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.

football v homophobia

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/