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How Cardiff City’s relegation this time is different

One thing about championship teams is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity.

— Nick Saban

Relegation really is a kick in the teeth. To be sent packing from the Premier League to the Championship is never fun, for lack of a better term, it sucks. This is the fate my team, Cardiff City, face after relegation from the Premier League with a battle that went right down to the wire and as a result get to enjoy a season in the Championship, oh what fun I cannot wait *holds back the tears*. The Championship however is far from a walk in the park with many quality teams competing in a packed fixture schedule with 46 games in a season with the ever exciting race for automatic promotion, the playoffs and relegation battles full of drama. The difficulty of the league is obvious with only 16 different teams managing to bounce straight back the season after relegation. The last time Cardiff were relegated we weren’t so lucky finishing 11th in our first season after relegation, 28 points behind champions, Bournemouth. However this time it feels a lot different, there’s optimism among fans and players that we can give the league a serious go this upcoming season gaining promotion again first time of asking. The odds are in our favour too with oddschecker currently having us third favourites overall to go up as champions. This post will outline some key differences to relegation last time around and how City fans can look forward to the upcoming season.

One of the key differences is the better quality of players we have. Players all over the pitch such as Neil Etheridge, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett, Bobby Decordova–Reid, Sean Morrison, Nathaniel Mendez–Laing and so on have already performed at a high level in the Championship (as well as last season) and no doubt in my mind they will do so again. Obviously the main thing will be keeping everyone at the club. Last time around saw a mass exodus of players such as captain Steven Caulker, Gary Medel and Craig Noone which damaged us badly. However if we manage to keep the majority of our stars then next season everything could be coming up Milhouse. Arguably one of our weaker areas on the pitch is midfield following some key exits at the end of last season however that’s being attended to. Signing Will Vaulks from Rotherham to bolster our midfield after the loans of Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa ended and Aron Gunnarsson joining Qatari team Al-Arabi (still not completely over that one 😞) it is an area that needs depth and improvement. Another midfielder or two through the door to go with the likes of Joe Ralls, Leandro Bacuna and Callum Paterson (who can play just about anywhere mind, don’t be too surprised if he plays a few games in goal before the end of the season) to partner a strong attack, a sturdy defence and quality keeper in Etheridge then we’ve got all we need for a promotion push.

Another key difference is the man in charge, Neil Warnock. Warnock is a veteran of the English Football League and is far more experienced than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was in charge last time around with relegation. Ole was trusted with the job following the sacking of Malky Mackay starting the punderful #RevOLEution. Less than nine months, a relegation and some very questionable signings later, Solskjaer left City and the supposed revolution was over. Magnus Wolff Eikrem anyone? How about Jo Inge Berget? What about everybody’s favourite Federico Macheda? Jokes aside Solskjaer was there at completely the wrong time. He was hugely inexperienced and was his first time managing in the English Football League where he was given a seriously difficult task of trying to keep Cardiff up then the job of kick starting a promotion push, it just wasn’t meant to be. Neil Warnock however is the polar opposite. He has experience of the championship and English football overall, knows how it feels to be relegated and certainly knows how to push for promotion. Warnock holds the record of most promotions in English football with eight. Warnock has hinted that Cardiff could be his last job in football management and with this being the last year on his contract at City this could well be his retirement year. If so then he’ll want to go out with a bang, and no bang would be bigger than a ninth promotion.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, there’s much more of a feeling of unity within the club compared to 5 years ago. There’s a closer fans/players relationship and a strong bond between fans and the manager. Fans are optimistic for the upcoming season and there is a belief among many that we can have a positive season and the players will believe it too. Last time there was divide between some of the board and fans as we were rebranded and playing in a red instead of the famous city blue. I still wake up in cold sweats at night thinking of the 0-2 loss at home to Brighton in the first promotion year when red scarves were given out to fans for free, dark times. However that is all in the past with the board and fans now on the same side looking forward to what the new season brings. There’s a strong feeling of togetherness and spirit at the club and it will show on the pitch. There’s a saying in boxing that ‘a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter’ meaning that a young fighter who’s happy and their morale is high is more proficient and dangerous in the ring, and Cardiff are definitely a happy fighter. Keeping morale and spirits high from the team and the fans will make City a force to be reckoned with in the Championship.

How the season will pan out nobody actually has a clue, unsurprisingly I can’t see into the future. I could read this back in six months’ time and cringe at how wrong I’ve got this or surprise myself of how accurate my predictions have been. Regardless it will be an exciting season filled with hopefully many ups, probably some downs and definitely a lot of questionable refereeing.

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

Japan: The Rugby Story of the Host Nation You Can’t Help But Love

The Rugby World Cup is well underway in Japan and despite the tournament being less than two weeks old it’s already shaping up to be a cracker. There have been brilliant performances from the big boys and a few surprises too from some of the second tier nations. Wales v Australia turned out to be an absolute classic and probably the game of the tournament so far, South Africa and New Zealand both impressed and looked strong in their Pool B opener on the first Saturday of the tournament, England impressed me against Tonga and the USA and Pool D minnows Uruguay recorded their first win in tournament history upsetting Fiji 27-30. Among all this, however, the hosts Japan have grabbed many headlines for all the right reasons. Not only did they beat the then number 1 ranked team in the world, Ireland, last Saturday in an incredible game they’ve also been outstanding hosts. They’re a team people can’t help but love and today’s post will look at a bit of the history of the game in Japan, rugby in the last few years and present day and why exactly do the neutrals love them.

Historically, rugby has never been too huge of a sport in Japan. It was played and followed but it’s popularity was probably in a bit of a middle ground when compared to other more followed sports such as sumo, football, baseball and tennis. Rugby was given a poor reputation by the Japanese government in the lead up to the Second World War and was heavily criticised during the war by the fascist Imperial Rule Assistance Association. The IRAA deemed the sport to be too foreign and gave it the name tokyu meaning fighting ball. Many Japanese rugby players died during the war however following its end it saw a rather quick recovery. The sport began to grow in popularity during the 1960s, 70s and 80s with various tours and matches abroad. England went on tour to Japan 1971 in the centenary year of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Japan toured Wales, England and France in 1973. The tour of 1973 went rather poorly playing 11 games and losing 9. Japan have qualified and played in every World Cup since the first tournament in 1987 and hold the record of most Asia Rugby Championship wins with 25.

So all of that takes us to present day. That fantastic famous Saturday afternoon in Brighton seems like only yesterday when Japan rocked the rugby world by beating two time World Cup winners South Africa 32-34 at the Amex Stadium back in September 2015. The term gets thrown around a lot but it was honestly a result nobody saw coming and is arguably the biggest rugby upset of all time. It was at this point Japan began to win the hearts and support of rugby fans everywhere regardless of where they were from. Despite winning 3 group games and losing 1 they ended up finishing third in their group therefore were harshly knocked out (Scotland finished in front of them as they had 2 bonus points). They’re now the first Asian country to host the World Cup which is incredible considering in most of Asia rugby isn’t as popular or followed as much as other sports. They started the tournament against Russia and whilst got off to a shaky start the rest of their performance was strong. Their pace and tempo in which they attacked tired the Russians out quickly and won 30-10. Last Saturday there came another World Cup upset in which they beat Ireland in a modern day classic and what was a seriously feel good moment and a result they deserved. With Japan now on course to win their group and make it to the Quarter Finals for the first time, providing no major slip ups and all results go as planned in Pool A and Pool B then a date with South Africa awaits. Whilst it would be an immensely difficult task, we all know what happened the last time they met at the World Cup.

I believe there are many reasons behind Japan becoming a fan favourite but a big part of it is their style of play. Their attack is strong and they’re an incredibly fast team going forward. The opener against Russia showed how they can tire teams out with their style of play and the win against Ireland showed how persevering they are. They kept playing at a high tempo even at the end and wouldn’t give up. As a team they won’t stop going until the final whistle and it’s almost as if they refuse to tire out. If they play with the same quality and tempo they did in their opening two games in their final two then it will spell disaster for Scotland and Samoa. Samoa are a massive team in size and are incredibly physical and strong, however I believe the quick Japanese style will tire them and be too much to handle. Scotland are better suited to Japan’s style of quick attacking play and have the advantage of playing them last. Despite this, in my opinion it would be a monumental ask from Scotland to get a result against Japan purely because of the quality of the Japanese side. What’s gone down well aside from the performances is the manor in which the team, fans and the country as a whole have held themselves off the pitch. The Japanese team and fans have been respectful and friendly which goes a far way in all aspects of sport. The hospitality shown during the tournament has drawn praise from many professionals and fans alike and it is something the people of Japan can be proud of. It’s been an incredible World Cup on and off the field brining many new eyes to the sport and the game will only grow in Japan from here on in.

The days of losing 145-17 to New Zealand are long gone and with the way Japanese rugby has grown in the last few years and their performances in this World Cup the only way is up from here. If the remaining month of the tournament is anywhere as exciting and entertaining the last two weeks then it will one that will be talked about for a long time.

KSI vs Logan Paul 2: The Internet Stars Going Pro

So this is bound to divide opinion. It was announced on Tuesday the 3rd of September that the boxing rematch between YouTube stars KSI (real name Olajide Olatunji) and Logan Paul will take place on the 9th of November in the Staples Centre, Los Angeles, following their first bout which took place in Manchester last August ending in a majority draw. What has arguably grabbed headlines the most however is the fact that both men are turning professional and the fight is being promoted by Matchroom Boxing and is to be broadcast live on streaming service DAZN. This time there will be no headguards and is taking place as a professional boxing match with strong rumours of big name professional stars fighting on the undercard. To say the response to this ambitious move has been varied would be an understatement with some fans calling the event an absolute shambles and others saying how it will actually do more good for the sport of boxing than people might think. Both arguments are fair and people rightfully feel excited or frustrated about the event, therefore I’m going to take a look at what are the positives and negatives of the internet’s biggest rivalry turning professional.

First of all, a look at the positive sides of the argument. When the pair met in late August 2018 the fight was broadcast on a YouTube pay per view system with a set price of $10 (or around £8). On fight night over 1 million people bought the fight and around 1.2 million people watched the event on illegal streams on streaming website Twitch making it the most watched non-professional boxing match of all time. To put the PPV buys into perspective, Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder made around 400,000 buys, Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr was somewhere between the 400,000–500,000 buy mark and the second fight between Carl Froch and George Groves generated around 350,000 purchases . From a business point of view, it makes perfect sense to make the fight a professional bout as it’s bound to bring in a large viewing audience. The interest is obviously there and I imagine it will do huge viewing figures on fight night. Also, look at it for what it actually is. It’s two fighters making their professional boxing debuts. They’re both licensed pro fighters and this will be their first professional bout and what an audience to make your debut. The last bout had a bit of a professional feel to it in the build up with a “Gloves Are Off” special interview hosted by Johnny Nelson, two “press conferences” in Los Angeles and London (they weren’t much of press conferences though, more shouting matches) and a weigh-in the day before fight night. The only thing missing was the fact it wasn’t a professional bout however this time it is. Most importantly, this could bring a whole new audience to the sport of boxing. With the rumours of a strong undercard featuring the exciting Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders defending his WBO Super–Middleweight title (nothing should surprise me in boxing anymore but, what?!?!?!) this could see a new wave of fans drawn to the sport and even inspire some to take up boxing. Hopefully, this event will bring many new eyes to the sport.

However, there are many good reasons to argue why this shouldn’t be a professional bout. The main argument is purely, why? Yes it’s going to make a lot of money but business aside, why do it? I’m 1 million percent sure that no other YouTubers will be fighting on the card or commentating on the live broadcast which was part of the draw for their target audience last time. By putting KSI and Logan as the headliner but having huge names like Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney on the undercard (I still can’t get my head around Billy Joe possibly on an undercard for any fight, let alone this one) there is no way any celebrities or YouTube stars are getting anywhere near the card. Furthermore, it could make for a bit of a strange atmosphere come fight night. You’ll get people in attendance there only for KSI and Logan whilst not caring in the slightest about the undercard and others who will be there for Billy Joe or Haney and couldn’t care less about the main event. Both of which is damaging to the professionals on the undercard and the main event. The system they used for their previous bout (and the KSI–Joe Weller fight before that) by having other YouTubers on the card in non-professional fights and YouTube stars True Geordie and Laurence McKenna on commentary worked perfectly fine for their target audience. This time however I think it’s a bit ambitious to make it a professional bout if other YouTube stars involved in previous events was part of the attraction and that’s being taken away. If the rumours are true (and it looks like they are) that Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney are on the undercard then, in my opinion, that’s just a strange move. Saunders is a world champion and could easily headline a PPV on his own and Haney is probably 1 or 2 fights away from Vasyl Lomachenko, are these really the fighters you need on the undercard? I get that having them on the undercard would make the event seem even bigger than it already is, however if over 1 million people bought it last time is there need to make these fights on the undercard when there’s already a huge following for the bout? If professional fights are being put on the undercard, then why not use this opportunity to promote some young fighters to a big audience? The fight has not been received too well by some hardcore boxing fans with it being described as disrespectful, a farce and a mockery of the sport. The main frustration is that there are countless pros who have worked tirelessly for years and would give an arm and a leg to get where KSI and Logan are in terms of headlining at an arena like the Staples Centre yet they’re doing it in their professional debuts. Whilst a valid point, they’ve established a huge following and regardless of where the fight was held it was always going to sell out. Some fear that this could be the catalyst for a trend of celebrities and reality stars turning professional without too much background in the sport just for the money. Again, whilst a valid point, professional governing bodies would need to approve for them to turn professional and personally I don’t see it happening if too many applied to turn pro after little/no previous fights.

It was always going to bring controversy. Who knows what’ll happen come fight night, there’s no doubt it will be a success business wise but the response and aftermath will be mixed to say the least. However one thing is for certain, it will completely rock the landscape of boxing and will change the sport on a huge scale for better or worse.

Bury FC’s D-Day: An example of all that’s wrong in English football

As of today, the 23rd of August 2019, Bury football club stand of the brink of expulsion from the English Football League due to financial issues. They have been in financial crisis since owner, Steve Dale, bought the club in December 2018 and now are staring expulsion in the eye if nobody comes forward to buy the club in the next few hours. Dale has turned down multiple offers in the last month with fans begging him to sell up and save their club. This unfortunately encapsulates everything that is wrong with modern football. Situations like what’s happening at Bury prove that the soul of football is being completely torn out, club by club by toxic owners. It would be a tragedy to see such a historic club like Bury fold because of financial issues and an owner who won’t put his ego aside and just sell up. In what’s more of a sombre post, today I’m taking a look at the sad case of Bury FC and a few other clubs on how this unfortunately is a problem in English football that is far too common.

For a bit of history and context, Bury FC are a League 1 football team founded in 1885 based in Bury, Greater Manchester. They’ve won the FA Cup twice in 1900 and 1903 (holding the joint record for the biggest win in the final, beating Derby 6-0) and won promotion last season from League 2, the Fourth tier in English football’s top 4 leagues. However it came to light in April 2019 that players and staff had not been paid their March salaries on time as well as HMRC claiming the club needed to pay around £277,000. With the club needing to sell up for around £1.6 million in all to pay off all their debts, Steve Dale set up a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) where those associated with the club would receive their money owed whilst others who needed money (HMRC etc.) would receive 25%. This however is deemed as insolvency in the eyes of the EFL meaning they were deducted 12 points before the start of the new season. After the EFL concluded that Bury had insufficient funds to keep the club alive and pay the CVA, they’ve been given the deadline of the 23rd of August to accumulate the funds or face expulsion from the Football League. Which unfortunately brings us to today. The club have only a few hours left to attract a new buyer or they’ll be kicked out if the football league. This is a heart-breaking scenario which no fan or club should ever have to go through, this is not what football’s about.

However this is not too uncommon in the English game with other clubs experiencing similar fates in the past or the present. Bolton Wanderers are going through a similar situation with the club going into administration in May of this year with a huge debt and recently postponed their game against Doncaster Rovers which was due to be played on the 20th of August. Players gave a statement in July that nobody had been paid by the owner, Ken Anderson, for nearly 20 weeks with non-player staff having to rely on food banks. They also had no drinking water at their training ground or hot water in their showers. Bolton, like Bury, began the season with a twelve point deduction due to their administration status. Their future is unknown having to field young players this season with many senior team players leaving in the summer transfer window and no incomings. The same situation has happened at clubs such as Portsmouth, Blackpool, Coventry, Sunderland, Charlton, Newcastle and many others, I could list clubs that have been horribly run all day. Clubs with big histories with incompetent owners who are doing far more harm than good with some of the mentioned ending up going into administration and severe financial issues. Some of the clubs mentioned have managed to make positive changes with the Oyston family finally selling Blackpool and Ellis Short selling Sunderland to a consortium led by Stewart Donald, these are huge catalysts in the need for change in clubs with toxic owners. Maybe this can give hope to other clubs that positive change can happen and it isn’t over until it’s truly over.

As a football fan, it breaks my heart to see that a community could have their club ripped away from them. Football is about fans. It’s about following your team through the highest of highs and the most devastating lows. It’s about the midweek losses on a freezing winter’s night in the pouring rain so the good times feel even better. A parent taking their child to the football for the first time and the look on their face seeing their team, creating a memory that will last forever. The pies, cups of tea, bovril and lukewarm pints of lager in squashy plastic cups. Fans standing and chanting all game, questionable refereeing, becoming enemies with the away team and fans for 90 minutes then friends after the final whistle (unless it’s a local derby, obviously). The big derbies and rivalries, getting drawn against a huge club in the cup and possibly causing an upset by beating them. The last minute winners, the limbs and unforgettable scenes, celebrating with the person stood next to you who you’ve never met before but that doesn’t matter because you’ve both got one important thing in common, the love for your club. It’s making friends and creating fond memories all in the name of football and supporting your team. Is that something you honestly want to take away, Steve Dale? Football isn’t just a game, it’s so much more than that for the reasons mentioned and so many more. I’d hate to see my club in such a state which makes it always a tragedy whenever it happens to any football club, especially one like Bury with such a huge and important history. Today the footballing world stand with Bury in hope that an agreement can be made and the club will be saved, to see Bury fold would not only be a dark day in the history of Bury FC or the EFL but to football as a whole.

Ruiz v Joshua 2: Saudi Arabia showdown. Yay or nay?

After what’s felt like forever since the first fight and nearly 10 weeks of negotiations, the highly anticipated rematch of Andy Ruiz Jr vs Anthony Joshua for the WBA Super, WBO and IBF world heavyweight titles has been finally announced for December 7th. Since the upset at Madison Square Garden which rocked the boxing world with Ruiz dethroning Joshua as unified champion, fans and fighters alike have been talking about the rematch. What they wouldn’t have predicted, however, is that it would be held in Diriyah, a town just North West of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. First of all, what? It’s come as a surprise to many with weeks of confusion surrounding where the rematch would be held, Cardiff seemed to be the front runner for a while or a trip back to the States but not many would’ve predicted Saudi Arabia. I would’ve guessed Antarctica before Saudi Arabia but maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise with Amir Khan recently fighting in Jeddah and the World Boxing Super Series Super Middleweight tournament final being held there also. I try to keep my posts as unbiased as possible, even if this one might be a bit trickier, and I’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons as to whether a fight this big should be held in Saudi Arabia.

First up the pros, and whilst it may seem tricky to see some there are definitely a few. Saudi Arabia is a completely new market for boxing and could become a popular place for the sport in years to come. As previously mentioned, Callum Smith beat George Groves in Jeddah to win the Super Middleweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series in September 2018 and Amir Khan recently beat Billy Dib also in Jeddah for the WBC International Welterweight title (even if it was a bit of a strange show, I honestly didn’t know Samuel Peter was still fighting until he took on Hughie Fury on the undercard). Other sporting events have also been held in Saudi Arabia in recent years such as Formula-E (with Diriyah set to be the opening race of the 2019/20 season in November this year), WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble, Crown Jewel and Super Showdown shows and the Saudi International golf tournament. It’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia have the capability to hold big sporting events that locals and tourists will enjoy. All this is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 project where Saudi Arabia are trying to become less dependent on their oil as a mean to grow their economy and the entertainment sector has had over $2 billion invested in order to hold such events. For the points mentioned, the bout that’s being dubbed “Clash on the Dunes” could be fantastic for Saudi Arabia in terms of the future of boxing and sport (even though they’ve missed a golden opportunity by not calling it “Rowdy in Saudi” like I suggested on twitter, come on Matchroom you know it makes sense) and there’s no doubts it’ll be just as exciting as the first bout.

However there are obvious cons and some grey areas about holding a fight this big in Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest is that it’s a huge risk. Yes big fights have been held in Saudi Arabia before and there’s a potentially huge market there but is it worth the risk? A Ruiz–Joshua rematch could easily sell out any stadium or arena in the UK or the USA however with the rumours both parties wanted it on neutral ground it definitely would’ve sold out stadiums in a neutral European venue such as Italy, Germany or France, so why risk it in a place where the sports and entertainment industry is still developing? It could also make it more of a difficult sell for British fans to travel to support Joshua considering Saudi Arabia used to be an incredibly difficult country to travel to. British fans have a history of supporting British fighters abroad creating a fantastic atmosphere following the likes of Ricky Hatton, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua himself for the first Ruiz fight. It’s much easier now to get into Saudi Arabia with tourist visas available for the first time however they come at a price. Fans would probably have to get a “Sharek” visa (visa specific for sports and entertainment events) which costs around $170 which is pretty expensive compared to the $14 it costs for Brits to get an esta to enter the US. The closest major city to Diriyah is the capital, Riyadh, which is anything but a cheap date when it comes to nice hotels, restaurants and shops. Add in the ticket price (although apparently a visa will be included with it) and flights it’ll get expensive quite quickly. Considering Christmas will only be 18 days away from fight night it’s highly possible that fans won’t want to spend big so soon to the holidays and give the trip a miss. Also just this morning, Andy Ruiz Jr said on Instagram that apparently the fight isn’t taking place in Saudi Arabia but on his terms in the United States. Great. So we will probably have the Heavyweight Champion of the World fighting in a neutral location begrudgingly in his first defence of his titles, what fun. America would be a safe bet as Ruiz never really wanted to fight in the UK and it would be a brilliant second chance for AJ to re-introduce himself to the US market, however Saudi Arabia is where it’s happening.

Overall, this will change the boxing landscape forever. It’ll either establish Saudi Arabia as a serious competitor in the boxing world and could see many future huge fights over there or it’ll be a case of too much too soon. Politics and debates aside, this will be an incredible fight with everything on the line. The last one was exciting and full of drama and this one will be no different. Joshua and Ruiz will make huge statements by getting a win, however the winner won’t be able to get too carried away as a bout with WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk will be looming in the not too distant future.

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