Posted tagged ‘football’

That Newcastle show, off the rails [football/soccer alert]

March 7, 2016

Every so often this blog leaves the higher education world behind and engages with that crazy crazy world of Newcastle United FC. Being a Newcastle supporter can be incredibly exciting at times, but more often than not seems just an exercise in needless masochism.

It is not that Newcastle lose games – all clubs and teams do. It is not that there can be longer periods during which things just don’t go right; that’s what makes being a football supporter such fun. Rather, it is because those who take decisions in the club seem to be so determinedly inconsistent, irrational, amateurish, unintelligent. They buy and sell players at the wrong time, they appoint managers and ‘head coaches’ who seem to have no claim to the role apart from an established recent record of failure, they ban communications with the media to ensure all news coverage is bad, they maintain management structures no one understands and no one can operate effectively. And then they seem totally surprised that none of this works perfectly. And because it hasn’t worked this time and last time and the time before that, they try it again just in case it’s going to work now.

So what have we got? An expensive team that should produce results but whose members stroll aimlessly around the pitch during matches. A ‘head coach’ who seems not to have any sense of strategy or tactics and who comments after the game as if he were just a disappointed supporter, not the leader. An owner of very questionable business practices who seems to measure success for a football club with quite different metrics from the rest of us.

What needs to be done? Well, whether he is a nice man or not, the club needs to part company with Steve McClaren. It is abundantly clear that he cannot do the job. It needs to appoint in his place someone whose availability is not occasioned by a string of recent failures in other places. It needs to develop and keep to a clear strategy of battling and (when possible) winning on the field, not on the financial spreadsheets. It needs ambition,  swashbuckling determination, a sense of adventure.

But beyond Newcastle, club football needs to return to being just that. Much of the fun went out of the sport when it became a money game measured by the depths of the owners’ pockets (and strategic common sense). I’m normally all for free enterprise, but actually not in this setting. Football should be a game played for and on behalf of the supporters, not the oligarchs now dominating it. Clubs should be owned by those supporters. It is time to re-socialise football.

Advertisements

Own goals

August 20, 2013

Long suffering readers of this blog know that every so often you get a post on Newcastle United FC. It’s one of those days.

If you have absolutely no interest in football (soccer), just bear with me anyway while I explain where I am coming from. In English premiership football, there are two or three clubs almost everyone in the world has heard of: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal – and now maybe Manchester City. Manchester United has been an iconic outfit for some time, for reasons unrelated to this post. The others have become prominent as rich owners privatised the operations and injected truckloads of cash into them, allowing the clubs to buy up players. World class footballers are now one of the most keenly traded commodities in international markets.

While there is plenty of evidence that this kind of cash does not buy instant success, it does get you quite a bit of the way. To cover the distance, you buy a famous brand of manager, say, a José Mourinho.

Last night we were able to watch this kind of corporate operation shred another club with less access to cash. Manchester City, now rolling in money provided by its rich owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, demolished Newcastle United on the pitch in their first game of the season.

Newcastle is also privately owned. And Mike Ashley may be a billionaire, but not one in the same league as the Sheikh, and indeed he doesn’t like spending money unnecessarily. Newcastle has a tendency to be a soap opera that likes to toy with farce, and between this and the more modest cash outlay it’s not really an even contest. Nor can it be. The really really rich billionaires buy the top five or six spots in the league, and the others, no matter how brilliant some of their players or managers, scrap around for the other places.

Football is a community exercise. Anyone visiting Newcastle on a match day can immediately see the impact of the game and of the fortunes of the club on the mood and morale of the city. Largely driven by the revenues offered by television deals, football has become not a sport but a trade. And while I generally think that trading is good, sport is not an area where I would take that view. I really have no idea how this could be achieved, but it is time to re-socialise football, and bid a polite farewell to its current rich owners.

PS. Of course it is possible that this post is based entirely on frustration at last night’s result. So what?

Fantasy football

March 26, 2012

Every so often readers of this blog have to put up with posts about Newcastle United FC. More often than not these have been tales of woe, with accounts of mismanagement and uncertainty of direction, skulduggery and delusion. Not today. Against all the odds, for the past year Newcastle’s owner has served up a banquet for the fans in the form of extraordinarily skilful management (in the form of the unexpectedly brilliant Alan Pardew) and sheer genius in sourcing new players. The result: the club sits at number 6 in the Premier League, equal on points with Chelsea, but after spending only a fraction of the money that has sustained (or not sustained) the latter. And they are just five points below out-of-form Tottenham Hotspurs, with eight games to go.

If Newcastle can win enough of these games to get above Chelsea and overtake Spurs, then it’s the Champions League. Oh well, you can dream.

In this blog I have been very critical of owner Mike Ashley in the past, and would still maintain that he needs to become better (or even just very slightly good) at communicating with fans. But it may well be that, contrary to what I had thought, his recipe for running a premiership club is right after all. Less of the silly spending, more strategy and tactics. And to be honest, it’s a more interesting approach.

The Tevez anguish

December 7, 2011

Argentine footballer Carlos Tevez is out of favour with his manager in Manchester City FC and wants to move. He is deeply unhappy, perhaps depressed, and is desperate to get away from Manchester. ‘Oh dry the starting tear’, as WS Gilbert once wrote in a poem, because a solution is in view: Italian club AC Milan is prepared to take him on loan and pay him his salary of, wait for it, £200,000 per week. That’s £10.4 million per annum.

So let’s see where that places him in the general league table of millionaires. It is, as it happens, almost exactly the same pay as is earned (and I’m using the word with a straight face) by the chief executive of Barclays Bank, Robert Diamond. But it is much more than the paltry £2.2 million earned by the chief executive of Ireland’s largest company, the Smurfit Kappa group, Gary McGann. Furthermore it is three times what Tevez’s manager at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, earns, and 20 times the pay of Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew.

It may seem that highly paid university heads should stay clear of this subject, but I’ll venture forth anyway. Football is becoming crazy, and we are setting up conditions in which over-hyped prima donnas (even when talented, as Tevez is) destroy themselves and others around them while burning an amount of money that they do not, in any objective sense, actually earn. This in turn feeds from an over-priced system of television rights and season tickets, and it is turning a people’s sport into something that is as much soap opera as it is football.

I do not object to high salaries for footballers. They only have so much time in which to earn it. But £10 million p.a. is way beyond what is needed to set them up for life. In the meantime, this extraordinary business model is subverting the ideals of the game.

I know I’m not saying anything new here. But I’m saying it anyway. This cannot go on, or at any rate it shouldn’t.

An unexpected Newcastle United FC story: a good one

October 25, 2011

From time to time, as readers of this blog know, I comment on the affairs of Newcastle United football club. Mostly these are comments of despair and disbelief, as the club has for years now had a habit of taking mad decisions, firing good managers and appointing not-so-obviously-good ones, selling players the club needs to prosper, and generally behaving in an insane way while the long suffering fans look on.

But what’s this? Newcastle United have been in the top 4 of the English Premier League for weeks. The club’s players are behaving in a disciplined manner. They are unbeaten so far this season, an achievement only one other club can claim, Manchester City. They are set to break even financially. Their game is (usually) attractive and entertaining. The manager, Alan Pardew, is showing real skill in dealing with both players and fans. People are daring to whisper about playing in Europe.

This isn’t the Newcastle United we know. But we could come to love it.

A famous victory (actually no, it’s just a draw)

February 6, 2011

Yesterday Newcastle United, tossed about on the waves of unpredictable actions by a mercurial owner, seemed to be facing almost total humiliation. It was a home game in front of over 51,000 die-hard Geordie supporters, and the visiting opponents were Premier League title chasing Arsenal. At half time Newcastle were 0-4 down, and disaster seemed certain. Then, somehow, they managed to score 4 goals of their own in the second half and got back on level terms. It is not really possible to do justice to the sheer drama of the game, which afterwards was immediately labelled by various sports commentators as the best Premier League game ever.

Maybe the loss of star striker Any Carroll to Liverpool is not so disastrous after all. But then again, when it’s Newcastle you never know what is going to happen next week.

Taking ‘banter’ seriously

January 28, 2011

It’s not easy to take Katie Hopkins – really a person just famous for being famous – seriously, and so probably one shouldn’t bother too much with anything she says. For those who are not familiar with her, she was a contestant on the BBC’s show The Apprentice in 2007, and before and after that she was known more for her various relationships than much else; but somehow she has reinvented herself as a serious business consultant, and indeed has made it twice (including yesterday) on to the BBC’s political programme Question Time.

Anyway, Katie Hopkins has a Twitter presence, and a couple of days ago she issued the following tweet:

‘Sky sports – can no one have an opinion anymore? Can no one have a giggle? Must everything be so sanitised and magnolia? Equality mania.’

She also delivered herself of a limerick on the same subject, but I am certainly not going to repeat it here as it is wholly objectionable. Why bother with her at all? Because, alas, I suspect she does speak for more people than just herself, and it’s a serious matter.

For those who may not know what her tweet was referring to, it was the comments made by Sky Sports football commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys about a female assistant referee, amongst other things expressing the view that women are unable to understand the offside rule. As people started digging they found that both pundits had form, and that they had been recorded making other objectionable remarks previously. At first it was thought that Gray was the worse offender, but since then Keys was shown to have made horribly lewd comments to a fellow pundit, referring to a former girlfriend as ‘it’ in the context of obscene suggestions about sexual conduct.

Sky Sports and the two commentators have parted company, and it would be nice to think that this has addressed the problem; almost certainly not. But the more worrying aspect for me has been the willingness of others outside the world of football, like Hopkins, to come to the defence of the two idiots and suggest that this was nothing more than just a bit of banter. Online debates about the affair also have tended to have plenty of contributors taking the same line, though in fairness most express strong disapproval.

But those who think that this is ‘just’ a case of wildly inappropriate and sexist comments are also wrong. There is more to this. As more information has been revealed, it has become clear that Gray and Keys were known as bullies who regularly abused their positions as veteran pundits. This is not just about maintaining decorum, being fair or keeping the language clean. It is not even about recognising gender equality. It is about combating abuse and harassment and bullying.

For those who think that this is just typical of football and that the rest of the world has moved on, I’m not so sure. Recognising the dignity and equal worth of all people, regardless of gender, race, origin, sexuality or other characteristics is still not something we always manage, in various walks of life. And that is one of the reasons why I was being vigilant in the political context earlier this week.

In the meantime, football is better off without Gray and Keys (and I hope they don’t re-appear elsewhere). I hope the lesson is being more widely learnt. I much prefer to be writing about the just cause of Newcastle United than this kind of idiocy.