UEFA’s decision to enlarge the European Championships to allow smaller nations a shot at the big time (and to make a lot more money) has been controversial. Despite this controversy, I don’t wish to cover the subject, I want to discuss a different enlargement to 24 that I feel we could all get behind. The 24th Player.
Each nation competing at Euro 2016 will be allowed to select a squad of twenty three players. This has been standard practice for many years. My proposal is that this number be increased to twenty four, with the 24th player a “people’s choice” selection. Permitting an ‘extra man’ would allow nations to bring back players who had significantly contributed to the game in their country.
It may seem a strange idea, but surely a stranger idea is a European Championships without the imposing figure of Czech Jan Koller. He was a huge star in his day and would surely still cause havoc, even in the heart of the most stern European defences.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way that any country would actually use an ageing player like Koller, well past his prime and a few years into his retirement. However, I have this covered by another law change. The second law change would be that the 24th player would be a fourth substitute that each nation’s manager would be able to utilise at any point during the match or extra-time. If all three subs have been used then you have no option but to throw big Jan K on.
The fun doesn’t end with Koller. Imagine the scene. England vs France, Stade de France, Quarter Finals of Euro 2016. It’s the last minute of extra-time. The teams are level at 1-1. France’s number 24 Eric Cantona’s audacious bicycle kick has been cancelled out by a Jamie Vardy strike, and England get a free-kick on the edge of the box. James Milner and Wayne Rooney are stood over the ball. David Beckham is on the bench. What does Roy Hodgson do? What do the fans want him to do?
As for other nations, I imagine there would be a clamour from around Europe for Wales to take Ryan Giggs. Though I’d expect the Welsh football supporters may well want to call up Sky Sports’ voice of Welsh football Bryn Law, or drag Robert Earnshaw out of international retirement.
Keith Gillespie of Northern Ireland could surely do with a few bob that the Panini merchandise deal could offer and as for their island neighbours surely Roy Keane would be a good shout as he’s unlikely to tell the management team to “stick it up their bollocks” this time around.
Other sub clauses to the 24th man rule would be:
- Any now-retired player selected as a 24th man has to wear a ‘retro’ kit from the era they played in. Brolin can wear his apron.
- Germany aren’t allowed to bring back Miroslav Klose. That would be unfair. He’d probably finish top scorer in Euro 2016 given the opportunity.
This idea would perhaps be greeted with horror by many, but with UEFA and FIFA in a sorry state this is the ideal opportunity to push through new rules like this. Go on UEFA, give it a go. Who would truly enjoy a Jan Koller-less European Championships? And perhaps if it goes well we could see a 25th player in Euro 2020, time to re-unite Brolin & Dahlin?
Top level football came to a halt in England during the first World War. Many footballers were away from their homes fighting for their country and with resources scarce, football wasn’t really a priority for the nation.
Despite the difficulties of war, the appetite for football remained, and with so many in desperate need of aid a charity football team “Portsmouth Ladies” were set up in order to raise some funds for numerous charities including the Red Cross. They played games across the south of England, normally against male sides and always gave good accounts of themselves.
On the outbreak of war the team was founded and played a local side described as ‘Lady Artistes” by the Portsmouth Evening News. They won the game 5-1, the local reporter first impressed that the ladies were “attired in correct football gear” and even more impressed by the play of Miss Anscombe who scored four goals for her side. The Portsmouth Ladies side included a woman by the name of Gauntlet who you imagine must have been a formidable character. The full side was listed by the Evening News as follows:
Local Ladies – The Misses Davey; Cage and Warwick; Wood, Gauntlet and James; Yates, Arnold, Anscombe, E.G. Warwick and Grey.
After the match the team were ‘entertained to tea’ at a nearby hotel. A lot of money having been raised for the Naval Disasters Fund.
It was two years later when they played against their largest reported crowd, an almost unfathomable reported figure of 30,000 watching them at Alexandra Park in Portsmouth. Though more contemporary sources list it as 1,000. It’s likely the 30,000 figure was used to boost interest for future games. Later in the same year Portsmouth Ladies played against a team of French sailors, defeating them by three goals to two in front of thousands spectators on Southsea Common. According to a newspaper at the time the French Sailors presented the ladies with a silver fruit basket.
Further travels took them all the way to the capital where they played a team representing ‘Woolwich Arsenal’ – though interestingly Arsenal had dropped their ‘Woolwich’ prefix just before the war yet were still referred to using it – whom were defeated by Portsmouth Ladies. The Ladies were presented with a ‘Cup’ for their valiant efforts. Portsmouth Ladies other opponents included sides representing different aspects of the military including the Navy, Army and ‘Submarine men’.
In September 1917 the side travelled to Berkshire to play a charity match against a team the Reading Mercury describes as ‘sturdy Canadians’ in a match at Elm Park. The reporter bemoans the bad weather which he feels had a large effect on the attendance. He also makes it clear that he feels the Canadians weren’t trying very hard and that “they allowed by their tactics their opponents to score eight goals and responding with five themselves the ladies were proclaimed victors by the margin of three. Still, the game served its purpose. It provided much amusement to the onlookers who after all had an afternoon’s enjoyment.”.
The match report also mentions that as part of the conditions of the match the Canadians were forced to tie their hands behind their backs. The whole game sounded like great fun and a magnificent spectacle. They even employed a local band from Bearwood Hospital to play before the game and during half-time.
The team continued to play matches in the south of England until the conclusion of the first World War. Whatever happened to Miss Gauntlett, Miss Anscombe and their star French goalkeeper. However, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. The 30,000 crowds, the remarkable fact that they never lost a match and even their French goalkeeper. Was she even French? What we do know for sure is that they raised hundreds of pounds for differing charities and clearly brought a lot of joy to many during a difficult time for the country.
Pictures and information from the excellent: britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
I’m a sucker for an international tournament, so like many I was glued to the TV as the Women’s World Cup filled the summer football void. The World Cup divided opinion on social media into three distinct camps. The first was the misogyny filled moronic opinions, those who weren’t interested and those who loved it. (And to be clear, the latter two are the only correct positions to take on the matter).
For the first time I can remember the English national team exceeded their country’s expectations, finishing the tournament as Europe’s best team. The only drawback for the England side wanting to inspire a nation was that the time difference with Canada meant the games were played deep into the European night. Surely more would have enjoyed the games if they were played at friendlier hours for non-insomniacs.
What has been interesting are the discussions about how the women’s game can grow post-World Cup. Whilst I think it’s often unhelpful to tie women’s football too close to the men’s game, I think doing something on a joint basis may be interesting. Therefore, I propose a new world ranking that ranks every country in the world at how good they are at men’s and women’s football. This world ranking would give us a great indication as to how good a country was at football – rather than how good they are at men’s football – surely two different things.
Current (joint) World Football Rankings
Country followed by women’s ranking/men’s ranking
- Germany (2/2)
- Brazil (6/6)
- England (5/9)
- Netherlands (12/5)
- France (3/21)
- Italy (13/17)
- Spain (19/12)
- USA (1/34)
- Colombia (25/4), Denmark (15/24) & Switzerland (21/18)
[Note: Iceland are currently ranked 18th best women’s side in the world and the 23rd best men’s side. A fantastic achievement for a small country.]
The introduction of such a simple measure would draw attention to the fact that women’s football exists (even admitting that is hard for some fans and media) and would give a small outlet every month to demonstrate the progress of both men’s and women’s teams in a country. It may also bring into focus the bizarre situation we have where the men’s and women’s rankings are calculated using a different method. But that’s a different battle for a different day.
“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.”
– Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
In 2012 I was a Cardiff City supporter. I was a season ticket holder and made the two hundred and sixty mile round trip for home matches. I don’t mention the distance to paint myself as a martyr. I never used it as an epithet introduction for banal conversation on sports radio station, for example. I attended matches for the reason that everyone else does. Because I enjoyed it.
When Vincent Tan made the decision to change Cardiff City’s traditional blue to red it flicked a switch within me. My visceral reaction was that I wouldn’t be able to support the football club if they weren’t wearing their traditional blue colours.
Explaining the decision to withdraw your support for a football club is not easy. Your reasons sometimes sound more like justifications, and the justifications are often appear weak under scrutiny, as many of them existed before the club’s re-brand. The change of colour brings into sharp focus thing like ticket prices, the unsustainable model of business the club is running and the fact the club had become a plaything for a rich bloke. However, these things have been true of Cardiff City for around a decade. Add the fact that there’s always been a violent element within Cardiff City’s support (something that was evident when those who wished to protest against Tan’s plans were threatened) so perhaps I should have quit my support long time ago? However, the re-brand felt different, the club’s change of colour to red appeared to break the spell in a way that all the other things couldn’t.
“So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain”
— Taylor Swift, 1989
I can understand why many would view the decision to stop supporting your football club as an odd stance to take. After all, it is only a colour. And one colour is not measurably better than another when it comes to playing games of association football. Essentially, it has to be admitted, that my decision to stop supporting my football club was irrational.
When I e-mailed the football club asking them to cancel my season ticket they sent a reply asking me to “think it through” and to “not make a knee jerk decision”. These are two things football clubs should never ask you to do.
Firstly, if you think it through, supporting your team of mercenaries against another team of mercenaries is a pretty silly thing to do. It doesn’t take one long, if you think it through, to realise you’ve been a fool. Secondly, knee jerk decisions are what football clubs are based on. That knee jerk decision to buy an overpriced programme, a cold pie, a lager in a plastic cup or an away ticket for a second flight game that costs over thirty pounds.
So much did the decision affect my support of the club that I never once felt as if I was missing out, or that I should go back and watch a game. Amazing when you consider that in those two years since the re-brand the football club won the Championship and played in top flight for the first time since the early 1960s. My general feeling towards the club was that they need Vincent Tan out and a return to blue. The way to achieve this would be to lose as many games f football as possible.
Just think while you been getting down and out about the liars
And the dirty dirty cheats of the world
You could have been getting down to this sick beat
– Taylor Swift, 1989
One of the wonderful side affects of Cardiff City’s rebrand is that it has allowed me to experience a life outside of the loyal support of one football club. I’ve been able, for example, to use non-blue toothbrushes. And when given the option to choose from identical products in different colours I’ve had the opportunity to experience green trainers and yellow t-shirts. And in that time I’ve not noticed any colour being more lucky than another.
Not being tied to a season ticket has also allowed me to further indulge in the delights of non-league football, the exhausting satisfaction of running half-marathons and the confusing world of Six Nations rugby and test cricket. It’s very difficult to not sound like a spurned lover, but it’s tough to think I’m not genuinely better off without Cardiff City Football Club.
People like you always want back the love they gave away
And people like me wanna believe you when you say you’ve changed
The more I think about it now
The less I know
All I know is that you drove us off the road
– Taylor Swift, 1989
A few weeks ago in the midst of rumours surrounding terrible season ticket renewal figures and a record low crowd for the visit of Colchester United in the FA Cup Vincent Tan made the decision to revert the club colours back to blue. It’s a sad state of affairs that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Russel Slade did more with their inept management to return the club back to blue than any fan protest did.
Now the boys are back in blue the option of returning has arisen. But if a week is a long time in football, then two years is an eternity. I’m sure I’ll get to a Cardiff City game before long, when an opportunity arises but I’d certainly not go out of my way to attend a match. There’s no hurry. Even for those who followed the club during its time in red the football club in its current state is a very hard beast to love. All of us , from boycotters to reluctant reds have seen the man behind the curtain, and for many it will never feel the same again.
Every year around this time there’s a rush of suggestions and ideas of ways to improve the FA Cup. The three ideas are mentioned below in the tweets are ideas that I’ve seen more than once and I can understand where the thoughts originate from. They come with the best intentions.
My concept for revamping the FA Cup in the Huge TV Deal era. 1) Get rid of replays. Every match is one and done.
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) January 4, 2015
Of the three ideas this is probably the one I’d be least concerned about. However, the joy of the FA Cup competition is that there are replays. We wouldn’t want to turn this famous competition into a League Cup clone. I think ensuring the better side goes through by replaying the tie is more valuable than trying to force a penalty shoot-out between the two clubs after extra time.
2) Every team gets seeded based on league position at the time of the draw. Top seed then faces the bottom seed, 2 vs 2nd bottom, etc
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) January 4, 2015
Seeding clubs based on league position sounds like a lovely idea. However, in practice it could lead to some odd results in previous weekends before cup draws. If (say) Grimsby Town know that a loss against Barnet would mean a tie against Arsenal at home rather than Southampton there may be a temptation to throw the game in order to achieve the bigger tie.
It would also lead to the middling seeds having to play each other. Ties between two relegation strugglers in the Championship are unlikely to be good fare. It would also devalue the competition for teams like Chelsea and Manchester United, who would begin January every calendar year with an easy tie against a non-league club. It’s unlikely that a non-league team would ever be able to beat a Chelsea or Manchester United reserve side, let alone a full strength eleven. It’s far more likely that a giant-killing will occur when a non-league side play against Premier League or Championship sides who are struggling in the league. (See Blyth’s excellent performance against Birmingham City for proof of that)
Enacting the idea in the above tweet would also mean that the FA Cup Third Round draw would be scrapped. It’s pretty clear that the media love peddling the idea of the FA Cup Third Round day as “one of the most eagerly anticipated in the football calendar” but there are few better football related events that aren’t actually football that beat an FA Cup draw. (Obviously the English FA should revert back to velvet bags and wooden balls and away from the current plastic Lottery extravaganza its created. But that goes without saying).
3) Every game is played at the lower seed's home field. You want David vs Goliath all the time with small ground cup magic? There you go.
— Ted Knutson (@mixedknuts) January 4, 2015
Many supporters of lower league clubs would prefer a day out at Old Trafford rather than welcoming Manchester United to their own patch. In addition, it’s worth remembering that gate receipts for FA Cup ties are split equally between the home and away side. This proposal would lead to the overall attendance in Round Three falling – and therefore the amount of money generated during the round would drop significantly.
The biggest issue with the FA Cup, not mentioned in the tweets above, is not related to its structure. It’s related to the problem that in the top two flights of English football the majority of fans who attend league games are season ticket holders. This is a marked change from recent decades where most fans would turn up on the day of a match and buy a ticket. It’s very easy for fans to look at the side they’ve been drawn against in the cup and decide to do something else that day if the draw isn’t particularly alluring. After all, if a fan has purchased a season ticket then they have already committed themselves to 19 or 23 league games and surely therefore their devotion and commitment is surely beyond question. The extra expense of a FA Cup ticket and another day spent away from the family may be too much to bear for some.
Therefore clubs need to think a little differently to their cup ties. If lower Premier League clubs or Championship sides play teams from League One/Two then attendances can be woefully low even with significantly reduced ticket prices. Perhaps FA Cup ties against opposition in the same or a lower division could be made part of the price of a standard season ticket. However even this simple ploy is doomed to failure as this would certainly lead to problems as how would clubs go about splitting gate receipts for such ties.
Perhaps the solution is to draw all the rounds up to the final – as is done in the latter stages of the Champions League. If Ipswich Town drew (say) Chesterfield at home in the Third Round of the FA Cup, but knew that in Round 4 they would face the winner of Manchester United or Norwich City, then fans would attend the third round fixture knowing they would be first in the queue for fourth round tickets. This does go against the grain of FA Cup tradition but may offer a palatable solution for falling attendances in these sorts of games.
Whilst I feel that the FA Cup is a sacred institution that should not be meddled with, I am not a footballing dinosaur and feel that the League Cup is fair game for those who enjoy ripping up blueprints and suggesting something entirely new. The following are a couple of ideas I’ve felt that would help the competition over the years:
- League Cup draw for Round One should be scrapped and instead ties should be chosen based on creating “local derbies”. Exeter City should alternate between playing Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United every year. Blackpool would play Fleetwood. Bristol City would play Bristol Rovers (if the latter can bounce back in time for next season’s competition).
- The second round should be seeded to ensure that no two teams from the same division should play one another. All Premier League ties and ties between two teams in League One should be impossible. The second criteria should be to match-up teams with sides they have not played against before (or for a very long time). Football fans love the opportunity to visit a new ground. Aston Villa vs Everton in the League Cup is a pointless fixture when both of those clubs could play against League One/Two sides they’ve not played against in many years.
In summary, the FA Cup isn’t too bad as it is. But the League Cup? That’s where the fiddling should begin!
In the late 19th Century an industrialist, railwayman and distinguished member of parliament named Sir Edward Watkin proposed the splendid idea of building a structure, most likely that of a tower, in London to rival that of the recently built Eiffel Tower.
An eclectic range of sixty-eight designs were submitted to Watkins from across Europe and the world. Submissions included one tower that looked like a giant screw, another that featured hanging gardens, the pyramids of Giza and a structurethat mimicked the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The following catalogue contains all of the original proposals and is a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a 19th Century architect or crazy person dependent on the design.
So what has this got to do with football, you may reasonably ask? Well, the proposed site for this tower was to be at Wembley Park in west London, then a rather sparsely populated area. Remember, it wasn’t until 1923 that Wembley Stadium was built (then known as the Empire Stadium built for the ostentatious British Empire Exhibition in 1924). The exact location of the proposed tower was on the very site that Wembley sits on today.
A winning entry was chosen. Number 37 by Stewart, MacLaren and Dunn of London. It was to be a tower 1200 feet tall and contain restaurants, shops and an astronomical observatory at the top. Foundations were laid in 1892 and work began on constructing the tower a year later.
By the start of the new century, as Tottenham Hotspur were playing Sheffield United at Crystal Palace in front of a baying crowd of 110,000 spectators, the site that would become synonymous with Cup Finals had the first stage of a tower built upon it. If the original planning and designs had been followed through to fruition the huge tower would be 150 feet taller than Paris’ Eiffel Tower.
Unfortunately in 1901 Edward Watkin died, and with him the dreams of building a tower in London. The site was deemed unsafe a few years later and in 1907 it was dismantled, demolished and blown to smithereens by dynamite. This wasn’t entirely an end to this story though, as in the early part of the 21st Century when the current Wembley was being built, the old foundations of this doomed project were re-discovered.
It’s interesting to ponder what would have happened had Watkin’s pulled off this grand scheme. The national stadium would be dwarfed by such a huge structure, or perhaps the national stadium would have been built elsewhere, or not at all. Changing the iconography (if not the history) of English football in a heartbeat. It’s also fascinating to mull over another one of Watkins’ ideas, that of a Channel Tunnel 100 years before Euro Tunnel became a reality. If such a tunnel existed in the early part of the 20th Century perhaps teams from the continent may have been invited to take part in the FA Cup. Teams from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and of course Wales had been invited into the competition on many occasions. There’s no reason why French or Belgian clubs couldn’t also take part.
It’s perhaps a reminder that football doesn’t live in isolation, it doesn’t live in a bubble that the outside world can touch. It’s defined and shaped by the culture from where it originates.
After writing a post about what a World Cup for the 33rd to 64th best teams in the world would look like (you can read that post via this link), it was suggested to me that I should do similarly for the Commonwealth Games.
As there appears to be no official rankings for Commonwealth football sides I decided to use the FIFA World Rankings to select the 32 sides that would compete in these games. (32 chosen to mirror the FIFA World Cup). In order to organise this tournament we’ve had to stretch to 151st in the World Rankings to pick out Malaysia and India who currently hold that place jointly.
The top seeds are chosen via FIFA World Rankings and he following three pots come from Africa, North America and then a mix of Asian and African sides. This should ensure that the groups are geographically mixed as possible. World Ranking in brackets after team.
- England (20)
- Scotland (27)
- Nigeria (34)
- Ghana (38)
- Wales (44)
- Cameroon (53)
- Sierra Leone (64)
- South Africa (66)
- Zambia (77)
- Uganda (87)
- Kenya (95)
- Botswana (99)
- Tanzania (106)
- Rwanda (109)
- Namibia (112)
- Mozambique (114)
Asia & Africa
- Australia (76)
- Malaysia (151)
- India (151)
- Northern Ireland (89)
- Cyprus (139)
- Malta (150)
- Malawi (121)
- Lesotho (131)
North America & Caribbean
- Jamaica (83)
- Trinidad & Tobago (84)
- New Zealand (101)
- Canada (118)
- St Vincent (135)
- St Lucia (138)
- Grenada (142)
- Antigua & Barbuda (149)
I’ve laid out how the groups could look. Scotland, as hosts, have a base in Glasgow (the location for this year’s Commonwealth Games). I’ve attempted to choose other Scottish cities using a terrible knowledge of Scottish football stadia and geography.
Group A – Glasgow (Ibrox & Celtic Park)
- Scotland (Hosts)
Group B – Edinburgh (Easter Road & Tynecastle)
- St Lucia
Group C – Inverness & Aberdeen (Caledonian Stadium & Pittodrie)
- Trinidad & Tobago
Group D – Dundee (Tannadice & Dens Park)
- New Zealand
Group E – Glasgow & Motherwell (Firhill & Fir Park)
Group F – Perth & Stirling (McDiarmid Park & Forthbank Stadium)
- Northern Ireland
- St Vincent
Group G – Kilmarnock & Ayr (Rugby Park & Somerset Park)
- Sierra Leone
- Antigua & Barbuda
Group H – Dunfermline & Cowdenbeath (East End Park & Central Park)
- South Africa
I’ve somehow managed to organise a football tournament where Malta will play Grenada at Cowdenbeath. It would no doubt be available via the BBC Three red button.
What if FIFA decided to run a second competition featuring the second best 32 teams in the world? Who would compete in it? What would the groups look like? Based on the qualification for the 2014 World Cup I’ve set out who the best 32 sides who didn’t qualify for the World Cup would be. What follows is an outline for an international football tournament for the 33rd to 64th best international sides on the planet.
Africa CAF (5 sides)
- Senegal (Playoff losers)
- Ethiopia (Playoff losers)
- Tunisia (Playoff losers)
- Egypt (Playoff losers)
- Burkina Faso (Playoff losers)
Europe UEFA (13 sides)
- Sweden (Group C runners-up)
- Romania (Group D runners-up)
- Iceland (Group E runners-up)
- Ukraine (Group H runners-up)
- Serbia (Group A third place)
- Denmark (Group B third place)
- Austria (Group C third place)
- Hungary (Group D third place)
- Slovenia (Group E third place)
- Israel (Group F third place)
- Slovakia (Group G third place)
- Montenegro (Group H third place)
- Finland (Group I third place)
South America CONMEBOL (4 sides)
- Venezuela (6th place)
- Peru (7th place)
- Bolivia (8th place)
- Paraguay (9th place)
North America CONCACAF (4 sides)
- Panama (5th place)
- Jamaica (6th place)
- Guatemala (best placed side in CONCACAF Round Three qualification stage)
- Canada (second best placed side in CONCACAF Round Three qualification stage)
Asia AFC (5 sides)
- Uzbekistan (Group A third place)
- Jordan (Group B third place)
- Qatar (Group A fourth place)
- Oman (Group B fourth place)
- Iraq (Group B fifth place – best fifth place side)
Oceania OFC (1 side)
- New Zealand (Playoff losers)
Seeds and potential groups
The top eight FIFA ranked sides who did not qualify for the World Cup in Brazil are:
- Ukraine (16)
- Denmark (23)
- Slovenia (25)
- Romania (29)
- Serbia (30)
- Panama (31)
- Sweden (32)
- Egypt (36)
Three different sets of opponents split into geographical areas:
- Pot 2 (CONCACAF/AFC): Jamaica, Guatemala, Canada, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Qatar, Oman and Iraq.
- Pot 3 (CAF/CONMEBOL): Senegal, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay.
- Pot 4 (UEFA/OFC): Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Israel , Slovakia, Montenegro, Finland and New Zealand.
Based on keeping a good geographical spread in each group
- New Zealand
- Burkina Faso
A tournament that will have fans interested from start to finish and staying up until 4am to watch Burkina Faso versus Uzbekistan or a pointless exercise? You decide.
The BBC website produces match reports for all of the games every single Premier League side plays during the season. From Premier League and FA Cup, to Champions League to League Cup ties the BBC reports on them all. I thought it would be interesting to compile all of these reports for each of the twenty Premier League sides, and to produce word-clouds for each side. If a particular word is used more often, then it is shown on screen as larger than the other less used words.
I created one for Square One Football Radio, and felt I should create word clouds for all twenty clubs. I used the excellent online tool wordle.net to create the word clouds. Please feel free to use these on your blog or website, but I’d appreciate a link back.
To see a higher resolution image of the word cloud, click on it.
I did something that I’d never done before last week. I attended women’s football matches.
Women’s football has lagged behind the men’s game for decades. The fifty year FA directive that saw womens teams banned from using men’s football grounds was only lifted in the early 70s and the women’s game has never recovered to the pre-war days of 50,000 crowds at Goodison Park
Recently however, the game has seen a bit of a renaissance with the formation of a national league (the FA WSL) and the coverage of women’s football, especially the English national side, has increased over the past few years.
Women’s clubs at the top of the game in England are linked to already established Premier League and Football League sides, but they generally play at non-league stadia (to accommodate the sort of attendances they are likely to attract). Arsenal Ladies play at Borehamwood, Liverpool play at Widnes and Birmingham Ladies play at Sutton Coldfield. On Wednesday evening of last week I travelled to Staines Town to see Chelsea Ladies play Millwall Lionesses in a Continental Cup match.
Chelsea Ladies 4 Millwall Lionesses 0, WSL Continental Cup @ Staines Town
It didn’t take too long to see that Chelsea were a step above in class over Millwall. Not unsurprising considering Chelsea are in WSL1 whilst Millwall play in WSL2. The Lionesses struggled with the crisp passing of Chelsea, but held on valiantly until England international Eni Aluko – one of the few players I actually recognised – broke the deadlock. This opening goal settled Chelsea down, and apart from a few dangerous set pieces, Millwall barely troubled Chelsea’s Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler.
Despite the crowd being less than 200, the atmosphere inside the ground is very different to a non-league match with a similar attendance. That’s both unsurprising and perhaps even encouraging. But, it’s quite difficult to fully understand who this game is actually being promoted to. Is it being promoted towards Chelsea FC fans who can no longer afford to attend games at Stamford Bridge (entry is set at a very reasonable £5 and £1 for children)? Or is it the demographic being aimed at young children (a disconsolate looking Bridget, Stamford’s sister I’m told, walked slowly around the pitch during the match). I was very confused to see two 14 year old lads at the game until the second half when I saw the larger group of 14 year old girls giggling amongst themselves.
As far as I can surmise, WSL sits in a strange netherworld in the footballing galaxy. The games are played at non-league stadia, using famous club names, in front of low crowds, the programmes they produce are glossy, thin and expensive (£2) but Chelsea (for example) still use Staines Town’s corner flags. I also saw, for the first time, a player make a referee blush by making a rude comment. Normally the referee would ‘banter’ back at the player, but he was a bit taken aback by the Chelsea player’s remark…
Reading Women vs Arsenal Ladies, WSL Continental Cup @ Farnborough FC
If Chelsea playing at Staines feels odd, then Reading playing in Hampshire, 24 miles away from the Madejski Stadium feels even stranger.The crowd at Farnborough was around double that at Staines the previous evening. Bolstered by some rowdy Arsenal fans, and some rather optimistic Arsenal fanzine sellers there were approximately 400 in attendance for this tie.
WSL2 side Reading fared much better than Milwall had managed against WSL1 opposition the previous night and went ahead when the diminutive Fran Kirby flicked the ball with the outside of her right foot, past Japanese World Cup winner Yukari Kinga, ran onto the loose ball and slotted past the Arsenal keeper to put Reading 1-0 up. It was a magnificent goal and ranks as one of the best I’ve seen live this season.
Kirby was a thorn in the side of Arsenal all game, and eventually proved to be the difference between the sides. A bit of trickery in the box left Arsenal defender Casey Stoney on her arse and the eventual shot from a Reading striker was parried away only for Lauren Bruton to finish well. Kirby’s excellent performances have seen her deservedly called up to the England squad for the first time.
What’s quite refreshing about the women’s game is that players generally have a lot more time on the ball. It means that rather than rush a pass, or hitting it long, they normally have time to pick out a pass to a team-mate. It leads to some very attractive football. The two WSL games I’ve witnessed have seen far more attractive passing football than I’ve seen at many games this season (if passing football is your thing of course!).
WSL is a fantastic opportunity to see some footballers playing at the peak of their sport. I’ve seen World Cup winners, England internationals, players from afar afield as Chile and Belgium and Wales. In the 90’s British football fans were drawn towards Serie A by the allure of watching Paul Gascgoine at Lazio, many still watch Italian football, hopefully fans will be pulled into women’s football by Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City and will stay because of the quality of football show. WSL is certainly going to become a part of my own football calendar.