Flashback: Crouch’s spectacular overhead kick

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Peter Crouch, who announces his retirement from professional football today, was the scorer of some delightful goals. It’s fair to say he also knew how to celebrate them in style — who can forget the robot when he put on the shirt for England?

Earlier this year he won an poll for best acrobatic goal ever scored in the Champions League — a stunning right-footed scissor kick for Liverpool against Galatasaray in September 2006. Worth watching again, and again, and again…

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PSG dig their heels in as Neymar transfer saga begins

Barcelona are said to be closing in on the signing of Antoine Griezmann, who earlier this year announced his intention to leave Atlético Madrid. It appears that one marquee signing isn’t enough for the Spanish champions as they have been linked with a move for Neymar.

The Brazilian failed to attend pre-training yesterday and PSG are looking to take action. Neymar’s father insists PSG were aware of his absence and the player had taken time off “because of charity commitments.”

It would be charitable to think that PSG would lie down and nip this whole saga in the bud. By going public, they have laid down a marker to dissenters within the squad. The rumour mill seems convinced Neymar wants a move away and end his Parisian sojurn (so much for Ballon d’Or and winning the Champions League there), but how will Barcelona accommodate him? Even if they can afford him and somehow comply with spending regulations (something their board and the La Liga president are well-versed when criticising others), is another expensive forward what they need?

England lose semi-final to USA, but pick up support along the way

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Image result for england usaIf there is one thing that unites a nation, it’s a World Cup. While club football has seen a wane in viewership in Britain, the women’s game has gone from strength to strength. A peak audience of 11.7 million tuned in to watch England’s semi-final defeat to USA on BBC One last night, making it the most-watched British television event of the year.

England’s quarter-final win against Norway peaked at 7.6 million, which was a massive jump from the 1.7 million that saw them beat Canada four years ago.

Revealed: Football sees fall in traditional TV audiences

The FA Cup final was once described as the biggest game of the season, yet its fall from grace owes much to the globalisation of the sport, if not the waning importance of free-to-air television.

A study by this blog has found that while the showpiece event has benefited from the BBC’s exposure, ratings over the last decade have fluctuated. Last season’s final, which saw Manchester City pick Watford apart in the space of 30 minutes, was watched by a peak audience of 7.4 million viewers, down 16% on 2018 and the 10.1 million that witnessed Arsenal retain the cup against Aston Villa in 2015.

The 2019 final, which also was broadcast on BT Sport, brought about the BBC’s lowest numbers since they reclaimed rights to the competition from the 2014-15 season. In the last ten years, you would have to go back to 2010 for poorer numbers. Chelsea’s victory against Portsmouth only managed a 6.5 million peak and a viewing share of 34.60% on ITV. Viewing shares hit rock bottom in 2013; Wigan’s unexpected triumph over Manchester City did enjoy a respectable peak of 9.4 million watchers, yet less than one in three people (31.30%) saw the coverage.

viewing share

Moving the FA Cup to the BBC has undoubtedly reinvigorated interest. It is a permanent fixture on FTA; indeed, since 2015 when ITV lost rights to the Champions League, the FA Cup has been the only football competition to remain on the traditional broadcasters. There is a aura of romanticism attached to the FA Cup, and the decision to award ITV rights in the near future to make it FTA exclusive has gone down well.

It must be stressed that although last year’s final garnered respectable numbers, it was a sharp drop on previous years. The apathy, best summarised by Gary Lineker’s struggle to say anything meaningful during the half-time analysis, could be attributed to a number of things. The weather was nice. There were other events going on. Manchester City were a class above and the contest made for dull TV (which goes against research in this article). The kick-off time, which has moved from its traditional 3pm to benefit from a worldwide audience, has made things inconvenient. Most likely and perhaps telling was that neither Manchester United, Liverpool nor Arsenal — three clubs that traditionally draw the biggest audiences, had no part to play, exiting in the early rounds. Two of United’s games — Arsenal in the fourth, and Chelsea in the fifth round — were the most watched matches of the season, and the latter game pulled in a peak of 8 million on a Monday night.

Interestingly, the 2019 final’s peak was 1.4 million higher than the audience which watched Liverpool’s Champions League victory on BT Sport in June. Arguably that figure would have been higher had BT subleased the coverage onto ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5. Telling too that ITV that night decided against airing its Britain’s Got Talent Final, instead pushing it back to the the next day.

There is appetite for the game from a global perspective, but the findings hint a trend most have long suspected: in Britain, the modern viewer is no longer dependent on watching football on linear TV, and is keen to use different platforms. Although this season the Premier League was packed with high drama, requiring a final-day showdown and the Champions League was contested by two English clubs, interest was not stratospheric. The accessibility of streaming services and debate on social media has softened and somewhat masked the importance of free-to-air broadcasters, as they have loosened their grip on rights.

Disclaimer: Of course, there are many limitations to this study, one being it not take into consideration is the early rounds of the FA Cup, where drama comes alive. The thinking here is the final serves as an indicator of how the season has panned out and can be seen as an isolated event.

Jonny Bairstow fought the critics and no one really won

Is it a trait of the English to want its sportspeople, or indeed celebrities to fail? Jonny Bairstow seems to think so. The cricketer (yes, this blog does *occasionally* step into the unknown and comments on things outside football) wasn’t happy at the critics for piling on negativity in what has been a subpar tournament for England on home soil at the Cricket World Cup.

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Scenes at Lord’s

England are by no means out of the competition — qualification is still in their hands and they might need two wins — but you would be forgiven for thinking these are dead-rubber games reading the latest opinion pieces or listening on the radio.

When asked about Kevin Pietersen’s tweet and Michael Vaughan’s comments in the wake of England’s defeat to Australia, Bairstow replied: “People now are paid to have an opinion, so they’ve got to have an opinion. Because we’ve done so well, any opportunity for someone to see we’ve lost two games, they were always going to jump on it. People were waiting for us to fail.”

“They are not willing us on to win, in many ways they are waiting for you to get that loss, so they can jump on your throat. It’s a typical English thing to do, in every sport.”

Is he being thick-skinned or does he have a genuine point? If there is one thing the British media does well is build people up only to knock them down and we’ve seen it many times over, not just in football but in any field of sport or indeed, showbiz. Things are done rather differently elsewhere, particularly America, where the name of the game isn’t to wait with bated breath for someone to fall (unless you work for CNN and that person is Donald Trump).

Refreshingly there hasn’t been a great deal of baiting by the media or hate campaigns fuelled by the press at the Women’s World Cup. The Lionesses are through to the last four, and will either play the holders USA or hosts France on Tuesday in a bid to make their first final appearance. Fingers crossed they go all the way!

Trying (and failing) to put pen to paper…

Image result for new yorker cartoon writerToday is National Writing Day and I was told felt compelled to post something. But I’m not sure where to start, what to write exactly. June has been a fairly unproductive blogging month here, and it’s not because the football season is in hiatus (it isn’t really, there is Copa America and the Women’s World Cup, not to mention the U21 Championships…oh, and plenty more sporting action). There is plenty to write about, and get our teeth into. Naturally, one of the hardest things about maintaining a blog is just that — writing on a regular basis, and churning out content that your readers love.

One of the things I’ve learnt about writing is you can always look to the past for inspiration. It has helped to inform and develop my style. Trawling through the blog archive, there are two standout posts, ideal for students and budding young writers, but I’m certain anyone, even without a remote interest in sport, would find these tips handy.

Six tips to improve your sports writing skills

Thinking of writing a sports book? Five questions to ask yourself

We’d welcome any writing tips or suggestions for getting over writer’s block below!

Unexpected item in bagging area

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Image result for supermarket carabao drawHas football finally eaten itself? The most absurd story this week was not a eye-watering transfer, but instead featured two ex-footballers, a load of balls and a supermarket. If you hadn’t guessed already, I am referring to the League Carabao Cup draw taking place at Morrisons last Thursday. Ray Parlour and John Barnes (pictured) were there to pick the ties, much to the bemusement of the viewers and shoppers.

If this is where football is heading to, it surely won’t be long until players and managers give thanks to sponsors for the three points. 😉

Chelsea’s revolving door policy

It would be harsh to criticise Chelsea for their haphazard approach to finding managers, when in the end whoever they appoint delivers. The game is about glory, so we are told and the revolving door policy of head coaches hasn’t worked out too badly for them. Since Roman Abramovich’s takeover of the club in 2003, Chelsea have amassed five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, two Europa Leagues and a Champions League. No club in England, not even Manchester United have won more this millennium.

So as Maurizio Sarri prepares to vacant his post, contemplating whether he made the best or worst decision of his career joining Chelsea, he should not feel too disheartened. Rather, be comforted in the knowledge that he won a trophy and guided the club back into the Champions League. Could anyone else have done a better job under the circumstances?

Whereas other clubs try to hire the best manager for the job to build a team, Chelsea’s top-heavy structure means decisions aren’t always ruled by the head coach, the one who trains with the players and sits in the dugout every other Saturday afternoon. It never appeared that those higher up bought into Sarri’s way of playing, thus his time at the club was never going to spawn a dynasty. With Eden Hazard now gone and a transfer ban, it might be a tall order for the new manager to better Sarri’s record in what should act as a transitional season for Chelsea.

The writing on the wall for Sarri was when he publicly called out his players for their poor showing against Arsenal in February. A crushing 6-0 defeat away to champions Manchester City had us all guessing how long the P45 would be brandished. To his credit, he never wavered nor shied away from his responsibilities and the Premier League; indeed, English football will be poorer for losing a manager who put ideals before interests. Sarri came, saw but didn’t quite conquer English football, but with the right backing at Juventus, a club that continues to monopolise Serie A, he may just stamp his authority in his homeland.