after being banned for causing the deaths of 39 Juventus fans in Brussels.

One hour before kick-off at the 1985 European Cup final,  Heysel, a mass of wild, ill guided Liverpool fans managed to enter an enclosure where the Juventus fans sat awaiting the game. Their intent was clear – to attack and antagonise. The reaction by the Italian fans was to retreat.

The irrepressible swarm of Red thugs carried forth and the pile up that ensued physically crushed those nearest the containing back wall – many died or were injured. Even when the wall finally gave way releasing a struggling mass of bodies, many were caught beneath the heavy stone.

Many called for the game to be cancelled but it went ahead amongst hysteria around the stadium. The incident is labelled European football’s darkest hour. Just four years later more lives were lost in the name of the beautiful game. Liverpool fans were again involved.

The Reds were due to play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday. With the game kicking off thousands of Liverpool fans waited to enter the ground, meanwhile the stewards and police were trying to release fans from the already overcrowded enclosure at the Lepping End. There were more fans than the stand could accommodate.

The suspense was too much for the entourage of fans waiting for the game and a forwards drive by some eager fans through a temporary exit opened by stewards and police, led to the bewilderment of others, as the masses spilt forwards uncontrollably. With nowhere to go the fans crushed in to the barriers and there was no way out.

96 people died. Liverpool fans once left feeling the humiliation of blame for the lives of Juventus fans were to be left mourning the loss of their own followers – again for what cause? Could it be that Shankly would be regretting his most famous words from beyond the grave?

The quote must have echoed like an atomic bomb amongst the faithful followers of Merseyside’s most beloved club – the timeless words drift over the hallowed turf of Anfield and throughout the Kop stand to this very day. “‘Listen’, it’s more important than that.”

The Scotsman, from Ayre had lived a hardened upbringing – football was escapism from mining. He had five brothers and his village, Glenbuck was famous for producing an abnormally high number of footballers.  It was his discipline, pride and work ethic that spread infectiously throughout the dilapidated club, Liverpool FC then flummoxing in division two. It was to become the best team in the country and eventually ‘Kings of Europe’.

When Shankly retired aged 60, Liverpool were the top team in the country and had won the UEFA Cup. The hardworking manager, from humble beginnings had created an excellent ethos. He had known football all his life as both player and manager. Soon he was clutching at straws and watched on as Bob Paisley and the rest of the club continued to go from strength to strength, conquering Europe.

Shankly, had looked quickly for a way back but was banned from Liverpool’s training ground, Melwood, where he had been appearing to watch the team train. The board felt Paisley needed space to work – the players still referred to ‘Shanks’ as boss. It left a bitter taste in his mouth and he even though he then looked elsewhere, he struggled to find a place in the game he loved.

LFC.com reports, many felt it was a poor move and that the Scot deserved his place on the board of directors. “It was,” said Kevin Keegan, “the saddest, saddest thing that ever happened at Liverpool.” Shankly was a fit man; but he died, in the words of the former Leeds player Johnny Giles, of a broken heart.

On the evening after Shankly’s death in September 1981, Liverpool beat Palloseura 7-0 away in The European Champions Cup. Prior to the kick-off a banner was unfurled on the Kop which read, “Shankly Lives Forever”.

Whilst his words about football’s importance over life and death could never be taken literally by some and others see it as a sensationalist remark full of bravado spoke to impress even the die-hardest of fans, perhaps the banner explained exactly what he had meant.

Shankly had once rebuked a police officer at Anfield for flinging a scarf, “Don’t do that! This might be someone’s life!” he growled. He saw football and life as one and the same and the scarf to him represented much more than a piece of litter – football was life and not death. In a way Shankly was saying, “Take care of that – don’t just throw it away.”

The opinion that football is more important than life or death can be deemed insensitive and ignorant. In an online debate on uk.answers.yahoo.com, user, Anglo comments, “If Shankly had been managing Liverpool after the Hillsborough, Heysel disasters he would never have said it.”

Perhaps this is true but he said it without restriction, with no such sensitive issues to consider. Another user – the Drunken Fool comments, “All LFC fans take his words as an attitude to the game, rather than a literal interpretation.”

Liverpool fans would be both cautious to rubbish a famous quote by the builder of the foundations of success of the very club they adore or to insensitively fully agree bearing in mind the 130 lives lost in the disasters.

User, Mr Boombastic Mungbean sheds some more light, “Those of us that have normally functioning minds realise, it’s not a matter of life or death, and it’s so much more than that……. metaphorically speaking.”

There were no reports of Shankly opposing players who wished to go to funerals or their children’s christenings; if there had been they would be well known. His love was so dearly embedded in the game he could comfortably pose such a comment live on air without fear or reprise, he knew what he meant.

Football accommodates life and death. Over half the world’s population participates and although the game stops rightly for minute’s silences and honours are worn in black armbands to represent bereavements, the world keeps turning – the game rolls on much like life itself.

 “Shankly lives forever” read the Liverpool banner on the Kop as his side beat Finnish opposition   7-0 at Anfield the evening after his death and the crowd sang emotionally his favourite hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’. Gates were erected in his honour at Anfield in 1982, named the Shankly Gates, above them reads the club moto, ‘you will never walk alone’.

When the Scotsman arrived on Merseyside in 1959 he had a plan, it was to conquer the world, to make Liverpool Football Club invincible. He carried with him his own ideals,

“The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.”

In Christianity there is the expression, ‘to die is to gain’ – death can be difficult to come to terms with but when one can come to terms with the bigger picture and accept – believing in Jesus’s voice and the truth then we may see that there is eternal life. Admittedly however, running out as Shankley’s new number 9 in some far away field may not be everyone’s ideal of heaven.

Posted in Christianity, Football, Football history | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Racing standards, raising races & sprinting taboo

Since sprint and long jumper, Jesse Owens won four gold medals during the height of fascism at the Berlin 1936 Olympics and Tommie Smith gave the Black Power salute receiving his 200m gold medal in Mexico 1968, there has been a taboo surrounding the superior performances of black athletes.

But what is it that makes the difference? Can those of alternative descent bridge the gap?

At the London 2012 Olympics sprinting anticipates another record performance by Olympic triple gold medallist and world record holder Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt.

Bolt stole the show in the 2008 Beijing games, winning three gold medals and breaking three world records in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m finals respectively. His performances left a historic footprint – no one had ever won so emphatically.

The 100m record was perhaps most impressive. The world watched as 21 year old Bolt won by a clear distance. Ahead by almost ten metres, he slowed down to spread his arms in celebration over the last 15. He said, “I was slowing down long before the finish and wasn’t tired at all. I could have gone back to the start and done it all over again.”

For an astonishing feat he made it look easy. He has a habit of making his best performances in finals like the 9.58seconds WR he ran in the Berlin 2009 World Championships; the very stadium where Jesse Owens famously defied Hitler’s claims of Aryan Superiority.

‘Lightning Bolt’, fellow countryman Asafa Powell and American Tyson Gay have all set elite records in the last three years and are likely to improve. With the likes of young runners Jamaican Yohan Blake and Frenchman Christophe Le maître already running under ten seconds over 100m it is an exciting time in sprinting.

Bolt’s current world record of 9.58s proves the 100m race at the top level is not as it was ten years ago – a race for runners who run marginally under ten seconds. That isn’t to take anything away from the achievement.

The great ten second barrier

No runner of entirely European descent had ever run under ten until July 2010 when the 19 year old French runner, Christophe Le maître ran 9.98s. He has since ran 9.97s – a faster time than Bolt at the same age.

For many years it was assumed that runners with European heritage could not break the ten second barrier. Matt Shirvington clocked 10.00s exactly in 1991. He was the product of an expensive training programme set up by the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport).

A product of the same programme, Patrick Johnson of Irish and Indigenous Australian descent ran 9.93s in 2003. Perhaps it was the ‘luck of the Irish’ – a one off, he didn’t go under ten a second time.

Polish sprinter Marian Woronin ran 9.992s in 1984 and Scotsman Ian Mackie ran a wind assisted 9.997s in 1998 but both times were rounded up to ten under international athletic jurisdiction. Koji Otto of Japan also achieved 10.00s.

Racing taboo

Uncomfortable to be compared with Bolt and Gay, perhaps the comparison of Le maître’s physical frame, tall at 6ft 2in like Bolt 6ft 5in is a more welcome one;  many have dubbed the slender athlete with a longer stride ‘the new age runner.’

He is disconcerted by the euphoria around skin colour, “Talking about white sprinters, I find this absurd,” he said. “Sprinting has never been a matter of skin colour. It is a superfluous matter.”

Maybe the matter is a taboo. The last man of European descent to win an Olympic 100m final was Scotsman Allan Wells in Moscow in 1980. In the seven Olympic Games since, not a single sprinter of such descent has reached the eight-man final. In Beijing in 2008, none made it past the second round.

Sprinting is dominated by runners of West African descent and long distance by those of East African descent. Today 71 of the 76 individuals to run under 10 seconds are of West African ancestry. Frankie Fredericks’s ancestry lies in Namibia situated in the South West of Africa. 

Looking across the women’s spectrum the eight fastest recorded 100 metre times are by athletes of West African descent. Ninth and tenth are Russian athlete, Irina Privalova and Bulgarian Ivet Lalova.

Privalova is the 60m WR holder and East Germany are the 4x100m WR holders from 1980 but with the way the Jamaican sprint club is developing it seems it will only be a matter of time before that record is taken.

In 2001 sprint coach, Stephen Francis established MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) Club at the University of Technology (UTech), Kingston as he had become concerned about the number of athletes straying to America.

Top sprinters, Powell, Sheron Simpson and Shelly Ann Fraser are all products of the club after first arriving as raw talent. The High Performance Training Centre followed suit at UTech and developed athletes such as Bolt and Blake under the tutelage of coach, Glen Mills.

Today, the sprint arena is led heavily by Jamaica a nation with a population of two point six million. In 2008, the team won five gold, three silver and two bronze medals across individual and relay sprint events. There were several more runners who made the finals.

A similar success followed in 2009 at the World Championships – six gold, four silver and two bronze from the sprints. Though many athletes didn’t turn out to the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, two gold, four silvers and two bronze were collected. One of the gold medals was won by Lerone Clarke, only the eighth fastest Jamaican in the world that year.

Raising races

BBC News correspondent, Kurt Barling argues role models reinforce racial disparity. With so many elite sprinters sharing a similar heritage the attraction of talent to the sport and motivation to succeed is higher for their junior counterparts, “Sport is an arena where black people are allowed to achieve. It creates role models, and there’s nothing like success to breed success.”

However, it is widely recognised that genetic matches are easier to find across a whole population than in one race. In the evermore diverse world role models can be cross cultural. In sports such as football leading players like Ronaldinho, Lional Messi and Steven Gerrard are attracting shirt sales globally. Sprinters are role models too, with ethical responsibility.

Slavery

Late American sports commentator, Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder landed himself in trouble and was sacked by television company CBS when he made remarks in 1988 about athletes in relation to slavery;

“The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way… This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner — the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid.”

It was a remark he openly regretted – a classic case of overstating a stereotype.  Sport Science author, Jon Entine sees justification, “There is some relevant research in this area…there were in fact cruel attempts to cultivate hardier slaves.”  

African slavery started in the 1500’s and by the 1700’s was rife. It is estimated that between 10 and 18 million people were trafficked from the continent to the America’s during the entire duration. Tribes were pulled together from many west and central regions with various genetic dispositions and health standards.

The conditions they had to endure were brutal. The death rate was as many as one in four in the embarkment camps and marches to the west coast, another 10-15% died on the way and then a third of those who arrived died within three years – half of their offspring died too. You had to be strong to survive.

Even when the trade was abolished in Europe in the early 1800’s the internal trade in America continued to thrive. Entine describes conditions in Virginia, “taking on the nickname of the negro raising state” as a veritable breeding ground.

Considering the whole history, Entine asks, “Could the slave experience… have acted as a kind of genetic bottleneck or winnowing process that turned out hardier workers or centuries later better athletes?”

Today we see nearly all elite sprinters are from countries that were heavily involved in slavery. The Caribbean and Nigeria has consistently produced such athletes. So has USA and Britain (GBR); the facts are evident when it is considered how those athletes are linked to West Africa and the Caribbean through ancestry. Today 71 of the 76 individuals to run under 10 seconds are of West African ancestry.

British sprint records show that Scottish runners own many of GBR’s best times before cultural diversity – not necessarily a hot country or flat but it can be asserted that the likes of William Wallace would verify tales of enduring hardship if around today!

Climate

East Africa’s geography explains how the region has helped to evolve bodies that can efficiently maximise oxygen because of high altitude meaning less oxygen to breath. It becomes clearer to see when such athletes then run long distances at ground level. Also, Living in sparse mountainous landscapes has made long distance running a more inherent practice.

Bengt Salten, Director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research centre sees similarities in the success of Scandinavian endurance athletes, notably cross-country skiers. They and Kenyans performed better in endurance events. He cited, “Population genetics – ancestry – is the key determinant” explaining, “the likely result of having evolved in mountainous regions.”

In West Africa the land is mostly plains lying at 300m below sea level, there is also the Sahara desert. The climate is very hot and nearer to perfect conditions for sprinting – flat land and heat and a good deal of oxygen. Bodies evolved in hotter climates can hydrate themselves more efficiently and operate less gradually.

Genetics

An experiment at Laval University by geneticist, Claude Bouchard and exercise bio-chemist, Jean-Aimé Simoneau revealed that West African students by a ratio of approximately two to one had more large-fast twitch fibres than French Canadian students.

Entine states, “Whites on average have more slow-twitch fibres than West African blacks who generally have more fast-twitch fibres”. Exercise Physiologist, Elizabeth Quinn states that, “Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80 percent fast-twitch fibres, while those who excel in marathons tend to have 80 percent slow-twitch fibres.”

On average people have approximately 50% fast and 50% slow-twitch muscle fibres. Both fibres are similar in creating force but fast-twitch can fire more rapidly and operate anaerobically – that is using the body’s metabolism without the use of oxygen.

Simoneau and other scientists at Lavel found after experiments on 24 athlete’s response to 15 weeks of high intensity intermittent training that humans could alter the proportion of slow and the area of slow and fast- fibres, concluding that, “muscle is not determined solely by genetic factors.”

Life’s experiences

Quinn reinforces the theory, “Genetics appear to have less influence over characteristics such as balance, agility, reaction time and accuracy. Many of these skills can be greatly improved with the proper training.”

She observes, “Fibre type is part of a great athlete’s success, but it alone is a poor predictor of performance. There are many other factors that go into determining athleticism.”

Entine draws no conclusion but describes the dangers of racial stereotyping, “a very slippery slope of imagination and conjecture.” Stating,  “it is important to remind ourselves that genes set parameters, but it is life’s experiences that ‘express’ biological capabilities.”

A runner may have an advantage by the economy they live in and the level of training they receive, they might be stronger or faster as a result of descent but the truth is it takes dedication and motivation to train and to succeed. A West-African is not guaranteed to be blessed with pace and nor is it the case that an Icelander will never win the 100m.

The Italian Stallion

Interestingly, the 100m is celebrated to determine the fastest man in the world. However, historically the 200m has often been a faster race even more so when you consider runners cover a bend.

Italian athlete Pietro Mennea, ran 200m in 19.72s in 1979. It was at high altitude where the air resistance is said to be thinner but still legal under International Amateur Athletic Jurisdiction (IAAF). He also clocked a 19.96s in 1980.

Known to take HGH, a banned growth hormone that was legal at the time, Mennea’s 19.72s was the fastest run in the world for 19 years, until Leroy Burrell ran 100m in 9.85s in 1984. During that time 100m champions such as Carl Lewis and Linford Christie were revered as the fastest runners bar none. Why were the Italian’s performances so under renowned?

The fastest run

Until 2009 the 200m held the fastest running time; again in American, Michael Johnson’s 19.32s from 1996 and when Bolt ran 150m straight in 14.35s, Manchester 2009. It was the worlds’ fastest ever run to date. On a rainy day and temporary track in the city centre, pro rata the equivalent 100m would be 9.567s. Amazingly he covered the final 100m of the race in 8.70s!

If records keep being broken humans could become incredibly fast. Leading scientists estimate that by 2060 we will have reached our peak and that currently humans are performing at 99% of their physiological capacity.

Records are starting to plateaux and in a study, published the Journal of Experimental Biology, Mark Denny of Stanford University reported the fastest a human could ever run 100m was 9.48s. Who is to say if and when that barrier can be crossed?

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Making the Difference

Football is known as a game of social inclusion – for one and all. For some though that might not seem possible. A war victim with no legs or a powered wheelchair user might wonder where they fit in.

At least they could spectate? Or even set up a fan club? Think again – these days the sport is overcoming all adversity and anyone who is up for a game might find themselves scoring in the cup final.

Colin B Robertson

Football is said to be a game of social inclusion. Many of us might have childhood memories of standing on the side of a game where older unknown children were playing and apprehensively waiting for an invite. Imagine what that might have felt like if you were disabled.

Whilst most casual games in the park can be adapted it can get tricky when the game is played in a competitive or semi competitive format – the game becomes too fast or physical. Disabled athletes want and deserve the chance to hone their talents and practice their skills. Many want an active role in participating in the game they love.

Sport England’s Director of Sport, Lisa O’Keefe revealed at Making the Difference, the second FA disability conference, that just 6% of all classified disabled people participate in sport on a regular basis. The conference was held at Wembley in December 2010 and its ambassador, ex-England Captain Stuart Pearce was in attendance.

He helped to present ‘The disability player pathway’ section – a pathway which in the context of disability football has become a relevant one in the last three or four years with the way the game has been developing. The good news is that participation is growing.

A spokesman said the pathway was, “A host of opportunities for players to get involved in the game whatever levels of motivation and aspiration they have. It might be at grassroots level with their mates or elite level competing for England in World Championships.” The FA has set up nine regional Ability Counts leagues inspiring a developing club structure and there are 19 centres of excellence for disabled players.

Pearce had a less than ordinary rise to prominence himself. Released by local boyhood club QPR, he was an electrician before he settled into non-league football for six years, determined to prove people wrong when Coventry City took him into the professional game: “I packed in being an electrician for a lesser wage. I wanted to prove what I could do.”

It was a difficult decision to make for him as family life and mortgages came into the equation, “As people we always have some kind of adversity hanging over our head. I’m full of admiration for these players they are a shining example and portray a powerful message for making the choice to get out there and do it.” He was joined at the conference by a host of disabled players who had achieved at the elite level of their sections.

Piers Jones, Para-Olympic Sport Co-ordinator, spoke about the upcoming games in London. There will be two football events – a Visually Impaired (VI) five-a-side tournament and as Cerebral Palsy (CP) seven-a-side tournament.

He said the sport, particularly the 5-a-side had not been well served in Beijing and Athens and that in 2012 it will be more bespoke, “We will use the Hockey Centre at the heart of the Olympic Park. So we will be in a great position.” He continued, “The sevens tournament will be on the last day of the games, the same day as the medals are decided so hopefully that will give it some more exposure.”

Channel 4 will be broadcasting the games in 2012 and LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) has created Get Set an education programme that informs students of what the Para-Olympic movement is all about. Jones said Para-Olympic mascot, Mandeville also would be doing his bit around the country getting people involved.

The mascot visited professional football clubs in 2010 in what became the blindfold football challenge raising awareness of Blind football. Players such as Tottenham’s Peter Crouch and Aaron Lennon and Charlton Athletic’s Christian Dailly took part and can be seen on video at Youtube.com taking penalties blind folded with varied success. Blind football is one of the five main categories listed in disability football.

Blind and Visually Impaired

Players are classified B1, B2 and B3 according to their level of sight. Players who compete in the Para-Olympic event are of B1 classification but interestingly the goalkeeper may be sighted, there is no offside rule and the ball contains ball bearings that make a noise when it moves.

B2 and B3 category players can be described as partially sighted and there is a European and a World Championship held every two years in this format. England is currently ranked 5th in the World but many feel the gap needs to be closed with leading nations who have larger playing structures such as France, Brazil and China where players play full-time.

To watch the game it is fascinating to see how good players are at dribbling and close control, the game relies on this aspect and shorter passing but at times it can easily be forgotten by spectators that players cannot see. The game is played in almost silence and the sound of the ball is a distinctive feature of the game.

Perhaps England’s most exciting prospect at 2012 is 19 year old player, Dan English. He is committed to developing the game, “We’re part of the journey to take blind football in the UK to parity with sighted football and a large part of that will have been completed by the 2012 Paralympics.”

“I’d love it if people thought, ‘I want to see an outstanding game of football’, and the blindness was secondary.”

Cerebral Palsy

Players eligible to compete must be within the CP classification of five to eight. The games are half an hour each way with no offside and players are allowed to role the ball into play as well as throw it in order to assist with players with hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body.)

The current England squad were beaten by Ukraine in the semi-finals of the European Championships last year but are optimistic about heading to the Netherlands in June 2011 for the World Championships.

Head Coach of England’s CP Team, Lyndon Lynch stated, ”We’re trying to build on our successes of 2009 (Winning the Arafura Games and Home Nations Cup) and we will be aiming for top places in the medal positions – we have had lots of new talent coming into the squad in the last year.”

He continued, “That also strengthens GB’s position in terms of ‘the games’ as many of these players will be stepping in to that squad.”

The FA’s National Development Manager for Disability Football, Geoff Davis said, “The last gold medal at the Olympics will be the CP seven-a-side. How great it would be that one of the present players or someone who gets into the squad could have the opportunity to play in front of 16,000 people and a worldwide audience.”

Deaf

For players to be eligible to compete they must have a hearing loss of 55% or more in their better ear. The game is played in eleven a-side format and players must not wear hearing aids during the game.

There are over 25 deaf club sides playing in Britain today and the majority of them play in regional leagues. They all compete in the British Deaf Cup, English Deaf Cup and Scottish Deaf Cup respectively.

The England deaf side competed at the first Deaf World Championships in Greece in 2008 but didn’t make it through their group. England’s Deaf Women’s side won bronze. Both GBR representative sides look forward to success in the 2013 Deaflympics.

Over the years there have been a few deaf players who have made it to play at the top level including Cliff Basten, Arsenal and England and Rodney Marsh, Manchester City, Fulham and England. The British Deaf football association has existed since 1781.

Wheelchair

The game is played by people using powered wheelchairs. It is in four-a-side format and the playing area is the same as a standard basketball court. The match is made up of two twenty minute halves. The ball is larger than other sections of the game using size nine (41.5” circumference) – normal football uses size five balls. That is so it is easier to control using a wheelchair.

There is also a ‘two on one rule’ likened to the offside rule, where a teammate should not come within three feet of the ball whilst it is being contested by another teammate and opponent if they are gaining significant advantage by doing so. The goalkeeper and a defender cannot commit a two on one in the area. Only two defending players can enter the area at one time and with no limit on attackers.

The game is the most modern of all disability football types and was only developed in the last decade. 2010 saw the WFA’s (Wheelchair Football Association) first full-time member of staff – National Development Manager, Sam Bull. There has been experimentation with a league format since 2005 but in 2010/11 season the Sirus national league is the largest competition to date with 20 teams and over 120 players taking part.

Bull is an avid fan of the game and has taken part from the early days. He said at the Making the Difference conference, “We have come a long way from the days where we used to use a tyre on the front of the chair.” Today, players have the option over what type of chair and attachments they use – often inducing hours of technical debate.

“I have a number of targets we are working to achieve. Primarily we want to develop at least four clubs in each of the eight FA regions so we can have local competition.”

Amputee

Outfield players are above or below the knee single leg amputees and play without prostheses on aluminium crutches. Goalkeepers are single arm amputees. The match is in seven-a-side format, made up of two 25 minute halves, with no offside.

Use of the crutch against ball or player is not allowed and results in a direct free-kick, there are no slide tackles allowed and ‘kick-ins’ replace throw-ins. Neither goalkeeper nor player can use their stump. In the goalkeepers’ case such incidents result in a penalty.

There is a national league structure divided into seven regions and a cup with regional training and matches held over Britain. The GBR team came second in the European Championships in 2006 and seventh in the World Championships in 2010 – knocked out by Brazil. The next World Championships will be held in Japan 2012.

Played correctly in its designated format, the game is impressive to watch and it is surprising to see how fast players can move on crutches and some possess brilliant skills. The main problem encountered is that at entry level a lot of players prefer to play using prostheses and that can present a spectacle of a different kind when they get kicked off!

There is some debate amongst amputee players as to what format the game should take place in. Manchester Utd amputees have suffered no setbacks playing in ‘crutch’ format to date; in fact they are the nation’s most successful side.

Pan-disability

For many disabled players the difficulty has been usually finding a club or somewhere to play. The recent investment by the FA for player pathways and an initiative like ‘Making the Difference’ helps in encouraging not only players but also coaches, parents and guardians to do their bit.

Currently players still encounter difficulties in finding a club to play with, at least in a parallel format, because either there is no league in place or not enough players to make a team. When this happens players often find themselves playing in a Pan-disability format. That is a mixture of disabilities.

It also includes players who don’t fit any other format – for instance a player with no arms, a player with spinal problems or a player with crooked limbs. The list is long. The rules may need to be adapted from time to time to include, for instance, a player with no legs might be allowed to use his hands as an outfield player.

It is great to see when people from all walks of life can come together and share a game of football. In Pan-disability you might get a player on crutches passing to a CP player shooting at a deaf goalkeeper. There is a beautiful empathy to the game in this format.

The Pan-disability arena is large and most counties provide at least one league. It is a good place to start for players who might eventually move onto their respective categories where selections can be tougher if the provisions in the area are low.

Limbless Association Football Coach, Dean Heffer said the arena had encountered problems with boundaries to participation, “We were approached by HIV and AIDS players and I have heard that GAY players have enquired too. That is getting a bit ridiculous because it shouldn’t affect them from playing elsewhere; we have to set the right boundaries – with all due respect.”

Classification

Whilst the Pan-disability format is a winner in bringing people together its downfall lies in creating a fair competition. With no hard and fast rules, the teams can be heavily loaded with more able players on one side than the other.

The solution could be in the traditional universally recognised handicap system, featured in sports such as golf but more specifically in Murderball (also known as Wheelchair Rugby) where the players are given a rating of between 0.5 and 3.5 based on the level of their upper body function.

The Sunday Star Times (New Zealand) reports, “Put simply, the higher up the spine the neck breaks, the less function and the lower score. The four players on court must add up to eight points, allowing teams to field a “high-pointer” playmaker and a couple of “low-point” frontrowers to do the grunt work.”

It wouldn’t work quite as clinically but the Pan-arena would certainly benefit from some kind of categorisation and team points quota. There is much that could be discussed; even allocating each player a different value in terms of goal scoring.

Classification for handicap scores is tricky but without it the game always discriminates against someone. For instance, players with one arm wanting to play outside of goal and other than in the amputee format may find themselves at a high advantage in the Pan arena but at a disadvantage in football’s traditional format.

Pan-disability offers the broadest opportunities to play and it can be said that is excellent for disabled players. They can get out onto the local football pitches and feel free to express themselves as individuals.

England’s rising blind star Dan English said, “I think people are finally getting the message that disabled people aren’t interested in talking about their disability. They want to get on with the game.”

The FA too is recognising that stating, “It is better to think about what disabled people can do and not about their medical condition.” That way positive thinking is induced, people are not treated with a particular condition the same way, with the same needs. When it comes to football, each player is different.  

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Beating Barcelona

Perhaps the key to stopping Tiki-Taka is by defending as Barcelona do. Although the ball control of Iniesta, Xavi and Messi are applauded more often, what say would happen if they could play against themselves?

Receive, pass and offer plays press, support and cover…

Manager, Josep Guardiola and Barça are an untouchable force in European football and if not the world. Not only do they have superb technical talent they also have performed consistently at the elite level. No more fitting example could be the manner in which they disposed of Manchester United at Wembley in the 2011 Champions League Final.

Utd were a side that had brushed passed every other team they faced in the competition – a side that had only conceded four goals in their whole campaign to reach the final. The Spanish giants ensured they would only have on shot on goal that night and only 30% of the possession.

Sir Alex Ferguson was gracious in defeat, “It’s the best team I have faced in my time as a manager,” “Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. No-one has given us a hiding like that.”

Ferguson stated, “I think we showed in the first half that it can be done against Barça. We can play against them and score goals, but in the second half we left a lot of space in the middle and then they created more chances.”

In all honesty bar the opening 15 minutes the Red Devils didn’t get close. Only Rooney’s genius – talent mixed with mental toughness deserved a goal.

Manchester Utd player, Nani admitted it was difficult for sides to maintain pressure for a whole game. He said: “They play such good football and they have such fantastic midfield players. They keep the ball for a long time and then it’s hard to run all the time after it.”

Nani though was only on the pitch for final quarter of the game – surely he can’t have been that tired? Admittedly the sight of Ji-Sung Park racing around to pressure and cover in the opening minutes was promising but by the time Messi struck in the 57th minute, he looked a bewildered man.

BBC Sport Journalist, Phil McNulty stated, “Mismatch though this was, to snipe at United is to dilute Barcelona’s mastery and they do not deserve that.”

However, he obviously felt that Barça had scored an extra goal, scoring three from 16 attempts was higher than their usual conversion rate. Oddly it was against Europe’s best defence. McNulty stated,

“Goalkeeper Van der Sar made an undistinguished farewell in his final club game, wrong-footed for Pedro’s first goal and slow to react as Messi’s second – viciously struck admittedly – flew past him.”

It would be fair to say the keeper’s line of vision was blocked too by his central defenders, more so than their attempts to block the oncoming maverick. One midfielder drained of will power and two defenders watching from four yards away, standing on the edge of the box isn’t pressure play.

McNulty said, “This was not about tactics it was about talent. No-one could have touched Barcelona on this evidence. Indeed United barely touched them at all. This was the footballing equivalent of trying to control wasps.”

Utd have uncharacteristically been made to look tame in both their finals against the ‘untouchable’ Catalan side. In fact Arsenal and Real Madrid provided better challenges in the quarter and semi-finals. Arsenal were commendable and they took the game to them until Robin Van Persie’s controversial sending off in the second leg but then it was the same old story – compact in defence and scared to press.

Arsene Wenger gave Barça an accurate moniker when he labelled them “super favourites”. However the manager of the side labelled, ‘Barcelona lite’ relishes the opportunity to play against them.

Several footballing pundits have warned not to go and try and play against Barça but the Gunners chief said before this year’s fixtures were drawn: “If I say we want Barcelona, you won’t believe me. I don’t even think about it. I hope we get who I feel we will get.”

He was by no means overconfident, “As long as we don’t get Barcelona on a day when they play Real Madrid and win 5-0. They were fantastic that day. It doesn’t matter to us. We will play anyone we will enjoy ourselves and try to win the game.”

It shouldn’t be forgotten either that it was only last year that current FIFA World Club Champions, Inter Milan beat the Catalans in the 2010 Champions League Semi-Final with just 16% possession in the second leg.

Then manager of the Italian side, José Mourinho played deliberately without the ball for 90 minutes and it worked. Barcelona were made to look relatively toothless, only scoring a single goal for all their 84% possession.  

However, Inter were up 3-1 from the first leg because they pressed high up the pitch and attacked with precision and pace in the final third. Their defending at the San-Siro was reported as dogged.

The pressure style is exemplified by Barcelona themselves, off the ball, press high up the pitch – each player knowing precisely whether to press, support or mark space. Compact in the middle to begin with the ability to recover and take shape again in defence if the ball is not won.

In fact, the pressing tactic is the easy work compared with developing the Tiki-Taka. Ideally you would need Barcelona’s midfield but top flight teams looking for an immediate answer should try Spain or Brazil – there players have the style, they have been coached already from a young age.

It is going to take a few years before we see anything like it emerging here, Jack Wilshire though is an obvious prospect and in England we are definitely playing ‘fox and rabbit.’

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Tiki-Taka, Tiki-Taka – the Spanish serpent

Ever since Johan Cruyff began to refine the possession game in the late 1980’s at Barcelona, English football was trying to keep passing to a minimum. Statistics representing what was to become Tiki-Taka was regarded as more of an unwanted tit-bit in the real recipe for success.

Colin B Robertson

The performance by Barcelona at Wembley in the 2011 Champions League final was one of the greatest footballing performances by any team, any era, anywhere in the world. You can’t take it away from them; that is the kind of football we ask for and the kind of football the fans want to see.

Barça – La larga serpiente ondulada (the long wiggly snake), are revolutionary in their mastery of possession football. Their average passing sequence is the highest of any other side. They are the team that has turned Charles Hughes’s figures from the 1980’s coaching manual, The Winning Formula on their head for the world to see.

It is admirable, especially from an English perspective. England is a country where most teams in the last five decades have tried to do the opposite – taking the shortcut in more ways than one. Hughes, who was a catalyst for direct football in this country and around the world for anyone that would listen, encouraged teams to go for goal quickly, to get the ball from defence to attack as soon as possible.

The theory was based on initial figures found in the 1950’s and 60’s by ex-RAF serviceman, Charles Reep, studying three World Cups and English league football:

·         Seven out of nine goals came from passing sequences of between zero and three.

·         90% of all passing sequences during a given game were in this band.

 ·         Knowing that 90% of plays and 80% of goals were scored in such a manner it was decided to disregard the other passing sequences and base a playing strategy on the larger figures.

There were successes – England’s World Champions of 1966 played a direct game – coupled with a surprise 4-3-3 formation it was a master tactic. Wimbledon known as the ‘The Crazy Gang’ for the amount of players who piled into the box and jumped around for long balls rose from the conference division to the top flight in less than ten years. Graham Taylor’s Watford rose four divisions in five years to the top flight and Norway found themselves ranked second in the World in 1990 after adopting Hughes’s methods.

Not only is long ball or direct football a quick or the quickest route to goal in any given game, its story is the epitome of tactical greed. It begs the tactical equivalent of the expression found on football terraces around the country, “Who ate all the pies.”

It was overlooked by the perpetrators of direct football that as journalist, Jonathan Wilson puts it, “common is not always good”:

·         The 10% of plays above three passes made 20% of the goals – more effective than 90% making 80.

Wasn’t it a song by Reggae legend, Bob Marley, “The stone that the builder refuse, will always be the head corner stone”? In that respect what England cast away, Spain and Barcelona adopted, practiced and honed what has become the pinnacle of the beautiful game, the head corner stone – ‘Tiki-Taka’ style football.

There was a time where Spain earned the nickname La Furia Roja (The red fury) because of their bullish, powerful direct attacking style. Ex-Dutch International Johan Cruyff started the new trend in charge of Barcelona in the late 80’s and it eventually spread throughout La Liga and to the national team.

It is well documented that the argument between the efficiency of short passing, possession football and long passing, direct football of minor variations had taken place at least since the 1950’s.

When Hungary beat England at Wembley 6-3 in 1953 England beaten on home soil for the first time by a non-British team was left chasing shadows. Hungary deployed a sophisticated new playing style and formation based on short passing.

There is no out-and-out evidence to suggest that Cruyff was directly inspired by the cast away statistics of Charles Hughes, then Technical Director of football at the EFA but The Winning Formula – a manual that was effectively a complete guide to direct football, was at its peak publicity at the same time Cruyff began his tenure. The Dutchman was from the school of thought of ‘Total Football’ - a game based on player movement and universality in ever changing roles.

In the late 80’s English football steered sharply in one direction and Spanish another. Spanish football nobly opting to go ‘the long way round’, in Hughes’ terms working with the unwanted scraps. That 10% of sequences creating 20% of goals – acknowledged or not by Cruyff, was the underlying basis of ‘Tiki-Taka’.

Mastering possession football would take hard work and clearly to some it was effective. Direct football assumed it was too difficult and ignored it. Hughes in fact, states in The Winning Formula:

“Some coaches have argued that the value of possession play is to manoeuvre opposing players out of position or to break their concentration with a series of cross field passes that repeatedly change the direction of play. This is unsupported by analysis.”

English football opted to head forwards at every given opportunity. Meanwhile possession football changed direction and at times waited patiently before it would strike – ‘the wiggly snake’ was growing…

In the 1990’s, Barcelona’s passing sequences and sequences leading to goals notably increased in comparison to other top level European teams. In 1995 they scored some 20% more goals than their rivals by sequences of 4-6 passes, slowly but surely the tiki-taka style was developing and soon Spain would follow suit.

It wasn’t until a new batch of Spanish players emerged on the scene that the red giant really took its hold. Smaller, versatile and skilful players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas had been coached in the Tiki-Taka style by players and coaches who had worked with it first hand for decades.  

The country and its leading club, Barcelona now play a grade of football to rival even Brazil – purveyor of the traditionally celebrated free flowing possession football that has won plaudits for over 50 years. The club and Spanish national side have increased their ability to pass the ball by so much that today they often out-pass opponents by twice as many.

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The Feautibul Game

Women who just want to support or officiate in football meet gender barriers even today. Women have played football for over a century yet their side of the game is dwarfed by the ‘other half’. Twice banned in the UK, jeered at, rejected and largely ignored for a long time globally, the participants have played on regardless.

By Colin B Robertson

2011 has witnessed the arrival of the EFA Women’s Super League (WSL). The league will run from April to September in the hope it will attract spectators from the men’s game out of season.

The league is a bold move: A ‘standalone breakaway league’ involving eight top clubs, financial hurdles to enter – reportedly 70k per club and three million pounds of investment from the EFA plus additional money from corporate sponsors.

It will run for two seasons initially. The aim is to attain a high profile becoming competitive and exciting, retaining and returning top flight players and achieving commercial success.

“To be successful in England, women’s football has to emerge from the shadows of the men’s game and establish its own identity states the official FAQ of the EFA WSL, “establishing women’s football as watchable entity in its own right.”

Some had hoped that Women’s football might benefit from exposure through a cameo on television shows such as Match of the Day. There has been no uptake by national broadcasters or SKY even though they have been approached.

WSL has secured five live games and weekly highlights on ESPN which has a four year deal with the EFA. The cable sports company has made known its commitment to serve all sports fans and has recently set up an exclusive women’s sports site ESPNW.com.

The site reports on both men and women’s sport, bizarrely men’s sport dominates the content but the writers are female. The site seems like a backhanded step. Surely it is the less celebrated women’s sports stars that need to be promoted not male sports stars and female journalists who exist in a non-gender specific industry.

Gender

Recently, Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked from their posts after being found to make crude sexist remarks about female linesman Sian Massey, herself an ex-player. They mocked; she would not know what the offside rule was.

After the story came to light it was found they had been sexist many times in the past. One time famously giggling together presenting highlights from the women’s FA cup final.

Officially the only gender barriers that can ever exist in football are for the players playing the game. Currently in England, boys and girls play the game at youth level together until age 11. After that it is deemed too physical. Leading nations, USA and Germany’s talented girls are known to play on in mixed sex for longer.

In one letter to the House of Commons Select Committee on Women’s Football in 2006, a coach described what he felt was stifling the development of talented players, “The sky should be the limit unfortunately the German and American girls have wings on their boots and our girls lead weights.”

Women have been considered physically inferior to men for centuries. In today’s society we see some incredible female athletes. In sprinting women lag by about a second to men but sports author, Christopher McDougall makes an exciting observation.

“Take any man and any woman in the world – over 100 miles there is literally a coin toss over who would win” What would happen if we ran further? With equal rights, will elite female athletes eventually equal or better their male counterparts?

There have been a few cases where men’s sides have attempted to sign top women’s players. In a case in Mexico, Maribel Dominguez was offered a contract in 2004 by second division club Atletico Celaya. FIFA blocked the move before it could happen, ruling that there should be a clear separation between men and women’s football.

Dominguez scorer of 46 goals in 49 appearances for her country stated, “I just wanted to give it a try. If I had failed I would have been the first to say I can’t do it, the first to admit it doesn’t work. But at least I would have tried.”

In 1891, Lady Florence Dixie, the founder of the first women’s football club on record declared:    “When I first opened my eyes as a girl…and realised that my sex was the barrier that hid from my yearning gaze the bright fields of activity, usefulness, and reform, the bitterness and pain that entered into my soul can never be obliterated in my life time”

In 2010, Rachel Yankey was approaching her 100th appearance for England, “To get to 100 caps would be amazing when you look at only the short list of players who have achieved that. It would really mean something.”

That list included the only other female player at the time to achieve that landmark, ex-Doncaster Belles player Gillian Coulthard together with David Beckham, Bobby Charlton and since then centre forward, Kelly Smith.

The Arsenal Ladies’ winger was captain for the occasion scoring England’s first in a 3-0 victory over Turkey that sent the team heading for World Cup qualification. Her golden cap came at Walsall’s Bank’s stadium. There were over 5000 spectators – given the coverage it deserved the tabloids could have read,

‘Save your thankies, I’ll have 3 points says Yankey’ or something similar to emulate the Bank’s Bitter advert where comedian, Noddy Holder uttered his famous slogan.

It was a remarkable achievement when you consider the adversity the women’s game has suffered. Without its setbacks the event would have been played in front of 50,000 rather than five.

History

On Boxing Day, 1920 one of the first women’s sides, Dick Kerr Ladies from Preston drew a crowd of 53,000 to Goodison Park for a game against St Helen’s Ladies. Women’s football became widespread during the First World War led by working-class ladies who had been drafted in to work in factories. They played charity matches initially to raise money for the war.

After a successful spell of growth led by Dick Kerr Ladies who went on to play 67 games in 1921, the EFA infamously issued a restraint on Women’s football claiming that they had received complaints against it. They were strongly of the opinion that it was an unsuitable game for women, “The council requests clubs belonging to the association to refuse use of their grounds for such matches.”

Dick Kerr Ladies continued until the 1960’s but numbers of women’s teams fell from 150 in 1920 to just 17 in 1947. The decree issued by the FA was not lifted until 1969.

In the same period football became increasingly popular in working-class male culture. Football historian, Richard Sanders relates, “Football had become the people’s game but would only belong to half the people.” In effect a game of one half rather than two.

Yankey is setting up her own girls’ side, Gibbons Wreckers FC, based near Wembley, I’m sure that the founders of the British Ladies Football Club 1895 – Lady Florence Dixie and Nettie Honeyball would be proud if they were around today.

Honeyball, the driving force behind the club from Crouch End, North London is today an obscure figure. A journalist from The Sketch interviewed her in 1895 and found her to be ‘a thoughtful young lady with a strong personality.’ Her convictions placed, ‘all on the side of the emancipation.’

Lady Dixie was the sister of the Marquis of Queensbury – famous for sponsoring the first boxing rules in 1867. At the time she was being sued for libel by Oscar Wilde after accusing him of sodomy with his son. A charge of ‘gross indecency’ was eventually imposed against him the following year.

She, like the rest of her family, was an eccentric personality. A poet and novelist, she worked as a war correspondent and became involved in a range of radical political issues including animal rights, Home Rule in Ireland, rights for Zulus and, above all else, she was a passionate feminist.

In the late 1800’s women were beginning their emancipation moving away from the restrictive Victorian era. They were involved in tennis, hockey and cycling but not football. It was a dirty and more physical game than the version we know today.

Women’s sport was played usually in private. Conditions were that they played gently and still dressed as ladies. That meant ankle length skirts, corsets, hat and gloves.

Dixie was a fan of ‘rationale dress’. Members of the club would play in ‘knickers and blouses’ and not “in the straight jacket attire that fashion delights to clothe them…We play the real game we don’t want any of this la – di – da here.” She quipped to one newspaper.

Honeyball modelled the kit. The ‘knickers’ came down below the knee and socks with shin guards covered the rest of the leg. It is not outrageous by today’s standards but at the time women breaking out of restrictive dress were strongly opposed.

These opinions were opposite to the comments of FIFA president Sebb Blatter in 2004, “Let the women play in more feminine clothes…they could play for example in tighter shorts. Female players are pretty if you excuse me for saying so.”

The BLFC first exhibition match in Crouch End was met with hostility. The game between North and South London was well publicised and attracted a crowd of over 30,000. Many jeered, it was deemed to be a pantomime, stoked by controversy in the press. An average gate for Woolwich Arsenal, London’s only football league side at the time was 6400.

The score at half time was 2-1 to North London but all the goals had been own goals. The final score was 7-1. By then many of the crowd had drifted away.

The ladies played on in the coming months around the country attracting gates of between five hundred and eight thousand. Cheered in Belfast, jeered in Newcastle and labelled a disgrace in Manchester – they provoked reactions where ever they went. Real credibility was never fully established and the Press deplored the spectacle.

In 1896 with the Press losing interest games started to dwindle. During a tour of Scotland, BLFC were mocked by young male opposition in one game, hustled, jeered and eventually attacked by a stone throwing mob in others – many players were injured as a result. A few more games were played but the women’s game faded from view. In 1902 the FA banned its sides from playing against ladies sides.

Women’s roles in society were changing and if the idea of women’s football was difficult to accept then characters like Honeyball and Dixie added to its spectacle. Sanders suggests, “Where other sports women had proceeded cautiously, taking care not to ruffle feathers, they went out of their way to turn football into a political statement.”

Anne Coddington, author of One of the Lads– women who followfootball sees gender barriers today, “It might be just as well for the men who continue to stand in our way to rue the words of one Oscar Wilde: ‘Football is a game for rough girls, hardly suitable for delicate boys.’ Whether one Lady Dixie would have agreed with him remains to be seen!

During the years 1930-1970 football was emerging as a global sport. Women’s football – often opposed was very much alive and kicking, bubbling under the surface of the masquerade of the men’s game. England was still abiding by rules made in the 19th century; women’s teams were forced to play in pub car parks, at show grounds, festivals and charity events.

Pioneers, such as Dick Kerrs and Manchester Corinthians took the show on the road to USA, France, Italy, South America and Morocco to name a few. Women’s teams existed in Czechoslovakia, South Africa, France and the USA since the 1930s and in the PR China there is evidence of a much longer history.

By 1970 despite opposition over the suitability of the sport for women and the blind eye of FIFA, women’s football had developed a considerable following all over the world. UEFA was the first centralised body to recognise it setting up a women’s football committee in 1971 and the inaugural conference was held in 1973.

The formation of the Women’s Football Association (WFA) meant that by 1969 the EFA lifted the decree of 1921 and ladies teams could apply for affiliation to county associations, however they turned away the opportunity to host a televised Women’s World Cup backed by among others, Sir Alf Ramsey in 1973.

A successful international tournament was hosted in Mexico in 1971 and after many experimental tournaments, UEFA established the Women’s Euro Championship in 1982. By 1988 Taiwan had hosted the first Women’s Invitational World Cup shortly followed in 1991 by FIFA’s first Women’s World Cup in PR China.

The tournament drew 510,00 spectators with an average of 19,615 per game and although the attendances dropped in Sweden four years later they boomed in USA in 1999 with 92,000 people turning out to watch the final which USA won 5-4 on penalties against PR China.

Today

Women’s soccer has grown in popularity from 50,000 participants in the US in 1986 to over eight million today. It is the fastest growing and most widely played women’s sport in the world. In the UK, the EFA estimate 260,000 women and 1.1 million girls play at some level.

In the USA, ex-player Mia Hamm is one of the most celebrated sports players in history – male or female. Reportedly sponsored one million dollars per year by Nike she once shared the limelight with basketball legend, Michael Jordan. Women’s soccer is big business and worth millions of dollars.

In England progress has been slower. The success of Arsenal Ladies and the progress of the national team have bought about better recognition but there are large monetary imbalances when compared to other leagues and men’s football.

In the 2010 EFA coaching manual, The Future Game, England national coach, Hope Powell states, “Progressive strides have been made… but it is wrong to say the current landscape is ideal.” The majority of players work outside of playing to make a living, investing their own money to support their league and clubs.

A non-league men’s side would receive the same amount for reaching the first round of the FA Cup as a women’s side would for winning theirs. Powell states, “There is much to be done before England is the leading nation in women’s football.”

Coddington enthuses, “We will challenge the notion that this is solely something passed on from father to son, man to boy. We will be ensuring that daughter, girls and women get a look-in too.”

By making the game more accessible to women the problem of hooliganism can be helped. Football authorities have been battling against it for years. Women’s presence diminishes the game’s overly macho image.

The Women’s World Cup and Disability-World Cup should be at the same time as the men’s. The ‘development’ sports would benefit hugely from the exposure and the game would show itself to be a truly modern, holistic and universal sport. The world’s most popular sport could rival the Olympics.

Soccer scientist, Ken Bray envisions prosperity through women’s football “With the growth of the women’s game football will recover a little bit of its lost soul lost in the last two decades’ rush for television revenues, club merchandising and win-at-any coast approach.”

Football is looking for ways to develop sustainability. Women’s football represents value to the market enabling it to expand, increase consumer choice and competition. Sebb Blatter said in 1995, ‘the future is feminine’. He could be right.

For the last century, women have not being sitting in the mirror looking beautiful; they have been sustaining a game against adversity that is now irrefutable.

Posted in Women's football | 1 Comment

The game of life

Status Employment work with people with disabilities or mental health issues to get into work or move closer to the job market; through education, training, paid work or volunteering. They are based in South London and Maudsley. http://www.status-employment.co.uk/

Get out the house and onto the pitch – Football can improve mental health and general wellbeing as some of South London’s mental health patients have found out….

Status works with people recieving treatment from a mental health service

Since its inception in 2008 the Status Employment and Charlton Athletic Partnership has gone from strength to strength. Initially funded by the Football Foundation, the partnership has seen many Status clients pass through improving their general fitness, social and footballing skills. In 2010 the partnership bore a new football team ‘Status Addicks’.

The Addicks is the long adopted nickname of local division one football club Charlton AFC. In recent years they played in the premiership and are previous winners of the prestigious FA Cup. Their women’s side is also one of the most successful outfits in English football too – multiple time winners of both the top flight and the FA Women’s Cup.

And, it is to the Addicks training ground and with their coaches that members of the partnership go to enhance their football skills. In addition to that members are required to complete a ten week pre-vocational course which addresses their needs for development into society and employment.

The course covers aspects such as confidence building, CV writing, interview techniques and expectations of the workplace. There is also an opportunity for members to obtain complimentary match tickets, a tour of Charlton’s home ground, Valley Stadium and of course now, the prestige of playing for Status Addicks.

Charlton’s Community Trust is a multiple award winner and the club is renowned for its strong links with the local community. A spokesperson from Charlton Athletic Community Trust said, “It is a very rewarding experience to work with people with mental health issues and it is important for the community trust to be branching out into these areas.”

The side plays its home games at the Bethlam Royal Hospital. The pitch is set in serene and beautiful grounds. They play in the South London Grassroots Mental Health League. The set-up has already produced a star player in Sebastian Amoah who earned himself a trial with Luton Town FC but there are many more benefits to getting out, completing the course and playing for the team.

Team Manager, Rosemarie Harris highlights the social benefits she has witnessed, “There is an aspect of social inclusion. It gets people outdoors instead of being indoors. They come out and communicate with each other and it brings them out of themselves.”

People have different diagnosis's and come from all walks of life

With as many as one in three people likely to suffer some form of mental illness at some point in their lives there is nothing to hide from. The activity gives all the players a chance to relate to one another, “Everyone is in the same boat. People realise ‘it is not just me – I’m not alone’, they realise they are not being judged by anyone.”

She has seen people who were not very active get to know each other and begin to arrange their own social activities, “Sometimes they go for a game of pool or I have heard of two players planning a holiday together and, the players ring each other.” It’s clear that football can create a bit of banter.

Rosemarie knows first-hand of the fitness benefits too, having lost three stone playing football in the last two years, “With fitness your appearance improves and you start to feel better about yourself.”

The S.A Team

The Status Addicks were a bit slow off the mark in their very first game against last season’s champions, The Warriors who play in accordance with Fulham FC and lost by a considerable margin (0-14). It was definitely an awakening call to what might be required in this league. Rosemarie reflected, “We were not yet a team, just seven guys and a ball”.

The second game saw another loss to South East Lions who play in accordance with local rivals Millwall FC. The score this time was a marked improvement at nil five but still no goals!

Sometimes in football you have to be patient and persistence can pay off. The team gained some new additions and practiced and the boss worked on the team philosophy, “I am one for team discipline, we have a saying now ‘there is no I in team.”

On January 27th, amidst some light snow fall the Status Addicks played at home, for the first time wearing their Charlton Colours against Bromley RnB’s. The final score was five three, securing the first ever victory for the side.

Rosemarie was very happy for the result, “I am over the moon, jumping in the air – it is about time! It felt good today; we played well and looked good in colours too. We wanted to go for the win and we got it.”

The next game is later in February against the Warriors again but the side will be encouraged by their latest performance and it will be a good test to see how far they have developed. One thing is for sure they will be a different side from their first game.

“We’re not going to lose, we are going to go out and kick ass” said the boss, in jubilant mood.

“I hope the players understand me yelling to them, they know it is only the game and I am just so happy to have seen individuals who have gone from ‘I can’t do its’ to people who are competing and winning games.”

Charlton Athletic Community Trust: http://www.cact.org.uk/index.php

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Goal-mouth landscaping

Admittedly I was a bit slow in catching on to this one. It is a genius solution to the goal line technology debate – if for nothing else its simplicity.

I’m not sure how it would stand up against health and safety and also couldn’t the ball still back spin out?

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/188840/Goal-line-technology-system-could-end-disputes

Dogs could chew ball

Another one I heard was having a dog in the goal that is trained to bark when the ball goes over the line. Maybe a Goalden retriever…

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Q 4 WC

There is plenty of time to beat around the bush but the results of the 2018/2022 World Cup bid are confirmed. The English bid – for all its commendation – didn’t make it past the first round. It received only two votes. We have plenty to talk about; we always do about football and that might be a good thing because the queue for hosting the World Cup is vast.

The English bid itself was based on the existing infrastructure, multi-culture, our esteemed world of football and profitability. World Cup 2018, England, stood to make the most money of all the bids.

Prime Minister, David Cameron stated that if England won the bid a global football fund would be set up immediately: Football Utd. The fund would spend: “as much as FIFA on legacy, social action and football around the world.”

That may have been seen as aggressive rather than progressive by the FIFA voters. Would FIFA really want that? Also, it seemed a bit shallow. Why wouldn’t we be already providing such funding, if we believed so dearly in generating a legacy and developing social action through football?

Cameron closed near the end of his pitch with: “We have the passion, the expertise, the stadiums and the fans”. The delegates stressed that we have a multi-cultural society – our club sides are followed by large fan groups abroad and many international stars play in our league. There was little mentioned of the British roots of the sport and a greater onus was placed on our ability to achieve commercial success.

England’s bidding chief, Andy Anson, echoed musings that England had technically the best bid. FIFA’s economic evaluation proved that the bid held the best commercial promise but that isn’t technically everything and England cannot offer a new playground, brand new facilities, vast open space and air to breathe like Russia or even Qatar who will use air conditioned stadium’s in its desert in 2022.

It is understandable that some of the delegates feel disappointed. The environment they were in must have been very pretentious and false. Anson, pointed out that a number of promises were made face to face by other delegates about voting that never came to fruition.

The Three Lions (Prince William, David Cameron and 2018 Ambassador, David Beckham) and the rest of the campaign made a very honest and honourable effort to bring the World Cup home.

That other global sporting phenomenon, the Olympics heading to the UK in 2012 coupled with the fact that a powerhouse such as Russia has never hosted a World Cup before meant the swing of votes was never likely to be in our favour.

It is a humbling fact the English Football Association (EFA) does not own the game of football. The voting system for the World Cup is democratic with 24 independent voters from all over the world – such is the extent of modern football’s popularity. I can see why the tournament is heading where it is because it is exactly that – the World Cup. There are many countries to visit and much potential for growth.

In regards to corruption in the voting there are some fair points made in the media. It is fairly transparent to see that there have been some extravagant relations between bidders, voters and external purses.

Stories suggested the term ‘gift horse’ is one that couldn’t have taken a more literal meaning amongst the executives. From the offset there were raised eyebrows, when England’s team rather shrewdly issued Gucci Handbags to the wives of all 24 FIFA executives. Trinidad and Tobago’s, Jack Warner did not take the gesture in good humour and returned his.

In May 2010, Lord Triesman, heading the bid at the time was forced to resign after he was caught out talking about Russians bribing referees at the World Cup. In October 2010, The Sunday Times uncovered two FIFA executives had received cash for votes and they were suspended.

Panorama then unveiled a hard hitting documentary that probed further into alleged corruption at the heart of FIFA’s executive committee just weeks before the vote was due to take place. The English delegate felt embarrassed enough to apologise to FIFA, who made assurances that it would not affect the campaign.

David Beckham stated to the BBC: “I’ve heard the rumours that we lost due to the British press. I hope that isn’t the reason. I believe in a free press and they are incredibly supportive of the game I love.”

It is an interesting viewpoint held by some insiders who have suggested that in an International scene, what can be defined as corrupt can become very blurred. In the multi-cultural spectrum our laws and beliefs are not the same. There are vast differences of acceptance in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and Italy through to the UK – who is to say what is correct?

I’m sure that for some nations the thought of living under the same roof with the British media for the next six years was not something they would suffer gladly. Other countries simply don’t have to put up with a media like ours and many would be forgiven for seeing it as a daunting prospect.

For English football it is a time to admire the spectacle of the World game and the direction it has taken. It would seem it will be a long time before the world yearns for a tournament with authentic British roots. One steeped in history and the splendour of the manifestation of the sport – but I’m sure that time will come. Albeit, the game that arrives and the infrastructure here maybe very different by then to today’s, in the ever evolving modern climate.

It is important we keep turning out, so our presence is felt. For now, all we can do is wait in line and maintain our moral values. Eventually with a flush our turn shall come.

Posted in World Cup 2010 | Leave a comment

4-5-3-1

Four at the top, five in the middle, three in behind and one at the bottom – that is if you don’t count zero in a jumpers for goals kind-of scenario….confused?

Here is a closer look at the options available to FIFA for making widely discussed changes to Football and what the future might be like if they were to go ahead.

 

International Football Association Board

World Cup 2010 tipped the balance in calls for changes to the laws of the game. Key issues were raised again, including goal line debates, deliberate handball and penalty goals. What options are now available and what can be done?

Bringing the game up-to-date with modern times, generating a justifiable integrity to the game in relation to the finances riding on it and giving the fans what they want to see – a fair game, all top the agenda.

FIFA President, Sebb Blatter announced much would be discussed by the IFAB (International Football Association Board) in October.

Goal line technology

There are to be four options available to FIFA at the moment, five if they are going to leave things the way they are.

Video

The most commonly referred to because millions of viewers worldwide have access to it and have learned of mistakes through television replays.

Video is used successfully in other sports and undoubtedly would help monitor the game but for line incidents there are some clear arguments against:

There are some situations where the ball may cross the line in mid-air without bouncing over it that would not be exposed by video due to the continuum of the game.

 Soccer Scientist, Ken Bray observes: “Even the most carefully contrived camera locations rarely provide a continuously unimpeded view of the goal line, posts or cross bar.” The ball frequently lost in the general melee of attackers and defenders in the box during play.

FIFA president, Sebb Blatter isn’t sure. Hawk-Eye, he said, is not 100 percent efficient: “there can be moments when, if maybe a goalkeeper’s body is in the way, the camera cannot see the ball”.

Paul Hawkins, managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations, rejects this: It’s 100 per cent accurate,” he said. “Hawk-Eye has been independently tested by the Premier League and the International FA Board, and shown to work in all instances tested.”

Micro Chip

Bray: “What is needed in resolving goal line disputes is something that can determine the ball’s position continuously and accurately” and is not affected by inconvenient blockages.

The technology that seems to answer these requirements is ‘position location’ using high frequency radio transmission (HFRT). It has been developed in football for many years now in Germany.

Several organisations, including sports manufacturer Adidas, have been experimenting with a ball containing a microchip. It was first trialled in 2005 at the U17 World Cup in Peru and in 2007 at the World Club Championship in Japan but the result was inconclusive. Blatter claiming the method was “only 95% accurate.”

In theory every movement of the ball can be tracked, using receivers placed around the pitch and it would need to make a signal when the ball has crossed the line. HFRT transmits 2000 times per second.

Bray states: “With the kind of ball speeds encountered in football you might be out a centimetre or so in arguing that the ball had completely crossed the line.” It is still an enormous improvement on today’s methods.

There is some suggestion that the offside rule could be monitored this way, using microchips in shin pads. It also could be easily adapted to work as a heart rate monitor – enhancing the safety of players.

Speaking in August 2010 about the upcoming IFAB meeting in October, Blatter reported:

“The Cairos-Adidas system said they will have something more simple and the Italian group presented by the Italian FA said they now have a system which is absolutely accurate.

We have the Hawk-Eye again and then a Swiss watch company Longines. They said we have something that will beat everything so in this meeting all of these people can come and present their different items.”

Human Element

Bray: “a ball moving at 25 metre a second could cross the line by the legal amount and be returned back into play with in 18 milliseconds” Unless the officials are perfectly placed and looking at that moment, the goal becomes guesswork.

With the current system in place that can happen all too often. One of the main oppositions to the other two methods we have discussed is that they can take the human face of the game away. Both Blatter of FIFA and Michel Platini of UEFA have previously stated this.

Urs Linsi, general secretary of FIFA, made an explanation for the theory in 2005:

Players, coaches and referees all make mistakes. It’s part of the game. It’s what I would call the “first match”. What you see after the fact on video simply doesn’t come into it; that’s the “second match”, if you like. Video evidence is useful for disciplinary sanctions, but that’s all. As we’ve always emphasised at FIFA, football’s human element must be retained. It mirrors life itself and we have to protect it.” 

Line Judges

In 2009/10 season, under Platini’s guidance the Europa League trialled a new system of line judges where two extra officials were placed behind the goal to spot penalty infringements and resolve goal line disputes.

The Frenchman explaining: “The referee will take up different positions, but it will mean three officials with clearer views,” and, he believes it will diminish cheating from the game: “Players will give up simulating because referees will see them.”

Thus, maintaining the human element and improving officiating of the first match element to which Linsi referred. FIFA general secretary, Jerome Valcke, told the BBC in July that the system will be used in this season’s Champions League.

Fascinatingly, 150 years ago this very system was used on the school playing fields of Britain, where ‘umpires’ would stand behind the goals to adjudge whether the ball had crossed the line. So much for the forward thinking evolution of soccer that FIFA constantly refers to!

The Fourth Official

For acts of violence and cases of mistaken identity, video assistance is allowed via the fourth official.

The fourth official was given this role in 2003. Before that, the fourth official had a lesser role and carried out tasks such as checking players’ studs and that they were wearing shin pads

In the 2006 World Cup final, renowned French player Zinedine Zidane was famously sent off for violent conduct which appeared to escape the view of the outfield match officials and many suspect it was the fourth official who ‘buzzed’ the incident.

Pressure on the IFAB from many quarters of the game exists for giving further responsibility to the fourth official and video replay for what are deemed major infringements.

There would need to be discretion given to the fourth official as to what is deemed a major infringement and the definition of such would need to be decided by the IFAB. It could include handball and unnoticed red card offences.

Deliberate handball

Two perfect examples of this are that of Thierry Henry against Ireland in the 2009 World Cup Qualification play-off and Diego Maradona in the World Cup Quarter Final 1986, when Argentina beat England and went on to win the tournament. Instantly the public knew of the handballs because of the television replay, even the players on the pitch knew and made strong appeals to the referee.

For both incidents, play had stopped because a goal had been scored. The flow of the game would therefore not be affected in these incidents (or similar) if a fourth official’s signal was used.

If the fourth official can call back a mistaken card, then they should also have the authority to notify the referee of a deliberate handball at a suitable stop in play – at the very least in a goal scenario.

It would be disruptive to the flow of the game to stop immediately in some scenarios but the referee could act at the next stop in play if the incident was deemed ‘major’ enough.

Stop in play

This term refers to anytime the play has been stopped for natural progressive purposes. For example, a throw in, free kick or corner.

The referee may not want to act on the fourth official’s signal immediately – it is likely the signal may be a few seconds behind play and therefore advantage, may need to be played with a goal opportunity being the overriding factor in any scenario.

In all major infringement scenarios the referee should keep the authority to decide on all points connected with play.

Handball in the box

Currently the outcome for this is a penalty. Play can be waved on by the officials because of ‘ball-to-hand’ where the ball moves into a players hand when it is situated close to the body and they can do very little to move it out of the way or it can be waved on because it was deemed the player was protecting his/her face.

Officials occasionally miss handballs. This is where ‘major infringement discretion’ would have to be applied by the fourth official. For example, if the elusive handball was deemed deliberate, the fourth official could inform the referee.

The case of Uruguayan player, Luis Suarez’s deliberate handball on the line against Ghana in the Quarter Finals of this year’s World Cup, is a great example and exploited more than just whether the referee saw it or not.

Penalty Goal – Goal bound ball

A goal for Ghana became a penalty and the game looked very backward in front of the world. It would make sense to award a penalty goal in this scenario.

For similar incidents and some that are not so cut-and-dry, the question of whether the ball was goal bound or not is raised. For a penalty goal to be awarded, the ball would need to be on a clear route to goal and that can be hard to determine.

In most cases the ball would not be deemed to have this route but there are instances where it is identifiable if the keeper is beaten and out of/behind the phase of play. Assuming the referee has noticed the handball, he can consult the fourth official at the break in play preceding the penalty.

An option is to consider goal bound handball in the 6 yard box even if the keeper is unbeaten as a major infringement and punishable by a penalty goal as it is easier to determine.

4 – 5 – 3 – 1

In theory the future of football could be like this: Four officials at the very top level (where technology is deemed affordable), five, meaning line judges at professional level in domestic leagues, three officials like we have today in higher level (determined according to supply) and one –the referee, at grass roots level.

Perhaps the genius is in simplicity and the number zero. Like how children play in the park and how football was intended in the Victorian era when the Upper Classes who were honing the game did not consider it necessary to have officials – it would have been un-gentlemanly to purposely cheat the opposition.

Consider, in today’s modern ‘fair-play’ sports such as Ultimate (Frisbee) where the teams are left to decide and agree decisions amongst themselves or only, as a last resort, consult an observer.

Perhaps though, fair play is not enough anymore in top level football with the amount riding on it. It is too murky and fair is only part agreeable, the game seeks clarity. By looking into my crystal ball I foresee new terms ahead: “It is time to clear the fairway for ‘clear play’”.

Posted in Football, Football history, Football Tactics | 1 Comment