Racism in Football Writing

As a non-white football writer, especially someone who doesn’t live in or hold a passport of an “advanced” country, I face a staggering amount of racism when it comes to getting my writing published. This isn’t a “woe is me, my writing isn’t good enough so I will cry racism” post, no there is enough proof that the vast majority of online football/sports writing websites commission articles written by white people.

Over the past year I’ve pitched upwards of 40 articles ranging from statistics (which is what I did for the vast majority of my university degree) to opinion pieces. They included the Premier League to the Arabian Gulf League, however out of those 40 odd pitches I only got 5 replies back. All five of them were rejections but all 5 of them actually provided me with good advice on how to improve my writing and to those 5 editors I am very thankful.

However what is disheartening is that over the past few months since I decided to be more vocal about the ridiculous number of rejections I’ve gotten. This has led to me receiving abuse and mockery for speaking out about a subject that effects all writers of colour. To be clear I am not calling individuals racist nor was that my intention but I was calling the industry racist. The fact that I was, and still am, inundated with requests to PROVE my pitches is what is hurtful. If I was white would I be asked this question? Absolutely not. And therein lies the problem. The way many believe racism doesn’t exist in the football blogging/writing universe leads many to live in a bubble and not notice that the majority of writers for their publication just happen to lack melanin.

Pointing out this fact shouldn’t lead me to hear accusations that I was pretending to pitch articles or I am making up the fact. Nor should I hear that I am making light of racism, especially coming from writers I respect – or at least I thought I respected. To say I am trolling simply brings home the point that writers of colour aren’t respected or wanted by publications. They would rather stick with the same status quo than hire someone with a different ethnic background and upbringing.

Over the past few weeks I wrote a stats based article which was met with utter ridicule by white people, however the people of colour who read it actually liked it. Like I said I don’t want to make this about me – this is a problem that runs far deeper than just one person, but I would like to say that when a person of colour talks about the racism they experience it is best that you not say they are making it up. That makes us, and especially me, far more worthless and makes me think why should I even bother pitching or writing.

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Time For John Terry To Leave Chelsea

Don’t get me wrong, John Terry has been an exceptional footballer for Chelsea over the last 15 years or so. He is the sole remnant of what is left of the club since the pre-Roman Abramovich era. He was, at his peak, the best defender in the world (as the regular awards and FIFPro XIs will show you). However it is time for both John Terry and Chelsea football club to part company, albeit temporarily. I’ll try not to let my personal feelings for Terry get in the way of my reasoning as to why he should leave but they do play a small part in why I feel it is time for Terry to go.

John Terry is the only Chelsea academy player to have actually cemented a first team place in the last 15-20 years. That is frankly pathetic but that is a discussion for another day or another person. Terry is the embodiment of Chelsea, his rise can be charted in the same way as the club’s – but it was a mutually beneficial relationship. Had the club not been bought by Roman Abramovich I suspect John Terry would not be at Chelsea right now, in the same way that John Terry wouldn’t have grown to become such a world class defender. The right manager (Jose Mourinho) the right centre-back pairing (Carvalho) and the tactics employed by various Blues managers allowed Terry to successfully hide his deficiencies (i.e. pace or lack of) and become a defender that solely relies on his brain rather than his feet.  John Terry is the best reader of the game I have seen in my lifetime of watching football. Which is why, to much ridicule, I think he will end up making one of the finest managers of the next generation.

However, at this stage in time it is time to say goodbye to our captain. It is a culmination of factors as to why I believe this is the best time to let Terry go. Firstly, we have found an adequate replacement in Kurt Zouma.  Yes Zouma may have suffered an injury but he will be back by the start of next season. In many ways it echoes the passing of the guard from Marcel Desailly to John Terry all those years ago. Zouma may not be similar to Terry in terms of defending but the Frenchman has improved his all-round defending whilst being partnered with Terry.

Secondly, Chelsea need a new leader. It is all well and good keeping John Terry at the club for his leadership skills but that hinders the club in finding a new leader that is capable of leading the club for the next five to ten years. When you look at the current squad who stands out as a leader? Branislav Ivanovic? Hardly. Only Diego Costa of late has offered some menace and a willingness to stand up and fight. Having Terry around means everyone will look to him for guidance as opposed to the club developing a new leader. With a forced departure of Terry someone will be forced to emerge as a bastion of leadership and that would be very beneficial to the future of the side.

There is an argument to keep Terry just for his aforementioned leadership ability whilst not playing him regularly. But this is exactly what Terry doesn’t want. He wants to play week in week out, which in the current era of the Premier League for a defender that is on the verge of turning 36 is nigh on impossible. This isn’t mid 2000s Serie A where defenders can play till they are 40. Yes Terry doesn’t rely on pace but the Premier League is getting faster and faster year upon year and it will catch up to Terry. He himself states he doesn’t want to sit on the bench so why force him to? Mourinho benched him and then there was an uprising. I’m not saying he was responsible for it but this isn’t the first time (allegedly) Terry has not been happy with a manager and the manager has then left the club.

Back to the point though, Chelsea need to develop a new leader and a centre-back pairing for the next five years. Keeping John Terry around will not help that problem, keeping him on the bench will not solve Terry’s problem. The club needs to look to the future and this season is the perfect opportunity to do so. A new manager coming in during the summer should not have the shadow of John Terry loom over them. Given our disaster of our season and with no European football likely next season it is the perfect opportunity to essentially have a hard-reset and begin building a new Chelsea dynasty.

Finally, I do not like John Terry. He is a great footballer and has been brilliant for Chelsea however with his alleged affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex and him being found guilty of racially abusing another professional footballer it is hard to like him as a person. I’m sure he doesn’t care and I’m sure he is a great role model for youngsters at the club – especially as he turns up to virtually every U18 academy game to help coach the kids. That isn’t in doubt it is just my personal opinion of him which like I said he doesn’t care about.

However, the club has handled the situation poorly but John Terry hasn’t helped his caused. In an already controversy ravaged and pathetic season he decides to try and center the attention on himself by announcing the club has told him to leave. It is silly and just further harms the rebuilding job Guus Hiddink is trying to do. The club will have to appoint a new manager, then the new manager will then think if Terry is part of their plans or not. To have made this contract ‘war’ public it just casts an even gloomier shadow across Stamford Bridge. He isn’t bigger than this club, the club will be there even if he leaves. What Terry has done now is only hamper the rebuilding process and added yet another headache to the Chelsea hierarchy.

Terry will be back at Chelsea even if he leaves, and I hope he returns as manager or a coach because he really can have a great impact with the academy. And the youngsters do need a talisman who can show them that it is possible to break into and cement a place in the first team squad at Chelsea. For now though, thank you John Terry but it is time to begin a new era at Chelsea.

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Arabian Gulf League: Al Shabab v Al Ain

Last Friday I decided to head out to the Arabian Gulf League (AG League) game between Al Shabab and Al Ain.

Entry was free and from where I was seated I had the perfect view of the entire pitch. The attendance was 3000+ (according to the announcer) and the atmosphere was fairly good!

Below are just my conclusions from the game (both on the pitch and off it)

  • The referee was awful. Even the Shabab manager Caio Junior was visibly frustrated with the officiating. Every single decision was going in Al Ain’s favour and that isn’t even an exaggeration.
  • Carlos Villaneuva was non-existent. Hardly touched the ball in the first half and only decided to play once it became 4-1 and Al Ain looked to slow the pace of the game.
  • Luvannor Henrique on the other hand did try.  All of Shabab’s positive attacking movements were going through him, but sadly the lack of quality in the rest of the side was telling.
  • Jo Alves is a good player but very limited. He took his goal well mind you.
  • Caio Junior loves his wing backs. Both of them were getting forward virtually throughout though their crossing was suspect.
  • Omar Abdulrahman is an absolute joy to watch in person. Everything Al Ain did went through him. His starting position was wide right but he would come in centrally dictate the play. His passing and demeanor on the ball reminds me a lot of Juan Mata.
  • His starting position was alongside Emmanuel Emmenike, so Al Ain were playing a sort of 4-3-3/ 4-3-1-2.  Wherever he played it was an absolute joy to watch.
  • Felipe Bastos can hit a football.
  • The Al Ain fans were magnificent, the atmosphere they created deserved a good performance from their team (which they got).
  • There needs to be more done to get the expat community into the stadium, I know this rhetoric is uttered every single week but the atmosphere of the games and the growth of the league would benefit greatly. Work needs to be done on both sides, making the stadiums friendlier to visit (which in fairness I got in with ease for my first time at Maktoum bin Rashid stadium) and also the football interested expat community should make an effort to attend the matches.
  • The referee was bad.

Shame it ended 4-1 to Al Ain but they are going to win the title this season. Of that I have little doubt.

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Tribalism and Racism – Football’s Big Problem

Before I begin let me preface this by saying society as a whole does have a racism problem, however due to the unsavoury incidents over the last couple of days it is fairly evident that football as well has a problem. A massive problem.

What happened in Paris following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw in the French capital was nothing short of despicable. A group of subhuman scum started singing “we are racists” and refused entry to a black person who was trying to enter the metro carriage.

This was just a mere 24 hours after Italian managerial legend, Arrigo Sacchi, took it upon himself to say there were far too many foreigners and “black players” in youth systems across Italian football.

These are just incidents in the past day or two, and the fact that they happen so regularly does indeed indicate that football as a whole has a problem with racism. And it is a battle the sport is failing.

The problem with incidents like last night in Paris is that often the outrage generated following it is usually petty tribalistic point scoring by opposing fans. Whilst other fans of the team that were racist are quick to indicate that they do not represent fans of “our football club.” I’m sorry but they do, and there are no two ways about it.  Tribal point scoring isn’t helpful neither is trying to distance yourself from the fact that your fellow fans (and not just one individual might I add) are racists.

The problem with point scoring is that it is used as a stick to beat the team that has done the offending, and the problem with this is that A) it doesn’t take the victim into consideration B) it offers no solution to the plague of racism apart from “Lol your team is racist look at our team we are angels.”

Taking the Premier League as an example and two high profile cases of racial abuse: John Terry and Luis Suarez. Both players were found guilty of racist language towards opposing players (Anton Ferdinand in Terry’s case and Patrice Evra in Suarez’s case). What did it accomplish in banning the two players for lengthy periods? Nothing at all. Why? Because to this day both sets of fans believe that their players did no wrong.

Therein lies the problem, we as a society (and a footballing community) tend to view racism from the offender’s point of view as opposed to the victim’s point of view.  It is very easy to say “he didn’t mean that” when actually you need to understand the victim’s point of view.  Players of colour, and more specifically black players have come through a system that has been designed to put them down at every single conceivable checkpoint in life.

When they finally break through the system designed to hold them back and then to have opposing white players racially abuse them it feels as if no matter what they achieve they will always be looked down upon purely because of their skin colour.

Imagine how it feels then to see a person who has racially abused you being hailed as a hero, and the manager plus his fellow teammates wearing shirts in support of him and virtually none for you. It feels like a kick in the teeth doesn’t it? It is like the white man can do no wrong and no matter how far in life you go it will always be his word that is the be all and end all.

It is time we start looking at racism from the victim’s point of view, and it is time for football fans to stamp it out. Mandatory jail time for every single person found guilty of racial abuse (be it verbal or physical). If you see anyone at a football stadium being a racist little shit, report them to the police straight away. That doesn’t make you a coward.

To quote Jon Stewart “If racism is something you’re sick of hearing about, imagine how exhausting it must be living it every day.”

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Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur Combined XI

With the North London derby just 24 hours away I have decided to come up with my combined North London XI. The formation I have used is a 4-2-3-1 as that seems to be what many managers use now.

Goalkeeper:

Hugo Lloris: Up there with De Gea, Courtois and Cech as the best goalkeeper in the country. Without a doubt. The less said about his Polish counterpart the better.

Right Back:

Kyle Walker: Prone to silly moments but has done well this season. I suspect if Bellerin and Debuchy played more frequently this position would be up for debate this season.

Centre-Back

Laurent Koscielny: Wrongly heralded as the French Tony Adams, the Frenchman is fairly solid if at times inconsistent. Lack of competition means he goes in at CB.

Jan Vertonghen:  Slightly rash but has curbed that and has shown he is good at both ends of the pitch. Does need to focus more on his defending though.

Left-Back:

Danny Rose: Scored a wonder goal v Arsenal then went off the radar but has resurfaced well under Pochettino. Works his socks off at left-back and can’t really ask for more for someone not playing in his natural position.

Defensive Midfield:

Coquelin: To come from league 1 and slot in so seamlessly into a Premier League side challenging for a top 6 position is excellent. His transformation meant Wenger didn’t have to spend money in January for a proper defensive midfielder

Nabil Bentaleb: Bentaleb and Spurs fans owe it to Tim Sherwood for discovering this wonderfully gifted player. Will be a welcome addition to this side following his African Cup Of Nations sojourn.

Right winger:

Santi Cazorla: Started the season poorly but has come into some fine form of late and is proving a useful tool in trying to cut down Chelsea’s 12 point lead at the top of the table.

Attacking Mid:

Christian Eriksen: Are you drawing 1-1 with less than 5 minutes to go? Somehow get Eriksen to play for your team and he will ensure that you win it 2-1. He is a machine.

Left wing:

Erik Lamela: A very difficult position to pick as you’ve got 3 under-performing players. Alexis Sanchez hasn’t hit the heights he did at Barcelona, Lamela himself hasn’t done that much since his Europa League wonder goal. Whilst Mesut Ozil continues to be arguably the worst signing Arsenal have ever made.

Striker:

Harry Kane: Both Kane and Giroud have done very well this season but Kane gets the nod. He is having the time of his life right now and it doesn’t look like stopping.

2015-02-06 15_33_05-Combined Arsenal Spurs XI - created on 06-Feb-2015

What is your combined XI?

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Chelsea v Southampton – Juan Love

Chelsea have had a mixed bag of results lately to say the least, a comprehensive win over Schalke then a stuttering draw against West Brom. Then easily brushing past the bubble blowing brigade only to be shut down in Switzerland against a good Basel side. Next up is a tricky game against Southampton who, and I hold my hand up here as I didn’t think Pochettino would survive this long, have surprised everyone with their ascent up the table. Chelsea will not find it easy to get all three points, and will have to play a helluva lot better than on Tuesday night. Obviously the burning issue is regarding the Juan Mata and his future at Chelsea, I still think he has a vital role at Chelsea but the problem is finding that role for him.

The issue with Juan Mata at Chelsea is that I feel him and Oscar in a 4-2-3-1 system do not work effectively. What Benitez did last season, when he picked Mata and Oscar together was to give Mata all the freedom and play Oscar as a winger or someone who was the link between the holding midfielders and Mata. This season what Jose Mourinho has done is given Oscar that ‘free role’ and you can see exactly how it benefited him.  Against West Ham, Chelsea were offered that width with Hazard and as a result Oscar could come in more centrally despite playing as a right winger in Jose’s 4-3-3. That was because West Ham’s system was very narrow with only Stewart Downing being their outlet (and the fact for some odd reason Kevin Nolan was playing as a striker), it allowed Oscar to play more centrally and not worry too much about the defensive duties on the right hand side.

Against Basel it was very different however, as Mourinho selected two central players to play in the wing positions with Willian and Oscar both willing to cut in and try and create something. But Basel played with width which meant both Willian and Oscar had to also track back and assist the two fullbacks leaving them unable at times to fulfil their attacking duties.  From what I can remember from watching that awful game, Basel did well to pin our full backs and force the two ‘wide’ players to defend thus, as I said, limiting their creativity. It was no surprise that when Eden Hazard came on he injected a bit of spark into the game, forcing the Basel full-backs to defend and limiting them from going forward.  Which is why I think Mourinho then decided to bring on Kevin De Bruyne and not Juan Mata later in the game, though I did find it a bit odd when Andre Schurrle was available, but maybe he wasn’t fully match fit and was being saved for the game on Sunday.

What maybe I would like to see happen on Sunday against Southampton is for Mourinho to retain the 4-3-3 (as I think it is our best formation) but try out something slightly different. For this formation to work effectively I think one of Eden Hazard or Schurrle have to start every game, and be able to get at both the right and the left opposing fullbacks. In addition to one of those two playing I think Juan Mata should play in one of those wing positions, as he did at Valencia (and quite well according to ‘experts’) as Southampton do not play with much width and it would allow him to drift in centrally to influence the game. It would certainly provide Mourinho with another option and help avoid another dire fest that we saw in Switzerland.

One thing I would love to see happen on Sunday is for Oscar to play  as part of the midfield 3 alongside one of Ramires/Lampard and John Mikel Obi. I think his pressing will be absolutely vital against Victor Wanyama, who to me was Southampton’s standout performer against Arsenal. If Oscar can successfully contain him then I think Chelsea will have a great chance at getting all three points. He has shown at various times in his Chelsea career that he can do that role effectively, with the most notable example being the game against Juventus last season.

Obviously these are just observations from the last couple of games but I think 4-3-3 is a method that Chelsea can proceed with and to me the most important player from now to the end of the season is that Brazilian bundle of joy Oscar. The way in which he has seamlessly adapted into English football is remarkable, considering he played almost 90 games for club and country last season. Mourinho and Chelsea need to manage him well and it is no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the best players in the world in the future.

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Arise Sir Frank

Frank Lampard, to me, is Chelsea’s greatest player ever.  Consistently for the last twelve seasons he has shown what an asset he is with his goals, his assists and most importantly his leadership. No matter what the occasion Lampard will deliver, he has shown that in the Premier League, in FA Cup finals and in both Champions League finals. And now he is just a couple of goals away from cementing himself as the best Stamford Bridge has ever seen when he becomes the club’s all-time top scorer.

Lampard wasn’t a cheap signing by any means, considering this was pre-Abramovich, he joined from West Ham in the summer of 2001 for a fee of £11 million which was met by a lot of ridicule with many saying the midfielder was overrated (http://bbc.in/XppVPd). I am sure many of them, if not all, are glad they got it spectacularly wrong.

Lampard really came into his own in the 2002/03 season, the season just before Abramovich took over, scoring 10+ goals from midfield and cementing his place within the squad for the next season despite the tendency to go for a bigger name replacement with the newly acquired wealth.  He remained a mainstay in Claudio Ranieri’s starting XI and to devastating effect as the Blues finished second behind Arsenal.

Then came the arrival of The Special One. Lampard played yet another key role in the run to our first title since 1955 and thrived in the box-to-box role that Mourinho gave him. Perhaps his best moment, and certainly mine, would be the match at the Reebok. Two goals typifying his season, and indeed his career, and another 10+ league goal haul to boot.

I have said on many occasions that Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi are the two greatest players I have seen but Lampard has something that they don’t. Throughout my formative years as a teenager Frank Lampard was at Chelsea (in fact he was there throughout my teenage years) and every time either at school or in the playground I was asked ‘which footballer was I’ and every single time my response would be “Frank Lampard.” Whether it was trying shots from range or passing I wanted to be Frank Lampard, I don’t think there has been anyone who has influenced my life more than him. I would say Gianfranco Zola but I only caught the end of his Chelsea career but as magnificent as he was Frank Lampard, to me, typified what I wanted to be: talented, hardworking and most of all determined.

That is what sets Lampard apart from some of his other contemporaries. He wasn’t blessed with a great amount of talent but he was determined to make the most of what he had and it is fair to say he has done it. His ability to keep fit and play 90 minutes week in week out, even now, is remarkable. I remember a few seasons ago he broke the most consecutive appearances for any Premier League player (including goalkeepers!) and he wasn’t substituted or red carded once for those matches.

Lampard’s remarkable record of scoring 10 leagues goals in 10 consecutive seasons further underlines his value to Chelsea. But it just isn’t his goals, his on-field leadership is also very vital. An excellent example would be the last day of the 2009/10 season when Chelsea needed to beat Wigan to seal the title. At 1-0 up Chelsea won a penalty and Didier Drogba had thrown, what can be a described as, a strop as he wanted to be the Premier League’s golden boot winner. Lampard in the calmest of fashions said no took the penalty 2-0 up at half time and that all but sealed the title. He then spoke to Drogba following the penalty and in the second half Drogba managed to score a hat trick (including a penalty which Lampard allowed him to take!) and we all were happy.

Speaking of penalties there is without a shadow of doubt in mind not a better penalty taker in world football at the moment better than Frank Lampard.  Either at 5-0 up or 0-0 in the 90th minute Lampard is guaranteed to convert his penalty. A perfect example would be the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, 3-1 down in the shoot-out if Lampard misses his penalty it is all but over for yet another season. He smashes it in without a blink of the eye and Chelsea go on to win the Champions League.

That Champions League run, certainly the second half of it, Lampard really re-invented himself as more of a defensive player and it worked a treat. Against Barcelona the way he nonchalantly robbed Lionel Messi of the ball to set up Drogba’s goal was sensational and let us not forget that 2nd leg with 10 men having to captain the side after the sending off of John Terry, the second half was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed in football and to seal it with a Fernando Torres goal was a feeling that I cannot describe.  He played a very similar role in the final, having to captain the side yet again and there wasn’t a more fitting sight than seeing both Terry and Lampard hoist up the European Cup together.

There have been criticisms about Lampard that if he doesn’t like a manager he goes and ‘complains’ to the media. Firstly these are unfounded and secondly even if they are true he hasn’t been wrong has he? Scolari, a lovely manager, just couldn’t do it at club level with complaints over training regimes being too lax shown over the hectic winter schedule. Then there was Andre Villas-Boas who in all respect was just too naïve for Chelsea. His decision to drop both Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard for the Napoli tie was baffling and it proved to be fateful… he ended up getting sacked and Chelsea won the Champions League. IF Lampard did help him get the boot then he can only be praised surely.

Lampard is now just four goals behind Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 goals and I wouldn’t put it past him achieving it before the month of April given the form he is in at the moment. A truly wonderful player to have watched over the years, and I sincerely hope he is at Chelsea next season. If it isn’t too rash to say, he is Chelsea Football Club’s greatest player ever.

Top 3 Lampard goals:

3) Bolton 2005 – the second that clinched the league

2) Bayern Munich 2005 – the lovely swivel, turn + left foot shot

1)??? 2013 – His 203rd Chelsea goal

Arise Sir Frank.

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