Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Trouncing’s and Controversies Galore

I’m back! So… did you miss me? Yeah, thought not. We’re at the midway point now, three games down for most and two to go and things are starting to get pretty interesting. The table is starting to take some shape and it was nice to get rugby back albeit for a day. This week’s post is a tad shorter, unfortunately France-Scotland was postponed due to a covid outbreak in the French squad which isn’t nice. I can only wish them the best and hope everyone makes a speedy and healthy recovery. But we still managed to get two entertaining games, one absolute annihilation and the other wooohhhhooooaaaahhhhh doctor we’ll get to that. I was feeling a little bit under the weather when watching the games and I have watched highlights back so my analytic cap may not have been as sharp as I hoped but I’ve done the best I can. This is shaping up to be a very interesting and possibly even more unexpected tournament than most would’ve thought. Imagine 5 years ago saying the most likely winners going in on paper would’ve been Scotland or France, and suggesting Wales would do the Grand Slam would get you funny looks, crazy. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Without any further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Disclaimer: I make more jokes than usual this week with the nonsense in the Wales-England game. I only do them to try make light of the games, not to rustle any jimmies. Nothing is personal or made to annoy anyone, I’m just trying to be clever and have a laugh in good spirit

Italy

Good god. This is the worst Italy have looked all tournament. I never thought they’d win, I didn’t think Ireland were ever *that* bad, but I expected better than that. From the first whistle they really struggled with the Irish drive. The creativity that was there for the opening two games was non-existent. It’s as if whenever they got to their fourth or fifth phase, they had absolutely no idea what to do next. They conceded far too many silly penalties, and when it came to the set piece they got absolutely battered. As the game went on they lost discipline a bit too easy for my liking. Some heads started to drop and they were visibly frustrated during the last 15 minutes, this was shown in the two yellow cards. I’m not angry or ashamed, I’m just disappointed. I’ve talked up this Italy team a lot and I really do think they have potential to be great, but it wasn’t shown against Ireland. Overall, a grim day for the Azzurri.

Grade: F. Very disappointed, you’re better than this. Stay behind so we can properly see what went wrong and where.

Ireland

That’s the Ireland everyone knows! That was desperately needed for the Boys in Green. At times they looked like the Ireland of three/four years ago. The tempo was high from the first whistle and it got them the result. Their game plan was executed to perfection. The attack was free flowing and a very disciplined defence kept Italy at bay forcing them into mistakes. The front and second row played incredible, they completely dominated the scrum. I was very impressed with their rucking forcing turnovers and keeping onto the ball well. This is how good Ireland can be. I know you should take games against Italy with a pinch of salt but they were very impressive. Ireland haven’t been awful this tournament in my opinion. I was never sold on the “Ireland are finished” train because they had to play Wales with 14 men and the best French team we’ve seen in well over a decade. This could kick start their tournament, not to win it but definitely for a strong finish. Well done Ireland, I knew you had this in you.

Grade: A-. Star of the week! Brilliant comeback from the last two weeks, well done!

England

Jeez this was a controversial one, I think talking about Brexit would cause less arguments. Let’s try anyway, in for a penny in for a pound. To address the Elephant in the room early, I think Owen Farrell was absolutely right to contest the referee’s decision for the first try. Fellow Welshies, hear me out a second. If Pascal Gaüzère said to Alun Wyn Jones time was paused so he could get the squad together pre-penalty, just as Alun Wyn arrives at the huddle Gaüzère tells Farrell he can play on who kicks it cross field to a mostly unmarked Jonny May while the water teams were still on the pitch and Wales were mostly huddled for May to score, you’d be understandably angry. You’d also love Alun Wyn if he stuck up for his team and contested it, so I don’t blame Farrell in the slightest. In a game where the referee’s word is so important you’d only want it to be fair. Apart from that and the second try (which I’ll get to), weird performance. England did very well to get back to tie the game and I thought looked very dangerous ball in hand. There were aspects of creativity and I was worried every time Daly, Watson, Slade, or May had the ball in the 22. But to let up 16 unanswered after tying the match isn’t good enough. You need to use that momentum in your favour, not let it slip and blow it. I’m in two minds about Itoje’s performance. Sure he conceded too many penalties but a lot of it was either poor timing or just trying a bit too hard. Someone probably should’ve stepped in and just told him to calm down a bit and to stop trying to do so much, because when he did things right I thought he did very well. Overall, okay in parts but not great at kick starting a genuine push.

Grade: D+. Did well in parts but let slip massively at the end. Need to see out games better and keep your cool.

Pascal Gaüzère… Sorry! I mean Wales

Oh come on! Of course I was going to joke about it! I know self deprecation isn’t for everyone but if you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? I’m trying to hear the screams of Grand Slam from our weekly reoccurring friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ but I can’t seem to find them. Where you at? Oh… you’re hungover. Still? The game was quite a while back now. Nope, still nursing it? Fair enough. I’m not going to be a bad winner but this was huge, for the first time this tournament Wales have genuinely impressed me. The first try was a bit naughty and calls for it being rough on England are fair and everyone’s made their minds up about the second (for what it’s worth, I thought it was a knock on). But the game wasn’t won there. Defensively sound and not afraid to go forward meant Wales were able to keep their foot on the gas. They showed great spirit to come back from level terms to score 16 more points and that was where the game was won. The Wales that played Ireland and Scotland would’ve probably let England even more back into it and possibly win but they showed great character to stop it from happening. Faletau played really well and Callum Sheedy looks to be one hell of a player. The boys in red looked threatening every time they were in the 22 and Adams and LRZ on the wing excites me not only now but in the years to come. If I’m allowed to be a teeny bit pessimistic still (because that’s what I do) I still think Wales gave away too many penalties and looked a bit meh at times at set pieces but overall, much better. The jammiest Triple Crown winners in history? Maybe. And I can’t believe we’re genuinely looking at a Wales Grand Slam (like… how?).

Grade: B+. Much better but not without a few wobbles throughout.

Class Clown of the Week: Brian Moore. His “The Super Bowl was last week” comment when the TMO was looking at a possible Wales forward pass just before half time was absolute gold (even if technically wrong because it was 3 weeks before the game, I won’t let facts get in the way of a funny). Well played, Brian.

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: The Good, the Somewhat Unconvincing, and the Defensive Masterclass

Told ya! I said this would be weekly and I’d stick at it. Another week of Six Nations fixtures down, no more wiser or have any clue how this tournament will end up going. There were more moments of beautiful rugby, questionable officiating, unconvincing performances from the big boys and shoulder charges. Kind of a weird one this weekend, we were treated to real Jekyll and Hyde games. A really close nail-biter in the form of Scotland-Wales, a high scoring yet still scrappy affair between England and Italy and I’m still yet to make my mind up about Ireland-France. My Dad messaged me after that last one saying he didn’t know if it was brilliant or terrible and I’m with him, kind of a weird game overall. Nobody played particularly awful but nobody was really too convincing. This made it an absolute nightmare to grade, hence why some scores might be a bit generous this week. Teacher was a bit tired at the time of marking so he wanted to get it done. But still, the final whistles have been blown, another game-week down, and a week off gives teams the chance to potentially go back to the drawing board and re-assess where they go from here. Although the rugby’s stopped for the time being, the show goes on at the Sport Addict Corner and without further ado it’s time for the grading!

England

Why must this team be the way that they are. I didn’t think an international rugby union team could annoy me as much as these guys do, but they find a way to get on every last nerve. Those opening five minutes were downright awful. When Ioane scored after 3 minutes I thought it would be a very long afternoon, before quickly remembering the opponents were Italy. Conceding stupid penalties continues to be an issue and there were far too many loose balls, but the game got better. Once Jonny Hill scored we all knew it was only going one way. Credit where it’s due, that was a good win. Sure the performance wasn’t fantastic, far from it, but you can’t criticise a team that won with a bonus point too much. I was far more impressed with England’s work in the 22 this week, in that they actually got there and didn’t kick for 80 minutes. It showed that when England have the ball in hand and play a bit of possession rugby, they’re not bad at all! Who would ever have guessed that a team with a back 3 of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, and Jonny May were actually really decent when attacking the 22 ball in hand? Speaking of May, that try was *chef’s kiss*. Majestic jump with the elegance of a gazelle. I was really impressed with Maro Itoje, I think he played a very good game and is looking more like the Maro of old. However the other Sarries lads aren’t there yet, their lack of minutes at a top level is starting to show. Farrell looked meh again (I really need to stop putting him as captain in my fantasy rugby team, but the second I take him out I know he’ll turn into prime Jonny Wilkinson) and Vunipola didn’t look fully fit. Taking a more serious tone however, I really do wish Jack Willis a speedy recovery. Rolling players in the ruck really needs to be outlawed because it can leave players seriously hurt. The scream he let out and the look of pure horror Ellis Genge had on his face proves how nasty it was (which I think contributed to Genge’s performance dipping a bit towards the end, seeing your friend get injured like that will leave an impact). All the best, Jack. Hope you get well soon. Overall, not too convincing but the result was badly needed.

Grade: B. Better than last week, even if I am being slightly generous, but there’s areas that need improvement. I would like to see Owen and Billy after class please for a chat about their recent performances!

Italy

What can I say but yikes, again. Italy started really strong. The Ioane try was fantastic and I thought they looked dangerous every time they got into the final third. But, as always, Italy gonna Italy. It was better than last week, but that’s not too much to aim from. Yet again, they gave away far too many silly penalties and struggled with England’s strength at set pieces. There were some decent showings. I thought the front row played fairly well and the Tommasso Allan try showed how good this team really can be, but it’s not there yet. This is a long term team and they were always going to struggle this tournament. The talent is undoubtedly there and I think they can end up being a sleeping giant, but not now. This week they were less punching bags and maybe more punching pads, bit more resistance but still got hit fairly badly without too much response. I don’t know what much else there really is to say. I think most entries for Italy will end up like this unfortunately, but me making any prediction on sport as a matter of public record tend to backfire pretty badly (just look at what I posted about the Pittsburgh Steelers last November) so maybe they’ll turn the tournament around. Who knows?

Grade: D-. Again, sorry to be so harsh on you guys as you did try. Granted it was better but you can’t let up another BP loss and expect a decent grade, speak to me after class where we can discuss some extra hours for a bit more help.

Scotland

Remember what I said earlier about Jekyll and Hyde? Without trying to sound too much like giving an answer to the press on Football Manager, this really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Scotland (I’m going to stop saying Jekyll and Hyde, saying it 4 times in one post is surely the limit). This team is still very good and plays fantastic rugby. The first try was incredibly worked with a very clever use of the chip kick. The kicks killed Wales’s rush defence, because believe it or not if you rush everyone forward when Darcy Graham is on the wing with space to run into, the attacking team might have a bit of success. On the defensive side I was really impressed. They bullied Wales into their own territory and made it near impossible to muster up any kind of attack. And then the second half comes and… yeah. Unfortunately for the Scots the ghost of shoulder charge past decided to pop in for a quick cuppa and nasty challenge, this time in the form of Zander Faegerson. Again, it was an unfortunate red card. Like O’Mahoney I don’t think it was deliberate at all however you can’t keep a player on when they commit a foul like that. Much like Ireland, this changed the game. It was never comfortable for Wales in the slightest and Scotland may feel a bit hard done by but in the end just switching off for one second swung the game in Wales’s favour, again.

Grade: C. WHAT DID I TELL IRELAND LAST WEEK ABOUT SHOULDER CHARGING FELLOW CLASSMATES?!?!?!?! Aside from that, unlucky. The performance was good again but I can’t really grade you any higher.

Wales

I really do get the worst of it when it comes to sport and my dual-nationality (makes it sound far more exotic than it is). This team are trying their best to see me off in their inability to comfortably win games with this week being no exception. From the first whistle Wales were clearly absolutely terrified of making mistakes. I thought it would resort to a similar game plan to England’s but thankfully it didn’t. I’m not a fan in the slightest of rush defence and it should be binned off immediately. Shaun Edwards would be saddened watching this display, sat in a chateau with a glass of Merlot seeing what has become of his slow and steady defensive strategy. It’s not Leigh Halfpenny’s job to defend as much as he did and that’s where some errors came from. This won’t work against England. The defence struggled against the Scottish back three, how will it cope against Daly and co.? And the less thought about France’s gorgeous offload play the better. That being said (you’d think Wales lost with the way I’m speaking), there were strong points. The front row impressed me again, I thought Ken Owens and Wyn Jones played very well. But the player of the match (and the weekend) was that boy again, Louis Rees-Zammit. I knew this lad was special, but sweet mother of god I didn’t know he was that special. I’m calling it, once he starts to improve his defence a bit then Wales has their next Shane Williams. See now this is part of the irritating and goading side I wanted to come out last week, and it still isn’t coming out, but Louis looks the real deal. In the faint distance you may hear the irritating Welsh rugby fan scream at the top of their lungs to the high heavens how Wales are winning the Grand Slam, but let’s take it one step at a time. Nice to win? Yes. Convincing? Anything but. Improvement still needed? Absolutely. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: C+. Similar performance to last week, would like to see some improvement. And PLEASE will you stop relying on your classmates shortcomings and brain farts to wake you up.

Ireland

I don’t know where I stand on this team, I really don’t. Losing Sexton was far from ideal, but I’m not convinced they would’ve won had he played. They were nervous at the beginning, it was quite a cagey opening. Billy Burns was clearly quite anxious at the start, I’m not sure he was fully over last week. A strong point for this team is the lineout for sure, as is the scrum, but it won’t win them the game alone. I felt they tried to beat France at their own game but it didn’t go as they hoped. They tried to be a little bit too cute in their passing and a bit flicky at times but it didn’t pay off. The defence struggled with the French back three, but then any defence would’ve. That being said however, I can’t help but think that performance would’ve beaten Wales. They took France right to the death and came close to winning, but it wasn’t to be. The clash of heads between Healey and Henderson was absolutely sickening and I hope they’re both okay. Overall, quite a strange game from the boys in green. Looked very good at times but just wasn’t enough.

Grade: C-. Not a terrible effort but still not really great. Please see me after class so we can talk about realistically where we can go from here.

France

Hmm, this was odd. I’m really not sure where I stand on this performance. Three years ago I think they would’ve lost this pretty comfortably, leading to “just goes to show you never know which France will show up” comments which have been done to death and have lost any and all meaning by this point. I think this team were scared of making mistakes, and that showed with how much they kept it in the air at the start and were willing to let Ireland have possession throughout the game. The trip from Le Roux was stupid, no other way of putting it, but I thought it was a good bit of officiating from the referee and linesman to spot it. There were sparks of how this team can just switch on showing in Ollivon’s try, it was a great bit of offloading. And France win the first class clown of the week going to Paul Willemse, I found the ball bonk off his head at the try line far funnier than I should’ve. All in all, kind of weird but disciplined. They did what they needed to do in what was a real Shaun Edwards gutsy defensive masterclass. Credit as well to Antoine Dupont, that lad really is something else and in my opinion the best scrum half in the world today.

Grade: A-. Star of the week again but less convincingly. Try not to lose that spark that makes you a bit different and special, and as funny as it was try not to make Paul the class clown too much.

Six Nations Week 1 Recap: The Show Rolls On

It’s that time of year again! Albeit in very different circumstances, the Six Nations is back. There’ll be no bootcut jeans with brown leather shoes, no pints of Guinness poured, no pubs packed, no whatever those absolutely horrendous daffodil and pink sparkly cowboy hats are, seriously, they are absolutely awful, and no red chinos at HQ (even typing that makes me sick). It’s a very scary and weird world out there at the moment but this will bring some kind of escape. Sure, it’s not quite the same. But with the rate of vaccine distribution hopefully this time next year the stands and pubs will be packed again, better days are coming friends. Until then we still have tins and listening to Eddie Butler, Jonathan Davies, Sir Clive, Martin Johnson, and the whole gang to see us through. This will become a weekly thing, I know consistency isn’t really my strong point (just look at how many times I’ve posted in the last 12 months) but I’m fully committed to this one. I’ll look at teams week by week and give them a grade, as if we were back at school, or home-school in this case. That’ll be the last reference to covid, I promise. So all that’s left is to get into the grading!

France

Va va voom! Les Bleus that was some beautiful rugby! For me, the performance of the round by a team. They were silky, quick, and their ball in hand and possession rugby was a sight to behold. This team has really strong potential to go far. We saw many glimpses of it in last year’s Six Nations and not only were they quality going forward their defence looked strong too. Shaun Edwards has transformed this French team to become the quality side we all knew they could be. But being the slight cynic I am, there are some grey areas still. One is the fact that they played Italy, no disrespect but top tier European rugby’s punching bag (sorry lads). It was always expected that they would win and probably quite comfortably. The second is the fact that, well… it’s France. “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, you never know which France will turn up.” Not to go back to it, but it’s true. It was proven against Scotland last year that their inconsistency is still a bit iffy. That performance in particular showed that they can have the most well planned and balanced team with quality in every area, it’s still France and they still have the ability to self implode. Maybe this year is different, maybe this is the start they needed to kick off their chase for a first Six Nations title (and maybe even Grand Slam) since 2010 and end the British-Irish domination of the last decade because that performance proved they have the ability to. But never count them out to do something stupid or hilarious to bottle it.

Grade: A+. Top of the class! Star of the week

Italy

Yikes, that was harsh on you guys. Despite the score line I honestly think Italy weren’t that awful. There were glimpses of quality, I thought Montanna Ioane had a solid game, but it just wasn’t to be. Their passing at times was a bit meh and they in turn cost them points. The French tries were either quality French rugby or Italy having brain farts in the first half and they were completely tired out by the second. This is a young core, losing Sergio Parisse was always going to be rough and it’s kind of showing. That being said, this team can go far. Once they gel I think they have the potential to go quite far, but this isn’t the year for it. Georgia will be watching that result and licking their lips as they do but I think they’ll improve. Will they win a game based on this weeks performances, at the moment possibly not. Not because they’re particularly awful, more so because the other teams are just better. However, this unit can definitely go far. It’ll be an interesting tournament for the Azzurri with a lot of learning, and possibly an interesting few years. They’ll be one to keep an eye on.

Grade: F. Sorry, it’s not nice to give you this as I saw you try but that score just isn’t good enough. See me after class

Scotland

Well done Scotland, you really earned this. It’s been a very long time coming but you know what? Hats off. They played a very disciplined style of rugby enjoying a lot of ball possession. It might not be too easy on the eye but it works. It gets results, and what a result this was. They played incredibly well at the lineout and were strong in possession. This team can go places. Don’t be any under illusion, this is absolutely massive for morale. To win against England at Twickenham will give them a massive confidence boost. I’ll go out on a limb, Scotland are my dark horses this year. With how some of the other bigger teams played I can see them doing really well and having a strong Six Nations. I’m not saying they’ll go all the way and win it, but I think based on this weekend they’ll finish top 3. The quality’s definitely there, it’s just whether they can put the performances together. I’ve got my eye on you Scotland, and I really like what I see. Dare I say, triple crown winners this year? Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think they were the best performing British-Irish team this week.

Grade: A. Very impressed! Keep up the good work

England

Oh England… England, England, England. What will we do with you? I have a really weird relationship with this team. Being half English, whenever they’re not playing Wales I support them (something punishable by trial at the Hague where I’m from but meh, I don’t care). I had high hopes for this team, I really thought after the Autumn Nations Cup and last year’s Six Nations we’d see much the same, but again I was wrong. That performance was pathetic. Scotland did play well but good lord it was poor from the men in white. They kind of need to get it into their heads that kicking to my starting Lions full back really isn’t the one. The tactics were awful. When they played with ball in hand there were glimpses of quality, it’s something they really need to do more. But alas, we get 80 minutes of kicking it to a team who are happy with ball possession. It’s painfully obvious that the Sarries lads haven’t played enough at a top level recently, that needs sorting asap. In all, they have to be better. It’s Italy next who’s probably ideal, because this team desperately needs a confidence boost.

Grade: D-. Really must try harder, stay after class with Italy for quite a serious chat

Wales

I want to goad. I want to be irritating, I really do. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. That was lucky, a bit too lucky. It was… okay. Look a win’s a win but that wasn’t very convincing. It was quite tight, a bit scrappy and aided a lot by Peter O’Mahony’s sending off. There’s no way I thought that was deliberate by the way, I think the intention to make a tackle was there but you can’t not send somebody off for a challenge like that. There were definite positives however. Ken Owens really impressed me, I think he was really strong in the scrum and played well at the lineout. However my player of the match was definitely Louis Rees-Zammit. It was always going to be big boots to fill replacing Josh Adams, but he more than stepped up to the task at hand. I’d love to see him start more. The winger situation really excites me. Adams, LRZ and Liam Williams are quality players and I can’t wait to see what will happen in Rees-Zammit’s very bright future.

Grade: C+. Not bad but I know you can do better, would like to see improvement next week please

Ireland

Last but not least, Ireland. I don’t want to go in too heavy on them, they weren’t good but neither team were. The red card killed it in my opinion. They looked fairly steady up until that point and they had to play a long time against 15 men. If they didn’t have O’Mahony sent off then maybe they would’ve won, but it was that kind of game it’s quite hard to tell. Fairly scrappy, possibly just a bad day at the office, and ended up tiring themselves out quite a bit. If there was anything that summed it up for me then it was the kick for the corner going dead after 80 minutes were up. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very strong team. This could be the making of them for a strong tournament, but they need to improve. If I’m being completely honest, based off what I saw I don’t see them finishing top 3. They still have time to turn this around and come March it could have just been a bad dream, but they need to step up to the plate a bit more if that’s the case.

Grade: D+. Disappointing. Improvement needed, and please refrain from shoulder charging fellow classmates

How the Awful Year that was 2020 Brought out the Best in Sportspeople

Rejoice! Tis the 31st of December, the absolute living hell that is 2020 is only a few hours away from being over. Before absolutely anything, I just want to say well done. The last twelve months have been absolutely horrible from the first month to the last. Wildfires, flooding, coronavirus, the death of George Floyd, seemingly never-ending lockdowns, uncertainty around employment, separation from loved ones for months on end, one of the most divisive elections in recent memory, the health service being stretched to the absolute maximum, and yet you made it through it all to put two fingers up to the last 12 months, I’m so proud of you. As millions of Facebook mums have said, this year has put so much into perspective and sport is no different. There were still big moments, Kansas finally had a winning team as did Liverpool, the Lakers won the NBA Championship for Kobe Bryant, and the Exeter Chiefs look to have started a rugby dynasty to name just a few. The hardship of this year can’t be overlooked, however it did bring out the best in many.

At the same time, it proved how little but how much our passion matters. Whilst the cancellation of more or less all sport back in March was completely needed, it left a massive hole in so many people’s lives. Seasons were stopped, Euro 2020 and the Olympics were postponed, jeopardy as to when sport would start up again, just nothing fun was happening in the world of sport. Sure there were reruns of old classics such as the 1966 World Cup Final, classic British Lions Tests and the always incredible third 2019 Ashes Test, but it still didn’t quite feel right. That’s why I spent my Saturdays in May watching 3 different Bundesliga games at the same time on various devices and the morning of VE-Day watching Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the restart of the K-1 League. We just missed it. As weird as it sounds, the return of sport was a real morale booster. I kind of doubted it when people said early on that it would be but they were 100 percent spot on. Credit has to be given to Nascar, a sport I’ve never watched but they played such an important role. The return of Nascar stateside proved to be a pivotal moment in showing how sporting bubbles work, a tactic that ensured cricket, basketball, baseball, and boxing were able to come back later in the year and that the NFL season could start on time.

Sportsmen and women contributed in many different ways in the fight against coronavirus. In the UK, footballers used their platform and financial ability to be able to help those who needed it most. Marcus Rashford will always be remembered as a hero for all the work he’s done to feed kids in poverty who rely on free school meals when the Government wouldn’t and voted against the motion of free school dinners during the Easter, Summer and half term holidays. Jordan Henderson started a fund for NHS workers, Wilfried Zaha offering NHS workers free accommodation, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs doing the same with their hotels. And Matt Hancock had the nerve to say Premiership footballers needed to do more to help others, how about your government does its job and looks after its people instead of the public having to rely on Premier League footballers and ex-pros helping out. Just a thought. Outside of the UK, Charlotte Hornets star Bismack Biyombo pledged $1 million worth of PPE to health workers of the Democratic Republic of Congo in their fight against the virus. Houston Texans Defensive End JJ Watt donated $350,000 to the Houston Food Bank in order to keep families in poverty fed. Joyce Sombroek, gold and silver medal winner in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and regarded one of the best women’s hockey goalkeepers of all time, completed her training as a GP in March and has been on the front lines in the Netherlands in their efforts to battle the disease. These are all just a select few of the countless heroes who have helped fight this virus, your actions aren’t going unnoticed and we can’t thank you enough.

Away from the world of covid-19 we saw more examples of sporting heroes. The Australian Open tennis tournament took place whilst wildfires were ravaging the Australian outback which led to Maria Sharapova, Nick Kyrgios, and Ashleigh Barty just to name a few donating portions of (or in Barty’s case, her whole) purses to the relief fund. Much closer to home, the South Wales Valleys were devastated by floods after Storm Dennis however the aftermath saw an incredible sense of community with the people of RCT helping each other out. Merthyr Town FC offered a free Sunday Dinner to emergency service workers while Taffs Well RFC players helped in the clear out of debris from houses. This kind of community spirit and togetherness proves how close knit people from this part of the world are. Although it may not have made major headlines, the actions of Merthyr Town, Taffs Well and countless volunteers in the aftermath of the storm and floods will be remembered for a long time in South Wales. Following the murder of George Floyd an outpouring of support came from sportspeople for black people around the world. Michael Jordan pledged $100 million over the next decade for racial equality groups and charities. Anthony Joshua spoke at a Black Lives Matter protest in London calling out racial inequality in the UK proving that it isn’t only an American issue. Lewis Hamilton wore BLM shirts throughout the remainder of the F1 season and wore one in the first week back demanding the arrest of the police that murdered Breonna Taylor. Sportspeople using their platform like this is so important and will inspire more to challenge racial inequality. Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow won the hearts and support of the nation for the incredible job he’s done in raising awareness of motor neurone disease, an absolutely devastating condition that has no known cure. Burrow’s former team mate and friend Kevin Sinfield helped with running 7 marathons in 7 days raising £2.6 million for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in a display of kind heartedness and friendship, god bless you Mr. Sinfield.

All in all, 2020’s been grim. Uncertainty about so much for so long was really heavy on all of us, but it looks like there’s some light at the end of a long, wet, nasty, dark, disgusting tunnel. 3 vaccines have been found to be at least 95 percent effective and 2 already approved by the UK government. Sportspeople showed how kind hearted they can be putting a definite end to the annoying stereotype that they only care about money and themselves because that just isn’t true. Here’s to 2021 where we’ll hopefully see crowds back at full capacity and a hell of a summer to look forward to with the postponed Olympics and Euros and the scheduled Lions Tour of South Africa. Because 2021, for the love of god and all that’s holy, you need to try harder than whatever the hell those last 12 months were.

The Steelers: On Track To Be The NFL’s First 19-0 Team?

As I try and do absolutely anything to take my mind off the US Election*, I thought to myself why not write about something equally as horrible and nerve wracking in the very real possibility of the Pittsburgh Steelers being the first NFL team to go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl. (For any non-American football fans, that means they win all 16 games in the regular season, and all of their post season games thus winning the Super Bowl. A bit like winning every game in the World Cup but they wouldn’t have to play in the last 16 instead qualifying straight for the quarter finals because they did so well in the group stages… yeah it’s weird, better not to question it). As an Eagles fan the only positive thought I can muster up to this very possible situation is “well, at least it’s not Dallas!”, and that’s where the positive thoughts end. But the sooner everyone’s at peace with it the better.

*I don’t put my political opinions in here as it’s a sports blog but a quick trip to my twitter would show how I feel about the election… and this is from a Brit. I’d hate to think of the wreck I’d right now be if I lived stateside

I’m basically accepting the Steelers are winning the Super Bowl this year, I’m at peace with it and it’s time we all were. Let the Steeler Nation have their moment of fun because the last few years have been anything but, congratulations Pittsburgh! I say anything but fun it’s not as if they went full Bengals or Browns and ended up with a 0-16 season, or even have a losing season under Mike Tomlin, but what do I know. Pettiness aside and credit where it’s due, this is a really exciting time for the Steelers. Everything’s just started to fall into place, they’ve had the quality to do this for years but now it’s just working, and as hard as it may be it’s not impossible that they go all the way and lift the Lombardi Trophy this season.

So why do I think this could be Pittsburgh’s year and why do all roads lead to 19-0? In short, what’s stopping them? Their offense looks the best it has done in years and shows no real signs of anything going wrong anytime soon. Sure, there’s no Antonio Brown anymore but in all honesty, it’s for the best. To say Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger didn’t see eye to eye is like saying Joe Biden and Donald Trump aren’t exactly best friends (last election reference, I promise). Without the infighting between the two it looks like the offense has somewhat clicked and both men are happy that they don’t have to play on the same team anymore. (This isn’t me saying that Big Ben is the saint he thinks he is because I am far from his biggest fan, I can appreciate what he has achieved in football but good lord he’s not the nicest bloke.) The offense has been scarily good this season. Roethlisberger has had an incredible start managing to turn rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool into a breakout star with Juju Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron and James Conner being in the form of their lives. I think the time off with the injury helped Big Ben in a weird way. He’s so much quicker now, not staying in the pocket as long throwing insanely long passes that didn’t always pay off. With a strong o-line it’s been hard for any defenses to get anywhere near him. Considering there were talks of retirement only a few years ago, time off with some r&r has clearly helped him turning him into the Leader of Men he’s always claimed to be.

Every good championship team needs a strong defense, and the Steelers definitely have one. When the offense looked a bit off against their toughest tests in the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, the defense essentially won them the games. They made Ryan Tannerhill and Derrick Henry look average and Lamar Jackson look human which is far from an easy feat. If any team wants to even consider a sniff of a Super Bowl, they need quality on defense which they have. Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have all made strong early cases for Defensive Player of the Year and Robert Spillane has been perfect to fill in for the injured Devin Bush. If their defense manages to keep as strong as they’ve started then they’ll be completely unstoppable. I think they’ll be the key part in the quest for 19-0.

Aside from the quality of their side, who actually stops them? I can’t see them losing any of their remaining fixtures barring something going horrendously wrong and who would stop them in the postseason? The obvious choices in the AFC bracket are the Chiefs or the Bills but I think the Steelers just have a better side and both of them are beatable. The Raiders showed a great defense can stop the Chiefs and what did I spend my time saying in the last paragraph? In terms of the Super Bowl itself, the NFC have a few teams who could make it this year. The Seahawks, Bucs, Saints or Packers look most likely as the NFC East is a lost cause. But even then, I don’t think any of those sides end up beating the Steelers.

In terms of whether they actually go 19-0 or not I don’t know, it’s far easier said than done. All it takes is a few unfortunate injuries or suspensions for things to wrong. Plus with this season having the threat of covid postponements a few weeks off due to game delays can prove to be a nightmare for team routines and form, as shown by the Titans. In terms of what happens for the Steelers this season, they’ll probably quite comfortably make the AFC Championship Game with the Super Bowl being either the Chiefs or Steelers against the Buccaneers or Packers, and I wouldn’t bet against Pittsburgh winning against the NFC teams. Maybe this is the year Mike Tomlin gets his second Lombardi Trophy, Big Ben gets the MVP season confirming himself as the almighty Leader of Men and Pittsburgh get a perfect 19-0 season.

Hashtag United: How the YouTube Outfit are Changing Non-League Football

Love them, loathe them, don’t particularly care about them, if you’re interested in football then the chances are you come across Hashtag United FC. The brainchild of British YouTube star Spencer Owen (Spencer FC on YouTube), “The Tags” have seen their popularity skyrocket since their creation. They’ve gained a sizeable following in the last few weeks following their early success in the FA Cup qualifying rounds, with many social media stars attending games and continuing to tweet their support and admiration for what the club are doing. *As they play in the 9th tier of English football (or step 5 of the National League), they are able to have supporters at their ground as per Government guidelines*. Some of them included Jack Dean (better known as JaackMaate on YouTube), David Vujanic, Ellis Platten (who I am a massive fan of, just saying), Thogden, Elliot Hackney and many more. They’re changing the way non-league football is viewed by the neutral or supporters of bigger teams, be it for better or worse. Today, I’ll be taking a look at the short history of the team, why I think they’re changing non-league football and whether some of the criticism they’ve received is fair or not.

Picture the scene, it’s March 2016. Donald Trump is about to win the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 US Election, David Cameron hasn’t long announced the UK will have a referendum on its EU membership, Jamie Vardy was having one hell of a party with Leicester getting closer and closer to a Premier League title and for Welsh football fans a summer of a lifetime was just around the corner (reminiscing over it whilst sat in my room in a very rainy Swansea is making me sad, I can’t begin to stress how much I wish it was Euro 2016 again), but it’s also the time Hashtag United were founded. They were a bit of a gimmick to start, playing friendlies against all different kinds of teams with their highlights being uploaded to YouTube. It was a bit of harmless fun with what was essentially Sunday league games with bits put on the internet for fans of Spencer FC to watch. But after a while support grew for it and continued to grow. Spencer took a bit of a gamble to see how far it would go, and the gamble more than paid off. Before the 2018-19 season, it was announced that The ‘Tags would be playing in the tenth tier of English football in the form of the Eastern Counties League Division One South. They won promotion to the Essex Senior Football League after their first season and find themselves there today, currently in second place 3 points behind league leaders Cockfosters. From what started as a Sunday League YouTube highlights compilation has turned into a team playing in the English Football pyramid, it’s been quite the 4 and a half years for them.

So why does any of this matter? In short, they’re completely changing the way non-league football is being viewed and followed. Bold statement, I know, but hear me out. Their YouTube channel currently has 523k subscribers, 472k followers on Instagram and 214.6k followers on Twitter. No non-league club, let alone in the 9th tier, comes remotely close to those numbers. To put it into context, that’s more followers on Twitter than Swindon Town, more Instagram followers than Swansea City, and more YouTube subscribers than Everton’s official account. There are personalities on YouTube who make Hashtag exclusive content and there’s many in the British YouTube scene who have a soft spot/admiration for them. All this support will get the attention of people and that’s being shown with fairly decent, consistent crowds showing up. This will bring more eyes to non-league football and more fans, and more importantly families, showing up to lower league games. Kind of a domino effect in a way, but a positive one. More fans means more eyes on lower league football which should mean more interest is taken in it, everyone wins. Non-league has never seen this kind of platform before. I’m not at all saying that Hashtag United are the biggest or most supported club in non-league, teams such as Wrexham, Hartlepool, Yeovil Town, Eastleigh and many others are much bigger clubs. But if Hashtag continue to succeed in the years to come then I honestly believe it will be fantastic in terms of the support for non-league football.

But like with absolutely anything you do in life, there is criticism for the club. Some of the most vocal critics say how what Hashtag are doing are “cringe”, be it the name, how they were founded or the excitement supporters/those associated with the club have the dreaded 6 letter word always finds a way to show up. But in today’s day and age, what even in cringe anymore? Is following your dreams through building your own team and living the dreams of millions of people around the world considered cringe? Is it to follow and have a passion for a team even though they may have not been founded in a traditional way? Could cringe be filming yourself at a game for the purpose of uploading it to YouTube? It seems the word is thrown around so much nowadays somebody’s hobby within football or life in general which dares go against a social norm is considered cringe. And to be honest, I hate it. As a society we preach being kind to one another but are quick to use somebody’s interest as a way to goad or insult them, and although it may be harmless in intent or just a little bit of banter it can make people feel bad and really unhappy. Just let people have interests and hobbies and leave them to it.

I’m not saying that Hashtag are immune to criticism because nobody is. If you have an issue with the way they became the name that they are and building on an already large audience, then that’s okay. I know some people will feel a bit uneasy about it which is fine. But hurling abuse at them online without an argument or insulting fans just because it’s Hashtag United won’t get you anywhere. It’s a bit like shouting at the moon, it’s not achieving anything and will eventually just end up annoying people around you. Rightfully, criticism came in their FA Cup games with the lack of social distancing from fans. I did voice my criticism for that on twitter, but made sure I said how it wasn’t anything personal and acknowledged it was a problem with many non league clubs. If it becomes too much of an issue that continues to happen then it won’t be long before all football is played behind closed doors, which would be absolutely catastrophic for so many teams. But don’t attack them because they’re a bit different to your traditional non-league team. Let people have their own interests and hobbies, if it’s legal then who are they hurting? It’s not cool, nor does it make you look big and clever, to belittle somebody or make them feel bad for having a hobby, it just makes you look a bit mean.

As I opened with, love them, loathe them, don’t particularly care about them, they’re not going away anytime soon. At the time of writing they’ve just been knocked out of the FA Cup Second qualifying round by Braintree Town losing on penalties, which isn’t a bad run for a team making their FA Cup debut. Only time will tell how far they’ll go, but FA Cup runs like this and their league performances will get people aboard the hype train. As a result more eyes are on non-league, it gets more of a following, and who knows how bright the future could be for many clubs.

Yet Another Championship Playoff Preview

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I can only assume Andy Williams was talking about the Championship Playoffs when he wrote that. Yes, after a (very) long season and 6 weeks of football more or less on everyday we’re down to my favourite part of the footballing calendar, the playoffs. There promises to be celebration, heartbreak, drama and some dodgy refereeing all leading to a spot in the Barclays Premier League. Going into the final day, it looked like a Brentford–Cardiff/Fulham–Nottingham Forest playoff bracket would take place. However this is the Championship and not everything always goes to plan. With the most mental last day imaginable the playoff picture ended up as South Wales vs West London in both brackets setting up the possibility of a Cardiff–Swansea playoff final. As a Cardiff fan that is the most horrible thing I can possibly imagine and I would ideally want to avoid at all costs. I don’t care if it would be an amazing advert for Welsh football or not, I’m sure Swansea fans would agree when I say playing a rival that big in the final would have far too much riding on it. Goes well and it’s the best day of your life (probably), goes badly and you’ll never hear the end of it for as long as you live. With all this being said, I’m going to take a look at all the teams in the playoffs this year and give a little preview as to how I see it going.

Brentford

Oh Brentford, what happened? Seems a little harsh saying that considering they’ve been in unbelievable form since the turn of 2020 but you can’t help but feel that they should’ve gone up automatically. They win two fairly winnable games against Stoke and Barnsley and they’re a Premier League club for the first time in their snazzy new stadium. However football is a cruel game and it wasn’t meant to be. Finishing third they (on paper) have the best shot at getting to Wembley and you’d be a fool to bet against them. They have quality in every area on the pitch and are incredibly dangerous going forward. Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrhama have been different gravy this season and even on a slight off day are two of the best players in the league. Pontus Jansson is exactly the kind of player you’d want as captain. His passion for the team is unmatched and he’s exactly who you’d want to motivate you in the dressing room before a massive game. Brentford have been the surprise of the season for me. Apart from Brentford fans, nobody really expected much from them this year but how wrong we were. Thomas Frank has done a brilliant job and the players have stepped up to the plate on more than several occasions when called upon. They’re currently the favourites with the bookies and rightly so. However you’d be justified to have some reservations. To put it kindly their playoff record is fairly grim and their reliance to keep playing attractive football even if it isn’t working makes them a bit easier to play against. But there’s something magical about the playoffs, and if Frank’s men can produce the magic they have all season then it’s not too unlikely that West London’s red and white will be lifting the playoff trophy under the Wembley arch on the 4th of August.

Fulham

Arguably the biggest threat in the playoffs this year. Fulham are a strong all round Championship team. Solid at the back, control the midfield well and lethal up front. They have this season’s top scorer in Aleksandar Mitrovic who is a nightmare for defenders. Strong, holds the game up well, lethal finisher, just absolutely everything you’d want in a striker. Their football is fun to watch. Much like Brentford they keep control of the ball and attack a lot. Scott Parker has been perfect for Fulham and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think he’d do well. I thought it was Shearer at Newcastle 2.0 but I was very wrong. It was always going to be difficult for Parker after relegation however he’s coped incredibly well and has been one of the best managers in the Championship this year. The way the bookies have it at the moment, we’re heading to a Brentford-Fulham final which would be a fun watch for the neutral. Two quality teams with similar styles which would make for an entertaining game and difficult to pick a winner out of the two. However that could be their downfall. Like Leeds last year, they might suffer from overconfidence and assume they’ve made the final already. Cardiff are still a very strong team who can get good results in games where they’re the underdogs. Games this season such as Leeds at home and Nottingham Forest away prove that they can step up to the occasion against great teams when we need to. If Cardiff can get in their faces early and show they’re up for the fight and not intimidated by them then it could be a tricky few games for Fulham and not the easy route to the final many people are expecting.

Cardiff City

Cardiff. My beloved Bluebirds. When Warnock left and Harris took over we were in a terrible state. The team weren’t playing well and it looked like it would be a midtable finish a season after relegation. However something changed. Harris got the bluebirds flying and we managed to get ourselves into the playoffs. I was optimistic when Neil Harris was appointed, I’m a big fan of his work at Millwall and said how an absolute dream would be to finish in a playoff position (it’s true, I said it online and on the telly, it’s a matter of public record). Fans were somewhat divided at first but since we’ve found our feet in the lead up to and since the restart there’s a strong support for Don Harris as he’s called by fans on Twitter. Robert Glatzel has been unreal since the restart and the ability to get Lee Tomlin back from what was a season ending injury before the break due to coronavirus has been absolutely crucial. Whatever we’ve done over the break, it’s definitely worked and long may it continue. My biggest worry going into the playoffs is consistency. This season has basically been a rinse and repeat of do well for a few games, look like we’ll have a nice bit of form together, lose or draw a few games we should win or do better in, get a bit angsty, start the cycle again. If a game had to basically sum up our season it would be Brentford at home. 0-2 down after 20 minutes and playing awful, get 2 back before halftime having woken up a bit, playing well in the second half and should’ve probably ended up winning. Football eh. If we can nail our consistency over the next two legs then we can really cause a few shocks and maybe see ourselves through to the playoff final and the Premier League. Here’s to hoping.

Swansea City

To quote my favourite character from The Office, David Brent…. What are you doing here!! Yeah this is a surprise and I’ll be honest I didn’t see it coming at all. The script was supposed to be Brentford–Cardiff and Fulham–Forest. But as I’ve previously said, this is the Championship and the Championship couldn’t care less about any scripts so we got the craziest final day with Forest losing 1-4 and the Swans winning 1-4 therefore overtaking them on goal difference. In what was a similar capitulation to Yeovil Town in the 2007 League 1 playoffs (sorry to bring that up Forest fans, your team have a bit of a habit for this kind of thing), Forest missed out and Swansea took their place. Don’t really want to praise the Swans more than I really have to but I’ll give it a go and try my best (that’s a joke Swansea fans, please don’t hurt me). Swansea are a solid team with quality players such as Joe Rodon, Andre Ayew and on loan Liverpool star Rhian Brewster. They stand a decent chance against Brentford who, as previously noted, have a poor record in the playoffs. Swansea have been here before and won at Wembley, and although it was 9 years ago and it was a completely different squad, it may give them that slight mental edge. As previously touched upon, Brewster has been incredible since joining on loan and could easily make the difference for them. He’s the kind of player who can turn draws into wins or losses into draws. However you can’t overlook the fact they’re playing the best team in the playoffs. I didn’t really want to play Brentford and think Cardiff have a better chance against Fulham. They’re the outsiders with the bookies which is hardly surprising but again, this is the playoffs and you never know what might happen.

One of Brentford, Fulham, Cardiff and Swansea are three games from the Premier League. We could have a West London Derby final as we could have a South Wales Derby final. Both exciting for the neutral, both a horrible thought for the fans of the teams involved. The Metropolitan Police must be thanking their lucky stars that a possible Cardiff-Swansea final would be played behind closed doors. I feel Cardiff and Swansea meeting in the final would be a bit like that meme of Paul Rudd on Hot Ones (“look as us, hey look at us”, “who would’ve thought?”, “not me!”)… Yeah I’m not sure what that tangent was about either, anyway. Every year the playoffs are full of passion and drama, although there will be no fans in the grounds this time around it will be just as exciting. The best time of the football calendar (yeah I said it, come at me Champions League final) where form and team quality all goes out the window. It’s all about who wants it the most, and I for one cannot wait for it to kick off.

Seatbelts on: Real football is back and project restart is go

So… it’s been a while. I know I’ve not posted in far too long and yeah, sorry about that. Since January it seems my life has been uni deadline after uni deadline and I’ve not really had any time to do anything else. So what’s gone on in my absence? Tyson Fury beat Deontay Wilder in the States to become WBC Heavyweight champion of the world, Kansas finally had a winning team under the guidance of Mahomes and co., Tom Brady kissed goodbye to New England joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking his bestie Rob Gronkowski with him, Liverpool looked set to go invincible before Watford away but it’s still their year, Leeds were playing some incredible football and looked like they’d finally make it back to the top flight. What else? Oh yeah, just the small issue of a global coronavirus pandemic which put a halt to life as we know it across the world, a full scale lockdown in the UK and many other countries, the Olympics and Euro 2020 were postponed, multiple football leagues across Europe were either suspended indefinitely or, as were the cases in the cases of Scotland, France and The Netherlands, cancelled all together. But now it looks like things in the sporting world may be going back to normal… kind of.

At the time of writing, we’re only a few hours away from project restart kicking off with Premier League football coming back behind closed doors. There are adaptions obviously, some make a lot of sense such as up to 5 subs can be used and daily testing of players and staff whereas some not so much like socially distanced celebrations from players (because that’ll happen if Liverpool win the league at Goodison), fans voting on chants from an app and walk on music for substitutions? Makes sense in a weird way. But after weeks of hearsay and questions over whether it would start up again, the implementation of a points per game system or the dreaded (for some) null and void, the green light has gone ahead and we look forward to six o’clock this evening to some quality football in the shape of… Aston Villa v Sheffield United. But at least we’re getting Man City v Arsenal after that, so every cloud.

I’ll be honest, I was surprised when I heard that the season was going ahead. Once it was announced that League 2 and League 1 were going to use a points per game system to round up their seasons I thought that the Championship and Premier League were destined to follow suit. So when the announcement came that the Championship and Premier League were coming back, it was a surprise to be sure but a welcome one. I wasn’t expecting to be this excited for football to start back. Sure there’s been the Bundesliga for a while and La Liga for a bit of time now but it’s not really been the same. Lockdown hasn’t been fun in any way imaginable. The only thing that kept me sane for the most of it so far was the what seemed like endless mountain of University work I had to do, so this has come at an ideal time for me. We’ll still get to see the race for European places, promotion pushes, relegation battles, the FA Cup, champions league and my absolute favourite time of the football calendar, the playoffs.

It’s been far too long without football, and I like many other fans across the country and the world have missed it so much. We’re only a few hours away from the big moment now and the excitement is building. Weirdly I don’t usually get as excited as I have been in the last few days for the start of the season, I suppose absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe it’s because it was left in the unknown for so long as to when it would all start up again and it’s just a sigh of relief we get to watch our favourite sport after such an absence. From the outside in from a non fans perspective, this probably looks really strange. Why do people care so much about 22 men in shorts kicking a bit of leather about for 90 minutes? And to be honest, I really don’t know. I wish I had the answer, so then I could give one when friends of mine who aren’t fans ask me “why do you care so much about football?”. We don’t know, we just do. It’s not something you can really explain without experiencing it. It’s a community, almost a family in a weird way. It builds bridges between communities and people from all backgrounds and walks of life. A common interest and passion for your team. Bringing small towns or major cities together, the elation in seeing your team making you and your community proud. It brings hope, happiness and joy to millions, something we desperately need in these unprecedented times. The best way I feel like it can be described is in this quote from Franklin Foer who says football “isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions”.

What the future of football is in a pandemic world, I don’t know. Who knows when we’ll be able to go back to the stadium to watch our teams? It’s just too early to tell and I don’t want to start throwing predictions about. All we know is come 6 o’clock this evening, the sport we love is back (to quote Martin Tyler) AND IT’S LIVE!

AFTV: Fans Views or Giving Toxicity a Platform?

Anyone who’s a football fan (and probably quite a few who aren’t) will know who AFTV are. For those who don’t, AFTV (formerly known as Arsenal Fan TV) are a channel on YouTube created and hosted by Robbie Lyle who create content about Arsenal football club. The videos that gain the most attention are the interviews they do after games with regulars often appearing such as Troopz, DT, Claude and Ty. I’ve known about it for a long time with the first video I ever saw of theirs was at the start of the 2013/14 season after the loss to Aston Villa on the opening day where a fan called Chris Hudson went on a rant about the result, board and poor transfer window (it’s mental how most of the points he made wouldn’t seem too out of place in an AFTV video now nearly 7 years on). The general perception towards AFTV for a while was just that of ‘meh’, nobody really cared too much but that’s beginning to change. With that I’m going to try and look at a few of the positives and negatives surrounding AFTV.

Disclaimer: This post is not a dig at Robbie, anyone who appears on the channel or AFTV themselves. It’s just a look at what the channel is and the arguments around whether they’re good for the club or not.

First of all, how the hell did AFTV get to where they are? They currently sit on 1.1 million subscribers on YouTube with those being Arsenal and rival fans alike. Their growth in the last few years has been insane, however if I had to pinpoint it to one moment where it started then it would be around December 2014 with the help of Twitter. Around this time was when the Wealdstone Raider and Andy Tate were blowing up across social media and some of the same people who were making parodies of them did so as well with AFTV personalities such as Claude, Chris Hudson and Ty. Whilst they never were as big as Andy Tate and the Wealdstone Raider, it still put Arsenal Fan TV (as it was known as at the time) on the map. In the next few years when you add in the introduction of fans to the channel such as Troopz and DT who were staunchly in the Wenger Out brigade and were seen on AFTV every week usually moaning about results, you then see this following develop where AFTV became the channel that it is today.

It’s important to take a look at the positives of AFTV to make a balanced argument and there are a few. Ultimately, it does what it says on the tin in that it’s a platform for Arsenal fans to express their views and opinions. It also gives supporters an opportunity to see what fellow fans are thinking and will most probably find somebody or a few people who share the same views as them. It’s also given some of the fans on there new opportunities to pursue careers online with YouTube. I’ve referenced them a few times already but the two most famous of the lot are probably Troopz and DT and this has shown with them starting their own YouTube channels. Were it not for AFTV giving them the platform that they do then it would’ve been much more difficult for them to build up the following that they’ve gained. One of the biggest criticisms that comes their way is that they profit off of negativity. But is that really their fault? They’ve been interviewing fans for years through ups and downs and because the last few seasons have been particularly naff then that doesn’t mean that they should just stop. It’s not their fault the players aren’t playing particularly well and they’ve been inconsistent. You can argue that they’re not profiting off negativity, they’re just profiting off Arsenal who happen to be having a pretty poor season so far.

However, there are definite negatives that come with AFTV. The strongest I believe is that there is a feeling of toxicity surrounding them. Especially towards the latter years of the Wenger era, a lot of fans with anti-Wenger narrative found themselves on the channel with some of the fans on there somewhat establishing themselves as the poster boys for the Wenger out brigade. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion however constantly slagging off the manager and players won’t go unnoticed by the club and will have a negative impact on morale. If you had a particularly bad few days at the office would you really be okay with people you’ve never met in your life shouting at a camera and saying you need to lose your job? Do me a favour. Many fans now are starting to get sick of them with some chanting at the Everton game “Arsenal Fan TV, get out of our club” with it also being picked up on the Sky cameras. The tide is starting to turn. There is a split starting to form amongst Arsenal fans as to whether is it really a good thing or not. There is also a feeling of this from some players with Hector Bellerin criticising them a few years back saying how it’s wrong for somebody to call themselves a fan yet thrive off negativity and criticism. Gary Neville has also criticised them in the past calling the channel an embarrassment. With a lot of the same faces coming on every week, there’s an argument to be made that the channel doesn’t really represent Arsenal at all. The minority of fans interviewed don’t reflect the views of all Arsenal fans in the slightest. Are you trying to tell me that every Arsenal fan on the planet wanted Wenger out or wants Mesut Ӧzil to be sold? Of course they don’t, yet there could be the perception that the majority of Arsenal fans think this because this is what’s mostly heard on AFTV. Many of the people who tune in to AFTV when Arsenal lose are fans of other teams. Not that there’s a huge problem with this, it’s just that at what point does is stop becoming content tailored for Arsenal fans? Other fans only watch it to take the mick when Arsenal play poorly so is it even for Arsenal fans anymore when the bigger market comes from elsewhere?

AFTV are going nowhere whether you like it or not. They’ve built an unbelievable internet empire and whether you love them or loathe them, you’ll probably find yourself at one time or another watching some of their content. They have essentially become the voice of Arsenal on the internet whether you perceive that to be a good thing or not. I’m not here to say whether it’s right or wrong, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions and who am I to say what people should or shouldn’t enjoy. It does make me wonder sometimes what would need to happen for AFTV to actually stop? Their presence cannot be ignored and whether you think it’s a good thing or not, they’re in for the long run and despite the potential toxicity that comes with it they’re not going anywhere.

Men’s Mental Health Within Sport

*TRIGGER WARNING* Will focus on serious and potentially upsetting content

This is going to be a much more serious post today but an incredibly important one nonetheless. There is a crisis regarding men’s mental health in today’s society. Every 60 seconds, a man somewhere around the world takes his life. Suicide remains to be the biggest killer in men under 50 and approximately 75% of suicides in the UK are male. Despite more men speaking out and talking when they’re struggling, it still remains a terrifying thing to do with many people scared of worrying friends, family, teammates and partners therefore deciding to keep their problems to themselves. With today being international men’s day and the middle of Movember, it felt it would be appropriate to take a closer look at men’s mental health within the world of sport.

Mental health within sport is not something that has always received attention with it often being overlooked or straight up ignored. With the traditional “stiff upper lip” mindset of past decades many men in sport suffering did not want to speak up in fear of looking weak therefore keeping their problems to themselves and suffering in silence. Many lived in fear of just being told to “man up” (a term I absolutely cannot stand) and unfortunately that is still the case today. One case of a sportsman battling mental illness and addiction in the 70s and 80s and keeping it to himself was George Best. Whilst being one of the most talented footballers of his time, Best struggled with issues of self-confidence, addiction and depression. He always wanted to be the best performer on the pitch and afterwards the best on the night out. John Neil Munro noted in his book When George came to Edinburgh that his wife knew when he was going through depressive episodes and unfortunately he would turn to drink to cope. This came at a time when there was little to no support networks within sport for those who were suffering from mental illness and addiction.

Today there is more of an effort made within sport from grassroots to the professional game to support those with mental illness. The UK charity Mind have been partnered with the English Football League for two seasons with their logo on the back of shirts by the players names. They also offer a course to those who work within sport be it coaches, administrators or volunteers across England and Wales on how to support those with mental illness. This year the English Institute of Sport launched a positive mental health programme for athletes should they require it. The programme has four steps where athletes can access support from the EIS or the British Athletics Commission, they’re then assessed by a doctor to determine the nature of the problem before being referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist and then receiving a programme of support. This kind of support and awareness from professional bodies is crucial in the fight against mental health. Although it is far from complete, this kind of support can be a trigger for other professional bodies to follow suit and offer the much needed support for people within sport. Former Arsenal captain and all-time footballing legend Tony Adams founded his own clinic called Sporting Chance which specialises in supporting sportsmen and women who are struggling following his own battles with mental illness and addiction. Ricky Hatton praised the clinic in his autobiography War and Peace as they know how to support athletes well through Adams’ experiences. This kind of support is vital as it’s people helping others within sport based on their own experiences and using their fame for a positive cause.

There has also been an increase in sports stars speaking out about their battles with mental illness. I recently read Ricky Hatton’s autobiography in which he talked about his battle with depression following his bouts with Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. It was distressing to read about how he would self-harm and attempted to take his life but it’s incredibly important that he’s talked about it. It goes to show that you can be famous and have however much money but mental illness doesn’t discriminate. However he managed to come back through support from professionals. There’s nothing weak about asking for help and Hatton has proved that. Another pro who has been an advocate for mental health following his battles with addiction and mental illness is Lineal Heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury. The world was his oyster following his famous win in Germany against Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 however he soon started to struggle badly with mental illness and alcohol and substance addiction. He’s said in interviews how he nearly took his own life but kept fighting for his family. A few years on and he’s back in the ring, he’s recently recorded a Christmas song with Robbie Williams and appeared at WWE’s Saudi Arabia event Crown Jewel in October 2019. This goes to show what great things can come when you seek help when you’re struggling. Fury and Hatton are two sporting heroes of mine and millions of others and showing the bravery they have to come out and talk about their struggles in the macho world of men’s boxing (and men’s professional sport in general) is exactly the engagement and awareness we need to prove that it’s ok not to be ok and to get help when you’re struggling.

So the next time one of the lads in the dressing room is particularly quiet, has missed a few training sessions or decides against coming for a drink after the game. The next time you’re out with your friends and one of them who’s usually always there hasn’t come along for an unexplained reason. If you notice somebody who you’re close to has been a bit distant and haven’t heard from them in a long time, please get them to speak before it’s too late. Just a quick “is everything ok mate?” text can make a world of difference and encourages them to talk and they know that you’re there for them. If you’re suffering then please tell somebody. I know it’s the last thing you want to do but communication is so important. Be it a friend, family member, partner, boss, teammate, helpline or GP, there are people who will listen and can help. You are important, you have worth, you are loved and are capable of incredible things. Please, speak up if you’re struggling and check in with your friends.

Here are the numbers for some mental health and suicide hotlines in various countries around the world. Samaritans (UK and IRE) – 116 123; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) – 1-800-2738255; Lifeline (Australia) – 13 11 14; Need to Talk? (NZ) – 1737; Suicide écoute (FRA) – 01 45 39 44 00; Samaritans ONLUS (ITA) – 800 86 00 22; Stitching 113Online (NED) – 0900 0113; Suicide Crisis Line (RSA) – 0800 567 567; Teléfono de la Esperanza (ESP) – 717 003 717