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Review – The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal)

November 28, 2016 in Opinion

In September 1996 a Frenchman, so little known in English football that fans asked ‘Arsene Who?’, walked into Arsenal.

In his subsequent 20 years as manager, he transformed the club from ‘Boring Arsenal’ to a worldwide phenomenon.

A total renovation of the training, stadium, style, economics, diet and the attraction of a global audience has taken place under Wenger’s stewardship.

This fascinating era is chronicled in ‘The Wenger Revolution’ with distinctive photographs taken from inside the inner sanctum of the club by official Arsenal photographer Stuart MacFarlane while award-winning journalist and long-time supporter Amy Lawrence introduces each section to set the scene.

‘Arsene Who?’

When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the vast majority of the football public, Arsenal supporters and many of the players were sceptical. Could a foreign manager succeed in England?

Although he was new to almost everyone in the English game, Wenger, 46 at the time, didn’t see himself as a novice. His intellectual rigour, workaholic determination and human touch gave him the value of using his own ideas with an open mind.

“I could understand my acceptance would depend upon that mix,” he says in the book. “I didn’t want to compromise what I thought was important in order to push through the elements needed for the success. I wanted to adapt to the local culture.”

That manifested itself in the way the team evolved. By using English players with a never-say-die attitude like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, as well as the technical refinement that arrived with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, Wenger’s mix came to fruition.

The most surprising thing for many people when they look back at Wenger’s first full campaign in England, was how quickly the team’s style came together.

Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit outstanding talent was paramount in them winning the double in the 1997-98 season. That general air of scepticism about the manager soon evaporated.

Unbeatable 

“You work in a job where you never really know how good you are, but I didn’t think you can do more than go a whole season undefeated. To realise that life dream is a bit frightening, but it didn’t kill my hunger.”

To complete an unbeaten season at the highest level was an ambition Wenger had harboured for many years.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

During the 2002-03 season, Arsenal were the dominant force in the early stages. However, with his team going strong in autumn, Wenger told journalists in a pre-match press conference that his team could go a season unbeaten. “It is not impossible,” he said.

However, Arsenal lurched suddenly into a first defeat of the campaign, and the critics who thought Wenger was arrogant and disrespectful relished that loss.

After missing out on the Premier League title that season, Arsenal rallied the following year and dominated the league. Their 2-2 draw at arch-rivals Tottenham ensured they won the league and with four games to go, Wenger’s dream was near reality.

Here was the chance to make history. “Make yourself immortal,” Wenger told his players. The players didn’t miss their chance.

Trailing at half-time to already relegated Leicester City in the last game of the season, the pressure was on. The team’s outstanding will-to-win, and the class of some of its most talented components – Thierry Henry who scored the equaliser and Vieira and Bergkamp who combined for the winner – made the difference.

Wenger does not think anyone will be able to emulate the class of 03-04 as the competition is much harder, but Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ seized their moment. His controversial prediction that it was possible, mocked at the time, became a beautiful truth.

Regrets 

Wenger is one of a handful of managers who can be said to have made a truly lasting impression on the Premier League.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has revolutionised the club. With the Frenchman at the helm, they have moved from Highbury to the Emirates, built a new training ground at London Colney whilst also winning numerous of trophies, including three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.

(Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

But despite the many highs Wenger has experienced, he has also suffered much heartbreak. According to the Frenchman, the Champions League final defeat in Paris against Barcelona in 2006 will forever hurt him.

“It is my biggest regret,” he says. “I feel there was not much in it. The regret on the night is that we could not get the second goal.

“Thierry Henry, who has been magic for our club, had the opportunity to do that. We were 13 minutes away from winning the biggest trophy. Maybe I will have to die with that but it will still hurt.”

Ambitions 

Wenger typifies longevity and loyalty. Despite getting offers from the biggest clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has stayed put.

When trophies were hard to come by after the stadium move and competition was harder due to the influx of money put into the Premier League, Wenger remained loyal and consistently got Arsenal into the Champions League each year.

Mesut Ozil reading The Wenger Revolution book

Yet he was not delivering the trophies that Arsenal fans craved, and as the voices of dissent grew louder, the FA Cup win against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, was a huge moment in the club’s history.

“Winning this FA Cup was an important moment in the life of this team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness,” Wenger said.

After back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015, Wenger’s hunger for winning trophies hasn’t diminished.

He now has a team capable of challenging the big guns and he insists his commitment to the club is still the same as when he first started.

“The club has grown a lot. I am still completely committed to it every day. I am today more nervous, more keen, to win the league than when I arrived here.”

Must-buy

The book achieves what it sets out to do. With the words of Lawrence and the images of MacFarlane, ‘The Wenger Revolution’ is a must-buy for Arsenal fans – but even non-Gooners will find it fascinating.

The book’s 11 chapters each focus on a different theme or period at Arsenal under Wenger. From his arrival to the stadium move to his opinions of current and former players, the book recounts every minor detail of Wenger’s reign.

His vision for Arsenal was in place when he first arrived, and since then the club has gone on a remarkable journey and achieved great feats. Much of this would not have been possible without the determination and ambition of one man: Arsene Wenger.

The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal) is available via Amazon for £20.00. Featured image by Stuart MacFarlane 

Carlisle reaches out after taming his demons

November 21, 2016 in Interviews

Not a day passes where Clarke Carlisle does not think about 22 December 2014. On that wet, gloomy morning he stepped in front of a lorry travelling at around 60mph on the A64 in North Yorkshire. 

Having been charged with drink-driving just hours earlier, the former Queens Park Rangers and Burnley defender had hit rock bottom. No hope remained. The only way out was to end his life.

Two years after his near-death experience, the first thing that strikes you when speaking to the one-time chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association is how open he is when discussing his suicide attempt.

The 37-year-old says his outlook is now more positive, but admits that life is still far from perfect. He still has dark times but the worst has passed and now his main focus is discussing these issues with the wider public.

“Things are incredible right now but that doesn’t mean life is a bed of roses,” he says.

“What it means is that whenever pressures or stresses come on in my life or when I get uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety or anger, I now know how to cope with them and process them.

“I know how to handle that in a constructive manner so on a day to day basis, life is very good.”

Depression

Many factors contributed to Carlisle’s fragile state of mind but the main one was struggling to adjust to retirement from football.

Although he suffered from depression throughout his career, when he finished his career at Northampton Town in 2013 aged 34, he no longer had a sense of purpose or direction in life.

“There are a lot of outside factors that can contribute to a deepening depression,” admits the Lancastrian.

“One of the factors for me was the transition from playing football and going into another industry. Even though I had another job lined up and I went straight into broadcasting with ITV, the loss of structure and the loss of identity was hard for me.

“When you’re an elite athlete, every day has a strong goal and focus, but when I came out of that and I was working in broadcasting, I was only contracted to do 36 days a year, which even if it was an overnight stay it was 72 days a year.

“I had no structure in what to do and even if I did fill that time with going for a run or anything like that, it wasn’t something that contributed to a greater goal.”

Carlisle says being part of an industry which kept reminding him of the one he had left was also not particularly helpful.

“I was commentating on players and I knew I was better than them or I could do just as good as job as them.

“There was a lot of feelings of failure that came around that and that was very tough to deal with, plus the standard pressures of bills to pay and the loss of income.

“The fundamental factor was that I didn’t have a coping mechanism. I didn’t have a way to understand what those stresses were and how to process them in a constructive manner. I was basically running away in the destructive way that I used to.”

Aftermath 

Life after his suicide attempt and deepening depression was difficult for Carlisle’s friends and family, a situation which in hindsight he calls “disgusting”.

“It’s incredibly hard to articulate the [impact] it had on my wife when I was married at the time, my children, my parents and on my siblings,” he said.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life”

“They were coming to visit me in hospital to offer me love and support but I was still there telling them I wanted to die.

“It’s not as though I immediately changed my mindset and my approach around life as soon as I got into hospital.

“There was a long period of purgatory where I was in that frame of mind that I wanted to kill myself. The impact on those around me was disgusting.

“Going through psychiatric hospitals was hard but being there for six weeks was incredibly important to start the beginning of me turning that journey around.”

Handling depression 

The man named as Britain’s Brainiest Footballer in 2002 after appearing on a TV quiz says his progression from running away to now confronting his problems is a big factor in his recovery.

“I was an emotional retard when I went to psychiatric hospital,” he admits. “However, the journey that I have gone on since has been all about understanding myself.

“I now understand the individual emotions that I’m feeling and I understand that I need to feel them, and I need to be able to be at ease with those emotions.

“When I’m feeling incredibly sad or fearful or anxious, I now know what to do in order to help me get through that. It might be going and talking to someone or it might be calming and centering myself by using prayers or meditation.

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel or I hide or avoid emotions, it means I now understand and acknowledge them and I meet them face on and that’s made such a huge difference to my life.

“All the old coping strategies like getting drunk or hiding or isolation, they are no longer a part of my life because I know they aren’t necessary.”

Lack of understanding 

In the past, sport has been criticised for failing to understand depression, and Carlisle says the main reason why people within football take physical injuries more seriously is down to an absence of awareness.

“There is a distinct lack of understanding but it’s just not in the game, it’s in society in general,” claims the former England U21 player.

“Even though things are being done to address the issue, the fundamental knowledge in how to support someone in these situations is lacking across all industries. It isn’t football’s fault, it’s a societal problem.

“Football has the money, the time and the resources to be able to create a support template that other industries could adopt. They need to look after the health and safety of their employees at the workplace.

“People don’t engage and understand what mental health is. One of the factors is that it’s intangible. A broken leg is visible whereas with mental health issues, it’s the mind that is injured but it’s not something that can be seen.

“It is all about basic understanding and education. The way we can try and change that is by educating children so when they grow up and become the decision makers, they will know how to make far more informed decisions about situations and circumstances that are relevant to sufferers.”

Support network 

Although his life will continue to have good and bad moments, Carlisle is now aware on how to face his problems head on.

He speaks at awareness events for many charities, but his own foundation the Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis is continuing to help others with mental health issues.

“You don’t have to stand up and tell the world… but it is mandatory that you tell somebody”

“By being public about it and putting support mechanisms out there, it’s given people permission to acknowledge what is going on in their lives and has given them a chance to seek support and seek an emphatic ear,” he explained.

“It’s wonderful but it’s also good for me because as much as I’m helping others, it’s helping me because it normalises with what I’m going through as well. The illness itself makes people believe that they don’t have no one to speak to and no one wants to listen but that is utter rubbish.

“There is always people out there, whether it be your GP or charities etc, but there are so many people out there who want to listen and want to help and who can help.

“My advice would be: you don’t have to stand up and tell the world and you don’t have to tell everybody, but it is mandatory that you tell somebody. It’s from there that you can begin to engage with a support pathway.”

Follow Clarke Carlisle on Twitter @CCforDD 

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255

Where are all the British Asian footballers?

November 18, 2016 in News & Features

According to Uefa B licence coach Rajab Noor, one of English football’s perennial thorny issues has a simple solution.

“We need more players playing and more coaches coaching,” he says when discussing why more British Asians aren’t involved in the professional game.

A lot has been written and said about the lack of Asian players and coaches, and perceptions are still skewed by cultural stereotypes.

Noor (left) with BBC sports presenter Manish Bhasin (centre)

What is your son currently studying,’ my mum asked her friend a while back. ‘He’s studying to become a surgeon,’ she replied.

‘It’s a very respectable job and he will earn a considerable amount of money. It’s the best decision.’

I have grown up in Asian family but mine have never pressured me into choosing a career path I was not keen on.

However for others in the Asian community, where many place a high premium on getting the best possible education, this isn’t the case.

There are plenty of British Asians playing football at grassroots level, although cricket doesn’t seem to have the pull anymore that it once had.

But why don’t more of them go on to establish careers and make names for themselves at professional level?

Talent pool

The dearth has been blamed on racism in the past, but Noor, a full-time coach studying for his Uefa A licence, believes that times have changed.

“You only have to see statistics to see how few Asian coaches are out there,” he said. “Same with players. Why are there virtually no Premier League Asian players? The talent pool is simply not big enough.

“Look at the amount of Asians playing football. Let’s say it’s 100,000 across the country. If we had more, for instance 500,000, then things would look different.

“Many people may want to point at the FA and point at issues such as racism, but honestly we need more players playing and more coaches coaching.”

Black & ethnic minorities 

Noor with caretaker England U21 boss Aidy Boothroyd

The 2011 census revealed that Asians made up 7.5% – or about 4.2 million people – of the population in England.

This is in no way reflected by the number of British Asians involved in professional football.

Initiatives such as tournaments to find Asian’s next star have helped increase the number of homegrown Asian players and coaches at grassroots level, and Noor says progress is being made.

“The FA is certainly doing its bit by getting coaches on courses. A lot more are coming through now, more than ever.”

Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaches have, he says, been held back by racism within the sport, but things are changing.

“In the past they’ve been neglected,” he admits. “At the same time, I’m just a coach or manager like anybody else. I wouldn’t want to say ‘Look, I’m an Asian coach’. I’ve got to where I am today for who I am.

“I don’t like to blame anybody but I do feel that there’s a lot more being done now, and the Premier League is doing a lot for BAME coaches.”

Role models 

Examples, of British-born players with Asian heritage who are plying their trade in English football are Neil Taylor at Swansea, Adil Nabi at Peterborough United as well as Northampton Town’s Kashif Siddiqi.

Neil Taylor of Swansea and Wales

Taylor who is of Welsh-Indian descent as his mother is a Bengali from Kolkata in India, played for Wales at the 2016 European Championship in France and has also been a pivotal figure for the Swans.

But despite his achievements, there is still a very limited amount of role models for aspiring young Asian players to look up to, and this – according to Noor – is a worrying issue.

“The lack of role models is a huge thing. When I’m coaching young Asian kids and I ask them if they know any Asian footballers and they reply ‘no’.

“I think we only need one or two to breakthrough and be on TV and have kids running around with their shirts on their back and wanting to be just like them.

“Until we have that, I think it’s going to be very difficult to inspire the kids of today.”

Progress 

But, returning to those cultural perceptions, are parents in Asian communities largely apprehensive about and unwilling to see their children pursue a career in football?

The film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, which came out in 2002, highlighted the issue as an Indian girl Jess finds her obsession with football at odds with a culture which seemingly frowns on women playing sport.

To this day, the stance that many Asian parents have is that football is not the way forward for their sons (or daughters), and Noor, 27, insists this needs to change in order for Asian football to progress.

“It was the same with my parents, they never wanted me to pursue a career in football. They thought it was just a game and they didn’t really understand the industry behind it.

“I think it’s getting better and progress is being made, but I think parents need to be more informed and more educated about the sports industry and how much football has to offer.”

Noor highlights the FA’s latest community development initiative as evidence.

“It introduces football for the first time to children who usually don’t play the game. I’ve set one of them up myself and we have 100 on the register. People turn up each week and they are all new to football.

“They usually play at school or in after-school clubs, but they have never been involved in any organised football.

“More of this needs to happen because once you have a development centre up and running, you can ensure there are more Asian footballers wanting to play the game in the future.”

Ambitions 

The future is seemingly looking far more brighter for British Asian footballers hoping to make it big.

More youngsters from the Asian community are progressing in the sport at academy level, while older individuals are keen on coaching roles.

“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship”

“I’m really positive and confident about seeing an Asian footballer or coach in the Premier League,” Noor added.

“We are not far off. I think there’s good Asian players and I think there’s a good number of Asian coaches knocking about.

“I’m a mentor and I have young leaders alongside me and the advice I give them is to do something that they enjoy.

“If they enjoy coaching for example, they will express themselves as a coach. Regardless of any qualification somebody gets, it is crucial to put the hours in on the grass.”

Rewarding

Noor added: “The more hours a person coaches and delivers sessions, the more they will learn about themselves and the more they will learn about their players.

“The important thing is to not be afraid to try and most importantly give it your all.”

The talented coach is hoping to make his mark at the highest level and has lofty ambitions of his own.

“The most rewarding thing in being a coach is seeing a team or an individual succeed. No matter what age group I coach, whether it’s five-year-olds or adults, seeing somebody improve and have a smile on their face during training and on a matchday is very rewarding.

“I want to be a first team coach in a professional set-up, if not the Premier League then the Championship. I want to succeed in England but if that’s not possible, I will look to go abroad, so fingers crossed.”

You can follow Rajab on Twitter @CoachNoor 

Globalisation has instigated the dirty greed of our football clubs to our own expense

November 9, 2016 in Football, Sport

If you compare modern day football to half a century ago, you would be forgiven for believing it now lies on greener grass.

More games are televised than ever; the stadiums are luxurious and the clubs are stupidly wealthy.

However, if you were to delve deeper, a darker side would reveal that as revenues and globalisation continues to swell around football, the tradition and people in which its game was built upon, are gradually being dashed to the scrapheap amid a hierarchy’s lust for money.

And though, the lucrative sums of sponsorship and TV revenues owing to globalisation has allowed clubs to improve its playing staff by digging into a large pool of talent from all over the globe, it has progressively instigated the greed of modern-day ‘football businesses’ who have proceeded to abolish the embedded principle that ‘football, by tradition, was always accessible to almost everybody’ (Hartley-Parkinson and Clarke, 2016).

The cause of this mistreatment of the game’s values is convincingly explained by (Ladyman, 2016) who acclaims “as the scale and self-love of the Premier League has grown, those who attend games have paid heavily for the privilege.”

A study into ticket prices exposes that the supporters’ outlay has risen by nearly a thousand percent in the past two decades’ even though sponsorship and TV money, sparked by globalisation, has soared massively in that time.

Whilst, tennis refuses to sell its soul in treasuring the traditions of Wimbledon, football’s owners in contrast, continue to eradicate the ancestral ‘homes’ like Upton Park and Highbury in replace of  insipid, soulless stadia, so they can lure more money from the most honest of this ghastly circle of cupidity – the supporters.

Yet, many will argue globalisation is not completely a tragedy and in some ways, they are right, as it’s what makes football so compelling and as easily accessible as it is today.

For instance, we can now watch three or four high quality Premier League matches live every weekend, on top of Spanish and Italian games.

Whilst, compare this to the 1960s, when there were only televised highlights of English matches let alone live foreign matches, and the positive fruits of globalisation becomes evident.

However, poignantly, the wider coverage has also unsurprisingly come at the supporter’s expense, as our willingness to pay satellite TV subscriptions to the broadcasters, ensues to line the pockets of the football’s elite even further, who will this season rub their hands together at their prospect of at least £100m each from the TV pie.

Therefore, although globalisation has been stupendous in growing the game of football and offering us a greater availability of coverage, it’s also been immorally prolific for those at the top who insolently exploit the fans loyalty for their own gain.

In hindsight, maybe football was better before globalisation took a strangle hold.

 

Hartley-Parkinson, R. and Clarke, M. (2016). The beautiful (but expensive) game: Matchday prices soar by 1,000% in just two decades. [online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2027320/Football-matchday-ticket-prices-soar-1-000-2-decades.html [Accessed 5 Nov. 2016].

Ladyman, I. (2016). Premier League clubs have no defence for bleeding fans dry. [online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3437781/Premier-League-clubs-no-defence-bleeding-fans-dry-8bn-reasons-cut-ticket-prices-NOW.html [Accessed 5 Nov. 2016].

Why are so many ex-footballers taking to our screens?

November 9, 2016 in News & Features

Since leaving Manchester United in the summer, Ryan Giggs has become the latest high profile ex-player to step into a TV studio and chance his arm at punditry.

The Welshman’s transition from Old Trafford’s left wing, to the ITV sofa, (via the dugout), is a path trodden by many in recent years. Tune in to football coverage, be it on TV, radio or the internet, and you’ll struggle to not find the opinions of a former player.

So why exactly are so many ex-pros finding their second careers within the media?

Peter Lovenkrands played at the highest level for clubs such as Rangers, Schalke and Newcastle United, and also represented Denmark in two major tournaments.

As is the case for many an ex-sportsperson, replacing the buzz of competition proved difficult following his retirement.

Struggle

Yet, while nothing can ever replicate the feeling of 90 minutes on a football pitch, for Lovenkrands, media work provides the perfect way to remain closely involved in the sport.

“I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching”

“For me, it’s the closest thing to playing. When I stopped playing, [punditry] was the thing that helped me get over missing it,” said Lovenkrands, who co-commentates on German Bundesliga games.

He explained: “There’s a thing in the football world, people who don’t have anything to go into after playing kind of struggle, and some people get depression, even.

“It’s something that a lot of players find hard. I even find it hard still sometimes when I’m sitting in commentary, you think ‘I want to be out there, I want to be playing’.

“But by sitting watching and talking about it, that’s the closest thing to getting the atmosphere in the stadium and being [out] there. I really enjoy it and that’s what helps me get over  retirement.”

Enhanced

Lovenkrands working as a summariser. Pic @lovenkrands11

Giggs may believe that coaching or management is the closest thing to playing.

After the disappointment of being overlooked for the United hotseat, some might argue that his regular appearances on our TV screens serve only to keep him ‘relevant’ in the eyes of fans and club owners alike, reminding us of his suitability for a role in management.

In his excellent book, Living On The Volcano, Michael Calvin discusses the way in which Tony Pulis left his post at Crystal Palace, only to find himself the new manager of West Brom, thanks to a little help from the media.

Wrote Calvin: “He maintained his profile as a media pundit, refused to enlarge on the circumstances which led to him leaving Palace by ‘mutual consent’, and watched the stakes rise. He would join West Bromwich Albion almost as soon as his gardening leave ended.”

Gary Neville, of course, is a fine example of an excellent pundit who enhanced opinions of his highly thought-of coaching ability, by educating (rather than patrionising) us on screen.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach”

Neville provides no catchphrases, no clichés and certainly none of the ‘faux-intelligence’ displayed by many of his peers on alternative channels.

However after three tournaments with England as part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff and a short-lived spell as Valencia manager, Neville himself feels it will be difficult for him to step from commentary box into the dugout once again.

But what about everybody else? Jamie Carragher once joked on Sky’s Monday Night Football that “no pundit on TV will ever get a job again, he’s [Neville] ruined it for us all”.

Praise

Lovenkrands, who now works for Rangers TV, makes the point that the demands and differences between working ‘on-pitch’ and working ‘on-screen’, may make it difficult for others to follow in Neville’s footsteps.

“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach,” said the 36 year old.

“He [Neville] was kind of the first one to go from being a proper Sky pundit, to go and take the Valencia job. Even though he was a pundit, he had the England job, but that’s not full-time.

“I praise him for taking the chance and trying to go and do his thing. I love him as a pundit, I think he’s fantastic. Him and Jamie Redknapp are two of my favourites.

“But I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching.”

Caution

Neville’s success as a pundit can be attributed to his obvious desire for hard work, his undoubted knowledge for the world of football from training ground to boardroom and, quite simply, his knack for talking honestly and passionately on air.

Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm Game

Lovenkrands takes on Chris Sutton during an Old Firm game

Other pundits choose to go down a different route, offering controversy and sparking vicious debate amongst viewers, listeners and people within the football industry alike.

Neither approach is wrong or right; success for Neville could look different to success for Robbie Savage. Either way, they are both successful.

For Lovenkrands, controversy should come with a hint of caution.

“I’ve spoken about that with people before and a lot of people say you can go two ways. One is knowledge, knowing so many things. And then there’s the controversial side of it,” said the Dane, who still holds a close affinity with the fans of many of his former clubs.

“Chris Sutton, for example, has been quite controversial with a lot of things, especially up here in Scotland. He’s had a lot of criticism because of the controversial way he’s been talking about the game.

“But for me that becomes a little bit like the X Factor and Simon Cowell, where somebody’s being negative. The same as Strictly Come Dancing where one of the judges will be negative, it creates a lot of interest for people watching it because they’re thinking ‘what’s he going to say next?’.

Controversial

“I feel like you have to be careful when you’re going down that road because I don’t like being hated. I like to be positive, but of course you have to be honest if certain things don’t happen right.

“A lot of people don’t care about being controversial and that seems to have helped them in getting more jobs because people want to hear what they have to say, even if they maybe don’t like what they’re saying.

“My view on it is you can be negative and controversial, but try to put a positive spin on it and not upset too many people.”

The reality is that football is a sport in which no matter how positive one may be, someone will always be upset.

Like anyone, footballers can be sensitive to the comments of others; they are human beings after all.

Criticism

John Terry has been the captain of his club and country, played in major games in front of some of the most hostile supporters, and faced public disgrace over his racist comments to a fellow professional.

Yet for Terry, receiving criticism from Robbie Savage over his form last season was not something he planned on taking lightly.

He responded by comparing his own successful career to Savage’s, and insinuating that criticism offered by a less successful player was not welcome.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all”

Lovenkrands however believes that criticism is to be expected as a footballer, as long as opinions never become personal.

Having played with Joey Barton at Newcastle, the Liverpudlian’s current situation with Rangers could potentially have put Lovenkrands in a tricky situation.

“Sometimes it’s something you need to think twice about. But if you want to be in that kind of business you have to just say what you feel because you get paid to be honest and talk about what you see,” said Lovenkrands, who finished his playing career in the Championship with Birmingham City.

“If I feel like there’s certain things that have happened that I feel are negative, I have to say it and I have to just deal with it. To be fair, most people in the football world would understand.

“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all.

“I think that’s the fine line I’m finding as a commentator.”

Lovenkrands (right) prior to co-commentating on a Champions League match. Pic @lovenkrands11.

Allegiances

Carragher and Neville hold the prestige of being one-club defenders who gave everything for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.

Whilst their rivalry on the pitch has turned to admiration in the studio, the passion they have for their old clubs still remains.

Yet a major strength of both, is that through their media work you would struggle to work out their allegiances.

Being fair and balanced is a must for any journalist, however, were the ex-defenders to work for their club’s own TV channel, would their approach be encouraged to change?

Shedding some light on the subject of bias, Lovenkrands said: “The Rangers commentary that I do, it’s for Rangers TV, so I don’t need to be biased in any way.

“I really enjoy that because I’m a Rangers fan as well so when they score I can celebrate and be part of it in that way. That’s really exciting.

“But when I do the German football, or sometimes when I’ve done Premier League games, or Scottish football for radio, then of course you have to make sure you commentate on both teams and be professional about it.

“I like that as well, that I have to be that aware.”

So to revisit the original question as to why football coverage is now saturated with former pros, each individual will have their reasons. Some will say the salary appeals, whilst the job security far outweighs that in management or coaching.

Others may see it as a profile booster, a public job interview every time the ‘ON AIR’ light is switched on. For those who have no interest in coaching, media work provides a no-pressure involvement with the game.

But for Lovenkrands, his reasons are far simpler. “I just love football,” summed up the former striker.

“I get carried away when I commentate so when a goal happens, no matter what team it’s for, in the Bundesliga for example, I get carried away and start celebrating.

“That’s the way it should be. It should be coming across for people to listen to that you’re excited about your job and what you’re doing.”

Review – Box to Box by Curtis Woodhouse

October 31, 2016 in Opinion

Many youngsters grow up dreaming of becoming professional footballers, but for every one that makes the grade, there are so many that fail to fulfil their potential and drift into obscurity. We’ve all heard that story before. 

Similarly, the tale of the ageing boxer who somehow manages to pull off one last shot at the big time is something of a cliche.

Combine both stories, however, and you have something a bit different – people don’t just go from being nearly men in football to really men in boxing. But somehow Curtis Woodhouse managed to do just that, and his autobiography ‘Box to Box’ tells his remarkable story.

The start and the end

When he stepped up from Sheffield United’s academy to the first team at the age of 17, the outlook was bright for Woodhouse as he moved from earning £42.50 a week as an apprentice to taking home more money than he had ever seen before.

Once he broke into England under-21s team alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, his future looked even better. But something was missing. Desire.

“Ever been trapped in a loveless relationship?” he says in his book. “One day you’re head over heels and all set to take on the world together, a few years later it’s all gone to shit.

“You’ve fallen out of love and you don’t know how it happened. The dream has gone and it’s impossible to get it back. Love and hate are similar emotions. And I really hated football.”

Whilst to an outsider, a Premier League footballer may be living the life of a king, for Woodhouse, the reality was very different.

For sure, he enjoyed the parties and the drinking culture, but for the young child who grew up on Northfield Crescent in Beverley, outside Hull, with dreams of being the next John Barnes, the lustre had faded.

‘Living in my own little Beirut’

Despite a close relationship with family members, particularly his father, Woodhouse’s childhood was permeated with violence and anguish. Fighting and arguing were all around him.

“Between the ages of 10 and 14, I lived in a war zone,” he writes. “Northfield Crescent was my own little Beirut. I wouldn’t wish those years on my worst enemy. Please, Dad, don’t kill her. Please, Mum, don’t die.”

“He brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed”

The challenges Woodhouse experienced as a youngster left mental scars, and when his mother fled the family home with his siblings, fed up with rows and heartache, for years Woodhouse despised her.

As he got older, though, he realised the challenges she had faced – and also that his father, whilst being his hero, was by no means a saint.

The bitter youngster descended deeper into chaos, taking solace in drinking and fighting with anyone who got in his way. Although he says he was not by nature confrontational as a youngster, he changed his ways after a piece of advice from his father.

“Listen, do you want to be running for the rest of your life?,” said Woodhouse Snr. “It’s embarrassing, son. Get out there and fight. From now on, if anyone ever calls you nigger, smack em as hard as you can, straight in the face.”

Problem after problem

Throughout his footballing career, Woodhouse’s combative personality was a problem, and the book lists his series of run-ins at every club he played for.

Off the pitch, he brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed.

“Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, aged 33 and in his 28th fight, Woodhouse became the British light-welterweight champion”

Inevitably, his Premier League career came to an end when he was sacked by Birmingham after a 44-day bender. Not that he has much memory of his actual dismissal, however.

“I thought [manager] Steve Bruce was a wanker. I thought [club director] Karren Brady was a bitch,” he writes. “When I was smashing up Indian restaurants and playing for the first team, they pretended it didn’t happen.

“But now I was in a mess, they wanted me off the wage bill. I couldn’t tell you what was said or even the official reason I got sacked. I haven’t got a clue, because I wasn’t really there.”

Dreams can come true

With Woodhouse filled with rage, Barry Fry – manager of his next professional club, Peterborough United – suggested he take up boxing as an outlet for his anger.

This proved to be the turning point, as Woodhouse began his journey from the laughing stock who was pummelled by kids in sparring into a seriously talented and dedicated fighter, motivated by those early humiliations.

In September 2006, Woodhouse made his debut as a professional boxer. Just a few months later, in May 2007, his already ill father suffered a stroke, and shortly before he died, Woodhouse made a promise to his ‘superhero’.

“Dad, I promise that I’ll win the British title. I promise… I promise.”

And this he duly did. Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, on February 22 2014, aged 33 in his 28th fight, Woodhouse beat Darren Hamilton to become the British light-welterweight champion.

‘Box to Box’ is compelling, honest and very amusing, telling an amazing story of a remarkable sporting life.

It is a bruising ride through adversity and a lesson in shattered dreams, wasted opportunities, and the power of not giving up.

Despite the demons he faced, Woodhouse has conquered all.

“The demons are still inside but now I’m their master, rather than the other way round,” he writes. “I’ve succeeded in two sports and also overcome all the bad shit that happened when I was a kid.”

Box to Box is published by Simon & Schuster (Amazon £12.91). 

How do you get your football fix?

October 24, 2016 in News & Features

With Sky’s live football audience figures down by a reported 19% so far this season, it seems our viewing habits may be undergoing a radical transformation.

Are we swapping watching whole matches – with all the over-hyped build-up, endless punditry and overdone post-mortems – for highlight shows, video clips on YouTube on other platforms, following the sport on social media or finding free (and illegal) streams to get our fix of the beautiful game?

According to some of the football fans, who spoke to Elephant Sport on the subject, the grip of ‘appointment to view’ must-see match coverage is being loosened as technology converges and we get our football ‘on the go’.

Joseph Mensah, 21, say if football is live on TV he will watch it, but adds that he will never go out of his way to view a match because there is always a highlights show on later.

“At home, I have Virgin TV which gives me both Sky Sports and BT Sports, which are the main broadcasters of Premier League football in the UK, so whenever football is on TV I will always watch it.

“I never bother streaming it from illegal websites because the quality is poor or the commentary will be in another language, so I would rather wait and watch the highlights where I can watch all of the weekend’s games at one time.”

Illegal streaming

Finding an overseas stream to view the action is becoming more widespread, despite Sky and BT’s best efforts to stamp out this illegal practice.

With the ban on televising 3pm Saturday kick-offs in the UK still in place to protect attendances at games across the country, the temptation to find a way of catching those matches as they are screened abroad is too tempting for some.

“In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof”

One viewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said  he has been using overseas streams to watch football for around eight years.

“Why would I pay for subscription TV when streaming is so easy? I don’t mind the lower quality on the screen because it’s free.

“Also with streaming, it allows me to pick and choose which games I watch, I don’t have to rely on the company’s TV schedule, which means 3pm on Saturday afternoons I’m watching the match for free, instead of paying to watch live commentary in a TV studio.”

Another factor in the rise in online streaming is the price of the sports packages on subscription TV.

The cheapest option on Sky is £42 a month, which is just over £500 a year. To add BT Sport to you Sky Package it’s an extra £21.99, so for both Sky and BT Sport it’s a £63.99 a month.

And don’t forget to add the cost of your annual TV licence (£145.50) to the total…

Social media

In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof.

Twitter alone has with 313 million active users (as of June 2016), and there is a community of football clubs accounts, news outlets and broadcasting companies that provide users with a live feed of matches.

Younger audiences are glued to their phones and social media accounts so live commentary of football matches on Twitter are quick and easy wBT Sport Twitter screenshotays to follow games. Twitter also allows users to have their say so people are able to reply and retweet.

Organisations such as BT Sport release clips of key moments such as goals, missed chances and sending offs in as little as two minutes after it was broadcast on live subscription TV (right).

Student Randy Adu, only consumes football through live Twitter feeds and highlight clips on Twitter accounts.

“I think Twitter is the best way to follow football, you can choose what games to follow. I also like that I can find clips of the key moments, which means I can skip all the boring bits.”

News outlets have also taken to social media to encourage fans to follow football using their “on the go” services.

The Times have put together packs which include different ways to view exclusive, video highlights, live feeds and expert analysis with chief football Writer Henry Winter as the poster boy of the campaign.

The ‘Classic Pack’ offers in print, on your smartphone and online 24/7 access to the latest news, with a complimentary Nespresso machine and many more offers available through Times + for only £7 a week.

Stats and timelines

Accounts such as Opta and Squawka always provide interesting match stats during and after games, and many people follow them to find out exactly what happened in the game rather than watching it.

Opta Joe Twitter FeedRandy added: “Opta Joe is fantastic. After reading their timeline post-match you feel like you’ve watched the actual game.

“You can also tweet them directly asking for specific stats and if you are lucky they get back to you with an answer.”

The way we consume football is undoubtedly changing, and there are many factors involved in this.

However, one thing that has not changed is the love for the game and that is emphasised by the lengths that people go to follow the latest action.

The NFL now gives access to live game coverage through Twitter – how long will it be before football supplies a similar service to its fans?

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