Euro 2020 Final Review: The Final Hurdle

So that was Euro 2020. 4 weeks of football filled with highs, lows, cheers, tears, and Peter Walton agreeing with every refereeing decision. The stage was set for two gladiators of European football to battle it out to see who would be crowned European champions. The mighty Azzurri of Italy against the Three Lions of England trying to bring football home, or bring it to Rome. Rome would be the destination football went to with Italy narrowly beating England 3-2 in a penalty shootout. Tricky old penalties yet again becoming England’s undoing and while 55 years of hurt never stopped them dreaming, the wait for glory carries on. For Italy it would be their second Euros title with their previous win coming in 1968 in what has been an unbelievable rebuild and turnaround for the squad in recent years. From failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to the Roberto Mancini appointment to now champions of Europe again, it’s been quite the turnaround. So without any further ado, let’s get into the review!

Italy vs England

Result: Italy 1-1 England (Italy win 3-2 on penalties)

The match couldn’t have got off to a better start for England. It took only 1 minute and 56 seconds before Luke ‘Shawberto Carlos’ Shaw fired England into the lead with a brilliant half volley. Early goals always give teams confidence and the Three Lions were going to need it if they were going to stand a chance against Italy. England really impressed me in the first half. They looked dangerous every time they attacked and they could’ve been more than 1 up going into half time. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips controlled the midfield completely with Rice looking solid and managing to keep the shape of the midfield well while Phillips aka the Yorkshire Pirlo created chances and got himself into handy positions. Harry Kane had Giorgio Chiellini completely beat in the aerial battle winning headers and making his presence felt against the Italian captain. Italy didn’t come without their threats in the first half. Tournament breakout star Federico Chiesa was creating chances and getting forward well. Into half time England went with their 1 goal lead and many England fans dared to dream. This was the closest football has been to coming home in 55 years. All those years of heartbreak could be put to end in just 45 minutes.

However they didn’t take one important thing into consideration, the Italian second half. I don’t know what it is but in the second half of games this tournament Italy just look that bit better. The substitutions Mancini made helped turn the tide of the game. Bryan Cristante came on for Nicolo Barella who didn’t have the best game and Dominico Beradi replaced Ciro Immobile who was surprisingly quiet. Following this the onslaught of Italian chances came. Waves after waves of pressure came along with England completely losing shape. They started to tire quite quickly as Jorginho and Marco Veratti completely controlled the ball in midfield. Then in the 67th minute the inevitable happened when Leonardo Bonucci equalised. From here on in it didn’t get too much better for England. I was surprised that Declan Rice was substituted for Jordan Henderson, I thought Rice was doing a good job of trying to keep shape and chased absolutely everything but he did look tired. Neither team could get through in the remaining 20 minutes and it was extra time we went.

Neither team particularly threatened that much in extra time. Italy managed to control the midfield well and they still looked fairly strong in attack even without Chiesa. England had a few chances down at the other end but never really looked like scoring. It was pretty clear that both teams towards the end were playing for penalties with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford coming on for England towards the end of the second half of extra time, and it would have to be penalties to settle it where the Azzurri would be victorious. Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored their penalties with Jordan Pickford managing to keep out Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. But misses from Rashford, Sancho, and teenage wonderkid Bukayo Saka meant that penalties from Beradi, Bonucci, and Federico Bernardeschi were enough for the win.

Italy are deserved winners of this tournament. From the first game they have been many people’s favourites and yet again it stays true that if you beat Wales at some point then you’ll probably win the tournament. That last bit is true, look at the 1958 World Cup where Brazil beat Wales 1-0 in the Quarter Finals and Euro 2016 where Portugal won 2-0 in the Semis (that has to count for something, right?). As I’ve said many times before, Mancini has completely turned this team around. From exiting Euro 2016 at the Quarter Finals to not going to the 2018 World Cup full stop this Italian team needed some serious work, and that’s what it got. They’ve played brilliant football all tournament and even at times when they didn’t look so convincing they managed to find a way. Not only do they have depth in every position, the quality of the backup players is outstanding. Players like Bernardeschi, Beradi, and Manuel Locatelli are good enough to get into most national team’s starting XI’s, this shows that they are just that good. The best team at the tournament this Euros and without shadow of a doubt will be many people’s favourites for Qatar in 2022. I hope they can end up getting quite far in the next World Cup, the thought of them playing the likes of Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay makes me very excited. But let’s not look too far ahead yet, they still need to qualify first.

As for England, you can be damn proud. From the team and manager to the majority of fans, you’ve held yourselves in good light. This is a team that is likeable for the first time in however long. A team that stands up for what they believe in. Showing solidarity with black people all around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking the knee before games as well as wearing the rainbow armband in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Gareth Southgate has been central to this, defending his positions of solidarity and his players when questioned by politicians, aspects of the media, and even small minorities of idiots who have there nerve to call themselves England “fans” despite booing the team when taking the knee. They didn’t win Euro 2020, but Southgate brought football home again for England. English fans now have a national team that they can be proud of and can relate to no matter their background. A team that represents people regardless of their gender, sexuality, or race and a team that stands in solidarity with the English public’s struggles. Some might try and hijack their success and use it to fuel division and their own idea of nationalism i.e. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel jumping on the bandwagon despite criticising them for taking the knee and saying fans had the right to boo it, but this isn’t what this England team represents. It represents a better and more united future. The support that has been shown for Rashford, Sancho, and Saka since they missed their penalties in the shootout has been incredible. Good hearted fans are holding racist thugs accountable online whenever they’ve used slurs against the three of them leading to one losing their job for posting a racist tweet and another 50 year old man arrested for similar. In a world of hate we need to mirror with love and compassion and that has been shown in the last few days since the final. Love will always overcome, and hate will never win.

This was a tournament like no other. With how unstable the last 16 months have been around the world the Euros brought a bit of normality back. It lifted spirits after what’s been an incredibly tragic period in our lives and shows that there is definitely light at the end of what has been an incredibly long tunnel. It was the last bit of football that was played in the UK before the start of the new season in August, and with any luck the stadiums will be full once again because my god it’s been far too long.

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.

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!

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.