Swapping the Ming Dynasty for a Winning Dynasty, how football in China is developing

SportExamined’s Jack Douglas tells his experiences of the beautiful game after visiting China.

Advertisements

Jack Douglas

SportExamined’s Jack Douglas tells his experiences of the beautiful game after visiting China.

scdf.png
It’s not the skyline that is drawing players to Shanghai ©Jack Douglas

China. The World’s second largest economy, boasting a population of 1.41 billion with a GDPR of $25.2 trillion, find themselves sitting 75th in FIFA’s latest world rankings. Iceland, on the other hand, with a population of just 350,000 are the 22nd best side in the world.

So when one of the most influential nations in the world is suffering from a severe lack of footballing quality, sees an influx of established, world-class foreign players, headlines were inevitably written.

“For a lot of the foreign players, money talks,” Jared, a young football fanatic from Wuhu, on the banks of the Yangtze, tells me. Sporting a Shandong Luneng bright orange shirt with the Brazilian Tardelli 9 on the back, he is under no illusions as to why players are flocking to the far-east.

“Particularly the South Americans. Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Ramires, even most recently Nico Gaitán. Players like these, most being still quite young, are willing to drop out of competitive leagues in favour of money.”

“For the Chinese people this is good. Football here hasn’t always been big. It still isn’t. Basketball, badminton and ping pong are still more popular, but it’s growing.”

He’s not wrong, the photo below is Tianjin University’s sports arena; dedicated to ping pong.

diberiu.png
A ten thousand-seater, world class venue. For University Ping Pong ©Jack Douglas

Walking through the campus you are never more than ten yards from a student in a Golden State Warriors jersey, as players like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are idolised.

The state were keen to ensure the beautiful game spread and grew in the world’s most populous country. As a result, the Chinese Super League started in 2004 as a result of the rebranding of the then Chinese Football Association Jia-A League.

On a state visit to the UK in 2015, President Xi Jinping visited Manchester City’s new training complex, before stating that he aims to double the size of China’s sporting economy by 2025. Encouraged and inspired by the riches of the Premier League, football it would appear, is the way forward for China’s sports economy.

But the huge financial investment into overseas players has hindered the development of the country’s finest own talent, explains Jared.

“The solution to our poor league became the problem for our national team. Our government were so keen on making Chinese football a worldwide superpower, our domestic talent wasn’t getting the opportunity it deserved.

“Foreign players were taking the positions of our most talented, and our best players were not getting a chance to play. So this year, the league changed. Now, each team is only allowed 3 foreign players in a squad to play a game and must start 1 Under 23 Chinese player, as well as having 2 more as substitutes.

“This gives our young players chance and makes the league fair. It will stop teams like Shànggǎng [Shanghai SIPG] from becoming the Chinese PSG. Yes they will probably win the league this year because Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson are three of the best attackers in China, but it will be close. Shandong Luneng – my team, Beijing Guoan with Renato Augusto, Cédric Bakambu and Jonathan Soriano, or perhaps China’s famous club Guangzhou Evergrande could win it.”

Last year, the Chinese Super League was the 5th highest spectated football league in the world, but to what extent are the locals flocking to only see the flair of the overseas players? Are most supporters genuinely interested in young, home-grown talent?

The answer in most cases, is sadly not.

Ever since the introduction of the Super League, foreign players have dominated the competition. The introductory season in 2004 saw 3 Brazilians: Adilson, Ze Alcino and Ossi Fernando Graziano; and since then, the foreign influx has grown and grown.

When participating in a match against Wuhu University’s best 11, the skill gap in technique was evident. Buoyed only by a familiarity to the humid conditions, the locals were swept aside by our travelling party in a friendly fixture.

odifriof
98% humidity did however favour the locals ©Jack Douglas

At full time, a conversation with a student made me realise something extremely important.

“Chinese culture is very focussed on study,” explains Chen from Shanghai. “From primary school to university my day has lasted from 7am until 6pm. Then when I am home I have to study. Parents don’t allow children to play football, they have to study.”

In contrast to the majority of the world where football is encouraged in schools, China’s imposed view on the importance of studying ensures youngsters can’t just go for a kick-a-bout. The lack of grass roots development, it seems, will continually stall football’s relentless march around the People’s Republic.

“When a break from study is needed, school’s do physical education, but focus on athletics, ping pong or basketball. I don’t know why football isn’t the main sport. With a billion people we should be able to win the world cup every time.”

­China have only ever qualified once. South Korea/ Japan saw China’s single showing on the world stage, where they were heavily beaten in all 3 Group C fixtures. But the current interest in youth could be a sign that things are on the up.

Crowded around a small screen in Tianjin, some Chinese students and I watched on as a shock was on the cards in Toulon. China U21s took a surprising lead against England, to the elation of the local football fanatics. Playing superbly and defending resolutely, Chinese dreams were left shattered as Tammy Abraham put the eventual champions 2-1 up in the dying minutes.

Young players like Zhang Yuning, currently on loan at ADO Den Haag from West Brom could be part of an exciting new dynasty of Chinese football. Coached by former Inter, Juventus and Italy boss Marcelo Lippi, back in Wuhu Jared tells me qualification for Qatar is achievable.

“He won the World Cup [in 2006] managing Totti, Cannavaro, Pirlo and Buffon. He is one of the best coaches in the world! If anyone can improve China it is him. We have the most amazing stadiums and a fan-base that is growing by every kick of a ball. With the new rules stopping the use of lots of foreign players, teams like Shandong who have an interest in young players, can help the national team by supplying the next generation of hopefully world class talent.”

As China, empowered by the successes of the Chinese Super League, embarks on this footballing voyage, the foundations appear to be getting laid thanks to the increase of interest in young, domestic talent. Perhaps one of the Asian country’s most famous proverbs, 千里之行,始於足下, A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Football, has taken its’ step.

Jack Douglas

Advertisements

ConiFA World Football Cup: What can FIFA learn from the people’s World Cup?

Now the FIFA World Cup is well underway, a reminder for those who missed what happened in the ConiFA World Football Cup that took place a few weeks ago.

George Fortey

Now the FIFA World Cup is well underway, a reminder for those who missed what happened in the ConiFA World Football Cup that took place a few weeks ago.

5b0ed7eff7b09d0bcf000001
Paddy Power got behind the obscure event

You may not be aware, but the World Football Cup has already been decided. 2800 miles west of Moscow In Enfield, London, a team named Karpatayla were crowned the winners of the third ever ConiFA World Cup. With a side completely made up of amateur players, all representing the Hungarian minority who live in Carpathian Ruthenia (south-west modern-day Ukraine) this is not your average international football team, but then again this is not your average World Cup.

Founded in 2013 ConiFA stands for the confederation of independent football associations and represents nation states and peoples who aren’t recognised by FIFA. Despite the huge amount of countries that are members of FIFA, there are a surprising number of people whose nation or identity does not fit into the organisations frame work. Perhaps the two best examples of these sort of nations would be The Isle of Man and Tibet. People who identify as being part of these places could previously only represent neighbouring countries that FIFA recognise such as China for Tibet and England for the Isle of Man. This meant that they would feel a loss of identity from where they truly came from.

Tibet and the Isle of Man (renamed as Ellan Vallin from their local dialect) are just two of the 16 teams that have competed over the last two weeks in the 2018 ConiFA World Football Cup held in London. Every one of the teams has their own a fascinating story to tell and are all absolutely thrilled to represent their unique identity on an international stage. The diversity of the people that have been represented is truly amazing, even for an international tournament. At one end of the scale you have teams such as Cascadia, who originally formed by people in Canada and the USA to promote an environmental Greenpeace style movement. At the other end you have teams that have had to overcome incredible hardship to have their identity recognised such as Abhekazia a nation made up of people from the much disputed and dangerous border between Russia and Georgia.

The ConiFA World Football Cup has a very similar format to its FIFA counterpart with one nation hosting a group stage followed by the knockout style tournament. Replica kits and programmes are sold at each match and the tournament even has its own official anthem. But this is where the similarities with the FIFA World Cup ends.

The main goal of ConiFA is to provide representation for every type of identity around the globe but It is also trying to set be the opposite of everything FIFA has stood for. The ConiFA World Football cup is strictly not for profit with referees and staff all working on a voluntary basis. The finances are openly displayed for all to see, with the only form of revenue coming from sponsorship from partners Paddy Power and the sale of very reasonably-priced tickets. The tournament has put honesty and legitimacy at the forefront of the game. The introduction and success of a green card is one of the most recent steps that ConiFA has taken. This card is used for any acts of dissent or diving. Once given a green card the player must leave the field but can be substituted to allow the team to remain with 11 players so that acts in the heat of the moment reactions are not too harshly punished.

Kabyle-national-team-1.jpg
The Kabyle side that took part in the tournament ©Amazigh World News

The tournament has also got put grass roots football at the centre of its agenda something that FIFA has had no interest in doing. The green card will hopefully clamp down on the disrespect shown towards referees that is particularly prevalent at amateur level. Additionally, the use of 10 non-league stadiums across London to host these matches has gotten many fans back in touch with their own local clubs and communities. The electric atmosphere created by these, smaller more compact, grounds are a stark contrast to the huge but vastly empty grounds seen in previous FIFA World Cups.

Which all the fascinating stories behind each team, it is easy to forget that competitive football was played. Despite the amateur nature of the players and teams involved the tournament provided just as much excitement and drama than any previous FIFA competition. Almost immediately two of the better-known teams of Tibet and Tuvalu produced quite a shock as they both finished bottom of their respective groups, surprising even the most knowledgeable of ConiFA fans.

One of the early pace setters of the tournament was Padania, a minority formed from people living the Pavoy valley region of Italy left over from communist rule. They are relative veterans of the format having taken part in the previous two World Football Cups and famously even had Mario Balotelli’s brother Enoch playing for them. Padania breezed through their group with maximum points including a 6-1 victory over Zimbabwe based Matabeleland a team who have had one of the more interesting journey to get to the finals. They were formed in a small region of Zimbabwe which had undergone horrific purging by President Mugabe’s troops in the 1980’s. Through football many of the players and supporters have re-found their identity, but with Mugabe’s regime still in charge the team have had to train in secret to prepare for the cup. It was even reported that their own bus driver was revealed to be a government spy who tried to sabotage the team’s preparations.

In the quarter finals and Northern Cyprus really stood out as one of the teams to watch with a massive 8-0 victory over Barawa. Similarly, to Matabeleland, Barawa are also a minority from a war torn African nation this time hailing from Somalia. Barawa were one of the newest teams of the Tournament having joined ConiFA in 2016 and to get out of the group stages was a fantastic achievement that brought great joy to their all-singing all-dancing supporters. Elsewhere holders Ahbekazia were knocked out by the surprise package of Karpatalya whilst Padania continued their great form beating Panjab 2-0.

The Semi-finals proved to be a step too far for Padania as they went out of the competition losing 3-2 to Northern Cyprus whilst Karpatyala overcame Romanian-based Szekeley Land to reach the final for the very first time. The final itself was a tight and tense affair with the match ending in a 0-0 draw. In the penalty shoot out the Karpatyala goalkeeper Bela Fejer stepped up to become a national hero making three crucial saves to give his side victory in front of 2500 fans at the Queen Elizabeth II stadium.

The Conifa World Football Cup may be small in scale but to a selective number of people and nations it means everything. ConiFA’s messages of identity honesty and legitimacy are ones that truly need to be taken forward into the wider football world. The organisation is making fantastic strides forward by using sport in the right way. To join people together and to make them feel part of something, not just to make money or gain influence. I fear that the success that ConiFA has achieved will be lost in the media maelstrom that is Russia 2018, but at least for 10 days in June, it was shown that the magic and beauty of football can still be a beacon of hope for people around the world. It’s just a shame we have to wait another two years for the next one.

George Fortey .png

Trevor Bayliss: Has his reign come to an end?

After a shock defeat to Scotland and a string of poor performances, the England head coach is under immense scrutiny this summer.

Tom Foster

After a shock defeat to Scotland and a string of poor performances, the England head coach is under immense scrutiny this summer.

7
©cricketcountry

As the touring Australians arrive in town for the start of a One-day International Series, last Sunday’s game against minnows Scotland was portrayed a gentle warm-up game for England. None of the Scotland side are currently employed as professional county cricketers, (Opening Bowler Omar Sherriff & Top Order batsman Callum Mcleod have subsequently been picked up by Derbyshire for the T20 Blast), and the game was supposed to be a routine win for Eoin Morgan’s men.

However, this turned out to be anything but. After a strange decision to put Scotland into bat by Morgan, England was run ragged by some power hitting from Scotland’s top order. Despite the tiny boundaries and excellent wicket, 370 was always going to be tough chase, and with a feverish crowd sensing an upset, and Scotland played the game of their lives. England ended 10 short, and thoroughly deserved to lose to a Scotland team that outplayed England in every department, including worryingly, commitment and desire. Although Scotland has improved steadily in recent years and was extremely unlucky to fail to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, this was a shock of the highest order for England, the likes of which haven’t been since a Kevin O’Brien inspired Ireland stunned us in 2011. Which begs the question, has Coach Trevor Bayliss taken England as far as he can?

England’s One Day record in recent years has papered over ever-widening cracks that have been appearing for some time in the England set-up. Their performances in Test Matches away from home has been nothing short of woeful in recent years, with a 4-0 defeat away in India in 2016, leading to the shambolic performances this winter in Australia and New Zealand, which saw England fail to win a single game in the longer format. The defeat in the First Test of summer against Pakistan at Lords further heightened the public dismay towards coach Bayliss, and if results fail to improve this summer in the Test Series against India, then the ECB must surely be considering a replacement in the longer format before Australia return to English shores next Summer for the Ashes.

Although Bayliss has proven to be a popular figure in the dressing room, a number of perplexing decisions in recent times that have diminished his credibility. His admission that he “hasn’t got time to watch County Cricket”, has hardly warmed him to English cricket fans, and it appears to be apparent with recent England selections. The unforgivable omission of Adil Rashid this winter in favour of Mason Crane, an uncapped spinner who rarely plays for his county Hampshire in the longer format, was a decision bordering on stupidity. Coupled with the unmerited recall for James Vince, whom once again flattered to deceive, and the ongoing failure to find Alastair Cook a partner at the top of the order, England appear to be lurching from one disaster to another. It is important to note these decisions don’t rely solely upon Bayliss, and the English selection panel has since changed from the Winter down under (for the better it would appear), but a more hands-on approach from Bayliss would have been not only welcome but expected in his role.

960.jpg
Ex England bowler, Darren Gough has been critical of Bayliss in recent times ©givemesport

Despite the horrendous winter, England endured in Test Matches, their One Day performances remained steady, with series win’s in Australia and New Zealand to confirm their status as the best side currently in the world. Bayliss was initially brought in as One Day specialist by Andrew Strauss, and in that area, there is no doubt that England has improved significantly. Unfortunately, despite this, they are still yet to win a major trophy under Bayliss’s tutorage. As with most England sides over the years, they continue to become unstuck at vital moments, such as the last over in the 2016 20/20 World Cup Final, and with the underwhelming performance against Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy on home soil. This inability to get over the line in vital moments has become a hallmark of Bayliss’s reign, both in the longer and shorter formats of the game.

This summer’s fixtures will present a great indication of where England are currently at. The upcoming Test Series against India, the No.1 ranked side in the world in the longer format, will prove a huge challenge to England. One would suspect England should prevail in home conditions, but crazy scheduling sees all 5 Tests played after the 1st August, and this will certainly play into India’s hands. If previous summers are to go by, then dry, dusty wickets will greet both teams, and India will be delighted – not only should their spinners enjoy conditions similar to home, but England’s seam attack will be nullified somewhat.

Strangely, for a proud Test nation such as England, the upcoming ODI series against Australia, and then to finish the summer, with India, may be crucial for Bayliss to retain goodwill amongst the powers that be. A defeat against a severely weakened Australian side, with a number of key players out with due to injury or suspension, would be a huge disappointment, and if the Test team fail to deliver again, then defeat by India in the ODI series could be a knockout blow.

With such a huge year of cricket ahead of England in 2019, Bayliss needs to up his team’s game in all formats. Although he may have gained enough credit in the One Day arena to keep his job for the 2019 World Cup, one more poor Test series should be enough for the English Cricket Board to split their coaching priorities into two and appoint a specialist in that format. A more radical suggestion is to dispense with Bayliss at the end of the summer and allow the new coach time to bed the side before the summer of 2019. Due to England’s conservative nature, this remains highly unlikely, although more poor performances may be enough to see the axe fall.

Tom Foster

You couldn’t even ref yourselves: A reality check

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: A brief history.

Spencer Kassimir

Why you are the cause of your misplaced hatred of referees: a brief history.

4996366759_75231d05bd_o
©Lovedaylemon

Once upon a time, there were games with no referees. Gentlemen were said to simply play the game in pursuit of the Muscular Christianity ideals of self-improvement and fair play, manly and gentile.

The only problem is that this is entirely a lie and, at best, grossly misrepresenting the facts we know to be true.

In the beginning, captains and players were the referees. Maybe this is a technicality but the role encompassed more than just playing the game and leading the team. Thus, we recognise that there has always been a need for decision makers where disputes occurred.Where there would be a referee or umpire to solve a dispute, the captains on the field, would come together and have a discussion and then find the sporting solution to their problems. The same was for the touchlines but with players filling these roles.

Thus, we can see that, no matter who was charged with the duty of refereeing, it has been and will likely always be needed whether a disagreement is the result of blatant cheating, a difference in interpreting the laws, and/or viewing an act differently due to parallax.

Now, whether you believe having captains in such a role is a pie in the sky bad idea or you truly think that people 150 years ago were more honourable than today, the result is the same. We now have separate people, with a distanced bias, in the role of referees and umpires.

Having players on a team, in any capacity was always a bad idea even though the concept was in alignment with the zeitgeist of those seeking personal improvement through the zeitgeist of Muscular Christianity. First and foremost, this was a bad idea that led to lots of problems due to perceived and actual biases. Eventually, in many football codes, these polite debates on how to solve a dispute ended up in good old-fashioned fisticuffs.

When there is a perceived bias to begin with, it is already hard enough to come to a decision over the distance of five yards. Now imagine a situation where a defending side claims that the attacking player stepped out of bounds 90 yards away from the goal, thereby disallowing the points scored but the attacking side claims that there was no such infraction. Do you simply agree to split the difference?

Mind you, in the sports where spectatorship has always been encouraged such as Aussie rules, baseball American and Canadian gridirons, and rugby league, fans have and still do go ballistic over bad decisions and have always been vocally supportive to the home team and dissenting of advantage towards a visiting side.

sakjcba
©Andy Hooper/ Daily Mail

Let’s take a moment to put ourselves into the shoes of spectators of these times. Imagine, you have travelled, possibly for miles on foot and, if you were wealthy, horseback, to watch a game as part of your one day of the week you did not work to be entertained by the great athletes and get your mind off of your troubles. You show up at the ground and BAM! You find yourself sitting in the freezing rain watching a bunch of guys sitting around practicing their negotiation tactics after every single disagreement! Imagine what spectators were thinking… ‘this is not interesting. I could have gone to a courtroom to watch this. This is not what I want to be doing on my one day off…’

Not only was this gentlemanly ideal tedious for the players but it was awful for the crowds. Though there were times when things became interesting again in cases where punches were thrown and melees occurred but this was not the norm.

You read it here first. You the player and you the fan are to blame for us having referees. Players, you couldn’t work it out amongst yourselves; fans you couldn’t stand watching the players not figure it out! You demanded referees yet today, you both revile those you demanded.

But the history of how we got here is quite fascinating.

If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

From the old perspective, if players are not permitted to be paid, why should referees? Some would say there is glory and other gains from being a part of the competition but very little of this for one who officiates. Moreover, it may be needed to ensure fairplay and consistency in the competition.

In sports with an early form of professionalism that was more like subsidised amateurism through “broken time” in work, like rugby league, how much should referees be paid? The status quo has that is held today is exponentially less. Today’s NRL player average is $371,000 whereas the referee’s is around $173,000.

vossysgrill_refs
NRL referees are paid considerably less than the average NRL player ©NRL

If they are paid, and they too are part-time, there should not be an expectation that calls will be made correctly all the time, however, we want them to have the knowledge of full-time professionals without paying them to be because we want the right decision. Clearly, there is a disconnect since, unlike players, referees do not receive the admiration and support of the stands. As such, should we take into account that the referees will cop flack from the crowd for every call regardless of it being right or wrong? If we pay them full-time, why are we not paying our athletes full-time wages? If we are paying our athletes professional wages, and they still make mistakes, should we pay referees full-time as well, and if we do, should they make the same as the athletes?

So many questions and so few words to fit in one article especially since this all comes down to a single point of origin. Whether or not referees are paid enough is a matter of opinion but they are paid less for a job that has arguably higher stakes. Even with video reviews, many would argue that it makes the job easier but it also makes the line even thinner to walk for those that are also obligated to keep the game moving at an enjoyable pace for viewers.

Players couldn’t and still can’t handle refereeing themselves and fans are still as unhappy with the results over 100-150 years later. As a result, we still have a completely inconsistent set of expectations for those charged with the sacred duty in ensuring adherence to the laws and spirit of the game while having them do so for a fraction of the pay.  If we need referees, who will do it for free? The answer is very few since even the lowest levels and youngest ages of competition in most sports are given some financial incentive.

Spencer Kassimir

Protest in sport: What effect does it really have?

Does collective fan protest force change or do the millionaires and the suits just ignore them?

Patrick Austen-Hardy

Does collective fan protest force change or do the millionaires and the suits just ignore them? 

newcastle protest
A Newcastle United Fan’s message to Mike Ashley

The right to protest is seen as being the backbone of modern democracy. For centuries, unsatisfied individuals have made placards and gathered in the masses to stand against things they do not believe in. The Suffragettes are some of the most famous protests to take place in human history.

However, organised protests and demonstrations are now becoming a recurring factor in sport as a whole. The global expansion of sport has been enormous in the last fifty years, with major sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup reaching all four corners of the world. As the viewing figures continue to soar through the roof, so too does the financial gain.

In particular, Football, or soccer depending where you come from, has profited immensely from globalisation. Billionaire owners are becoming more of a commodity and many football clubs have reached new levels thanks to the giant financial injection, instituted by these wealthy individuals. But, this has led to football fans feeling disenfranchised, excluded and most of all dissatisfied. They are struggling to afford the lucrative ticket prices, the cost of replica team jerseys and the subscription to watch their football teams on televisions.

Sometimes the dissatisfaction inspires fans to cluster together and form protest groups to demonstrate against the suited up board members. These groups seldom make a dent in these financial machines and in the end are left to force fake smiles in the stands or sit at home and watch their team’s highlights on Match of the Day at 10:30pm.

Though, there are instances where collective fan groups succeed and force change. In 2011, Newcastle United and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, outraged fans of the Magpies when he renamed their beloved home ground St James’ Park to ‘The Sports Direct Arena’ because he did not believe the name was “commercially attractive.” The fans were incensed and this controversial decision sparked mass protests, condemnation from all respected media outlets and a furious outcry from fans of all sides.

Ashley found himself trying to control a blaze which looked to be spiralling out of his control, but Wonga.com, came to his rescue in 2012. The loan company not only agreed to invest heavily into the club, £1.5 million a year for four years to be exact, but they also agreed to reintroduce the St James’ Park title to the 52,000 capacity stadium, even though they actually owned the naming rights and could have made a lot more money if the ground was named after their company. They said “We listened over the last three days and we saw what really matters to the fans.

“Football is an emotional sport and it is obviously really important to them. We listened to what they wanted and that is why we did it.”

Not only did the Newcastle fans get their stadium name back, they also got a grovelling apology from Ashley in which he admitted “I should not have changed the name of St James’ Par.” The St James’ Park title represents a huge victory for the fans in the civil war between Ashley and the Newcastle faithful.

And then there are other situations where the fans were not so successful. West Ham United are one of the latest clubs in English football to be in civil war against the board. David Sullivan, David Gold and Karen Brady are currently public enemy number one after they moved West Ham United to the Olympics Stadium in Stratford. They were targeted in an ugly protest where a large section of supporters invaded the pitch while West Ham were playing against Burnley.

The scenes were extremely ugly and were completely parallel to a future the West Ham board promised when they moved to the ground. The captain, Mark Noble threw down a pitch invader, another fan took the corner flag and planted it in the middle of the football pitch and David Sullivan was almost blinded when a hurled coin hit his glasses. Experienced football commentator John Motson, who has commentated through the 1970s and 1980s when English football was plagued by hooliganism, said that the invasion was “the most scariest moment” he had ever experienced at a football stadium during his 50 years in commentary.

At one point the Burnley players were allowing younger supporters to sit on the bench with them, so they could get away from the rampaging protesters. The protest got a lot of attention in Britain and in Europe also. They succeeded in getting attention, but what about their overall goal? Brady, Sullivan and Gold remain at the West Ham helm, while security and police presence was heavily increased after the shameful scenes at the London Stadium. Minor protests still take place, with small supporter groups holding up banners and flags outside the station and the stadium every match day.

Unlike the Newcastle fans, who collectively came together to protest against the stadium name change, West Ham supporters are fragmented and divided on their issues. Many fans no longer live in London with fans coming all the way from places such as Surrey, Luton and Essex to support the club. A large section of fans actually like the stadium and believe that the change was paramount if they wanted to compete with clubs like Chelsea, Tottenham and Crystal Palace who are all evolving and either building new stadiums or expanding their home grounds. Supporters of the club have now founded new traditions, meaning they have found new pubs and bars to go to before they go to the game. Unfortunately the stadium change has affected local businesses near Upton Park, who relied on football supporters on match days, but aside from this a lot of people are satisfied with the stadium change.

This situation is an example of the possible negative implications protests. The extremity of this demonstration does put this example in a different box, as most football protests are more peaceful and rely on the collective voice.

However protest in sport is a funny thing. Most people who have a problem with a vendetta with anything or anyone prefer to protest silently or with their feet, by simply not attending or buying the thing they are unhappy about. But sport is completely different. It is not like being unhappy with a restaurant or a shop. If one has a bad meal, they would not normally proceed to smash up the restaurant or stand outside it with placards and a megaphone.

Individuals outside of sport, or who do not follow sport seem to underestimate the effect it has on people’s lives. It provides individuals with an escape of the day to day stresses and problems of life. Sport can sometimes cause more stress and anger, but the stress is different and would not usually extend further than the white lines of a football pitch or the turnstiles at a ground. Overall, protest in sport is unique and as long as sport is emotional and still present in modern society, so too will protests and mass demonstrations.

Patrick hardy.png

 

Italy women’s rugby league side: It all starts from the grassroots

Thanks to the growth of the women’s game and the exposure gained by the Italian rugby league authorities at the 2017 World Cup, a bright future lies ahead of the Azzurre, the Italy Women’s National Team.

Matteo Portoghese

Thanks to the growth of the women’s game and the exposure gained by the Italian rugby league authorities at the 2017 World Cup, a bright future lies ahead of the Azzurre, the Italy Women’s National Team.

Antonella-Principato-FIRL-Foto-Stage-Catania-Aprile-2018-Rugby-League (13).jpg

“It all starts from grassroots, mate” Craig Salvadori told me, Queensland based former rugby league professional player and coach. A City Origin and New South Wales representative, he played twice for Australia but stayed in touch with his family’s Italian roots.
Italy National Team head coach in 1999, he has never lost sight of the Italian-Australian connection and in 2017 visited the Azzurri in Cairns, in the days of their fixture against Ireland in Barlow Park, Cairns (North Queensland).
It was a hot day and world-class superstars such as Mark Minichiello, James Tedesco, Paul Vaughan, Daniel Alvaro and Nathan Brown were having their Captain’s run before taking on the Wolfhounds in a match played under high humidity conditions.
Grassroots is a word I heard many times during my Australian journey with Cameron Ciraldo’s team as Social Media Officer.
Cairns, Townsville and Canberra all meant meeting the grassroots game: working hard under the North Queensland sun, meeting Northern Pride supporters/RLWC volunteers, covering a joint training session with Wales at the Townsville & Districts Blackhawks Rugby League Football Club, chatting with Raiders and West Belconnen’s fans in Canberra. In QLD and NSW, rugby league is everything: it is footy and grassroots and professional game work and grow together[1].

When asked to write about the Azzurre, Salvadori’s words came to my mind. Orazio D’Arro, Federazione Italiana Rugby League (FIRL) president, was telling him about our efforts to grow rugby league back home, about local rugby union players who switch codes during the summer[2] to enjoy the greatest game of all. And Craig insisted with this grassroots mantra.

It was impossible, due to bureaucratic and timing reasons, to send an Italian team to the 2017 Women’s Rugby League World Cup but it has become one of FIRL’s main aims, due to the lessons learned Down Under and the restless dedication[3] shown by the girls in their first Test Matches (Beirut 2017, Toulon 2018).  It is difficult to organize, due to geography of the country and the players’ busy personal and sporting schedule, a September to May Italian Club Championship but Tiziano Franchini (the womens’ head coach), Tino Magrì and their colleagues are doing their best to make the girls actually love the game. Have them used to the rules and gameplay of rugby league.

This is what I call grassroots and this is, somehow, what Josh Mantellato, Terry Campese and company all played for at the World Cup[4].

Now, the aftermath of the RLWC breathed new life into the Italian officials and they kept on with stages and camps from North to South of the country. The Italy women’s national team has given[5] a lot of players a chance to shine at International level, while discovering a new sport. In most cases, they are non-professional rugby union players and manage to combine their effort in both codes[6], but several experienced, with rugby league, their first ever contact with the rugby ball.

In addition to this, we all know sports authorities in England and Australia are helping the women’s game with huge investments. World Cup videos and highlights prove rugby league can be spectacular and FIRL is working hard to provide a pathway to this level.

Antonella-Principato-FIRL-Foto-Stage-Catania-Aprile-2018-Rugby-League (5)

Some might say there is still a long way to go and the recent tour to France confirmed it is still difficult to beat opponents who play RL all year long, but “with a little more experience we could have won the game,” says Franchini[7], who has represented Italy in test football. “Losing is never fun but I am happy with how the girls played in Toulon. They put a lot of effort into the game, they are hardworking and very dedicated players. The future looks good. We have to keep working and need a long-term vision.”

This long-term vision cannot be separated from the grassroots, as new stages and special trainings are being scheduled. Anybody interested on women’s rugby league in the North of Italy cannot miss the stage being held in Stanghelle (Padua, Veneto) 9th and 10th June 2018, under the guidance of Rugby League European Federation Certified coaches. Furthermore, club fixtures in the summer should provide continuity to the projects that had been set up.

What every rugby league director, coach and referee had better remember is the link between the development of the sport and top-level. Who knows, following the example by homegrown International players Gioele Celerino (former Newcastle Thunder and Tully Tigers, now at Queanbeyan Blues, Canberra[8]), Edoardo Pezzano, Simone Boscolo and Giovanni Ruscica (Tully, Queensland), some girls may move to Australia, England or France to improve their game and help raising the national team once back home.

The pathway to the Women’s World Cup is there and, as Salvadori said in a hot training day in North Queensland, it all starts from the grassroots.

Matteo Portoghese

[1]           “’Una famiglia’: the diverse roots of Italy’s Rugby League World Cup squad”, The Guardian, October 27, 2017, http://bit.ly/2sd0tTt.

[2]           “The Rugby League World Cup is just part of the Italian rugby league story”, Cultural Pulse, October 31, 2017, http://bit.ly/2saS7fe.

[3]           “Une double confrontation France vs Italie à Toulon”, Treize Mondial, January 26, 2018, http://bit.ly/2xcazd3.

[4]           “Campese Hoping To Recruit World Cup Teammate”, Canberra Region Rugby League,

[5]           “The Italian women’s national rugby league team is looking to blaze a new trail for women’s sport”, Cultural Pulse, October 31, 2017, http://bit.ly/2xbTyQx.

[6]           “Babini e Capello in azzurro”, Il Friuli, February 22, 2018, http://bit.ly/2xct9lq.

[7]           “Rugby League – Francia-Italia e un augurio per il futuro”, MondoSportivo, March 31, 2018, http://bit.ly/2xiiLZE.

[8]           “Austbrokers Canberra CRC Round 1 Preview”, Raiders.com, April 5, 2018, http://bit.ly/2siivnJ.

Slingshot or not: Do the posts need updating in rugby league or union?

Fifty years ago, the NFL changed its uprights to the slingshot shaped ones we know today. Are the rugby codes in need of an update?

Spencer Kassimir

Fifty years ago, the NFL changed its uprights to the slingshot shaped ones we know today. Are the rugby codes in need of an update?

Wavell_Heights_hugh_courtney_2.jpg
©orderinchaos

We all know that a ball grounded against the posts is a try in union and no try in league and usually don’t care why. According to my colleague, Dr. Kevin Ball Ph.D. of Victoria University, a less frequently known fact is that grounds utilised by both rugby union and rugby league teams that don’t change the uprights are out of spec with one of the codes. This is because the width for union is 5.6 but only 5.5 for league. This may not sound like much but it is essentially enough for a union player to have successfully made an attempt at goal instead of bouncing off the posts.

But otherwise, why would we want to change our beloved H shaped goalposts?

For those followers of either codes but not the gridiron, it has been 50 years since the NFL switched to the “slingshot” model. Two Americans, retired sports writer/editor Joel Rottman came up with it while staring at his fork along with colleague coach Jim Trimble while having lunch in Canada. Why? Because it would make the game safer and would prevent players from gaining advantage by using the posts to set a pick.

From 1966 onward, the Canadian Football League has used the new shape and from 1967, the NFL has as well. After all, the two were having that fateful lunch in Montreal so why wouldn’t the CFL get it onto the field first?

But, more importantly, the history of how these came to be requires some explaining. Unlike in most countries where professional sport dwarfs that of all others, college football still reigns supreme in America. This was even more so the case in 1920, when the NFL was founded. It used the classic H shaped goalposts and placed them on the goal-line just like in both rugby codes. This is because that was what college football did and college football did it because the origins of the sport are in pre-split rugby. Still this was a long time after the most influential event that split the North American games from their English counterpart. In 1879/1880 the scrimmage/scrummage ceased to be contested and, as a result of ball hogging and boring games, a three down restriction was brought in two years later.

But still, it was not long after that in 1927, the NFL followed suit with college football and retreated the goalposts to the back of the end zone as a way of reducing kicking attempts. This was not to last and in 1933, the NFL decided to make its own rules and moved the posts back up to encourage more kicking due to ties.

Digital Camera
©Unclekevy

But the next step was not entirely linear to the “gooseneck” shape we have today. Until 1967 as exemplified in the AFL-NFL Championship Game (in hindsight referred to as Super Bowl I), the design was changed to that the bottom half of the H was recessed but the top crossbar and top half protruded forward to sit over the goal line.

For those that say the Y shaped NFL style is just too much, maybe this is something rugby folk should be looking at.

No they are not the prettiest but they are 1) safer in reducing collisions at the line 2) prevent players from using them to their advantage and 3) do so without changing the distance needed to be kicked.

However, if the goal is to reduce the amount of goals kicked, we could simply move the current H or even the broken H shaped design to the deadball line.

It is hard to find someone that follows rugby union to say that a game of aerial ping pong that is then won entirely off of penalty goals is more exciting than hard fought tries scored. The National Rugby Championship (NRC) has attempted to change the strategy of coaches in Australia by assigning different values to the goal after try (usually two but now three) and penalty kick (usually three but now two). Whether or not this grows beyond the comp has yet to be determined but it may just go the way of that white card experiment.

150-old goalposts
Old NFL goalposts @Packervilleblog

In rugby league, this means that there would be at least eight more metres to kick when trying to break that tie to win in the final seconds of the game. Some find the status quo exhilarating but others would argue that it is 80 hard fought minutes reduced down to who is arbitrarily lucky enough to have the ball in their hands as the buzzer sounds. With a ten-metre retreat, and just two markers off the ruck, it is understandably frustrating since, unlike union, this provides a major advantage to the kicking side.

But what about the Y shaped goal? If we are so keen to keep the goal over the goal line, would it serve a purpose? It provides only one post to come in contact with or to use for advantage and, by design, it is recessed into the in-goal area, which would allow defenders to line up in front of it. Since we are this far down the rabbit hole, there is always the option of suspending the uprights as they do in the Arena Football League (also AFL) though, even with tethers strapping them to the ground, it is likely they will sway in the wind!

It is unlikely that any of the above ideas will ever be put into practice unless a game is being played on a field designed for American football but it is important to note that, though its intended design and use in the CFL is still being felt today as they still sit on the goal line, Rottman and Trimble’s slingshot only maintained its purpose for eight years in the NFL. For all the eight seasons from Super Bowl II through to Super Bowl IX, the wishbone sat up front like it’s Canadian cousin. After that season, the NFL decided there was too much kicking and decided to move them back behind the dead ball line. The idea reducing the number of posts in half for safety while maintaining a goal line stance were no longer needed. As such, if we in the rugby codes are serious about reevaluating the goalposts it is crucial that we establish what we would like to achieve in any sort of changes and, as such should keep this final piece of the puzzle in mind as it has remained unchanged for more than half a century on the gridiron.

Spencer Kassimir