Monday, 28 April 2014

Stifling the life out of football

If we go on like this, we'll have the life strangled out of football.

Chelsea stifled every attempt by Liverpool to bring beauty to the game at Anfield yesterday, but the superbly organised defence of the visitors left no room for manoeuvre. It was a shame that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard - such an influence on the club - made the mistake that led to the first goal. The second goal - deep into stoppage time - was an irrelevance, as Liverpool pushed forward to try and get the equaliser.

With six across the back and a deep midfield three in front of them, Chelsea - with exceptionally strong players, and superbly organised - were always going to be difficult to break down, and so it proved.

But it is a bit rich for Jose Mourinho to play like this when earlier in the season he accused West Ham (who defended solidly at Stamford Bridge for a 0-0 draw) of 'playing 19th century football', and when Chelsea have virtually unlimited resources from the pockets of Roman Abramovich. I might understand a team with little chance of winning to play by parking the proverbial bus, but when it's a team who has won so many things, with two potential starting elevens better than most teams in the Premier League, it makes me fear for the future of football.

But of course, this was the way Chelsea won the Champions League two years ago. Heaven help us if they manage to do so again this year.

A couple of months ago Everton boss Roberto Martinez accused Chelsea of employing every trick in the book to win games - and they do. So we had the usual time wasting, tiptoeing forward at free-kicks, haranguing of the referee, and similar for the fourth official. Again - from a club with millions? Come on.

Mourinho says that Chelsea deserve respect. Sorry, but actually they do far too many things that deserve loss of respect..

Let's hope they don't continue to win by stifling the life out of football.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Real grassroots clubs underpin football in this country - and get nothing

There’s a load of baloney spoken about “grassroots” in football.

People in the Premier League (if they think about it all, which is doubtful) and pundits on TV think grassroots is just below the Football League, i.e. the Conference.

The FA (who really should know better) think that grassroots football is played by women or males under 18.

Yet, what of real grassroots football – played by tens of thousands of players for thousands of teams in hundreds of leagues up and down the country – played by adult male footballers.

My club Weysiders FC (I am the chairman) have been playing near the lowest level of football since our first entry into a league in 1974. (We did have some success along the way.)

In all that time we have to play on Council pitches. In all that time (40 years), the changing rooms where we play (Shalford Park, Guildford) have never been upgraded (they may have had a coat of paint, but nothing more). The pitches (unfortunately suffering from not being flat due to the natural lie of the land) did improve under good maintenance in 1980s and 1990s, but recently have been left almost untended. They probably get cut twice a year. They are never rolled. The result is that the surface is hardly conducive to playing football. Last week, the Council had not even bothered to re-mark the pitches (which they usually do, every Thursday).

Long grass, no lines. What real grassroots football has to put up with.

The cost of a pitch is £72.40 (going up to £76 next season). In these days of austerity, this is no more or less than a tax on the use of sports fields. So much for the fight against obesity; so much for any sporting legacy from the 2012 Olympics; and so much for football at a higher level – they just don’t care.

Yet players, clubs, referees, people who run those clubs (yes, volunteers who have been there long before purple and red uniforms made volunteering cool) underpin the fabric of football in this country. The fewer players there are at all levels, the fewer good players there will be at top level. It is obvious and it is evident. The fewer opportunities there are for people to play sport, the more prevalent will be the obesity problem.

But clubs at our level get no help at all and, as I said, are charged outrageously for poor facilities. And yes, I realise ‘this is Surrey’ and I’m sure many other counties and towns have even worse facilities.

Sport England have cut £1.6m of funding to the FA. People outside football will laugh and say, “quite right, with all the money ‘they’ are being paid, they don’t need funding.” I read (Lancashire Telegraph) that “The FA has been hit with a reduction in funding after failing to meet their participation targets, with Sport England instead opting to use the money to create a grassroots ‘City of Football’.

We are the real grassroots of football – we have never had any funding, so where the FA money has gone to reach its ‘participation targets’ I have no idea.

FA General Secretary Alex Horne said that he “understands Sport England’s decision but does not believe it will impact on grassroots football.” He’s right: grassroots football has never received any funding anyway!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mourinho will never change

What pathetic petulance.

Jose Mourinho excelled himself at the weekend with his 'four-point' press conference at which he allowed no questions, but merely made four points of 'congratulations' after Chelsea's home defeat by Sunderland on Saturday evening.

He congratulated:

  1. His players.
  2. Sunderland on their win.
  3. Referee Mike Dean on his 'unbelievable', 'fantastic' performance.
  4. Referee supervisor Mike Riley for 'the way the championship is going.
At least 3 and 4 were obviously sarcastic, but, I suppose, if asked, he could easily deny that and say, 'Listen to what I said...'

Talk about an ungracious, sore loser. It was claimed that Mourinho, on his return to English football this season, had changed. Could we expect a more magnanimous, more gracious Mourinho?

Well, it appears, no, not a bit of it.

Losing your 77-game unbeaten home league record must be annoying, but trying to blame the referee, and - of all things - the referees' supervisor, for Chelsea's home defeat, is verging on embarrassing.

Mind you, we assume he's making some implied reference to Dean's award of a penalty for the foul by Azpilicueta or Jozy Altidore. Maybe not: maybe he's annoyed at Dean's failure to penalise Chelsea's Ramires for a blatant elbow on Sebastian Larsson, only a couple of yards in front of Dean; or the failure of the officials to deal with Chelsea assistant coach Rui Faria in a more comprehensive and timely fashion when he had to be held back from attacking Dean.

It's all rather tiresome.