Monthly Archives: July 2010

Home Grown?

So the Premier League’s new squad cap rules come into play this season and the headlines make for good reading if you are an England fan, or indeed Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.  A lovely little phrase is present with the Premier League’s wording, one to lure us all and make us feel like the game is no longer being commercialised and raped beyond all levels of decency. That phrase is ‘home grown players’. It feels like the equivalent of John Major’s ‘warm beer and evensong’ doesn’t it? I bet some big hitting lawyers have earned some big hitting fees definining that innocuous and friendly sounding phrase. Far from it being a reference to illicitly made, but generally harmless narcotics, it seems like it has been selected to appease and encourage all football supporters who fear for the future of a game geared soley around a club’s ability to pay for talent.

The wording of the rule is interesting:-

Every Premier League club has a squad of 25 and that number is capped. Of these 25,  8 must be ‘home grown’. Sounds great doesn’t it? But what is the definition of ‘home grown’. Well that is simple enough. A ‘home grown’ player is ‘one irrespective of age or nationality, who has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or Foootball Association of Wales for a period continuous or not of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday or the end of the season in which he turns 21′. Does it remind you of the rules attached to meat classification – reared n the EU but slaughtered in the UK’. Clubs will be able to supplemement their squads with additional players under 21 (defined as under 21 on 1st of Jan in which the season commences). Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of the Transfer Window. Clubs have to declare their 25 players by the end of the Transfer Window (ie 31st August) and then again by the end of the January Transfer Window.

So don’t be fooled. ‘Home’ refers to the club not the country,  I am pretty certain Luis Boa Morte is ‘home grown’. Granted the system should and probably will encourage clubs to invest in more young players in order to beef up their squads, especially once the injuries set in and European football takes its toll. But think about why this rule has come in.  Just think about who will really benefit from these new rules. Clubs can’t put a system of wage or salary caps in, it is after all against the free market, free wheeling Sky fed model and besides players and agents would be up in arms heading for Terminal 5 quicker than you could say ‘Robinho’.

 Premier League chairmen preside for the most over businesses that have a fundamental broken model. Far from the ‘Broken Britain’ that we keep on hearing about, we all know that we definitely have ‘Broken Football’. Everything changed in 2003 when the ‘rags to riches’ ‘ entrerpreneur’ Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Most people know that Roman’s wealth is massive, although many wonder if it has been truly earned through hard work and innovation. Suddenly the old guard of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were playing catch up. There was a new force on the scene and one which was going to become successful, after years of mediocrity. Chelsea had entered the big league and so long as Roman’s money was there, they would be taking up one of those precious ‘Champions League’ slots, the ones which make the clubs all the money and vitally, get them all the ‘brand exposure’ that they both need and crave. The stakes had been upped, and it seemed the only way clubs could compete was through spending more and more money. And it was. But to spend big, you had to have the cash or at least the access to the cash.  Both Liverpool and Manchester United changed ownership in a bid to match Roman’s Blues, although the choice of owners was questionable to say the least. A few Americans who knew little about football and even less about English football leveraged the clubs with massive debts, something which both clubs and their fans are suffocating from right now. Wily old, privately owned Arsenal stood and watched, and primarily because they have always been prudent and because they have a single minded, myopic, but ultimately a brilliant talent spotting manager, spent less. But they won little in the process. The relationship between success as defined by winning the League or the Champions League and available cash has never been so close. However, the storm clouds of debt were gathering, and even Roman could see that this ‘football drug’ had it’s downside, declaring that he wanted Chelsea to be self sufficient in future and the money he had put into the club was only ever a fully recoverable loan.

These owners and charimen knew that things had to change, they simply could not afford the spiralling debts incurred by the ever increasing wage demands players and agents. Has anyone analysed the inflation multiple in players’ wages since 2003? In an age of transparency, we should be able to know the actual wages all players earn. Indeed, what professional class has salaries quoted in weekly amounts rather than monthly amounts nowadays. How very flat cap and working class!

And then BANG, 5 years after the Roman, along comes  Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and now owner of Manchester City. The bar was raised again, and raised smack in the middle of the global financial crisis. 19 other Premier League chairmen were looking down the barrel of an Arab gun. The Abu Dhabi United Group did not rely on leveraged debt, they had cash and plenty of it. Cash for gold, black gold.

So you see, these new rules are nothing to do with helping the English (or Welsh) national teams do better (and Scotland and Northern Ireland not at all). They are all to do with money just as they always are.  Limiting the squads to two full teams not only limits clubs like  Manchester City and Chelsea from ‘warehousing’ all the talent and thus choking the supply to their rivals, it also limits the cash the second tier have to spend.   Allowing clubs to boost their squads with younger and therefore cheaper players, or more accurately players who cost less in wages, utimately means that the ‘Broken Football’ model gets some new life and potentially a new direction. Is this a good thing for football ?  Yes, I think it is. After all Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief, said ‘ it is to protect the viability and sustainability of the clubs’ . But these new rules and their cosy language are there to do just that. Nothing more, nothing less. If England’ s team benefit great, but don’t be taken in by the language, the spin and the branding of these changes. Home grown? I think not.

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My, My, Hey, Hey…….

It’s a  funny old world and maybe sometimes we just look for connections, because they are there, we think they are there, or just because we want to. In an webworld full of  infinite words and available knowledge, these connections become more frequent, daily. Yesterday evening, 24th July 2010, I was sorting out a few plants in my garden, the ones which had really  not recovered from the hot weather in June.  Hot weather we had missed, for June saw us in South Africa for the World Cup and thus there was little watering intervention happening in the Payne garden.  So, there I was with iPhone in my ears,  left hand flicking through some music, right hand struggling with an over-heavy watering can.

So I settled on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Scratch My Back’ album, which is a beautiful collection of covers the great man has selected. He sings his version of someone else’s song on this album and in return the original  artist sings one of his songs, on a different album.  First up on shuffle is ‘My Body is a Cage’, originally by Arcade Fire. Naturally enough after that epic,  I decide to listen to the original again which of course is equally amazing. Deciding to switch to an Arcade Fire half hour I get the pleasure of  ‘Intervention’. The amazing Bach like opening sequence, complete with a wondeful church organ is a prelude into the the most wonderful song and accompanying set of lyrics.  Curious as ever about their possible meaning, I decided to look them up, whilst watering and stumble upon a forum discussion about their likely meaning(s). Sure enough, I then spotted a reference to ‘Intervention being a protest song ala Bob Dylan’s Hurricane’ . For old times sake, I gave  ‘Hurricane’ a digital spin and once that wonderful tune faded out, like immediately afterwards. I decided to pop over to Twitter to see what’s up in the world. What’s the first post I read? From @montymunford ‘That was the story of the hurricane – too much booze. RIP Alex Higgins’ .

 So the man who had got me and my mates into snooker had finally faded away, indeed his burn out had been slow and tortuous. This was the  man who had shown his emotion when winning the Embassy World Professional Snooker Championship in May 1982 the same year as my first ever World Cup ‘live’.  I watched that snooker final with some of  school mates, Keith, Gus and Dom and we lived on a diet of music,  Grape Nuts and beer. 3 weeks later I had kicked my exams  off the menu, threw some shorts and T-shirts in an Adidas bag and boarded the Magic Bus (yes it was the name of a coach company) bound for Bilbao. This year  I spent a fair bit of the World Cup with Keith and Dom and although Gus could not make it, he was there in spirit.

The Hurricane was the man who made snooker, the old man’s game exciting, the man who had put the real colour into snooker. A man who made it an adrenaline sport for the viewer. A man who literally kept you on the edge of your seat whilst he moved around the table like a hustler with a nervous twitch . The second greatest boy genius from Belfast. And like his sporting brother, a frustrating genius, who never really achieved as much as his potential suggested he might,according to the media. But maybe he did and maybe that day in 1982 lives in the memory precisely because it was his pinnacle, achieved before the booze, fags and cocaine rendered him ‘past his best’. If there is a lesson there, then some if not many will never learn from it.

 My, my, hey, hey – Alex Higgins really did come out of the blue and went into the black, but this time let’s hope he is not forgotten.

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J’Accuse

This title, which has become part of the English language in a particular  famous letter printed by French newspaper L’Aurore in January 13th 1898 penned by Emile Zola. Now this name is made up of 2 unique  names, both of which we associate with football, and close, it must be said to my heart.

Gianfranco Zola, the wonderful footballer and possibly the nicest man in football disgracefully treated by the new owners of West Ham, messrs David Gold and Sullivan and Emile Heskey, the England footballer who has just announced his retirement from international football.

J’accuse the owners of West Ham and J’accuse the world for the abuse heaped on poor old Emile. He is not the best footballer in England,  he does not possess the finest of touches and does not read the game in the same way as players such as Shearer and Sheringham, but at least he always tried. How must he feel time and time again in the run up to an international game. It starts with his selection as a squad member, always universally met with howls of derison from the media. Then, heaven forbid, he gets picked for a game and the media and the fans howl again. If he is substituted, he is often seen off to a chorus of disapproval. Worse still his name is used in a song sung by the fans in an attempt at irony, ‘ 5-1 and even Heskey scored’ , doubly ironic as this was the baiting cry that heradled the opening exchanges between English and German fans in Bloemfontein a few weeks back. His goal scoring record is worse than Rene Higuita and Jose Luis Chilaver, both internationals for Columbia and Paraguay respectively, and both goalkeepers.

So he has tied his last international bootlace up and will never be seen in the England colours again, unless Robbie Williams tempts him one more time for Soccer Aid.  I bet he is actually relieved to be away from the whole furore. Let’s face it, all he ever did was agree to play, and that many managers have picked him, from memory Capello, O’Neill, Bruce, Houlier, Eriksson, McClaren, Keegan and more it goes to show that there is consistency. So don’t blame Heskey, please. It’s like picking a one armed pianist to play at your wedding, whilst you may get the semblance of a tune, it will not be balanced or indeed what you were expecting. What it does highlight is one, simple fact. England just do not have many good forwards and given that the heir apparent to Heskey is either Darren Bent or Gabriel Agbonlahor, well it a’int going to get better before it stays the same or even gets worse.  J’accuse the system that simply does not produce footballers who have technique over power, touch over pace, balance over strength and intelligence over brawn. Emile, I salute you, you did your best and that’s that.

One last thought. My approach to the current England football team is not to drop them all and start again, yet. Rather Capello should pick the same 11 that started against Germany, barring Emile and anyone else who announces their retirement from international football and let them face the few who pay good money to attend the ‘friendly’ against another faded nation, Hungary, on August 11th. I for one will be attending that game, and it will be very interesting to see what actually happens that night. Hungary arguably showed England the way to play in1953 when they thumped us 6-3. We are one game on from year zero, so let’s indulge the old regime one last time and start afresh after the fans who travelled to support their team in South Africa have had their catharsis. That or change the whole lot at half time……

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The Legacy of the World Cup

Not my words but the words of Peter Delonno from Business Report. Incidentally the British couple mentioned at the foot of the page under Cyberspace is in fact Kirsty and I. Funny old world. Enjoy!

http://www.busrep.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=552&fArticleId=4102101

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A Fitting Finale, if not Final

So the end of the World Cup happened and we have to wait another four years before we can enjoy it all over again. Now this may not seem like a long time to those of you young enough to have your best years ahead of you, but to us older types, the years are increasingly precious and we don’t know how many more we will be able to attend. I would hope to still be attending well into my seventies and beyond. For some this will probably be the last, and for Nelson Mandela surely the oldest man in Soccer City last night, his appearance before the game capped a near perfect tournament. If the football had been better, it would have been a perfect 10, that’s for sure.

Watching on TV is never satisfactory, and if England had made the final, we would have been there, unlikely as that event would have been of course. Some good friends had been lucky enough to have made the trip, David who I cycled with earlier this year on the Dallaglio Cycleslam, Ian who climbed Kilimanjaro with the rest of us in 2004 and Dom, with whom I went to school and who was the host with the most whilst we were in Johannesburg and I am sure they would have sucked in the atmosphere, which I know would have been electric. But to be there, in that stadium in Soccer City, when Nelson Mandela was driven in on his little golfing buggy across a white carpet, well that must have been a very special moment, and boy did Madiba have the biggest smile in the whole world. He must have been so proud, so pleased and above all so happy that his beloved land had delivered this the biggest sporting tournament in the world. Whether or not FIFA had put this old, frail man who will be 92 next week under pressure is another story ( as they say in South Africa). Rather fitting that he did not stay for the matchthen, as it really did not do anything to enhance the reputation of the so called beautiful game. Indeed another ‘leader’ looked on whilst the battle between the total footballers of Spain and the Total Cloggers of the Netherlands played out. One Robert Mugabe. Hero of Zimbabwe in 1980, now pariah of Africa. What exactly that evil man was doing there is anyone’s guess. If FIFA invited him, shame on them. If South Africa invited him, shame on them too. The only black mark in this whole tournament was his presence at this final.

The game was absorbing if ultimately disappointing. Spain’s football is sublime and in Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Alonso they have a quartet that not only pull every string, but make every string sing. Not since Brazil 70 have we seen such masters.

This was a victory for the little man. Even their power house at the back, Puyol is shorter than would be accepted in the English leagues and plays with his heart on his sleeve. With his distinctive locks, resembling Tony Iommi or David Coverdale circa 1976 (ironically in the times of the truly great Dutch footballers), he was an inspiration. Spain hold the ball and as my co watcher last night Steve said, ‘they are not afraid to go backwards’. By contrast Holland decided to become the new West Germany. No shortage of skill was secondary to pure muscle and more often than not overt aggression. Van Bommell plays like Graeme Souness without the touch and De Jong is like Jimmy Case. One attack on Alonso begged the question ‘was De Jong a big Bruce Lee fan as a kid’ karate, or otherwise, and De Jong was lucky not to be sent off before half time. Indeed the martial arts approach was contagious with Schneidjer auditioning as Cato for an episode in the Green Hornet. I bet Howard Webb wondered what he had walked into last night.

A moment of sublime brilliance from Spain’s biggest bit part player, Fabregas, a man who would walk into any of the other thirty one teams taking part, was met equally by one from the diminutive Iniesta, who for me was the man of the match, despite some journalists and commentators stating he had had a poor game (?). The cup was Spain’s and they swapped shirts from blue to red (with a star of course) as is their tradition – I have now found out – but a significant departure from World Cup tradition, I may add. A future trivia question will be what is unusual about the picture of Spain receiving the World Cup in 2010. Add in ‘who was the only unbeaten team in the tournament’ and children not yet born will never guess it was the part timers from New Zealand.

Faced with BBC TV coverage, ITV was frankly beyond the pale, it was evident that Lee Dixon, Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker had all been impressed by the people and the country that is South Africa. They were all visibly moved by the appearance of Mandela and all pleased that Spain had won. On a night where good triumphed over bad (barring one certain Robert Mugabe’s presence of course), the BBC ended their coverage with a District 9 style cinematic piece. Whether you thought it was cheese or not, and I did not, it did point to the questions that remain. Those of legacy, inequality, poverty and social justice. District 6 has long gone, but let’s hope its legacy is going now. Indeed let’s hope the World Cup 2010 is the kick start that all of Africa needs in this ever competitive world dominated by the new colonial powers of multinational globalisation.

South Africa – wave your flag with pride and belief. Well done.

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The Final Act

As the final act of a wonderful World Cup is upon us, one thing is certain; a new name on the trophy. And a new name on the map. South Africa and Africa in general has been the winner. Let’s hope the best football team wins it tonight. It is sure to be a classic. One of THE best World Cups ever in terms of atmosphere and feeling.

Loads more in my note book, just need some time to write it all up….story of my life really.

PS – And Madiba, Nelson Mandela is there. Fabulous. Absolutely brilliant. I wish I was there!

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Karma Police arrest these men….

So here we are, almost at the end of the 2010 World Cup and 11 days after England’s exit made without a bang but with plenty of whimper.

I have no idea if those that run the English game will make any major changes, but I am very pleased to report that the loyal fans who travelled thousands of miles in support of the team have changed, and changed for the better.

This is the third World Cup that there has been virtually no sign of the bad old days. I believe that there have been no arrests for violence amongst the fans, yes zero this time around. Now this is definitely a good thing and shows the rest of the world that we have changed a lot, and will continue to do so. Has this change happened ‘naturally’ and in line with the free market theory? Or has there been intervention?

In truth there is evidence that free market, evolutionary principles have played their part, but so have authorities on both sides. A coming together of various ideas and approaches means that following England’s football team is no longer the dangerous pursuit it once was. Go back to the eighties and nineties and one’s memories of the local or host culture was more likely to be centred around police tactics, local thug hotspots and tales of skirmishes and chair throwing on warm sunny days. Warring factions within the England support was also always a factor. I can speak from experience in the 80s whereby being a West Ham supporter meant exactly that and there was no quarter given to other England fans. Firms from Burnley, Stoke, Carlisle, Portsmouth, Millwall, Sunderland would always clash along with Chelsea, Leeds, and biggest of the lot Man Utd. Liverpool and Everton fans would arrive before everyone else, avoid much of the violence and concentrate on ‘monetising’ their trips, much to the loss of local traders.

Over the years the dynamic changed from offensive in the early 80’s, to herd like in the 90’s into reactive and sometimes defensive at the turn of the century. Although I did not travel to South Korea (England were based in Japan for the tournament), the overall feeling was one of initial scepticism that the Japanese and Koreans would never be able to host a World Cup to a feeling of ‘what a fantastic World Cup and hats off to both hosts’. Indeed Japan/South Korea 2002 saw some key ‘game changers’.

1) Reception. This was the first time in my experience that the locals actually wanted the legions of foreign supporters in their country. Not only that, but the Japanese went out of their way to welcome us – even offering us gifts before matches and smiling constantly. There were no mobs of locals trying to make a reputation by fighting England football fans. Even the police were cool and did not behave proactively aggressively to us. That makes a big difference.
2) Example. Having seen the behaviour of English cricket and rugby fans down the years, despite copious amounts of alcohol and often crazy exposure to hard sunshine, football fans or at least some of them, decided to take the lead and change things. They also saw the rebranding of Scotland’s fans into the loveable ‘Tartan Army’ and thought, why can’t we do this? Whilst this has been an evolution rather than a revolution, the change is real and it is being noticed abroad.
3) Cost. Japan was and is expensive and thus much of the ‘exciteable youth’ could not afford it.
4) Intervention. The English police and government have steadily taken action against known troublemakers for years and have in excess of 3,500 banning orders in place to stop idiots travelling. This has helped enormously.
5) Time. Many of the passionate England football fans of the early 80’s let their passion boil over into violence. It is only a game and it is all about your mates and having a laugh. Some, if not all, have realised that marauding round some foreign city on a state of perpetual alert is actually quite stressful and completely unnecessary. Indeed, sitting in a bar drinking fine wine, foreign beer, and sampling all sorts of different foods is eminently more appealing.
6) Entertainment. One of the few things that FIFA has done outside of making billions of dollars out of the World Cup is to set up the biggest and longest sporting party in the world bar none. Football is all about entertainment ultimately, much as that will grate with the 40 somethings who have been brought up to follow the team of their forefathers without question. The passion for the shirt is still there, and so it should be, but it is no longer frowned upon to watch other games live and just live the whole footballing extravaganza to the full. The World Cup gets bigger, not necessarily better in terms of the quality of football, but it does get better in terms of the overall entertainment and vibe.

So, given that the fans have made changes, let’s see if the England players both present and future can do the same. The fans have shown the right example, leadership and commitment. Indeed, I wonder just how many England fans took the time to visit Robben Island, surely the most inspiring place in South Africa? I suspect thousands of them. Every single one I met had been there. How many England players did the same? Precisely zero. They were all too busy playing golf, or just tired out by the whole thing. Not so in the Netherlands camp. Those boys all gave up their time to visit the place of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration. Karma police note, who got into the final and who may just win this World Cup. Hup Holland!

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