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EPL

4 Football Corruption Controversies in Modern Football

Football is globally popular for its simplicity. Almost anywhere in the world, transcending social and economic factors, football in some shape or form is accessible to anyone. Whether it’s “jumper for goalposts” in a British park, playing barefoot on the sandy floors of Kenya, or street football in Brazil, anyone with a ball, a few friends, and a small open space can make adaption or interpretation of the beautiful game.

 

But when a game becomes so globally popular, it leaves itself vulnerable to being utilised for greed, profit, and power. The modern game, at times, drifts away from the simplicity of playing in the park as its integrity has become threatened by the corruption and greed of governing bodies, multi-national companies, nation-states.

 

Here are the four biggest modern occurrences and accusations of corruption in our globally loved sport.

 

1.  The FIFA Corruption Scandal (2015)

 

When it was exposed that many senior members of the historic gatekeepers of football, FIFA, had been involved in a large corruption scandal, shockwaves reverberated across news media across the world.

 

Officials, including the establishment’s President, Sepp Blatter, were accused of accepting bribes from the Russian and Qatari governments in return for votes for their respective successful 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

 

Furthermore, FIFA were accused of mismanaging their finances; serious concerns raised by Swiss and American authorities resulted in arrests due to several cases of wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering.

 

This was the corruption that was supposed to prevent wrongdoing across the sport, so when it became apparent that FIFA had been contributing towards the corruption, it fuelled a whole culture of mistrust and suspicions towards the game’s various governing bodies and elite interests.

 

2.  Manchester City’s 115 Charges (2023)

 

Manchester City have dominated English football for large parts of the last decade, but their success hasn’t come without its controversies.

 

While the allegations and charges against Manchester City do not relate to corruption in the traditional sense, such as bribery or match-fixing, the English Champions have been accused of breaking 115 financial rules between 2009 and 2018, including failing to provide the correct information to support the Premier League’s investigation. If found guilty, Manchester City could receive fines, healthy point deductions, or transfer embargos.

 

However, supporters have questioned why the Premier League have been unable to show any kind of punishment towards Manchester City despite longstanding allegations, when Everton, Nottingham Forrest and Leicester have already received punishment for significantly fewer breaches of financial rules in the same period. It has led some to question the prevalence of corruption within the Premier League governing body, but so far, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

 

3.   “Mes Que Un Club” (2023)

 

Barcelona, the artists of football with fingerprints of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola all over the club’s philosophy, sanded purists all over the world when they were charged with referee bribery in 2023.

 

The Catalonian giants were charged with suspected referee bribery payments of over £7m to former vice president of the refereeing committee, José María Enríquez Negreira.

 

Barcelona denies any wrongdoing among a sea of other ongoing financial concerns.

 

4.  Juventus (2023)

 

Juventus, no strangers to accusations of financial irregularities and corruption, were handed a 15-point deduction in January 2023 after being found guilty of inflating transfer fees by Italian authorities.

 

In a case brought by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), Juventus were found to have manipulated fees in their financial records for capital gains benefits, with the swap deal of Miralem Pjanic and Arthur Melo involving FC Barcelona as an example.

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EPL

Scotland’s Chances in the EUROS

Scotland, a country that claims to have invented the ‘passing game’, inspiring South America and the rest of Europe to play the game in the way we’re familiar with today, has endured a miserable time on the international scene for as long as many can remember.

 

While the nation is an absolute hotbed of footballing culture and passion, boasting some of the greatest ever managers in the game’s history, such as Bill Shankly and Alex Ferguson, the largest per-capita average crowd attendances in the world, and two of the most globally recognised football clubs in Celtic and Rangers, the national team has struggled to ever experience much success.

 

Football is intertwined into the nation’s culture to a greater extent than perhaps anywhere else in the world. While those in Brazil will argue that their samba, beach style and passion for the game have had more influence on the global game, the significance of football to the people might be rivalled by what we see in Scotland.

 

With the absence of the sunny weather of Brazil, the rest of South America, and warmer climates within Europe, it can feel, for some, like there is nothing else to do in Scotland than attend or play football at the weekend.

 

So, why have the Tartan army been so deprived of any international footballing success? Despite its relatively small population, you’d imagine this football worshipping nation would be regularly present in EUROS and World Cup tournaments, and even reaching the final rounds on occasion.

 

Scotland’s Historic Qualification Horrors

 

To understand the desperation of the Scottish people to qualify and perform at this summer’s EUROS, you must recognise the agonising near misses and crushing failures of their past 30 years of international football.

 

Until the turn of the Century, Scottish supporters were used to seeing their nation compete at major tournaments – while they failed to win any silverware, the small country usually had a team they could be proud of, with some of their best talents playing prominent roles for English giants Manchester United and Liverpool. Qualifying for five consecutive World Cup tournaments between 1974 and 1990, Scotland was considered one of the world’s strongest footballing nations.

 

Scotland would experience limited success during the 90s. Still, they successfully qualified for two EUROS tournaments, as well as the France 1998 World Cup. However, the national team would then embark on a journey of failure and absence from major competitions that nobody could have envisaged.

 

In 2008 Scotland looked set to play in their first EURO’S tournament in well over a decade, before falling to a shock 2-0 defeat against minnows Georgia, who had a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old starting for them, and conversely missing out on that summer’s tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

 

It was a horror that stayed with the Scottish for another 12 years of disappointment until 2020, as the Tartan Army qualified for the EUROS and ended their 23-year absence from major tournaments.

 

Scottish supporters may have had limited expectations heading into their first major tournament of the 21st century, but registering just one goal and picking up a single point may have surpassed the dreads of even the most pessimistic Scottish fans.

 

Euro 2024

 

Nonetheless, Scotland, after finishing above Erling Haaland’s Norway in qualification, are heading off to this summer’s EUROS in Germany. There’s a rejuvenated sense of pride and expectation in a national team that’s been performing better over the past couple of seasons.

 

Defender Ryan Porteous suggested Scotland are “not far off” the best teams going to Germany this summer, and supporters will share some optimism. However, negotiating a tricky group with Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary, making up their fellow competitors in Group A, will be the first challenge for the Scots.

 

Bookies have Scotland at 80/1 to win the whole tournament, but progression out of the group stages and a new injection of Scottish pride will surely be enough for supporters who’ve endured such a torrid time since across much of the 21st century.

 

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EPL

Premier League player of the season candidates

As last year’s Premier League season was coming to a close, one name was dominating ‘Player of the Year’ debates on football talk shows, social media, and schools alike: Erling Haaland.

 

In truth, the Premier League had probably never witnessed a season where the Player of the Year was so glaringly obvious – even Luis Suarez’s mostly spectacular 33 goals of the 2013/2014 season, or Thierry Henry’s 30 goals of Arsenal’s invisible season struggled to match up to Haaland’s iconic demolition of the Premier League last season.

 

The Norwegian was unstoppable in his debut Premier League season. Any discussions about who the Player of the Season would be were already over by the end of October, as Haaland notched 18 goals in his first 13 Premier League matches.

 

The Premier League has been more competitive than we’ve been accustomed to in recent years. Manchester City, while still just a point off the top, haven’t quite blown the league away in the manner they so often do under Pep Guardiola.

 

Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool are often causing Guardiola headaches at the top of the table, and this season, Arsenal have emerged as genuine title contenders, too. With no clear standout team or player term, let’s have a look at those who can justifiably throw their hat into the ring.

 

Virgil Van Dijk

 

“They thought I was finished”, the towering Dutchman emotionally told an interviewee after his man-of-the-match performance in Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final win last month.

 

It was a moment of self-recognition that, despite the criticisms of his consistency and remarks he was past his best last season, he’d been in the shape of his life over the past six months.

 

Leading a Liverpool side expected to be in a transitional season to a very competitive title charge and looking so elegant, Van Dijk will surely be among this year’s Player of the Season candidates.

 

His significance to Liverpool was epitomised in their clash against rivals Manchester City last week, when Haaland went one-on-one to score against Van Dijk, only to be expertly marshalled wide, forcing a poor shot from the deadly Norwegian striker.

Even if Van Dijk doesn’t win the Player of the Season award or Liverpool misses out on the title in May, he’ll have solidified himself as one of the very best Premier League defenders of all time.

 

Phil Foden

 

We’ve heard about Phil Foden’s ability for years – in 2019,  Pep Guardiola, despite having previously coached Lionel Messi, Andrea Iniesta, and Xavi, labelled the silky Stockport-born forward as “the most talented player I’ve ever seen.”

 

While Foden had been an almost ever-present vessel in Manchester City’s several league titles and 2023 treble-winning season since it never quite felt like the Manchester City academy starlet had completely realised his potential and justified the early gushing reviews of Pep Guardiola.

 

That was until this season. For the first time, Foden has been the man Manchester City have relied on in big moments and driven the team forwards, rather than being just another cog in Guardiola’s winning machine.

 

The forward has 11 goals and 7 assists in his 28 Premier League matches, which probably isn’t a fair reflection of how consistently and skilfully he’s driven a Manchester City team that’s been slightly below par at times this season.

 

Declan Rice

 

Arsenal may have raised the eyebrows of sceptics after completing the £100M transfer of Declan Rice from West Ham United last summer, but the Englishman has added serious steel and physicality to an Arsenal team looking to go a couple of steps further than they managed last season.

 

Arsenal played glistening football at times during the 2022/2023 season, but in a way we sometimes expect of the North London club, they didn’t quite have the prowess and physicality to maintain a title charge to the final weeks of the season.

 

Despite promising young defenders such as William Saliba and Gabriel, Arsenal felt weak over the pitch at times. That won’t be a problem this time around; the English defensive midfielder has revolutionised the Arsenal midfield, adding strength but also admirations for his passing and ball-carrying ability.

 

If Arsenal are to lift the Premier League trophy in May, last summer’s acquisition of Declan Rice would have had played a big part to in the Gunner’s success.

 

Other Candidates

 

In addition to the three leading candidates above, the current Directors’ Box poll has suggested Haaland, Watkins, Salah, Odegaard, De Bruyne and Saka as other strong options.

Vote now on Directors’ Box. https://onelink.to/tf8udg 

 

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EPL

Britain’s most boring football teams

Football is a sport about emotion – it’s an opportunity to feel something. Whether it’s the hope, despair, ecstasy, or agony stomached during the latter stages of a campaign avoiding relegation, or chasing the play-offs, football, at its best, makes us feel.

 

In many instances, the emotion experienced holds greater significance than any point tally or league position could ever reflect. The greatest possible example of this could be when Everton, a club that for years following their last title-winning season in 1987 had just apathetically been making up the numbers in the Premier League, were faced with the genuine prospect of relegation.

 

After dramatically surviving relegation to the Championship on the final day of the 21/22 Premier League season, Goodson Park shivered with joy (and indeed relief) in a way the historic ground hadn’t since its 20th-century league title and FA Cup wins.

 

While the team were less successful than a typical modern mid-table Everton side, it finally gave the toffee faithful something to feel and experience, something to be part of.

 

So, who are the other British football clubs who largely avoid the despair and ecstasy the beautiful game relentlessly brings us?


Bristol City

 

Bristol City, a club that publicly announced their ambitions to bring European football to the recently re-developed Ashton Gate, have only finished in the top half of the Championship once in the last 10 years, while simultaneously rarely coming in any danger of relegation.

 

Furthermore, Bristol City haven’t faced their city rivals, Bristol Rovers, who’ve largely been stuck in the lower reaches of English football, in the league for 21 years. The Robins fans must have forgotten what it feels like to win or fall short in a truly big game.


For one of Britain’s biggest and most prevalent cities, it’s amazing that neither Bristol side has experienced Premier League football or a major trophy win.


Preston North End

 

Preston North End were one of the founding members of the Football League, play in the oldest professional stadium in England, and was once one of the country’s most successful clubs, winning the First Division and FA Cup twice each.

 

Having been relegated from the top-flight in 1961, the Lancashire side has never returned or come close to replicating their former FA Cup glories.

 

It will feel like Groundhog Day for most living Preston North End fans; 64% of their seasons since relegation from the First Division has been in the Championship, while in the last 10 years, they’ve finished between 14th and 7th in the Championship every single time.

 

Preston fans largely avoid the misery of relegation or heartbreakingly falling short in the play-offs but haven’t had too many recent moments to tell their future grandchildren about either.


Crystal Palace

 

We all want success for our football teams, but what happens when your club reaches its ceiling and seems just to stagnate?

 

That’s exactly what’s happened for Crystal Palace. Historically not one of the country’s biggest, Palace have stabilised as a solid Premier League club. Finishing between 10th and 15th in the Premier League every season since promotion from the Championship in 2013, Palace fans must be a little bored of treading water.

 

While it would take something spectacular to ever challenge the European places, they’ve watched arch-enemies Brighton find a way into the top six in just their sixth Premier League season.

 

Palace might get the odd victory against a top-six club, but that’s about as far as their excitement has gone in recent years.

 

Honourable Mention

 

Football is full of cycles, and while years of mid-table mediocrity might feel like an eternity, it won’t go on forever. Take Coventry City for example; the sky blues had failed to finish in the top six of any division for 47 (forty-seven) years before promotion from League Two in 2018.

 

Since breaking their curse they’ve gone on to win promotion from League One, make the Championship play-off final, and their most recent successes has earned them an FA Cup semi-final date with Manchester United at Wembley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EPL

Does the media depict fans in a negative Way?

Does the Media Generally Depict Football Fans in a Negative Way?

 

Such is the prevalence of football to culture in the United Kingdom, escaping media coverage of the beautiful game is near impossible. With journalists reporting on every game, TV broadcasters capturing footage, and fans recording clips to post on social media, even those with no association with the sport are likely to have a strong understanding and awareness of what football culture represents to the people of the United Kingdom.

 

It is rare, if not entirely unique, for a singular cultural or sporting entity to have such a profound impact on the way a country views themselves. The influence football has on the identity of an individual, a community, or a team in the United Kingdom cannot be understated. When a struggling lower-league team makes an unlikely promotion charge or goes on a giant-killing cup run, football can unite communities and create magical shared experiences of ecstasy among friends and families, building a sense of belonging for those with limited social opportunities or representation.

 

As we enter an increasingly secular society, with numbers of worshipers visiting religious establishments at the weekend dwindling, attending the local football stadium in the middle of a community represents perhaps it’s closest possible replacement. Rather than God’s in the sky, supporters worship their football heroes on the pitch, living in the hope that one day they can produce a miracle title-winning season and create memories with their peers that last a lifetime.

 

So why, given football’s clearly identifiable benefits and contributions to enriching local communities, are supporters sometimes demonised, scapegoated, and belittled by national media?

 

A History of Poor Media Representations

 

Football fans, as with many other working-class subcultures and subgroups, have battled unfair media representations for decades. ‘Hooligans’ was a term first used in the late 1960s to sensationally characterise football fans as dangerous to wider society and culture at large.

 

In the following years, hysterical headlines, emotive language and evocative imagery all contributed towards framing football fans as ‘drunken, tattooed, crop-headed oafs’, as the Sunday Mirror described them.

 

Undeniably, violence on the terraces of United Kingdom football grounds in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s had some prominence. A cultural phenomenon labelled by those in Europe as ‘the English disease’ saw years of violence, criminal damage, and threatening behaviour on our terraces, eventually resulting in a ban from European competitions for English clubs.

 

However, as bad as this was, the media utilised it to create moral panics around football fans and scapegoat groups for tragedies they played no part in producing. Most notably, the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 saw The Sun newspaper untruthfully claim Liverpool supporters contributed towards the death of 97 of their own fans. It took until 2016 for Liverpool fans to receive justice and acknowledgement that they played no part in the tragedies that occurred that day.

 

Today’s Suspicion of Football Supporters

 

In the years since Hillsborough, the landscape of supporter culture in the United Kingdom has changed dramatically. The introduction of the Premier League, all-seater stadiums, and changes in wider social attitudes have seen a great decline in the prevalence of violence in and around football stadiums.

 

While instances of violence do still occur, it can often be attributed to the large congregation of people rather than a football-specific problem. Yet, bizarrely, the media still often describes football fans with the same limited representations attributed to them in the 1980s.

 

As a result of the constant moral panics, scaremongering, and government legislation, football fans are still treated with aggressive policing, and general mistrust today. For example, in all other professional sports in the United Kingdom alcohol can be consumed in sight of the pitch, football fans aren’t granted with the same luxury.

 

It makes you question; are football fans more dangerous and likely to incite violence that followers of sports such as rugby and cricket or is the mistrust and beliefs around the behaviour of football fans as a result of limited media representations and general classist attitudes in the United Kingdom?

 

 

 

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EPL

Why EURO 2024 Could Be England’s Time

Why EURO 2024 Could Be England’s Time

 

The English media has never shied away from outlandishly labelling its national team as the clear favourites going into major tournaments. In the 57 years since England’s single major tournament triumph, we’ve seen the hailing of countless ‘golden generations’ only for the group to be unheeded months later after failing to bring to football home.

 

It’s difficult to understand if the sentiment of England’s national team underachieving in major tournaments is reciprocated elsewhere. Prior to the 2006 World Cup many in England felt its star-studded squad, including the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Wayne Rooney would be too much for anyone to handle and that it was surely England’s year, only to be defeated by Portugal on penalties in the quarterfinals.

 

However, when you analyse the squads of other nations going into the 2006 World Cup, it makes you wonder if, in England, we were a little naïve to mark ourselves as the favourites for the trophy. Brazil boasted previous Ballon D’Or winners Kaka, Ronaldo Nazario, and Ronaldinho in their squad; France had some of the greatest players of all time at their disposal in Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, and Patrick Viera, while eventual winners Italy had footballing greats Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Nesta, and Andrea Pirlo.

 

It begs me to raise the question; have England ever been the true favourites going into a major tournament? The truth is, contrary to the beliefs of overly demanding supporters and sensationalist tabloid headlines, winning an international tournament is incredibly difficult. While England has had squads crammed full of world-class talent in years gone by, the same can be said for a handful of other nations, who all believe it could be their year.

 

The Steady Progression to Strong Candidates

 

But something genuinely does feel different this year, as if the expectation of the nation is justifiable rather than delusional. While manager Gareth Southgate very much split’s opinion among English supporters and press alike, the 53-year-old has undeniably redefined the national team.

 

When Southgate took over as England manager in 2016, the national team was in a dire state. After an embarrassing EUROS defeat to Scandinavian minnows Iceland, major cultural, developmental, and footballing changes were desperately required to see England competitive become a competitive force in tournaments once more.

 

Southgate managed to change attitudes around the national team, making watching and interacting with his young team fun for supporters, as an unfancied England side made an unlikely run to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup.

 

As Southgate’s squads grown, matured, and been bolstered by emerging world-class talents, the expectation levels for the national team have risen dramatically. Largely, Southgate’s lions have responded, though they have struggled to quite get over the line in defining moments.

 

In EURO 2020, England once again captured the imagination of the nation, but ultimately failed to make home advantage count after being beaten by Italy on penalties during the Wembley final. Meanwhile, World Cup 2022 saw England perform strongly, but narrowly lost to eventual finalists France in the quarterfinals.

 

The Conclusion of Southgate’s England at EURO 2024

 

By the time England play their first EURO’s game this summer, it’ll be 18 months since Southgate’s team was narrowly edged by France in the World Cup, and, if they’re to be successful, you’d imagine they’ll have to get the better of our English Channel neighbours this time around.

 

But England will have reasons to believe they’ve evolved into Europe’s strongest team in the time that’s passed. Perhaps for the first time, England may now genuinely have the world’s greatest player in Real Madrid superstar Jude Bellingham – if the Birmingham-born midfielder is to prove he’s the world’s best, he may have to nudge England over the line in the biggest moments.

 

Meanwhile, other members of the England squad have also made significant career progress since the last major tournament. Phil Foden has transformed into the player his potential always threatened he’d become, while John Stones, Declan Rice, and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be in Premier League Player of the Season conversations.

 

Rumoured to be Southgate’s concluding tournament, with arguably the greatest squad in Europe this time, he may have to deliver the trophy to ensure his time as England manager isn’t reflected on with ‘what ifs.’

 

 

 

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EPL

Should grassroots football have a winter break?

Is the pitch playable?

 

During a gloomy, dark period of Winter, a game of football at the weekend gets many amateur players through a difficult time of the year, where many struggle to keep on top of their physical and mental well-being.

 

However, upon reflection, how frequently do these games actually go ahead? We can all think back to endless occasions where our Saturday or Sunday mornings have consisted of nothing but anxiously waiting next to the phone for updates on whether the local pitch is playable for the afternoon fixture.

 

Inevitably, given the harsh nature of British weather, these winter fixtures are often postponed – if the pitch isn’t waterlogged, it’s probably frozen. The seemingly weekly feeling of a postponed fixture is disheartening, especially given you left your afternoon blank to play football with friends and are not left wondering how to fill a rainy Winters afternoon.

 

Are there alternatives?

 

It leads me to question: do we really need to play outdoor grassroots football through Winter, or could there be better alternatives?

 

In amateur British footballing cultures, many love to watch and participate in games with turbulent conditions. When pitches are muddy, we get on with it. When pitches are wet, we celebrate opportunities for sliding tackles. And when a strong gust of wind blows in our favour, we boot it long.

 

We’re conditioned to view football as a Winter sport. Domestic professional football starts in Summer and goes right the way through to Spring, the much anticipated Christmas and New Year fixtures are considered the pinnacle of our footballing identity, and the game is then an escapism from the mundane nature of the following months.

 

Thick mud, puddles or frozen?

 

But grassroots pitches don’t have the same undersoil heating, full-time grounds staff, or latest technologies used on the perfect pitches of the Premier League. While Old Trafford might look pristine through December, your local pitch is probably full of patches of thick mud and unplayable puddles surrounding the goalmouths.

 

So, what needs to be changed?

 

Playing amateur football through Winters seems counterproductive, especially given our summers rarely reach temperatures that make strenuous outdoor exercise impossible. On top of this, children are off school for six weeks in the summer, causing parents to be left bewildered on how to entertain them for so long, all while there’s a pause to amateur football.

 

If the grassroots League season started in Spring and ended in late Autumn, as it does in Ireland, Norway, and Denmark, which experience similar challenging Winter conditions, we could solve so many of our problems.

 

Winter Futsal

 

But a Winter without outdoor football doesn’t mean we should hibernate and resort to watching Premier League football from our couches for months but seek new alternatives to more productively fill the time.

 

Futsal, an indoor football-based game, is designed to empathise improvements in a player’s technical abilities through the use of a heavier ball and smaller spaces on the pitch.

Given the successes the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Portugal have seen through implementing Futsal as a mandatory part of a child’s footballing development, and thus developing technically more rounded professional and amateur footballers, it’s surprising the indoor game hasn’t quite taken off here, given our unpredictable Winters.

 

If Futsal became part of our grassroots footballing calendar, it would create an opportunity for young players to receive coaching that improves their ball control, passing, and dribbling during the dreary Winter months. When pitches are more playable again in Spring, what players learned on the Futsal court could be implemented into competitive 11-a-side games.

 

Of course, as with any improvements to grassroots football, changes to how we view the amateur calendar will require planning and funding from those at the FA and Premier League with the resources to do so.

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EPL

Newport vs Wrexham Preview

An all-Welsh Affair at Rodney Parade

 

For the second time in 28 days, Newport County and Wrexham will clash in what promises to be a fiery all-Welsh affair at Rodney Parade.

 

Graham Coughlan’s team will be on cloud nine after securing an FA Cup Fourth Round tie with Manchester United following a confident 3-1 win at Eastleigh mid-week, but they will need to keep focus as they host one of League Two’s form teams.

 

When the two sides clashed on December 23rd, Wrexham took all three points, with second-half goals from James Jones and Elliott Lee wrapping up the win. However, it was not a comfortable victory for Phil Parkinson’s men by any means, with narrow misses from Omar Bogle and Seb Palmer-Houlden in the first half nearly giving the travelling Exiles early goals.

 

All the ingredients are there for a thrilling encounter at Rodney Parade, a stadium that has proven a difficult battleground for many in the division. The question is, can Wrexham make it two for two against their Welsh rivals?

 

Newport Form & Analysis

 

The Exiles have been one of League Two’s most unpredictable sides this campaign. They come into the game off the back of consecutive away wins. First, they registered a 1-0 win away at Doncaster, with a late Seb Palmer-Houlden goal being the difference maker, before they went to National League Eastleigh and won 3-1, with goals from Will Evans, Aaron Wildig, and James Clarke sealing their passage into the fourth round of the FA Cup.

 

However, their form at home has been mixed. Their last outing saw them draw 1-1 with 10-men Eastleigh, while their previous game at home ended in a 4-2 win over Forest Green, with Coughlan’s men coming back from 2-0 down against ten men. However, that scoreline doesn’t tell the full story, with the team struggling to get going when up against 11, falling 2-0 behind.

 

It is difficult to judge Newport’s season as a whole at this stage. Injuries to key players have meant Coughlan has had to deal with selection headaches throughout the campaign. Seb Palmer-Houlden, Harry Charsley, and Kyle Jameson are just three key players who have been on the sidelines at different points in the season, with the latter finally returning to the team on the bench against Eastleigh.

 

One man who has received plenty of recognition at Newport this season is Will Evans. The former Bala Town striker, plucked from the Welsh Leagues by the Exiles, has netted 18 goals in all competitions this season, including 15 in the league, and he will be hungry to grab his second of the week on Saturday.

Wrexham Form & Analysis

 

Wrexham arrive at Rodney Parade in ferocious form. Phil Parkinson’s team have lost just two of their last 17 games, and are flying high at second in the table. 

 

They will feel full of confidence following wins against promotion rivals Barrow and AFC Wimbledon so far this month, as well as a 1-0 smash-and-grab FA Cup win in a cagey derby clash with Shrewsbury Town.

 

Wrexham will journey to South Wales without any fresh injury worries, but they will be without Jacob Mendy, who is on international duty at AFCON with The Gambia.

 

Elliott Lee, one of the league’s best players, was instrumental in Wrexham’s win last month and has played a key role in victories over Wimbledon and Shrewsbury in recent weeks. James McClean, never one to shy away from the limelight, has also been crucial for the team, establishing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.


Verdict

 

Newport County are one of the hardest teams to predict in League Two. The Exiles have put the likes of Stockport County and Charlton to the sword this season but have stuttered against teams like Barnet and Harrogate at Rodney Parade.

 

Both teams have momentum, and Newport fans will hope Wrexham’s poor history at Rodney Parade continues. However, I can’t see Wrexham being slowed down just yet. A tight Wrexham victory is my prediction here, with both teams hitting the net.

 

Prediction: Newport 1-2 Wrexham

 

 

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EPL

Reading FC in Turmoil – Sell before we Dai

Reading in Turmoil

 

A mid-April 2012 night saw thousands of Reading fans triumphantly march onto the Leasing Car Stadium pitch, as the Berkshire club returned to the topflight of English football for just the second time.

 

Fast-forward just under 12 years to the present day, however, supporters are marching onto the very same pitch in completely juxtaposing circumstances.

 

Reading Football Club, now 21st in League One, has gradually devolved to become the EFL’s club at greatest risk of extinction, a place frequented by Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, and Bury in recent years.

 

Chinese businessman Dai Yongge purchased the Royals in 2017 with seemingly realistic ambitions of making the club a mainstay in the Premier League, having yo-yoed between the first and second tiers for much of the ten seasons prior.

 

Yongge purchased the club with the promise of serious investment just days after the Royals booked their place in the Championship play-off final. With Premier League football returning to the Leasing Car Stadium just a game away, many supporters felt the club was at the dawn of a new ‘golden era’ under Yongge’s investment.

 

But it wouldn’t work out like this. The Royals, narrowly beaten on penalties by Huddersfield Town in the final at Wembley Stadium, have been on a slope of dramatic decline littered with point deductions, transfer embargos, and unpaid wages since.

 

So, what’s gone wrong at Reading?

 

Despite Yongge’s inherited side just missing out on promotion, he remained determined to see Reading become a competitive Premier League football club in the coming years. He ambitiously invested tens of millions of pounds over the next five seasons, but alarm bells were already ringing.

 

The spending appeared risky, ill-informed, and without a coherent, identifiable strategy. It was a stark contrast from the managed growth and boardroom planning of previous owner John Madejski, who took the club from near oblivion to the Premier League.

 

Meanwhile, Reading’s ownership appeared clueless in recouping appropriate transfer fees for their most prized assets. Despite increased spending across the industry, only one of Reading’s ten highest player sales has occurred during Yongge’s stewardship of the club.

 

By 2021 the club was spending 234% of its revenue on player wages and appeared no closer to reaching the Premier League, having dropped into the bottom half of the Championship in three of the previous four seasons.

After a transfer embargo was placed on the club in 2021 for breaches of financial fair play, Yongge realised Premier League football was no longer an attainable goal and thus cut spending dramatically.

 

The results of continuous mismanagement of the football club and spending cuts have been deadly. Reading have been docked a total of 16 points across the past three seasons for breaches of financial fair play, unpaid player wages, and failing to adhere to terms set by the EFL after previous point deductions.

 

At the end of the 2022/2023 season, suffered relegation to League One for the first time in 21 years.

 

Since relegation to League One they have made further controversial and unprecedented spending cuts. In the last month alone assistant manager Andrew Sparkes has been one of several of the coaching team to face redundancy, while integral players have been listed for sale without the consulting of Manager Ruben Selles or Head of Football Operations Mark Bowen.

 

 

Who are ‘Sell before we Dai’?

 

The off-field turmoil, continuous decline, and serious risk of liquidation has resulted in Reading supporters forming the pressure group ‘Sell Before We Dai’.

 

Their goals, as stated on the pressure group’s website, are “to encourage Reading FC owner Dai Yongge to sell up to a new owner before more damage is done to the club we know and love. Our objective is for a secure and sustainable future Reading FC’.

 

In September 2023, Sell Before We Dai organised for over 200 tennis balls to be thrown onto the pitch during the 16th minute, creating an artificial storm that haltered play for several minutes.

 

The 16th minute is of particular significance to Sell Before We Dai, because it represents the number of points deducted under ownership of Yongge. Members are eager to point out that had the club not received a point deduction during the 22/23 campaign, they’d still be in the Championship today.

 

With the off-field situation rapidly deteriorating and the club dangerously sat in League One’s relegation zone, the persistence and scale of the protests have only increased.

 

While tennis balls have had a prevalence at many of Reading’s home games this season, last Saturday’s home game against Port Vale saw something staggering happen. The fans stormed the pitch during the 16th minute resulting in the game being abandoned.

 

Sell Before We Dai claims the pitch invasion wasn’t pre-meditated, but a natural manifestation of the frustrations of many Reading supporters.

The sight of the pitch flooded with supporters no doubt evoked memories of unlikely promotions to the Premier League during the Madejski era and perhaps perfectly encapsulated how this club has fallen in recent years.

 

Reading is not known for having a bohemian, rebellious, or anti-authoritarian fanbase, so the very presence of such large-scale protests should tell outsiders all they need to know about the severity of the situation in Berkshire.

 

 

 

Categories
EPL

‘The Manager the Supporters Wanted to Keep’

What’s Next for Steve Cooper?

 

With memories of Brian Clough’s two-time European Cup-winning sides becoming ever more distant in the minds of the Nottingham Forest fans.  How many were lucky enough to be alive in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, following the once globally recognised Nottinghamshire club?  Forest had become something of a chore for many in the 21st century.

 

After relegation from the Premier League, a division where Forest had spent much of their history, was confirmed in 1999, fans were subject to a generation of torture aimlessly lingering in the Championship, and even a three-year shift in League One.

 

Upon dropping into the third tier the former champions of Europe would embarrassingly lose a play-off tie with now non-league Yeovil Town in 2006. When Forest eventually did return to the Championship, fans were subject to a decade of mediocrity. Forest largely operated as the divisional archetype of the fallen giant struggling to seriously impose itself on the league. Going through a series of managers failing to make any kind of meaningful connection with the City Ground faithful.

 

In 2020 fans would’ve been forgiven for giving up altogether on a return to the Premier League. Forest, sitting in 6th at the start of play on the final day of the season, would throw away a three-goal lead resulting in the Nottinghamshire club missing out on their first play-off campaign in nine years.

 

Steve Cooper arrives at Forest

 

With a historic footballing city devoid of hope and ideas, lying in 17th place in the Championship, the board placed faith in the man who, ironically, devastated the hearts of Forest fans in 2020, Steve Cooper. The Welsh-born manager took advantage of Forest’s final-day capitulation, as his Swansea side snuck into the Championship’s final play-off position. Three years prior Cooper demonstrated his potential as a manager on the international stage, guiding England U17’s to World Cup glory for the first time.

 

Despite relative early success and promise in the game, it was unclear just how much of an impact Cooper could make on the seemingly cursed sleeping giants. Cooper’s tenure at Forest got off to a solid start, losing just once in his opening 15 Championship fixtures to quieten worries of relegation. Though, after January’s FA Cup win against Arsenal was followed up by defeating arch-rivals Derby County in the league. It was clear something was brewing at the City Ground. The unity, excitement, and momentum of Steve Cooper’s attacking style of football had fans whispering – ‘promotion?’

 

The momentum continued to grow through Spring. Steve Cooper’s men looked like winning every day they stepped on the pitch and by April a once seemingly unlikely promotion charge now had an air of inevitability about it.

 

Forest would dramatically beat Sheffield United on penalties in the play-off semi-final, before seeing off Huddersfield at Wembley in the final. As the final whistle blew the stadium erupted into a sea of hysterics. The pain, suffering, and frustration of a torrid 20-year absence from the Premier League was unleashed into a kind of ecstatic relief so rarely seen to this extent in English football.

 

Premier League dismissal

 

After an influx of summer signings by the board replaced many of Cooper’s play-off heroes, it was always going to be an uphill task to maintain the unity and togetherness formed in the season prior. Nonetheless, despite being amongst the favourites to go down, Cooper’s Nottingham Forest ended their first season back in the Premier League comfortable from the threat of relegation.

 

Cooper’s second summer as a Premier League manager was met with more controversial new signings by the Forest board, leading critiques to question how the Welshman could possibly integrate so many new bodies into the squad. Sitting in 16th after a run of four straight defeats, it felt for many like an unpopular, perhaps harsh dismissal wouldn’t be too far away.

 

Nottingham Forest’s defeat to Fulham felt like a grim confirmation that supporters were about to lose the hero who so sensationally returned the club back to the promise land. “Stevie Cooper. Stevie Cooper. Forest are magic” was emotionally sung by supporters for 15 straight minutes as if all involved were acutely aware of what was to come.

 

After a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham the following week the fairy-tale story finally ended – Steve Cooper was sacked, and Forest were left to negotiate Premier League life without their talisman. Cooper’s dismissal, though clearly harsh, is a perfect embodiment of the hire and fire approach to management in modern football.

 

The generational memories Steve Cooper gave to Nottingham Forest supporters will surely never be forgotten

 

What’s next for Cooper?

 

Steve Cooper was far more than someone who just relied on momentum through creating an emotional response with supporters. The former England U17 and Swansea City coach has consistently delivered exciting football and demonstrated the ability to motivate, develop, and galvanise modern players.

 

Cooper’s U17 World Cup-winning team gave a young Phil Foden the platform to showcase his technical brilliance for the first time. Meanwhile, at Swansea City, where Cooper achieved successive Championship play-off campaigns, he was accredited for large parts of the developments for now England international Marc Guehi. Most notably at Nottingham Forest, Cooper’s leadership transformed youth talent Brenan Johnson into a £47.5M man for Tottenham Hotspur.

 

What is striking about Cooper is, unlike many coaches’ renown for developing young talents, he often matches it with winning football. With a youth World Cup, three championship play-off campaigns, and a year’s survival in the Premier League, the manager, still only 44, has created the perfect springboard to land his next big role.

 

Cooper attracted the interest of Crystal Palace in 2021 and tabloid speculation suggests the South London club could go in for him once again if Roy Hodgson is to face the sack in the coming weeks. Crystal Palace’s strong youth academy and stable Premier League infrastructure would surely be a place where the Welsh manager could continue to grow his already strong reputation in the game.

 

Cooper’s next managerial step maybe with half an eye on longer-term prospects. If Cooper can really excel in the Premier League, there’s every chance he’ll be among the candidates to replace England manager Gareth Southgate, who many feel will step down after this summer EURO 2024. With a background at the FA, an understanding of the St George’s project, and a strong ability to unite teams and their supporters, there will be few better placed to continue Southgate’s impressive work with the national team.