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Friday, May 25, 2012


The choice of UEFA to award the Euro 2012 tournament to Poland and Ukraine raised many eyebrows when it was made in 2007, mainly because of the comparatively undeveloped infrastructures of both countries, even though both countries were making significant economic progress at the time, and Ukraine was still basking somewhat in the glow of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was spearheaded by the duo who would become president and prime minister - Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

While both countries have made strides to try and put things right in time for the tournament, which kicks off in less than 3 weeks' time, it would seem that, in one area at least, Ukraine has been going backwards, and that has made a large section of the European body politic a rather less than happy bunch of people.

The area in question is, of course, human rights, and, more specifically, those of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in October last year on charges of abuse of office whilst in office. Many observers have claimed that the charges against Tymoshenko were fabricated by the current president, Viktor Yanukovitch, to remove her from the Ukrainian political arena until after the next presidential election, which is due to take place in 2015, and, in the more immediate future, local elections which are scheduled for this October.

The charges came about as a result of an oil and gas pricing agreement signed in 2009 by Timoshenko, whilst in the office of Ukrainian Prime Minister, and her Russian counterpart; over the weekend, Yanukovitch's government issued a statement claiming that Ukraine was over 6 billion Euros worse off as a result of signing the agreement.

Since her incarceration in August 2011, two months before she was sentenced, Tymoshenko has, it has been claimed, undergone various forms of physical and verbal abuse, and was refused permission to go to Germany for an operation on her back. She was interned in a prison in Kharkiv, several hundred kilometres east of the Ukrainian capital, at the end of last year, and, last month, was moved to a hospital against her will. She then began a 20-day hunger-strike in protest at her treatment, which ended on 9/5/12.

What allegedly precipitated Tymoshenko's hunger-strike were beatings she received from prison guards, who, according to a report on CNN, wrapped her in a bedsheet and repeatedly punched her in the stomach. Photos of her seriously-bruised abdomen and arms have been circulated on the internet.

Yanukovitch ordered that Tymoshenko be operated upon by Ukrainian doctors, but she refused. Eventually, permission was granted for a German doctor to operate on the 51 year-old, but only after intense political pressure from western European leaders, and, at the time of writing, this has commenced. The Ukrainian city of Yalta, situated on the southern coast of the Crimea, was due to host a summit of 18 central and eastern European countries just under a fortnight ago. However, Yanukovitch was stood up by the other 17 leaders invited to take part, and, as everybody knows, it's no fun sitting at a table on your own.

There are apparently at least 10 separate investigations under way which are seking to implicate Tymoshenko in some way or other, ranging from bribery, tax-evasion and using ambulances during her unsuccessful 2010 presidential campaign, to involvement in the murder of an Ukrainian businessman and politician and his wife in 1996. Towards the end of last month, the German government announced that their delegation would be boycotting the final of Euro 2012 if things did not improve regarding Tymoshenko, a woman many believe should not be in prison in the first place.

There were murmurings of political discontent from across Europe concerning Tymoshenko's treatment, and a lot of criticism originated from Ukraine's co-hosts, Poland, though those from the 15 football associations from outside Ukraine whose teams will be taking part in Euro 2012 and are scheduled to play their group matches there are not planning to cancel their hotel reservations just yet. However, EU preident Herman van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso have declined their invitations to the tournament, as have governmental representatives from Austria and Belgium. German chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, was also considering staying away, as was the country's minister of sport.

Philipp Lahm, Germany captain, in an interview published in German newspaper Der Spiegel, stated that he did not appear to see his own "views of democratic fundamental rights, human rights, personal freedom or press freedom to be reflected in the present political situation in Ukraine." Yanukovitch, meanwhile, remains unmoved by all the criticism. Most football fans from outide Ukraine don't really seem to care, either. They just want to see some football.

They are also, however, going to have pay an arm and a leg should they wish to stay over in Ukraine. A recent article on the BBC News alleged that prices for a hotel-room have, in many cases, increased ten-fold and that a bog-standard room booked in a hotel in Kiev will cost some 350 Euros.

Well, Pat's Football blog carried out a totally non-scientific and random survey of a few hotels and hostels in and around Kiev and Donetsk, and the results, using the nights of 18/5/12 and 11/6/12 as examples, confirm the claims posted by the BBC, to some extent, at least. Four hotels (double-room) and a hostel in Kiev were looked at (on 17/5/12), using the website, as well as two hotels in Donetsk. Prices are in Euros.

ADLER (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 45; 11/6/12 - 165
AGAT (DONETSK): 18/5/12 - 49; 11/6/12 - 587
AUTOGRAPH (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 173; 11/6/12 - 414
BONBON (DONETSK): 18/5/12 - 68; 11/6/12 - 763
HOSTEL KIEV CITY CENTRE (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 12; 11/6/12 - 117
RIVIERA BOUTIQUE (KIEV): 18/5/12 - 248; 11/6/12 - 1971
UKRAINE (KIEV); 18/5/12 - 109; 11/6/12 - 287

It probably will not have escaped your attention that no hotels have been listed for night of the final, due to held in Kiev on 1/7/12. This is in part due to the fact that most hotels have already posted the "Sold Out" signs outside; there are some (still reasonably-priced) hostel beds available. If you fancy shelling out a couple of thousand Euros for an apartment for the night instead, though, go right ahead.

UEFA president Michel Platini has been on the record as having described Ukrainian hotel proprietors as "bandits and crooks", though one can be sure that they will not be having any sleepless nights over Platini's criticism.

Another sector of the Ukrainian population who are rubbing their hands in anticipation of a bumper Euro 2012 consists of what one could call corrupt sectors of the local police force, who are not afraid of "requesting" a few Euros, dollars or whatever from passers-by. Apparently, when confronted by corrupt members of the Ukrainian police force (and this is not to say that all Ukrainian police officers are corrupt) whilst on the street who request that a fine be paid, one is recommended to ask for an "Angliski protocol" (an English-language statement). Never mind arbitrary stop and search, to hear people talk you would think that there was an "arbitrary stop and fine" policy in the Ukrainian police.

Ukrainian police have reportedly added the Taser-gun to their arsenal in recent times and aren't afraid to use it. Donetsk police used them against supporters during disturbances at a league game in Donetsk, according to claims made by a local supporter's group in an article published on the Reuters website this week. Bribery, assaulting remand prisoners and using excessive methods to quell disturbances all add up to painting a bleak picture of the Ukrainian police force.

Max Tucker, Amnesty International's campaigner on Ukraine, said this recently: "As things stand, fans visiting Euro 2012 are under threat from a criminal police force....Without an institution that will hold officers accountable Ukrainian police will continue to beat and torture as they please. And in all the cases the media doesn’t hear about, they will get away with it."

All of this does not paint a very favourable picture of Ukraine, though, as with everything, there are two sides to every story, and, as always, the truth will lie somewhere in the middle. One cannot say whether Yulia Tymoshenko will be released any time soon, or even before the 2015 presidential election, but campaigners are not giving up hope. Hotel prices for the duration of Euro 2012 do not appear to be coming down. So much for the promise made by the Ukrainian government that the problem of crazy, rip-off room-rates would be tackled swiftly and firmly. As for the police, they have been instructed by the national government to take a more softly-softly approach towards foreign visitors; how softly-softly it will all turn out to be remains to be seen. As for the Ukrainian people, they are, in general, surely no better nor worse than anyone else.

And then, there's the threat of a boycott of Euro 2012 in the Ukraine from the great and good of western European politics. That may well come to pass, but, again, Yanukovitch will not be too bothered by this. Russian president Vladimir Putin has thrown his tuppence-worth into the mix as well, telling the Russian news-agency Novosti that: "In absolutely every case, you can't mix politics, business and other issues with sport." 

If UEFA were suddenly to turn round and take the Ukrainian half of the tournament away and give it, say, to Germany, there would be ructions. It is, it has to be said, a most unlikely scenario..but what if it actually happened? Well, there would be a huge problem of the financial kind for travel insurers, airlines, hotel chains, not to mention UEFA itself..and, more importantly, those fans afected by the tournament's re-location.. No, that's not going to happen, in spite of the best efforts of some European politicians, who would perhaps be better advised to leave any boycotts and protests to the fans.

Boycotts never seem to work; look at the 1980 and 1984 versions of the Olympic Games. Apart from Platini's airing of his opinions on Ukrainian hotel owners, UEFA have remained silent on current affairs in the Ukraine. Perhaps those participating in the Euros should keep schtum on what is happening in the Ukraine; it doesn't mean, however, that those of us who will be watching the tournament, whether we are viewing it in the country's stadia or on TV, should necessarily stand by with muzzled mouths.

One could look at what is happening in the Ukraine and view it as a test-case with regard to what is still to come, starting with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the lack of rights for the indigenous American Indian population - not forgetting the raging poverty in, and the environmental destruction of, many parts of the country. Then, you have the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the human rights situation there, together with a culture of endemic racism and homophobia within football, and a seemingly dictatorial political system (with a cult of personality centred round president Vladimir Putin at its core) and a lack of press freedom without.

Finishing off an unwanted hat-trick is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the country's statutory discrimination against LGBTs and non-Muslims, not to mention that FIFA stands to gain financially from all three tournaments. All of these scenarions, with all due respect to Yulia Tymoshenko and all others who may be well have been wrongfully imprisoned and wrongfully ill-treated, make Ukraine look like a comparative paradise, and that's just for visiting supporters. It's all very worrying, and it makes FIFA look as though it's only after what financial gain it can get from what it termed as football's "new frontiers" when they were chosen to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments. That, however, is another story for another day..

HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address

If you can donate, please do so. If not, kindly post either link on your Facebook page if you have one and share, or tweet. Many thanks. An update will be posted here shortly.

FOOTBALL BLOGGING AWARDS 2012: In an act of unapologetic, not to mention unashamed, self-promotion, Pat's Football Blog has nominated itself in the Male category of this year's Football Blogging awards, which will take place in Manchester in July.
To vote via Facebook, kindly go to the Football Blogging Awards page. To vote via Twitter, tweet to @TheFBAs, with your username and #Male (category). There are several categories, and it's up to you who you vote for, of course, but a vote for Pat's Football Blog will always be very welcome. After all, it isn't your everyday blog..

Friday, May 18, 2012


No French men's club has won the Champions League since its inception (and Olympique Marseille remain the only French team to have won the competition in either of its guises, only for UEFA to later strip them of the title following a match-fixing scandal), but the Olympique Lyonnais women's team showed their male counterparts how it's done by winning the Women's Champions League for the second time in a row in Munich on 17/5/12.

In the final, played before an estimated attendance of more than 50000 at the Olympiastadion, OL (officially known as Olympique Lyonnais Féminin) were up against three-time winners of the WCL's predecessor, the UEFA Women's Cup, German side 1.FFC Frankfurt. This was FFC Frankfurt's fifth final, having won the competition in 2002 - the year of its inception - 2005 and 2008. They lost the 2004 version. Olympique, meanwhile, were appearing in their third final in a row, having lost in 2010 to another German team, Turbine Potsdam, before defeating them on penalties at Craven Cottage last year.

This year's final was the first football match to be held at the Olympiastadion since both Munich clubs, Bayern and 1860, moved out and relocated to the newly-built Allianz Arena in 2005. Many football fans hold the opinion that the Olympiastadion was somewhat devoid of athmosphere, though there was no sign of that on Thursday last.

Both squads featured a smattering of players who had taken part in last year's Women's World Cup; OL's Wendie Renard, Corine Franco, Eugénie Le Sommer, Louisa Necib, Sabrina Viguier, captain Sonia Bompastor and substitutes Céline Deville and Laura Georges were all included in the French squad, while team-mates Lotta Schelin (Sweden) and Japan's Ami Otaki also featured at the tournament, which was held in Germany. Otaki was in the team which won the women's World Cup in nail-biting circumstances alongside one of her opponents on Thursday night, Saki Kumagai.

FFC Frankfurt were also well-represented at the last WWC, with current squad members Melanie Behringer, captain Sandra Smisek, Saskia Bartusiak and Kerstin Garefrekes all involved for Germany. (Injured team captain Nadine Angerer was ever-present in goal, while fellow absentee Ali Krieger also took part for the United States.) Sara Thunebro and Jessica Landström, meanwhile, were part of the Swedish team which finished third.

An impressive line-up of personalities, allied with Olympique Lyon's record in the competition of 7 wins and 1 draw, 37 goals scored and just 1 against (not to mention having won the Coupe de France the Sunday before the final - how's that for a confidence boost?), and a FFC Frankfurt side hungry to return to the top of the European tree, boded well for an exciting game of football, one worthy of a continental final. However, as so often happens, it didn't quite turn out that way, though there was plenty of industry and skill enough to be seen.

Early pressure from Frankfurt almost saw Bompastor slice a corner into her own net in the fifth minute, while Sarah Bouhaddi in the Olympique goal looked nervy on a couple of occasions. A penalty claim by Olympique for a handball by FFC's American full-back Gina Lewandowski was waved away by Swedish referee Jenny Palmqvist, though she did point to the spot in the 15th minute.

Olympique's speedy Costa Rican left-winger Shirley Cruz Traña was already proving to be a thorn in the side of the German side, and she was alert to Behringer dawdling on the ball, won it and then got hauled down from behind by her opponent, leaving Palmqvist no option but to award a penalty, which Eugénie Le Sommer converted in style, curling the spot-kick deftly past Desirée Schumann in the Frankfurt goal.

Schumann's evening was not to get much better; ten minutes after the goal, she flapped at a Renard header from a Bompastor free-kick, missed and was no doubt relieved to see the ball bounce of the post and to eventual safety. However, she was culpable for Olympique's second goal, which arrived in the 28th minute. 

A long ball meant for OL's Louisa Necib was intercepted by Schumann who headed it clear only to see her clearance fall to Camille Abily, who deftly lofted it over the stranded goalkeeper from 30 yards and into the empty net.

From then on in it was a case of chasing shadows for FFC, though Bangerter, who had earlier sent a lob just wide of the goal and was trying to make up for the mistake which led to OL's earlier penalty, missed a golden opportunity to bring her side back into the reckoning just before half-time when she was put through in a one-on-one with Bouhaddi, but shot straight at the goalkeeper, who saved with her legs.  

The second-half saw several chances for Olympique come and go, with Schelin, who was looking sharp, getting behind the defence but her shot was well saved by Schumann, who saved a header from the Swede not long after. Le Sommer was guilty of blazing a volley high and wide when clear, and Abily came off second-best in a one-on-one with Schumann, who, apart from the mistake which led to OL's second goal, was having a good game and ably dealing with allcomers.

Abily almost made the game safe with ten minutes to go when she knocked her free-kick, taken from distance, off the top of the Frankfurt crossbar with Schumann scrambling. The French side took their foot off the pedal somewhat in the latter stages, and FFC tried to take advantage, but Bartusiak's back-header just into injury-time was saved in a less than comfortable fashion by Bouhaddi. Garrefrekes, who, along with the hapless Behringer, was probably the pick of the bunch for Frankfurt, missed the chance to net a late, late consolation goal when she slipped just as she was about to slot the ball home, and instead sent it skidding a yard past the Lyonnais' goal.

There was hardly time for Bouhaddi to take the goal-kick before Palmqvist, who had had an extremely good and trouble-free game, blew for time and the Olympique Lyon staff converged on the pitch to form a happy, bouncing melée while their FFC Frankfurt opponents slumped to the ground one by one, crestfallen, with many in tears.

Olympique were certainly worthy winners, but the match was a scrappy one at times, and not very many players actually stood out. FFC's early pressure didn't pay off, and they didn't really take the game by the scruff of the neck as many observers thought they would have done. Cruz impressed for Olympique, as did Bompastor, Schelin and Renard; Garefrekes and Behringer stood out for Frankfurt.

Olympique Lyon now join Swedish side Umeå IK as being the only two teams in the history of the Women's UEFA Cup/UEFA Women's Champions League how retain the trophy, the team from the northern reaches of Sweden wining it in 2003 and 2004. Can OL go one better than Umeå, who were runners-up in 2002, 2007 and 2008 but now appear to be as far away from their golden era as before it began, and go on to dominate European women's club competition for the forseeable future, or will their star eventually burn itself out? And what of FFC Frankfurt, who are outside the top two in the Bundesliga and have but a slim chance of qualifying for next season's competition? What does the future hold for them? Who can say?

Certainly, the immediate future appears rosy for the French side, with a cup double now under their belts, a hatful of international players in the squad, and the resources of the men's section also at their disposal. It would be a brave man - or woman - who would bet against them being there or thereabouts once again at the business end of next season.



26 Sarah BOUHADDI, 3 Wendie RENARD, 6 Amandine HENRY, 8 Lotta SCHELIN (22 Ami OTAKI, 88), 9 Eugénie LE SOMMER (14 ROSANA, 65), 10 Louisa NECIB (21 Lara DICKENMANN), 11 Shirley CRUZ TRAÑA, 17 Corine FRANCO, 18 Sonia BOMPASTOR, 20 Sabrina VIGUIER, 23 Camille ABILY


1 Céline DEVILLE, 4 Makan TRAORÉ, 5 Laura GEORGES, 15 Aurélie KACI


26 Desirée SCHUMANN, 2 Gina LEWANDOWSKI, 4 Saki KUMAGAI, 5 Sara THUNEBRO, 7 Melanie BEHRINGER, 10 Dzsenifer MAROZSÁN, 12 Meike WEBER (23 Ria PERCIVAL, 61), 15 Svenja HUTH (21 Ana Maria CRNOGORCEVIC), 18 Kerstin GAREFREKES, 25 Saskia BARTUSIAK, 28 Sandra SMISEK (11 Jessica LANDSTRÖM, 83)


30 Anne-Kathrine KREMER, 6 Silvana CHOJNOWSKI, 20 Jasmin HERBERT


HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address

If you can donate, please do so. If not, kindly post either link on your Facebook page if you have one and share, or tweet. Many thanks.

FOOTBALL BLOGGING AWARDS 2012: In an act of unapologetic, not to mention unashamed, self-promotion, Pat's Football Blog has nominated itself in the Male category of this year's Football Blogging awards., which will take place in Manchester in July. 

To vote via Facebook, kindly go to the Football Blogging Awards page. To vote via Twitter, tweet to @TheFBAs, with username (@PatsFballBlog, for instance!) and #Male (category). There are several categories, and it's up to you who you vote for, of course, but a vote for Pat's Football Blog would always be very welcome! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Since the earliest days of professional football, football clubs have been run as businesses, to ostensibly operate on profits earned from gate money gathered up on a Saturday afternoon. Then came an increased interest in the game from the media outlets of the day, which has continued and indeed snowballed in recent times. Clubs, meanwhile, moved from gate money being their only source of income to augmenting it with refreshments, operating coaches, brakes, special trains (not to mention charter flights and so on), and then came merchandise and membership of an official supporters' club.

Now, we have match-day packages, paying for tickets via credit-cards, priority lists for tickets, subscriptions to club TV channels and much, much more, all costing an arm and a leg. The media, meanwhile, has moved on down the ages from providing match reports to player profiles and - in the gutter press, for the most part - salacious details on the off-field activities of many a player, past and present.

Football clubs and the media have been gaily tra-la-laing down the football trail together for a long time now, recognising that they both need each other to survive. Any newspaper which contains football content will sell more copies than those without. Television stations do their damnest to spice up any football coverage. Clubs will bend over backwards to assist any journalist who gives them good press. Everybody wins. Apart from the supporters.

Ticket prices have rocketed over the past 20 years or so, especially in England's Premier League, pricing out many lifelong supporters in the process. With the advent of purchase of tickets via credit-card with, quite often, a requirement to join a priority ticket list, going to a football match (while wearing your brand new, overpriced replica shirt) at the highest levels of the game has become a leisure activity which only the most affluent can now regularly afford to do. Clubs pay inflated transfer-fees for ridiculously over-paid (and, more than occasionally, over-rated) players, and the supporters inevitably pay the price..literally.

The tabloids (now more commonly referred to as "red tops"), meanwhile, ensures that football features heavily on both the front and back pages, and even the "quality" press is not always immune. In the UK during the early 1990s, the then fledgling BSkyB organisation quickly realised that football was their big cash-cow in waiting, and with their multiple Sky Sports channels, snazzy graphics and segments with backing rock/dance music, moved in in front of the BBC and ITV television networks to snap up the television rights for the Premier League. 

So, since then, to watch live English league football on TV entails shelling out hundreds of pounds for the privilege. This is, of course, not exclusively an English/British phenomenon. Witness Silvio Berlusconi's Mediolanum organisation's domination of the Italian media. Canal+ in France (and Turkey, amongst other countries), Premiere in Germany, Eredivisie Live in Holland and a cast of dozens of other sports channels from all over Europe - and we are only focusing on Europe here - have also assumed positions of dominance in their domestic televisual markets at the expense of the terrestrial stations.

Football on television has reached saturation point, and the quality of the overall package on offer (football included) is, at best, variable. For example, the Beeb's football output merely imitates Sky Sports in many ways, and, like that of their non-terrestrial counterpart, is often vacuous. For instance, take a look at their Saturday afternoon Football Focus programme. It almost always starts off with the aforementioned segment detailing the programme's content, to the background of the inevitable pop music. Before every story that the programme covers, it's a case of "more of the same", with a couple of quotes thrown in.

Get rid of the nonsense, that's what I say; scrap the slow-motion goal-scoring arty action stuff and the dodgy hip-hop/R&B accompaniment and instead include another report. The BBC are not the only guilty party - every television station which thinks that it's worth its salt is equally culpable - not by any means, but they are quite possibly the worst of the lot when it tries to "sex" up its coverage. I don't want to watch previews for snooker tournaments during a football programme, either. Forget the graphics and the (over-used) "punditry"; let's have some football and proper football-related content.

The newspapers, meanwhile, like their televisual counterparts, regularly jump on any bandwagon passing by. What say you over goal-line technology, for instance? This topic will be covered here shortly, but it has been more than somewhat overdone. When lineswoman Sian Massey (correctly) kept her flag down just before Liverpool scored at Wolves a couple of years ago, it became a big "media moment." Various television programmes focused immense amounts of time on the decision, and on the girl herself. Sky Sports' "experts" Andy Gray and Richard Keys talked themselves out of a job after comments they made about Massey and Birmingham City chief executive Karren Brady were picked up on microphone. (Gray and Keys eventually got what they deserved - a show on the TalkSport radio station.)

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, obtained personal photographs and what not from what they called a "friend" of Massey's. Some friend, you might say. The opinions of respondents to the "article" seemed to veer from the point of view that she was doing a good job to those which had the girl down as a wanton hussy. It feels as though very time a marginal decision/goal-line technology/video technology is discussed on television, images of Sian Massey and the "Wolves : Liverpool controversy that wasn't" are bound to appear. All of this said - and says - more about Gray, Keys, those they left behind on television, sections of the printed media and some of their readership than it does about Sian Massey..who is doing a very good job indeed.

Then, there was the "racism" controversy featuring Liverpool's Luis Suárez and his Manchester United counterpart Patrice Evra. Everybody knows the story by now, and everybody knows the outcome. However, the media did not come up smelling of roses. The Daily Mirror, for instance, ran with the back-page headline of "Racist", referring, of course, to Suárez; a headline which could be regarded as inciteful, not to mention libellous.

Hacks from other newspapers, joined in what quickly became little better than a witch-hunt against the Uruguayan, and forums all over the place became meeting-places for the anonymous to basically write whatever they wanted about the man, safe in the knowledge that they could get away with objectionable comments about a man they did not know. A number also did the same with regard to Evra, and much of the abuse heaped upon both men was undoubtedly fuelled by the media. The Sun ran a somewhat inaccurate report of the day its correspondent met Suárez's gran.

This blog, like every other blog, has a statistical section which is for the blogger's eyes only. Some days ago, someone trawling through Google typed in the following: "Is Patrice Evra gay?" and ended up reading this blog. Evra is not gay, apparently, but does it really matter? According to a great many people involved in the game to whatever degree, the answer is, unfortunately, yes. The media have been half-hearted at best in their treatment of homosexuality in the game, which is a subject which shall (hopefully) be dealt with here in some detail at a later date.

The ex-England international Graeme Le Saux could probably say a lot about how he was harassed and abused by team-mates, opposition and supporters alike when rumours persisted that he was gay. The rumours, if one believes the legend, all started because someone spotted Le Saux carrying a copy of The Guardian while he was on holiday. Le Saux was an abrasive, yet intelligent player and is a highly articulate man, by all accounts, yet, because someone started a baseless rumour, it got to the stage where he felt (in his own words) "physically sick" at the thought of going into training.

Every so often, the BBC, amongst others, will show an article or even a programme dealing with the subject of homophobia, but the media's handling of the subject never appears convincing. As for the clubs, well, one can only say that if they were at all serious about making football a genuinely all-inclusive sport, they would have done something worthwhile by now apart from signing a charter to which most of them are merely paying lip-service.

Now on to more recent developments, such as the near-tragedy that befell Patrice Muamba, and the tragedies that befell Gary Speed and Piermario Morosini, not to mention the unfortunate Stillian Petrov and the disaster that wiped out several of the Etoile Filante team in November. Who, you might well ask? Well, eight people travelling in the team's entourage were killed when the team-bus crashed and fell down a ravine on the way to a league game in Togo. News of the crash was reported for a brief few hours (and at no great depth) on CNN and the BBC until news of Gary Speed's death began to filter in less than a day later.

From then on in, it was wall-to-wall coverage everywhere of the Welsh manager's death. No more mention of the hapless Togolaises on TV, only a few paragraphs in the newspapers were deemed sufficient. The Sun "newspaper" couldn't even get a report on the tragedy done to a decent standard; someone in their office Googled an Etoile Filante badge and pasted it above the article. Unfortunately, the badge didn't belong to the team from Lomé, capital of Benin, but to the team of the same name from the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. Shoddy, but that's News International/News Corporation for you..

The British (indeed, global) footballing community came out in force to show their support for Speed's family, and this was good for dozens of hours and thousands of pages of coverage. However, it seemed that some media organisations, not to mention players with various messages of support on T-shirts, clubs and sets of supporters, were trying to outdo each other with fawning gestures of grief that, to put not too fine a point on it, oft bordered on the crass.  

One remembers seeing Sheffield United shirts hanging outside Bramall Lane with the message "Speed - SUFC Legend" written on them. Now, Speed was a popular man, both on and off the pitch, with a seemingly ceaseless amount of both talent and determination, but to describe him as a Blades legend after spending around a season playing for and a couple more managing the Steel City team was a bit much. And that was only a couple of supporters. The hyperbole reached astronomical levels elsewhere.

Speed himself has been, is, and will continue to be, missed, most of all by his family and friends. However, the week following his death evolved - or should that be regressed? - into nothing more than a tawdry spectacle thanks to TV, newspapers and those indulging in the anti-social media. The Togo disaster - and let's face it, it was a disaster: for a club, for a country, but, more importantly, for at least eight sets of families and friends - was quickly forgotten about, as much for the fact that it happened in a small African country as much as it happened the day before Speed's tragic death. On to the next tragedy/atrocity/disaster. Such is the nature of modern-day life, alas.

Patrice Muamba's horrors were captured on film for all to see (and remain visible for voyeurs of every shape and size, thanks in no small part to YouTube), and the media fairly whipped up a frenzy over the young Bolton Wanderers player's state of health. Supporters immediately started converging on Bolton's Reebok Stadium..and began laying scarves, flowers and all sorts of paraphenalia outside. This went on after Gary Speed's death; Muamba was - and, happily, is - still very much part of this world, but everything that comprised yet another nauseating media-led spectacle (in comparison to the dignity and compassion shown by Bolton and Owen Coyle, the club's manager) made me think about adulation and grief.

When faced with situations such as Muamba's or Speed's, how much of any grief expressed is genuine and felt from within, instead of being imposed on us by the media, and our own urge to be seen to be doing something better than everyone else? Chris Hayes, author of the Forfar 4 East Fife 5 blog, recently wrote a marvellous piece entitled "The art of grieving without grieving." He got it absolutely spot-on, and here's the link to his blog:

Out of all the tragedies and near-tragedies which have occurred recently, the on-field death of Livorno's Piermarlo Morosini is perhaps the most tragic of all. Morosini, 25, was on loan at the Serie B side from Udinese and died during a league match a couple of weeks ago. To say he had had a difficult life was an understatement. His two older siblings were disabled and they were all left orphaned by the time Morosini was 17. He battled on and eventually represented Italy at Under-21 level. Sadly, misery returned last year when his older brother committed suicide.

Livorno and Piermarlo Morosini's parent club, Udinese, showed much class when the former announced that they were opening a fund to care for his older sister, retiring his number 25 shirt and re-naming one of the stadium's stands in his honour, while the latter have stated their intention to look after her. The FICG directed that a minute's silence be held before the start of the next round of matches taking place in every level of Italian football.

A much different, a much more dignified, scenario than Manchester United's minute's silence for Morosini before their home game with Aston Villa. What was the difference between that and arranging a minute's silence for the victims of the Etoile Filante bus-crash, for example? (Does anybody at Old Trafford have a connection with Morosini?) Have clubs - and the media - decided that they have become the arbiters of where, when and which football fans should pay their respects? And fans laying flowers, shirts and other Patrice Muamba-related stuff outside the Reebok? That, I am sorry to say, was much too over-the-top. Why not just send flowers to the hospital or a card at the club's reception-desk? What next? The call to prayer across Twitter for a player suffering from an ingrowing toe-nail?

In the intervening months between the tragedy in Togo and Mulamba's distress, have some clubs and the media decided that a minute's silence for every single football-related death signalled in the anti-social media has become a requirement of the pre-match routine, along with the tediously stage-managed "handshakes all round" thingy? Sadness and sympathy for Muamba, Petrov, Speed, Morosini and his sister, and those of Etoile Filante who are lost to us, but grief? How the media handles these situations, and how the rest of us react, has all become too intrusive, yet too impersonal.

It would also appear that the English press has become enamoured with Scottish football. What else could be the conclusion after, er, Celtic manager Neil Lennon receiving death-threats (and much else) in the post, a set-to between he and Rangers manager Ally McCoist followed by a fracas with a Hearts supporter, and now the hoo-hah over the 'Gers' financial troubles? Just being facetious, of course, but, then, you knew that anyway; the English sporting press wouldn't normally go near Scottish football with a barge-pole. Oh, yes; Kilmarnock beat Celtic in this season's Scottish League Cup Final at Hampden Park..but most of the coverage relating to the final shown on national news programmes across British television centred round the most unfortunate and untimely death, just after the final-whistle, of the father of Killie midfielder Liam Kelly.

Back to McCoist again, and his opposition of the recent transfer embargo and fine imposed on his club by the SFA has been noted, as has his somewhat coloured opinion that Celtic and Rangers should be treated differently than other clubs playing in the Scottish League system. He did say that he could "understand fans up and down the country, who don't support the Old Firm, saying that [what he said] is rubbish." Believe it, Ally, not only Scottish non-Old Firm supporters are saying the same thing..

There was a protest march by Rangers fans on Hampden last week, while the Rangers Fans Fighting Fund , perhaps driven on by elements within the club itself, issued a statement announcing that it would take "appropriate action" against clubs who voted to impose still harsher penalties on the Ibrox club. Sounds like a boycott of all the smaller SPL clubs by the Rangers support is being called for; the bullies are trying to take over the SFA classroom and they do not intend to compromise. ("Hello, hello, we are the Bully-boys..") There was no sign of dissent from the Rangers board, McCoist or the club's fan-base when Gretna were put into administration, docked ten points, fined and relegated to the Scottish Third Division in 2008, just before the tiny provincial club folded, was there?

Rangers Football Club is a member club of the Scottish Football Association, and are aware of the rules and regulations of the governing organisation. Regardless of who was responsible for not settling the tax-bill and other expenses at his club (surely more people than just the chief executive were culpable), for McCoist to indulge in some blatant psychological warfare when he said that he did not blame the SFA for taking the decisions they did, but saying that the SFA's rulings could kill the club was an opportune moment for yours truly to indulge in some head-shaking.

What was good enough for Gretna (and also for Livingston, by the way - yes, they were in the First Division at the time) should also be good enough for Rangers and that section of their support who think that a little bullying will go a long way. Suck it up, folks. Then again, Rangers could apply once more for membership of the Football League in England (they would surely have to start at the bottom and work their way up)..

We haven't even touched on corruption in FIFA and elsewhere (Italy, the Caribbean Football Union and more), the assertion that the Chumpions' League is the be-all and end-all of club football - closely followed by the Premier League - rampant bigotry, racism and sexism in the game and among its supporters in various parts of the world, the smaller clubs and associations constantly being trampled upon by their richer and larger counterparts, the inept organisation of the game in many countries..

It all paints a rather gloomy and depressing picture of the world game, and deservedly so. And, we football fans put up with it all. Why? Because in spite of everything, we still love football, and because we love football, we let ourselves be taken for fools. We still allow ourselves to be fleeced by clubs, national associations and continental federations. We allow ourselves to be seduced and swayed by an often mendacious media and those within and without football who indulge in some good old knee-jerk reactions, and we take these opinions as gospel.

If fans could move a little away from blind loyalty and look at the bigger picture once in a while, one which involves the spectre of a game, a game having lost its soul eons ago and which is now on the edge of implosion, we could make a difference by just refusing to go along with it all. Or are we all just happy with things as they are, watching Football Lite? If that is the case, then we have the game, and the coverage of it, that we deserve.

HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address is:

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