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Monday, January 5, 2015


The Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter was the author of an article in which he outlined his own version of a 10-point manifesto, wish-list, call it what you will, covering football anno 2015. Said article was published on 31/12/14, and there were some points which would surely merit more than cursory consideration by the FA, and, perhaps, UEFA and FIFA.

However, once the bullet points were dispensed with, the fine print was somewhat less palatable, and occasionally bordered on cheap journalism with a little bit of casual xenophobia thrown in.

Winter's first point was titled "Revolutionise youth football," under which he pleaded for compulsory 9 against 9 matches up to the age of 13, and for the training of and the dispatch of skills coaches to schools, "encouraging two-footedness and self-expression." He also called for the building of indoor pitches "as well as the plethora of outdoor 3G."
The Charlie Hughes school of thought held sway in FA coaching circles, although this seems to be lessening somewhat as time goes on. However, this may not be the main reason that football has stagnated in the UK and Ireland.

Due to the Conservative government's policy of selling off brown- and green-field sites to property developers across the UK during the 1980s and '90s, manys a football pitch was covered over, not to mention fields and disused sites where children would gather to play football and learn the twin attributes of two-footed play and self-expression. If children didn't play in fields, etc., they played in the streets. That is now also largely a thing of the past, at least in much of Western Europe. 

Property developers should be encouraged to provide proper, safe, spaces for children to play in, be it football, volleyball or hopscotch, thereby encouraging kids to find "self-expression" and, more importantly, keep themselves fit. 
Point 2, "Improve refereeing [standards] asap," seemed to concentrate more on criticising PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited - who? - never heard of them either) "chief" Mike Riley for "undermining" Mark Clattenberg, and claiming that standards had never been lower, stating that referees did not know the difference between careless and reckless, and were inconsistent with regard to diving. 

Clattenberg is not a superb referee, but there are worse, far worse, and one of the things he does very well is communicate his decisions to those concerned, as does perhaps one of the best, Phil Dow. Winter and his fellow journalists would do well to lessen their own criticism of referees on occasion; after all, this leads to added pressure on the men (and women) in black, with the fear that one wrong decision will see them hauled up before the media's kangaroo court. Lest we forget, media pressure also ensured, alas, the advent of goal-line technology.

"Football must respect women" was Winter's third point. However, he did not provide any opinion as to how the position of women in football would be elevated, instead preferring to have a go at Ched Evans, who is now out of prison on licence after serving part of his sentence for the rape of a young woman, and "his deluded followers continuing to make her life hellish." Not just Evans, but football as a whole, needs to learn how to respect women, and for Winter to concentrate solely on Evans was just cheap journalism. 

Football and the media go hand in hand these days; the tabloid media has little enough respect for women, so should thus refrain from calling the footballing pot black, and for churning out the hackneyed diatribe of footballers being role-models. One's parents are role-models, are as those growing up around them (neighbours, teachers, etc.); if they cannot properly advise youngsters not to copy the actions of sportsmen and women, then they have failed in their responsibilities. It is also less than worthy to heap the responsibility of being someone's role-model on to another.

The FA should set up a competent task force, with a majority female representation, with the aim of eradicating sexism from the game once and for all. May I suggest the likes of broadcasters Gabby Logan and Jacqui Oatley, as well as (former) players such as Sue Smith and Faye White to be put forward as members of said task force? 

Why also no mention of giving racism the order of the boot once and for all? What about properly tackling homophobia? There was also nothing mentioned on the subject of the rights of - and providing proper access for - disabled supporters?

Point 4 was titled "Improve athmospheres," and finally provided reading of worth. Ticket prices should be subsidised, Winter said, with the 16-21 age-group being targeted, and the journalist added that the Football Supporters' Federation's "Twenty's Plenty" campaign to cap ticket prices for away supporters at £20 should be implemented.

There are other ways to improve the athmosphere at the average Premier League ground: safe standing areas should be made mandatory at all grounds in Europe, never mind in the Premier League. (This, by the way, has long been called for by the FSF and assorted football supporters' groups.) Stewards should also not be harassing supporters who stand in seated areas; they have paid for their place, and, provided they are not impeding on the enjoyment of others, these supporters should be left well alone. Those who wish to sit could be moved to the front of the stand they are occupying. 

Flags should be allowed at all grounds, and also at European and World Cup tournaments. Klaxons, too. Homophobic, racist and sexist chanting should be outlawed (and properly dealt with), as should, on a rather less serious note, the playing of some third-rate ditty after a goal is scored..

Point 5: "More financial sanity please." Agreed, but this should also filter down to benefit the fans; ticket prices, the half-time cuppa, replica shirts etc. could all be less expensive (see Point 4).

Point 6 was titled "Cut through the paperwork and cut adrift the freeloaders." One would have thought that this would have fallen under Point 5 ("too many average players" and so on), but no; this was merely a plea to FA chairman Greg Dyke to "live up to his promise of really getting to grips with the work permit loopholes that allow average overseas players to silt up Football League clubs." 

All fine and dandy if you are an ultra-conservative Tory or a UKIP voter (even in the sports pages, the Daily Telegraph will always be the Daily Telegraph) who would support Winter's comments, which veer towards mild xenophobia, but the danger of deporting so many foreign players, potentially in one fell swoop, is that English clubs will instead be silted up by average English players, at least for the next few years. 

On to Point 7 ("More brains on board") now, and the assertion that the FA restructuring should entail the appointing of an ex-player of the calibre of Gary Lineker, Graeme Le Saux or John Barnes to the "main board." A good idea; get Graeme Le Saux on the FA board - erudite, articulate, intelligent, and he knows all about discrimination in football (unfortunately). Supporters should be represented, too; it would be prudent for someone from, for example, the FSF to represent the interests of the average fan on the FA board. The FA should also ensure that there is room for at least one woman on the board.

Point 8 carries the title "Target punishment." Winter is of the opinion that retrospective bans should, in part, be served by a player against the club whose own player fell victim to the offending player's transgression. No, they shouldn't; it's like telling someone sentenced to a custodial sentence that they would be allowed to remain at liberty until two days after their birthday. A retrospective ban should begin with the first game after the ban has been announced.

"Loosen up, wise up" is the title of Point 9, and calls for the scrapping of the "stupid rule punishing players for celebrating goals." Players should be carded for the tiresome "sshhh" routine and other (perhaps) provocative "gestures" towards opposing fans after scoring, not for taking their shirts off and whirling them about.They perhaps deserve, on occasion, a kick up the backside for their rather choreographed goal celebrations, but that's another story.

There was also a call to trial video technology; bad idea. The FA/PL had something going for it when they introduced goal-line assistants, but what did they do? They should have had 2 of them behind each goal, but instead got rid of the idea altogether. Get rid of goal-line technology, full stop; yet another sign of "them and us" in football, as the rules of the game should apply, without exception, from the very top of the footballing pyramid to the very bottom. Either implement the use of goal-line technology to the fullest extent, with the FA and Premier League subsidising the installation of the system on every football pitch in England, with all FIFA etc. member associations doing likewise, or get rid of it completely.

Winter alluded to the fact that football is "emotional," yet he clamours for the introduction of video technology (one video appeal per club per half) to accompany goal-line technology. Goal-line technology has, to an extent, already taken out the emotional, human element in football; video technology would kill it stone-dead. There would be no more talking-points down the pub if the media had their way; the game would be as tedious as American Football is now, and the pity is, due to a myriad of reasons, it's heading that way now.

Last, and probably least: "England must start practising penalties before Euro 2016." They'll have to qualify first.. 

There isn't really much more to add with regard to commenting on Henry Winter's wish-list for 2015, except to say that it is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. If his wish-list were ever to become reality, it could be the death-knell for football as we know it, as anodyne and blind to the evils of society as football - let alone the media - at the top level has become. There is no need to dumb the sport down any further. 
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Henry Winter's article can be found via the following link:

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