Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

‘GFH have focussed purely on controlling the narrative, not on running Leeds United’

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


WHEN GFH Capital, a Dubai arm of Bahrain-based bank GFH, bought Leeds United in December 2012, executives including Salem Patel appeared on national television to assure the fans his company had the funds to take Leeds places. Patel said on the BBC (link here for video): “We wouldn’t have bought this club if we didn’t have the money in place to make this club successful. And it’s as simple as that.” Except GFH’s reign has been anything but simple. It has been a period of chaos and confusion, empty promises and false starts, farce and failure, and threatened meltdown. Events are now reaching a critical point because new owner-in-waiting, convicted fraudster Massimo Cellino, has been told he is not a fit and proper person to take over. As fans wait to see what happens next, supporter Amitai Winehouse explains how GFH Capital for a long time ruled by PR, telling fans privately what they wanted to hear, while also asking them how to run the club. This feature is reproduced with the kind permission of the Square Ball fanzine, where it appeared in the latest issue (below right).


AmitaiBy Amitai Winehouse

26 March 2014

About eleven months ago, I had a very significant shouting match with my mum. We were arguing about Salem Patel. That doesn’t sound like the sort of thing most people argue about with their parents, but then again, I’d had a weird few months.

It really doesn’t surprise me that the last few months have gone like they have for Leeds United, because eleven months ago, I was forced to cut off contact with a director at Leeds United. Back then I was a 20-year-old student at Newcastle University, studying history and running a blog about football on the side.

Twelve months ago I wrote an open letter to GFH Capital and stuck it on the website, the result of a frustrating few days as a fan and a desire to see GFH make some changes at the club. They’d talked about a vague concept that they regularly called engagement, so I thought maybe they’d listen. But I didn’t expect as much engagement as actually occurred.

It began with being invited to meet Salem Patel for a few hours after the Spurs FA Cup win last season. I went along, meeting him at the Malmaison, and he seemed like a nice guy, but some of the things he asked were way above my head. “Who should we appoint as manager, Paul Lambert or Nigel Adkins?” isn’t a question you should be asking anyone when you’re the man running a football club, never mind asking a student who, really, just supports the team.

I knew who we were going to sign several days before the busy deadline day, and knew we were trying to sign Chris Burke because Salem had happened to see him have a good game against Leeds in the FA Cup. I kept that information to myself. I suppose I was meant to,  but I also wasn’t exactly keen to rush to join the horde of in-the-knows on Twitter.Square Ball

A moment from that meeting sticks with me to this day. At that point, despite the cup win earlier in the day, I was absolutely open with my dislike of Neil Warnock. One of the things I said he’d been doing wrong was his mistreatment of Ross McCormack. Salem then happily pointed out that Warnock and GFH had tried to sell Ross in the previous two windows due to perceived attitude issues. Given how utterly reliant we’ve been on Ross ever since, it shows how little GFH knew and know about football, trusting the opinion of Warnock outright. If it weren’t for Ross’s clear affinity for the club, we’d be in real trouble.

At some point, El Hadji Diouf showed up with a party of guests, spotted Salem and came over to talk. It was 11pm, but Diouf added impetus to the conversation. What came out of a thirty minute chat with him? Salem was pressing him to ask his friend Habib Habibou to drop his wage demands if he wanted to join us. We talked about Aruna Dindane, and it turned out Diouf was helping players he knew get trials at the club. Diouf also came across as someone in absolute love with Leeds United and the idea of helping us get promoted. I left the Malmaison a bit overwhelmed by the day’s events, which had started with Luke Varney putting us ahead against Spurs.

The entire Salem thing started to become a bit shambolic when the direct messages started pouring in on Twitter. I had returned to Newcastle and carried on with my life. I remember receiving a message from Salem after the Cardiff game, when I was on my way to a house party, asking what I thought about the new signings. I didn’t really know why they needed my opinion, but it turns out it was quite simple – they had no idea.

Later, a report appeared on the internet about GFH Capital’s finances, and I took that information and put together a post about it for my blog, like I had been doing for the previous year about Ken Bates. Things didn’t look great, so I thought Leeds fans deserved to know about it. Around the same time, I also retweeted another person’s piece that asked questions of GFH. Obviously, a message came through from Salem, telling me that what I’d written and proliferated had been a falsehood, that people with an agenda against GFH had written it and that I shouldn’t have posted it. I just thought this was a man defending his company, so I let it slip by.

It was around this point that I began to notice other people on Twitter regurgitating the messages that I’d received from Salem almost verbatim. People began tweeting out regular questions like “How much should Leeds season tickets cost?” I had been asked by Salem to do the same, but thought it wasn’t my place – I didn’t work for the club, so why was it my job to carry out market research for them? It began to worry me that the club was making decisions over its financial future based on what people tweeted back to fan sites.

Further incidents ruffled me and caused the aforementioned shouting match. My mum, one of the friendliest people I know, was keen that I didn’t upset anyone. She said that I should start talking to Salem again. I began to tell her that, firstly, my duty when writing on my blog was to fans, not to some investment bank in Bahrain; and secondly, that what had been asked of me was unacceptable because of that, because it would make me an unpaid tool of the club. Two days later, she apologised to me – she’d told her friends what had happened and they’d said I was in the right.

GFH ran the Watch Leeds 4 Less promotion, hoping to see it boost attendances. Admittedly, it increased the attendance relative to other games that season, but they were clearly keen to see it work to prove a point to the previous regime. Salem asked me to write a post on my site detailing the scheme, and, even though I have since lost the transcript, pretty much asked me to say that if fans didn’t attend, such a scheme wouldn’t be run again. I thought this was unacceptable.

The second moment that made me realise I couldn’t speak to them any further was after there had been talk of a takeover attempt by Steve Parkin. I acted a bit foolishly on WACCOE, getting into an argument about the potentially good stuff that I’d heard was behind the deal, but, as I said, I was only 20 years old, and I could have been far worse. Again, a message came through from Salem in which I was basically told that what I had said on WACCOE was being watched, and that it was wrong. It was then that the truth hit me, and I realised why Salem and GFH cared so much. They were concerned about what people with a voice could do.

This is why I’m absolutely not surprised that the last few months have gone like they have. GFH have been focused purely on controlling the narrative from the very moment they took over Leeds United, no matter how they were truly running the club in the background. Whenever their guard has slipped, we’ve seen moments that demonstrated their inadequacy, like Salah Nooruddin calling for McDermott’s head on Twitter after a loss (since deleted).

It’s been clear that there have been issues brewing in the background, but there has been little in the way of dissenting voices from expected sources except from this magazine and a select few others. It’s understandable that those working in the media itself have been limited as to what they could say, given their need to be able to cover the football itself, but even they have done a great job of uncovering information where possible. Those who write for the fans, however, didn’t do their duty to them. People had their heads turned by attention from higher ups.

This is what the GFH period at Leeds has taught me – that word from the fans scares club owners more than anything else. Don’t doubt it for a second: our reaction at the Huddersfield game saved Brian McDermott’s job, however temporarily. We have the power to alter things, and sitting there helps nothing. People forgot what they needed to do because of who they talked to; they forgot what power their word had, and because of that, we find ourselves in a situation where the true state of the club has come as a shock.

A last thought: Salem Patel seemed like a nice guy in person. Salah Nooruddin promised “goodies.” David Haigh tweeted about “side before self.” And yet they have sold our club to the highest bidder with no regard for what he might do, after nearly running us into the ground in just over a year. These men will all still have a say at the new Leeds United.

Don’t trust them for a second.


Amitai Winehouse can be found blogging at and is on Twitter @awinehouse1

Sportingintelligence would like to hear from any other Leeds fans who have been privately given false promises about Leeds over the past 18 months. Contact details are on this page.


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‘Believe nothing in Turkish football – it is rotten to the core and nobody will act’

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


At the end of the 2010-11 Turkish football season, Fenerbahçe were crowned champions after finishing with the same number of points (82) as title rivals Trabzonspor, but with a better head-to-head record. But Turkish football was soon rocked as it emerged Fenerbahçe’s success was a result of one of the most devastating match-fixing scandals the game has seen. A long police investigation uncovered a sophisticated crime syndicate that had been involved in fixing games, with dozens of high-profile officials and players implicated. Yet despite legal rulings and sporting rulings that should have seen Fenerbahçe relegated and multiple offenders jailed or otherwise punished, many of those involved remain active across Turkish football, on and off the pitch. With Fenerbahce again topping the table and favourites to lift another title, ENDER KUYUMCU argues what is happening in his country is football’s greatest shame; and that if Turkey’s football authorities continue to fail to clean up their game, then all Turkey’s clubs, and the national team, should be banned from all international competitions.



Ender KuyumcuBy Ender Kuyumcu 

18 March 2014

It has been an open secret within Turkey for many years that football in my country has been corrupt, riddled with fixing and not to be trusted. This has been happening for 25 years or more. Even the kids in Turkey know this. It is part and parcel of Turkish football – corruption, criminality, cheating. And it is wrong.

The difference in recent years, since 2011, is that the corruption has been proved, with hard evidence, beyond any shadow of doubt. People have been arrested from the board rooms to the dressing rooms. There have been wire taps and photographic evidence, confessions and criminal charges and trials and guilty verdicts. This is not hearsay any more, it is irrefutable fact – and still the Turkish system tries to cover it up.

Can you imagine a situation where, for example, it had been proven in court that leading officials and players from Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and other clubs had fixed games – and that they were allowed to play on as if nothing had happened? Would that be a scandal? I suggest it would be portrayed across the world as one of the greatest scandals any sport had seen, ever. And rightly so.

And yet that is what continues to happen in Turkish football. At heart of the corruption is Fenerbahce, but they are not the only club involved. It has been shown beyond doubt that in the 2010-11 season alone, corruption went from pitch to presidency level not only at Fenerbahce but also at Besiktas, Sivasspor and Manisaspor, and that many other clubs and players were involved in one or more corrupt matches.

And they still are. In a moment I will tell you the names and details of senior officials and match-fixing players who continue to be a central part of Turkish football as if nothing has happened.

As campaigners for clean football, our message is clear. If the Turkish football federation does not clean up the game in Turkey, as the courts and football bodies like Uefa have indicated they should, then those football bodies – Uefa and Fifa – should stop all Turkish clubs playing in international competitions until they do.

So no Turkey in World Cup or Euro qualifying. No Galatasaray in the Champions League, as they will be today at Chelsea. No Turkish football in any international competition – because frankly it is rotten.

What we want is clear: for Uefa to enforce their own regulations in regard to match fixing and ensure that the Turkish FA relegates the clubs proven to be involved in fixing. There are precedents: Uefa made sure that Pobeda of Macedonia and Valou of Greece were relegated after proven fixing. Why do they not act in Turkey?

We only want Uefa to follow their rules and regulations, nothing more. Uefa, after all, are the ones put Fenerbahce and Besiktas on trial (in football terms) and found them guilty of match-fixing and punished them with European expulsion, albeit for a limited time. But according to the disciplinary procedures of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF), Uefa and Fifa, the punishment for match-fixing must be relegation. So why has it not happened? Who is protecting who? Why?

UEFA has to order the TFF to relegate match-fixing teams and if the TFF refuses to do this, then ban all Turkish teams, including the national teams, from all European competition until justice is served.

Why? Because until that happens you cannot believe a thing you see in Turkish football.


The 2010-11 scandal

Fenerbahce were at the centre of it, charged with fixing 12 matches in spring 2011 which helped them to 16 wins in their last 17 games to be crowned champions ahead of Trabzonspor. Dozens of officials including Aziz Yildirim (still chairman of Fenerbahce), were arrested and several players, managers and agents were also charged in the match-fixing investigation. After a year, the criminal court gave its verdicts and sentenced 21 officials and players for manipulating the results of matches in the 2010-2011 season.

Some of the others involved in match-fixing, bribe-giving or bribe taking who were charged and then given prison terms and / or fines and bans included Fenerbahce vice-presidents Şekip Mosturoğlu and İlhan Ekşioğlu, director Aleaddin Yıldırım, Sivasspor board member Ahmet Çelebi, Fenerbahce chief financial officer Tamer Yelkovan, Fenerbahce legal advisor Sami Dinç, sporting director Cemil Turan, club translator Samet Güzel, Sivas president Mecnun Odyakmaz, Eskişehir manager Bülent Uygun and a whole array of players.

İbrahim Akın (then with İstanbul BB) is serving a ban but still managed to get a contract as a player with Gaziantepspor. Korcan Çelikay was and remains Sivasspor’s goalkeeper despite a prison term for match fixing; Mehmet Yıldız,  formerly of Sivasspor, also got a prison term for fixing but is now a striker with Mersin IdmanyurduGökçek Vederson is a Brazilian-Turkish player sentenced to five months for match fixing at Bursaspor and is now playing with Antalyaspor.

Ümit Karan got seven months for fixing at Eskisehirspor and is now retired from playing, and makes a living as a commentator, sometimes even appearing in that role on Government-owned TV.  İskender Alın is a striker at Boluspor, despite a prison term for fixing at Istanbul BB.

These are just a few names that demonstrate the range of people – players and otherwise – implicated in fixing and still involved in football. There were – maybe are? – still lots of others.

How did the fixing happen? I won’t bore you with lots of details but the nuts and bolts are out there in thousands of pages of evidence and court transcripts. Here is a flavour from the deposition of one player, Ibrahim Akin.

“I met my agent at a restaurant called Big Chefs three days before the game after his request. He told me that Fenerbahçe SK offered me $100,000 for not scoring a goal against them. I wasn’t warm to the idea at first … Following [another] request I sent a text message to [my agent] and asked for €100,000 instead of $100,000.”

As it transpired, Ibrahim Akin’s case was one of several where the guilty party had leaner punishment because the interpretation of the laws was changed so they were guilty not of match-fixing but attempts. Some 48 officials, players and coaches were found guilty of fixing and 44 others were cleared.

But the situation was made much less clear when the Turkish parliament changed the law governing sporting crimes (law No6222) to reduce sentences for sports-related crime. This in effect gave many of those guilty a ‘get out of jail free.’

Astonishing, I know, but this happened and continues.

With the political interventions, match-fixing sanctions were amended, so the activities of individuals (officials, players, coaches) and the legal entities for whom they worked (their clubs) were differentiated, and therefore the clubs benefited because they were ‘in the clear’ even as their employees were convicted. More here and here.

Uefa took years to deal with Fenerbahce and Besiktas but did eventually ban them from Europe. Following this decision Fenerbahce took this case to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as did Besiktas; CAS upheld both bans.

At this stage, football lovers in Turkey were expecting Uefa to prove that really are strict in their ‘zero tolerance’ policy on match-fixing, and therefore order the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) to relegate all teams involved in fixing, starting with Fenerbahce and Besiktas.

Both Gianni Infantino, the general secretary of UEFA, and Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, had declared at various points that if the TFF failed to apply the necessary punishment, UEFA would get involved and make sure that the relevant punishment was applied, which is relegation, according to the rules and regulations.

Match-fixing clubs have been relegated previously, infamously: Juventus, Marseille and others know that all too well. So why have Uefa not acted on Turkey?

Certainly among large numbers of Turkish football fans, it raised speculation that Uefa will not act, for reasons unknown. And then recently we got what seems to be an answer: a leaked voice recording of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan apparently revealing that he could not manage to get Fenerbahce off the hook with Uefa over fixing but that, with the help of a Turkish Uefa vice-president, Senes Erzik, had succeeded in saving Fenerbahce from relegation.


Political Intervention in Critical Moments 

From the outside, Turkey’s fixing scandal may appear to have been handled correctly in many ways: a police investigation, arrests, charges, trials and punishments. But the truth is that people’s belief in justice and fair play have gradually died out, and this is closely related to the political interventions at critical moments of the “detox” of Turkish football.

One decisive intervention came on 24 November 2011, when the Turkish parliament gathered to amend Sports Law No6222 that had only been in effect since April 2011 – or just around the time that season was being fixed in Fenerbahce’s favour. Members of the ruling and two other opposition parties worked all night to change the law to reduced all sentences penalising various crimes in sport, including mainly match-fixing.

They claimed the law needed amending because it was “too harsh”. Not long after the amendment, a first official report revealed details of match fixing. What a coincidence!

With Fenerbahce officials in the vanguard, the club as well as leading newspapers and journalists with close links to the club effectively forced the Turkish Football Federation to amend its disciplinary code that stipulates relegation for match manipulation and attempted fixing. They claimed the Turkish football economy would sink without Fenerbahce in the top division.

The TFF president Mehmet Ali Aydınlar, who had links to Fenerbahce, resigned, under pressure, with enormous speculation that he either felt he could not be the man who saw Fenerbahce relegated, or had been threatened that he should not become that man. He was replaced by Yildirim Demirören, who resigned as the chairman of Besiktas (another match-fix club) to take up the TFF role. Perhaps not surprisingly, the TFF has still not acted to relegate the match-fixing clubs. We wonder why.

Actually, we know why. The new TFF regime restructuring their ethical committee to clear any clubs (as entities) of blame.  Prime Minister Erdoğan stated his belief that individuals involved in match-fixing should face punishment, but that sanctions against clubs could mean punishment for millions of fans. The newly-elected president, recently formerly of Besiktas, stood by the Prime Minister’s view.

In May last year, the new TFF ethical committee announced final decisions, blurring matters further; attempted fixing was no longer fixing or punishable as such. The committee concluded that “alleged attempts to fix games had not altered the course of the matches.” Four days later, Turkey’s Professional Football Discipline Committee (PFDK) handed out punishments to officials, players, managers and employees of Fenerbahce, Beşiktaş, Eskişehirspor FC, İBB FC, Sivasspor and Bursaspor – but said that the clubs could not be blamed over individuals’ activities. So all the clubs were cleared.

So Fenerbahce remain in the top division. Or to be precise, at the top of the top division.

And Uefa’s ‘zero tolerance’ on fixing is looking lame, in Turkey at least.

Rich teams can get away with murder. Our game is not being played fair. And Turkish fans will have to keep wondering, as ever, whether they are actually watching football … or just more theatre.


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Man Utd kings among PL ‘ever presents’ but Chelsea on verge of usurping Arsenal

Friday, March 14th, 2014

By Brian Sears

14 March 2014

Seven clubs have been ever-present (EP) in the 22 seasons of the Premier League and six of them are in the top seven in the current table; this is no coincidence.

Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in first, second and third place before this weekend’s games, as well as Tottenham, Manchester United and Everton (in fifth, sixth, seventh) are all ‘big’ clubs relative to most other clubs in England, by trophies, attendance, income or pretty much any other measure. Aston Villa (11th currently) are the seventh EP club and also fit that bill.

Manchester City, whose recent prominence has been fuelled by Abu Dhabi petrodollars and start the weekend fourth, are the only non-EP team in the current top seven.

Six of the EP teams face each other this weekend, which makes them a topical subject. Villa host Chelsea on Saturday before Manchester United and Liverpool reprise the most significant long-term rivalry in English football on Sunday ahead of Tottenham hosting Arsenal in the north London derby.

Before the current season started, the seven EP teams had each played the others combined 252 times in the Premier League, or six matches at home and six away against six opponents for 21 years.

And this first graphic demonstrates how their record against each other, overall, equated quite well over time to their success in the Premier League era. In other words, Manchester United dominated the ‘EP games’ – and the league in the era. Then Arsenal and Chelsea fared next best in the EP games, and shared next most success overall. Then Liverpool were fourth best in EP games and had the best finish (second) outside of the title-winning clubs, followed by Tottenham, Villa and Everton.

For readers too young to remember, Villa were runners-up in the first Premier League season; and they have not been close to that since. Tottenham and Everton have peaked as high as fourth place. But things are changing, as we’ll see in a moment.

Article continues below

PL EP 92-13

This season, Chelsea are the leading team in the ‘inter EP’ matches, winning five and drawing three of their nine games so far against their EP rivals for a total of 18 points in these games or two points per match on average. They are followed closely by Liverpool, with Everton a step back in third. These three teams are all ‘trending’ better in performance terms this season than they have over the 21 Premier League seasons previously as a whole.

In contrast Arsenal and United are both doing worse against their EP rivals this season than typically, United much worse. And Tottenham are doing better this season in points per game against their EP rivals but the same relatively (fifth of seven); and Villa are doing worse than their long-term average, and worse relatively compared to all the other teams.

Article continues below

PL EP 13-14

When we add the records for the 21 completed seasons before this campaign  to this season’s records we get the table below.

This shows a few things clearly:

1) There is a ‘big four’ within the EP seven and they are United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. We might argue English football has a big six or aspirant seven or many other things, but this ‘big four’ plus arrivistes City remain for now the ‘Big 5′ in English football.

2) Chelsea are on the brink of usurping Arsenal as the second force of English football behind United over the PL era as a whole. Right now they are virtually level pegging with 407 points at 1.56 PPG each from 261 EP7 games apiece (as well as three PL titles apiece), with Chelsea having just risen above Arsenal in the all-time EP7 table on goal difference. What happens between now and the end of the season will determine which of the pair ends this campaign in second place to United.

3) United require just a point against Liverpool this weekend to become the first of the EP7 teams to take 500 points from the others combined in the PL era.

PL EP 1992 to date


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Everton have upper hand in financial mid-table tussle with Hammers

Friday, February 28th, 2014

By Brian Sears

28 February 2014

Everton will start the weekend 11 points outside the Champions League qualification spots, albeit with a game in hand on fourth-placed Liverpool, and are now outsiders to reach Europe’s top table for 2014-15.

But their home form and their historical record against Saturday’s opponents West Ham both suggest they should prosper on Saturday.

They have won eight, drawn three and lost just one of the 12 home league games this season to give them a better home record than any other team in the Premier League outside the current top four.

And though West Ham rallied from a woeful patch to win all four of their PL games in February, Everton’s head-to-head PL record against the Hammers is better (in total points won) than against any other team.

See the table below for Everton’s PL record opponent by opponent. Everton have now won their last three Premier League games home and away against West Ham and are undefeated in the last 11 (seven wins, four  draws). That last West Ham win in this fixture was on 21 April 2007 with Bobby Zamora scoring the only goal of the game at Upton Park.

Our table shows that throughout the Premier League era no other club has provided Everton with more Premier League points than have West Ham and that’s in spite of meeting some other clubs plenty more times. Everton can look back on 19 wins over West Ham in 35 games – more than against any other club and the 65 goals scored is also their top haul.

Article continues below (click on table to enlarge)

EFC record in PL by opponent


As always a table throws up interesting side-line statistics.  There’s just one PL club past or present that Everton have a 100 per cent record over: Watford, with four wins from their four PL games. And what a draw Everton’s games with Leicester turned out to be; 16 games and 11 ending level. Now that’s a fixture that could be revived next season.

Today’s second graphic demonstrates how both Everton and West Ham are distinctly mid-table in the current Premier League in a financial sense – adding the cost of the assembly of their current squads to the amount of wages they’re paying their respective groups of players.

Article continues below

Everton v WHUFC


The methodology used here takes the amount spent on assembling the first-team squads for each Premier League club for 2013-14 (data from the Football Observatory, here) and adds the wage bill for each club (total wage bill as listed in most recent accounts, 2012-13, or the season earlier and adjusted).

Is this an imperfect measurement of a club’s financial power? Of course, there is no perfect measurement, not least as spending is dynamic.

Does this graphic give a clear like-for-like comparison of resources? Absolutely.

Manchester City’s squad cost £362.6m in fees to assemble for example, and their latest total club wage bill (a large percentage of which goes on players) was £233m, for a total spend of £595.6m. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal round out the top four, and frankly from an economic point of view those four clubs ‘should’ finish in the top four. (But quite possibly won’t as United are in transition).

So where ‘should’ Everton be? Around ninth, with West Ham around 12th. It could yet transpire that both punch slightly about their weight this season, whatever happens at Goodison.

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“Tennis should be safe. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.”

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

WillisBy Alexandra Willis in Melbourne

“Does Wimbledon have an extreme heat policy?”

It was a perfectly innocent question. But if you’ve ever been to Wimbledon, you will understand why it was an amusing one.

Rain delays, rather than heat delays, are a fact of SW19 life. The skies darken, the clouds let rip, the court coverers hurry on, the players grab rackets and bags and hurry off, and the umpire announces that play is suspended. You sit around gloomily clutching cups of tea. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And so, rather than an extreme heat policy, Wimbledon has a wet weather policy, which is largely (boringly but necessarily) about defining when the public are entitled to refunds.

The introduction of the Centre Court roof, when it is closed, when it is opened and why, has been the subject of as much debate as the heat policy here with regards to the logistics of when it is implemented, how it is measured and why. The Centre Court roof protocol is almost as obfuscating and vague as the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature. No governing body or committee or organisation is perfect.

But the reason for all these protocols is because of the need for a delay in play that is based on concerns for safety. The events of Wimbledon 2013 merely confirmed the perils of what can happen on wet grass, as players slipped and slid and injured themselves. Whatever the combination of reasons behind all of that was, it is very much acknowledged that if it’s raining, it is dangerous to play on grass.

2014-01-13 11.47.51-1

So, if it starts to rain, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped. The same is true at other tournaments. If it is raining, or thundering, or lightning, and the weather is considered dangerous, again, at the discretion of the referee, play is stopped.

Which begs the question, why should heat be any different?

As Andy Murray rightly said, these decisions are not easy to make.

“I think it’s tough.  I think it’s tough for everybody.  It’s tough for the referees, tournament director.  It’s hard for the players.  I mean, the medical staff.  It’s very, very difficult,” Murray said.

“It’s very hard for the fans, the people watching.  I mean, sitting there.  Line judges, umpires.  It’s not a good place to be in because, the heat is bearable just.  It’s weighing out whether or not it’s kind of worth playing like that and it’s worth it for the fans and everyone.”

Whether the heat policy was activated early enough or not, the inconsistency is this. It states that once it has been enacted, at the discretion of the referee, any matches in progress will continue until the end of the set in progress before being suspended or the roof closed.

This might be ok on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena, where at least there is some shade at each end of the court, although the extra 40 minutes that Maria Sharapova and Karin Knapp were subjected to were almost painful to watch. But on the outside courts, it is worse. There is nowhere to hide.

Which comes back to the same argument: if the conditions are dangerous enough for the policy to be put into effect, why not just stop?

The point has been made that players have been through this and far worse in years gone by, so why treat today’s players any differently, why change something that has worked for years?

“We evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,” Chief Medical Officer Tim Wood told the BBC.

But, with all due respect to players past (and those who chased antelope for eight hours), that was tennis of a different type. It has been said many times, by pundits, by press that today’s tennis, with technological advancements in rackets, balls, conditioning, is a different, more physical, more demanding beast.

And so, arguably, playing tennis in extreme conditions is more dangerous than it used to be, because the tennis is more extreme too.

“There will be some players who complain and no-one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there, but, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat. Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue,” Wood added.

No one thinks playing tennis should be easy. Any player would struggle to tell you the last time they felt ‘comfortable’ – they have niggles, pains, blisters, sores, aches, tweaks, tears… all around the world and back.

So  the sport should be as safe as is manageable. That it should be humane should not even be up for discussion.

Follow @alex_willis on twitter

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Christmas history says Sunderland 95% doomed but Baggies escape gives hope

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

By Brian Sears

24 December 2013

Famously the club at the bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day has always ended up relegated with the sole and notable exception of West Brom in 2004-05.

Sunderland are bottom for Christmas 2013, which statistically makes them 95 per cent doomed to the drop.

But as the Baggies showed in that Great Escape season, there are ways of getting out of the mire. In that fateful season, West Brom lost 0-5 at home to Liverpool on Boxing Day yet went on to gather 24 points from their remaining 19 games, and stayed up as Crystal Palace, Norwich and Southampton went down.

Of the other 20 teams at the bottom of the table at Christmas in past seasons, 14 were still at the bottom at the end, four had moved up one place but went down, and two had moved up two places but were still relegated.

Here’s the complete record:

Premier League bottom clubs at Christmas and what happened next

Bottom at Christmas


More on Man Utd / Arsenal (or search for anything else in box at top right)

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Takeovers, triumphs and Hansen’s first column: why the end of a Liverpool institution is a dark day for journalism

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013


HerbieBy Ian Herbert

22 December 2013

The sign on the exterior wall of the building where I started out in this business, on a September morning 24 years ago, has not kept up with the sad diminution of the paper which became a rich part of my life for a decade. “Liverpool Daily Post and Echo,” the words read.

During the rapid cycle of reduced resources and falling circulation – which saw the Liverpool Daily Post become a weekly title a year ago and publish for the last time last week – no-one got around to putting up a ladder and taking the sign down. It looked like a defiant last testament to better days when I saw it last week.

I picked up a copy of the last issue of the Post, (below), and later read the comments of one of the Trinity Mirror bosses who, you assume, has helped take this decision to close the title down.

The Post is “a wonderful and much-loved old lady who has simply come to the end of her natural life,” he said. “The Liverpool city region no longer creates the demand.”

Last PostAs if the decline of the paper were an inexorable and inevitable fact, unrelated to the whittling away of investment. And as if the people of Liverpool – inquisitive, curious, enterprising and proud of their place – do not care much about news any more.

You’ll probably think that this is shaping up to be an elegiac, sentimental, self-interested ramble but I don’t think so. It’s hard to let this landmark pass without recalling some of the work which was a source of such awe to me when I arrived as a 21-year-old in Old Hall Street offices and first saw that sign on the wall.

The memory of Hillsborough was still fresh that autumn which, as we now know all too well, was precisely the time when the South Yorkshire Police’s attempts at misinformation about the Disaster were cranking into top gear.

The city’s Liverpool Echo was producing some great work on this subject, but the Post surpassed it. Reporters like Susan Lee, Michelle Worthington, Michael Johnston, Sue Critchley and Steve Brauner were delivering work of incredible detail and exclusivity, day after day.

There is a delicate balance to be struck in local newspaper journalism between the spirit of inquiry and the sense of respect to that place you are reporting on.

My friend Jason Burt, the Sunday Telegraph football correspondent, whom I met and worked with in those days, reminded me last week of the mantra instilled by the legendary news editor of the time – Alf Green. “Don’t be a cheerleader for this place. But celebrate it when you can. Don’t dump on your doorstep,” were his words.

No-one could ever accuse the Daily Post’s great sports editor of that time, Len Capeling, of veering from that mantra. A proud Liverpudlian and huge Evertonian, his immense weekly sports column was wise, unflinching and would be guaranteed to get his football writers banned, in these days of control and media management, when the clubs have far more staff producing ‘content’ than the paper have to report news.

I was deputy editor when Capeling’s battles with Joe Royle, then Everton manager, reached their peak, and some of the fallout would be delegated my way.

“Where’s Rasputin?” I remember Royle demanding to know down the phone one day. Royle was invited into the boardroom, as I recall, and things were smoothed over.

Capeling had an incredible charm, too. An expectation that his reporters prosecute sport with the same forensic zeal made for some extremely fine chief football correspondents: in my day Phil McNulty, Peter Jardine and Paul Joyce.

The memory of Burt ruffling some feathers has also stayed with me and, since we sat at opposite desks for a while, I fielded a call about him too. It was from Bill Kenwright, extremely unhappy and questioning the veracity of the piece he had been alerted to. It claimed that he wanted to take over the ownership of Everton.Herbs post 1

Reporters were not the only ones who owed their start on the ladder to the Daily Post. Capeling gave Alan Hansen his first column. ‘The Professional View’ we called it.

Mark Lawrenson, likewise. He has been writing weekly for the paper ever since.

A box of yellowing cuttings under my desk yielded up more memories, this week. The hitherto untold story of Peter Johnson taking over at Everton, for example. (Right)

And some of the brilliant old ink-black Daily Post football supplements of the 1980s which, for us growing up in North Wales, were a window on the incredible football being played in the big city 50 miles away. ‘Champions ’83,’ (left) one of those in the box is entitled.

Herbs Post 3 championsAnd then there is the Daily Post issue of March 22, 1993, (below right) 24 hours after the IRA’s bombing of Warrington, delivering more proof that local journalism, more than simply being there, is about discovering the previously undiscovered.

My friend Richard Williams, who started as a trainee on the same day as me, reports the story of Wilf Ball – father on one of the two children who died that day in Warrington town centre. “He had waited 30 years for a son and had taken nearly retirement at 56 to spend more time with him…”

The demand for work like this exists now, as much as it did then. But with no-one to produce it, the vacuum is filled with the vast repository of material washing around websites and recycled, from to another. Flat Earth News, as The Guardian’s Nick Davies described it in his brilliant exposition of vanishing journalism. It’s why I think the website you are reading from, which recycles nothing and generates everything, is so important.Herbs Post 2 Warrington

There are occasional compensations to this process of diminution. When a Guardian reporter and I recently covered a court case relating to football practices in the 1980s, we were expecting news agencies and local paper to hoover up the coverage before we could so much as open a laptop.

But only we two and another national journalist were there. Good news for us. Not so great for those who believe that when newspapers are gradually stripped away and journalists vanish, the spirit of analysis, accountability and intelligent inquiry disappears down the same road.


Ian Herbert, who was shortlisted as Sports Journalist of the Year in the prestigious Press Awards, and highly commended in the SJA Sports News Reporter of 2012 category,  is The Independent’s Northern Football Correspondent (see archive of his work here). Follow Herbie on Twitter here.




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THE ASHES: “Australia haven’t suddenly turned into a great team. They aren’t.”

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Legside LizzyBy Lizzy Ammon

12 December 2013

If you were to read the UK newspapers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that England have already handed the urn back to Australia.

It’s not quite that bad as England prepare for the Third Test in Perth that starts tomorrow (Thursday night, UK time). Two down with three to play isn’t time to wave the white flag, and if this England side have shown anything in the last few years, it’s that they are not to be written off.

(Ok, so no England side has ever come back from two-nil down in the Ashes but this side like the challenge of re-writing history. They re-wrote it in India last year, as some of the sager pundits predicted they might).

Yes, Adelaide was as weak a performance from an England side during the Flower regime as there has been. There have been some grim displays before – most notably the horror in the desert at the beginning of 2012.  But that was against a mystery spinner in alien conditions. This Adelaide defeat was against a good but not great team on a very good batting wicket. It was a surrender of an embarrassing nature.

But it mustn’t be underestimated how much the situation with Jonathan Trott will have upset many of the team in Brisbane. Trott is an incredibly well liked and well respected member of the team and it stands to reason that seeing your mate having a rough time will have an effect.

The signs were there before this tour even started that the side was in a precarious situation.  They have paid the price for not nailing down someone at number six having tried everyone bar my grandma in that position.  They’re also guilty for over-estimating the strength in depth in England’s bowling stocks. Eighteen months ago we were talking about how exciting it was that we had so many seam bowlers vying for the slots but in fact England were always over-reliant on Anderson with the others peaking and troughing with alarming regularity.

There are plenty of other factors at play here too. England haven’t suddenly become a bad team – they’re a good team. In 2012 when they became number one, they were a very good team but they’ve never been a great team and there’s legitimacy in the theory that the things that were once their greatest strengths are now their greatest weaknesses. The insular nature of the camp, the meticulous but often joyless planning, the intense nature of being in the England camp – some of this might now be coming back to bite.

Every player interview since Adelaide has been refreshingly honest and forthright.  They have discarded the usual media training nonsense. There’s been no taking the positives. It’s just a shame it’s taken two heavy defeats to get this bunch of players speaking in normal English.

That’s not to take away from what have been very good Australian performances.

But in the same way England haven’t suddenly turned into a bad team, Australia haven’t suddenly turned into a great team. They aren’t. They’re getting good performances out of their players.  They’re looking a settled side full of belief and confidence. But their weaknesses are still there.

Darren Lehmann isn’t suddenly a genius. He’s just taken a very different approach to management from Flower. Perhaps England could do with a bit more levity in their dressing room and a bit of the “F**k  it – it’s only cricket” can release the pressure.  It never seems like the England camp is a very relaxed place to be.

Cricket-ballToo much cricket?

I’ve never bought into the notion that cricketers play too much. It’s their job.  But even I must admit that the administrators desire to bleed every last penny out of their international cricketers is starting to have a very clear effect.

It doesn’t take a cricketing genius to see that many of this England team are simply frazzled. They are battle scarred and war-weary

Across all three formats (excluding tour and warm-up matches) England have been in action on a staggering 84 days so far this year.  This is all the more pertinent given that more of England’s players play across all three formats than the Australian players who have a very different limited overs squad.

It’s been a packed year, going straight from a home Test series into an International tournament in which they got to the final and then straight into the draining environment of an Ashes series. Add in the media and corporate requirements placed on the players and you get the sum total of some knackered blokes.

Of course, sympathy may be in limited supply – they are remunerated very well and they get to live a fairly glamorous life but there’s no getting away from the fact that it will and is taking its toll.

Cricket-ballRest and rotation 

Given the hectic schedules mentioned above, the selectors have taken a very sensible decision to rest Anderson, Swann and Pietersen from the one-day series at the end of the Ashes. It didn’t take long for the usual criticisms of cheating the paying public to come out but what can the selectors do?

They’re trying to prolong the careers of some of England’s senior players for as long as they can. They’re also trying to plan for the World Cup in 2015.  There’s no guarantee at all that these players will still be around in 2015 – they may be hurtling towards the end of their careers (Swann in particular).  It makes sense to give an opportunity to some of the more fringe players.

Cricket-ballWhat do umpires actually do?

Yes – what exactly do they do these days?. It seems they no longer call front foot no balls, they refer even the most straightforward of run out decision to the TV umpire and they don’t give clear direction to the players on when the on-field aggression (or “banter” if you can bear to use that word) is going too far.

As Mike Atherton wrote in his column, they are little more than hat-stands these days.  They do make very good hat-stands though as shown by Umpire Erasmus’s wearing of Nathan Lyons baggy green on the top of his own white hat at a pleasingly jaunty angle that Stella McCartney would approve of.

Still, Billy “look at me” Bowden is back for the third Test so that’ll be fun won’t it?


Lizzy Ammon writes for SPIN cricket magazine  (here and on Twitter @spincricket), and for The Sunday People (columns here and on Twitter @peoplesport) and you can follow Lizzy on Twitter at @legsidelizzy



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‘The problem for football is that it is up to its neck in gambling’

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

HerbieBy Ian Herbert

12 December 2013

There won’t be any great sentiment for footballers who are banned for illegal betting but the small details of the case of what we might call the “Accrington Five” does reveal why one of the root causes of match fixing – the players need for some ready cash – is staring us in the face.

The five players who received bans for betting thousands of pounds on what turned out to be the correct outcome of the Accrington Stanley v Bury match in May 2008 were on a weekly wage of about £800.

One of the five, Andy Mangan, told me a few years ago that the desire of young players for the kind of lifestyle enjoyed by players higher up the football ladder was leading them to disregard rules forbidding gambling on the competitions they are playing in and place a stake.

“I know for a fact [players] are gambling on their [own] league, when you are not allowed,” Mangan said. “I know that – and I know some players know that – but everyone’s got to know because there are consequences if they get caught.”

Consider how that inadequate that £800 will be to the player who has a gambling addiction. The extent of football’s gambling problem – and the number of occasions on which players are compromised when they own money – remains one of the sport’s more unpleasant secrets: never entirely quantified.

But Michael Chopra’s admission in Newcastle Crown Court last month that he would gamble up to £30,000 in cash with other players on the team bus en route to matches, while still a teenager with the club, gives us an idea.

We knew before that trial that Chopra once hid behind a pile of snow when the loan sharks came knocking. During his time with Ipswich Town, both his club and Professional Footballers’ Association organised a £250,000 loan for him while his own father sold his house to pay his son’s gambling debts.

These stories materialise from time to time, as if they are just casual by-products of footballers being footballers and as if Chopra, who would go to the bank before getting on the team bus at Newcastle so could bet “as part of team bonding,” is a freak case. He’s not, of course.

Matthew Etherington’s interview with Radio 5Live this autumn did not get the follow-up it should have done, obliterated as some of these stories can often be by the football soap opera.Fix Indie 4.4.8

The Sporting Chance organisation says 70 per cent of its referrals now relate to problem gambling, with the latest development being players’ use of payday loans to fund it.

Peter Kay, the late co-founder of Sporting Chance, confirmed back in 2008 that he knew of a case, revealed on the front page of The Independent (right), involving an indebted footballer who had deliberately been sent off at the request of a bookmaker to whom the player owed money.

The problem for football is that it is up to its neck in gambling. Gambling firms dominate the shirt sponsorship business. Many clubs have official betting partners. Some have multiple, regional betting partners. The FA is in bed with one. The Football League is named after one. And yet we’re told that football is taking the problem seriously.

The former FA chairman Lord Triesman declared during his tenure that he wanted a blanket ban on betting on football – by players, managers and officials – in an attempt to preserve the integrity of English football – though that notion is evidently long gone, as the sport hitches its carriage to this industry.

The FA imposes its bans – Andros Townsend was barred from all football activity for four months, in June – and the game moves on.

There is no suggestion that Chopra or Etherington have been involved in match fixing, but the point is that football ignores a prime motivation for that crime, at a time when new headlines and revelations cause politicians to gasp and stage impromptu summits at Westminster.

You only had to read Chopra’s evidence to know that other like him must fall prey for match fixers. “I had loan sharks turning up at the training ground when I was at Ipswich,” he said. “They came up to me and asked me for my autograph – and then said I better get myself into the club and get that money now.

“They said they knew what car I was driving and they would follow me until I paid them. They said they knew what school my little boy went to. They said they knew where my parents lived and where I lived.”


Ian Herbert, who was shortlisted as Sports Journalist of the Year in the prestigious Press Awards, and highly commended in the SJA Sports News Reporter of 2012 category,  is The Independent’s Northern Football Correspondent (see archive of his work here). Follow Herbie on Twitter here.




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World Cup prediction special: ‘The BBC will flood the airwaves with Gangnam Style and fat men everywhere will pretend to lasso women’

Friday, December 6th, 2013



Jonnie BakerBy Jonnie Baker

6 December 2013

Anticipation is obviously reaching fever pitch over the unspeakably complicated group-stage draw for the 2014 Fifa World Cup (TM), which hasn’t been obsessing too many people at all.

Certainly not to the extent that anyone would come up with a draw simulator, like the one linked here, that essentially obliges you to spend the best part of whole days pressing a button to see where the flags fly.

Now I’m not saying that the draw will end up like this (although I very much expect it):

Article continues below


Simulated WC draw on 6.12.13


But I do believe it gives us a solid basis on which we can assess each nations chances. So without further ado….

Group A

Brazil: There doesn’t really seem like much point in the other teams turning up for this one. They’re going to win the whole thing and Fred will score the winner in the final. Because he’s called Fred. Young midfielder Nigel will come to the fore while defensive powerhouse Stewart will disappoint. Neymar’s hair will finally migrate in the semi-finals to join the remainder of its flock up a tree near West Bromwich.

Italy: Will someone how limp through the group stages despite playing like strangers and being rubbish. Will make it to the semis despite being rubbish. Will play one blinding half and look set for the final before reverting to type and being rubbish. Pretty much like always really.

Costa Rica: Paulo Wanchope, your nation needs you. I’ve just noticed he’s younger than me. Well that’s a sobering thought. First-round exit assured.

Russia: You can never tell with the Russians can you? Will they wilt in the South American heat or will they prosper? No, they’ll wilt in the South American heat – like a Flake 99 in a Dyson Airblade. Carnage.

Group B

Argentina: Messi and Aguero. Good lord alive that’s a worry. Fortunately they don’t also have Pastore, Ever Banega, di Maria, Higuain, Lavezzi, Garay and Mascherano as well. They do you say? Oh. Bugger. They could win the thing too then. With Erik Lamela to bang in a brace in the final. And be sold to PSG.

Cameroon: Football strip innovators Cameroon will surely be trying out some manner of bikini or spacesuit-based uniform for this tournament. Samuel Eto’o seems to be coming into some sort of form, or at the very least is lurking behind goalkeepers and nicking the ball out of their hands, so you can’t write them off. Unless you’re me, because I’m writing them off.

Honduras: The Honduran team in the Panini Espana ’82 sticker album were all pictured performing a sort of sideways karate chop to their own chests. If this is not repeated they shouldn’t even be allowed to kick-off. Get on this Michel Platini and save the tournament.

Croatia: As a Tottenham fan, one can only hope Luka Modric makes an arse of himself. The orcish Judas. They used to be such a lovely side, ruined now forever because of the actions of one tiny ingrate. They’ll probably do alright though. But by heavens I shall swear at them.

Group C

Spain: I really, really want to see Spain get smashed into the middle of next week. Anyone who claims this tiki-taka nonsense is a basis for a proper game of football is a liar or a communist. Or both. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass…….sent home for boring the trousers off everyone.

Ecuador: Your guess is as good as mine. Anything could happen really. Though it probably won’t. In summary: drizzle, brightening later with a well-directed header at the back stick.

Japan: Drew with Holland recently playing a delicious brand of football. And Keisuke Honda has one of the best names in world soccer. Complex anime-inspired dance routines on the terraces will drive them onto the quarter finals where they’ll be robbed, ROBBED, by someone far less deserving. Let’s hope it’s England.

England: Finally, the jewel in the crown of the tournament. The side everyone wants to test themselves against. The inventors of the game that spans the world. The Three Lions. The national embarrassment we all hope pulls off a miracle and don’t start the group stage like an arthritic antelope and depart with their tails surgically removed and inserted up their fundaments. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching from behind the sofa. Where I’ve hidden the gin.

Group D

Germany: The poor man’s Austria. Out before the tournament even begins. Or potential finalists. You never know with Germany, do you? Well you do, they’ll be really good.

Nigeria: Has Kanu jacked it in yet? He must be pushing 70 by now, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t appear. And Victor Moses has played at least once for Liverpool. Peter Odemwingie will turn up at the doors of the Chicago Cubs and demand a transfer to the World Series.

Mexico: Somehow qualified for the tournament despite winning only 0.25 of a game in qualifying and shipping somewhere in the region of 481 goals a game. Commentators will insist on referring to Hernandez as the Little Pea, presumably in relief at no longer having to repress their hilarity when Alan Hansen tries to say Cuauhtemoc Blanco for the 19th time.

Portugal: The one man team of the tournament. If you count Cristiano Ronaldo as a man, to me he’s always resembled an android made of gravy. This is unlikely to stop him carrying all before him though.

Group E

Switzerland: They’re seeded aren’t they? Which seems odd. Especially when Philippe Senderos still gets a game. They’re the side everyone wants to draw in the group stages, except for England who have presumably given up all hope already.

Chile: Made England look foolish at Wembley by patently knowing how to play football. Unfortunately, they will soon discover that many other nations also have a passing familiarity with the game. Lovely kit though and that’s the main thing.

Australia: Despite triumphing in the Ashes, Australia will disappoint when it comes to the World Cup. I say ‘disappoint’, they’ll disappoint Australians, everyone else will be delighted. Stuart Broad will somehow conspire to bundle them out in the first round. Cue LOLs.

Greece: Admit it, we all wanted Romania to make it through from the play-offs. Our hearts broken by Iceland’s capitulation to Croatia, the Greeks stepped up to boot us in the knackers once more. That chap Karagounis is still turning out for them at the tender age of 53 so I’d expect a high energy tilt at a first-round exit. Possibly involving a goal. But just one. By accident.

Group F

Belgium: Very much the dark horse choice of simpletons who know nothing of the World Cup. So, brace yourselves, very much my dark horse for the World Cup. Vertonghen, Kompany, Lukaku, Hazard, Chadli, Dembele – plainly very many Belgians have sold their souls and their waffles to the forces of darkness to bring through that kind of generation. But then Colombia were the idiots’ dark horse for USA 94 and look what happened there. Ugly scenes.

Ivory Coast: I’m not sure what to make of Ivory Coast. A brace of Toures and a Bony. Anything could happen really couldn’t it. Expect that then.

United States: Same as always. A brief surge of interest as they start well, national outrage for a nano-second when they crash out and back to Kim Kardashian’s many thrilling adventures. Brad Friedel will become the oldest Doctor Who monster to appear in an international match and Tim Howard’s beard will finally consume his head.

France: They look quite good the old French. Pacey, free-scoring and seemingly quite happy. It’s going to be a hell of a job for them to instigate their traditional in-fighting and utter collapse. Imagine a Bugatti Veyron transforming into a clown car and imploding in the Maracana. With a shrug.

Group G

Uruguay: Luis Suarez, what can we say about that mercurial talent? Only this, it is impossible to look at his little face and not think: twat. Out in the first round if there’s any justice in the world.

Algeria: For some reason I’m always keen to see a North African country do well. Morocco, Egypt, Libya any of them would do. So it’s Algeria all the way for me.

Iran: I’ve never seen a wild card, neither in the wild nor in captivity. But, if you were to be lucky enough to encounter such a rare beast, it may look a little like Iran. Ashkan Dejagah should be turning out for them and, as we all know, he scored his first Premier League goal for Fulham in their foolish attempt to best Tottenham last night. For that delicious impertinence alone, I shall be wagering £1 on an Iranian victory in Brazil.

Bosnia-Hercegovina: The choice of the soccer romantic, very like Slovenia in 2002. Who were rubbish. Kevin Kampl plays in their midfield. You find a lot of Kevins in and around that area – I’m told it’s because Home Alone was enormously popular in central Europe. This is the kind of analysis that can save a career.

Group H

Colombia: Much will be made of Colombia playing an expansive, fast-breaking game of incisive passing and outrageous skill. Their opening game will be a welter of snapped legs, lateral passes and screaming mayhem. Hopefully no fatalities.

Ghana: When Ghana lost to Uruguay last time round, Marcel Desailly declared: ‘We are all Ghana now’. That’s Marcel Desailly who played for France. For that reason alone, I hope they go out.

South Korea: The neutral’s choice. The BBC will flood the airwaves with Gangnam Style and fat men everywhere will pretend to lasso women. One fat man will get carried away and actually lasso a woman before being sent home in disgrace. Poor Adrian Chiles.

Netherlands: The reliable comedy team of many a tournament. Total football descending into total acrimony in the blink of an eye. Like the French but with a greater emphasis on mayonnaise. And Wesley Sneijder is a lot smaller than you would at first imagine.


So, you can pretty much take those predictions to the bank right now.


More Jonnie Baker

‘He copyrighted making a little heart with his hands. That’s all you need to know.’

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