Category Archives: Football

Arsenal back campaign to kick homophobia out of football

There are few things I like more than Arsenal FC and there few things I like less than discrimination.

Because of this, I rather appreciated Arsenal’s latest campaigns video in support of the #RainbowLaces campaign to ‘kick homophobia out of football’.

Stewart Selby, co-ordinator and founder of the GayGooners commented on the Arsenal press release that: “Arsenal’s participation in the advert and the campaign means so much to Arsenal’s LGBT fans and the community. The campaign sends the message that attitudes should and can change.”

A pair of rainbow laces will be distributed to professional players across the UK for them to where on the weekend of Saturday September 13th to create a visual display that homophobia is not accepted in the modern game.

Writing this from Uganda, one wonders though how the millions of devote Arsenal fans here will react to the campaign!

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The difference between Suarez and Balotelli

This is an article I wrote for the newly re-launched new-look ‘Tattooed Football’ site.  

Others, far better qualified than myself, have written at length about the similarities between Suarez and Balotelli. The ‘issues’ around their behaviour patterns have been examined, re-examined, and talked about to death. All in just 24 hours of the news breaking that Balotelli will be joining Suarez’s former team for just (and I used the word just loosely) £16 million.

It seems only right then that I take a few moments to write in defence of Suarez by highlighting what sets him apart from Balotelli.

To start though I must first clarify, I am no cheerleader for Suarez. I think he is an egotist and a fool – albeit a talented one. I was vocal in condemning him for his racism, his weird biting habit (3 times now – that we know of), and stated clearly that I thought it would be a disaster for Arsenal if they signed him – like the striker had hoped.

What sets Suarez apart from Balotelli (who has a similar, if slightly more ludicrous, list of indiscretions) is that despite all his flaws you knew that he would work hard for whichever team he was playing for that day. At the heart of Suarez is a footballer and an exceptionally good one at that.

The same, fundamentally, cannot be said for Balotelli. The man seems to perform on his own agenda, his own timeframe and almost entirely removed from any managerial guidance.

In a CNN interview Jose Mourinho famously recalled a suitable anecdote from his time at Inter Milan to illustrate this point:

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The game is, and always will be, about Balotelli. Suarez’s selfish moments could be, at times, crippling but overall Suarez looked to be a team player. With Balotelli it is almost like the opposite is true – that he is basically there for himself but at times he has flashes of brilliance that can redeem weeks, months or even years of bad attitude, stupidity and selfishness.

What Liverpool fans must come to terms with is that their team has just purchased Balotelli. All you’re getting is him, nothing more nothing less. You’re getting someone who has the talent to be one of the best players of a generation but none of the hard work, commitment and mental focus that is required to get there.

Liverpool’s gamble is that they think – for some unknown, or yet to be proven, reason – that they can install this in him.

So, if you’re wondering how Liverpool managed to pick him up for just £16 million, a fraction of what the player should surely be now worth, it is because there is only a fraction of a chance that he will slot into the Liverpool team, only a fraction of a chance that Brenden Rogers will be able to do what other great managers have failed to do and control him, and only a fraction of a chance that this signing will be about Liverpool rather than the on-going Balotelli show.

In light of this ‘just £16 million’ suddenly seems like little more than an expensive gamble taken in the turmoil aftermath of the unwanted departure of Suarez.

Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off.

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How and why to return today’s free copy of The Sun newspaper

When you get your free copy of The Sun in the post today, you can return it to FREEPOST, The Sun, London E98 1AX.

My suggestion is to write “Justice for the 96” or “You dropped page 3 once, why not forever?” on the front. But I trust Hynd’s Blog readers to think of their own creative slogans as well (suggestions in the comments box below please!).

Let’s get creative and tell The Sun that we don’t want their divisive, misogynistic, lying newspaper in our front rooms.


Love this from my friend Ellie:


Wow, the Labour Party has just been entered into the ‘what single tweet has made you most angry/disgusted/disappointed’ competition:


Filed under Football, Media

In praise of Wenger and his 1000 games in charge

So, things didn’t quite go to plan for Arsenal or Arsene Wenger at the weekend. Everyone at the club was hoping for a victory against title rivals Chelsea to mark Wenger’s 1000th game in charge…

Instead this happened:


Combine this with a red card early on in the game and you can appreciate why I said…things didn’t quite go to plan.

As you can imagine, the press went to town:

The Mirror asked its readers ‘Will Wenger ever win the league again?’ after speculating why Wenger may have missed his Monday press conference.

The BBC simply states: ‘Arsenal boss faces criticism after 1,000th game‘.

The Metro holds no punches with its headline: ‘Arsene Wenger must go as embarrassing Arsenal drop out the Premier League title race‘.

It was this last headline that got to me the most though. To have a manager of Wenger’s ability and consistency and call for his sacking is…well…fucking stupid.

Think of it this way.

Sir Alex…one of the greatest managers to have graced the Premier League. He retired last season and departed with the words of pundits describing him as one of the greatest manager’s in English football. A completely fair accolade.

So let’s compare the two…

Games Wins Draws Losses For Against Win %
Arsene Wenger 1,000 572 235 193 1845 967 57.3
Sir Alex Ferguson 1,000 564 248 188 1784 944 56.4

Wenger has secured a win rate of 57.3%. Sir Alex 56.4%.

This is not to try and suggest one is better than the other, but to illustrate that we are talking about 2 of the all time greats in the game.

The only difference is that one is still a manager and Arsenal are lucky enough to have him while sadly Sir Alex is now retired.

If you need further convincing of just how lucky Arsenal are to still have Wenger, just glance over at Old Trafford now to see how they are getting on without Sir Alex!

No trophies…Wenger has lost it in recent years…blah blah blah…

At this stage his critics suggest that he should go because since 2005, he hasn’t got the same performace out of his players or attracted the same talent…

Well, where to start?

Wenger’s 1,000 games in charge gave him a win rate of 57.3%. In the first 500 games this stood at 57.8% and in his second 500 at 56.6%.

The observant among you will notice that this win rate for his second 500 games in charge is still higher than Sir Alex’s average. You will also notice an incredible consistency across the two halves of his time at Arsenal.

Find me another manager who has qualified for the Champions League for 16 consecutive seasons!

Then lets look at the ‘not attracting talent’ argument…well, there was of course Ozil, Carzola, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlin, Arteta, Mertesacker (all in the last 3 seasons) to name but a few.

The issue here then is not that Wenger does not win games,or that he doesn’t attract big names, but that Arsenal too often buckle in the big games. But this is another blog for another day…

For now, I’m happy to leave it that Arsenal are lucky to have one of the greatest managers in the game and anyone stupid enough to call for his sacking must be able to have a good answer to this question:

What next? Who do you think could get Arsenal performing better than Wenger?

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On Thomas Hitzlsperger, the FA and homophobia in football

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Germany International and Everton footballer has today announced that he is homosexual in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

I have written before, most recently with diver Tom Daley as the case in point, about the importance of having men and women in the public eye being open and honest about their sexuality. I won’t rehash that article again here.

The point here is an additional one – the impact that Hitzlsperger’s decision may have on his former colleagues -including those in the FA.

In his interview Hitzlsperger stated that part of his reasoning of coming out was “to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals”. An admirable aim and a decision that I am sure will impact on players who are considering also coming out.

It is in this light that his decision will have immeasurable ripples – imagine if a current player no longer feels so isolated and decides to come out. Who knows how much of a game changer his decision might turn out to be.

The Premier League is watched and loved by millions all around the world, but it is still bereft of any openly gay footballer. To reiterate this – out of the 25 players in the 20 teams that play in the Premier League, not a single player is openly gay. 0 out of 500 players. This has held true (with varying squad sizes) for the entire history of top-flight football in the UK.

This then begs the question – why? Why has no playing professional ever been able to be open about their sexuality?

Hitzlsperger described the long “difficult process” of coming out. Something which the openly gay sports journalist Musa Okwonga talks more about here.

This process, even when surrounded by support, can be a challenging one. When surrounded by vitriol and hatred, the likes of which can too often be found in the stands, changing rooms and board rooms of British football, this process can transform into a goliath challenge.

It is interesting that Hitzlsperger specifically mentions in the interview that it is “it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays”. A comment which hopefully all players will take on board.

But this homophobic banter is not just found in the dressing rooms.

One the hardest hitting sections from Graeme Le Saux’s autobiography was not the childish homophobic taunts Robbie Fowler through at him, the crowds obsessive jeering or even the referee’s despicable reaction of booking Le Saux for time wasting, but the FA’s inability to spot the real issue in the situation – institutionalised homophobia.

It is with a touch of irony then that Hitzlsperger’s announcement comes in the aftermath of the FA’s latest embarrassment – their equality adviser, who on national TV called gays ‘detestable’, resigning from his role.

Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham city defender was appointed to his role, one assumes, because of his stellar track record of tackling racism. It is a damning indictment that no one in the FA looked into his views on other pressing equality issues such as homophobia.

John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to come out in public in 2007, hit the nail on the head when he commented:

“the reason that homophobia, antisemitism, racism and other misogyny continue to blight football is that the FA does not understand how to tackle it. You don’t put one person to handle racism and a gay person for homophobia, you pick people who understand that all bigotry is the same monster.”

Today, hopefully, Hitzlsperger will have highlighted to the FA the need to act and to stop letting homophobia be what he referred to as “an ignored issue” in football.

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Bristol City FC fan: Why I am bored of this Board

This is a blogging debut from one of my best friends and a life-long Bristol City fan looking at how the club has lurched from one crisis to another under the current Board.

BCFCSaturday 24 May 2008. My beloved football team and lifelong passion, Bristol City, are 90 minutes away from the Premier League after an incredible debut season in the Championship under Gary Johnson.

Tuesday 3rd December 2013. City sit bottom-but-one of League One, 2 points adrift of safety, and without a manager. Hull City, the opponents 5 years earlier on that sunny afternoon at Wembley, have just beaten Liverpool 3-1, and lie in the top half of the Premier League.

In 5 and a half years, Bristol City have lurched from one crisis to another. They have fumbled their way through a farcical process in attempting to acquire a new stadium of their own at Ashton Vale and wasted millions of pounds on journeyman players and managerial sackings.

Steve Coppell lasted 2 games before walking out in 2009, being replaced by Keith Millen, a man deemed not ready for the manager’s job at the time of Coppell’s appointment 3 months earlier. City spent the next 3 years battling relegation, using 3 managers in the process; Millen, Derek McInnes, and the most recent incumbent Sean O’Driscoll, before being relegated in May with barely a whimper.

Lansdown Senior is still the owner, but no longer chairman, and now lives in Guernsey. The club is £40 million in debt to him, and he’s decided there is to be no more rash spending.

He has entrusted Keith Dawe and his son, Jon Lansdown, with running the club. Dawe, as chairman, hasn’t ever given a press interview and isn’t comfortable in front of a camera. Jon Lansdown, apart from being the owner’s son and now vice-chairman, has no experience in the football industry, but has been tasked with being the public face of the club.

In Steve Lansdown’s time at the club there has been one successful managerial appointment – Gary Johnson.

O’Driscoll, however, seemed a good fit for City on paper. However, his record over his 10 months in charge read 11 wins from 40 matches in charge before being dismissed last Thursday.

Supporters are split on O’Driscoll’s dismissal. I admit he had a very tough job on his hands and worked hard to implement his own philosophy, but his record on the pitch, where it really matters, was abysmal. Also, his downbeat, prickly demeanour didn’t endear himself to a large portion of the fanbase.

The real concern for me, and many City fans, is who we appoint next. The board HAS to get this one right. Dropping into the bottom division for the first time since 1984 seems unthinkable, but it’s a distinct possibility.

The favourite for the job is former Cheltenham Town, Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest boss, and friend of Dawe, Steve Cotterill.  The same Steve Cotterill who sought O’Driscoll’s help as his number two at Forest midway through his tenure while Forest were on a 648-minute goal drought – you couldn’t make it up!

A support base that is desperately in need of some inspiration and something to get excited about could well end up being rewarded with a man who has achieved little since his success at Cheltenham and has a reputation for direct, dour football.

In a poll taken on the club’s main fans’ forum, the potential appointment of Cotterill gives the following results. ‘Yes please’: 5%; ‘I don’t have any strong feelings either way’: 26%; ‘No thanks!’: 68%. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

The Club’s Supporters’ Trust is so concerned about the next appointment it has today released a statement pleading with the board to “take time to ensure that the new head coach is the right choice”.

This really is last-chance saloon for Steve Lansdown and his band of merry men. Lifelong fans are staying away from games, home and away, worn out from years of struggle and lifeless performances on the pitch.

With a bit of fortune, we may stumble upon the right man – the law of averages says we are due some luck – but what the club needs to do now is bring in someone who will give the fans a bit of hope and inspiration.

Forget the stadium Steve and put a decent wedge towards attracting a manager of some calibre that can stabilise this sinking ship, because you won’t fill the ground in League Two.

My suggestion: get Neil Warnock signed on a short-term contract to keep us up, and tap into his knowledge to find the right man for the long-term in the summer.

If you can’t get this appointment right, then please put the club up for sale to the highest bidder and let someone else have a go.

Surely they couldn’t do much worse.



Editor adds: Bristol City have now announced a press conference for 11:00am this morning. Fans have reacted with varying degrees of dismay:


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Does Jack Wilshere think Mo Farah should only race for Somalia…and Bradley Wiggins for Belgium?

If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England

At first glance, this seems an innocuous comment about players born outside of England from the Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere.  On closer inspection though it leads us down a slippery slope of how we understand our national identity.

Firstly, it is worth pulling out the footballing implications of his comments. It would have resulted in players such as John Barnes (Jamaica born), Matt Le Tissier (Guernsey born), Owen Hargreaves (Canada born) all being excluded from our national team.

But this obviously goes so much further than football. It shows how we understand someone’s chances of being truly accepted in England when they have been born abroad. Jack’s comments essentially say that whatever your circumstances, reasons for coming to England, you can never truly be “English” unless you were lucky enough to be born here.

This attitude, when taken to its logical ends results in the most barbaric of conclusions. Allow me to illustrate.

In 2002 Austin Moses, and his wife Josephine, were killed in northern Nigeria. They were both active parts of the minority Christian community who had been facing increased levels of persecution and violence since the imposition of Sharia Law two years earlier.

Their son, Victor Moses, was orphaned at the age of 11.

One week later Victor, paid for by his family, arrived in the UK and claimed asylum and was granted refugee status.

3 years later Victor scored 50 goals in one season for Crystal Palace’s under 14s team. A year after that he was selected to represent England’s under 16s. He then proceeded to play for England at under 17s, 18s and 21s. He then chose to play for Nigeria.

Now, the question for Jack is this – should Victor have been banned from representing England because he was not born in the UK? If so, would you have expected him to play for Nigeria in the years after fleeing for his life or would you have denied him the chance to play international football as a youngster?

Any person with an ounce of compassion would say that of course he should be able to play for England!

But as I already stated, this isn’t just about football. It is about saying that Englishness is far more complicated than simply where you were born.

But then again we wouldn’t want the likes of Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) or Mo Farah (born in Somalia) representing us now would we….


Filed under Football, Human rights, Sport

Arrivederci Di Canio, Arrivederci fascism

Sunderland have sacked Di Canio. I am delighted. Let me explain why.

For about 21 months I had on and off discussions with a mate of mine who is a passionate Swindon Town fan and someone I’ve got a lot of respect for. It went something like:

Me: “Paulo Di Canio is a fascist…I think you should boycott Swindon until they get rid of him”.

My mate: “You’re political belief shouldn’t determine your job prospect, anyway – he will be great for the club”.

Me: “It’s like saying that football is more important than opposing fascism – anyway, if he is good for the club it will be a side show to what is good for PDC.”

My mate: “We’ve just been promoted.”

After his 21 months in charge my mate was unchanged about his view that politics and football shouldn’t mix but did concede that he has now:

“lost all respect for Di Canio… (Breaking into the offices, making ultimatums to a Board that did not even have control of the club and airing our dirty washing in public)… but this is due to his actions… as opposed to his views and ideologies”

A year or so later, I wonder how many Swindon fans can honestly say that they miss him?

When he joined Sunderland I reiterated my call for fans to boycott Sunderland.  Inevitably Sunderland fans (already angered by days of hostile media coverage) reacted with anger to what they saw as another anti-Di Canio article. Their fans forum shows I made few friends with that article.

Within this call to boycott Sunderland I once again made the dual argument. 1) It is a fan’s moral imperative to make a stand against fascist beliefs within their club and community. 2) Sunderland’s results would suffer. Di Canio would not bring the salvation SAFC needed and would, in the long term, be as bad for the club on the pitch as he is off.

As you can imagine, both points were swiftly rejected in the aftermath of their 3-0 drumming of Newcastle. A selection of the comments from that article and on the fans forum included:

Jason Reveley’s confessions of love:

“I am in love with Paolo Di Canio. I think he will save Sunderland AFC and turn us into a top 10 club”

Ron’s selected character assesment:

“apart from his sometimes eccentric behaviour on the field, no one has ever flagged up any problems with him off the field” (I add: This was not true at the time of writing and has been shown to be not true this season at Sunderland).

And in addition a wide range of petty insults that are endemic within fan forums (most showing a questionable preoccupation with sexual innuendo).

Since then Di Canio has overseen 1 point from 5 games. His own players have been reported to be central to his dismissal. It was reported that after another defeat Lee Cattermole, the midfielder he stripped of the captaincy, told Di Canio that the squad had lost faith in his “controversial methods”. This then went to the Board who made the final decision.

But as important as Sunderland’s form is, for me it pales into insignificance compared to my deep-rooted belief that fascism has no place in football. This is not to say I support a ban of any sorts but that I have a faith in fans ability to articulate a collective voice that says we want what is best for our club and our community and that this cannot involve employing someone with such fascist views.

At this point it is important to be clear by what I mean when I say fascism (something Di Canio failed to do).

Fascism is an ideology that has been illustrated through a series of brutal historical examples (Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto etc). Dr Lawrence Britt broke down the characteristics of fascism into 14 ideas that ranged from a “Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts” to a “Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights”.

There is nothing within these characteristics that I support and taken collectively you get a cocktail of beliefs that is abhorrent and they are unacceptable. It is this poisonous cocktail that I fight so hard to keep out of my club and my community.

As a result I still stand by my argument that if my club tried to employ someone with fascist beliefs I would boycott them. In light of this I would call on other supporters to do the same. I hope Sunderland fans will join me and get behind this call.

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Filed under Far-right politics, Football, Sport

A letter to Paolo Di Canio

Dear Paolo,

As a man who loves football and has an undoubted passion for success I am sure that Sunderland’s slow start to the season must be difficult for you to take. One point out of a possible 12 and sitting at the bottom of the league…that must be painful for you.

I am sure you don’t need some blogger reminding you of this though. Anyone who watches you on the touchline knows that you feel every moment, every mistake and every result. You’re a divisive character but I don’t think anyone doubts your passion.

I am worried though that your passionate personality, the very thing that drives you forward, the thing that earns you masked respect, might also be acting as a blinker to how you understand life in the Premiership.

You see Paolo, the more I think about it the more I think you might not be suited to life in the Premier League at all.

You seem to hold an attitude that was maybe once true but certainly isn’t anymore – that the individual player is of no importance compared to the team, the collective, the community. Many, especially fans, still hold this to be true but most successful managers don’t.

When you substitute players for not performing minutes into games you stand in contrast to every other manager. When you publically humiliate your players (even your captain isn’t immune) you undermine yourself, your players and yes…also your club.

This trait, although problematic is only amplified with the inconsistency in which you implement it.

You seem to be the one exception to the rule that you so fiercely apply to others. You, whether consciously or sub-consciously, seem to constantly make yourself bigger than any club you enter – this was certainly true for Swindon and I wonder if it is any different now you’re at Sunderland?

Was arguing with the referee and then asking to be sent to the stands the best thing for the team against Arsenal? I suspect not. You did what was right for you…not the team!

When it suits you, the team is secondary to your personality. While you demand near anonymity from your players, you yourself put on a showmanship unmatched by any other over-inflated ego within the Premiership.

Whether you like it or not Paolo, players in other clubs are thriving under the spotlight of the individual. You are, in the words of your own players, risking killing their confidence.

Letting individuals flourish has to be balanced with what is right for the team but simply stomping down players egos to make a pedestal for yourself just isn’t sustainable for you, your players or your club.

Now Paolo, I am really sorry but I have to raise your now denied assertion that you’re a fascist (at some point Paolo I would love you to explain to the world what you understand a fascist to be). I believe you when you say you’re not a racist (I have no reason not to) but I think there is a part of you that does identify with fascism.

Exactly what you mean by being a fascist I don’t know. But a common feature of fascism is the disregard of the individual, the belief in the importance of the collective. As we have already discussed, this is something of a trait in your personality.

Equally, it seemed to be a bit of issue for Mussolini, the man who you have a tribute to tattooed onto your arm and whose face is tattooed onto your back. He said, “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State”.

Exact definitions vary but most understandings of fascism include this dangerous disregard for the individual.

Is it a coincidence that your “unique” managerial style also overlaps with the ideology you have been so consistently linked with?

Back when you first joined Sunderland I wrote that at best you will stay quiet but at worse you would let your poisonous ideology seep through and let it affect how you managed the football team.

Paolo, I am deeply troubled that I think we are seeing glimpses of your fascist ideology seeping into your managerial style. However much you try to disassociate yourself, your political views are impacting Sunderland. You already have war veterans boycotting your games.

Your presence is casting a dark stain, not just over the Stadium of Light but the whole Premiership.

Paolo, I know you’re not one to give up, to quit, to crumble to the status quo…but have you ever thought that you might not be suited to life in the Premiership? That maybe, the tolerant, individualistic, liberal nature of the modern game might not be conducive to your beliefs and managerial style?

For what it’s worth, my advice is simple. Take to the stands where your passion will be appreciated without leaving lasting damage on the club.

I am sure the ultras at Lazio will welcome you back with open (saluted) arms.

This I believe would be what is best for your players, for your club and even the league in which you currently compete.

Steve Hynd

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A new dawn at the Emirates?

This article was originally published on the Tattooed Football

There is a new dawn at Arsenal. In the words of Gazidis this is a new era of “financial firepower”. Arsenal are fighting it out with the big boys, not just in the transfer market but, for the 17th consecutive season, the Champions League.  Could this be the season that Arsenal live up to their potential?

Of course bloody not!

Arsene+Wenger+at+AGMSelf-delusion is something central to a diehard 21st century Gooner. No more so than for Gooner-in-chief, Le Professor, Monsieur Wenger.

Despite the talk, the promises, the expectations, what do Arsenal have to show from the transfer window…a free transfer from Auxerre in the form of ‘next big thing’ Yaya Sanogo. He is a classic Wenger signing, off everyone’s radar apart from Wenger’s. Why? Because he shows promise, he shows talent, he might just be, to coin a phrase, ‘the next big thing’ (where have we heard that before)?

For all the talk of signing a racist Uruguayan (can’t see that one going wrong) Wenger is still dangerously close to not making the signing that everyone (literally everyone) says he needs.

Despite the demands from the terraces, the back pages and the pundits, Wenger is dangerously close to coming out of the transfer market essentially empty handed. Depressingly, you can picture him now at the first press conference of the season, brow furled, “my squad is strong enough, and they have a good mental attitude. I am sure we can win”.

Of course, the media focus on the (yet to materialise) centre forward misses the point. Arsenal are missing a solid centre back. I cannot believe that Steve Bould cannot see that. Oh and of course Arsenal could also do with a new goal keeper, left back and someone confident playing left wing.  But these are just side issues I am sure….

And so, they stumble ahead (the talk of unbeaten pre-season out of the window at the Emirates Cup), with Wenger defiant, proud and to the outsider, confident. The fans are still behind Wenger but they’re also still asking the same questions that hung over the squad at the end of last season– is there the strength, depth, spark, talent? Does anyone expect anything other than a scrap for 4th place?

Although talk of a mutiny is overstated the feeling of discontent grows within the emirates with every season where the trophy cabinet is left empty.

There is an irony of being the only top four club with the same manager as last season and yet simultaneously the club that seems most on edge, most likely to drop out of the top four, and most likely to fail to pick up any silverware.

The fans are calling for a big name player to be brought in but this will only be of any significance if, as Gazidis suggests, it marks a new era of “financial firepower” at Arsenal. Without this firepower, Arsenal, with all the managerial skill in the world, will not be able to keep pace with the big boys.

It is not just the 2013/14 season that depends on this but the entire future of the club.

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“The long slog through the desert of pre-season football will soon be over and at last the rains of competitive football will once again fall”

This article was first published on Tattooed Football.

20130730-100825.jpgOn 1st August, at exactly 19:45 British Summer Time something truly remarkable will happen.

Football fans up and down the country will breathe a collective sigh of relief, for the long slog through the desert of pre-season football will be over and at last the rains of competitive football will once again fall.

The cruelty of crushing defeats, the deafening roars of previous victories, and the inevitable inaction of the transfer window can, at long last, be put behind us. Now, as the summer heats disappear almost as quickly as they came, so to can the suspense, the anticipation and anxiety of pre-season.

The time for reflection is over, now is the time to look ahead.

This annual cleansing, the leaving behind of the past, is an essential ritual for football fans. It allows us to be simultaneously enticed by the possibility of the up-coming season whilst also, holding on to a near eternal pessimism that borders on fatalism.

Take my team, the Robbins as an example. No not Bristol City and defiantly not (spits on the floor in pre-historic ritual) Swindon, but Cheltenham Town.

The last two seasons have been stained by the enticing near success of play-off failure. So close, and yet so far away.

The present, the now, the days before the new season however build on this turbulent past. The players who battled to last season’s triumphant failure have now been joined by fresh talent and some tested experience.

The present allows us to reach out to the future in anticipation. It entices, it allows all who habitually take to the stands to start dreaming of the coming season.

Yet, despite these fresh winds of possibility that surround us, despite sitting at work and toying with the ‘what ifs’ that rest somewhere in the back of all of our minds, we are all also confident in the certain failure of our team.

There is a part of us that is certain we will slip up against [insert local rival here].

This cocktail of aimless optimism combined with pessimism bordering on fatalism allows us, the football fan, to exist in a reality entirely devoid of reality. Both simultaneously imagining a cup run alongside battling for draws away against the (spit on the floor) [local rvials].

This safety net of pessimism allows us to dream of the impossible, to escape the traps of the possible.

Some might read this and think that this level of self-delusion is a worrying trait. For me, someone who has been through this ritual one too many times, it is a sign of the eternal beauty of this so aptly named beautiful game.

Every year we are born again in our collective hope, our collective dreams, and our collective ‘what ifs’. Past failures matter not, we are levelled, equal and looking ahead.

If you are reading this and worrying about me, about us, football fans, don’t.

We – the football fan – are not so different. Think of the obese that plod the pavements sweating in the winter sun of New Year’s Day dressed in lycra convinced that this year will be different to all the rest, that this year will yield results.

We are all delusional – football fans are just better at embracing it and having more fun.

Here’s to 2013/14 season. Remember, anything is possible!

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On Loïc Rémy and how some football fans contribute to the UK’s rape culture

My heart sank today when I read that the QPR striker, Loïc Rémy has been arrested on suspicion of rape.

It sank because once again we were reminded of the rape endemic that is found in the UK. This story centers around three guys and one girl, but reminds me of the 85,000 women who are raped in the UK every year.

My heart sank because somewhere a girl has gone to the police to report a rape but we know from experience, she will face an uphill battle to bring about a prosecution. We know that even though 85,000 (or higher) women are raped each year in the UK. Only just over a 1000 men are convicted of rape – even though 90% of rape victims know the identity of their attacker.

My heart sank though because I knew people would also forget the word ‘accused’ and assume that Rémy was guilty. Although it is, statistically speaking, a small issue compared to rape, false accusations of rape have the potential to ruin a man’s life. With the 24/7 premiership media spotlight shining on Rémy, this potential is only amplified.

My heart sunk though, because I knew any subtlety in this story would fly from the window as soon as people graced their keyboards with the presence of their fingers.

Sure enough, ‘Jack Miller 1993’ decided to impart his wisdom on the matter saying:

And he was not alone in gracing social media with such enlightened thoughts. This next selection of tweets were pulled at random from a torrent of rancid inappropriate comments that have been tweeted this afternoon.

Thousands of tweets later, all we know is that another rape has been reported in Britain and that many football fans on twitter are incapable of associating it with their own behavior.

Laura Baites writing in the Independent described the term ‘rape culture’ saying:

“I am not referring to isolated incidents, but to a widespread trend towards articles, websites and events that sexualise, objectify and dehumanise female students and women in general. I am talking about entire websites where across hundreds of articles about women not a single female name appears; they are replaced with “wenches”, “hoes”, “clunge”, “skank”, “sloppy seconds”, “pussy”, “tramp”, “chick”, “bird”, “milf”, “slut” and “gash”. They are part of a growing culture in which the sexual targeting of female students as “prey” is actively encouraged, even when it verges on rape and sexual assault. It is an atmosphere in which victims are silenced and perpetrators encouraged to see crimes as merely ‘banter’ – just part of ‘being a lad’.”

Whether or not Jack Miller realizes it, he is, by tweeting such bile with such rancid sentiment and terminology as ‘slag’, only further contributing to the rape culture in the UK.


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Boycotting Sunderland FC is the only appropriate and moral response to their recent installation of a fascist manager

This is the final article in a short series on Social Justice First about the state of modern football.

Paulo Di Canio, a fascist (in all probability), is now sitting at the helm of one of Britain’s most respected football clubs. The only way to remove him from such a prestigious position is for the fans to implement a boycott of the club.

For the last two years I have been calling for a boycott of Swindon Town FC – Di Canio’s former employers.

"I am not political... I do not support the ideology of fascism" - Paulo Di Canio

Few in the midst of the media scrum that followed his appointment to Sunderland commented on his two year reign at Swindon Town. Barney Ronay at the Guardian was the exception to this rule when he wroteDi Canio has been manager of Swindon for two years without complaint…there is an excellent point to be made about the lack of attention paid to events in the lower leagues.”

He was right on one count. The whole Di Canio debacle shows the unhealthy media spotlight that is shined upon the Premiership leaving the lower leagues in its shadow.

Just as the next big things can be spotted playing in the lower leagues, so the next big problem can also often be found there.

Barney was wrong however to assert that Di Canio spent two years at Swindon without complaint.

I was complaining and complaining loud.

Back in 2011 I wrote that Swindon should be embarrassed to employ a man who is a symbol of modern fascism and called for all fans to boycott the club.

I finished that article by appealing to the Swindon fans saying, “The message has to come from the supporters. Sack him for the reputation of the club.”

This message was ignored by most, if not all, Swindon fans. Could it be different for Sunderland?

At the heart of every football fan is passionate burning desire for success. Regardless of Di Canio’s politics he delivered promotion to Swindon. Success on the pitch acted to numb the consciousness of many Swindon fans. Promotion enabled them to look the other way.

Although this isn’t an excuse for their silence, it does at least act as an explanation.

For Sunderland fans there is little chance of this level of success and this might act as the catalyst for his dismissal or at least a de facto boycott (drop in gate sales).

The harder question though sits with all of the non-Swindon and non-Sunderland fans. Di Canio has been a manager in the UK for over two years now; why have they not spoken out until now?

Not my club, not my problem was the most common response from non-Swindon fans that I spoke to over the last few years.

Let’s be clear though: it is our problem. Fascism has no place in a modern tolerant democracy. Fascism, by its nature, invokes a support for authoritarianism coupled with a questionable understanding of culture and national identity. Is this what Sunderland want in a figurehead?

This issue moves beyond just fascism though.

In a macabre game of ‘footballing extremist ideology bingo’ we are now erring towards a full house in modern football. We’ve got racists, we’ve got homophobes, and now, to complete the set, we have a self-declared fascist.

While the footballing establishment has at least started to tackle the first two problems, there remains uncertainty about how, or even if they should, tackle fascism.

Once again this is why the message needs to come from the fans that fascism has no place in the game.

Look either side of you on the terraces and you will see people who not only fought fascism but also know people who died at the hands of fascists. The horrors of the 20th century are not as far away as some think.

It pains me to have to write this, but being a fascist is not just being ‘a bit right wing’ – it is lending your tacit support to a movement that oversaw the mass death of millions.

At best Di Canio will stay quiet. At worst though, the poisonous ideology that this confused Italian extrovert follows will drip into his decisions and affect the players underneath him.

Just as Marcel Desailly would probably choose to never play for a team that Ron Atkinson managed, so I doubt any Italian with immigrant descendants would want to play for Sunderland.

For the good of British football, for the good of Sunderland FC and for all those who spent their lives fighting fascism I call on everyone to boycott the Stadium of Light until Di Canio has either renounced all aspects of fascism or left the club.


Filed under Far-right politics, Football, History, Sport

A message from Kampala to whoever thought up the ‘Adebayor Chant’

With a cold beer in hand I sit down on a plastic chair behind rows of chattering men. Glancing around, I see that almost everyone is wearing an Arsenal shirt – not an unusual sight in Uganda. The sun is setting and I think to myself I that I cannot imagine anywhere I’d rather be watching this north London Derby, a thought that would soon disappear.

I sit taking sips of beer and listening as people chat noisily in Luganda. With the exception of a few words I struggle to make out what people were saying so I happily sit back and let the atmosphere wash over me. The big screen is on and sit half watching the match build up and half watching the people around me chat and laugh.

I am deep in thought about how different watching football in Kampala is compared to my old haunt of the Dog Star in Brixton. So deep in fact that I don’t notice when six guys sharply turn around and look me up and down.

All six of them look straight at me. A few seconds later one of them asked, “What’s the Adebayor chant?”

I feel a prick of panic on the back of my neck. We were sitting just down the road from where the 2010 World Cup terrorist attacks took place and I had no idea why these guys were asking me.

The words of the chant run though my head as I try to buy myself time.

Adebayor, Adebayoooooooooor, your dad washes elephants, and your mums a whore.
It should have been you, it should have been you, killed in Angola, it should have been you

I think to myself how fucking unacceptable it is. I think about how, not for the first time, I am complicit in some football fans outrageous actions. Mostly though I think, how the fuck am I supposed to explain what ‘the Adebayor chant’ is in this situation?

Maybe spotting my discomfort, one of the guys piped up with, “Is it true that they sing about the Togo shootings?”

I lamely offer a “yeah” in response. This was getting beyond awkward.

The guys muttered a few words to each other before one asked, “Why?”

Why? Like why do British football fans think it’s acceptable to sing about a terrorist attack that resulted in one of Adebayor’s friends bleeding in his arms? Like why do they feel it is OK to throw in crass racist stereotypes as a prelude to such fucking outrageous comments? Or perhaps just why do so many fans in the stands join in?

Pathetically I muttered into my beer, “I don’t know”.  The guys turned away and went back to pre-match build up. There was no bitterness in the whole exchange but it left me thinking.

One thing I pondered as I moved onto a second and third beer was how would have one of the guys who had thought up that chant have responded if they were in my situation? Would they have tried to justify their crass racism and insensitivity to terrorist atrocities or would they have sheepishly apologised?

I imagined in my mind’s eye the stereotype of a classic football thug almost spitting, “It’s just a bit of fun”.  In all likelihood though, the guy probably looked just like me, young, male and football mad.

As I walked home that evening I was deep in thought. Am I responsible in any way for what happens on the terraces in the UK? Should I have apologised, criticised or critiqued the chant? In retrospect though I was predominantly feeling pissed off that these fucking morons who come up with these chants hold the power to dictate how my evening, thousands of miles away goes.

I have nothing to do with these idiots but to many people we are one of the same.


Filed under Football, Social comment, Uganda, War

Football fans and violence

This blog was written for Tattooed Football site.

According to 2011/12 figures, arrests of football fans are down 24% from last season.

The Football Supporters Federation welcomed this news saying, “The overall picture is a very positive one”. Indeed, the total number of arrests stood at just 2,363 – a decrease of 726 from 2010/11. 74% of all matches passed without a single arrest.

Whilst the footballing world welcomed these latest statistics as proof that the football thug image no longer applies, I wasn’t so sure. The flip side of these statistics show us a side of the game that we are perhaps less comfortable talking about.

Try this at home…Flip every figure from the Football Supporters Federation’s press release on its head. For example, when they say 74% of matches saw no arrests, think that you have a 1 in 4 chance of going to a match and an arrest being made.

When they say there has been a fall in the number of banning orders think that despite over 3,000 banning orders being issued in 2010/11 – which you would have assumed would have got rid of a significant chunk of the problem offenders – a further 2,750 banning orders were issued in 2011/12.

Indeed, only through the twisted logic of comparing ourselves to our unacceptable past, could we consider the ‘overall picture’ to be a good one. Almost all types off offences are down year on year, but down from an unacceptably high starting point. It is the equivalent of saying, a clinically obese man is healthy if he has lost a few pounds year on year. He is still fat and football still has a problem with violence.

To be clear, I think the game has moved on, especially when we think back to the problems of the 1980’s. Stadiums are now often family friendly places with little or no violence. We should welcome this. But, let’s not get complacent. Football matches still attract violence, aggression and criminality in a way that other public events do not.

As a peace loving football fan, it is not a nice thing to be associated with, but it is something that we all have to face up to in a way rugby or cricket fans don’t. Terraces can be aggressive and unpleasant places to be.

Have you ever tried to find crime statistics for rugby, or cricket? I did for this article and I couldn’t find any. We can make an educated guess to why this is!

The problems are of course not evenly spread – if you are a Forest Green Rovers fan for example, you can pat yourself on the back and go and eat one of your veggie burgers as there were no arrests made at FGR last season!

The problems increase greatly if you follow a premiership club – especially Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool who topped the offending charts. This is of course partially explained through fan numbers. Although interestingly Fulham had less arrests than Wrexham or Newport County!

However you look at the problem of violence, alcohol or racist chanting at football matches though, it is still there. You can chose to look at it through a rose tinted lens but the ugly truth remains. Whether we are talking about organised fights outside Ibrox or pub brawls in Birmingham, 2012 has shown us that there is still an ugly side to the game. This needs to be faced up to. Not spun into a false sense of security.

Of course, the blame for these problems is not totally on the doorstep of the football fan. Part of the problem is with the police who were described in a recent Football Supporters Federation report as at times being “disproportionate, overly aggressive and indiscriminate”. Fans are often labelled as hooligans for simply wearing their team’s colours. They face prejudice and discrimination and this needs to be tackled as it plays into a spiral of the problems.

Looking positively though, there are some good examples of police forces mixing with the fans before, during and after matches. A new ‘interactive’ form of policing have been trialled by West Midlands police that involved as little as 25 officers attending Birmingham City games. Early results from this trial have shown a 30% reduction in arrest rates.

The challenge for football as a whole is to face up to these challenges without playing into the ‘negative stereotype’ that drives so much public and media discourse of football fans being violent thugs – most of us are not!

We are not all knuckle dragging Neanderthals unable to control our emotions, but there are some. To tackle this problem we have to keep things in perspective and welcome positive examples of policing. What we cannot and should not do, is pretend that football has miraculously fixed itself – we are a long way from seeing the family friendly football that most of use want to see.

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MPs to back safe standing in football stadiums

Roger Godsiff MP has recently submitted an Early Day Motion (EDM 573) which calls on the government to “accept the case for introducing, on a trial basis, limited standing areas at grounds of clubs in the Premier League and Championship“.

I have written before about safe standing – which you can read here – so I won’t waste your time going through the arguments again.

All I would ask is that you:

1) Watch this video which makes the case for  safe standing in top flight football grounds.

2) Contact your local MP to ask them to sign this EDM. It is an issue I am passionate about!


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Racism, it is not just Serbia who has a problem

This article was written for the Tattooed Football blog.

I was just so angry and I found it hard to concentrate on the gameremarked Danny Rose, the England under 21 defender. Not surprisingly either. Throughout last nights game against Serbia, from the warm-up right through to the last few messy minutes, Rose was the focus of a series a racist chants.

The abuse Rose suffered was not just verbal. Rose commented that he had stones thrown at him when he went to take a throw in.

He left the pitch last evening seeing red and hearing yet more monkey chants echo around him. The referee sent him off for unsporting behaviour after kicking the ball away seemingly ignoring the racist chants. Rose explained his actions saying, “after 90 minutes’ worth of abuse, I expressed my emotions as soon as we scored.

Next thing I know, all the Serbia players were surrounding me, pushing me. I remember getting slapped twice. I got ushered away and that’s when I kicked the ball – and then the referee sent me off”.

Inevitably, the usual suspects emerged to condemn racism in the game. David Cameron said he was “appalled” while the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson condemned the “disgraceful scenes”. Quite rightly the Football Association reported “a number” of incidents to UEFA.

To the shock of many, the Serbian Football Association today released a statement that denied any racist incident took place. This statement not only contradicts a number of accounts but also video footage where monkey chants are audible in the background. Their statement read:

FA of Serbia absolutely refuses and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Kruševac. Making connection between the seen incident – a fight between members of the two teams – and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence”.

This is quite extraordinary. It is common now for establishments to use the ‘bad apples’ defence, ‘There were a few bad apples but we have a zero tolerance approach’. But this statement by the Serbian FA goes further and constitutes a blanket denial that any racist incident took place. If ever there has been a head in the sand approach to tackling a problem it is here.

This is not the first time either that English players have suffered racist  abuse in Serbia. 5 years ago, Nedum Onuoha was subjected to racial abuse in an England Serbia match at the European Championships. The punishment that UEFA dished out on this occasion? A fine of £16,000.

To put this into context, Manchester City was fined £24,740 for returning to the field less that minuet late in a match against Porto. This same match resulted in a fine for Porto after Balotelli was racially abused. The fine for Porto? Just £16,700.

Whilst it is easy to attack UEFA and the Serbian FA for their inaction/action, we should also take this opportunity to climb down off our high horses and to look around at the modern game in Britain. I won’t talk more about the well publicised cases of Terry “I didn’t call you a” case or Suarez “But it’s fine in my country” case. Where to start?

The outrageous? Remember when Ron Atkinson described (live on air) Marcel Desailly as a ‘lazy fucking thick nigger’?

The continuous? The fact that for almost every season I have been a football fan there has been an example of racism. In 2009 Jason Euell was subject to racist abuse. In February 2008 the then Chelsea manager Avram Grant received anti-Semitic death threats. In 2007 a Labour party cllr was banned from matches for 3 years for racially abusing a spurs player. This sad list could go on and on.

Serbian fans were out of order last night, but don’t fool yourself – English fans/players have been equally out of order for generations. We have moved on leaps and bounds but we still have a long way to go before we can truly say we have kicked racism out of football.

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MPs say to football fans ‘you’re still racist homophobes’

John Whittingdale MP says, “racisms bad”

In a damning condemnation of the not so beautiful game, a group of MPs have pointed out that football fans are still a bunch of racist homophobes.

Despite football stadiums being filled with good middle class bankers (it’s an easy rhyme), a report published last week by the DCMS select committee highlighted ‘continuing concerns’ about levels of racism in football.

Specifically it highlighted incidents such as Suarez’s Uruguayan greeting and Terry’s clarification of what he defiantly didn’t say.

Terry, when asked what he thought of the report allegedly said, “I didn’t say that I think it is a load PC bullshit written by a bunch of ageing middle class MPs who haven’t stepped foot in a stadium in their entire fucking lives. This is beyond worthless”.

In an effort to point out the blindingly obvious though, the report went on to state that things had improved dramatically since the 1970s and 80s when ‘racist abuse was common‘.  The MPs reportedly watched Elijah Wood’s depiction of a football hooligan in ‘Green Street’ in extra slow motion to gain an understanding of ‘what it was all about’.

In a move to tackle this problem the report suggests that more ethnic minorities should take up one of the most detested positions in the modern game – the referee. A footballing psychologist who wished to not be named stated, “By focusing the unwavering never ending mindless hatred that spills from football fans mouths, we hope to focus their little minds on simply hating positions of authority – not the skin colour of the man, or *smirk* women”.

In addition to all the racist bullshit in football the report also pointed out that fans didn’t really like gays either. Heterosexual Graham Le Saux declined to comment in any publication other than the Guardian where Robbie ‘the bully’ Fowler wouldn’t read his comments.

Even though no footballer is, or ever will be gay, some people who drive to games in BMWs think that the stands should be welcoming of ‘gayers’ as long as they don’t stand too close to them…or their children. Patrick from North London said, “I agree with the report, we need to make stadiums more family friendly and welcoming to the gays. Maybe we should have a gay seating area opposite the family seating area”.

Sat in a dusty room just off a cobweb filled corridor somewhere in the House of Commons the chair of the committee John Whittingdale MP said, “We heard evidence that ‘social media’ has become a tool for the spread of racist and abusive content but it is also a potential means of combating the ignorance and prejudice that lie behind such behaviour”. It is purported that the FA are considering joining a ‘World Wide Web’ of people – a system that would enable them to not comment to millions of people.

Clive Efford who is apparently the shadow minister for sport, blandly repeated the executive summary of the report saying, “we can never be complacent when it comes to any form of discrimination whether it is racism, religious hatred or homophobia”. Everyone everywhere responded saying, “no shit, find a new bandwagon on which to jump”.

When contacted Paolo Di Canio was unavailable for comment.


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A pissed off Arsenal fan at the Nou Camp

This article was written for the Tattooed football blog.

I knew that my pilgrimage to the Nou Camp would not be easy. I’m Arsenal, always have been, always will be. Barcelona tends to piss off Arsenal fans, especially in Champions League finals.

Throughout the trip I started to come to terms with the fact that this feeling (was it anger?) derived from the continued frustration surrounding Arsenal at the moment. It is not that Arsenal are playing badly at the moment, its worse. We are nearly brilliant.

Worse still, Barcelona have shown themselves to be brilliant over the last few seasons.

I am not bothered about the silverware Barcelona has bagged (10 trophies in 2 seasons alone). I am bothered though about the football they have played. They have beaten the best in the world in a way that would make Wenger weak at the knees.

As I approached the formidable entrance to the Nou Camp, I was hoping that this might be a chance for me to move on.

It was a sunny day and I was surrounded by thousands of fellow football devotes from all around the world. The atmosphere was one of a family day out – almost no-one was scowling.

Once inside the Nou Camp I stood watching video highlights of ‘Barcelona’s greatest goals’.  I sighed out loud at an 8 year old for pressing ‘play again’ on the video board showing Ronaldinho’s notorious overhead kick. I had the feeling I was being a smidgen petulant.

I knew what I needed to do.

I knew I had marvel at Barcelona’s extraordinary footballing success. The cabinets stuffed full with every cup the club could get their hands on. I knew though that this would only shine a spotlight on the dusty 7 years gap in the trophy cabinet at the Emirates.

I knew I had to go there and marvel at their illustrious roll call of football’s greats. Life sized photos of Messi, Ronaldo and Stoichkov were everywhere I looked. I knew however that this would be impossible without thinking about ex-Arsenal greats such as Henry of Fàbregas.

I knew I had to go there and marvel at their ground breaking partnerships with organisations such as UNICEF. I knew though that would only lead me to dwell on the overtly cooperate nature of the Premiership. We play in the ‘Emirates’ stadium for fucks sake!

All of this I knew and I will confess it did slightly hinder my ability to enjoy the “Camp Nou experience”.

Even the grumpiest of silverware deprived Arsenal fan though would be hard pressed to not be impressed with the biggest stadium in Europe (even after losing over 20,000 in capacity from its 120,000 peak). It is a formidable sight and the views from throughout the stadium are impressive.

Equally I enjoyed learning about the quirks of the club. Did you know that no Brit has played for Barcelona since Gary Linker? Interesting, well at least I thought so.

Equally, I was genuinely interested to learn more about the club’s history. Not only do they play beautiful football they also have time to develop a political opposition to fascism (Franco reportedly warned their players in a 1942 game Vs Madrid that “that taking the ball into Real Madrid’s half would be considered unpatriotic by the regime”).

For me however, despite the skill in which they play, despite the trophies in the cabinet, despite their social democratic principles…all I associate with the club is that fateful night in Paris back in 2006.

Why? 7 years of underachieving. Every Arsenal fan knows there is only one way to rectify this. Over to you Mr Wenger.

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Euro 2012 Special: Hate crime in Ukraine – Will the police look the other way?

This article was written for the Football Rascal Blog.

UEFA, the governing body of European football comments on their website, “Racism and any other forms of discrimination will never be tolerated. UEFA will not tolerate violence either on the pitch or in the stands. Football must set an example

Indeed, I couldn’t agree more UEFA. Which rather begs the question, why did you chose Ukraine to joint host the Euro 2012 championships?

Ukraine, is a country that Amnesty International describes as having, “[a] poor human rights record, in particular, widespread criminality, torture and other ill-treatment by the police force responsible for the safety of Euro 2012 fans”. The human rights group goes onto raise, “the issue[s] of racist and homophobic attacks, discrimination, violations of the right to a fair trial, failure to protect asylum-seekers and migrants, and the harassment and prosecution of human rights defenders”. I wonder how many in UEFA officials have read this glowing report card?

Now, I am no expert here but how do “racist and homophobic attacks” combined with “torture and ill-treatment by the police force” sit with UEFA’s image of “zero-tolerance” of either “violence or discrimination”. In fact it seems to imply the exact opposite.

I am not opposed to major sporting events being held in countries with less than perfect human rights records per se. Indeed, life would be a bit boring if year in year out every major event was held in Luxembourg as every other country failed to make the cut. But, there has to be limits, a line that isn’t crossed. My argument here is that fan safety is an example of a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

On 20th May 2012, police told organisers of the gay pride march to abandon the event claiming, “500 ultra-right football hooligans were en route to the rally point with the intention of preventing the march from going ahead”. So, a peaceful march was banned because of “500 ultra-right football hooligans”.

Once again I turn to Amnesty International and their researcher Max Tucker who commented, “Their [Kiev’s police force] reluctance to commit to the event and to put adequate security measures in place to protect demonstrators left organizers fearing for their safety”. After this, two activists were beaten up by a dozen youth in central Kiev. In short, the police failed to protect a group of citizens from a group of far-right football supporters.

So what has a gay pride event and Euro 2012 got to do with each other I hear you ask?

Simple. Why would you believe that the police are going to be more willing to protect LGBT activists at a gay pride event than a LGBT supporters group at Euro 2012? Or come to think of it, a black family or a Jewish supporters group?

The issue is about how authorities respond to trouble makers. Call me old fashioned on this one, but I think authorities shouldn’t pander to the hate filled whims of the far right. Crazy I know.

I think that “immigrants, gays, blacks” or anyone else who doesn’t fit into the far right’s bizarre hate filled outlook, should be free to attend these sporting events without fear of attack. In Ukraine I don’t think this is the case.

The families of  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott have already said they will not travel there because for fear of racist abuse. This lack of protection means that Ukraine has failed in its responsibilities as a host country.

Despite what the BBC would have you believe with their slightly sensationalist ‘Stadiums of hate’ documentary, this is nothing new. Attacks on the LGBT community, religious groups and ethnic minorities have a long and well documented history in Ukraine. A history that too often the state has been complicit in.

At this stage however I don’t believe the tournament should not be cancelled. Nor though do we want an atmosphere where people are arrested on the spot for drunkenly shouted something offensive (in my opinion it shouldn’t be a crime to cause someone offence).

What I would like to see is the Ukrainian state to unequivocally condemn the police’s actions a few weeks ago and make it abundantly clear that the police will be there to protect supporters regardless of their background, sexuality or beliefs. Is this too big a ask?

My worry is that by the time this article goes to print we will already have seen violence on the streets or terraces of Ukraine.

I worry that Sol Cambell’s comment to fans to “Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t risk it because you could end up coming back in a coffin” may end up becoming a reality. Fan safety is the first priority and football is the second. UEFA have to be clear on this point.

Is football being overshadowed by events around the tournament? If UEFA had made a better choice in the first place, would such problems even be on the agenda? Let us know your opinion! 

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