Sport

From Great Expectations to Great Escape

I was planning to write a lengthy coherent  piece of prose about the quagmire Leicester City’s season finds itself in but I have just finished an arduous 2000 word essay for my university course so don’t get your hopes up. Sunday was the last straw for me. I am no longer a Pearson advocate, I’m not anti-Pearson either; I’m in a Pearson purgatory. On Sunday, I was angry and here is why;

  • What on earth was going on at Villa Park on Sunday? An FA Cup quarter final up for grabs, a pressure free game away at a league rival who, to fit the famous chant, couldn’t score in a brothel and there we are lining up in a 5-4-1 formation. Five defenders, at Villa Park. We still conceded twice and allowed the ball in the net on two other occasions despite Matt Upson’s insistence that we ‘reduced their opportunities’.
  • The real smack in the face was Pearson’s stubbornness. 1-0 down in the FA Cup with 25 minutes to go and the best he can do is using one of three available substitutes and a switch to the neutral 4-4-2 formation? Not an all-out attack on the Villa goal? It was an FA Cup suicide by Nigel Pearson and nothing else.
  • Let’s be clear, the players were also crap, bar two glimpses of quality from Matty James and Andrej Kramaric, we looked like a side ready for the drop in to League One. Wes Morgan moved around the pitch like a computer glitch and our off-the-ball movement continued to be horrendous. At times, it looked like a game of stuck in the mud.

This season has been a disaster pretty much from the 22nd September onwards. In fact, why are we doing so badly? Well, we’ve abandoned our playing style in an attempt to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, Burnley didn’t and they have managed to bridge a considerable gap between us and them and have become a better side than the Foxes this campaign. So have Queens Park Rangers for that matter. Jesus.  Our team selections have been unsettled nearly every week of this season; do the backroom staff know our best XI?

Most of us thought home matches this season would be crucial in our survival campaign but goodness have they been embarrassing. Burnley, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Stoke are among the lesser sides to visit Filbert Way so far this season. A whopping five points have been taken from those games, including one win and just three goals. A truly atrocious record I’m sure you’ll agree. Our ‘easy’ run-in which includes home matches against better sides such as Newcastle, Southampton, Swansea and West Ham is suddenly looking a lot less prosperous than in June.

Why do we even bother taking corners? I’m at a loss. Have there been any effective set pieces from us this season? They are just truly woeful, how do we continue to decline in this area, it really is appalling.

Of course, the Foxes have been on the end of some horrendous luck and even more horrendous refereeing decisions this season, that’s certainly true. But, you cannot be consistently unlucky – if we are, we’re doing something wrong. Nigel Pearson can bemoan fine margins in games where “we’ve played well” but if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net and stop it going in at the other end then you don’t get any points – and if you don’t perform in those key areas, can you even say you’ve played well?

This season has been a major disappointment. With the exception of Mahrez, Wasilewski and Schlupp, last season’s heroes have all regressed this year. In fact, I would contend we’ve become a worse team than last term which is absolutely criminal in my book.

We’re on course to become the first side promoted to the top flight with 100+ points to go straight back down the season. I wore that stat out at the start of the season, confident we could consolidate ourselves, and I truly believe we should have. This season has been a disaster, Nigel Pearson has been a masterful manager for much of his reign at the King Power Stadium but for fans who stuck by him through a dire season, choking opposition players and telling fans to die were repaid on Sunday by an FA Cup forfeit.

I will always be a big fan of Nigel Pearson but something needs to change at Leicester City – if Nigel is the man to find the formula then fantastic but I am rapidly losing faith in this man’s ability, a man who seems incapable of coping with the grander spectacle of the Premier League. We have two choices, in my opinion; accept relegation, go down with Nigel Pearson and let him lead another promotion push next season. Or, we roll the dice and change the manager – I honestly don’t know which I would do but something must change and now.

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Fellow Foxes, Are you Mad?!

Leicester City surprised everyone on Saturday by coming from behind to dump Spurs out of the FA Cup at White Hart Lane. As a result, the Foxes find themselves in the last sixteen of the competition whilst, languishing at the bottom of the Premier League. Now, many are opening the debate as to whether City would rather finish 17th in the Premier League or win the FA Cup.

As a fanbase, we know the club have spent years and years pining for a return to England’s top-flight. And, having experienced just over half a season back in the Premier League, I can see the perks of being here. It’s a badge of nobility to be in the top-flight, to be acknowledged, to be famous. Winning just feels that little bit better with that proud, navy lion slapped on the side of your arm. It also feels better having the £90 million windfall that comes with being in the illustrious top division. However, finishing 17th in the league ladder isn’t a trophy; it won’t go down in footballing history. It will just be another placing at the end of another league season.

In contrast, this club loves the FA Cup – it seems illogical but it’s true. I can’t think of a club in English football that loves this competition as much despite being treated so cruelly by it in the past. In recent seasons, we’ve seen 8000 of the blue army at Nottingham Forest, 6000 at Chelsea, 4000 at Stoke, even 4000 troughed up to Huddersfield on a cold January afternoon, engrossed by the meagre whiff of cup glory. There is nothing like winning a major trophy, and being the biggest bridesmaids in football, you would think our fans would know that – is there a bigger club to have never won this competition than us? In four finals, we’ve suffered four defeats, a soul-crushing record.

So, my question to those who would prefer to finish 17th over winning the FA Cup this season is; are you mad?! We have spent half of our history in the top flight but we’ve never won this tournament, the greatest domestic cup competition in the entire world. Sure, away games next season at The Valley and Ewood Park would be a big come down from this season’s league outings but winning the cup could mean an overdue shot at revenge against Atletico – well, that particular scenario is a long shot but we will be back in Europe nonetheless.

Now the competition has been blown wide open with the eliminations of Chelsea, Manchester City and of course, Tottenham Hotspur, we would be senseless not to go all out to win it. Of course, the prevailing point is; we don’t actually have to choose, we could achieve both objectives and that’s exactly what we should try to do. Neither are a distraction, neither are hindrances to the other. Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth aren’t where they are now because they won the FA Cup that’s for certain.

But if I had to choose I would say; let’s stop being a nearly club and win the FA cup, we’ve come as close as you can to the country’s two biggest honours – and now’s the time to be opportunistic. Memories of avoiding relegation will eventually dwindle in to obscurity, especially given how many relegation skirmishes we have endured as a club, but silverware on the other hand lasts eternally. So, if you really still think 17th is of greater prestige then I’m thoroughly mystified. Come on Leicester; we’re staying up and we’ll win the cup!

2014-15 Premier League: Fans’ Preview (Part II)

With English’s top-flight once again relevant now the famous Leicester City F.C. have bounced back, there are just four weeks to go until the football season starts up once more.

 

Manchester United

@Edward_Walsh96

Last season: 7th
Manager: Louis Van Gaal
Rivals: Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal
Odds: 11/2

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
A top four finish in the PL. After the poor finish last season, we need to quickly recover to play in the top tier of European football.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My greatest fear is the lack of experience with a winning team. In addition, the adaptation to a new manager could be a struggle.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
The back four needs to be strengthened for next season. Bringing in Luke Shaw as LB was a good decision but with his big price tag and his young age it’s a gamble,

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I want to beat Liverpool the most next season. Our biggest and oldest rivals in the football history for Man Utd. After their impressive season last year, it made them perk up!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Herrera will be a player to look out for in the midfield. I’ve seen him play and he is a very talented midfielder with a lot to bring to Manchester. RVP will be another player to look out for next season. Finally Luke Shaw will bring some freshness to the LB position.

6. Who will win the league?
I think Chelsea will win the league. They have brought in two very good players and have come close to winning the title, I feel it’s time they won it.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Ham and Sunderland. I think Leicester City will finish a close 17th.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I think QPR will be surprise a few with a mid-table finish. Other than that I think everything will be as expected.

9. Where will you finish?
I believe we will finish a close third, which will be a massive improvement on last season under David Moyes.

Newcastle United

@nufc4me

Last season: 10th
Manager: Alan Pardew
Rivals: Sunderland, Manchester United, Middlesbrough
Odds: 1000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mike Ashley to sell and leave

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Two strikers

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I want to beat Sunderland

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Caldwell

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Sunderland

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Newcastle

9. Where will you finish?
8th

Queens Park Rangers

@DazzerQPR

Last season: 4th (Championship)
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Rivals: Fulham, Chelsea, Watford
Odds: 7500/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
QPR to stay up.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
QPR to go down.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
All over. 1 LB as cover, 1 RB as cover, 2 CB’s, 2 CM’s, 1 Winger & a striker as well as keep Loic Remy.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Chelsea (and everyone around us who’ll be fighting for relegation)

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Joey Barton, Matty Philips and Charlie Austin are my dark horses

6. Who will win the league?
Man City

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Aston Villa

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Everton pushing on, Southampton could struggle big time!

9. Where will you finish?
Hopefully 17th or above!

 

Southampton

@ConnorArmstrong

Last season: 8th
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Odds: 1250/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
I hope that this season ahead provides us with signs of improvement as it progresses, as it seems pretty obvious that Ronald Koeman is going to have to rebuild. It’d be great if we could have a good cup run along the way.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That Koeman’s new side can’t adapt quickly enough and we end up playing catch up, possibly leading to relegation.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I think the only place we don’t actually need to strengthen is central midfield. We’ve had players plucked from defence and attack, and we still need a goalkeeper to compete with Artur Boruc.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
For obvious player/manager related reasons from this summer, I most want to beat Liverpool and Tottenham. West Ham is another big one for me personally, living in Essex – there’s a lot of Hammers about!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
A bit difficult to say right now, seeing as the key men seem to be leaving, with new faces arriving. Dušan Tadić looks an exciting acquisition, though.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Aston Villa

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester – I can’t see them flirting with relegation in the slightest and I think they’ll causes some upsets.

9. Where will you finish?
Somewhere between 10th and 15th. I’ll be happy so long as we stay up with a few games to go and show progression as the new manager builds his own Saints team. 

Stoke City

@JessySCFC

Last season: 9th
Manager: Mark Hughes 
Rivals: Port Vale, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Odds: 2500/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is that we’ll finish higher than our current highest finish (9th). 

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is injuries to our best players! 

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We really need to strengthen our strike force, it’s what lets us down the most.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
As per with every season, I’d most want to beat Arsenal and West Brom. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Arnautovic. His pace is unbelievable and this season he’ll be better than he was in the previous because he’s finally started to get used to our playing style and the league itself. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, QPR, West Brom

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester, I hope. (You’re welcome Chris)

9. Where will you finish?
I hope that we’ll finish 7th or 8th, which may be optimistic to say the least. 

Sunderland

@TonySAFC1973

Last season: 14th
Manager: Gus Poyet
Rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Leeds United
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
A solid consistent season

2.What’s your biggest fear?
A relegation battle

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
A right-back and left-back

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Hull City

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Jordi Gomez and Giaccherini

6. Who will win the league?
Arsenal

7. Who will go down?
West Brom, Aston Villa and Burnley

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Swansea or Leicester

9. Where will you finish?
10th

Swansea City

@luseax

Last season: 12th
Manager: Garry Monk
Rivals: Cardiff City, Bristol City. Bristol Rovers
Odds: 4000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
For Garry Monk to have a great first season in charge of us.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I’d say with the signings we’ve already made we’re okay. Although I would like to see us bring in a central defender and right back. Feel like we need stronger cover for Rangel if he can’t play some games.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I’d like to see us beat everyone naturally. Although a win against Everton would be nice as it’s never happened before. Not that I hate Everton, it just would be nice to beat them once. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Bafetimbi Gomis. Great signing for us, and could be lethal combining with Bony, providing he stays. 

6. Who will win the league?
Man City

7. Who will go down?
Argh, I hate this question. West Brom, Villa and Burnley.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Dark horses hmm.. Have a feeling Leicester might surprise a few this coming season.

9. Where will you finish?
Mid table again, going for 11th.

Tottenham Hotspur

@samhyde97

Last season: 6th
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Rivals: Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham United
Odds: 66/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mauricio Pochettino taking us back to the Champions League, or perhaps even better, some silverware: the Europa League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Losing Lloris before the season and/or losing Eriksen after the season.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Left Back, Centre Back; Rose and Dawson are worse than useless.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
As usual, Arsenal, of course.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Bentaleb and Tom Carroll, as well as the usuals; Eriksen, Lloris, Walker, Vertonghen etc.

6. Who will win the league?
City; no one can compete with that much money except Chelsea but I still don’t think they’ve got a good enough striker in Diego Costa.

7. Who will go down?
QPR (they’ll spend too much trying to create a whole new team again), West Brom, and Burnley.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester City; great squad and the money to keep it together and improve it, and Southampton; they may have lost their stars but with Koeman as manager and Tadic, Fonte and Rodriguez they can still do well.

9. Where will you finish?
Unfortunately and rather pessimistically, I think, without a solid defence it will be another 5th or 6th place finish.

West Bromwich Albion

@TheDelaney24

Last season: 17th
Manager: Alan Irvine 
Rivals: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Stoke City
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mid table mediocrity. Sounds uninspiring but there’s a rebuilding job going on at the Hawthorns this summer, having lost a few players in the close season. I’m sure most Baggies would take safety & continue good progress we had made. 

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation. I think it would be very hard for us to come back if we were relegated. Financially, we’d be fine, but we’d lose a lot of very good, established players.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Defence & attack. The signing of Lescott was a major statement, & it looks like the club are addressing our lack of full backs. We really need one top striker and a winger though.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Would have to be Villa again. Midlands derbies are few & far between these days, with Wolves & Birmingham in the Championship. Beating one of the big boys is always pleasing. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Everyone knows about Lescott and he will be a great addition to our squad. On his day, Stephane Sessegnon is a joy to watch, & Mulumbu has been courted by bigger clubs for a while. Squad is a bit thin at the moment but hopefully we can add a couple of the new lads to that list in time. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea. If Costa transfers his La Liga form to the PL Chelsea will be a formidable outfit. They’ve been crying out for a goalscorer. Cesc was an excellent addition too.

7. Who will go down?
I think Villa will struggle with Lerner having put the block on any major expenditure until they’re sold. Burnley will find it tough, but the last one could come from anywhere. Southampton? Interesting to see how they cope after the firesale. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
If they continue the progress from last season, then Palace will surprise a few people. Think Leicester will do ok too, they have a few £ to spend and have a good set up in Pearson and his team.

9. Where will you finish?
I think it’ll be tight but I think we’ll stop up. Anywhere between 10th and 17th would be deemed a reasonable season for us. 

West Ham United

@IAmKieranA

Last season: 13th
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Millwall, Arsenal
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is for us to have a very solid finish around mid-table.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear of the new season is that we will struggle again due to the lack of funds but hopefully Lambert can find a few cheap gems.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We need more depth in defence as in a new centre back and right back

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Spurs, of course!

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Aaron Cresswell and Ravel Morrison can shine and also Kouyate

6. Who will win the league?
Manchester City

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, Leicester and West Brom

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Everton.

9. Where will you finish?
I’ll go for 8th

The Profound Beauty of the World Cup

There is something profoundly beautiful about the World Cup. I don’t spend a lot of time following international football – forgive me, I’m English. Of course, I, like everyone else in my home nation pay attention only to the big events. We watch the European Championships, the World Cup, the qualifiers and even England friendlies, if only the latter two to moan about how dismal and uninspiring we are whilst we await Stoke vs. Hull on next week’s Super Sunday. Anyway, I always found the big international tournaments enjoyable, maybe the novelty of not paying much notice in the intermittent years made them more special, who knows? But it wasn’t until this year’s tournament in Brazil that I realised just how special the World Cup really is.

It’s a simple concept really. 32 nations sending 23 players to one country to kick a ball around a patch of grass for four weeks. We all watch, we all enjoy then we go back to the sustenance of league football straight after. However, when this basic idea is pulled together, it sparks off something quite unbelievable.

One billion. That is the estimated viewership for this year’s final. It’s prodigious that so many people are encapsulated by the spectacle of it all. Of course, the World Cup isn’t the only sporting event to do such things. The Olympics, as a prime example, too captures a worldwide audience, but this is different. There are few instances of simultaneousness in the World Cup, meaning for ninety minutes, Honduras and Ecuador and Croatia and Cameroon are the centre of the world, and with the greatest of respect, these four nations don’t always carry the greatest global presence.

What too is special about the World Cup’s engulfing appeal is its ability to transcend virtually everything. People of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, religions and backgrounds come together to enjoy this four week footballing festival. Plenty of people I know don’t give a thought about football except for these four weeks where they’re actually fairly engrossed in the action too. You’ll find non-football fans just as entranced by Tim Cahill’s wonder-strike or Neuer’s sweeper-keeper spectacular as an away day regular.

The World Cup is like the best drama on television, chock full of underdog stories, upsets and moments of brilliance. Who foresaw Spain and Brazil getting pasted by the Netherlands and Germany? Who predicted Costa Rica to shame three former world champions in the ‘group of death’? Who predicted the USA to teach the rest of the footballing world a lesson in passion?

What’s really beautiful about the World Cup is it’s communal embrace. When England bowed out, after such a lacklustre display, my interest in the tournament never waned. I found Colombia’s infectious rhythm endearing, Chile’s gut and style seductive and Argentina’s conservatism exhausting – and I ‘rooted’ based on that. That’s the funny thing about the World Cup, you don’t even need to be involved or even invited to enjoy it – just ask the Welsh or the Scots. It’s a very special four week window for the world’s greatest sport, the world’s most passionate fans and some of the world’s proudest nations to put it all on the line for glory – and if yours doesn’t, you simply sit back and enjoy the profoundly beautiful ride.

2014-15 Premier League: Fans’ Preview (Part I)

With English’s top-flight once again relevant now the famous Leicester City F.C. have bounced back, there are just four weeks to go until the football season starts up once more.

 

Arsenal

@DanFromahier

Last season: 4th 
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Rivals: Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United
Odds: 9/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
To have a consistent injury free season and win the Premiership and the FA cup

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Another injury plagued season ending in failure, and the sale of a couple of big players to top it off

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
I would say another keeper to make sure there is completion for the #1 spot and a quality holding midfielder

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Chelsea purely because of the whole Fabregas situation and I hate Jose Mourinho

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Definitely the Ox providing he stays injury free can see him being one of arsenals star performers this upcoming season. I also think a young player to look out for is S.Gnabry , although the arrival of Sanchez will make it hard for him to break into the team

6. Who will win the league?
Hopefully Arsenal, but being realistic the signings that Chelsea have made has to make them favourites.

7. Who will go down?
Newcastle , Sunderland and QPR (if they can’t keep hold of Remy) if they can then Burnley will go down

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Stuck between Leicester and Stoke for dark horses, both will achieve way more than expected this season 

9. Where will you finish?
With the signings that are being made I would like to say 2nd or 3rd, not having to qualify for Champions League would be nice.

Aston Villa

@totteyvilla07

Last season: 15th
Manager: Paul Lambert
Rivals: Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Odds: 4000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
My greatest hope is for us to have a very solid finish around mid-table.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear of the new season is that we will struggle again due to the lack of funds but hopefully lambert can find a few cheap gems

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
In my opinion our main priority is getting a left back that is solid and consistent.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Every season the teams I most want to beat are the teams that finished top 6 the previous season.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
I think the main player in our squad to look out for is someone who we saw very little of last season and that is jores okore think he can come in to the team and really tighten up the defence and form a solid partnership with Ron Vlaar

6. Who will win the league?
Personally I can see Chelsea winning the league this season and with the 2 signings already made Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa they can be an absolute force next season

7. Who will go down?
I think Burnley will go down due to just not having a good enough squad to cope in the Premier League also I can see Sunderland going down the last team going down might be a surprise but I think Swansea

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
This season’s darkhorses will be either Queens Park Rangers or Leicester City because I think both teams will improve alot in the transfer window

9. Where will you finish?
I think we will finish 13th/14th as long as we don’t lose any of our key players through injury or even selling them.

Burnley

@NorAmClarets

Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Manager: Sean Dyche
Rivals: Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers
Odds: 10000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
I hope the side plays well, we’re competitive in every game we play and Sean Dyche shows that a side built around a strong team work ethic and players who passionately want to play for the shirt can survive and prosper in today’s Premier League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That it’ll be 2009-10 all over again. We’ll show promise, do well, and then some fundamental part of the side will leave and it will all fall apart. This time it might not be the manager; it might be the sale of a key player or even an injury.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
We have a relatively small squad, so Sean Dyche needs to bring in some depth, which he’s started to do. The core of our squad is quality but lacks experience in the Premier League, and so Dyche is adding that too. Most supporters agree that we need another, faster, central defender to pair with Jason Shackell, another central midfielder and a striker to partner with Danny Ings.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Being a small, unfashionable club taking the scalp of a big money club is very satisfying.  We host Chelsea and Man Utd. at Turf Moor for our first two home games so either one of those would get us off to a great start. The last time we played Man City at home they pasted us 6-1, so it’d be nice to gain some revenge by beating the reigning champions. And of course we’d love to beat Blackburn Rovers again, but sadly they’re in the division below us.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Danny Ings was Championship Player of the Year last year ahead of Ross McCormack and Danny Drinkwater, and we’re looking forward to seeing him take his game to the next level. Right back Keiran Trippier was named in the PFA Championship team for the last two years and seems poised to to become England’s best right back. Michael Kightly, who was on loan from Stoke last season, has now joined us permanently and seems ready to star. 

6. Who will win the league?
As much as I’d like to see someone new push for the title I think it will come down to one of Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea or Arsenal with Liverpool as a bit of a dark horse. If pushed I’d have to go with City.

7. Who will go down?
Interesting that the three promoted teams are the favourites to go down.  I’m going to be optimistic and choose Hull, Crystal Palace and West Brom to go down.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I’ve already said that I think Liverpool have an outsiders chance of winning the league. I also think Southampton will do well in spite of how the bigger clubs are plundering their young talent.

9. Where will you finish?
I’m predicting we’ll finish in 14th place. I think we’ll get enough points to be out of the danger zone and give ourselves another year to continue to establish ourselves in the Premier League. Unfortunately, that’ll mean another year without an East Lancs Derby, but it’ll be worth it.

Chelsea

@JonathanCDavies

Last season: 3rd
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Rivals: Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool
Odds: 2/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Last season was strong despite falling at the final hurdles. My greatest hope is that we can push on and go further in the league and Champions League.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
That’s a really tough one. I suppose the biggest fears probably aren’t realistic- getting relegated, not qualifying for the Champions League etc. I suppose it would have to be finishing fourth and having a poor Champions League (don’t think it’ll happen though!)

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?

We all knew where Chelsea needed to strengthen, and they have with the signing of Diego Costa.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Probably Manchester City. The two wins last year were probably our best performances of the season – it would be great to do it again at the Etihad after a few rough years there.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
I’d say Andre Schurrle. He had an okay first year, not bad not great, but he had a brilliant World Cup and will be coming back with the added boost of being a World Champion.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea.

7. Who will go down?
West Brom, Burnley and QPR (in no particular order)

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
I’m not sure there will be a dark horse this year. I don’t think Liverpool will compete to the same extent this year, and United will be closer. Arsenal are always there or thereabouts but you wouldn’t consider them dark horses.

9. Where will you finish?
Top of the pile!

 

Crystal Palace

@russell2103

Last season: 11th
Manager: Tony Pulis
Rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Millwall, Charlton Athletic
Odds: 10000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Survival is still the biggest priority. Same as last year is good enough for me

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation & losing Pulis

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Left back. We don’t have one.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
We don’t really have a rival in the Premier league. So a big scalp like Chelsea/Man U is more appealing than London rivals like West Ham

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Gayle was very impressive in the last few games and could really step up this season.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea

7. Who will go down?
Burnley – Ings could be off & he’s being replaced by Marvin Sordell
QPR – another season of players there for the money not the club with the same outcome as before
Hull – strains of Europe will take their toll despise big signings

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester. A very strong squad in the championship and money to spend they could really surprise people & finish top 10 

9. Where will you finish?
14th, comfortably mid table but stability instead of progression in our second season

Everton

@AdamRathe

Last season: 5th
Manager: Roberto Martinez
Rivals: Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City
Odds: 150/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
To achieve the Champion’s League. With other sides strengthening yet again, it’ll be another battle, but with Martinez surpassing everyone’s expectations we’re the most optimistic we’ve been.
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2.What’s your biggest fear?
To not spend the money we all know we have. Martinez MUST be backed.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Up front – Lukaku will be a miss and we’ll need a reliable goal-scorer if we want to achieve our aspirations.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Liverpool – After we should have beat them at Goodison and their mauling of us at Anfield last season – in addition to our higher league finishes from 11-13 – we want to show the gulf isn’t what it seems. It’ll be a huge marker to put down for our aspirations too.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
John Stones – a potential England captain. The expected defensive attributes and the composure and technique to accompany it, all in a 20-year old.
Ross Barkley – Vital player and he’s honing his decision-making, which has always an issue before last season.
Aiden McGeady – could be really important next season. Showed glimpses of his Celtic form and he should find himself a starter at the beginning of the season.

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea – Mourinho has got the type of striker that is conducive to Chelsea’s style. On paper, he should grab them the goals they lacked last season.

7. Who will go down?
Burnley, West Brom and Swansea

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Tricky one, but if I had to choose I’d go with Sunderland. I can’t work out whether Poyet’s a bit of a gem or just incredibly fortuitous, but I’d say you don’t see that run that kept them up if you’re the latter. I think with a full season to have a crack at the PL, Poyet will put them in the top half. Now watch them go down…

9. Where will you finish?
6th – I hate to say it, but I’d be lying if I expected us to finish above one of Liverpool, United, City, Chelsea or Arsenal. Then again, we’ve not spend significantly yet, so I’d say that answer isn’t quite set in stone.

Hull City

@scottfarrow88

Last season: 16th
Manager: Steve Bruce
Rivals: Leeds United, Scunthorpe United, Grimsby Town
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
On the pitch, improving on our points tally and position of last season. Off the pitch, the club to stop forcing the Hull Tigers issue

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Relegation. Bruce and the owner are starting to assemble a potentially brilliant side, but god only knows the financial state the club will be in if we go down.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Maynor Figueroa showed signs of promise at the beginning of the season, but it was easily the most vulnerable position last season. Saying that, Robbie Brady will be like a new signing for us this season and Joe Dudgeon will be returning from injury to provide some options in this position.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Most fans would say Leicester and Nigel Pearson, but a repeat feeling of Arsenal in 2008 would be nice.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Curtis Davies. He was solid in the centre of defence for us last year. Robbie Brady was starting to show his worth too before his injury, so keep an eye on him.

6. Who will win the league?
On current signings, I can’t see Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool winning it, and Manchester United I think will struggle to get close to the top 4, so I would have to say Manchester City.

7. Who will go down?
I think it will be a tight one in the bottom half again this season. But I’d go for Burnley, QPR and West Brom.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester. Really liked the work Pearson did when he was at Hull, made some great signings too. They’ve been threatening promotion now for a couple of seasons and I think they’ll surprise a few people. 

9. Where will you finish?
I’d be delighted to make an improvement on last season’s position of 16th. But, if (and hopefully we will) we progress to the group stages in the Europa League, then I’ll be happy if we stay up!

 

Leicester City

@beckytlcfc

Last season: 1st (Championship)
Manager: Nigel Pearson
Rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Odds: 5000/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Staying comfortably in the Premier League with minimal stress (yeah right on the latter)
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2.What’s your biggest fear?
Getting less points than Derby THAT season.

 

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
RB- Although RDL is very good and I think will be effective in the prem we need comfortable back up in that position.
Striker – linked with Ulloa & Wickham, think either would be ideal. People are really worried about this but I’m happy we have Nuge, Wood and Vardy who are capable
CB is questionable; we do have, Morgan, Wasyl, Moore & Upson, but considering the age and speed of Wasyl & Upson think we could do with another to strengthen, I think Morgan May struggle a bit.

 

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Everton at home first game. Going into our first game back into the Premier League with a win would be the most incredible thing, other than that I’ll take any wins, no particular massive hate for any Premier League teams.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Matty James – not only one of most promising young players of our squad who was vital for our success last year, but you should look out for him for his pretty face.
Riyad Mahrez – fresh from brilliant experience at the World Cup with Algeria, only getting better, think his trickery and class could be vital for us to catch teams out.
Jeff Schlupp – honestly believe he’ll flourish at new position of LB. Full pre season of training and learning in that position, speed and power he’s got going forward could be a real asset.
Chris Wood – unlucky with injury last year has been a bit off the radar on our success of last year, think will play a bigger part than people would imagine for next season. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea. I think if the imminent signings of Diego Costa, Fabregas and a few others succeed ‘The Special One’ will have a team too strong for the rest of the league, will be a close one think Man City, United & possibly Arsenal could be pushing; providing transfers go through. 

7. Who will go down?
Villa, West Brom/Burnley & QPR – QPR looking to continue with marquee signings they’ll be another team of individuals, think they were lucky to come up last year so think (& hope) they’ll head back down.
Villa were lucky it was a poor league down the bottom last year, haven’t had many inspiring signings which make me feel like they’ll be any better next year.
Then West Brom/ Burnley – didn’t want to say Burnley as think & wanted them to stay up, but their recent signing of Marvin Sordell didn’t show much ambition imo, West Brom just seem uninspiring and haven’t been down in a while. They’ll be scrapping I reckon. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester have the potential to be dark horses for success but I’m a massive pessimist when it comes to us, so I can’t choose us.
So, if they complete their potential signings they’ve been linked with I’d say Palace could do very well, considering they were bottom by a long way last Xmas they’re on the up. – not dark horses for the league, but higher than imagined.

9. Where will you finish?
16th, I really believe we have the right backbone of the club and squad to survive and establish ourselves as a Premier League club, but I am scared and think it will be more of a struggle than some people are thinking, but I’m always pessimistic about LCFC.

 

Liverpool

@AcresOfSeven

Last season: 2nd
Manager: Brendan Rogers
Rivals: Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea
Odds: 10/1

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
Mignolet to come into his own, the back four to exude efficiency, Lallana to hit the ground running and Sturridge to build on his form of last season and edge towards ‘World Class’ territory. A trophy would be nice, too.

2.What’s your biggest fear?
Squandering the money garnered from the sale of one of the world’s best players on mediocre talent, otherwise known as ‘doing a Spurs’.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Full Back – Johnson, Flanagan, Enrique doesn’t quite cut it at Champions League level – Centre Back, and now of course striker. There are some who think Sturridge is capable of being our lone striker and predominant goal scorer. 24 strikes last season speaks for itself, but his bouts of inconsistency worry me, as does his ability to replicate last season’s form without Suarez. 

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
I don’t think I’m alone in saying Chelsea would be a particularly gratifying win. They took 6 points off of us last year, and essentially destroyed our title aspirations. 

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
 Jordon Ibe, merely 18, a pacy winger of the Sterling Ilk though arguably a more clinical finisher. Expect him to light up pre-season and receive opportunities in the first team before Christmas. Additionally, Jordan Henderson should improve on his Goal Scoring/Assisting from last season. 

6. Who will win the league?
Chelsea, though City will run them Close. I see 4 teams still competing for the title well into April.

7. Who will go down?
West Ham, West Brom and QPR stand out as potential candidates. 

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Burnley to finish top 12, Sunderland in the top 10

9. Where will you finish?
3rd if we make accomplished signings that flourish early, 5th if not. An Fa Cup win is due as well…

 

Manchester City

@mcfc_kyle_nyr

Last season: 1st
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Rivals: Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea
Odds: 21/10

1. What’s your greatest hope for the new season?
At least one trophy and improve in European competitions.
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2.What’s your biggest fear?
No trophies.

3. In which areas does your team most need to strengthen?
Centre back, but it is a minor concern.

4. Who do you most want to beat this season?
Man Utd.

5. Players in your squad to look out for…
Fernando Reges and Stefan Jovetic.

6. Who will win the league?
One of Chelsea, Liverpool or Man City.

7. Who will go down?
QPR, Burnley, and Sunderland.

8. Who will be this season’s ‘dark horses’?
Leicester

9. Where will you finish?
Top 3

 

Football Isn’t Home… But I Think It’s On Its Way

England bowed out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after a short stay of just eight days and two games. Costa Rica’s shock 1-0 win over Italy, meant a top two spot was unassailable for the Three Lions who have already suffered defeats to Uruguay and Italy themselves, both 2-1.

Despite the rawness and sadness felt by England fans tonight, the team didn’t disgrace themselves in either of the defeats that ultimately cost them a place at this year’s tournament. Against Uruguay, England enjoyed twice as much possession and three times as many shots on target but still suffered due to a lack of ruthlessness. The story was similar in the first match where England out shot Italy but were still undone by an inferior conversion rate of 5.6% compared to Italy’s 15.4%. England’s performances are synonymous with my club, Leicester City’s at the start of the 2012-13 season – statistically doing things right but lacking the experience to grind out the results. It took City until the season after for them to gain that cutting edge and winning know-how, romping to the Championship title in 2014. Unfortunately, the World Cup doesn’t afford that length of time to grow in to the competition. In fact, despite our failures in this tournament, England’s attacking is the most exciting it has been in years with the likes of Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck attacking with pace and intent. England’s youthful approach however does mean the squad lacks experience.

Not only was England’s incapacity to convert the chances they created the reason for their early exit, their leaky defence was also to blame. In England only faced six shots on target in their opening two games but managed to concede four or 75%. Roy Hodgson has arguably done himself no favours by leaving perhaps England’s two best defenders in John Terry and Ashley Cole not only out of the starting XI but out of the 23-man-squad altogether. However, Hodgson was too encouraged and initially applauded for championing England’s youth stars but is now facing a ferocious backlash for failing to deliver with them.

England have also faced criticism for lacking passion in recent years. You often hear fans bemoan the lack of gusto with which the national anthem is sung, if it is at all. The England sides of recent years have largely been viewed as overpaid, primadonna disappointments – and perhaps with good reason. In reality, the football fans on these shores are too less passionate about the international game. In fact, a Sky Sports poll in 2010 found that 74% of fans would favour success for their club to success for their country – a trend you’d be hard to come by outside the British Isles. Perhaps the fact that England boasts the best league system in the world detracts from our international efforts. Many will place blame at players like Rooney for not replicating their club performances (maybe not this season’s) for country. Have you ever seen Luis Suarez as passionate for Liverpool as he was for Uruguay last night?

Clearly something has to be done for England to correct their international misfortunes. Similar nations such as France and Germany have looked impressive in this World Cup as they have consistently over the past decade while the Three Lions haven’t. The answer isn’t the introduction of ‘B teams’ in to the English league system; Spain took seventy years to win a major tournament after the introduction of reserve sides, is Dyke lining up success for the 2086 World Cup held on the rings of Saturn? Spain certainly didn’t tear up any trees this campaign and Germany are trying to move away from ‘B teams’ to stop them tainting their domestic divisions. Punishing the lower league clubs won’t benefit anyone in international football, it will only serve the behemoth Premier League that is already taking so much from England’s international chances. All the talk of a Winter break must be intriguing for the FA. There is evidence the break can improve the fitness of players heading in to major tournaments. Portugal are the only other European country not to enforce a break and it doesn’t seem to affect them – though admittedly many of their squad play league football in neighbouring Spain. However, sacrificing festive football and detracting from the domestic leagues, the crown jewel of English football would not be popular. The real solution is surely a quota on foreign footballers in the Premier League. There’s no need to go overboard but imposing a limit will allow the best of our homegrown talent a much larger chance of playing regular competitive football at the highest level – not a scrappy tie against Forest Green Rovers in League Three. 68% of Premier League players come from overseas, much higher than the other four major European leagues; Italy (55%), Germany (50%), France (49%) and Spain (41%). This is where the FA need to be looking.

Whilst, England’s performance this summer was bleak, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. And despite the work that needs to be done and the changes that ought to be made, Roy Hodgson has it in him to deliver in 2016. England’s inexperienced squad will learn from their outing in Brazil. The new boys philosophy of attractive attacking football is a step in the right direction, when experience is put in the mix, England can again be genuine contenders in future tournaments – like it happened with Leicester City. There is need to change but there isn’t a demand for upheaval. Football isn’t home in 2014…but I think it’s on its way.

B Gone! : Why Reserve Sides in the Football League Would Ruin The English Game

Today, Greg Dyke’s FA commission of morons outlined plans to introduce the ‘B’ teams of Premier League clubs in to the Football League and Football Conference to compete among lower league professional clubs. Dyke and his cohorts believe this will serve to benefit the England national team and those poor old Premier League clubs who seemingly have their hands tied in the prison of too much choice.

To me it seems entirely nonsensical. The idea that shoving a team of up and coming players in to the newly formed ‘Football League Three’ to compete against the likes of Wycombe Wanderers and Torquay United will not excel their development. It certainly wouldn’t make them better suited for the transition to top-level football, well no more so than actually playing in the top-flight. Besides, what’s wrong with the existing U21 and U18 leagues? They’re competitive divisions for progressing players. There isn’t a huge gap in quality between lower league football and the top-end of youth football, so why risk undermining the entirety of the English game for the same results?

Help for Hodgson… Dyke thinks the new proposals will improve the national side. [Image: Getty]

Dyke’s committee seems to think that Premier League sides are unable to provide young English players with enough opportunities, so why not place greater emphasis on increasing the compulsory number of home-grown players in the matchday squad? Current Premier League leaders Manchester City had just four in their seventeen that beat Aston Villa 4-0 last night. A number that has been lower at times during this season.

The system isn’t unfamiliar in European football leagues with Spain implementing the system since the 1940s and only recently have Spain’s national side been a major world force in football. An impressively quick turn around, I’m sure you’ll agree. Another international giant in Germany is trying to move away from ‘B’ teams in domestic leagues citing money issues as a major problem. It’s also worth noting that Brazil, the world’s most successful international team has never had ‘B’ sides in their leagues and it has seemingly never hampered them. To put it plainly, the evidence to suggest ‘B’ teams improves national sides is not really there.

Tenuous links… Spain’s system took just 70 years to pay dividends. [Image: Getty]


Why seems even more unjust is the fact that the elite’s preference for foreign talent will only serve to damage the Football League clubs. It doesn’t seem right that teams such as Portsmouth and Sheffield United will deign to play Hull City’s reserves whilst Port Vale could face a Potteries derby against Stoke City’s second string in front of 63 people. And we’re supposed to believe these occurrences will better our fortunes on the international stage? League One and League Two boast higher aggregate attendances than the top tiers in Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and Portugal. The English league ladder is admired around the globe, the passion and intensity in lower league football is scarcely found away from England and the FA seemingly want to dismantle that just because Premier League sides won’t take a punt on home-grown talent. Attendances will fall as clubs are forced to play the overlooked players of the elite English sides, a prospect Football League fans will not be ‘excited about’ in spire of Danny Mills’ moronic prediction. Regardless, how much of a difference would it make to Aston Villa to have players like Jack Grealish play for their ‘B’ side rather than playing on loan for Notts County, who would actually care about their placing in the league ladder?

Furthermore, the boot is put in to the Conference sides too who struggle enough to gain promotion to the Football League with just two spots available, having traditional clubs like Grimsby Town, Wrexham and Cambridge United suffer because Newcastle United would rather turn to France than England for their personnel doesn’t seem fair.

Shafted… Lower league fans would suffer to benefit the top clubs. [Image: Getty]

The FA are out of touch with English football, the fans don’t want to see their proud clubs reduced to competing against reserves. It’s humiliating, unnecessary and more importantly unfair to the existing Football League Clubs. Whilst it might prove beneficial to the top tier clubs, it will do more harm to the lower leagues. Why is the FA so intent on furthering the gap between the elite of English football and the rest? Even now, as a fan of a Premier League club, I don’t want to see Leicester City B lining up at Spotland in 2017. England’s footballing body would do better to shift focus on player development and increasing top-flight opportunities for young players by putting a cap on foreign players in match-day squads. There’s nothing that English football fans love more than club football and ‘B’ teams would simply destroy that.

Can the FA Cup Final be England’s ‘Super Bowl’?

A little over a week ago, the sports world basked in the occasion of the 48th annual Super Bowl.  The Seattle Seahawks embarrassed the Denver Broncos, dispatching them 43-8. Most of us on this side of the pond will have already forgotten that scoreline, but the spectacle itself will remain a little fresher in our minds.

In truth, the Super Bowl is more than just an American football match. It’s an occasion. The NFL have managed to fuse sports and culture perfectly to make it an event that the whole country is enveloped in regardless of their individual interest in sports.  People gather, TV stations change their schedule and the whole nation, for a day or two, is gripped by one singular sporting event. For instance, the Super Bowl has a grand history of spectacular half-time shows including performances from Beyonce, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and more. Coupled with its corporate tradition of debuting spectacular adverts during the many intervals from play, there is genuinely plenty on offer to entertain all sorts of people.

Prominent… The NFL’s showcase game regularly draws in over 100 million US viewers. [Photo: Wikipedia]

The FA Cup final is the obvious contender to compare with the Super Bowl for English sport. A famous tournament of the nation’s favourite sport, settled by one single game that airs on terrestrial television. In fact, the comparisons end there. Now, I’m not saying that I want the FA to fervently promote the final by shoving Jessie J on the pitch at half-time, in a feckless attempt to maintain any interest in the event. But I do think Britain’s footballing body could do more to make the FA Cup final a bigger occasion on a national scale. There’s no reason why the FA Cup final can’t be an experience that grips the entirety of England in the days leading up to the event. There’s certainly no need for us to try and emulate the Super Bowl to too great an extent. The cacophonous pageantry of American Football and the orgulousness required to call the winners of a domestic trophy ‘world champions’ is not found on these shores but their blue print for sporting spectacles is certainly to be admired.

Super Bowl XLVIII brough in 111.5 million viewers for Fox last Sunday night meaning around 35% of the USA was tuning in, making it the most watched television broadcast in the nation’s history. In stark contrast, the most recent FA Cup final which saw Wigan Athletic upset the odds to beat Manchester City was viewed by 4.10 million on ITV (8% of England), being outperformed that week by an episode of Off Their Rockers and Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs. It’s not like a boost in attention for the FA Cup final wouldn’t favour TV channels, if American trends are anything to go by. Fox’s comedy New Girl received 26 million viewers, an 867% increase in viewership on it’s season average.

Overlooked: FA Cup Finals are convincingly outperformed by entertainment variety shows. [Photo: Wikipedia]

Unfortunately, the FA Cup is a distant after thought behind the much preferred league campaigns, which I can certainly appreciate. England has two cup competitions. The Football League Cup has long been disregarded by the ‘bigger clubs’ unless they reach the latter stages; only then do they usually field their strongest sides. Even Championship clubs see that tournament as a chance for squad rotation. In recent years, the FA Cup has been heading in the same direction with many clubs simply not trying to compete, illustrated by falling attendances and of course ‘weakened’ squads.

It’s not like England wouldn’t embrace a grander spectacle, we see how much football fever takes hold of the nation every time the European Championships and World Cup roll around. And, it’s certainly not beyond us to forge such a special sporting event, given the overwhelming success of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. In theory, everything is in place for the FA Cup final to be a truly global sporting event. We really ought to be giving English football’s grandest competition a less bathetic climax, otherwise what is the point? But, until the FA and indeed the football clubs themselves start to take the world’s oldest football tournament seriously; it’s likely to remain a distant dream.

(Thank you to Kyle Andrews for helping with this article. Read his stuff; chrispowellsflatcap.wordpress.com)

The Price of Success

In every popular sport in the world, there are heroes and villains. Those the crowd love and those they hate. Typically, the athletes or teams the spectator takes a disliking to share one trait; success.

Prime examples of the unfavoured, are sports’ elite competitors; Manchester United, Leicester Tigers, the New York Yankees etc.. Many people would put this dislike down to an admiration for the underdog, the romance of the unworthy pretender emerging in glorious victory. But why?

Brand… The Yankees are well-known and disliked in the sport

I was actually inspired to write this article based on a Ladies’ 4th Round match at the recent Wimbledon Championships between Serena Williams and Sabine Lisicki. Taking place in Old Blighty, neither’s home nation, you would probably expect a neutral crowd or one that’s slightly swayed toward the plucky underdog in Lisicki or another edging on the side of a respected veteran in Williams. That wasn’t the case. The raucous Centre Court crowd were overtly biased toward Lisicki, cheering her on to every point and greeting Williams’ successes with groans of disappointment. Lisicki’s support rivalled that of the home talents, Andy Murray and Laura Robson and it even continued through the next rounds when her more arrogant nature came to prominence.

In Serena’s case, she is partially disliked for her intense competitive nature. Understandably, most perceive a dislike of losing as a negative trait but it really isn’t as bad or counteractive as it seems. In reality, a hatred for defeat is the very thing that breeds the successful sports stars that are loved the world over. Serena is often levelled with criticism about her image too, with many labelling her as a ‘man’, usually the same people who detest the shameful body image tabloids pressure women to obtain, while mocking a woman making a positive contribution through sport. Actually, you could argue that Williams is simply ostracised because of her race or gender. It would be untrue to say stars like Nadal, Djokovic and veteran, John McEnroe are dealt the same backlash. They remain popular despite exhibiting very similar behaviour.

Of course, there is less opportunity for vocal bias in neutral grounds in football but that doesn’t stop Manchester United being targeted for abuse from supposedly apathetic fans. In contrast, local rivals, Manchester City have become many fans’ ‘second team’. Back in May 2012, when City pulled off a remarkable title theft from United, fans of other clubs publicly celebrated the failure of the Red Devils despite their club having no links to them themselves. In the Etihad, QPR fans (the visitors on the day), even publicly celebrated a goal being scored against them, because it was at Manchester United’s expense. Seriously.



(around the 1:45 mark)

Legend… Serena’s success breeds more resentment than admiration.

Ultimately, it comes down to jealousy. No matter that Serena Williams’ success story in particular comes from hard graft and determination and Manchester United didn’t necessarily employ the bank-rolling tactics of their cross-city rivals to start their route to success, they are still loathed by sports fans alike. It’s the same jealousy that sparks the Scotland or British debate among Andy Murray’s fans. Some Scots are keen to claim Murray as just theirs so they can exclusively identify his success. However, Englishmen are less likely to do the same because as a nation, they’re more successful. As with football, the neutral supporters identified with Man City’s title triumph as a victory for every other club against Manchester United… for some reason.

I’ve never bought in to the establishment of disliking the successful stars of sport. I can see why people do, but I don’t share their feelings. Being prosperous is an adaptive characteristic that biologically, every human is attracted to. When I think of the aim of sport, I think of every team or competitior striving to be the best and I cannot see any rationalisation for hating that. After all, being victorious is the reason we love sport, if you’re not trying to win then what would be the point?