Newcastle takeover in tatters

Newcastle United Football Club – Seven LeagueMike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United, has made no secret of the fact he wants to sell the club. So when financier Amanda Staveley, who partly masterminded the Abu Dhabi takeover of Manchester City, was on the verge of completing a deal to take Newcastle under the ownership of a Saudi-backed consortium backed by Mohammed bin Salman and the Reuben brothers, you could have forgiven the supporters for cracking open the champagne cans early. The takeover, first proposed in January, had a different sort of feel to ones rumoured in years gone by. But by yesterday afternoon, it reached an all-too familiar conclusion. The consortium walked away and Newcastle was still the property of Ashley.

Staveley is said to be devastated, and blamed rival clubs for undermining the takeover. Amnesty meanwhile welcomed the news, a ‘sign’ that sportswashing cannot prevail. This morning on Twitter, #PremierLeagueIsCorrupt and #WeWantSaudi were trending. Perhaps #GetAshleyOutAndBringInSomeoneToSpend is a more accurate hashtag. The ordinary fan ultimately wants to see their team have success and that usually means having a billionaire to finance it. They don’t care how that money was obtained, so long as it is pumped into transfers and making their team as competitive as possible. And if trophies are won and memories are created, will they moan? Probably not, but they aren’t being disingenuous. 

For Newcastle, the takeover saga continues. Staveley has not given up hope and would love nothing more to strike up a deal between the club and a consortium. Whether the Saudi Public Investment Fund will purchase a controlling stake in Newcastle or another English football club remains to be seen.

Manchester City’s ban lifted


Breaking this morning: Manchester City’s European football ban has been overturned by CAS. The club have been fined for not cooperating with the initial investigations; other charges were time barred over five years.

‘Up yours, UEFA!’

Surely this spells the end for Financial Fair Play?


The Boot Room Boys – review

Note: This review was first published in December 2018. With Liverpool crowned champions, it is worth a revisit.

If there is one thing to be said about Liverpool this season, it is that Jürgen Klopp has shored up his team’s defence to great effect. So lacking and spiritless in seasons gone by, the recruitment of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson has changed the mood at Anfield. These are players who are ready-made, who command a presence in the dressing room, and have got the best out of Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, to name but three. Liverpool currently boast the division’s meanest defence — only seven goals conceded in 18 matches, strengthening their claim for a first league championship since 1990.

In Liverpool’s dominant days, when challenging the First Division as it was known then became routine, hard work was instilled and it was the culmination of Bill Shankly’s vision. The Scotsman in 1959 took up the reigns at Anfield, where Liverpool were languishing in the Second Division, and sought to build a team of players that played for each other. He also wanted to foster a camaraderie between coaching staff, so they could discuss tactics, the opposition and future signings. These meetings did not take place in the changing rooms or the manager’s office, but an old storage room which housed the boots of the squad players.

The “Boot Room” became the cornerstone of Liverpool’s success. Shankly laid the foundations of a legend that continued under Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish and spiritually died when Roy Evans left the club. The “Boot Room Boys” is an account of a special time in Liverpool and indeed Anfield history, written by Peter Hooton, the editor of fanzine The End. It’s full of nice little nuggets, and whatsmore, packed with over 100 exclusive images.

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Live top-flight football returns to the BBC. But will it remain in some part FTA?

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The Premier League has resumed and last night saw the return of top-flight football live on the BBC after 32 years. Crystal Palace defeated Bournemouth in a largely-forgettable match that saw the contest end in the first half-hour and the relegation-doomed hosts trying and failing to take something out of the game.

In a review of the BBC’s coverage, Simon Burnton of The Observer wrote, “A Premier League live on the BBC is in itself an exceptional circumstance, and this one the result of even more exceptional circumstances.” A global pandemic, to be short. Football in the context of the ‘new normal’ is bread and circuses, and it will get some getting used to: the empty stands, the fake crowd noises, the ubiquity of matches on television and indeed, live coverage on free-to-air channels. These are not the circumstances the national broadcaster hoped to find when it was awarded four live Premier League matches last month, but when opportunity knocks it is not there to be wasted.

The early signs are encouraging. Last night’s match peaked at 3.9 million (24.5% viewing share), slightly short of the audience that watched the Manchester derby in April 2012, but with iPlayer figures and consolidated figures yet to be added, it is likely to smash the record. In two weeks from now, Manchester City’s trip to Southampton will be an indicator of how well the BBC has managed to earn the interest of the nation, given both sides may have little to play for.

When the season is over in six weeks, there still is the uncertainty over coronavirus, and whether fans can be allowed back into stadiums. The government is aiming for September for normality to be restored, a little over one month into the new stadium, yet in honest truth it could be a little while longer. Ministers are insisting that football must remain in part FTA until then, and undoubtedly this has created tension between the broadcasters who have paid huge sums of money just to secure exclusive rights. Sky and BT are said to be worried that any new arrangement that incorporates FTA football will ‘devalue’ their contracts and runs the risk of shrinking their subscriber base because they would simply be content with the BBC’s offerings. That logic would perhaps only stick if the BBC had control of which matches it could air, but it doesn’t. The Merseyside derby, a pivotal match for Liverpool in their quest for the title kicks-off tonight at 8pm on Sky Sports. The broadcaster has also made it FTA on Pick (which will increase the viewing audience), but it is slim pickings.

What the next six weeks will also tell us is whether there is more wiggle room for matches to be aired at 3pm. The blackout serves a purpose of protecting and maintaining the attendances of grounds up and down the country, but in recent years the Premier League has moved more and more games out of the window, keeping up with television demand. The pandemic may have accelerated the blackout’s cessation.

Flashback: Liverpool derail Manchester United’s title bid

The last time top-flight football was broadcast on terrestrial television, in April 1992, the fate of the championship was decided at Anfield. While Liverpool were not crowned as champions, they put end to Manchester United’s title bid with a 2-0 win. Goals from Ian Rush and Mark Walters brought delirium in the home stands, but perhaps the scoreline was cheered loudest in Leeds, where supporters watched on and celebrated an unexpected but well-deserved league title win. 

It was going all so well for Alex Ferguson, who saw his team enter April top of the pack and in a strong position to seal the championship. A home win against Southampton was quickly followed however by a draw away at Luton. United’s form continued to stutter during the Easter run-in when defeat to Nottingham Forest, masters of the counter-attack, went to Old Trafford and won 2-1. That result handed Leeds the upper hand, moving them top of the table after beating Coventry City.

There was still life in the title race, but any hope United had of ending a 25-year wait for a league championship was dashed when West Ham, already relegated, came through with a 1-0 win. Kenny Brown’s winner was the “luckiest goal imaginable,” Ferguson would later grumble. By the time United went to Anfield four days later, the title was not only at stake but pride, given the visitors had not endured back-to-back defeats all season and were not looking for a third on the spin. And yet there was an inevitability of where the title was going, given Leeds earlier in the day battled to beat Sheffield United. The players were glued to ITV, where for the final time ‘The Match’ brought live coverage of the Football League First Division. At the time of broadcast, ITV was still in the running to broadcast the new breakaway division, but eventually lost out to Sky Sports.

Liverpool headed into the game winless in five league matches, but started strongest of the two and took the lead inside 12 minutes when John Barnes set Rush through on goal and the Welshman dinked the ball over a rushing Peter Schmeichel. United had their chances, most notably two successive ones in the early stages of the second half, but struggled to consistently break up Liverpool’s play. The game was only truly over three minutes from the 90 when Ray Houghton’s shot hit the upper side of the goalpost, and was turned in by Walters. Cue “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” ringing around the Kop. Continue reading

Premier League plans restart


Some good news: Premier League football is set to resume on 17 June. All 92 remaining matches are set to be televised on British television; 25 will be free-to-air on Sky and a further four will be on the BBC. Result!

Kick-off times
Friday: 8pm

Saturday: 12.30pm, 3pm, 5.30pm, 8pm

Sunday: 12pm, 2pm, 4.30pm, 5pm

Monday: 8pm

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 6pm and 8pm

If you need a refresher, look no further.

March: Coming in like a lion, going out like a [insert animal if found]

March has been a most unusual month. The world has been gripped by a pandemic, and in Britain it is having a profound effect on society.

Washing hands (thoroughly) has become the nation’s favourite pastime. Nights in are the norm. And there have been many acts of kindness, raising spirits and restoring faith in humanity.

Sport is on hold and rightly so. On the same day Atletico Madrid beat Liverpool to advance into the Champions League quarter-finals, the World Health Organization (WHO) classed Covid-19/Coronavirus as a pandemic. The match at Anfield did have a strange, eerie feel to it, not because of the European champions dethroning, but it felt it would be the last bit of action in a while. Within a few days, events were cancelled. It was only until Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta confirmed he was tested positive for the virus, that the Premier League deemed it necessary to call off games until further notice.

The Premier League was meant to restart this weekend. Fat chance of that ever happening. The FA has now pushed back the date further to end of April. Again, it seems wishful thinking. No one really knows how long this pandemic will last, but it is highly unlikely everything will run tickety-boo under 30 days. Then there are the implications, should the league be null and void? What happens to the records set this season?

I guess the best thing to do is stay at home and wait it out before the administrators make these big decisions…

Manchester City: down, but not necessarily out

Manchester City last night were banned from European club competitions for the next two seasons, having been found guilty of breaking Financial Fair Play rules, or in UEFA’s words committing “serious breaches” of their regulations.

The decision, of course, is pending and subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. So what comes to mind this very morning is whether it will stick or not. You would imagine City had expected a hefty fine at the very least and expulsion at the very worst given they chose not to cooperate with UEFA when the investigation was ongoing. City set a clear message that they did nothing wrong, everything was above and on board, but the leaked evidence was damning and spiteful to say the least.

When a member of FFP’s investigatory team died, City lawyer Simon Cliff emailed the club’s ownership with a short, but succinct message: ‘One down, six to go’. 

UEFA have sent out a clear message about clubs who have resorted to creative accounting, but the wealth and power that City hold is too much to overcome, just as it would if they came down hard at PSG. Prediction following the appeal? The hefty fine stays, but the ban gets cut to a year.