A problem nobody wants to talk about…

The new football season is almost upon us. Good news for some, bad news for all the football widows. Good news for the various gambling/casino websites whose name and logos will be emblazoned across the chests of professional footballers in the English leagues, bad news for the people who struggle with gambling problems and their families.

Earlier this year, footballer Joey Barton became just the latest in a long line of current players to admit to a gambling problem, after being banned for placing in the region of 1200 bets on football matches (not involving his own team). His ban of 18 months was considered harsh in some circles, particularly if you consider the fact that the Football Association had business and sponsorship deals with Ladbrokes. This was subsequently cancelled after Barton himself highlighted the hypocrisy. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Of the 92 football clubs in the top 4 divisions, at least 24 will have one gambling website or another printed on their shirts (source Historical Football Kits). That’s a quarter, give or take a fraction, of the teams. In the Premier League, the so-called ‘best league in the world’, 10 of the 20 teams are sponsored by these companies.

Now, personally, I feel that gambling is just as damaging as drugs, alcohol and smoking, yet you don’t seem to see any of these printed on football shirts anymore!! I remember the good old days when teams were sponsored by Electronics companies, or local enterprises. Arsenal were sponsored by JVC; Liverpool by Candy; Aston Villa by Mita Copiers and so on. Admittedly, Tottenham had a long-term sponsorship deal with Holsten, but as I recall, in the days before replica kits were the huge business they are today, the youth replica shirts did not feature the alcohol sponsor.

And that concludes this rant for today. Feel free to comment or have your say.


What A Day It’s Been…

Today has brought mixed emotions for me, and many others.

Charles-KennedyFirst the news this morning that former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy had passed away. It’s not often that I’m affected by news like this, but this was a gentleman in a world of politicians. When I was a impressionable youngster starting to vote, it was his straight-talking manner that appealed to me. I’ve voted Liberal Democrat ever since. People may think that Nick Clegg was the most successful Liberal Democrat leader by taking them into Government, but he only did it with 57 seats in Parliament. When Charles Kennedy resigned in 2006, he left Clegg with 62 seats and a credible Third Party status. He had been prominent in the anti-Iraq War movement, gaining yet more credibility as the real alternative to the main two parties.

But, when he had the courage to face his demons, ultimately he was left high and dry. He retreated to the shadows and, when he voiced his opposition to the coalition agreement, he probably knew his time in front-line politics was at an end.

In 2015, he was sadly one of the many victims of the SNP tidal wave in Scotland. Now, less than a month on, he has left a gaping hole in the political landscape.


blatterOn the flipside, today also saw the rather unexpected, but much called-for resignation as President of FIFA by Sepp Blatter. An organisation the size of FIFA is always going to be susceptible to wrongdoing, and the fall out from the World Cup bidding for 2018 and 2022 has merely torn the lid off the seedy bribery-ridden underbelly of football.

When the news broke last week that 7 high ranking FIFA officials had been arrested, there were calls for the presidential election to be put on hold, but our Sepp ploughed on regardless and won the race after his only remaining challenger Prince Ali Bin Hussein withdrew after the first round.

Despite the almost universal dismay (certainly if you are part of the Twittersphere), Sepp Blatter maintained his own innocence in all matters relating to the FBI investigations, even denying any culpability as the President of what was so obviously a corrupt and criminal organisation. It’s just plain ridiculous!

But now, it seems he has finally seen sense, or perhaps has made a deal with someone to go quietly.

Jonathan Rants About Sport

So, if the title hasn’t given it away for you, what follows is me having a rant about sport. Not just football, in case you were wondering if the title was simply a smokescreen for my true intentions! Oh no. This is a multi sport rant. You could almost say it was an Olympic scale rant, unless of course you worry that it may be misconstrued as a copyright infringement. Still with me? Ok, here goes… *takes deep breath*

I will start with the Olympics, actually. The country has been looking forward to this moment since 2005, when the winning bid was announced. For a while, even I managed to exhibit some excitement. But then I got fed up with it being rammed down our throats at every possible opportunity. So we’re hosting a major international event. Whoopee. I’ve heard it called the ‘People’s Games’ somewhere. Is it? I didn’t join in the whole ticket-obtaining hoop-la because it sounded like you needed a degree to understand the process. Applying for tickets, not knowing what you were going to get, then paying through the nose for them? Hardly one for the ‘people’ is it? Yet the Women’s Beach Volleyball event was apparently sold out to ‘lucky’ (read pervy) Government and Civil Service types. It’ll be better on the telly anyway… If I bother to watch.

Olympic-related is the GB Mens football team. Purely a PR stunt in my opinion. More hoo-ha this week when Stuart Pearce decided not to pick David Beckham for the the squad. Condemnation from some, me not included, that Beckham was ‘strung along’ under the impression he was in with a chance. Look, the bloke is 37, he’s past it. To pick him would only end up turning the whole thing into a media circus/pantomime centred on Mr Beckham, and no doubt the rest of his brood. So I applaud Stuart Pearce and hope that he can be left to steer his troops through the minefield of expectation and hope ahead of them.

And this brings me on to our national game. It’s in a sorry state. On the international front, the England team made it to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. This managed to split the nation into those who felt this was a success bearing in mind the preparations, and those who are still labouring under the misapprehension that England should be world-beaters almost 50 years after we won our only tournament. And then FIFA release their latest world rankings showing England as the ‘Fourth Best Team In The World’. What a bloody joke!

And then there is the chaos currently enveloping the Scottish football scene. Rangers FC have failed to avoid the inevitable meltdown caused by the apparent decision by some in the previous hierarchy to avoid paying the correct/any tax to HMRC. Now the original company is heading to liquidation and a new company is in the process of trying to find a home in the league set-up. Unfortunately though, because of the dysfunction, the fortunes of just two clubs (Celtic and the aforementioned Rangers) the entire system could be pushed to the brink if the right monetary solution isn’t found. Personally, it is my opinion that the ‘New Rangers’ should be entered at the lowest level (Scottish Division 3) and made to work their way back up. This is from a Rangers supporter. And as for further sanctions being imposed, haven’t they suffered enough??! The Scottish clubs should learn the lesson, and let the new Rangers start again with a level playing field, as it were…

Next up it’s Tennis. Wimbledon is almost over, and Andy Murray has just made it to his first Wimbledon final, and the first British finalist since 1938 apparently. Cue mass hysteria and over-the-top pressure on the poor bloke. For his sake, I hope he wins. Otherwise the press on Monday will no doubt be full of mocking headlines. Let’s not forget, Andy Murray has been consistently ranked in the top 4 despite competing in the same era as the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Any other era, and he could easily have won a major Grand Slam tournament. Occasionally I joke with my mum about him being a typical British failure when he loses, but only to wind her up!

And so ends my rant. Let’s hope the summer of sport gives us something to cheer about.

On Reflection, I may have got it a little wrong.

Back in August, you may recall I made some predictions for the current football season. As the title of this blog suggests, I may have got it a little wrong. Some might say badly wrong, others might even go as far as to say it was all a complete load of tripe. But that’s the thing about trying to predict stuff. The folks at the Met Office do degrees and what have you, and they still can’t predict the weather to any level of accuracy!

Just to recap, I’ll put my predictions against existing standings (as at 20th March 2012), just to make it easier for you to see how horrifically bad I was:

Premier League
Me                                                               Actual
1. Manchester Utd                                      1. Manchester Utd
2. Chelsea                                                  2. Manchester City
3. Manchester City                                     3. Tottenham
4. Arsenal                                                   4. Arsenal
5. Liverpool                                                5. Chelsea

18. Wigan                                                  18. QPR
19. Norwich                                               19. Wigan
20. Swansea                                             20. Wolves

So, as you can see, I had no faith in Swansea or Norwich, and yet they are easily holding their own around the mid-table area. At least I had the sense to see another struggle for Wigan. The two Top 5’s are fairly similar in that the usual suspects are there. I didn’t expect Spurs to have such an impact though. And Liverpool have let me down. Again.

Me                                                               Actual
1. West Ham                                               1. Southampton
2. Reading                                                   2. Reading

Leeds (promoted)                                       West Ham
Birmingham                                                Brighton
Cardiff                                                         Middlesbrough
Nottingham Forest                                      Birmingham

22. Crystal Palace                                     22. Coventry
23. Peterborough                                      23. Doncaster
24. Brighton                                              24. Portsmouth

I got Brighton’s season wildly wrong for a start!! West Ham have been around the top most of the season and could still conceivably get back to the top, but Southampton do look unbeatable at the moment. Neither did I compute the problems that have engulfed Portsmouth yet again. Peterborough are near the bottom, but the current bottom three seem poor enough to ensure Peterborough stay up. Leeds probably won’t be going up though, even with new manager Neil Warnock. And at least I’ve got Reading right as potential promotion candidates!!

League 1
Me                                                             Actual
1. Sheffield Utd                                         1. Charlton
2. Sheffield Wed                                       2. Sheffield Utd

Charlton (promoted)                                 Sheffield Wed
Colchester                                                 Huddersfield
Huddersfield                                             MK Dons
Preston NE                                               Carlisle Utd

21. Stevenage                                          21. Walsall
22. Notts County                                      22. Rochdale
23. Walsall                                               23. Exeter
24. Bury                                                   24. Chesterfield

As it stands, I could still get all three promoted teams right, but in a different order. Huddersfield are also up there. Stevenage have proved me wrong in a pretty spectacular way, seeing as they currently lie just outside the play-off zone and played their way to the FA Cup 5th Round just to rub it in!
Down at the bottom, I have managed to guess at Walsall’s struggle at least. Which, for a Shrewsbury fan was quite a nice, pleasurable surprise!! Bury are also struggling and might still slip into the bottom four by season’s end. Notts County will not though, they are battling for a play-off spot along with Stevenage.

League 2
Me                                                         Actual
1. Swindon                                            1. Swindon
2. Shrewsbury Town                             2. Torquay Utd
3. Bristol Rovers                                   3. Shrewsbury Town

Crawley (promoted)                             Southend
Crewe Alex                                          Crawley
Gillingham                                           Cheltenham
Plymouth                                              Oxford Utd

23. AFC Wimbledon                             23. Hereford
24. Barnet                                             24. Dagenham & Redbridge

First thing’s first, I’m happy to say that Shrewsbury haven’t let me down this season. Yet. Swindon have surprised nobody, whereas Torquay have. I expected them to have an average season having lost their manager and some star players to Bristol Rovers (who I thought would be up there), but it’s turned out the opposite, so what do I know?! Crawley are in the play-off mix, so I could well be getting that right. The big over-estimation is obviously Plymouth. I had them as play-off contenders, but problems off the field have left them floundering at the bottom all season. A bit of a recovery has given them a fighting chance, as other clubs have surprisingly struggled – Northampton and Dagenham & Redbridge namely. Barnet are in a relegation fight, so could prove me right. AFC Wimbledon aren’t mathematically safe yet, but I don’t expect them to go down this season. Which is quite nice actually.

As for my Conference promotion tips, only Luton are still in with a chance of fulfilling my prophecy, but only just. Fleetwood look like running away with the title, and Wrexham are also dangerously good this season. Lincoln however, are in a huge mess and in danger of suffering a second successive relegation.

There it is then. I will refrain from making any more foolish predictions because I will only get them wrong!

I will, however, say that Celtic will win the Scottish Premier League this season!!!

How times change…

There was a time in the quite distant past (oh, how depressing that is) when I became obsessed with football. And with that obsession came the peer pressure: Liverpool or Manchester United??!

Well, my first experience of footballclubreplicakitmania was actually not the real McCoy, as they say. My mum very skilfully copied the Derby County ram and stitched it on to a pair of plain white shorts. And I wore those shorts with pride. This was the first time I had had football gear specifically for me. Before this, I’d had the usual hand-me-downs from my big brother: England ’82, Villa ’81 (already a hand-me-down for James), then another unofficial Napoli effort from the Maradona era, Liverpool ’84, and then Liverpool ’85-ish away.

And then, I gave in, and the pestering of my parents began. My first full football kit came as a proud 9 year old boy with my full Liverpool kit in red. I was on the bandwagon and it was Liverpool-bound. The next season saw me running around on that red Liverpool kit with the white flecks on that looked like I’d been flicked with paint – the one they wore when they last won the title. I also celebrated England’s World Cup success with a full away kit (again, red – must have been my favourite colour or something).

Then something inside me changed. Even now, 20 years on, I find it hard to explain or justify. One April lunchtime I was sitting in my parent’s loung watching the FA Cup Semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham. James was rooting for Arsenal, and something that I can only put down to healthy brotherly competition stirred me to support the Spurs. Gazza’s free-kick started off a glorious Tottenham victory and a new glory-seeking affiliation was born. Spurs won the cup sporting a fancy new kit, and weeks later, I was wearing that very same kit (less the beer sponsorship) on the school field in a summer football course run by the legendary Frank Clarke. But to us kids he was just ‘Frank’.

A few years later, I was one of the many excited Tottenham fans awaiting the new season with Klinsmann, Dumitrescu, Anderton et al. I was suitably adorned with the Tottenham shirt of the time (with the funny double collar thing… you know the one), playing football with my mates, celebrating goals with Klinsmann dives through the mud. I even went as far as to buy Germany shorts on a school trip to Germany!!
And then, the replica kits dried up. Mostly because I was considered ‘too old’ by my parents to have a football kit bought for me, and then lack of funds meant I couldn’t by my own. But for my 21st Birthday, my brother kindly helped me fill the void with the all-white Italy kit of the 2000 European Championships (complete with shirt number 21, and name Ercoli – a Sopranos in-joke for those wondering). Then, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t until the 2002 World Cup that I bought my next piece of replica merchandise. It was England again.
Then, in the summer of 2004 (I think, I may be wrong) I purchased my first and, to date, only Shrewsbury shirt. A special day indeed. Being different, of course, it was the away shirt, but classy all the same.
A couple of years later, I picked up a Glasgow Rangers away shirt in a JJB sale for a tenner, much to my now ex-wife’s chagrin.

And my most recent purchase came in the form of last years Rangers 3rd kit shorts, and home socks (basically both black). I’m always on the look out for a bargain – my next purchase may well be from Austrian football (yes, they do play it, and yes, they’re not particularly good at it).
But last weekend, for the first time, I took my eldest son and got him a football kit. His head has been turned by the financial masters in the blue half of Manchester, but, just like his dad, he went for the away kit. A chip off the old block.

And I’m still waiting to buy him his first Shrewsbury shirt, but you know all about that…