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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.

Premier League ‘will have safe standing by summer 2018’

February 15, 2017 in News & Features

Safe standing areas could be installed at Premier League grounds as early as next summer, despite ongoing government concerns, according to expert Jon Darch.

The founder of the Safe Standing Roadshow predicts that a system known as rail seating is on the horizon for the English football’s top flight, and said: “My gut feeling is that we are heading for its introduction in August 2018.”

Premier League clubs have discussed the possibility of using rail seating, formally adopted in Germany in the 1998/99 season.

Currently, their stadia have to be all-seater because of legislation implemented after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed.

Celtic introduced a 2,600-capacity section of rail seating at Celtic Park in last year, and it has been widely hailed as a success.

Despite this, the UK government recently stated that it remains “unconvinced” by safe standing but says it will continue to “monitor the situation”.

Crushing

However, Darch told me that Celtic’s rail seating ‘trial’ has put safe standing firmly on the agenda of both politicians and football’s administrators.

“Celtic don’t like to use the word ‘trial’ when talking about their rail seating section. As far as they are concerned, it’s here to stay, but they call it a ‘trial’ to keep  Glasgow city council happy,” he said.

Celtic's safe standing section

Safe standing at Celtic Park

England’s top-flight grounds have been all-seater since the 1994-95 season for safety reasons.

But fans continue to rise to their feet during games, and away fans often stand throughout a match.

Many supporters have called for the introduction of rail seating, which allows standing but prevents the kind of dangerous crushing that was once common on the terraces.

Since 2011, Darch has been on a mission to enhance the credibility of rail seating by touring a roadshow around the UK to give people a real taste of the benefits of a system which has worked so successfully in other countries, most notably Germany.

“Most big German grounds were once almost two-thirds standing, and the reason they invented rail seats was because Uefa said games in its competitions in the future had to be played in all-seater stadia.

“That was a problem for German clubs because they had these big terraces. Also, they were member-controlled,  their members were fans, and the fans wanted to carry on standing.”

On the agenda

Although Darch is pleased at the progress he still can’t quite understand why it has taken until now for the Premier League to explore the idea. In a TalkSPORT poll, just over 90% of fans questioned said they supported the introduction of safe standing.

“I think it’s very likely that the clubs will mandate [Premier League executive chairman] Richard Scudamore to explore further the possibilities with the government, and my gut feeling is that we are heading for the introduction of rail seating in August 2018,” he said.

John Darch

Darch (top right) in Hanover’s safe standing area

“It’s strange that the Premier League has never discussed it with their clubs, and the clubs have never sat down together to discuss the topic until now.

“But the main thing is that it’s on the agenda and the government will listen to Scudamore a lot more than they do to clubs and especially fans on the matter.

“With the power the Premier League has, it can certainly make it happen.”

Darch stressed that comparisons between traditional open terraces and modern safe standing/rail seating sections are “daft and irrelevant”.

Poor management

“People fall very easily into the trap that conventional terraces were unsafe,” he said.

“Yes, the design of safe standing is different and, yes, there is far less possibility of movement in a rail seating area. But well-maintained and well-managed terraces like they have at Burton Albion’s ground are completely safe.

“What caused Hillsborough, and what causes nearly every major every disaster at sports stadia or other large public assemblies of people is poor management of a moving crowd.

“It happened at Ellis Park in South Africa in 2001 – 43 people lost their lives, and if you read the judge’s views of that disaster, it read nearly exactly the same as Lord Justice Taylor’s on Hillsborough.

“That stadium was and is an all-seater ground and a top five-star Fifa stadium. It’s a good stadium, but because there was a failure of management of a moving crowd at the point of entry, people died.”

Safe standing economics

Some cite the cost of introducing safe standing as the main reasons for clubs’ hesitation to progress with the idea.

The Safe Standing Roadshow website gives an example of how it could impact on a club’s matchday revenue:

Stadium A

Current capacity: 35,000

Two-tier stand behind each goal

Lower tier of the home end (3,500 seats) converted to safe standing

A section of the away end (1,750) converted to safe standing

Total seat spaces converted: 5,250 (15% of capacity)

Total standing spaces created: 9,450 (5,250 x 1.8)

Revised total capacity: 39,200 (+4,200, i.e. +12%)

Example seat price: £25

Example standing price: £18

Total gate receipt potential before: £875,000 per match / £17.5m per 20 games

Total gate receipt potential after: £913,850 per match / £18.25m per 20 games

Potential gate receipt increase per 20-game season: £750,000

Potential total extra revenue (incl. fans’  spend on catering etc.): £1.4m

Source: The Safe Standing Roadshow.

‘Huge potential’

Darch said: “Rail seating has huge potential to bring the price of tickets down, with more space created by the system. There is a £30 cap now on away tickets in the Premier League [thanks to] protests by fans.

“We can make more progress on this in the future and if and when rail seating is introduced.

If the rules and regulations in this country permit more than one spectator per space – there’s room to do that- then clubs could reduce their ticket prices for that area and still make the same amount of money or even more.”

Darch predicts fans to have a big say on prices, as they did at Liverpool earlier this season when fans staged a walkout protest after the club’s owners proposed a hike in certain tickets.

“Liverpool fans are the perfect example of the amount of power spectators hold,” he explained. “They made the clubs owners change their mind on the ticket increase idea and it typified that football is all about the fans. It was a great moment.”

“Outrageous insult”

Darch believes that the introduction of safe standing would be a fitting tribute to the victims of Hillsborough and their families, that the link between the disaster and the standing ban is built on a “falsehood”.

“It’s based on the idea that fans who like to stand are hooligans, and therefore it says the 96 were hooligans and implies indirectly that they were guilty of the disaster which unfolded that day”

“It is assumed that the standing ban was brought in because Lord Justice Taylor decided that standing up at football was somehow dangerous and the only way to watch it was to be sit down. That isn’t the truth.

“The truth is: the standing ban was brought in because the Thatcher government saw it as a means of countering hooliganism in the same way that they saw the idea of a national ID card scheme as a means of countering hooliganism.

“Before April 15th 1989, Thatcher’s government were already moving towards all-seater stadia and the national ID card scheme.

“In many ways, the disaster at Hillsborough gave them an excuse to bring in a piece of legislation which they probably wouldn’t have been able to bring in due to the opposition they would had faced had there not been that disaster.

“If the Hillsborough families who still oppose standing think about that, the reality is that the standing ban is actually a huge outrageous insult to the good names of their loved ones.

“It’s based on the idea that football fans who like to stand are hooligans, and therefore it says the 96 were hooligans and implies indirectly that they were guilty of the disaster which unfolded that day.”

Views changing on Merseyside

Liverpool have in the past made it known that they do not wish to contribute or engage to the debate on safe-standing out of respect for the Hillsborough families who oppose the idea. But Darch believes it is a view which is changing.

“Every single member in that room at the spirit of Shankly AGM were in favour of rail seating” – John Darch

Liverpool Echo journalist James Pearce says Liverpool and the Hillsborough families should be deeply involved in any discussion which takes place on the topic, but Darch feels it shouldn’t be dismissed if they choose not to.

“It would be nice to have them heavily involved, not only the families but the fans as well. But if they don’t wish to engage in the discussion then it shouldn’t be held back,” he said.

In September 2016 Liverpool supporter group The Spirit of Shankly held a meeting on whether they should formally adopt a position of safe-standing and the reaction by the members was very positive.

Group chairman Jay McKenna told the Liverpool Echo: “As an organisation, we have always taken a step back from the conversation on ‘safe standing’ and never really joined in.”

In favour

But following the Hillsborough inquest last year, which ruled the fans were unlawfully killed, and the successful trial at Celtic, the group felt it was the right time to have a discussion on whether now is the time to formally adopt a position.

The supporters’ group decided to ask all their members online their views of rail-seating and the return of standing, and the results which came back were staggering.

“The first person who had to speak in the room was a man who had lost his brother at Hillsborough and Spirit of Shankly then widened that question to all their membership online,” said Darch.

“Every single member present at the at the Spirit of Shankly AGM who spoke were in favour of rail seating. Online, 93% came back saying ‘yes we should adopt a formal position of safe standing’ and now they have set out a long and very in-depth consultation time table.

That will take them through to late spring-early summer 2017 where they will announce their formal position on standing.”

Seven of the best comebacks in sports history

February 14, 2017 in News & Features

Trailing Atlanta by 25 points in the third quarter you could have been forgiven for switching off the TV as a New England Patriots fan watching the 2017 Super Bowl.

However, lead by 39-year-old Tom Brady, the Patriots launched a stunning comeback, described as the best in Super Bowl history, with Brady becoming the first quarter-back to win five Super Bowl rings.

With a great comeback always comes the turning point; Julian Edelman’s phenomenal catch for a first down, under pressure from three Atlanta players, with two minutes left on the clock proved to be exactly that, allowing James White to level the game on a two-yard run.

After that Super Bowl thriller, here are seven more of the best comebacks in sport, some you may of heard of, others maybe not.

 

Lasse Viren – 10,000m – 1972 Olympic Games, Munich

On the 12th lap, Finish runner Lasse Viren was tripped by Emiel Puttemans sending him sprawling to the surface, with Moroccan runner Mohamed Gammoudi also getting caught up in the aftermath.

Gammoudi was down and out, picking up an injury in the fall. Viren however, was straight back to his feet with a 20m deficit to make up and 12 and a half laps to go.

That might not sound like too much, but in an endurance race making up gaps that size is one of the toughest tasks. Not only do you need to have enough energy to get to the end of the race, you need to find the speed to catch up to the rest of the pack.

Incredibly, it only took at matter of seconds for Viren to find himself back in contention, with the crowd cheering him on as he recovered back to the leading pack.

Viren then produced an unprecedented last 600m to take the gold medal in a world record time – one which still stands as the fastest ever 10,000m at the Olympiastadion in Munich.

 

England – 1981 Ashes, Third Test – Headingley

With Australia up 1-0 after two Tests, the 1981 Ashes headed to Headingley, where Australia looked set to take a 2-0 series lead.

In a match where England were forced to follow one after the first innings, a victory was so unlikely that England had odds of 500-1 to win.

However, Ian Botham, who just resigned as captain due to poor performances, had other ideas, producing a total of 149 runs, giving England a small lead of 129, forcing the Australians to bat once again.

A lead which you would have expected the Australians to claw back, yet an inspired bowling display the following day from Bob Willis, saw him take eight wickets for 43 runs, as Australia fell for just 111 runs. Suitably fired up, England went on to win the series 3-1.

In what was described as Botham’s Test, it was only the second time in history a team won a test match after being forced to follow on.

 

Nick Faldo – 1996 US Masters – Augusta

Norman and FaldoHaving lead the first three rounds at the 60th US Masters, Greg Norman went into the fourth and final day with a six-shot lead over Britain’s Nick Faldo.

Norman and Faldo were paired together for the closing round, and after seven holes Australian Norman, despite have his lead reduced to four shots, still looked on course for victory.

While Faldo continued a flawless day, Norman who had never won the Masters in 14 attempts, completely collapsed over the next 11 holes, and twice found the water for double bogeys.

Faldo’s score of 67 was the best that day, while Norman’s 78 was one of the worst. It was one of the most astounding comebacks and collapses in golfing history, handing Faldo his third Masters title.

In a great show of sportsmanship, afterwards Faldo and Norman embraced, the Englishman almost seemed more upset for Norman than the Australian himself did.

Faldo told the press afterwards: “I honestly, genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s had a real rough ride today.”

 

Manchester United – 1995/96 Premier League 

In a glittering managerial career that spanned over 39 years, Sir Alex Ferguson was certainly no stranger to a comeback, a trait that defined the teams he managed.

The one that sticks in the memory are the 1999 Champions League Final where injury-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær completed a famous treble for United.

Their comeback to win the 1996 Premier League though is one that is overlooked. With Newcastle United 12 points ahead in January, no-one would have bet on on Fergie’s team winning the title.

Going into the season with a young squad and little spending, a 3-1 loss on the opening day to Aston Villa, saw BBC pundit Alan Hansen famously say: “You never win anything with kids.”

Newcastle, meanwhile, had a storming start after a big-spending summer. However a run of fives losses in seven games after January, while United went on a near-perfect run spurred on by the return of Eric Cantona from an eight-month suspension, saw Fergie’s men overhaul them in the title race.

This as well as Ferguson’s mind games prompted a famous quote, or rant, from Magpies manager Kevin Keegan live on Sky Sports, as United went on to win the title by four points.

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Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs – NBA, 2004

Perhaps one of the best one-man comebacks in history, with Houston Rockets 10 points down against San Antonio Spurs in the final quarter, Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady score 13 points in 33 seconds to secure a 81-80 win for the Rockets.

McGrady scored four consecutive three-pointers – one was part of a four-point play – his last one coming 1.7 seconds before the end to secure the victory.

Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final – Istanbul, 2005

Keeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero as Liverpool fought back from 0-3 deficit at half-time to shock the giants of AC Milan, winning the Champions League on penalties in one of the most famous comebacks European Football.

Struggling in the league at the time, the Merseyside outfit produced a number of shocks against European giants, including Juventus and Chelsea, on their way to lifting the club’s fifth Champions League trophy.

Most expected an AC victory, and by the interval Milan fans were already celebrating victory, after Paolo Maldini and a double from Hernan Crespo sent them into half-time with 3-0 lead.

However, a Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard leading them could never be written off, and it was their captain fantastic who headed them back into the game.

Vladimir Smicer was an unlikely hero, really putting pressure on AC after his long-range attempt was fumbled by Dida to bring Liverpool right back into the game, before the outstanding comeback was completed when Xabi Alonso pounced on the rebound from his own penalty which had been saved by Dida.

The Italian side was totally stunned by the comeback, having completely dominated the first half, and despite golden chances to win it, Dudek produced an incredible double save from the shellshocked Andriy Shevchenko to send the game to penalties.

Liverpool’s Polish keeper then replicated Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous “spaghetti legs” to put off Milan’s usually reliable penalty takers and bring the trophy back to Merseyside.

 

Team Oracle USA – America’s Cup 2013

America's Cup 2013The 34th America’s Cup saw challengers Team Emirates New Zealand take an 8-1 lead, just one point away from victory.

That was before the defenders Team Oracle USA brought in British sailor and five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainsley as a tactician for race six.

Despite this Oracle fell 0-6 behind after eight races, due to penalties they had imposed on the, and by the twelfth race New Zealand just needed one more victory as they led 8-1.

However, with Ainslie’s presence now being felt, Team Oracle were flawless and they won the next eight races to stage an extraordinary comeback to defend the trophy.

The gruelling competition was the longest-running America’s Cup series in history.

Elephant Sport Podcast – Transfer Deadline Day Special

February 1, 2017 in Multimedia

In this edition of the Elephant Sport Podcast, reporters Caleb Sage and Hassan Abdullah sit down with Kortney Hudson to discuss the 2017 January transfer window.

Chelsea supporter Caleb and Arsenal fan Hassan, share their views on their teams windows and give an overview on the ins and outs of the Premier League’s winter window wheeling and dealing.

Also discussed is the Chinese Super League, and how the huge transfer fees and wages being offered by its clubs are impacting on European football.

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LGBT football supporters’ groups on the rise

January 23, 2017 in News & Features

In 2014, Proud Canaries was launched and became the second officially-recognised lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) football supporters’ group in the country – the first was Arsenal’s Gay Gooners.

Since then, the group and its chair Di Cunningham have gone from strength to strength. Proud Canaries has raised awareness of LGBT fans and challenged homophobia as well as other forms of discrimination at Norwich’s Carrow Road home.

LGBT supporters’ groups are on the rise; there are now over 20 around the country, including 11 in the Premier League.

Fans from several LGBT supporters’ groups get together at a pride event

Cunningham has even set up the Pride in Football supporters network, which had its first formal meeting with the Football Association (FA) last year. The next scheduled for March 2017.

The groups are formed of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans supporters who work alongside their clubs to make attending football matches a safer place for everyone, by challenging homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

And since Proud Canaries was established, Cunningham has certainly seen a change. “In the 2014-15 season there were five incidents of homophobia and this was Norwich fans reporting Norwich fans”

“People didn’t report it before, partly because they didn’t think it was something to report, that it was normal behaviour at a football ground, and partly because they didn’t think anything would happen.

“Both of those issues have been raised by our launch and solved due to the awareness of Proud Canaries; there are LGBT fans in the crowd and that person sitting over there may be LGBT.

proud-canaries

Proud Canaries logo

“The fans can see the club are committed to Proud Canaries, that they will take action. No-one was banned or had season tickets removed, they were ejected from the ground but all five people are on their last warning and there’s been no reports since.”

The Proud Canary added that Carrow Road is now more of a “welcoming place” and that “more people are aware of not being homophobic,” she stated “you certainly get that impression from other LGBT supporters groups as well”.

The challenges of homophobia in football

The challenges of erasing homophobia from football stadia are clear.

The worry, however, is that there is no data to show exactly how many reports have been filed regarding homophobic abuse, at what clubs and what action may or may not have been taken, be it by police or football club.

If homophobia amongst football crowds was no longer a problem, we wouldn’t have police warning fans about potential discriminating behaviours; see Aston Villa’s police liaison officer’s tweet below – I didn’t wan’t to share the homophobic comments that followed in the Tweet trail…

 

banner_hertha_berlin-1477318745

Hertha Berlin’s anti-gay banner read: ‘WH96: Rather a mother than two fathers’

Often, homophobic abuse at football grounds, such as Brighton fans being taunted by the away supporters’ song ‘Does your boyfriend know you here?’ and Hertha Berlin’s recent banner jibe at Cologne (pictured) is labelled as ‘banter’, but Cunningham rejects this outright.

“I just don’t think any of it is banter; you wouldn’t hear it if it was racist, you just wouldn’t. Mocking anyone’s race is racist and anything mocking anyone’s sexuality is homophobic.”

The chair of Pride in Football explained the difficulties of reporting homophobia and the aim going forward. “What we are trying to do, as part of pride in football, across the country, is to get some kind of unified reporting system in place

“A set of data that shows how many reports there have been, at what clubs and what action was taken as a result.

“This just doesn’t exist at the moment, as there are so many different ways of reporting; be it through the club or the police and then it just ends, it’s been reported and nobody knows what happens as a result”.

Setting up Proud Canaries

151119-justin-fashanu

The late, openly gay Norwich striker Justin Fashanu

It was a personal experience that led Cunningham to set up the Proud Canaries, an experience of which many LGBT fans can sadly relate to.

“I had two season ticket holders who sat behind me, almost every home match would say something homophobic in some way and it began to really get to me.

“On Justin Fashanu’s birthday [Former Norwich striker and the first openly gay footballer who tragically hung himself in 1998] we had been handing out stickers from the yearly Norwich pride event, and that day I just turned round and said ‘Can you just not’.

“Shockingly they both had young sons they brought, so I did kind of confront of it, but I did feel bad for moving seats and not dealing with the problem.

“A friend of mine knew someone from the Gay Gooners group, so we thought we would set up the LGBT Proud Canaries.”

The club responded, and provide constant support for Proud Canaries. Norwich’s latest fans’ forum stated the following points:

  • Signage at Carrow Road is being reviewed and will be updated to incorporate reference to homophobia.
  • Reporting mechanisms for supporters to report abuse – more prominence to be given to contact details in match day programme.
  • Proud Canaries would like to offer their services as an educational resource as part of any anti-discrimination work the Club is undertaking, including through the Community Sports Foundation

You can see Di Cunningham’s video animation story explaining the beginnings of Proud Canaries by clicking here

Parliament committee’s and FA struggles

“Credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first”

Chairing the group has even lead to Cunningham being asked to speak at a recent Culture, Sport and Media parliamentary committee, she said “It was brilliant, I was really pleased. Fans are usually the last in the list of people to be consulted by anybody”.

The FA Chairman Greg Clarke has twice been called to the committee and Cunningham explained that they’re getting somewhere. “Clarke has responded really well and after being called to two of the committee’s, we had a meeting with the FA”

The Premier League were supportive of the Proud Canaries last season, but the FA didn’t want to know.

Di Cunningham (left) pictured with local Police Commissioner Stephen Bett

“We had been banging on the door of the FA to give us a meeting, but credit to the Premier League who gave us some money to have a planning away day, they’ve met with us regularly. The FA wouldn’t meet with us at first.”

Although Cunningham admitted nothing is “concrete” as of yet, “progress is being made”.

There has been some fantastic work off the pitch, charted by the rise of LGBT fan groups and brilliant campaigners like Di Cunningham.

On the pitch we can only be closer to seeing a professional footballer, in England, confident enough to come out with his sexuality.

It’s likely the rise of LGBT fan groups could play a major role. Cunningham explained she’d “like to think” the supporters groups could help on the way to a footballer being open with their sexuality, but admits there’s still many challenges on the way for LGBT fan groups.

“LGBT fan groups have been in the absence of anything official from the FA, so we haven’t got the signage, the steward training and you still hear homophobia at many grounds and in the absence of that, we are a do-it-yourself movement.

“But it now looks like the authorities are going to act. I think it’s that awareness of the LGBT support groups, that there are LGBT fans around.

“It’s the fact the six percent of the population are LGBT. The next difficult thing to achieve is to make games more welcoming for transgender people.”

You can read more here: Pride in Football and Proud Canaries

Why the FA Cup needs to be protected

January 12, 2017 in Opinion

The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.

Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.

Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.

Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.

Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.

Back seat

“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.

Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).

Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.

The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.

Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.

Squandered

And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.

“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”

Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.

Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.

Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.

To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.

No coincidence

Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.

Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.

“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”

A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.

It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.

But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?

No-win situation

Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.

The money that  Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.

New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.

Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.

In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Replays

But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.

It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.

“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”

Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.

They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.

Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.

That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.

That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.

Five Chinese Super League players Premier League clubs should be looking at

January 11, 2017 in News & Features

While it may not yet be able to compete with Europe’s elite in most aspects, the Chinese Super League has still become an attractive destination for players across the world seeking a fresh challenge – and a hefty pay packet.

President Xi Jinping’s 10-year plan to make the country a footballing superpower has resulted in CSL teams being bankrolled by massive corporate investment to make the great sporting leap forward.

This January alone, the likes of Brazilian international Oscar, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez and Belgian star Axel Witsel, have moved to Chinese clubs Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Quanjian in deals worth insane amounts of money in transfer fees and wages.

Former Chelsea player Oscar earned his £52m move to Shanghai SIPG after impressing in the Premier League, as did other recent additions to the CSL such as John Obi Mikel, Graziano Pelle and Demba Ba.

But to turn the tables – here are five CSL players who Premier League clubs might want to consider bringing over to England in the current transfer window.

Jackson Martinez: target for West Ham?

Last summer, West Ham’s pursuit of a striker in the “£30m” and upwards bracket was well-documented after they failed in their attempts to recruit Michy Batshuayi – who later signed for London rivals Chelsea – and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.

The Hammers eventually managed to land Simone Zaza from Juventus in a loan deal that would become permanent after the Italian had made a certain amount of appearances, but the 25-year-old utterly failed to adapt to life in the Premier League, and is now set to return to Juventus before he is offloaded to another club.

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©Jack Martinez’s official Twitter account

Their next target was former Hammer Jermain Defoe, but given his huge importance in their bid to avoid relegation, Sunderland have rejected the east London club’s £6m offer and made it clear they have no intention of selling.

Manager Slaven Bilic is now likely to look elsewhere, and having so far this season paid the price for his failure to recruit a decent striker last summer,  Guangzhou Evergrande’s Jackson Martinez would be well worth a look.

Martinez moved to China last January after a short and unsuccessful stint at Atletico Madrid, where he only managed to score two goals in 15 La Liga appearances. However, the 30-year-old Colombian’s prolific goalscoring record for Porto, which saw him finish as the Primeira Liga’s top-scorer in all three of his seasons in Portugal, proves how good he can be.

He can also boast Champions League experience and 10 goals in 40 appearances for his country, including appearances at both the Copa America and World Cup.

Whether Guangzhou would be willing to let him go remains to be seen, but he is the type of player many West Ham supporters would have hoped to see come in last summer to build on a successful final season at Upton Park before the move to the London Stadium.

Ezequiel Lavezzi: target for Everton?

©Wikimedia Commons

Everton appear to be in the market for a new winger, and Hebei China Fortune’s Ezequiel Lavezzi would be a superb option.

At 31, the Argentina international probably has a couple of good seasons left in him and remains a big name.

With Yannick Bolasie sidelined for a year and Gerard Deulofeu set to leave the Merseyside club on loan, manager Ronald Koeman is looking to add to that area of the squad, having already snapped up 19-year-old Ademola Lookman from Charlton for £11m.

“I know what we need to change and if everyone opens their eyes today maybe we will get further on our improvement as a team. Because that’s really what we need and that’s all about what happens this month,” Koeman told the Liverpool Echo regarding the club’s lack of transfer activity.

Manchester United’s Memphis Depay is rumoured to be Koeman’s top target; however, it is believed that the Red Devils will only consider letting the 22-year-old leave on a permanent deal, while Everton are reportedly insisting on a loan – so if Koeman cannot get his number one choice, Lavezzi could serve as an excellent alternative.

Like Depay, former PSG and Napoli star Lavezzi’s preference is to operate on the left-hand side where he can cut in and cause damage with his right foot. But he is just as capable of playing on the left or behind the striker, making him both a skilful and versatile asset.

A proven top-level success in Europe, he could be just the spark a club like Everton need to give propel themselves upwards.

Graziano Pelle: target for Watford?

©Graziano Pelle’s official Twitter account

Graziano Pelle and Watford could potentially be a match made in heaven.

With strikers Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo having failed to reproduce last term’s form this season, the Hornets are in serious need of reinforcements up front, ailing to reproduce the goalscoring from they showed during the 2015/16 campaign, the Hornets could really do with some fresh impetus up front.

Given his aerial threat and impressive hold-up play, the former Southampton striker could fit the bill ideally.

Watford boss Walter Mazzarri likes to deploy Watford in a 3-5-2 formation, a set-up Pelle excelled in for Italy at Euro 2016, playing under current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.

The Shandong Luneng forward netted twice against Belgium and Spain to add to the 14 goals he scored in all competitions for Southampton that season before his move to China. At 31, Pelle could still have a couple of years of top-flight football in him.

Paulinho: target for West Brom?

©Wikimedia Commons

West Brom manager Tony Pulis is looking for a central midfielder and has already had a £13m bid for Morgan Schneiderlin rejected by Manchester United. 

Earlier this month, Pulis told the Birmingham Mail: “Morgan is just one of two or three we’re looking at.

“The most important thing is that you do your business with other clubs. It’s respectful to other clubs and then you move on from there. If we get the deals done, you get them done.”

The Red Devils want to recoup the £24m they paid Southampton for Schneiderlin in 2015, whilst the player’s preference to be reunited with his former Saints boss Ronald Koeman at Everton suggests he is out of the Baggies’ reach.

In that case, a decent alternative option might be Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulinho. 

The 28-year-old Brazilian international did not have the best of times during his previous stint in England with Tottenham, but has all the right attributes to fit into a Pulis team. 

His strength, energy, defensive capabilities and physical presence in set-piece situations, makes him an ideal alternative to Schneiderlin and, ultimately, a good midfield option for West Brom to have.

Currently eighth in the table, he could be just the man to push them on for a Europa League spot.

Papiss Cisse: target for Hull City?

Barring miracles, Hull look destined for the drop this season.

©Wikimedia Commons

New boss Marcos Silva has spoken of the need to strengthen his squad if he is to save them, and one area he will have to address is their attacking options.

“I have confidence in our players, but it’s clear we need to improve our roster,” Silva said in his unveiling as Hull manager and as quoted on BBC Sport.

Joint lowest scorers in the Premier League so far this season, with just 17 goals in 20 games, Hull need a proven Premier League forward, and Senegal international Papiss Cisse is just that.

The 31-year-old made an instant impact in English football’s top flight when he joined Newcastle from Bundesliga outfit Freiburg in January 2012, scoring 13 goals in 14 league appearances that season – including an incredible strike against Chelsea – but struggled to follow up that dazzling debut. 

Since last summer, Cisse has been playing for Shandong Luneng. Anything would be an improvement on Hull’s current striking options, so the main issue could be if the player wants to join a relegation fight.

British champion Langford eyes world glory in 2017

December 29, 2016 in Interviews

It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.

A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.

The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.

When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.

Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.

Business

“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.

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Langford took his record to 18-0 against Sam Sheedy. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.

“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.

“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.

“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.

“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.

“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.

“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”

Control

Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.

“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.

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Southpaw Sheedy stepped up to fight Langford after Chris Eubank Jr withdrew in September

“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.

“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”

Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.

“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.

“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.

“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.

“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.

“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”

Outburst

For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.

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The ‘Baggies Bomber’ now has three belts to his name. Pic tommylangford.co.uk

There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.

So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?

“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.

“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.

“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.

“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.

“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”

Impact

Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.

“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”

“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.

 

“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.

“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.

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Langford appears on BT Sport ahead of West Brom’s home game with Man Utd. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.

“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.

“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.

“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”

Fan base

Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.

With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.

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Birmingham-based Langford enjoys strong ties with his boyhood club. Pic tommylangford.co.uk.

“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.

“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.

“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.

“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”

“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.

“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.

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A fight at the Hawthorns would be a dream for Langford and his fans. Pic @Tommy_Langford1

“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.

“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”

Challenges

Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?

With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.

But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.

“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”

Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.

“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.

“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.

“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.

“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”

Five famous footballing returns

November 29, 2016 in Opinion

Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.

Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?

For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.

Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?

Here are five of those who did it best:

5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea

Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.

Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London. 17 Sep 2000: Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in London. Leicester City won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Dave Cannon /Allsport

In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.

The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.

In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.

4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal

When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.

So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again. Henry celebrates after scoring the winner on his return to Arsenal.

By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.

But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.

He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.

His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.

Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?

3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool

Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football. Ian rush celebrates scoring at Wembley for Liverpool.

Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.

Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.

A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.

A legend? Unquestionably.

2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.

His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.

Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.

His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.Drogba celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.

Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.

Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.

The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.

Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.

After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.

The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.

1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United

An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.

In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.

Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around. Scholes makes his second debut for United in a Manchester derby.

He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…

His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.

The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.

‘Kicks kept me out of prison’

November 29, 2016 in Features

Nathan Owor reckons he owes a lot to the Premier League’s Kicks community scheme – maybe even his life.

‘Growing up on a rough council estate in East London, most my friends were getting into trouble with police and around the neighbourhood,” he recalls.

“The Kicks project is the reason I believe I’m not in prison or who knows maybe even worse.”

‘Before Kickz I had never played for a football team because I never had the funding.

One of the highlights of the programme is the annual Premier League Kicks Cup, which brings together all of the clubs for a showpiece small-sided football competition.

Owor added: “The free football allowed me to develop my skills and even go on to play  in regional tournaments in Derby, Manchester and Blackburn which I will never forget.”

Free sessions

Currently in its tenth year, the Premier League Kicks is one of the Premier League’s flagship community programmes.

“I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs”

Jointly funded by Sport England, the project (formerly known as ‘Kickz’) uses the power of football and the value of sports participation to change young lives in some of Britain’s toughest and most troubled neighbourhoods.

Kicks runs free sessions to bring together 12-to-19 year olds who are potentially vulnerable to involvement in street crime but have a keen interest in sport.

It’s backed by all of the Premier League’s clubs, plus many others in the Football League, and also has the support of the Football Association.

Over 50,000 young people took part in the programme in 2014-15 alone, and it has helped thousands of youngsters to find routes into education, training and employment – and even kickstarted some football careers in the process.

Darren Johnson, a coach affiliated to Tottenham Hotspur’s Kicks scheme told Elephant Sport: “I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs.”

Star names

In some areas where Kicks is active in the community, police have reported falls of up to 50% in incidents of anti-social behaviour.

West Brom KickzIt began in 2006 as a pilot project in London between the Premier League and Metropolitan Police, with the aim of using football to bring communities together and engage with young people.

It is currently in operation at 56 Premier League and Football League clubs across the country, with the involvement of several police forces.

Footballers such as Jermaine Defoe and Heurelho Gomes have previously visited Tottenham’s project for kickabouts, with the likes of Yannick Bolasie  and Wilfried Zaha visiting Everton’s and Crystal Palace’s versions.

Engagement

Johnson added: “Professional footballers such as brothers Matty [now at Man Utd] and Chris [Arsenal] Willock used to train here alongside playing for Arsenal which shows our level of coaching is very high.”

Despite the name, Kicks is not all about football as the project introduces young people to other sports and activities, including table tennis, dancing and basketball – all part of its efforts to build ‘a safer, stronger and more respectful community’.

The scheme’s long-term goal is to give participants something to work towards for the future, whether it is football or other career paths, while other non-sporting elements of it seek to engage teenagers in music, educational and other personal development activities.

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