The Leicester City effect

Embed from Getty Images

Being a huge fan of football I could not help but get caught up in the story that has been Leicester City this year. Leicester City came from narrowly avoiding relegation last year, to win the Premier League this year, despite being 5000/1 to do it.

I normally don’t bother watching the Premier League trophy ceremonies as they are normally pretty mundane but I actually wanted to watch this one and felt quite sentimental when I did sit down to watch it. Seeing people achieve, what to some seemed like the impossible dream was life affirming and gave me hope.

Finding hope

It is surprising where in life we find hope, what stories really touch us and what captures our imagination. I think especially in the UK we love a good underdog story and I think we are a society that is a bit jaded, so whenever we see something we don’t expect, we get even more excited for it.

Leicester City this season have shown so many great things, but two things have really shone through for me. The first is their work ethic. Everyone on that team is willing to try harder than the opposition, to run longer, to run faster, to be stronger. Everything they can control as individuals, they make sure they do better than their opposition, which is great advice for life really.

When you get the ball

The other thing, which I think has been a great message, is that their style of football this year hasn’t been about having the ball for long periods of time in a game, but just to capitalize on every time they do have the ball. Sometimes in life you are not given an opportunity for long or more than one opportunity. So in life it is important that when the opportunity does come, you make the most of it.

Stories will be written about this Leicester team for years to come but to me this is the first time in my lifetime where a team has transcended the sport of football. I hope this team inspires many people for years to come and I hope looking back, that this is one of the main ways their success is talked about. Leicetser City are what the world needed: A team that came and shook up the established order and said the name of the team doesn’t matter, the prices players cost doesn’t matter but it is what that team does out on the pitch that does.

The Magic of the FA Cup

Embed from Getty Images

As many readers of this blog know, I am a massive football fan. The FA Cup is a cup competition in England that is one of the most historic in the world but it is a competition that has seen better days and I believe something needs to be done.

There has been lots of talk in the press over the last week of how to revamp the competition, with much talk about getting rid of replays but I don’t think that removing replays will do much to breathe new life in to the competition. To me it’s not the amount of games that needs to change, it is the perception of the competition as a whole.

Spin

The BBC and the FA over the last few years have been trying to do a lot of PR, branding and spin to increase the perceived value of the brand with slogans like “the magic of the cup” “Every game’s an adventure” and so on, but I don’t think it is working.

The reason I don’t think it is working is because of what I saw over the weekend. Whilst watching a couple of the live games on TV I saw a lot of empty seats. At the moment people don’t think it is worth paying to go to a cup game but if it was a league game they would. The FA needs to help clubs get people in to games, by offering discounts, working in the communities etc, just doing anything to fill the grounds, as if you see a full ground, it creates more of an atmosphere, looks better on TV and gets more people talking.

Changing the prize

The FA need to change the prize for the FA Cup. If they could negotiate for the winner of the cup to get a Champions League spot, then winning the cup is more valuable. They could make a rule that you could only make two changes from the starting 11 at your last league game to make sure the competition is played with most of the star players of the big teams. You could make it so that the two finalists, as a reward get to enter the competition in the 5th round the following season. More needs to be at stake for the competition to gain value.

To the big clubs winning the FA Cup its not seen as much of an accomplishment any more, as they are so focused on the Premier League and the Champions League, until this mindset changes the FA Cup will continue to be a much smaller competition than it used to be. If the FA invest in the competition they will be able to charge more for TV rights because at the moment I can only see the value of the TV rights only going in one direction while the Premier League and Champions League go the other way.

Know your audience

This week if you follow Premier League football (soccer) here in England you will not have been able to avoid the Diego Costa situation. For all those that don’t follow the Premier League or know Diego Costa, he is one of the top strikers in the world and plays for Chelsea. Diego is a player who plays on the edge and plays the game in an aggressive manner. Last weekend he hit an opposing player twice in the face, was not sent off and in the aftermath managed to wind up an opposing player enough to get that player sent off.

Match of the Day

One of the biggest TV shows about football in the UK is called Match of the Day and it is broadcast on the BBC, which the UK population funds through a licence fee. Match of the Day is a TV programme that is an institution and is one of the oldest shows still running about football, it is a show which is broadcast on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, it is a show watched by children and families.

When the pundits on Match of the Day had their say on the incident involving Diego Costa they basically passed it off as part of the game. I ask this week – what kind of message is that to send to children? I think this programme has completely forgotten it’s audience; it’s place and who funds it. It has got caught up in trying to create controversy for social media and needs to take a long hard look at itself.

It’s about reaction

It is not Diego Costa’s job to be liked or to play within the rules. He is paid to win football matches for his team. It is up to the referees and media to decide how they are going to react to it. One BBC radio station said that ‘Costa needs referees to keep him in check.’ Again I think this is wrong, it is up to Diego Costa to play the game in the way he wants, it is the referees job to apply the laws of the game.

I have no qualms with late night football shows or football shows on commercial channels and subscription channels reporting on the incident in anyway they see fit as they are trying to get viewers to make money, but the BBC shouldn’t be hunting attention in the same way.

Media

Media is one of the most powerful influencers on society, especially young people so we need to be careful about how we report things. How the media treat the game today will impact on how youngsters watching the game now will play the game in 10 and 20 years to come, it will shape the next generation of British footballers. This is why not just for today but for the future we need to think long and hard about the way we represent the game.

Why I will never understand football fans

Embed from Getty Images

In the UK, the football (soccer) season started for most professional teams this weekend just gone. After a couple of months since the last ball was kicked in anger, fans from across the UK were chomping at the bit to watch their favourite teams play, select their Fantasy Football team and start commenting about games on social media.

I love the game of football and have been a fan for as long as I can remember. Like everyone else I had been looking forward to the start of the season so I could start cheering on my team and watch Match Of The Day again, a TV show which is an institution to so many fans.

Dark Ages

Football is sold as a game that can unite the world, but sadly I think in this country it is a game that people want to use to cause divides between them and other fans. In a world where inclusivity and acceptance of people from all walks of life is on the rise (thankfully), I think football is still stuck in the dark ages. It is not deemed as acceptable to hurl an insult or abuse at someone who is different from you in life, yet for football fans it is seen as the norm to insult and abuse opposition teams and the fans of opposition teams.

This is just one of many bugbears I have with the fans of this game. It’s like when your team wins, it is a great feeling and one to be enjoyed but sadly to many this isn’t enough, instead they feel the need to poke fun at the opposition and their fans. As football fans we all know how it feels to lose (it doesn’t feel great) so in the knowledge of this I don’t know why any fan of the game would want to go out of their way to make that experience even worse for another.

School ground mentality

Sometimes I feel like most football fans still have the school ground mentality of bullying and ganging up on someone because it is seen as the fun or cool thing to do. I don’t see why people get their kicks out of provoking people and rubbing it in their faces when the team they support beat another.

I enjoy watching any game of football, regardless of who is playing, just to enjoy the sport. It seems other fans however enjoy watching games that don’t feature the team they support, just to give them ammunition to mock the fans of that team, which to me just seems like such a waste of time.

I just want to enjoy the game and I don’t want my enjoyment of the game to come at the price of anyone else’s enjoyment. I know I am in the minority but I wish more were like me. Sadly I know that insulting, laughing at or abusing other teams and fans is a big part of fan culture, that people get great enjoyment from, I just want to opt out of it and enjoy the high & lows of the season as they unfold. Celebrating the victories, commiserating the defeats, watching great football no matter who is involved and congratulating others when they have success.

The FA Cup

With everything that has been going on with FIFA and with getting quoted in the Telegraph, I haven’t had chance to blog about last weekends FA Cup final.

Being a massive Arsenal fan, I sat and watched with great joy as we won the game 4 – 0 with one of the goals being a goal to remember. This is the second year in a row that Arsenal have won the cup, with this latest triumph breaking records for FA Cup wins. To go throughout two years of a competition without being beaten is a spectacular achievement.

After so many trophyless seasons at Arsenal it is great to be winning things regularly again, as it seems in football success is only judged by trophies won if you are a big club. I think this is sad as I think there are many ways to judge success but that is the pressure the big clubs are under where winning is everything.

Now Arsenal have the FA Cup it won’t mean as much to win it again next season and won’t been seen as a big success to win it. Arsenal will now be expected to challenge on so called bigger fronts like the Premier League and Champions League.

I think Arsenal are a team going in the right direction and are building a solid base to grow form and be successful for a long time. I am proud to be an Arsenal fan and I think our time is coming soon. We’ve had to wait a while for it but I think it will be worth it when it comes.

Keeping our manager Arsene Wenger for as long as we have I think will pay long-term dividends. We are different to nearly every other club which seems to have a hire and fire mentality and seem to have teams of egos and mercenaries.

Our playing style has developed this year which is great to see but the philosophy remains and I for one can’t wait to see what next season brings.

Does corruption and money go hand in hand?

Embed from Getty Images

FIFA stole the headlines around the world last week, when 7 of its influential members were arrested, with a total of 14 under investigation for corruption:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32895048

FIFA have been seen by many as one of the most corrupt sporting organisations out there for some time now, so news of corruption within its ranks comes as little or no shock, but the actual arrests did. FIFA have seemed in some ways untouchable and above the law for sometime now and this is the way I expected it to continue. Organisations in the US however had other ideas and hopefully the law can now start dealing with this organisation, as with the re-election of Sepp Blatter, I don’t think it is going to happen from within.

The pursuit of money

I don’t think the game of football makes people corrupt. I think it is the pursuit of money and the feeling to entitlement of money, because of the amount that is flowing around the world of professional football that does. When there are people playing the sport and running businesses associated with the sport that are making millions out of it, does being on the governing committee of the sport make you feel you deserve to earn lots of money too?

A governing body is supposed to be run for the good of the game and not for making huge profits. So when a governing body has people in it that want to earn lots of money from that position, they have to do it in other ways than through the work of the organisation.

Gaining favour

When you have people in a governing body that get to vote on decisions that can lead to billions of pounds of business for companies, then those companies are going to do whatever it takes to get the business. If the outside world knows an organisation is corrupt, then they know how to deal with them and how to gain favour with them.

I think it is sad that corruption and money seem to go so hand in hand as there are lots of great things that can be done with money. I hate what money can do to some people. Some people get in to business and organisations for the right reasons, but over time lose sight of these and end up being blinded by money.

Strength to fight

Having the internal strength to fight against becoming blinded by money, when many around you have already lost their fight, I imagine is very hard. When you see people in similar positions getting far more money than you, it brings its own sense of injustice, but it is important that we don’t judge ourselves by others standards.

I wish we had people in power all over the world that are less easy to corrupt and that investigations weren’t needed. I wish it wasn’t so easy to hide financial dealings that aren’t above board. I think we would all be very shocked if we knew what went on behind the scenes and off the books at many companies that we as a society buy in to.

With football being more about money these days than the sport, I can’t sadly see when corruption in the game will end, if ever. I will however continue to hope that more can be done to tackle this problem in the coming years and it is made harder for those that wish to profit illegally from the game.

The Power of Football

I was out walking in a neighbouring city the other evening and saw something which made me stop and think.

Whilst I was walking, I walked past a Bar that was showing a football match and they had one TV that pointed out to the road so any passer by could stop and watch. In front of this TV was a homeless man. He had set his piece of cardboard down, sat down and seemed hooked on the match, to the point that the rest of the world around him didn’t seem to exist. This man was reacting to every close shot and every bad decision by the referee, he probably looked a lot like I do when I sit and watch at home.

Enjoying the Game

In the short time that I was there no one tried to move him on and no one bothered him, which was nice to see. Like any football fan he seemed to just want to enjoy the game of football and was allowed to do so. This event helped put football further in to prospective for me.

The game of football is an international phenomenon, played at the top level by people who will earn more in a month than I might earn in my lifetime. It is a game that now in this country if you want to follow it live on TV you have to pay obscene amounts of money to the likes of Sky, Virgin and BT Sport.

Key Strengths

Football is a game you get caught up in, a game that can give you something to look forward to and a game that can help you forget your troubles. These are the things that I think are its key strengths and I hate that in this country that it isn’t accessible to all.

I think more needs to be done at higher levels to make this sport more accessible. In a classroom of kids, for those that are in to football there shouldn’t be a class divide over football, where there are some kids who have parents that can afford the subscriptions to watch the games and some that can’t.

Lets Help Others

I would love to live in a world where those that can afford the subscriptions to watch live football invite people over to their home to watch games, people who they know can’t afford the subscription but enjoy the game. If I lived next to the street I think I would be tempted to put a TV up to the window for passers by to watch the game.

Lets use football, lets share football, lets do something ourselves, if more and more people are going to be priced out of the game lets bring them back in to the game. To the man I saw the other night, I hope you continue to enjoy football and that one day someone invites you in to watch a game with them.

Don’t just read the news – react to it!

Embed from Getty Images

In every aspect of our lives we are surrounded by news. When we put the radio on in the car, switch the TV on, go on the Internet, go on our phones, go to the shops and when we speak to others that we meet, we can be faced with all kinds of news.

So many of us just consume it without giving it a second thought. For that minute when we are engaged with it we are interested and then when we turn away, turn the page or switch it off, it doesn’t matter any more. So many times we will read a news story quickly, immediately form an opinion and move on to another.

An article is more than just a headline

Do you spend the time to read a full article and not just a headline? Do you let the article sink in and give yourself time to think about it? Do you spend time to find out more about the situation?

With the throwaway media culture we currently live in and with the explosion of 24-hour news I think we have to guard against just becoming a world of passive news consumers. We must make sure our hearts do not get hardened to the news. It is too easy just to not emotionally react or connect with the news, as for many of us there is only so much bad and horrific news stories you can consume before you disconnect from the human side of them.

We don’t need to feel helpless

Sometimes we feel helpless and think that we can’t do anything to change or help the situation that we are hearing about. We can allow ourselves to think that we can’t make a difference or to think it isn’t our problem. I want to say in this blog though that you can make a difference and my belief has been further inspired by the response to a news story I heard about this week.

After a football match in England between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford, Watford fan Nick Cruwys was attacked on his journey back to the train station and left in a critical condition. Nick is now fighting for his life in hospital. Many news companies, like the BBC, covered this incident:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-31789223

I’m sure many people had a read of this news story and then clicked on to another article or another website. One person however decided they could do something. That person was Ollie Floyd who set up a fundraising page with a target of raising £1000 for Nick and as I type the total currently stands at £22,974:

http://www.gofundme.com/o8itrk

Now at the moment Nick needs to pull through and needs the best care but what this page has done has acted as a place for people to offer support and hope. The page has helped lift the morale of the friends and family around Nick and has kept people thinking about Nick by keeping this story in the news.

One person can make a difference

It took one person in Ollie Floyd a small amount of time to set up a page but this small act started a movement. It showed that we don’t have to feel so hopeless when we read the news. It showed that it just takes one person to inspire others. When you read or hear a news story there will be many people around the world feeling the same as you about it but sometimes it will take you stepping out and doing something to give other people the chance and confidence to do something.

What you do doesn’t have to be about raising money or setting up a web page it can literally be anything! Your response could be to campaign, to volunteer, to help someone or choosing to give your custom to a different company. Your response doesn’t have to be big, your response doesn’t have to change the world but your response is needed.

Ollie could have set this page up and got no responses but at least by doing it he would have been able to go to bed that night knowing he tried to do something. If you try and do something because of a news item and it doesn’t work, do not give up or be discouraged. The more we all try, the more we will all be encouraged and the more news stories like that of the online response to the original news article, the greater chance we have to change the world. I want to live in a world where our response to news events is as news worthy as the original events themselves.

Let’s be the generation that reacts to news. Let’s get emotionally connected, let’s care, let’s talk about it, let’s react to it and let’s do something about it.

Do you lead by example?

Embed from Getty Images

My blog topic this week was inspired by some things I have witnessed this season on the football pitch, but I think has relevance for all of us in all walks of life.

In football each team has a captain. This player leads the team out and wears a captain’s armband to signify he or she is the captain of the team. The captain is really just the clubs appointed ambassador on the pitch. The job description of the captain is very unofficial, but in the eyes of many fans, their role is to motivate, organise and encourage the players around them, on top of this it is seen that their role is to lead by example when it comes to their play and their attitude. The captain can also have the role of keeping the behavior of their team in check.

Sadly this season I have noticed several times where captains have fallen short of this ideal, that we as fans have for them. We have seen Rio Ferdinand of QPR grabbing a player by the throat, Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham pushing a player over and Joey Barton also of QPR hitting a player, all of these acts committed whilst wearing the captain armband for their team.

Is a leader a role model?

I’m sure if you asked most clubs, publically would say they wanted their captain to uphold the image of the club and be a role model but in private I am sure the clubs biggest concern is just winning games. The bigger question is – should professional footballers have to be role models?

Sport is a competitive environment where the idea of any game is to beat your opponent. In professional football the sport is a business with each team and player wanting to earn the most money as possible and be as successful as possible. To do all these things you don’t need role models. Just because people choose to watch professional football it is not up to the football world to react to what the fans want, as it is the fans choice if they watch or not. As a fan you can’t just expect or want players to be role models, for it to happen. Being a role model is the decision of each and every player and theirs alone.

How do you want to be viewed?

I think it is up to each and everyone of us to decide how we want to be viewed and what standards we want to live by. We are all a brand and we need to represent ourselves in the way we want to be seen. What you say and do impacts on the way others view you and in this day and age that is very important. I think we all need to take time to decide what we want to be remembered for and then come up with an action plan of what we are going to do to make sure we are thought of in that way. Like how I feel that there should be an official job description for a football captain, I think we should all make our own job descriptions for the role of the person we want to be.

Returning to the subject of the blog after that ever so slight tangent, I think it is important that we all lead by example. The example however shouldn’t be about what others think it is or what you perceive it to be, it should be about leading by the example you have set for yourself. Don’t be limited by other people’s example, because your example might be way higher.

What example will you lead by?

Many people when they think of the word lead or leading immediately think of followers or following. I however think that leading is about setting yourself apart and trying to be better than the competition. You should never want to lead with the expectation of others following you. If you set a great example then others may follow, but the number of followers has no reflection on if you are setting the right example or not.

What I am trying to say is that we can all be leaders in our own way and you don’t have to await for an official position to be bestowed upon you to become one. There are many ways you can lead and be a leader, a lot of great leaders out there I don’t think would even call themselves leaders. As long as you have set yourselves standards and are living to them you have learnt to lead.

Selling the game

It’s been a bad news week this week if you are a fan of what many people call the national game of England, that being football (or soccer for my American readers).

The TV rights to screen games from our biggest league ‘The Premiership’ have been sold to Sky and BT for a staggering £5.136bn, which is 71% above the amount they paid for TV rights last time they were sold. Here is a news story about this development:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31379128

The clubs in the leagues are probably rubbing their hands together, as this sale of rights means more money will filter through to the clubs, which will make their balance sheets look healthier give them capital to build stadiums, ability to buy new players and more chances to secure loans or credit.

I think the clubs and the league will be the only winners though. To access football matches legally in the UK through Sky and BT, you either have to have a paid subscription or pay for their other products and services. Both Sky and BT are businesses and need to make money from these deals, so that leaves the fans in a bad place.

The Rich get richer

I’m sure the money the clubs make through these deals will keep some fans happy though, as some will use the increased revenues to buy big name players to excite and entertain their fans. These players will get paid a ridiculous amount of money and may or may not bring success to their club. Whilst the wages of the super rich footballers I’m sure will increase with this deal, I’m sure the average earnings of the fans that pay their money to support them won’t increase at anywhere near the same rate.

Embed from Getty Images

The problem with the TV rights deal is that it starts a domino effect on the money earned and spent by those in the game, as it filters from Sky to the Premier League, then to the clubs and then to the players. People are already speculating that this TV deal may be the catalyst for the record transfer fee and wages for a player to be broken again. Even though the money coming in may be going up, the costs for the TV providers and the clubs I think will be going up significantly in the next 4 years because of it.

Business

Sky and BT will need to claw their outlay back and this is where I think the fans are going to be hit in the pocket. The easiest way for them to do this is by increasing the costs for their subscriptions and to increase the lengths of contracts you have to commit to in order to watch the games.

The next way they will claw their outlay back is through advertising. I think we can expect to see more on screen advertising during games and coverage, more paid for advertising on their online and social media streams, then finally probably more advert breaks or longer advert breaks in the build up, half time and post match.

Open Letter

Last year I blogged my ‘Open Letter’ to the football world which can be seen here:

https://adamsibley.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/open-letter-to-football-teams-players-staff-and-tv-companies-that-screen-football-in-the-uk/

Following on from this weeks news, I think this problem that I blogged about last year is only going to get worse. Sky and BT will be more desperate than ever for more advertisers and higher spending advertisers, so all I can see is betting adverts around football increasing.

Aggressive advertising

More betting adverts, more aggressive betting advertising and closer links between TV companies and betting companies will only see more people betting on football, which I think is a problem. Again (as I did in my blog last year) I stress that I am not anti-betting but I think for a good percentage of people that an aggressive advertising assault encouraging them to bet, could lead them in to financial problems and addictions.

We need to remember that it’s the betting companies that make the most from gambling, not the customers. Betting companies, like Sky and BT need to make a profit and for betting companies they will have to make more money to afford price hikes in advertising costs.

Pressure

With more at stake than ever for Sky and BT the pressure to make more money has been increased. The boards and shareholders will want to see returns on their investments and I am sure if these deals aren’t as successful for them as they had hoped, that it could have massive implications on their companies and their staff.

Inflated bubble

To fund what is becoming an ever over inflated bubble it will be the fans that lose out. I think for long-term success it is important to get as many people watching the game as possible, but all I can see long term is people turning away from the game. It won’t happen overnight but if we continue at this rate for the next 20 years, I dread to think what the sport will be like.