Tag Archives: Football Association

The Sweeper: England Needs A Soccer-Specific Stadium

wembley

Big Story

When you spend £757 million on a new football stadium, you should probably get the most important part of it right: the pitch.

Following this weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals, with players slipping up all over the field, Wembley officials have admitted the poor state of the pitch:

“We accept and understand the frustrations around the standard of the pitch at Wembley for last weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals. The problems faced on Saturday were due to the way the surface was prepared and the measures used overnight were unable to resolve the situation sufficiently for the match on Sunday.

“There is a unique challenge with the surface at Wembley and we are working with expert pitch consultants to get it right. Wembley Stadium is a multi-purpose venue and we have to hold other events as part of the business plan, which means regular pitch replacements each year.

Multi-purpose indeed, even though Wembley National Stadium Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Football Association. Of course, when you spend £757 million on a football stadium whose primary tenant team — England — only plays a few games a year there, you need to hawk it out to all kinds of events to make that money back, even with the £161 million of public funding chipped in.

Which is why on the same day the newspapers are full of woeful stories about the standard of the pitch at Wembley, Saracens rugby team are trumpeting “10,000 knights to descend on Wembley Stadium”:

The iconic venue will step back in time to middle England as medieval acts perform around the stadium and fans will get be able to join in the theme with 10,000 of them dressed in knight’s tabards that will be on sale on the day.

Then the Saracens rugby team will play Harlequins. In the summer, Green Day and Muse will host concerts.

One former groundsman at Wales’ Millennium Stadium said “Everybody expects the pitch to be perfect, even though it also stages rugby league, motor racing and American football, along with concerts.” And the lack of rest for the pitch in the summer is even more damaging. “Clubs have six to 10 weeks in the summer to work on the pitch but the demands of Wembley mean that is impossible. At Wembley, because of the use, the root zone has compacted and as a result the drainage isn’t good enough.”

Attempting to deal with the poor state of Wembley’s pitch, the Football Association reportedly plans to relay it every three months at a phenomenal cost of £125,000 each time.

This enormous expenditure on a facility not fit for its primary purpose inevitably raises questions over the Football Association’s priorities in spending. In the Telegraph, Henry Winter laments the lack of quality English managers, and says money spent on Wembley would have been better spent on training coaches: “For a 10th of the outlandish cost of a stadium the FA doesn’t need and can’t afford, it could already have built the National Football Centre and set up a production line of managerial talent.”

Of course, the Football Association just had to have Wembley instead, whatever the cost.

Quick Hits

  • Jonathan Wilson says adjustments to the offside law have massively benefited the game: “The modern offside law may be the best thing that’s ever happened to football, and it is almost certainly the reason Barcelona have been so successful with a fleet of players whose obvious asset is their technique rather than their physique.”
  • Rochdale A.F.C.: now just one win away from only the second promotion in their history, a remarkable feat for a club founded in 1907.
  • Stan Kroenke takes over. . .oh, the St Louis Rams.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Is running the FA the most pointless job in football?

Big Story

Five chief executives in ten years is the kind of instability that breeds confused decision-making and lack of direction. For English football, then, it’s not a good thing that the surprise resignation yesterday of Ian Watmore, chief executive of the Football Association, will mean a fifth in ten years will soon be arriving.

The comments on the radio today about this by David Davies, the Football Association’s executive director, are well worth reading:

“I’m very sorry on a personal level because like a lot of people I liked Ian Watmore. But the reality for everybody who cares about football has to face up to is that the FA has lost five chief executives in little more than a decade. Most of them have been victims, and Ian Watmore it seems is just the latest, of the chronic instability that I believe, and have said on several occasions, is inherent in the way our football is run.

“The structure builds in conflict – the FA, the Premier League, the Football League and the other organisations, too – conflict that is hardly surprising given that the game is riven with conflicts of interest. People’s roles and responsibilities are either not defined at all, are blurred, or worse still, set up in competition deliberately with each other.”

Davies was asked if the position had become the most pointless in English football: “Well it shouldn’t be, should it? We’re talking about the governing body of a sport in a nation that is crazy about that sport. But I understand the natural cynicism that people have because over a generation some of us, initially internally and now externally, are pointing out the problems when you have these very powerful organisations who do come together on the FA board.

“The reality is that the personal relationships haven’t been able to withstand the battering that has been inevitable. The other thing is you cannot tell me this morning what the agreed priorities of English football are, nor can I. The problem is there are none. Everybody does their own thing. We cannot go on like this for another generation.”

Personal relationships?  The Guardian says these were rocked by Watmore’s insistence on change, met with resistance by Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards: “It is believed that Watmore opposed the slow-moving committee structure of the FA, and believed he was being blocked by Richards and another Premier League representative, including Phil Gartside of Bolton Wanderers, on a number of issues.”

The Times, though, says he was “driven out by enemies within the FA”. The piece paints him as a “football man” who wanted to do the right thing “but who became frustrated at his inability to do that.”

But again, the piece returns to the power of the Premier League as the key frustration Watmore faced in pursuing change: “From the moment the FA gave the green light to the establishment of the Premier League, it has been increasingly weakened over time. The Premier League now holds an awful lot of power on the FA board which doesn’t help when the FA is attempting to implement its own changes to the game. It is not simply a Premier League issue, it is that the professional game as a whole is resistant to a lot of the changes the FA and Watmore in particular have tried to make.”

The Telegraph says that despite his short tenure, Watmore leaves achievements in his wake: “Notably, he pushed through plans for the National Football Centre at Burton, a vital project which had failed to get off the ground under previous regimes. He also secured a number of strong commercial deals, and paved the way for the Women’s Premier League.” (note: there’s already a Women’s Premier League, the Telegraph means the Women’s Super League)

Of course, unnamed sources at the Football Associationare now busy briefing the likes of Harry Harris at ESPN Soccernet claiming all is sweetness and light: “An FA insider told Soccernet: “It is a shame we have lost a decent guy, but there is no big ‘nuclear’ issue here. Some people are trying to make out there are problems with, say, the Premier League. Not at all.

“Relations across the game are in a pretty good state, certainly compared to what they have been in certain situations in the past.”

Right. Five chief executives in a decade suggests it’s a piece of cake for the Football Association.

Quick Hits

  • Meantime, and not insignificantly in this context, the Premier League is looking forward to a massive £1.4bn windfall from overseas television rights, according to FC Business magazine: “The new deal for 2010-13 has more than doubled from the £625m which was secured in the last rights issue. Premier League officials have assured its member clubs that they will raise the amount each receives from the current £10m to around £23m per season.”
  • “The Red Bull way”? Really? More to come on this.
  • How Qatar’s World Cup bid will beat the weather.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: The Women’s Super League, Who’s In and Out?

Super League

Big Story

The Football Association’s long and troubled effort to launch a professional summer women’s league has moved a step closer to actually happening: about a year from launch, they have announced the eight teams who will make up the league, out of 16 applicants. They are: Arsenal LFC, Birmingham City LFC, Bristol Academy WFC, Chelsea LFC, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton, Lincoln LFC and Liverpool LFC.

If we take a look at the current elite level of English women’s football, the FA Premier League, we will find a noticeable omission: Sunderland sit atop the standings currently (albeit second-placed Arsenal have plenty of games in-hand on them), but were not chose for the new Super League. Also missing from the Super League are fellow Premier League teams Nottingham Forest and Millwall.

Forest’s chief executive Mark Arthur expressed his disappointment: “When you are launching a new product,” he said, “you should surely include the biggest brands.” Arthur made his feelings plain: “”The application and decision-making processes were not satisfactory. We’ve done so much for the women’s game in recent years, yet we weren’t even granted an interview to explain our submission.”

Sunderland will be equally disappointed, if not surprised: word leaked last month that they would not make the final cut, leaving the north-east of England unrepresented in the Super League. Last month, Sunderland boss Maurice Alderson said that “”With the help of Sunderland FC, we put in a very strong bid and not for one moment did I think we wouldn’t get in. We’re top of the league, we reached last season’s FA Cup final and we’ve got nine current internationals at various age levels. To have all that on top of a bid backed by a Premiership club and get turned down is devastating. We’ve been kicked in the teeth.”

Without knowing the details of each application, it’s impossible to say if any of those clubs simply failed to meet the basic criteria the FA laid down or not.

Lincoln City were the surprise inclusion, with their rather interesting logo. They have an impressively ambitious statement on their website today looking forward to the future, including the Super League’s television deal with ESPN.

Since the inception of Lincoln Ladies F.C. it has been the club’s main aim, and indeed its main priority, to play at the highest level of women’s football.

This is the first time in the history of the city of Lincoln that a football club from the city will play in the highest league and at the highest level. It fills us all at Lincoln Ladies with great pride that it is our club that has delivered this fantastic prize and all the possibilities that go with it to the city, and to the people of Lincoln.

From the outset, we must stress that Lincoln Ladies will not be content with just making up the numbers in this new elite league. Rather we will strive, as we always have, to be champions of England, and we will now also look towards success for our club in European competition.

We will endeavour to build the strongest squad possible, which will include some players who presently play for us and also world class players who we hope to bring in from outside, to enable our club to achieve the success it craves, and to give the people of Lincoln a women’s football club they can be really proud of.

The Super League will be played in Summer, which of course means our supporters can enjoy watching our games in beautiful weather, warm sunny afternoons and balmy evenings, with all the benefits this will bring, enabling our club to make each football match a fantastic enjoyable and memorable experience.

It’s a real shame that the sporting success of Sunderland hasn’t been recognised, but the ambition and enthusiasm of a club like Lincoln does bode well for the Super League.

Quick Hits

  • Ridge Mahoney sums up MLS’ new labor deal, as all sweetness and light now pours forth from the players, league and owners: “For 2010, the salary cap will be $2.55 million per team (it was $2.32 million in 2009) and the minimum salary for non-developmental players is $40,000 ($34,000 in 2009). Each will increase at a basic five percent per year, though for older players the minimum will be greater. At that growth rate, the salary cap will be approximately $3.1 million in the final year of the CBA, and the minimum will be slightly more than $46,000.”  Personally, it seems to me to be a score draw given the positions each side came from.
  • Tim Vickery on a welcome sight, Uruguayan football (back) on the rise: “If it can keep grooming technically gifted players then this country of just 3.4m people will continue to punch above its weight on the football field – and that, surely, is a better course of action than punching below the belt.”

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Should the British have so much say in the Laws of the Game?

Picard

Big Story

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is something of a curiosity in today’s system of global governance of the game. The board meets annually to discuss and decide on any changes to the Laws of the Game, which all national associations affiliated to FIFA are required to enforce in games under their auspices.

The curiosity is the board’s constitution.  It’s made up of four representatives of FIFA and one representative each from the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It takes six votes for a rule to be changed.

Effectively, that gives the United Kingdom (a single nation, if not for FIFA purposes) a veto over all changes to the rules of the game.

The IFAB is holding its annual meeting this weekend in Zurich, and has five main changes on the agenda:

  • no automatic red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity if a penalty is given;
  • the legality of players “feinting” before taking penalty kicks;
  • allowing direct input from the fourth official on the sideline to the referee on key decisions;
  • the future of goaline technology;
  • similarly, the possibility of introducing extra assistant referees on the goaline

The latter is obviously a hot topic because of the Henry handball against the Republic of Ireland. Which brings up back to the curiosity we started with: in an age when FIFA has over 200 member nations, is it fair or sensible that four member associations have such a disproportionate say in the rules of the game? Had it been Northern Ireland, rather than the Republic, robbed by Henry, how would that change the dynamic of this weekend’s meeting?

Historically, of course, this makes sense. The IFAB existed long before FIFA did: with various rules in place across the British Isles as the game began to be played in an organised fashion in the mid-nineteenth century, the Football Association pioneered standardisation of rules alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Irish associations in 1882, with the first meeting agreeing on the rules of the game taking place in 1886.

When FIFA was formed under continental leadership in 1904, it accepted the IFAB’s authority to determine the Laws of the Game, with Britain still very much the epicentre of the footballing world. FIFA itself was first invited to take part in the board’s discussions only in 1913.

The IFAB has guarded the rules with a respectable conservatism; is this historical provenance enough to justify the curiosity of so much British Isles representation on the board?

One might argue, of course, that anything which prevents Sepp Blatter’s FIFA leadership from having more say in the game’s rules is a good thing. That said, why not continue the same balance of power, but have four member associations randomly rotate each year on the board in place of the British associations?

Or is this a case of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it?

Quick Hits

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

How Not to Save the FA Cup

BRITAIN SOCCER FA CUP FINAL

The FA Cup has been declining in prestige for a couple of decades now, for reasons that aren’t very difficult to understand. The institution of the UEFA Champions League made it a tertiary priority for the big four clubs who came to dominate English football.

Even for smaller clubs in the Premier League, the growing riches of league play made the rewards to be had in the FA Cup much less important financially than whether the club finished in seventh place or seventeenth in the league, due to the much greater prize money at stake there.

The FA Cup winner takes home £3.4 million; a minimum of £30 million is taken home for just staying in the Premier League.

This disparity in rewards did not exist until recent times. No wonder so many teams field weakened teams.

For fans, playing semi-finals at Wembley as well as the final has taken some of the lustre off the pot at the end of the tunnel, the greed of the FA making a Wembley appearance more commonplace.

Unpredictability and upsets remain, as we’ve seen this year in spades, but the media spotlight on the tournament has diminished with so much focus on European competition and the Premier League title race.

And you know it’s bad when the Football Association actually determines they need to do something about it, or it least get a committee to talk about doing something.

Unfortunately, according to the Times, they have a batty solution to reigniting interest: instead of finding a way to build off of the tradition of the world’s oldest football tournament, they instead want to bring in some gimmicks by reportedly making it a testing ground for experiments in the rules and regulations of the game:

The dilemma for the FA and its ten-man Challenge Cup Committee, which is chaired by Sir Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, is what kind of changes to make to the competition. The FA’s hierarchy is conscious that much of the Cup’s appeal lies in its tradition, which is why there is resistance to the idea of seeding the draw, but there is a growing feeling that something needs to change. [..]

Perhaps the most intriguing idea, though, is that the FA Cup could attract greater interest by volunteering itself to be used as a stage for future experiments with the laws of the game.

Fifa, world football’s governing body, is likely to give a trial to various innovations over the coming years — having confirmed yesterday that goalline technology will be back on the agenda when the International Football Association Board meets next month — and there is a school of thought within the FA that, as a pioneering competition, it could benefit from staging such experiments in future.

It’s all very well for the FA Cup to be a pioneer and a testing ground for change. But it sure as hell isn’t going to save the grand old competition. Did a lot more people suddenly start watching the UEFA Europa League because it was featuring an experiment with additional assistant referees on the goalline?  No.

The solutions are actually likely prosaic changes like more prize money, smarter scheduling and marketing the class and history of the FA Cup. Whether the FA can manage to do any of that remains to be seen.

Football vs. Homophobia: The Justin Campaign Takes Action

Football v. Homophobia

Earlier this week, we looked at the Football Association’s muddled efforts in assisting the campaign against homophobia in football, with a last-minute cancellation of a launch event for a new video. A video that was panned by John Amaechi:

The film that was created – starting in February 2009 – doesn’t have any players in it, lacks a cohesive narrative and certainly is one of the most offensive adverts I have seen in a long time.  Maybe I am not cool, or tuned into “the industry” but I was horrified when I first saw it and made sure that I was going to be as far away from London as possible next Thursday, when it was due to premiere to much fanfare and media acclaim.

To confuse matters further, even though the Football Association decided to abandon that high-profile premiere, they still released the video anyway. Or did they? Quite bizarrely, the link from the theFA.com’s press release about the video that reads “Watch the video  (warning this video contains strong language and adult themes)” leads to a YouTube page that when you try to play the actual video, says “This video contains content from MyVideoRights (The FA), who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” So…who knows what the hell is going on with it. Does it work for anyone else? (EDIT: since publication, the FA has fixed the video)

Meanwhile, their press release proudly trumpets:

The FA’s long term equality strategy to battle homophobic abuse in football has received a series of high profile endorsements from the likes of Sir Elton John and Brighton & Hove Albion manager, Gus Poyet.

The call for work in this area was originally raised by supporters of Brighton who contacted The FA via the Football Supporters Federation in 2006 after reports of homophobic abuse from rival fans.

Support for the campaign has also come from Ireland’s first openly gay hurler, Donal Óg Cusack, who is a three-time title winner with Cork and Frances Barron, the CEO of the Rugby Football Union.

The FA has already confirmed that they plan to use the film as a training and education tool for matchday stewards in stadiums around the country.

FA chairman, Lord Triesman: “Both The FA and Kick It Out are committed to challenging all forms of discrimination in football and making the game family friendly and it’s our hope that everyone involved across all levels of the game will give the film’s anti homophobia message their full support.”

All well and good, though it doesn’t explain why they cancelled the premiere in the first place.

Perhaps of more importance is the work going on outside the FA by activists such as the Justin Campaign, named after Justin Fashanu, a footballer hounded for his sexuality before his suicide in the 1990s.

They sent out a press release today, announcing an “international day opposing homophobia in football” on February 19th.

Community football teams throughout the UK, Europe and America will be showing their support for the cause by holding a series of football matches and fun events throughout the day under the banner of Football v Homophobia. The Justin Campaign’s football team in association with Norwich LGBT Pride Collective will be kicking off the celebrations with a triage of fun community events throughout the day and a football tournament taking place at Carrow park in Norwich on February 19th where Fashanu began his career. Amal Fashanu, John Fashanu’s daughter will be there to open the event with David McNally Chief Executive of Norwich FC attending to show his support.

The launch of Football v Homophobia comes a week after the FA decided to cancel the launch of their anti-homophobia in football video.

John Amaechi, Former NBA basketball player said: “I have been pleased to watch the continued growth of the Justin Campaign, not only because it honours a fantastic football player whose time was cut tragically short, but also because much of the real work to end prejudice and homophobia in sports, must be done by those fans and participants who are actively involved. The hard task of equality is made easier by the involvement of grass-roots organisations like the Justin Campaign. As I examine the FA’s recent anti-homophobia advert debacle, I am saddened to note that their £10,000 budget would have been far better invested in the Justin Campaign.”

Good luck to the Justin Campaign with this. Perhaps the F.A. can take a cue from them.

Football Association Fails to Tackle Homophobia. Again.

Stonewall Report on Gay Abuse cover

Six months ago, we ran a post entitled “The Failure of the Football Association to Tackle Homophobia in English Football.” It featured a report from Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, that highlighted some very depressing findings on the prevalence of homophobia in English football:

  • Three in five fans believe that anti-gay abuse from fans dissuades gay players from coming out
  • Almost two thirds of fans believe football would be a better sport if anti-gay abuse was eradicated
  • Two thirds of fans would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out
  • Over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse

We quoted Chris Basiurski, of the chair of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN), who called the survey’s results unsurprising and challenged the authorities to provide more support to anti-homophobia campaigners.  “Our own experiences show that many in the football world are in denial over the problem and have been unwilling to help us in our campaigns.”

And it’s now two years on since Jennifer Doyle first addressed the F.A.’s failures in a similar vein on these pages.

Sadly, a long piece today in the Guardian suggests the Football Association is still (to be kind about it) in a total muddle about what to do:

The Football Association’s commitment to tackling homophobia in the game was today called into question by gay rights groups after the launch of a much-heralded film designed to confront the issue was cancelled at the last minute.

Amid some unease about the content of the hard-hitting video, produced by advertising agency Ogilvy to a brief agreed by the FA itself, football diversity campaign group Kick It Out and gay rights group OutRage, Thursday’s planned launch of the film at Wembley Stadium has been cancelled.

The campaign had been in development for almost two years and had been billed as an important moment in an embryonic drive to tackle homophobia among players, fans and administrators.

“This last-minute cancellation is a big disappointment. It has thrown the Football Association’s commitment to tackling homophobia into disarray,” said OutRage campaigner Peter Tatchell.

“Contrary to what the FA is now saying, the video and strategy was agreed nearly two years ago. This postponement comes on top of the FA’s dissolution of the broad-based Tackling Homophobia Working Group,” he added.

He said the group had helped implement many constructive initiatives to rid football of homophobia, but members had now been replaced by a “hand-picked, much smaller and less representative” group. “It no longer includes all interested stakeholders,” he said.

Last year, Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said the results of a survey showing that seven in 10 fans had witnessed homophobic abuse proved that football was “institutionally homophobic”.

The video shows a man abusing workmates, tube passengers and a newspaper seller with anti-gay taunts, before doing the same at a football match. Captions make the point that since homophobic behaviour is not acceptable outside football stadiums, it should not be acceptable within them either. The FA planned to release the viral video via YouTube and its website.

The mess has now encompassed concerns about the video itself expresed by former NBA player John Amaechi, who said the film was “further proof of the FA’s willingness to window-dress its most serious problems.”

On his blog, Amaechi went further, saying:

A lot has heard over the last 18 months about Football’s “groundbreaking” advert to combat homophobia.  People have talking to me about it coming down the line and there were even reports that it would have actual professional players in it.

The film that was created – starting in February 2009 – doesn’t have any players in it, lacks a cohesive narrative and certainly is one of the most offensive adverts I have seen in a long time.  Maybe I am not cool, or tuned into “the industry” but I was horrified when I first saw it and made sure that I was going to be as far away from London as possible next Thursday, when it was due to premiere to much fanfare and media acclaim.

However, today, at about 11:30am,  sitting in a meeting with some members of Kick It Out phones started buzzing around me and the news came that the Chief Exec of the FA had cancelled the premiere.

All in all, just an absolute mess made by the Football Association. Gary Andrews commented here last month on how relatively smoothly rugby player Gareth Thomas became the first prominent openly gay player in that sport: it turned out not to be much of a fuss.

Sadly, in football, such a day still seems far off, and this fiasco from the Football Association will only make any player considering coming out as gay think again, I fear. At best, it certainly won’t help.

EDIT: Just received a press release from the Justin Campaign about all this:

The Justin Campaign are saddened at the FA’s announcement of postponing the launch of their new video aimed at tackling homophobia in football. However after having the opportunity to read John Amaechi’s take on the content of the video; think that the FA have been wise in their decision to seek further consultation on the videos production and subsequent release.

The postponement of this long awaited and much needed video has raised grave concerns regarding the FA’s overall approach to tackling homophobia. The Justin Campaign hope that the FA will see this as an opportunity to review the way they consult on their new strategy and open up this process to include the wider LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community.

If the FA’s new strategy is to include anything let it’s priority be the positive portrayal of LGBT people to it’s supporters, players and staff and the introduction of creative educational programmes, their foundation in sport, that engage with youth and adults alike on issues surrounding diversity. The overall message being that homophobia is unacceptable in any form, anywhere.

On February 19th The Justin Campaign are launching an initiative Football v Homophobia, an international day opposing homophobia in football and an opportunity to unite the efforts of all those working to challenge homophobia in football. Let the future of this initiative see the development of partnerships that have the power to bring about much needed change, in a much loved game.


The Sweeper: How To Win A World Cup Bid

David Beckham, Ambassador to the World

David Beckham, Ambassador to the World

Big Story
Winning the right to host the World Cup finals is about much more than the actual content of the bid, as we commented yesterday when examining the United States’ solid package.

For England, it’s been a torrid time of interminable controversy inside the bid administration, with the unseemly bickering between the Football Association, the Premier League and all the egos of England’s bloated football administration. The U.S., without the intense press coverage of the sport and with a much more streamlined (perhaps too much so!) national administration, is able to avoid most of this.

And so the Daily Mail plunges another knife into England’s faltering World Cup bid, though there’s something a little unsettling about the major complaint being that “Yet another sign of a wasted opportunity came in the bear hug with which FIFA president Sepp Blatter greeted former FA chief executive Brian Barwick at the Soccerex conference in  Johannesburg. Barwick, one of English football’s best networkers, was not even deemed worth a place among the bid’s 70-odd ambassadors.”

Yet England does have one endless route to good publicity: David Beckham. The Times falls for Beckham’s ambassadorial role for the bid hook, line and sinker, commenting that “The England midfielder has emerged as the figurehead of the 2018 campaign and he has already had made progress in his attempts to charm Fifa power brokers such as Sepp Blatter, the president, and vice-president Jack Warner.”

Suddenly, we are reminded that this whole World Cup bidding process — with the need to snuggle up to the likes of Warner and Blatter — isn’t such an edifying business after all. Can we ever imagine a future in which the world’s game (as FIFA likes to call it) isn’t directed by 24 old and corrupt cronies who need their egos petted at all times?

Worldwide News

  • The Colorado Rapids’ traditionally dismal supporters’ section may get a boost, as the Colorado Rapids Supporters Association says that “After several years of deliberating and negotiations, I’m proud to say the supporters are finally where they want to be…behind a goal!” They also say that negotiations with the front office will be bringing further positive change. Another step in the right direction for MLS teams’ dealings with supporters. Let’s hope it’s not too little too late for Colorado.
  • A curious defense of agents appears on the Guardian by Lawrence Donegan. There’s a good argument to be made that agents are necessary, but it needs to be put in the context that their consistently underhand and greedy practices have at times severely damaged the sport and thus they need to be kept under extremely tight leashes.  Surely they could do their job being paid a lot less than the £70.7m the Premier League spent in the past year. Yet Donegan’s defense is instead a blabbering and completely irrelevant rant about Simon Cowell’s role in the entertainment industry: “The X Factor producer and judge runs his own record company which, coincidentally, signs lots of acts that appear on the X Factor.” Who the hell cares? Football does not need to take its cues from the pop industry.
  • Why did Manchester United pull out of their deal for Serbian youngster Adem Ljajic? The Guardian speculates on, but offers little evidence for, further fnancial problems stemming from the Glazers’ debt-laden takeover.
  • There was a pretty extraordinary ending to the Copa Sudamericana final, as Ecuador’s Liga Deportiva Universitaria went down to nine men, lost 3-0 to Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro and still hung for the title thanks to their 5-1 lead from the first leg.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

Premier League Agents’ Fees Revealed

Football agents are not this cool.

Football agents are not this cool.

Due to the new requirements in the Football Association’s regulations on agents put in place this summer, the Premier League has released its first public report on the amount spent on club payments to agents, totalling £70,692,513 for 803 payments made to agents from 1st October 2008 to 30th September 2009.

No-one will be surprised by this astronomical figure, and I’ll give you one guess to figure out who spent the most in this period (hint: they play in Manchester and didn’t win the Premier League).

An interesting wrinkle is that the Premier League’s numbers don’t always match the club’s own figures. Hull City, for example, were listed by the Premier League at £1,599,188, but an official release from the club stated that “From 1st October 2008 to 30th September 2009, Hull City has actually paid £1,820,250.80 in agents fees. The total agents fees agreed and contracted in the year to 30th September 2009 was £4,392,250.”

Curiously, the numbers being reported are also changing: earlier today, many outlets (including the Guardian) were reporting West Ham United had spent £3,576,972, only for West Ham’s official site to say £5,527,548 had been dished out.

I’m not sure whether there’s anything other than lazy PR folk behind these discrepancies, but it doesn’t give me a 100% confidence in the accuracy of all the figures: the clubs report them themselves, after all.

But there is something in it for the clubs to release this information: a little more pressure on agents and players to sort out their own deals, as Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn said in their release: “At an average of around £40,000 per deal, this figure is acceptable from our point of view, however we continue to hope that we can work towards a time when the payment of agents will become the responsibility of the individual player, not the football club.”

In general, this public accountability for the amount they spend on agents is a good step forward for openness on how much money in the game is leaking out to agents, following the lead set by the Football League lower in the pyramid — which since it introduced the same transparency five years ago, has seen the amount spent on agents decline.

Yet this welcome development comes just a couple of weeks after FIFA suggested they will give up attempting to require national associations to regulate football agents, a move somewhat gleefully described by one agent as a return to the “wild west”.

The Football Association’s attempts to regulate agents with disclosures such as this being made required has made it a leader in public disclosure on agents, but we may see less of this around the world, rather than more.

Here’s the Premier League list in full:

Arsenal     £4,760,241
Aston Villa     £1,708,374
Birmingham City     £974,982
Blackburn Rovers     £1,610,885
Bolton Wanderers     £3,166,611
Burnley     £468,398
Chelsea     £9,562,223
Everton     £2,008,407
Fulham     £1,469,258
Hull City     £1,599,188
Liverpool     £6,657,305
Manchester City     £12,874,283
Manchester United     £1,517,393
Portsmouth     £3,184,725
Stoke City     £716,042
Sunderland     £2,007,040
Tottenham Hotspur     £6,066,935
West Ham United     £5,527,548
Wigan Athletic     £3,576,972
Wolverhampton Wanderers     £1,235,703

Arsenal     £4,760,241
Aston Villa     £1,708,374
Birmingham City     £974,982
Blackburn Rovers     £1,610,885
Bolton Wanderers     £3,166,611
Burnley     £468,398
Chelsea     £9,562,223
Everton     £2,008,407
Fulham     £1,469,258
Hull City     £1,599,188
Liverpool     £6,657,305
Manchester City     £12,874,283
Manchester United     £1,517,393
Portsmouth     £3,184,725
Stoke City     £716,042
Sunderland     £2,007,040
Tottenham Hotspur     £6,066,935
West Ham United     £5,527,548
Wigan Athletic     £3,576,972
Wolverhampton Wanderers     £1,235,703

The Sweeper: Jack Warner’s Rhetorical Attack On England An All-Time Low

Jack Warner

Big Story
Jack Warner has returned a handbag given to him by the England World Cup bid because of “embarrassment”, launching — even by his absurd standards — a bizarre rhetorical attack on the Football Association.

Most odd was his wording at the lack of the response by the FA to his concerns: “Equally disappointing is the deafening silence from you and the FA and which seems to support these allegations,” Warner wrote to the FA. “No one has sought to correct this betrayal in a way that would unequivocally remove any doubt or question not only in the global village at large but among my few peers where honour is valued and character is cherished.”

Who does Jack think he is, Sir Lancelot?  Last I checked he was a greedy and corrupt minor politician.

Warner then continued with an usual use of wording. “This malaise of my wife and I has been allowed to fester for too long much to our embarrassment and the embarrassment of the institutions which I represent. In this regard, therefore, there is only one recourse: a return of this gift, which has become a symbol of derision, betrayal and embarrassment for me and my family.”

It’s about you got some derision, Jack, just a shame this is for something stupid that the English FA did, and not for one of your own many abuses of power.

Worldwide News

  • It’s getting a little old commenting on what a mess it is, but America’s lower league crisis continues to drag on. Match Fit USA looks at the revamp USL-1 is facing, and potential expansion to fill the gaps left by the renegade teams. Anyone fancy a trip to Detroit?
  • Supporters of Celtic in Scotland and St Pauli have long had a close association, and 1,000 of the latter are set to join Celtic fans as they face Hamburg in the Europa Cup today.
  • Glasgow’s other major team has had another less friendly week abroad in Europe: the behaviour of Rangers fans in Bucharest may lead to another fine for the club. “Seats were ripped up and thrown at stewards during half-time of the Champions League fixture at the Steaua Stadium, prompting Uefa to make a PA announcement threatening the suspension of the game,” the Scotsman reports, though Rangers chief executive Martin Bain blamed the poor treatment of fans for the trouble.
  • In today’s Stan Kroenke update, he has upped his share of Arsenal again to 29.9%, but Russell Kempson cautions that he is not yet ready to pony up the remaining £460 million needed to control the club outright.
  • EPL Talk has an interesting piece on the different treatment given to beat journalists by American and English sports teams. The former have learned that providing good facilities and access is a way to win respectful coverage, as Eric Altshule wonders why Premier League clubs are so stingy: “with a ravenous press population eager to promote their product and a worldwide audience ready to consume every nuance and tidbit, why do teams deny access with such militancy?”
  • I hope you’ve been following the Guardian’s excellent series on location in South Africa, looking ahead to 2010.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: The Football Association and Diversity in English Football

Kick It Out Campaign

Big Story
The Kick it Out campaign for equality and inclusion in English football has been a notable success over the years, and is currently in the midst of a high-profile campaign this month, “One Game, One Community. As well as their grassroots work, Kick It Out have this year been exerting more and more pressure on the game’s leadership to reflect the diversity of the country from the top-down.

David Conn reports that attention is being focused on the Football Association, whose board, headed by Lord Triesman, consists of 12 white, middle-aged men: “The FA’s whiteness, and its sluggish approach to change, drew Ouseley’s [Kick It Out's chairman] ire in May after a British National Party councillor attended the launch of England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Citing that as a “debacle”, Ouseley said he, Crooks, Kick it Out’s director Piara Powar, and Heather Rabbatts, the former Millwall chief executive, had two “heated” meetings subsequently with Triesman. These four, with the former Celtic and Chelsea player and now World Cup bid director Paul Elliott, have been working together as a lobby group to encourage the FA to introduce more of a racial mix into the organisation.”

This pressure appears to have worked, as the Football Association’s England World Cup bid announced today all the members of its Inclusivity Advisory Group, an 11-person panel headed by Paul Elliott, and including Piara Powar, the Director of Kick It Out. Representatives from the Gay Football Supporters’ Network, the National Association of Disabled Supporters and women’s football are also included. This is a welcome move in response to the criticism, but advisory roles are not enough: the F.A. should also work towards seeing that positions of power for a game that reflects the country’s diversity do not only come from one entrenched demographic of white, middle-aged men.

Worldwide News

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

What I didn’t like was at times people putting the knife in, things like that, people backstabbing and talking about people

The Sweeper: Is television coverage of World Cup qualifiers a fans’ right?

Kentaro

Big Story
Have fans become spoiled, expecting every major game to be available for free and in their own language on their home television set, whereever the game is being played?  The patchy television rights structure of World Cup qualifiers — in which home teams sell their own coverage — has led to considerable frustration for fans of both England and the U.S. this week.

England fans will only be able to watch their game against Ukraine online, paying up to £11.99, with no coverage in pubs or post-game highlights available. Kentaro, a Swiss-based sports rights company, apparently demanded £2 million from broadcasters. The Guardian says this is a pivotal moment for the future of sports broadcasting in the UK, with the government currently considering whether to add qualifiers to a list of “protected” events that must appear on free-to-air television.

Meanwhile, U.S. fans are heading back to their dark ages, with their qualifier this week against Honduras only appearing on closed circuit television — bars being asked to shell-out thousands of dollars for access.  As of today, only a couple of dozen bars nationwide have signed up to show it, with some states completely in the dark. Though US Soccer have been criticised for this situation, the decision was entirely down to the Honduran federation, who unsurprisingly could care less whether the game is widely available in English in the U.S. or not.

A solution could be for confederations to manage rights sales as a bloc and ensure they are sold (or resold) to mainstream broadcasters.  This may have a benefit for smaller nations packaged with larger nations, just as collective Premier League rights sales benefit the likes of Bolton and just as UEFA have started centrally selling the Europa League rights, but this would also mean a smaller share for England in UEFA or the U.S. in Concacaf (as well as the frightening thought of Jack Warner handling more money). It would also mean trouble for increasingly lucrative and powerful sports marketing agencies like Kentaro, Soccer United Marketing and Traffic, who typically resell rights to the highest bidder.

Worldwide News

  • ProZone comes to the rescue for referee Alan Wiley, accused by Alex Ferguson of being unfit after Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Sunderland: the Daily Mail reports that ProZone shows Wiley ran further than all but seven players on the pitch, covering 6.86 miles. Not bad for a 48 year-old.
  • It didn’t last long in chronological time, but the scars will be felt for a while in Portsmouth: Sulaiman al-Fahim’s horrendous ownership of Portsmouth is over before two months have even passed. Unfortunately for Pompey fans, the new owner, Saudi Arabian businessman Ali al-Faraj, is also something of a mystery. The players, at least, will finally be paid today.
  • And Newcastle’s takeover saga might finally be entering the end-game, with Barry Moat submitting a formal offer for the club and promising Alan Shearer will take over again as manager.
  • The future of America’s lower-league structure continues to hang in the balance, as this very revealing interview with the Carolina RailHawks president Brian Wellman makes clear: the prospect of a breakaway by several USL-1 teams remains a very real prospect, though the timeline and challenges remain considerable (Wellman:”the options are: resolving with the USL and NuRock, or forming our own league, or forming our own league and in turn partnering back with USL, or with the MLS, possibly.”)  Wellman should be credited for such an open and honest interview, as fans have been left in the dark by USL’s near-silence on the entire subject for too long.
  • The Latvian FA have excluded Dinaburg from the top-flight, as the fall-out from UEFA’s investigation into match-fixing begins. This will rumble on behind the scenes for a while.
  • A Times’ journalist is wrestling with a dilemma: at Ibrox this weekend, he witnessed a stream of bigoted comments from a Rangers fan during the Old Firm derby. He seems conflicted over whether to report the supporter — and suggests that Rangers care so little to tackle the issue, he may as well not bother anyway.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: How much fan abuse is acceptable in football?

Abusive chanting

Big Story
What is it acceptable for fans to chant at football matches? I (hope!) we can all agree there are clearly some things that should always be out of bounds anywhere in the world, such as racist chanting/abuse, and some countries (hello, Italy and Spain) have more work to do than others. But what about what might be considered simply abusive or offensive chanting and behaviour?  Where should the line be drawn?  This year, it seems we’ve seen more instances than ever of players in direct confrontation with fans, from David Beckham in LA to Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor in Manchester.

The Football Association announced today its own plans to tackle “hostile and abusive” chanting.  Beyond technically illegal chanting, FA chief executive Ian Watmore wants to eradicate “what I think of as vile chanting. We in football should think about ways in which we can exorcise that from the game — but without glorifying it — because it puts the average person off.”

A similar situation was also brought up yesterday in MLS: the Columbus Crew’s President & General Manager Mark McCullers wrote an open letter to Crew fans in the Nordecke section of the stadium, asking them to desist from chanting that he said “compromises our repuation and cannot be tolerated.”  McCullers said Crew fans were damaging relations with sponsors and putting off other fans, a similar tack taken by Watmore.

Neither executive offered any serious idea of (a) how we go about defining what needs to be eradicated; and (b) how to actually do this. What do you think?  Is the situation worse than ever? (cue a discussion about the moral decline of Western Civilisation. . .)

Worldwide News

  • Speaking of Columbus, The Olympian looks at ten years of MLS’ first soccer-specific-stadium: Crew Stadium, built by Lamar Hunt to help keep the Crew in Columbus. The cheap tin-can design is hardly the Home Depot Center, but its significance in even having been built remains.
  • The latest addition to the U.S.’s World Cup Bid Committee isn’t a famous name, but he is a heavyweight whose global clout cannot be underestimated: Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company. Disney, of course, own ABC and ESPN, and this probably is the most powerful media executive in the sports world.
  • The mess at Portsmouth goes on. New owner Sulaiman Al Fahim (admitted to hospital yesterday for kidney stones) is getting all the bad press, with chief executive Peter Storrie attempting to portray himself as a white knight — which, as we discussed in the comments here yesterday, is hard to stomach given Storrie has presided over the mess at Portsmouth for quite a while now.
  • When Phil Scolari ended up managing at shady Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan last year, the press had plenty of positive buzz about it. Twelve months later, Big Phil is facing the sack again: but he’ll hardly be crying, as the highest paid manager in the world, he will have to make-do with a £12m pay-off. Just don’t think about where that money came from, Phil (there may be a few blood stains).

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Sweeper: Labour’s Failure to Regulate Football

Labour Party

Big Story
Yesterday we looked briefly at the concerns about the Football Association’s lack of reform expressed by Sports Minister Gary Sutcliffe. But how has the Labour government — in its twelve years in power and with a long-proclaimed aim to modernise and promote the broader development of football — fared itself in ensuring this happens?

David Conn looks at the overall record of Labour’s involvement with football, and comes away not too impressed. Conn sees some progress, such as the establishment of Supporters Direct to promote supporter involvement in the financing and governance of their clubs, but in general, a lot of words and too little action.

Time is running out for Labour, with a general election looming. There’s no doubt many in the government, such as Andy Burnham and Gary Sutcliffe, are heartfelt supporters of the game and wanted more than a photo-op with Kevin Keegan, a la Tony Blair in 1997. They have sowed some important seeds for the grassroots, but it’s also under Labour’s watch that the rampant unchecked commercialism they’ve criticised has taken-off to an unprecedented degree in football.

As Conn mentions, an independent regulator could and should have been installed — Sutcliffe himself made that call in parliament ten years ago, with perspicacious words: “We cannot allow the ownership of and responsibility for professional football to be left in the hands of those who seek to exploit it financially or for some personal kudos at the expense of supporters. The Football Association has failed miserably to protect and act in the best interests of all who support the game. It should hand over the scrutiny of club’s finances and codes of conduct to an independent regulator.”

Sadly, it looks like Labour has missed the opportunity to take that important step.

European News

North American News

  • Steve Davis quite rightly rips into the re-branding of MLS clubs, with particularly regard to FC Dallas: “Five years ago in August the Dallas Burn became FC Dallas. A year after that, they moved into a dandy little stadium, where tens of hundreds of people now show up 16-18 times a year to watch a poor product while frequently taking a beating in customer service and then putting the cherry on the bad experience sundae by getting stuck in traffic on the way home.” More on this tomorrow.
  • MLS has released its schedule of 2010 home openers (hopefully I’ll be heading to New Jersey to watch the Fire embarrass the Red Bulls again as they open their new stadium). Ben Knight at Onward Soccer questions the wisdom of sending Toronto to Columbus on opening day, saying fans continue to be concerned by the treatment dished out to them by police there. “But lots and lots of folks won’t go, and most of the rest won’t exactly be thrilled.  It’s always tough, when you’re on foreign soil and don’t know what the cops are going to do next.”
  • Chivas USA took on their mothership club, Chivas de Guadalajara, and only twenty-odd thousand showed up at the massive Rose Bowl. Match Fit USA wonders what went wrong.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

But lots and lots of folks won’t go, and most of the rest won’t exactly be thrilled. It’s always tough, when you’re on foreign soil and don’t know what the cops are going to do next.

The Sweeper: FA Failing in Grassroots Development

The Football Association

Big Story
The Football Association likes to boast of all its work in grassroots football and developing under-privileged sides of the game, but as we’ve seen in its continually disappointing treatment of women’s football, there’s an awful lot more talk than action.

Four years ago, the Government’s Burns Report outlined the action the FA needed to take to reform and join the 21st (or perhaps 20th) century, and their lack of action in several key areas has led Sports Minister Gary Sutcliffe to threaten a withdrawal of funding.

“To change from the old style structure to the new structure we need to have non-executive directors on the board [and] there needs to be progress in the women’s game,” Sutcliffe said.

Owen Gibson likens calling for reform of the FA to Groundhog Day, with Lord Triesman — the FA’s chairman picked to respond to the Burns report — now under fire for his failure to follow through on the accepted need for change, with the “old-school” 116-member council still lacking diversity.

How much more public embarrassment will it take the cash-rich FA to fulfill its mission to develop the sport more broadly?

European News

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

The Failure of the Football Association to Tackle Homophobia in English Football

Justin Fashuna on the cover of the Gay Times

Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity, released a damning report on homophobia in English football this week entitled “Leagues Behind – Football’s Failure to Attack Anti-Gay Abuse”. Stonewall found that 7 out of 10 fans have heard homophobic abuse directed at players during a game, and branded the sport “institutionally homophobic.”  Stonewall’s survey of over 2,000 football fans found that a majority think that the football authorities don’t do enough to tackle homophobia in football. They summarised the report’s findings as follows:

  • Three in five fans believe that anti-gay abuse from fans dissuades gay players from coming out
  • Almost two thirds of fans believe football would be a better sport if anti-gay abuse was eradicated
  • Two thirds of fans would feel comfortable if a player on their team came out
  • Over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse

Perhaps most worrying is that while 61% of fans think there is less racist abuse in football today than two decades ago, only 31% believe there is less homophobic abuse now than then.” This feeds into the final point above: while there has been a considerable coordinated and concerted effort to eradicate racism from football, no such effort on anywhere near the same scale has taken place to tackle homophobia. Indeed, one fan in the report made a direct link between the two trends in the report: “It [anti-gay abuse] has gone up if anything. Football seems to now be comfortable with anti-gay chants and abuse and not racism. One seems to have been replaced by the other.”

Apparently, the tragic story of Justin Fashanu, football’s first prominent openly gay footballer who committed suicide in 1998, has not proven to be a wake-up call over the last decade for the authorities, despite the efforts of campaigners like Stonewall United FC player Jason Hall, who last year set-up the Justin Campaign to fight homophobia and called on authorities to support the campaign’s aims.

d

In a similar vein, Chris Basiurski, the chair of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN), called the survey’s results unsurprising and challenged the authorities to provide more support to anti-homophobia campaigners.  “Our own experiences show that many in the football world are in denial over the problem and have been unwilling to help us in our campaigns,” he said. “When we have approached the clubs, many have commented that homophobia is not a problem in their club. Hopefully the findings in this report will make them think again.” Only one in six fans told Stonewall’s survey that their club was doing anything to tackle anti-gay abuse, compared to three in five who were aware of anti-racist campaigns by their clubs.

Stonewall recommends that “sanctions used against fans who perpetuate anti-gay abuse and violence are consistent with those for racist abuse. Kick It Out, the FA’s anti-abuse campaign, needs to be properly resourced to challenge anti-gay abuse, and this role should be more widely promoted.” Page twelve of Stonewall’s report is the most damning, with a series of anonymous “football industry insiders” criticising the entire culture of the football authorites, who seem unable to even identify homphobia as a serious problem to be challenged. “It’s definitely leadership from the top,” One is quoted as saying. “It’s definitely getting people within the football authorities to kind of come out and not even just say ‘Well this is something that we want to address.’ It’s the whole thing about actions speak louder than words isn’t it?”

The Guardian adds that “Although the game’s regulator has been in dialogue with the equality campaign for a few years, there is private dismay in the gay community at the lack of real progress on the issue of homophobia. Attempts to get “senior support”, that is from high-profile FA executives who could lend their weight to the publication were, well, stonewalled. But since the FA’s chairman, David Triesman, below, said it was not an FA matter but “for the club” to issue sanctions against the Tottenham fans who hurled criminally homophobic abuse at Portsmouth’s Sol Campbell in 2008, that might have been expected.”  The survey reported that five out of six fans supported the charging of fans in connection with the alleged anti-gay abuse used against Sol Campbell, only making the F.A.’s lack of action appear more out of step with public opinion.

Of course, it would take more than the F.A. to solve the problem; many in the report noted the virulent anti-gay undertone of much tabloid press coverage, and the chicken-and-egg situation of the general football fan culture that seems to deem acceptable anti-gay abuse. But there’s no doubt a public campaign needs to be led from the top and would provide a critical kick-start to kicking homophobia out of football.

Notably, unlike the Professional Footballers Association, the Football Association itself has yet to comment on the report.

The Sweeper: Soccer Nation?

Don Garber

Don Garber

The Big Story

Don Garber’s been all over the place on the anniversary of his ten years as MLS Commissioner. A particularly interesting in-depth interview is on Reuters Soccer Blog. Garber all but confirms Montreal as the next expansion team (“A very strong position yes.”), and comments that the recent spate of successful international tours is leading America to become “soccer nation.”

Garber’s answer about the position of USL below MLS was notable, and suggests the leagues are somewhat at a crossroads in their relationship. “I do believe that we can only all benefit from a strong minor league and a strong connection between it and the major league in this country,” Garber said. “I look forward to seeing how that progresses in the years ahead.”

It seems this could go two ways: the much-wanted desire for promotion-relegation between MLS and USL (unlikely given the price an MLS franchise costs) or the forging of a new relationship with the USL/PDL as a true development league for MLS. With the lack of a reserve league hurting MLS teams and the growth of MLS academies, some new kind of relationship could be of benefit — but would this would mean USL accepting a much more subordinate role than the league has now, in which it can often compete on an equal footing with MLS in cup competition.

Of course, USL fans will point out another of their teams knocked off an MLS team in the CONCACAF Champions League last night, but with Montreal set to become the latest strong USL club to be “promoted” to MLS, both leagues do need to forge a new relationship going forward to strengthen the structure below MLS nationwide for a true “Soccer Nation” to exist.

Worldwide

North America

  • The fallout from the Twitter revolution in sports continues apace. This times it’s journalists who will have to watch their words at ESPN — a memo from ESPN headquarters yesterday cracked down on use by ESPN employees. The guidelines basically forbid any social network posting on anything related to sports.
  • As we mentioned above, in CONCACAF’s premier tournament the Champions League, it was another disappointing night for MLS. Toronto FC went down to USL’s Puerto Rico Islanders, unable to score over 180 minutes of play. DC United did go through, but only on penalties against an El Salvadorean team they took far too lightly in the first leg.
  • Finally, the Chicago Fire take on Tigres from Mexico in the SuperLiga final tonight, and I will of course be in attendance — and in fact, I’m far more excited about it than I thought I’d be at the start of the tournament, essentially North America’s version of the UEFA Cup. It’s been fashionable, and with some good reason, to deride SuperLiga this year — especially with poor attendances at MLS stadiums in the group stages. But it looks like a large crowd will be in attendance at Toyota Park for the final tonight, as the Fire take on an excellent Tigres side with $1 million on the line. Section 8 is sold-out, so it’s guaranteed to be loud.  Tune in on TeleFutura in the US and try to spot me going nuts.

For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow @pitchinvasion on Twitter. ESPN can’t censor us!

Did the Football Association really apologize for its sexism and homophobia?

Lily ParrRecently, fans of the women’s game gathered in Regents Park to honor Lily Parr, the first woman inducted to the National Football Museum Hall of Fame. Parr was an amazing character, from an incredible time in the history of women’s football in the U.K. Renown for her athleticism and skill, she was a celebrity in the late teens and twenties, and was directly impacted by the 1921 FA ban that barred women from FA pitches and forbid FA members from refereeing or working as linesmen during women’s games.

The Guardian reported on an FA statement issued in relation to the Parr Trophy match — which was not, as far as I can tell, sponsored by the FA in any way. The newspaper story, “FA Apologies for 1921 Ban“, offers no direct quotes from an FA statement, raising the question: Was it really an apology?

The Lily Parr Exhibition Trophy Match was part of Gay & Lesbian History Month – it was played between the London Lesbian Kickabouts and Arc-En-Ciel, a Parisian lesbian football team – recreating in spirit the first international women’s game played between England and France. The fact that this celebration of Parr was a part of Lesbian & Gay History month – and that the two teams which played are lesbian feminist teams was not mentioned in Tony Leighton’s telegraphic story (was anyone from The Guardian’s staff there?). I suppose we should be grateful there was any mention of that match, of Lily Parr, and of the rest of action in the women’s game this week in the four paragraph story. But is it really journalism if it’s reporting final scores, and recycling press releases?

The Kickabouts posted the following on their website:

“Lucy Faulkner, Equality Manager at The Football Association said ‘In 1921 The FA requested that clubs belonging to the Association should refuse the use of their grounds for matches played by women with the purpose of raising charitable funds. Furthermore, they stated that ‘the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’.

“The damage this did to the women’s game is hard to calculate but I am confident that with the support and investment of The FA in women’s football in 2008, the sport will continue to go from strength to strength.’”

There’s another statement on the Kickabout site from Trevor Brooking, director of development at the FA about the growing strength of the women’s game.

The Kickabouts quite rightly list this not as an “apology”, but as a “response”. A response from the Equality Manager is not an apology from the FA Board.

Maybe something went down at that game that has yet to surface in the blogs, like:

“FA Board members attend LGBT celebration of legendary athlete Lily Parr, and apologize for the sexism and homophobia that continue to dominate football culture. Vow to change their own attitudes, to give the FA’s full support to its women players — and kick homophobia out of the men’s game while they are at it.”

ps: For more about Parr, see Barbara Jacobs’s book, The Dick Kerr’s Ladies.