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The FA Cup’s Top 5 ‘Cupsets’

March 6, 2017 in Features

cupset

n. (context sports British slang English) An upset in a cup competition.

After the heroics of Lincoln City and Millwall in this season’s Emirates FA Cup, Elephant Sport delves through the archives, and looks back at our top 5 cupsets of all time.

5: Bournemouth 2-0 Manchester United – FA Cup 3rd Round – 8/1/1984

Division Three strugglers knock out holders:

Third division strugglers Bournemouth, managed by fledgling boss Harry Redknapp, upset the odds as they dumped cup holders Man Utd out of the competition.

The Reds, then managed by Ron Atkinson, were rocked by goals from Milton Graham and Ian Thompson as their star studded line-up, including the likes of Arnold Muhren, Arthur Albiston and England Captain Bryan Robson, were dismantled by the Cherries.

Trouble ensued on the terraces, but Bournemouth held on to record one of the biggest FA Cup upset’s of all time, on a day billed by Harry Redknapp as “The best of my life”.

4: Leicester City 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers – FA Cup 6th Round – 10/3/2001

The tale of the Teletext striker

Record fees, big wages, cheesy medical photos and managers hanging their heads out of cars. Those are some of the answer’s you expect to receive if you were to ask the regular football fan about the transfer window.

But take a trip back in time to 2001 and things were a little different for Wycombe Wanderers. With an injury list including SIX strikers , Wycombe manager and Cup hero Lawrie Sanchez turned to Teletext to fill the breach left by his depleted forward line.

The solo reply to his message came from Roy Essandoh, a forward who’s career had taken him to Scotland and Finland, via Austria. His impact as a second half substitute would send him into FA Cup folklore and the Chairboy’s into the semi-finals.

In an action-packed game at Filbert Street, Wycombe took the lead through a Paul McCarthy strike, and whilst Muzzy Izzet equalised for the hosts, Essandoh won it for the Chairboys.

Wycombe would go on to be knocked out in the semi-finals by Liverpool, with Emile Heskey and Robbie Fowler cancelling out Keith Ryan’s opener.

On a sadder note, the world of football lost McCarthy this week aged 45 with tributes pouring in for the former Wycombe and Brighton and Hove Albion defender.

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(Video Courtesy of FA TV)

3: Lincoln City vs Burnley – FA Cup 5th Round – 18/2/2017

Non League underdogs shock Premier League opponents

Lincoln City were history-makers as they broke a record dating back to 1914 by defeating Sean Dyche’s Premier League outfit.

The Imps, managed by brothers Danny and Nicky Cowley, struck in the 89th minute through a towering Sean Raggett header to take the non-leaguers through to the 6th round of this season’s Cup, a feat that had last been achieved by non-league QPR in 103 years ago.

But the Imp’s FA Cup story didn’t start in the 5th round, as they successfully negotiated their way through rounds 3 and 4 leaving Ipswich Town and Brighton & Hove Albion in their wake.

A champagne tie at the Emirates Stadium awaits them this weekend, which will no doubt boost the finances of a club that has seemingly steered itself out of troubled waters.

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(Video courtesy of FATV)

2: Liverpool 1-2 Barnsley – FA Cup 5th Round – 16/2/2008

Lets talk about facts

Barnsley, then managed by Simon Davey, head to Anfield languishing in the lower echelons of the Championship. The 90 minutes of football that ensued would be remembered by football fans across the nation.

Already under pressure following his failure to deliver silverware at Anfield, Rafa Benitez fielded a line-up that featured international pedigree including Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Sami Hyypia and John-Arne Riise.

However the tricky Tykes were not star-struck as they levelled the game through Stephen Foster following Kuyt’s opener.

A string of saves from former Manchester United goalkeeper Luke Steele kept Barnsley in the tie, with Brian Howard winning it in the final minute to send them into Round 6.

Whilst Liverpool’s Cup campaign faltered, the Tykes then took another Premier League scalp in the form of Chelsea.

Kayode Odejayi netted the winner to dump the holders out of the cup that day, and send the Tykes to Wembley for a semi-final showdown with eventual runners-up Cardiff City.

A year later, Davey was sacked, and following spells with non-league Darlington and Hereford, has never managed professionally since.

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(Video courtesy of BBC/Barnsley FC)

1: Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United – FA Cup Final – 5/5/1973

“There is no way that Sunderland can beat Leeds”- Brian Clough

The big-spending Leeds United of the 1970s were simply a football machine, featuring some of the country’s finest footballing talent in their ranks.

They took on lowly Second Division Sunderland, managed by the charismatic Bob Stokoe, at Wembley and what followed would be widely classed as the greatest FA Cup shock of all time, and produced Sunderland’s solitary piece of post-war silverware.

The tie would be decided by two moments of brilliance, buoyed by Leeds’ instability. Sunderland took the lead through Ian Porterfield who slammed the ball past David Harvey in the Leeds goal.

A Leeds onslaught followed, with Sunderland keeper Jimmy Montgomery pulling off a string of fine saves, including one from Leeds maverick Peter Lorimer, to keep the Mackems in the game.

Sunderland held on to take the Cup and in turn send ‘Dirty Leeds’ back to Yorkshire without the trophy that they had clinched the season before against Arsenal.

It was a result that sent shockwaves through the footballing world.

Q&A with Fanfair co-founder Connor Reddy

February 20, 2017 in Interviews

In today’s footballing world, much of the real action is in debate and discussion across social media platforms. 

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to name just a few, have become the home for fans’ views, opinions and knee-jerk reactions across the globe.

A new app, Fanfair, dedicated solely to football, hopes to join that list. Shortly before it went live, Fanfair’s co-founder Connor Reddy spoke to Elephant Sport about the app and what he hoped it would add to the existing market.

What is Fanfair?

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©Fanfair

Fanfair is a new live-streaming platform that brings live football news and opinions together to spark discussions amongst fans. It seeks to be a live football community bringing fans from all around the world together to voice their opinions in a live environment with other like-minded fans.

How did the idea come about?

One evening watching the same old pundits rambling on Sky Sports, we began to wonder why it was only their opinion getting a platform and yet the average guy has to scramble together a 140-character message and hope not to get lost in the thick of it.

Surely the fan on the street had has much of a say as these guys being paid to churn out the same lines week in, week out?

What did you use as your inspiration for how Fanfair would work? 

©Wikimedia Commons

We looked at a company called Twitch that specialises in video game live-streaming, the reason being because they managed to build a community out of the passion of gaming, instead of just creating another social network or streaming application.

They really brought together a community, and that’s what we want to do with Fanfair.

They created a medium for true fans to interact with each other over a shared passion but also provide a stage for anyone and everyone to showcase their skill irrelevant of experience.

What makes Fanfair unique in this era of social media where football is already heavily discussed across multiple platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube?

In essence, Fanfair aims to be the sole social platform dedicated exclusively to football fans.

On a feature front, our unique audio commenting allows fans the chance to engage with one another like never before on a live-stream. We as football fans ourselves love to have ourselves heard when we’re raising our point to our mates, and this is what we are trying to recreate.

Traditionally, people have phoned into radio talk shows to have their say on the game, and we’re trying to simplify that process. We feel by using speech comments, we give passionate football fans the chance to really get across the emotion of what they’re feeling about the final score.

What do you aim to accomplish with Fanfair?

©Fanfair

Ultimately, we want to change the way fans interact with one another and make that a simpler and more emotive process for them to engage with one another.

Over the long-term, we want to develop Fanfair into a wider idea that transcends simply a football discussion app.

This has the potential to take form in an all-singing, all-dancing sports platform for fans of various sports and develop a fan-led content platform for the digital era that takes over traditional mediums such as radio.

With a younger, digital-savvy generation on the rise, our overall vision for Fanfair would be to see it become an innovative and interactive version of sports radio shows, where fans curate the content and have their say on the biggest talking points from the game.

Can you tell us more about a couple of Fanfair’s main features?

We decided to integrate live news into the app to help stimulate the conversation. A lot of live-streaming apps out there seem to be struggling to answer why to go live. We’re providing our community with a catalyst of live news to spark discussion.

Our audio comment feature gives fans the chance to voice their opinion so they can finally be heard. We noticed that all the other live-streaming apps out there focused heavily on the video aspect, whereas we want to place the emphasis on the actual engagement between fans and 140 characters just doesn’t constitute engagement in our opinion.

We’ve also implemented a ranking system that rates from: bronze, silver and gold with everyone starting from bronze irrelevant of their external background. The reason for this was because we wanted to allow validation for people’s opinions from other fans but also encourage those who want to build their own profile within the community.

What would you say is your favourite feature or aspect of Fanfair and why?

Definitely our audio feature, as we really want to be able to capture the real emotion that someone’s feeling when they’re talking about their team or a topic that resonates with them.

Why should football fans download Fanfair?

fanfair3

©Fanfair

Football fans should download Fanfair and join the community because they’ll finally have an interactive way to discuss with fellow fans about the game they love.

We’re taking the football discussions you have with your friends and connecting you to other people who share some of the same ideas! If you’re sick of hearing the same old pundits using the same old clichés, then Fanfair is for you!

Heated football discussions can sometimes provoke the wrong kind of passion. People can go from simply disagreeing with a point someone’s made to eventually insulting or even threatening them. How does Fanfair plan to combat this and, ultimately, keep the environment a civilised place?

We strongly believe that the platform needs to be real and authentic. For that to be the case, we have to allow people with differing views to interact with one another. We have our own moderation team who will block and delete content that we feel has crossed a line, and we are clear that we do not accept abuse and threats from one user to another.

Fanfair was born from the passion of football and we want to harness that to unite people and accept that you can disagree with someone else’s view, but that doesn’t mean you can’t respect them.

Much like with any social media platform, ultimately it comes with the territory that you are going to have to moderate the content. We allow users to block others and report inappropriate content and are looking at measures to put in place going forward, which will put the emphasis on users who are constantly engaged with the platform to moderate the community as well as the team in the back-end.

Where can those interested in trying out Fanfair download the app?

You can join the community via the iOS App Store and Google Play Store. We’re always looking to improve the app so it benefits our community, so feel free to send us feedback at team.ff@fanfair.co as we’re always willing to listen to new ideas and opinions!

Featured image: ©Fanfair

Elephant Sport Podcast – The Rise of Online Streaming

February 1, 2017 in Multimedia, Opinion

Mike Newell and Lucas Chomicki investigate why more sports fans are turning to internet streaming to watch live events.

The increasing availability of illegal feeds is a growing problem for broadcasters anxious to protect their multi-billion pound investments in sports rights.

Sky and BT Sport paid £5.1bn between them for the current Premier League deal, but what happens when fans aren’t prepared to pay for what they view?

This vox pop features anonymous interviewees because of the subject under discussion.

 

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Q&A With Di Stéfano author Ian Hawkey

November 23, 2016 in Interviews

Ian Hawkey has recently published his second book, Di Stéfano, following the critical success of his debut outing Feet of the Chameleon. 

Elephant Sport caught up with the esteemed author and journalist to talk about the book.

First of all, congratulations on writing one of the best sports books of the year. How different was the writing process of this in comparison to your debut book, Feet of the Chameleon?

The subjects were very different. Feet of the Chameleon was very wide-ranging, covering a continent, Africa, and well over a century of football there, so in some ways I had to be more selective from the start in that.

A biography is a different beast, although Alfredo Di Stéfano led such a full, varied and fascinating life that I also ended up with more material than there was space for.

That’s a good position to be in, in many ways, of course, but it means one of the challenges is to decide what’s most relevant to the way the man was, his circumstances, his influences, his habits, while giving the right weight to his achievements, which were phenomenal.

You are the first person to publish a book on Alfredo di Stéfano in English. Does that come with a lot of pressure? To get his story right; to enlighten a bigger audience?

I certainly thought there was a gap, in that a book on Alfredo Di Stéfano didn’t exist in English.

He is arguably the greatest individual in the world’s most popular sport, and the other candidates for that status have all been written about extensively in books in English (Pele, Johann Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi).

As for pressure, any biographer – and every journalist, I hope – feels a duty to represent their subject fairly, so that’s a pressure in a way, but the process of discovery is very rewarding.

If you could pinpoint one exact moment where you thought “I need to write about Di Stéfano,” what was it?

I suppose it was when I first met him. I was working in Spain, covering Real Madrid a lot and, although he was in his 70s, he still had a huge influence on the club because he had lifted it to greatness, and set standards that every generation since of Madrid players, coaches and fans measure the club by.

He was the honorary president in those years, and though he wasn’t always that approachable, he was fascinating to talk to, and very in touch with modern football.

He had done so much to shape it, I soon realised, which drove me towards the idea of an in-depth book about him. Happily, Ebury, my publisher, shared that idea.

In the book, we learn about Di Stéfano almost as a celebrity – one of football’s first. The parties he held at his house were one of the many indicators. How do you feel he would have settled into this age of modern football?

bookThat is a very good question. In many ways he was the first global superstar of the sport, I would say, in that he had this instant recognition – we can call it celebrity – outside the pitch and well beyond the borders of wherever he was playing.

Much of what he did on and off the field broke the mould of how football worked in his era.

On the playing side, he did things tactically that were very innovative and he had all the physical and technical assets to shine in any era. I think he’d have been a star in the 21st century on par with a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Messi.

He could be confrontational off the field, standing up to his bosses, and certainly having a clear idea of his value.

Footballers in his era were certainly not the multi-millionaires that so many are today, but his challenges to what he perceived as an unfair balance of work-and-reward in favour of those who ran the game and not those who played it had a long-term effect in terms of making the player more free to choose his employer and to earn more.

He also did things in terms of advertising and marketing that hadn’t been done before. Put it this way, if Di Stéfano was around now, you’d see his image on all sorts of things, from Playstation to the latest boots, to various fashion accessories.

What is it about Di Stéfano that makes him such an interesting character to write about? Is it the success? The goals? His family life?

I think with all very successful individuals, there’s always a curiosity about what drives or drove them. Sometimes with sports people, it’s hard to specify beyond their exceptional physical gifts.

With Di Stéfano, he had a fierce competitive impulse, and when I say fierce, it could be quite alarming, even for seasoned professionals who played alongside him.

He also had that creative imagination that captures public interest, the ability to improvise on the pitch, and thrill a crowd.

“Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi influenced the way football is played as much as Di Stéfano. He was as brilliant as any of them, so, with his legacy taken into consideration, he’s number one.”

That takes a certain non-conformist attitude to achieve, I think, and that’s fascinating to understand. He was charismatic, too, even if he could be a bit grumpy sometimes.

In his life he faced a number of setbacks and seeing how he responded to those was one of the main points of interest.

His professional training didn’t prepare him for many of them – for events like being kidnapped by guerrillas in South America for example.

It may be blasphemous to some, but do you think we will ever see a player of Di Stéfano’s ilk again? Someone with a rebel-streak who is also outrageously gifted and successful?

hawk

Ian Hawkey

That’s a very good question. There is a tendency these days to believe there is something a bit robotic about very successful modern footballers, or maybe all elite athletes in team sports, and maybe because of that to romanticise the flawed geniuses of the past, like Maradona or George Best.

I suppose you might characterise a footballer like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, because he is outspoken and sometimes anti-authoritarian, in that ilk, although Di Stéfano was a better, more influential player than Ibrahimovic, I would confidently say.

You travelled around South America when working on the book. Did you at any point get any ideas for a different book? Perhaps a different player, maybe?

It’s hard to be around South American football and not recognise hundreds of great stories that would make a book!

Certainly, in the period that Alfredo Di Stéfano was playing there – in Argentina in the late 1940s and in Colombia until the early 1950s – it was turbulent, often brilliant and gloriously unpredictable.

The whole episode of the rebel Colombian league, which, out of nowhere, brought in some of the best players in the world, including from Europe, in the late 1940s, would make a great book.

Pele said Di Stefano was the “greatest” player of all-time. What does Ian Hawkey himself think? Is he the “greatest”?

This will sound like a fence-sitting cop-out … but, it is genuinely hard to compare across eras.

Watch the footage of Di Stéfano’s Real Madrid of the 1950s and 1960s now and you can appreciate why they were setting new standards, but you also note how slow the pace of their games are compared with modern elite football.

Now, I believe Di Stéfano would have had no difficulty living with that speed, assuming he trained like a modern player, well into his 30s. More than that, he’d have thrived in it, because he was so quick-minded and for most of his career, exceptionally quick on his feet and as strong as an ox.

dipe

Di Stéfano and Pele

The other issue is that we don’t see that footage very often, whereas we still get exposed regularly to colour television images of Pele, Cruyff, Maradona exhibiting their brilliance.

It’s that above all that maybe makes them more appreciated than Di Stéfano, who had the other disadvantage, usually for reasons of bad timing, to have not played in a World Cup.

And, in my view, none of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi influenced the way football is played as much as Di Stéfano. He was as brilliant as any of them, so, with his legacy taken into consideration, he’s number one.

Elephant Sport would like to thank Ian Hawkey for his time. Di Stéfano is published by Ebury Press, hardback £16.59. For more details, click here.

Gentrification and its impact on youth sports in Brixton

November 23, 2016 in News & Features

Take a stroll through Brixton and you’ll notice boarded-up shops and evidence of protest in this culturally diverse corner of  south London.

In early 2016, many social housing estates in the area began to undergo a remodelling and rebuilding process, paid for in part by property developers keen on reaping the dividends of Brixton’s proximity to the city centre.

While residents were forced to relocate and scatter around London, local businesses were also in a state of upheaval.

“Many local people believe it’s about making Brixton more marketable to those far wealthier than its current inhabitants”

In February, the council alerted a host of small shops and companies near the railway station – primarily in Atlantic Road – that the area was also to undergo a transformation under the auspices of Network Rail.

Independent business owners were told that they had four months to close down and move away. Some have said they won’t be able to afford the rents set to charged for the railway arches once they have been refurbished.

Many local people believe the reason for this shake-up is to improve the look of Brixton, essentially making it more marketable to those far wealthier than its current inhabitants.

In other words, the area is being gentrified, creating a sense of alienation and resentment among many long-time residents.

Now in November, the entire railway road is one lengthy board of black with white graffiti reading ‘SAVE BRIXTON!’

How is local sport affected?

Behind the boards, the remnants of businesses past: a Portuguese butchers that offered imported delicacies, an independent Jamaican music store run by a father and his teenage daughter, and a small taxi company that transported people from Brixton to Heathrow and Gatwick.

But, perhaps the most important of all, was a modest space for children to congregate after school. One 4 All, the name of this independently-run company, would organise trips to the local leisure centre, just on the opposite side of the railway.

It was at this leisure centre that I spent most of my days as a kid – and it is at this leisure centre that many children of today can no longer take part in sports.

stop-the-evictions

Grafitti protesting the evictions on Atlantic Road

Due to the closure of One 4 All, there is no longer a middle-man between the visiting children and the centre.

This means no supervisors or carers which, in turn, means a decrease in attendance after school.

Parents would often entrust the workers here to look after their children while they work – mine most certainly did. It was almost free childcare.

For kids, it was the chance to visit the coveted leisure centre. At Brixton Recreational Centre, you can try your hand at basketball, futsal, badminton, table tennis… the list goes on.

Introducing Robbie

Speaking to basketball coach Robbie Sugg – affectionately dubbed ‘Uncle Robbie’ by many kids – I realised that the atmosphere at the Recreational Centre is somewhat gloomy in the wake of gentrification.

The 57-year-old, who has spent around 17 years working as a coach at the centre, said: “I used to have 20 to 30 kids come in here every single afternoon once school finished. They’d all walk in, pick up the basketball and shoot some hoops.

“Now? I’m lucky if I get five kids. And they’re no longer the same faces.”

What does Sugg think of Brixton’s transformation?

rec-centre

The main area for kids at the Recreational Centre

“Listen, I can understand how the government will defend this as well as the local council,” he said.

“They will say it’s about making Brixton a more pleasant place. But what they’re doing is making people angry. The more money that gets put into Brikki, the less diverse it will become.”

‘Brikki’ is an affectionate moniker used by those who have some sort of connection to the district. Sugg has been a resident of Brixton his entire life, living just a few minutes from the recreational centre, just west off Electric Avenue.

He continued: “Now you tell me how parents can afford to send their kids here to have some fun after school? They can’t scrape together money for the membership which One 4 All were covering. ”

“You’ll have more little youts (patois for youth) running around causing trouble because they don’t have an escape.”

His concerns are genuine. The more children he can work with and introduce to sport, the fewer there are on the streets potentially getting into trouble. Especially with the angst-riddled atmosphere currently circling around Brixton.

“The only people I see here nowadays are adults. That’s fine, but I don’t see kids no more. Those kids that called my Uncle Robbie. The only kids I see are unfamiliar faces that come and go. The sense of community is disappearing, man” said Sugg.

An alternative voice

After my chat with Sugg, I proceeded to a local coffee shop to get the other side of the story from a council spokesperson.

Susan McRae arrived, sat down and quickly began to talk about the benefits of gentrification. It symbolised the divide between council and community – neither side is completely right, but neither wrong either.

“People have to trust us and believe that we won’t neglect the current community for a newer and more wealthy one”

“Obviously it is sad for the people who feel like their community is being broken apart, but people have to realise that this is for their benefit,” she said.

“More money entering Brixton isn’t a negative. After all, you have to consider just how many outlets kids will have for sporting engagement.”

While there are no concrete plans yet for any official sporting playgrounds, McRae confirmed that it is possible.

“We obviously understand the pull of the skate park and the leisure centre. Maybe we will build a 3G pitch for football – it’s something that has already been discussed.”

I relayed my interview with Sugg to McRae who had some sympathy for his frustrations.

“Sport obviously plays a key part in the growth of a child, especially in communities such as Brixton. People have to trust us and believe that we won’t neglect the current community for a newer and more wealthy one.”

McRae admitted, however: “It’s true: kids don’t really have an outlet in Brixton once they finish school. The Recreational Centre is somewhat off bounds now unless the parents can afford the membership, and the skate park is dominated by adults which can be intimidating.

“At the moment, there is nothing that the council can possibly do aside from asking the kids to be patient.”

Finding middle-ground

As a resident of Brixton, and someone who grew up there, it’s possible to understand both arguments.

I grew up during the riots that saw Brixton literally on fire. One can side with the idea of gentrification when casting an eye back at those times.

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One of the first businesses to fall victim to the evictions

But I have also grown up in a community that unequivocally offered me this: sport at no cost.

The skate park was always my stomping ground, the Rec Centre a chance to flex my skills across heaps of sports.

It’s undoubtedly a concern that the lack of sporting outlets could see children turn to mischief and become disenfranchised from sport – seeing it only as something they only do at school.

But if the council decide on building free sporting complexes, then it may be a win-win situation for the community. Better housing and sporting facilities? A lot of people would jump with joy at that.

It’s a fragile time to be from Brixton – a district that once lavishly celebrated its mix of communities, now reduced to graffiti and protests which speak of distrust and disenchantment.

And the kids still don’t have a viable place to partake in their sports…

Four talented young footballers to keep an eye on

November 21, 2016 in News & Features

With the January transfer window fast approaching, Elephant Sport runs the rule over four young European footballing talents who could potentially be involved in big money moves in the new year.

Youri Tielemans

Youri Tielemans is a 19-year-old central midfielder who plays for Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League.

The same year he signed his first professional contract he also made his Champions League debut against Olympiakos aged 16 years and 148 days.

He also won the Belgian title in his first campaign and has since been on a roll, improving season after season.

Tielemans possesses complete control on the ball and has been compared to Frank Lampard as they have a similar style of play with great strikes from distance.

The promising midfielder has won Young Belgian Player of the Year twice in the 2013/14 season and 2014/15 season.

He’s already had five big clubs knocking at his door including Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United.Goal Celebration

Tielemans has been with Anderlecht since the age of five, wearing the number 10 shirt as he’s climbed through the age group ranks.

He is currently having his best season so far with eight goals in 12 games.

Tielemans made his international debut this year as a late substitute against Netherlands in a 1-1 draw, and can play either centre midfield or attacking midfield.

What gives him the edge over his opponents is his technique and great timing to play killer passes with both feet.

A mature head on young shoulders, he shows very good discipline and leadership skills and seems destined to be a club captain – unless he doesn’t get grabbed in a big-money move first.

Ruben Neves

Ruben Neves is a 19-year-old holding midfielder with great reading of the game as well as technique.

He made his Primera Liga debut for Porto aged just 17 in a 2-0 win against CS Maritimo. Neves is also the youngest player to score in the league for Porto.

Goal CelebrationHe then went on to make his Champions League debut play 70 minutes against Lille in a 1-0 victory.

In the 2014/15 season Neves became the youngest player to captain a club in the Champions League aged 18 years and 221 days in a 2-0 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

He made his international debut in 2015 against Russia as a late substitute in a 1-0 loss.

What makes Neves a threat is that he has a strong drive that also makes him an attacking threat with accurate passing, vision and interceptions.

Neves is currently valued at around £30 million, making him relatively good value in today’s overheated transfer market.

He will be out of contract in 2019 but Porto have been warning big clubs to stay away – for now.

Leon Bailey

Leon Bailey is a 19-year-old winger from Genk who plays in the Belgian Pro League with great dribbling and skills.

Manchester United are showing interest in the Jamaican, who has five goals in 10 games so far this season.

Bailey is a threat playing on the left or right wing with great ability to get past his opponent and get a cross in.

Celebrating Europa League goalHe was brought to Belgium by a football agent who scouted him from his impressive displays from his previous club FC Liefering in the Austrian second division.

The Jamaican international won Belgian Young Footballer of the Year award after his impressive 2015/16 season.

Ajax have had already had a £10m bid rejected by Genk as they believe he’s worth more.

The winger started showing signs of magic whilst playing for the Phoenix All Stars football academy back in his hometown Kingston.

His dad later took it upon himself to seek trials in Europe in order to pursue a professional career.

Bailey is known to have a very rare combination of skill and speed which makes him a threat at all times during a game.

He has the ability to show explosive speed from a standing position on the ball.

Bailey had an impressive 2015/16 season scoring 6 goals in 31 games but is currently on form in the 2016/17 season scoring 4 goals in 4 Europa league games and 2 goals in the league so far in 12 games.

Hachim Mastour

Hachim Mastour is a 18-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for AC Milan but is currently on loan at PEC Zwolle who play in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Hachim Mastour At 14 years old he was scouted by AC Milan and bought for €500,000.

Mastour has impressive dribbling abilities and can play a dangerous final pass which always makes him a threat.

He isn’t one to hide his skills and has competed in a freestyle battle for Red Bull against Brazilian superstar Neymar.

Mastour was born in and represented Italy at under-16 level but then chose to play for Morocco which he has ancestral links to.

Several big clubs including Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid have already made enquiries about signing him.

In AC Milan’s 2013/14 season, he caught the eye of manager at the time Clerence Seedorf. If he’d come off the bench for their last game of the season, he would have been the youngest Milan player to feature in the league at 15.

Mastour made his international debut for Morocco last year in a 3-0 victory against Qatar.

His dribbling and ability to beat players has been compared to Neymar and Ronaldinho as he tends to leave opponents for dead whilst getting past them.

He also possesses an ability pull the strings in midfield which he has been compared to that of Wesley Sneijder.

Mastour could well be make a big-money move if he continues to develop to his full potential.

 

An awayday experience in Milan

November 12, 2016 in I Was There

Six years ago, Inter Milan were winning Serie A, the Champions League and Italian Cup while Southampton languished in League One after nearly going bust and being in administration.

So what a thrill it was for Saints fans (including myself) to travel to the San Siro and see them outplay the European giants in the Europa League. If only we hadn’t lost…

Qualifying for Europe adds something special to a season, and a rare chance to watch your team take on the one of the game’s biggest names is something not to be missed.

So when my friends invited on a four-night trip to Milan it was definitely something I had to do – albeit as cheaply as possible.

The first thing needed was a cheap flight, and Ryanair flies to Milan Bergamo, about an hour outside the city. Then came tracking down the most budget accommodation that central Milan had to offer – Queen’s Hostel.

 Packed

Arriving at Stansted to travel out the day before the game, it was surprising to see so many Southampton shirts at the airport – but then I guess everyone had the same idea of looking for bargain flights.

Duomo di Milano – worth a visit

The sense of excitement among the fans was already evident, and made the usual boring slog through security and passport control less of a chore.

The flight itself was packed with Saints supporters, some of who spent the whole journey singing songs whilst the beers kept coming.

This wasn’t your average away trip to Stoke or West Brom – we were heading to Milan to cheer our team on in one of Europe’s most famous stadiums.

The following day, the visiting supporters tended to group around either the San Siro or the clubs and bars of Navigli in the build-up to the game.

The city centre, where there are some spectacular sights such as the Duomo di Milano, is definitely worth a gander but it’s a bit of a tourist trap and better suited to those with budgets slightly bigger than mine.

Of course, as English football fans looking for home comforts, many of the Saints supporters located an English-style pub screening Sky Sports.

Unfortunately, trouble there a few days before meant it was closed to them in the run-up to that evening’s game.

It didn’t dampen spirits too much, however, as 7,500 away fans – around 13 percent of Southampton’s population – generated a real buzz in Milan’s bars and restaurants.

Deflated

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But I ordered a large… pizzas in Milan

Arriving at the San Siro, it felt like a home game at St Mary’s in some respects as everywhere you looked there was Saints fans.

Inter, who have been overshadowed by Juventus in recent years, were in poor form going into the match and struggling to get decent crowds.

The English contingent made up over a quarter of the evening’s overall attendance, and created plenty of noise in the two-thirds empty stadium as Saints dominated the game.

However, the Premier League outfit were left to rue several missed chances as Antonio Candreva popped up with a 67th-minute strike against the run of play.

The hosts hung on for the win, despite the late dismissal of Marcelo Brozovic, and Southampton and their travelling army of fans were left distinctly deflated by the defeat.

But the disappointment was eased by the fact that we had outplayed our illustrious opponents on their own ground, and the night was still young.

Unfortunately, many of the bars we tried were pretty unaffordable while others had closed early to avoid any rowdiness, so the day ended in anti-climax.

Explore

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Sleeping in Milan airport

For the remainder of our stay, we explored the city, soaked up some local culture and, of course, sampled the food which was of the highest quality.

You can actually eat pretty cheaply in Milan if you look hard enough, and for just €9 you can get a pizza so large it won’t even fit on your plate.

This is one of my favourite parts of an away trip – the opportunity to check out a new city, to experience adventures and do things that you might not have ever done without football taking you there in the first place.

The trip ended on an uncomfortable note, sleeping in the airport as we waited for out flight home at an ungodly hour. I guess it just shows what you’ll put up with to go and support your team.

If you can afford it – and it can be done on a tight budget – I really recommend trip like ours.

Experiencing the delights and sights of a new city with your mates while indulging your love of football is something you won’t forget.

 

 

 

 

 

Iacono flies high to win Red Bull Street Style final

November 9, 2016 in I Was There

For many people, football’s international break is a chance to catch up on missed shows such as The Walking Dead or Eastenders. For others like myself it was a chance to delve into a new sport. 

After coming across Sky Sports’ promotion of the Red Bull Street Style world final on their website, I was filled with curiosity.

With the winter months in full flow, most people would be against the idea of going out on a chilly, blustery evening, but I was willing to broaden my horizons and watch a new sport.

Tickets cost £10 – peanuts in an age when prices to see elite sportspeople in action tend to be excessive and immoderate.

A tenner to witness some breathtaking displays of showboating in a world final was without doubt value for money.

The event took place at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, and I was filled with excitement and eagerness to see a different style of football.

History 

The Red Bull Street Style is freestyle football’s premier tournament, where the world’s top tricksters go head-to-head against one another in a bid to impress the judges with their extravagant abilities.

The competition burst onto the scene in Brazil in 2008 and has also taken place in South Africa, Italy and Japan.

The 2014 event, back in Brazil, saw the most fluent freestylers from 44 nations battling it out for the biggest prize within their sport.

Britain’s Andrew Henderson, who has performed at Old Trafford and put Barcelona’s Neymar to the test in a freestyle battle, captured his first title with some dazzling showboating.

The rules are pretty straightforward. Three minutes, two players, one ball and one victor.

Atmosphere 

As I warmed up with burger and chips, excitement rippled through the Roundhouse crowd as it was announced that former Manchester United and England defender turned TV pundit Gary Neville was on the judging panel.

Gary Neville watching some skills on show

He was joined by Sean Garnier, the winner of the very first Red Bull Street Style in 2008.

Since then, the French star has been influencing and tracking the pulse of the sport and his name needed no introduction to the fans of freestyling.

The cheers were deafening for both Garnier and Sky Sports pundit Neville and the volume only kept increasing.

The atmosphere around the place was louder than most match days at the Emirates Stadium, with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ whenever someone did something amazing with the ball, plus moans and groans when competitors failed to get out of their comfort zone.

It was a superb showcase of jaw-dropping tricks and seemingly impossible transitions that left everyone astounded.

Talent on show 

With the biggest names in freestyle looking to stamp their authority on proceedings, the level of competition was so high that no-one was safe from elimination.

Portugal’s Ricardinho, one of the favourites to win, went out in the quarter-finals.

Another casualty was Ireland’s Daniel Dennehy, who oozed class and ability but was defeated by Carlos Alberto Iacono, the man from Argentina who was hoping it would be third time lucky in 2016.

After coming up just short in the last two tournaments, the man nicknamed ‘Charly’ was determined to claim the crown in London.

Donchet double

Ahead of the men’s final, the world’s best female freestylers got their chance to show off their talents.

The final between Melody Donchet of France and Poland’s Aguska Mnich was a truly gripping encounter.

In the semi-finals, Donchet had seemingly given her all to defeat long-time rival and double world champion Kitti Szasz of Hungary.

But there was more to come from her. In a fearless performance, the French star defeated Mnich with seamless transitions from standing to sit-down tricks and back up again.

Donchet’s ability to persevere when most fans felt she had nothing left in her bag of tricks was simply remarkable.

She secured her second consecutive title and, in the process, elevated her reputation to a new high.

Iacono on top 

In the men’s final, Iacono managed to get the monkey off his back by defeating Japan’s Kosuke Takahashi.

The Argentinian’s ability to ignore the noise from the crowd was one of the main reasons to why he delivered on the big stage.

Iacono celebrates his final win

At times it seemed like Iacono did have wings as he delivered the technical moves for which he is best known.

He sealed victory with one of the hardest handstand tricks ever seen, as he juggled the ball flawlessly on his calf.

Russian’s Anatoliy Yanchev earned third with a respectable performance, however Iacono’s feat earned him a rousing reception from the arena and his piece of history showed that you should never give up under any circumstances

As he admitted afterwards: “After losing several times, I was discouraged. But my heart told me you have to try again.”

And boy, did he deliver.

For more information about the competition, visit the Red Bull website.

Five successful sporting switches

November 8, 2016 in Features

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.

Fans vs Players – five footballing feuds

October 24, 2016 in Features, News & Features

Football is a passionate sport but there are some supporters who will go the extra mile to show how they really feel. 

There are always times when fans are disappointed in their players due to a bad performance or poor run of form.

Or they can take issue with something a player has said. Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi is currently feeling the wrath of his club’s ultras over his autobiography – more on that particular spat later…

Some fans may simply go onto social media to vent their frustration. However, there are others who will go to extremes.

Here, we will look at five fiery feuds between players and their own fans.

5. Bale and Jese speed off as irate fans attack their cars – 2015

Real Madrid have many great memories in beating Barcelona in the El Clásico. Some notable wins include the 5-0 mauling at the Santiago Bernabéu in January 1995, with the Madrid line-up including such big-name players as Raúl, Michael Laudrup and Luis Enrique, who of course went on to even greater success at Barcelona.

Bale (right) and Jese celebrate a goal. Pic by Mutsu Kawamori©, flickr creative commons

Fast forward to March 2015, and Real Madrid came up against the old enemy at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid went on to lose 2-1, with goals from Luis Suarez and Jeremy Mathieu sealing the win for Barcelona.

Later on that night, the Real Madrid players returned home only to face the wrath of some unhappy fans.

These fans were so furious at the players because it was the year that Barcelona won the famous treble and this match ended Real Madrid’s hopes of winning the league that year.

Gareth Bale and Jese were the unlucky ones as they were caught in the thick of things. As they were driving off, there were a group of Real Madrid fans waiting to pounce and attack. The fans punched the players’ windows and kicked their cars. A few insults were hurled too.

Real suspended one club member who was involved as well as identifying two other suspects. Bale remains an integral part of Madrid’s team, and this summer Jese moved to Paris St Germain.

The incident was captured on video… YouTube Preview Image

4. Fabrício sent off for gesturing at his own fans – 2015

There are many insults that can offend people in all sorts of ways. Some would counter with an insult of their own or even offer someone out for a fight.

But when it’s a crowd of thousands giving you stick, the latter is not really a feasible option, so you express your feelings in the way you can.

During a match in Brazil’s state championship against Yipranga in 2015, Internacional player Fabrício decided to confront a jeering crowd with some offensive gestures. This led to the referee sending off the left-back.

Fabrício was furious, and threw his shirt on the ground. Several of his team-mates tried to calm him down but he would take it even further by shouting towards his own fans “I’m leaving, I’m leaving!” as he walked off. Well at least he got to say how he was feeling at the time…

After the game, his team-mates were not allowed to give post-match interviews and the defender was suspended by the club. Despite all of this Internacional went on to win 1-0.

Fabrício is still at Internacional despite having two loan spells at fellow Brazilian clubs Cruzeiro and now at Palmeiras.

3. São Paulo fan invasion

Pitch invasions are a fairly common occurrence. A notable example would be YouTube sensation Vitaly Zdorovetskiy – also as known as Vitalyzdtv – invading the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina.

These invaders only have one purpose, which is to have their 30 seconds of fame by running around on the pitch and doing their best to avoid capture by stewards.

In Brazil, however, São Paulo fans had other ideas – they were not just showing off, they were angry and wanted to make a point to their club.

They decided to invade a training session and attack their own players. These fans from the Barra Brava protest group staged a demo aimed at the club owners they said were corrupt and the team, who they claimed stained the club’s history.

Fireworks were set off, abuse shouted, and a near riot ensued. Michel Bastos, who plays for São Paulo, was injured during the attack as he and his team-mates were forced to flee.

The video below shows the full-on carnage. YouTube Preview Image

 2. The Carabobo flying kick-2015

Players and managers are expected give post-match interviews; these can happen on the pitch or near the tunnel.

Carabobo squared off against Aragua in the Venezuelan League in a 2015 match which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Aquiles Ocanto who plays for Carabobo, was being interviewed pitchside as a rival supporter decided to sneak up behind him and give him a vicious flying kick.

Imagine that happening to a Premier League star. Twitter would go into meltdown…

There is a video below: YouTube Preview Image

1. Icardi vs. Inter Milan Ultras 

Finally, we reach our most high-profile and recent example of when things go very wrong between players and fans.

This is the on-going battle between Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi and the club’s most hardcore ultras.

The bitter row was kicked off by a chapter in Icardi’s autobiography where he told a story about himself and team-mate Fredy Guarín facing off against the ultras when Inter lost 3-1 away to Sassuolo in February 2015.

Icardi recently signed a new deal with Inter until 2021. Pic courtesy of Football DirectNews©, flickr creative commons.

After that game, Icardi threw his shirt to a kid into the away crowd but it was thrown back by one of the ultras. The incident was forgotten at the time until it featured in the autobiography.

“In the changing room, I was applauded like an idol,” he wrote.

The club’s directors warned him he might have upset some of the fans, but he was not backing down, going on to write: “I was clear, I’m ready to face them one by one.

“Maybe they don’t know that I grew up in one of the South American neighbourhoods with the highest rates of crime and people killed in the street.

“How many of them are there? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? OK, record my message and let them hear it. I will bring 100 criminals from Argentina who will kill them on the spot.”

Unsurprisingly, the ultras did not take this lying down. Earlier this season, in a match against Cagliari, Icardi missed a penalty – cue huge banners being unfurled by sections of the San Siro crowd.

The most blunt of the lot said : “You are not a man… You are not a captain… You are just a vile piece of s***”.

If Icardi updates his autobiography at any point, it will be interesting to see if he changes the offending chapter – or adds fuel to the fire by winding them up the ultras even more…

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