The State of a Nation: The accelerating decline of English players in the top level of the game

I love football. As a youngster I used to hop over the fence at the bottom of my garden and with a few friends, go and ‘train’ with my local football league team. I guess at the time, it was the last thing the coaches wanted, but hey we enjoyed it, and it gave us the opportunity to believe we were professional footballers (which is about as close as I ever came to being one!).

That was back in the 1970s and the opportunity to play for a top professional team in those days was not out of the bounds of possibility for anyone talented enough to make it. But what of the chances for today’s talented young English players? Do we have the tools in place to help our future top players make it, or is it simply easier to forget about developing home grown talent and buy-in success from abroad?

There’s no doubting that things have changed since my time running about in that park, but have things changed for the better?

For sure kids aren’t expected to kick cans or tennis balls round the streets. Instead and in far too many instances, thanks to new FA designated ‘best practice’ required by clubs to ensure they have the Charter Standard accreditation, kids today should expect nothing less than grass pitches that are properly marked out.

Fair enough in theory, but far too many have grass that could be up to 6” long, on pitches that resemble the Lake District more than Wembley with line markings that have been ‘burnt in’ so many times, they resemble crevices more than lines. The fact that many are open council pitches can also mean today’s young players having to dodge piles of dog mess that dog owners appear to believe is O.K to leave on playing fields.

Granted, not all pitches are as described above and organisations such as the Football Foundation amongst others are making a difference where possible, but still the majority are not up to the standard that the FA must surely have envisaged when putting together the new way forward.

But surely we’re not the only ones to have well thought out plans that haven’t quite been realised in the way originally envisaged are we?

Well, let’s take Spain as an example. After all, they are reigning World Champions right? In the South-East of the country there is a small village called El Paretón. It has less than 2,000 inhabitants and yet this dusty little village has one of the finest footballing complexes I have seen. It has the finest 4G artificial pitch with just enough seating for spectators and parents to sit and enjoy watching their children have fun learning how to enjoy playing football from one of the many qualified coaches that use the facility day-in, day-out.

Is it any wonder that Spanish players are extremely comfortable on the ball and can play pass-and-move football all day long from an early age?

But of course it’s not just facilities that are stagnating English football. A severe lack of higher qualified coaches and how they are used is I believe far more of an issue.

You see as a country, we actually don’t do too bad compared to Spain at UEFA Level B (the basic level to be classed as a real coach). However Germany has more than twice as many B Licence holders and a staggering 5 times more A Licence holders than us. Worse still, Italy has over 37,000 B licence holders , that’s four times more than we do!

In England, we have according to UEFA’s latest statistics, 9,500 B Licence holders, most of whom have to accept barely enough payment to cover their expenses when coaching. Rarely will you see a B Class coach in charge of a grassroots youth team – the clubs simply don’t have the finances to pay for them. So instead we have to rely on parents to get involved and hope that they can develop the kids in the best way possible.

Right now the FA requires every designated youth team coach to have passed the FA Level 1 course. Unfortunately, and speaking from experience, having a certificate that says you can lay out a set of cones in 20 different patterns is not sufficient. It is not until you get to the first part of the Level 2 (UEFA B) course that the FA train you to actually coach, but that costs £250 and is simply too much for many cash-strapped clubs.

For those that can get past the cost barrier, other obstacles are continually placed in front of parent/volunteer coaches that take time and ability away from the most important things such as concentrating on developing training sessions to help players develop and enjoy the game. Instead of spending time that could be spent developing the players, coaches may be required to clean clubhouses, mark out pitches, arrange for teams to come to the annual gala, and of course placate agitated parents who are concerned that (i) their child is not getting played enough, and (ii) wanting to know why the team are not top of the league!

Occasionally, the odd player will stand out and may well get asked to join their local professional football club. That must be a good thing right? After all, that is what we want to see happen. But how many of these kids, some of whom may only be six years old, actually stay the distance and get signed up as a professional player? More to the point, how many simply get tossed aside after six weeks to see their dreams and ambitions demolished – some never to play football again?

How on earth can you determine if a child at six years old is going to be of the calibre required to play professionally at 18? You simply can’t, yet up and down the country, that’s what can happen.

It might be me, but does it not seem that for too many professional clubs, as highlighted at the start of this article, that developing young home based talent really isn’t worthwhile and it is indeed much easier to buy-in foreign players that are already good on the ball, and can play pass-and-move football etc, etc…

Easier yes, but does it make sense, especially in this era of Financial Fair Play? What if, instead of paying upwards of £3million for an untried Spanish or German player, the top English clubs ‘invested’ that money back into their community with one or two strategically chosen junior clubs. Facilities such as that available to the inhabitants of El Paretón would be easily available to our players.

Our existing community clubs could then be tasked with developing young players, with the support both technically and financially from local professional clubs. New coaches could come into the game in this country with the knowledge that they would be plenty of opportunities to help develop players of all ages and abilities and the clubs would be in a position to embrace them thanks to the financial support that could be offered by pro clubs.

Such a strategy could be taken a stage further with the professional clubs contributing further to the development of local talent by making a series of staged payments for any player that goes on to sign full terms, such as signing-on fee, and appearance fees.

Perhaps the end cost may come to somewhere in the region of about £1million per player signed up. Less than the clubs may be paying now for untried foreign players.

Unfortunately such a plan would take a lot of organising and football is very much all about the now, so I fear such a scheme might never make it off this page. One thing is for sure though… If we don’t do something soon, the number of top English players active in our top league will continue to diminish and the game we love become less and less relevant.

Mike Hemmins  @mikhem

How far can football clubs go to maximise commercial income before it all gets too much?

With the English Premier League growing in stature and global appeal year on year, are we about to see a change in dynamics from football clubs with regards to their identity, in order to further increase exposure and commercial gain?

This saga has been brought back to the surface again over the course of the season, this time by Hull City Chairman Assem Allam. Dr Allam already caused a stir earlier on in the year by changing the clubs company name from ‘Hull City AFC’ to ‘Hull City Tigers’, with the ultimate long-term aim to alter the football clubs name to just ‘Hull Tigers’.

The reasoning for the prospective name change and advertently altering the clubs identity is down to Dr Allam’s preference of using shorter names in business to give a more powerful message in marketing terms. Dr Allam gave an exclusive to the Hull Daily Mail in August stating; “In the commercial world, the shorter the name, the better. The more it can spread quickly. My dislike for the word ‘City’ is because it is common. I want the club to be special. It is about identity. ‘City’ is a lousy identity. Hull City Association Football Club is so long.”

It was again brought up in the media once again in early November when Dr Allam confirmed that he plans to rename the football club to simply ‘Hull Tigers’; even after having meetings with representatives from various supporters groups who have aired their displeasure of the name change.  Dr Allam explained that the decision has been made in order for the club to improve its global appeal and to be self-financed with or without him. After recently being deprived of opportunities to acquire the stadium freehold this means that the next best option is to change the clubs name to generate higher commercial income, with Dr Allam stating, “A shorter club name will hopefully enable us to do so, with a stronger, quicker marketing impact all over the world.”

Nowadays football clubs are far more than just a club, they are global marketing brands that have to be well looked after. All with the objective of capitalising on the commercial gains that come with competing in the best competitions in the world, that have increased media coverage. As the Barclays Premier League is watched globally by millions of people, there are so many different markets and opportunities that can be tapped into for these gains, which other clubs outside of England’s top flight just can’t get near to.

A good example of a Premier League club that has well and truly jumped on the bandwagon and reaping the rewards are Manchester United. Although already one of the most successful and recognisable football clubs in England let alone the World, they have been able to tap into various global markets due to the exposure they get through competing in the Premier League, and are what most other clubs aspire to emulate. The club has managed its commercial policy by splitting up their sponsorship rights on a territory-by-territory basis around the World to maximise income.

What with the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations coming into force – to prevent clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success and in doing so getting into financial problems – the best way to balance the books is to increase their commercial incomes to the best of their ability using whatever means necessary. On some occasions these commercial ventures can whip up a bit of a frenzy with some club supporters who aren’t too pleased.

An example of a commercial move that went ahead but faced fierce backlash from the clubs supporters can be seen at  Cardiff City a couple of seasons ago. This came after the Cardiff City Owner Vincent Tan, made the decision to change the clubs home shirt colour from blue to red and nickname from the ‘Bluebirds’ to the ‘Red Dragons’. The decision to make these changes was in order to tap into the Asian market, as the colour red is seen as being a more dynamic colour for marketing in Asia, as well as the Dragon being very significant in that part of the World too.

As with the Hull City situation, the club gave their 15,033 season card holders the opportunity to take part in a ballot regarding the name change earlier this week. Although only 5,874 season card holders responded, there was a narrow victory in favour of changing the club’s name to Hull Tigers, with a total of 2,565 voting for the change and 2,517 against the proposal, and the remaining 792 voting they were “not too concerned and will continue to support the club either way”. After the results were published Fans’ group City Till We Die claimed that the result was “largely meaningless”, especially as back in March The Football Association’s membership committee made a recommendation to reject the plans.

Indeed, when The Football Associations Council met this week they rejected Dr Allam’s proposed name change of Hull City to Hull Tigers, with 63.5% of its members voting against the change following the recommendation by its membership committee. Responding to the decision, City Till We Die said that; “We are very pleased that the FA has recognised the importance of the historic name of Hull City AFC to the fans and the wider community of Hull. This is truly a victory for the fans.”

With the decision by The FA Council it seems that nowadays the clubs history plays a major part in stopping such changes to the clubs identity, which might ultimately end up helping the club in the future. As back in the 1960s, then Leeds United manager Don Revie changed the clubs kit colour to an all-white strip that resembled Real Madrid, in an effort for the players to aspire to higher things. Since this change the all-white kit has stuck, and although I’m not certain of the perception of the fans back then, the club went on to have great success on the pitch, both in England and in Europe.

Although not a change for commercial gain back when it was made, how was anyone to know that going against the clubs history by changing the clubs kit colour to all-white would have brought success just by a change in perception? This case study just shows that sometimes change can be good and beneficial to the club even if it goes against the clubs historical values and identity.

But ultimately this begs the question how far can football clubs go with regards to the commercial aspects of the game before it all gets out of hand? If the proposed name change was to have got the go ahead from Hull City to ‘Hull Tigers’, it would have resembled a name that wouldn’t have looked out of place in some American sports. This is due to the vast majority of sporting teams across the pond including various nicknames of which are very marketable and catchy.

This is the case with the majority of teams in the NFL and NBA, as just as a couple of examples, but although not as global as football (soccer in the USA) the reach and popularity alone in America is large enough to make it all worthwhile. Some examples from the NFL can include; the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, just to name a select few.

So what if Dr Allam’s move goes ahead in the future and Hull City will be known as ‘Hull Tigers’, will this mean a possible change in name for some of the other Premier League clubs to gain more commercial income? Will we be seeing the Manchester Red Devils up against the Arsenal Gunners, or a local derby between the Sunderland Black Cats and the Newcastle Magpies in the not to distance future?

I’m not too sure about that, but it is interesting how far football clubs will go in order to compete both on the pitch and financially.

Russell Collins

Follow on Twitter: @russcollins08

What, Where and How to Buy Property in the South of France

Welcome to the French Riviera!  Famous for the azure blue waters, white sandy beaches and chic lifestyle.

FRPS0012This has been the chosen location of royalty and celebrities for their second homes and, according to recent articles, is still the choice of those with a more modest background to invest in property.

There is a long affiliation with this region and those wanting to buy holiday homes, investment properties or simply make a permanent move to the warm climate. Even in these more difficult economic times the magic of the Cote d’Azur continues to attract international buyers.

Why by a Property in the South of France? Well, there are the obvious advantages of climate, ease of access with the international airport at Nice and of course the gastronomic draw of this region.  But more than that, property in this region has continued to grow in price, albeit more slowly and French mortgage rates are still among the lowest in the world with today’s rates around 3% – you shouldn’t forget that here in France, the interest rate of your mortgage can be fixed for the lifetime of the loan. For those investing, maximising on a property investment is relatively simple with the influx of tourists seeking holiday accommodation in the summer months and if you consider carefully where you buy,  you may be able to attract year round corporate rentals for visitors attending events in the region such as the Cannes Film Festival  + other major conventions.

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Where to Buy? So now you’re rushing to book flights to come and find your perfect holiday property. But you need to decide where to buy. The French Riviera stretches from St Tropez to the borders of Monaco and inland to the edges of the Alps. It’s a large area, each region offering something a little bit different in terms of property, prices and styles. What is right for you? What will give you best return on investment? And more importantly what will give you most for your budget?

nice483If you are buying a holiday home that will only be used by you and your family, just follow your heart and your budget. A waterfront property on Cap Ferrat will be a stunning holiday home. If you want to use your second home as a bolt hole, you might consider the areas closest to the airport. The Old Town of Nice enjoys beautiful architecture and a wonderful eclectic mix of nationalities who live there. Peace and quiet and family villas with gardens are to be found in the hills above the coast. The hill top village of Mougins is the gastronomic home of the region, and you can stroll through its cobbled streets before heading to one of the internationally renowned restaurants.  An apartment within walking distance of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes will give you the best chance of a short term rental income throughout the year. Think carefully about the focus of your purchase; it’s easy to get carried away and fall in love with a property that, later on, you realise doesn’t really deliver what you were looking for.

How to Buy? So once you’ve decided what and where, it is vital that international buyers consider the HOW to buy. Property law is very different here in France. For instance did you know that there are two types of marriage and that children must inherit the property on the death of a parent? And that’s not just children of a current marriage, that’s all children from previous marriages and relationships. Mistakes after you have purchased are costly to put right and it is essential that you seek solid financial and legal advice before you buy.

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Use a Property Search Company – A free service that saves you time and money.  Looking for, finding and finally buying your perfect French Riviera Property is an investment of time, effort and, of course, money. Using a Property Search company is a great way of being able to enjoy finding and buying your French Riviera Property. You will have one dedicated, English speaking, contact who lives and works in the region. You can benefit from their inside knowledge and let them approach all the estate agents / private sellers, and undertake negotiations on your behalf – even more important if your command of the French language is somewhat limited. You will also be able to tap into a network of English speaking financial and legal professionals, all able to give you the best advice about how to buy your dream home here in the South of France.

So what are you waiting for…….the sky is blue and the sun is shining….what is the weather like where you are today?

Jackie Pressman

French Riviera Property Search

www.frenchrivierapropertysearch.com

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Making supporter communication more engaging – our e-marketing successes

LCFC crest 0910 cmykIt’s fair to say that Leicester City Football Club are getting more than the average amount of attention at present,  with the team sitting at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship table.

Extremely hard work is being put in at the training ground to ensure a successful bid for promotion to the Premier League, an opportunity that needs to be maximised within the Club’s marketing efforts.

We’ve always been keen to involve the fans. Their opinions and behaviours are what shape our marketing strategy and help us to ensure that we have a passionate set of supporters that get behind the team.

We’re always looking for new ways to improve our communications, trying to make them more engaging and set out to provide key information pre and post-match in a nice easy to digest format.

This has increased click-through rates significantly, showing that it’s been a positive move.

To drill into that statement a little further… on average our communications around a game have seen an increased click rate of 380%, with certain features of the email way in excess of this.

LCFC-bitesize-case-study-emarketing

It’s come about just by making the design more appealing, making the information clear and most importantly, by giving the fans the content that they want without making them have to go searching for it.

It’s relatively simple stuff really, but it’s really powerful and is leading to decent results. We can track the level of engagement, open rates and clicks in our CRM system, which we get from Green 4 Solutions, allowing us to measure success and make further improvements.

There’s no doubt that we need to drive our ticket sales to upcoming games and by refining certain areas of our marketing activity we can drive extra clicks to the ticketing site in the short term.

However, the bigger picture of our communications is to connect our fans more tightly with the team and ensure they’re more engaged with the Club for the long term.

Written by Tom Crosse, Marketing Executive at Leicester City Football Club.

Credit Green 4 Solutions – CRM, Ticketing and Fan Loyalty solutions experts for sport and leisure. For more information visit www.green4solutions.com

@Green4Solutions

Football clubs are part of this country’s National Treasure and should be equally protected in Law

There is a law regarding Treasure Trove in this country, which says that certain items of unearthed treasure are of such immense historical, scientific or cultural importance to the nation that they must be saved from being lost, transferred, broken up or sold overseas.  The law says all such Treasure comes under the protection of the Crown to be saved for the nation. 

No matter that you found it on your property, that it was unearthed by archaeological excavation or by enthusiastic treasure hunter, an individual cannot profit from ownership of such treasure to the detriment of the nation.  Football clubs are of no less value to this country – being just as much part of Britain’s cultural heritage as the bones of Richard III or the gold and silver of the Staffordshire Hoard.  Why can’t they also be protected by law from being lost to the nation, sold to overseas investors or traded for profit, and then abandoned when the money runs out?

When the skeleton of what we now know to be King Richard III was disinterred in Leicester in 2012, or when the vast hoard of gold and precious metal dating from 600 AD was discovered in Staffordshire in 2009, there was no unseemly dash to assert ownership or to profit from the finds.  Yes, there were – and are – ongoing tussles over the most appropriate parish for Richard III’s bones to have their final rest and yes, the finders of treasure trove should be suitably recompensed for their efforts or plain good fortune.  But because we are a cultured people, we have recognised for many centuries that valuable items of antiquity – whether lost, buried or hidden with the intention of later recovery – belong to all of us and should be protected by the state for the enjoyment of all the generations.

If you will bear with the history lesson a little longer, the English law of Treasure Trove dates from as far back as the 11th century and it has naturally evolved over time.  So, whilst it may have been easy for Edward the Confessor and his ilk to claim title to all buried gold, silver, bullion or plate with the force of an army behind him, in later, gentler times it has often been necessary to amend or re-interpret the common law so that loopholes cannot be exploited to unjustly enrich finders or to allow national treasures to be sold abroad – or only saved for the nation by the payment of a high price.

And this is where the parallel between Treasure Trove and the nation’s Football Clubs becomes quite interesting.  In 1996 the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (you see where I am going with this) was forced to step in to enact the most recent change in the law – The Treasure Act 1996 – when two particularly valuable finds (the Sutton Hoo ship burial and a hoard of thousands of Roman coins found in Lincolnshire) did not precisely meet the definition of Treasure Trove and so ownership could not be claimed by the Crown, and there was a huge risk they would be sold abroad.  Effectively the Secretary of State said “To hell with that, if the law needs to change to protect what is of value to the nation, then the law will change.”  And so the law changed to encompass all such finds and the Sutton Hoo treasure was saved, although sadly it was too late to save the Lincolnshire coins.

There is no reason on earth why the same end cannot be achieved for an equally valuable part of our historical and cultural heritage, Football Clubs.  That is not to say that someone who invests in a football club should not be entitled to make a profit on their investment, or indeed accept full liability when it turns a loss; of course they must, that is the nature of the free market.  But there must be a clear distinction made between ownership of a Football Club and ownership of the shares in a corporate entity.

When an individual, family, consortium, investment fund or foreign prince acquires the assets and liabilities of an English Football Club, what they acquire in fact and in law is the corporate entity behind the club – whether that is Chelsea Village Plc or Hull City AFC Ltd.  But ownership of its shares should not confer “ownership” of the Club.

A football club belongs to its community, its town, its fans.  It belongs to its hundred years of history, its players, its moments of triumph and disaster, its goals, promotions, relegations, its chants and songs.  It belongs to the very ground it was built on.  It belongs to the nation’s cultural heritage, every bit as much as Treasure Trove.  No investor – however generous, however well-intentioned – should be at liberty to make changes to a Football Club’s location, name, club colours or emblems, or any other paraphernalia which are the essence of the Club, anymore than they should decide that the club will henceforth only play 7-a-side games on a Thursday afternoon or, at a whim, decide that they have had enough of the ephemeral joys of ownership and take their investment away, perhaps selling to the highest bidder, perhaps bankrupting the Club at its heart.

And the government can change the law, just as it did to protect buried treasure:  We can have a Protection of Football Clubs Act, which would not only protect the history and nature and status of all of this country’s historic Football Clubs, but also require Clubs to subscribe to a universal trust fund or bond arrangement, a sinking fund for when a Club finds itself in difficulty.  And the trustees of such fund would retain – along with the FA and Premier League – an audit responsibility to ensure compliance with the law, which should also reduce the chances of any Club going too far down the road to annihilation to be saved.

Let there be no more Wimbledon’s, Accrington Stanley’s, or Halifax Towns, no more Portsmouth’s or Leeds United’s, no more failed “fit and proper” regimes, no more investors claiming “I own this Club and can do what I like with it”.  Sir, you do not own the Club, anymore than the Chancellor of the Exchequer owns the contents of the Treasury.

I have a two hundred year old ash tree in my garden.  I enjoy its shade and its beauty, I spend a month every autumn raking up its leaves.  Every three years I have to apply for planning permission and engage a tree surgeon to give it a health check and prune its branches.  I would not dream of claiming to “own” that tree.  It belongs to the community and I am simply its guardian.  If the law of this noble country goes to such lengths to protect and preserve a tree, surely it is not too difficult to ask it to do the same for its Football heritage?

 

Liz Heade                                              

Web: thinkingwomansfootball.com

Twitter:  @T_WomansFootie

Footballers are employees, just like you and me – Blackstock’s injury claim highlights responsibility of clubs and players

Nottingham Forest striker Dexter Blackstock is seeking compensation from Seyi Olofinjana and his former club Cardiff City over a tackle which Blackstock claims was “negligent”.

The incident, in November 2010, during a league match between Forest and Cardiff, ruled Blackstock out for 15 months and he is now seeking damages for being deprived of the chance of earning bonuses for 15 months, as well as the right to further compensation if the injury ends his career early.

The decision to sue Olofinjana and Cardiff City demonstrates the difficulty of deciding if and when the courts will intervene in matters which have taken place on the field of play.

Instances of one professional footballer suing another as a result of injuries sustained during a game are not unheard of, though they occur only infrequently. Perhaps the best known example is the case brought by Paul Elliot against Dean Saunders when Elliot, playing for Chelsea in a game against Liverpool, sustained injuries following a tackle by Saunders.

These cases are relatively rare, not least because of the difficulty in demonstrating that any legal wrongdoing has occurred. It is a well-established principle that participants in games and sport have an obligation to avoid deliberately harming fellow players, and that they must not cause harm by behaving in an unreasonable manner. However the law of negligence, the chief basis on which claims of this type rest, has been applied in such a way that the context of any incident is taken into account.

In the course of an organised sport, such as football, the law makes allowances for the physical nature and pace of the game. The result is that behaviour which, in everyday life, would be regarded as unlawful is seen as legitimate. The courts are sympathetic to the notion that, in football and other contact sports, injury can and does result from physical contact occurring within the rules of the game. Even in the case of foul play, the courts will be slow to intervene where injury results from a reasonable mistake or misjudgement by a player; they accept that this is a part of the game.

There are also practical limitations on suits brought in this area. Given the context of physical and fast-paced sports like football, it will often be extremely difficult for a claimant to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that any injury was a result of deliberate or unreasonable behaviour, rather than a consequence of a legitimate mistake or misjudgement. The result is that it is usually only in the more extreme cases that liability can be shown.

Blackstock’s decision to include Cardiff City in his claim reflects the principle that an employer may be held vicariously liable for the negligent behaviour of an employee. As long as an employee is acting in the course of their employment an employer will be liable for their negligent acts. This is of particular practical import, because the club will, in most circumstances, be in a better position than the player to pay any compensation that may be awarded.

Given the sums that can be awarded, this ability to pay is significant. In 2008, Manchester United trainee Ben Collet was awarded damages of £4.3m in respect of a career-ending tackle in a reserve game against Middlesbrough. Were he successful in his claim the sums involved in Dexter Blackstock’s case are likely to be less but, given the finances involved in football, even in the Championship, the claim is likely to be substantial.

Simon Boyes, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University

Simon Boyes is a principal lecturer at Nottingham Law School, part of Nottingham Trent University. He researches, writes on and teaches sports law. Simon tweets on sports law issues from @themightytree

 

Premier League Clubs Support ‘Football v Homophobia’ Campaign.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and West Ham are amongst the first to join the ‘Football v Homophobia’ campaign, with the group hoping to gain support from at least 50% of professional clubs in England.

The Hammers kicked off a month of action in February by sporting Football v Homophobia T-shirts before their 2-0 win over Swansea last Saturday. The idea of the campaign is to challenge homophobic behaviour by encouraging change in the way football players and supporters behave towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGB&T) people, by increasing education and reducing discrimination.

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The Football v Homophobia group aim to enable people to take action against discrimination in order to create a welcoming and inclusive football environment. Existing football structures need to be made safer and opportunities need to be created for LGB&T people to engage with football, 6% of the English population are gay and the representation of LGB&T people in the sport needs to be improved. There have been no openly gay professional footballers in England since Justin Fashanu in 1990. Former Leeds winger Robbie Rogers and ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until they retired before revealing they were gay; suggesting both the ‘changing room culture’ and the hostile reaction they risked receiving from fans and the media made them uncomfortable revealing their sexuality sooner.

Brighton & Hove Albion players, as well as their fans, have previously been subject to homophobic abuse from opposition supporters while some professional players have even posted homophobic messages on social media. Liam Davis, Gainsborough Trinity midfielder, says he has only ever received one snap comment regarding his sexuality from the opposition, and that there has been no dressing room issues at any of the clubs he has been at. Davis is sceptical of the authorities’ approach to homophobia, believing they should do more to tackle the problem.

The Football Association are working to identify boundaries within football that prevent LGBT people from engaging with the sport, ensuring that every opportunity is given to enable members of LGB&T communities to participate and progress within their chosen area of participation in football. A high priority is to combat negative homophobic and transphobic language used in football – whether by spectators, players, coaches or any other bodies involved. The FA have launched their own campaign, ‘opening doors and joining in’, aiming to tackle homophobia and transphobia within football, more details can be found on The FA Website.

Written by: Emma Willis, Football Development Officer at Essex County FA

@EmmaWillis91

Find out more about Football v Homophobia or show your support at www.footballvhomophobia.com

Is psychology the answer to England’s penalty shoot out problems?

Roy Hodgson has suggested it may be the job of a Sport Psychologist to improve England’s penalty taking form.

The nation has won only one shootout since 1990, against Spain in the quarter finals of Euro 96, and has been knocked out of six major tournaments on penalties in that time. Hodgson believes that players need to be better prepared for the pressure, and be confident enough to block out criticism from the social media.

England's Steven Gerrard reacts to their loss against Italy after the penalty shoot-out of their Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, June 24, 2012. Action Images - REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

England’s Steven Gerrard reacts to their loss against Italy after the penalty shoot-out of their Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, June 24, 2012. Action Images – REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

The first sports psychology laboratory was created in Berlin by fellow German Dr Carl Diem in the early 1920′s, almost a century later and we’re still measuring physical ability and aptitude in sport. Studies produced on behalf of the British Association of Sports and Exercise Sciences have discovered several behavioural cues likely to occur in high anxiety situations, giving insight into the minds of football players when faced with the pressure of taking a spot kick.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger left Mesut Ozil out of the squad for the Premier League game against Sunderland this weekend, having openly criticised his record signing for having poor form and a casual approach to penalty taking. However, psychologists have suggested this is the best way to deal with the pressure of penalty taking, as long as they can control their eyes.

For the second time in the Champions League this season Mesut Ozil failed to score from the penalty spot, making it a hat-trick of misses for the German international. During the group stages of the competition Ozil had the chance to double his teams lead against Marseille, but having taken an age with his one-step run up (sound familiar?), keeper Steve Mandanda palmed away a weak spot kick from Arsenal’s no.11.

In his three years at Real Madrid the playmaker was never required to take a penalty, but rewinding to 2009 the twenty year old’s failure to convert for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga against Borussia Monchengladbach was deemed irrelevant as the team finished tenth and he completed his season with a respectable three goals and fifteen assists.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger left Ozil out of the squad for the Premier League game against Sunderland this weekend, having openly criticised his record signing for having poor form and a casual approach to penalty taking. Little does he know, this is the best way to deal with the pressure of penalty taking, if only he could control his eyes.

Those watching the mid-week game would have seen Ozil pace backwards from placing the ball on the penalty spot, patiently waiting for referee Nicola Rizzoli to signal before taking his shot. This so called ‘casual approach’ is the best way to prepare for a penalty kick as it suggests the player is less stressed than your typical ‘hidden and hasty’ penalty takers who will turn away from the goal (and from their responsibility) before rushing to have the ordeal over and done with.

By facing the goal throughout, Ozil was attempting to cover his anxieties, being such a high profile signing at the club with status and expectation on his shoulders, appearing threatened by international teammate Manuel Neuer was not an option.

Having been blasted for not applauding travelling fans towards the end of 2013, as well as his recent poor form, Ozil could not be blamed for any distress he felt having the responsibility of putting Arsenal in the lead at the Emirates. While appearing patient, Ozil’s gaze did not leave Rizzoli as he awaited permission to take the penalty. The short length of time from the ref’s signal to his run up suggests he was eager to finish the job (ignoring the one-step run up, his apparent ‘style’) at the expense of accuracy and sufficient pace which could have seen the shot resulting in a goal.

In trying not to leak intentions, players often face a trade-off between what they should be looking at, and what they’re trying not to look at.  Much like focussing on the horizon when driving a car will ensure you stay on the road, if the eyes of the player are focussed centrally, the shot will automatically become centralised. It would appear to be common sense to aim where you are looking, but football players demonstrate a suboptimal strategy whereby they relinquish control and focus on trying to fool the opponent into diving the wrong way.

A day prior to Ozil’s miss, Lionel Messi dispatched the spot kick straight down the middle and past Joe Hart. Having watched both penalties a number of times, I failed to see a significant difference in the amount of power driven through the ball, what I did notice however was a confident run up from the four time Ballon d’Or winner and an early dive from the keeper towards the Argentine’s most visited side of the net. Both of these factors are undeniably important, but what’s more is Joe Hart’s lack of presence.

The perceived size of the goalkeeper based on their presence between the posts disrupts a player’s optimal attentional outlook, for Ozil this would have been inflated as he was facing a keeper he’d played alongside at Shalke 04 for two years and for Germany from 2009. Watching the penalty from a goal facing angle, my attention is automatically drawn to Neuer bouncing on his toes and covering the space around him – studies show that anxious players are easier distracted by movements as their gaze is disrupted, leading to more shots being fired into centralised locations.

On tracking the eye movements of goalkeepers, they are more focussed on the behaviour of the opponents legs and hips, the eye gaze of the player will rarely influence them to remain central of the goal but instead warn them to cover as much of the central area as possible during their dive – as shown by the immediate reflex of Neuer’s as he threw out an arm to stop Ozil’s shot hitting the back of the net.

There is no denying that Mesut Ozil oozes class, in his last three seasons before joining Arsenal he amassed an impressive 94 assists for club and country, but should he ever be called upon to take another penalty, a target focussed strategy should prove more effective. His eyes should provide his brain with the necessary visual information for accurate shooting and he should remain in control of the situation, overcoming the anxieties which have previously led him to rush the penalty and fail as a consequence.

Hodgson has previously managed in the World Cup following his qualification with Switzerland in 1994. He will lead his team to Brazil later on this year knowing that six of the last ten major tournaments have qualified for ended in defeat via penalties.

Written by: Emma Willis, Football Development Officer at Essex County FA

@EmmaWillis91

The Role Of The Publicist In Football

The saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ is said to have originated from a 19th century American showman and circus owner, named Phineas T. Barnum, and it remains one of the biggest myths in PR today.

Good, well managed publicity in sport, especially in football, is as important as ever. Our clients, ranging from a Champions League winner and former England manager, to a leading CRM and ticketing company and a US sports psychology consultancy, all have one thing in common – the need for professional PR support.

And we’re far more than just a press release machine. After establishing Oporto Sports Management just over two years ago, we have experienced steady business growth, with increased interest in our PR and creative services, both for individuals and companies. Those services have ranged from custom designed websites and CVs, to social networking support, all supplementing traditional public relations work. We have become a trusted confidant, a sounding board, involved in all areas of future strategy.

Whilst we are far from being classed as pioneers, it is clear that the role of a PR agency or publicist is gaining importance within UK football. In America, it is commonplace for a sportsperson to surround themselves with an elite team of specialists including an agent, manager, coach, nutritionist, and the publicist. We provide this service to 18 individuals and 5 companies within sport.

To not embrace the role of the publicist in football today, is to leave perception to chance. A well-structured and expertly implemented long-term PR strategy, or shorter-term campaign, is an essential facet of the modern wider communications mix.

What is most disappointing is to read of football clubs or individuals who simply don’t value professional PR support. Mixed public messages, no concept of the need to react with purpose and clarity in crisis management situations and the complete alienation of a supporter base through inflammatory misguided statements – all of which have been evident this season, on more than one occasion, and all of which could have been avoided or at least managed with good PR.

The greatest challenge we face is to stick to the core values of successful PR, such as accuracy, trust and contacts, whilst also evolving to incorporate social media. Football PR is a highly sought after, competitive industry, which has never been under greater scrutiny, and hopefully this will help to improve standards and ensure that the role of the publicist in football is given the recognition it deserves.

For more information on Oporto Sports please visit www.oportosports.com or follow them on Twitter @OportoSports

 

Dean Eldredge, Communications Director, Oporto Sports Management

10 Years in Social Media: The Personal Touch

Better players who are paid greater sums, larger stadiums and even greater revenues; during the past ten years much has changed in the world of football. However, with these changes came a danger that the relationship with the fans, the very thing that drives all those economic factors, was also changing, for the worse.

As a son of the Premier League era I am too young to have enjoyed the kind of access to my footballing heroes previous generations did. I would not bump into my idol down at the supermarket or casually jogging round the local park. However, over the past decade something has changed this. A new kind of relationship between fans and professionals has been built up, arguably even more intense and intimate, through something that didn’t even exist a decade ago: social media. It has completely changed the interaction between the multi-millionaire footballers and the man (or woman) in the street. Social media has broken down the sporting ‘fourth wall’.

Social media is a phenomenon that has transformed our daily lives and the way we connect with the sport(s) we love. Football has embraced social networking in a way in which no other sport has.

The two major players in this online world come in the form of Facebook and Twitter. The former was created in February 2004 and as of January 2014 has an astonishing 1.3 billion active users. Mark Zuckerberg’s creation overtook previous social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace to become the colossal machine it is today.

twitterfootballTwitter, a relative latecomer to the party, was founded two years later in March 2006. Around 645 million people are now tweeting to their heart’s content. The power that these two forums possess is incredible; clubs and players alike have embraced its bountiful opportunities. These two sites have made footballers more accessible than ever before. Fans from across the globe have the opportunity to connect in a new way with their sporting deities.

Football is at the forefront of the online stratosphere. The Brazilian midfielder, Kaka, who became the first athlete to achieve ten million followers on Twitter in April 2012, exemplifies this. He now has eighteen million followers: the growth is staggering. The 2013 Ballon d’Or victor, Cristiano Ronaldo, has now outstripped his former Real Madrid colleague with 24.3 million followers. The Portuguese superstar has a huge online presence and is the fourth most ‘liked’ person on Facebook with over 73 million.

His footballing nemesis, Lionel Messi, is lagging behind with 53.6 million ‘likes’. The photo-sharing website, Instagram, founded in 2010 has added yet another dimension to the way the football world can interact with its fans. The new Barcelona striker and poster boy for the 2014 World Cup, Neymar Junior, is the most popular footballer on this platform with 3.8 million followers.

Social media has helped rekindle the fans’ personal relationship with the world’s best players: a relationship that was potentially slipping away.

The way in which football has adapted to social media, especially in the past couple of years, is admirable. It has reconnected the sport with its fans. Supporters had become more and more disillusioned. As the lives of their players moved far out of reach from their own reality, they could not empathise on the same level as they had previously. Social media has helped turn the tide of remoteness.

Joey Barton is a perfect and well-known example. The way in which he has used Twitter to nurse and mend his reputation is remarkable. The perception of the QPR player has been transformed. Social media can be utilised, like Barton showed, to mend relations and build broken bridges between the game and its public.

This was the first stage in the ongoing development of social media in football. The strengthening of the player-fan bond also has extremely beneficial economic consequences. The marketing and advertising potential of their captive audience is mouth-watering. This is the next stage.

A quick flick through the profiles of some footballers and it is clear to see that companies have cottoned onto this opportunity. Chocolate bars, football boots and clothing lines are sporadically splattered across their ‘tweets’ and ‘statuses’. Ronaldo and co are reaching a wide audience in multiple countries in multiple languages. They are marketing gold dust and are reaping the rewards as a result.

In 2013, Forbes stated that nearly half of Ronaldo’s income was courtesy of endorsements ($21 million out of $44 million overall). Cross to Barcelona and Messi actually gains the majority of his vast wealth from sponsorship. Obviously, the fact they are the two best players on the planet and possibly in the history of the game, helps. However, the social media influence they hold is only accelerating and improving their economic power.

It is not just the players that enjoy a presence online. Clubs have also started to gain a popular following. Once again, football was the first sport to attain an impressive social media milestone: fifty million likes on Facebook. This was achieved by Barcelona who became the first sporting team to reach the figure.

In December 2013, Intel and the Catalan club entered into a partnership with the technology giant reportedly parting with $25 million. Deborah Conrad, Intel’s chief marketing officer, is reported to have claimed that Barcelona’s social media following was one of the reasons behind the deal. The club attracts fans from Indonesia to the United Sates and everywhere in between, the perfect vehicle for a global campaign.

It is not just the clubs and players utilising social media though. In 2012, the FA won the prize for ‘Best use of Social Media in Football’ at the Football Business Awards. The governing body had used Twitter and Facebook to engage fans and promote awareness of the newly formed Women’s Super League. Each team appointed an ambassador who had their Twitter handle printed onto their shirt. This proved extremely successful, increasing attendance at grounds and helping to improve recognition of the women’s game.

When used correctly it is an incredibly powerful tool.

It has not been a smooth road though; that power can be dangerous. As with all innovations, it took time for players to work out where to draw the line in terms of their relationship with the authorities. Twitter is the main social media culprit; there have been many high profile clashes with football’s powers that be. Ryan Babel, Rio Ferdinand, Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere are just a few of those that have been in trouble with the authorities for inappropriate tweets.

Whilst typing away on a smart phone from the comfort of your own home, it is easy to forget you are broadcasting to millions of people in the ‘real world’. Footballers are not allowed to make the mistakes us regular folk are afforded. However, we must be careful not to discourage the refreshing openness shown by many including Rio Ferdinand, Phil Neville and Carlton Cole. This should be celebrated not restrained.

Overall social media has transformed and improved the beautiful game: it has increased the marketing power of players and clubs; it has connected the industry as never before; and it has strengthened the ties between fans and clubs. The next 10 years will surely bring yet more fascinating inventions, hopefully bringing the football community even closer together.

 

Tom Mills
A Football Enthusiast -
http://afootballenthusiast.co.uk/