VAR From Imperfect: The Cleansing of Football and the Magic of the World Cup


The comic, ‘iconic’ image of referees helping make game-changing decisions from a truck no where near the pitch. This is VAR. Credit:

Football, even at it’s highest levels, is a fairly messy, frustrating game. There are more scrambling, flukey or mundane goals than any other, but when the game truly becomes beautiful, when everything is put together to score a beautiful goal, it makes the wait and the messiness worth it. It is this mixture of imperfection, scrambling to success, and sometimes, sheer poetry in motion that makes it truly the sport of humanity.

It comes with the territory then that football, and especially those in charge of it professionally, is far from perfect. This game of the world has become tainted by money and commercialism; it caters increasingly for the middle and upper classes with game tickets pricing out grass-root fans and coverage increasingly being held hostage on subscription channels like Sky or BT Sport. The World Cup, however, has managed to hold off a lot of these regressive progressions, being found more on free or more accessible stations world wide.

That said, there have been some new facets to the World Cup this year which have worked to undermine this higher level of engagement with the game. One of these ‘advancements’ is goal line technology, but while a lot of what this article will say applies to that, it’s been around for a while already. The main subject here will be the introduction of VAR, and how it is part of an ongoing insipid campaign to cleanse football of it’s imperfections, and some of it’s character.

Theoretically, I understand why some fans have called for VAR in football. Refereeing mistakes happen, to some degree, fairly commonly, and that can be frustrating for fans; but when you think about it, what are the most memorable, passionate moments you share with football? First, I would argue, are the rare moments of sublime beauty, like Archie Gemmill passing and ‘megging the Dutch to score in ’78, or Maradona running through the English to score; but secondly, I think it’s the moments of controversy, like Scotland definitely being cheated out of Euro 2008 qualification or Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’.


The pain remains, as does the memory of what should have been after Italy end Scotland’s 2008 qualification hopes in controversial circumstances. Credit: Getty Images

Whether it creates something memorable like the Hand of God, or something painful, controversy creates conversation, debate, and something to wonder about. Righteous anger, disappointment, and sadness are as important and meaningful to the human condition as joy, and as dark as that sounds, they aren’t feelings we should be scared of. Often, they shape us. At the very least, having controversial incidents occur that allow you to talk about the football, be it in a friendly way or a more heated debate, is part and parcel of what makes the game so special. It’s part of it’s lifeblood.

Then enters VAR.

Now it’s crucial to note that VAR hasn’t ended debate in football altogether – talking heads seemingly can’t get enough of discussing ‘whether VAR has worked this time’, but what it has done is shifted the arena of contentious footballing incidents from the interpretation of the action on the pitch, to a swithering discussion about the purpose and processes of VAR itself. The memories of the incidents are muddled with images of referees looking at screens and hand-wringing over whether the ‘correct’ decision was made. The moments of joy, anger, or despair we might witness are dulled by the inevitable period of second-guessing while we wait for VAR to clear the incident.

My issue isn’t that I actively wish for refereeing mistakes to happen; rather, that I see the collateral value in them when they do happen. To use an example I mentioned earlier, as a Scotland fan, there is a certain righteous comfort I take in knowing (well, believing) that Scotland were good enough to qualify, had the World Champions bang to rights, and were just screwed over. In this World Cup, the specific issue that spawned this article was the Spain vs Iran match in which Iran had a goal disallowed that could have ultimately sent them to the knockout rounds and ‘dreamland’.

Group B Iran vs Spain

The whole Iran squad and coaches in ecstasy before their equalising goal was disallowed. Credit: EPA

By the letter of the law, the goal being disallowed was correct, Ezatolahi was offside. All I remember though is what a downer it was. Iran scoring against an – admittedly wilting – historic Spain side would have been memorable enough, to do so to earn a point against them would be even more significant; to do so on the way to progressing to the knockout rounds would have been the most significant moment in Iranian football history, and you could see it in the sheer outpouring of joy from the Iran players and coaches. Five minutes later though, the jobsworths at FIFA had overturned the goal, Spain went on to win, and Iran were later knocked out after another valiant effort against Portugal. A moment of joy became a mere talking point after the game, and while Iranians might won’t forget it for a while, they don’t have the same recourse as before – either the wry enjoyment of getting something past the ref, nor a real controversy to at least hold on to for consolation or motivation. It was the correct decision, there’s not much else to say.

Again, I don’t rub my hands at the prospect of a wrong decision in football, but in cases such as this, I see the value of them. That moment for Iran was a beautiful outpouring that was also truly relatable as a fan – it must be said – of a currently smaller nation. In previous competitions, the fallibility of the officials mixed with the power of the celebrations would have been enough to carry the day for the goal to stand, and I just don’t think that’s a bad thing. It would have been a defining moment of the tournament that would have helped shape it if Iran would have progressed. But no, the fun police were called, and normal service was resumed. It’s part of the obvious worldwide trend towards the automation of work taking the humanity out of society, but football is something that needs it’s humanity to maintain it’s magic.

I have been genuinely disheartened to hear commentators, pundits, and some fans alike praise with relief that VAR has led to the correct decision. Of course it’s good in a sense that the right decisions are made, but this obsession that ‘the correct decision must always be made’ fundamentally people’s relationship with the sport – it’s a space where all aspects of humantity, good or bad, wrong or right can be shown off, and it’s always beautiful in some way.


Hand of God

One of the most infamous, iconic moments in football history. A moment that would have been erased by VAR. Credit: ITV

An opening and closing argument for this is the Hand of God. Of course Maradona cheated, no one disputes that, but it made for one of the most memorable moments in World Cup history, and one that fed in to the aura of Maradona as a roguish nutter-genius. It’s almost anti-football (he literally handballs it) but it’s also a pillar of football experience. If VAR had been in place though, the goal would have been disallowed, Maradona booked, and an iconic match may not be remembered really at all. It whitewashes the game, and while there will be times the reviews will be welcome, it surrenders too much of that humanity away from the sport.

Another element of the game that is a rather dull talking point, again, at this World Cup is how to dissuade players from ‘unsportsmanlike’ behaviour, things like crowding the referee or most notably, diving.

Starting with the element I’m perhaps least protective of, the crowding of the referee has been an ‘issue’ for as long as I can remember. I must say, it’s not something I revel in, and it can be uncomfortable, but I think the hand-wringing over it has reached a bit of a critical mass, especially after the Colombia-England game in which the English pundits were falling over each other to demonise the Colombians. There are two ways to look at this, and the purists want you to see it both ways: either that they were intimidating the ref, or that they were using it as slight of hand to scuff up up the penalty spot. In the latter instance, it’s a bit of clever gamesmanship where the Colombians took the opportunity to try to salvage the situation; not something you would applaud, so to speak, but understandable. It’s harder to defend them intimidating the referee, but I also stop short of condemning them – heaven forbid they get a bit hot after giving away a penalty in a knock out game at the World Cup that was nearly the deathblow of their four-year journey! As bad as it is, the referee was never assaulted or anything, just noised up a bit. The fact that the talking heads want robotic ‘role models’ doesn’t mean you should expect it, and as a football fan, I like seeing some fire from the players.

Colombia v England: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Surrounding the referees, diving, and generally cheap or dirty play was much maligned after the recent Colombia-England game. Credit: Metro

Next up is the monster bug bear of the modern game: diving.

To sound repetitious, I should state that I don’t condone diving, so to speak, but I also see it’s place in the game. Whether we like it or not, fouls and free kicks are a fundamental part of the game, and with football being such a free form of expression, of course players are going to engage with them and try to gain an advantage. It’s an aspect of football that I wouldn’t describe as beautiful as I would others, but I admire the extra element it adds to the game, even if it frustrates me too at times. For me, if someone takes a dive rather than stay on their feet for a viable attack, it doesn’t even really make sense, and when done badly, it certainly looks pathetic. That said, it’s a phenomenon of evolution and not worth existential concerns it creates in some people.

Here’s the thing – it already self-governs to a large extent. The players pundits tear their hair out over for diving, like Neymar especially at this World Cup, aren’t gaining much of an advantage. Those who overdo it, or do it without smarts are well-known and referees often look upon them with extra skepticism. Indeed, earlier in this competition, the deeply unpopular Pepe hit the deck after being overpowered by Diego Costa, stayed down, and wasn’t around to stop Costa scoring his excellent individual goal in that game. Between embarrassment and the risks of doing it, diving doesn’t go unpunished anyway.

That said, a simple solution to help address the issue in a more sensible way. Calls for every single dive to result in a yellow card will never be successful because no one likes dishing out yellows. I think they should be treated as normal fouls and judged on severity. Diving should only be an automatic yellow card if someone is trying to gain a penalty, otherwise, players should get yellows for persistent diving. That’s manageable and not too much of a puritanical solution I think.

There’s a saying that ‘rules are meant to be broken’, but I think something more along the lines of ‘rules are meant to be played with’. Maybe it’s because I love wrestling and Eddie Guerrero, but I admire the attempts of some players to try to gain an advantage for their team by getting one past the referee. Any structure or framework is just that, something man-made that can, and maybe should, be challenged. It’s where the greatest art and expression comes from, and while it may not always be pretty, it’s part of human curiosity, expression, competitiveness, or all of the above.

Think of the football that those with voices and power are trying to create: one where the players are all well behaved, reserve their passions for goals, and any controversy on the pitch is quickly mopped up. It’s not the same – it’s a procession lacking in the imperfections which make the sport accessible to everyone. Rather than aspiring to being kinda crazy geniuses like Cantona, Zidane, or Maradona, the ultimate footballer role-model will be clean, unquestioning cyphers.


When Paul Pogba re-signed with Manchester United for near £90m, it was announced with a hype video cross-over marketing excercise between Pogba, Man Utd, Stormzy, and Adidas. It explains how a player can even be worth that much money in the first place. Credit: Adidas

I don’t think this is accidental. As with everything else, follow the money. The financially bloated, sponsor-dependent cottage industry that football has become doesn’t have much time for true individualism, and certainly not for controversy. It deals increasingly in idealised visions, nothing to do with the actual game but with image – haircuts, kit designs, video game covers, and social media impact. TV stations love being able to spend money on new graphics for goal-line technology and VAR but start wringing their hands after even harmless acts of character, like a delighted flipping the double fingers at the Nigerian fans after surviving their challenge. He got excited and expressed it in his own way, and people are still practically tutting at him. There’s no room for that. Well-behaved, quiet, humble players and clean games are better for the image of the millionaires and billionaires holding the purse-strings.

Even worse is that, those who call for a clean VAR process and demonise ‘dirty’ players take these positions while propping up far worse instances of questionable behaviour and corruption. They throw up their hands about the effect Neymar taking a dive has on the game while sat at a World Cup in Russia, and preparing for one in Qatar, while sat next to stadiums which will barely be used again, that local people were displaced so they could be built.

The World Cup should be hosted around the world in succession for sure (and I plan to write at length about that and related subjects in the near future so won’t expand too much here), but it needs to be done with a genuine understanding that the people want it and will genuinely benefit from it. The World Cups in Brazil, Russia, and Qatar don’t sit right for many different reasons. Brazilians protested with vigour hosting the World Cup, despite their love of football, because they knew they would never see the billions being spent on it again, billions that could go towards improving some of the country’s desperate social and infrastructure issues while this Russian World Cup is seen as a propaganda exercise for Vladimir Putin and his evil, oppressive, intolerant regime. Qatar provides a mixture of both issues. All three will leave their countries and maybe more beyond in worse shape. These are giant, troubling issues that are the real rotten core of the football bureaucracy, not controversy or foul play.


The Maracana, treated during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil like the sacred home of Brazilian football, at a cost of around $500m, now lies practically abandoned and unusable. Credit: AP

On this topic, I see hosting major competitions  like the World Cup as a huge honor and morale boost. It’s not inherently bad as an idea, just in current practice. Scotland will beat England 7-0 in the World Cup final before this happens, probably, but this could be a hugely positive process. If FIFA actually worked with potential hosts in genuine good faith to help fund needed infrastructure improvements, to build stadiums, if necessary, and to only accept proposals which agree to do this in a sustainable way which doesn’t disrupt ordinary people’s lives unreasonably without costing tax-payers too much. Of course it’s possible – those with the coffers have no interest in them being lighter though.

Controversy, and players diving, or acting aggressive is no existential threat to the game, but the continuous inflation of ticket and jersey prices, and the ongoing process of excluding the working classes from the magic of the game is. We can trust the fans, we can trust the players and all of their personal flaws; it’s just those with power in football that we can’t, and that is the real existential threat to the game.


My Disappointment With the Rebirth of Rangers, and Losing Love for My Football Team


Around 18 months ago, I wrote an article here about the St. Louis Rams move to Los Angeles, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the most salient points from it was how some of the magic of football comes from everyone being born in proximity to a team; and in fact, that everyone almost spiritually finds a team as something of a birth rite. In my case, Glasgow Rangers were the team I was born to. That will never change and Rangers will always be “my team”, almost in the way that you can’t remove a birthmark, but I am facing a bit of a crossroads in my fandom that is making me fall out of love with the team, and that I can’t ignore any more. There is a problem with Rangers and it’s culture, and it’s time it get’s challenged more by a progressive fanbase willing to push for a more progressive rebirth of the club.

Being a Rangers fan has been a bit of a blessed experience, certainly at least, in my life time. At it’s height, Rangers have been a significant European power featuring iconic greats like McCoist, Gattuso, Laudrup, Kanchelskis, van Bronckhorst, Gascoigne, De Boer, and so on, won 9 league titles in a row, made it to a Uefa Cup Final, and is one half of what I still feel is the greatest derby match in the world. I would often wonder what the experience of fans of a truly middling club, in the middle of Division 1 or 2 in England was in comparison. It wasn’t all rosy, like with Le Guen’s time, but they were always a power, and felt like a power. As a younger man, less politically engaged, and addicted to that feeling of blissful success, I never really questioned much about the iconography surrounding Rangers. Frankly, I never really paid much attention to it. As the years have gone on, and I’ve talked football with fans of both Rangers and other teams, and when talking about Rangers I’ve defended my team’s culture with some justified refrains:

“What you see is just skin deep.”
“Both Rangers and Celtic have insincere fanbases.”
“There’s bad on both sides.”
“Of course not all Rangers fans are like that – i’m not.”

That last point is both crucial and obvious. People characterise both Rangers and Celtic fans in fairly one-dimensional ways, and it isn’t always justified. In many ways, I am the opposite of a typical Rangers fan: socialist, independence-supporting, anti-monarchy. You can find better, extensive descriptions of how we got here elsewhere, but my view of the “Old Firm” is that each fan-base reacts primarily to each other, and the political/cultural stands that are taken are largely (though not exclusively) paper thin. It’s common sense that there’s nothing drastically different between the actual fans of each teams where they are, to a person, so vastly politically separated; there are progressive Rangers fans, there are xenophobic Celtic fans, and so on and so on. I think Celtic fans (in terms of the common outward symbolism they often share, at least) have a mix of insincere, and even nonsensical allegiances, as well as some positive aspects which are hard to criticise (as much as I hate Celtic as rivals). However, this is the thought process that leaves Rangers off the hook. Both fanbases share divisive nonsense, but I think the culture of Rangers is worse, and one that is not dissuaded enough by the Club as an institution. I have a healthy sporting hatred for Celtic the football team, but they aren’t my team – Rangers are, and as a fan, I need to hold them to account.

The turning of my stomach regarding the culture of my team, Rangers FC, has intensified specifically in the last couple of months. The Orange march is something I’ve always – again – largely ignored, and i’ve probably given it too easy a pass, seeing it as something more silly than problematic. It’s not my thing, but let them march, I guess. To be fair, I’ve seen the positives of it. I used to work in youth work in Sighthill and with one boy in particular who didn’t really have much in his life. He was unspectacular but dying for attention, and as a young lad, got to feel like he was part of something to be proud of when marching. That is undoubtedly positive, but unfortunately, it is tied to a kind of generational violence like most intolerance is. He would sing songs that he heard from his dad and his friends, some of which were fine, but some of which were really not ok, sprinkled with words like ‘Fenian’ and the rest. I would talk to him about the songs, but overcoming that sort of part of a young kid’s life is difficult. In the Ibrox stands, you will sometimes hear these songs (though again, by what is noticeably a minority), and that is something it is nigh-on impossible to control, though they have tried to publicly. That doesn’t change the fact though that there is a definite cross-pollination of that toxicity from the march to the stands. This year, some footage came out and was widely-shared locally of the march as it went down the Broomielaw showing drunken louts, many of whom in Rangers shirts, singing “the Famine is over, why don’t you go home?” – a sentiment aimed at the largely Celtic-alligned Glaswegians of (albeit, often insubstantial) Irish descent to the tune of the absurdly-dressed marchers drumbeat.


Rangers’ choice of orange in previous kits was significant and deliberate. Credit:

As bad as that is, in the past I have given Rangers FC a pass with the somewhat logical position that while the Orange marchers are overwhelmingly Rangers fans, that isn’t something Rangers as a club have real control over. But the reality is that they do, and far from trying to discourage it, if anything, they tacitly support it through their iconography. The red, white, and blue of the home shirt is fine. It’s mainly blue and white and never, in itself, reminds me of the Union flag that is so symbolic of the politics of the loony Orangemen. Even then, there’s nothing inherently wrong with support for the Union, even if I disagree with it. When it comes to sectarianism though, choosing orange as a kit colour is significant, and though the home shirt has never featured it, I have personally owned orange coloured Rangers shirts (namely the 2002 away kit and an orange goalkeeper shirt from around the same time) and orange is a colour that has consistently featured in Rangers away and goalie kits. That is a conscious choice by the club, and one only made to play to the ugly part of the fanbase. Making an orange shirt gives orangemen an excuse to express their societal views through the prism of the team while providing plausible deniability for both fans and team. Admittedly, I think that 2002 kit was the last orange outing, but it’s impact remains. One of the catalysts for writing this was seeing a man wearing this kit recently on the street. You still see it occasionally, and hints that certain fans held on to that shirt due to it’s political significance.

Rangers as an institution don’t avoid orange altogether though. Like all big organisations, they have a carefully curated social media presence, and while most of it is innocuous, bits of Orange Order/Ulster iconography continues to sneak in. Below is an image I saw last week which made my heart sink for several reasons.


Almost parody: begging for royal dominion and complimentary aggressive, divisive images, and all from official Rangers twitter. Credit: Rangers FC

Among the litany of things in this image is the orange-coloured Ulster flag being held by a fan. While the picture I think aims to show the busy, lively atmosphere of a Rangers game (which it absolutely is), I know from my time there that it would be super easy to get a picture without an orange flag in it, and in fact, it’s probably hard to find a flag like that. I won’t go so far as to say without evidence that it was a conscious choice on the Rangers social media team’s part, but it is certainly a reckless from them given what it tacitly waves on through as acceptable and even laudable from fans. This is the public image of Rangers, and there;s an orange flag in it.

More undoubtedly clear through the club’s outward image is the utilisation of the word ‘loyal’. Now of course, loyalty is great, and other teams talk about it too. Unfortunately, when paired with the Ulster/Union flags and iconography, it takes on a more sinister tone and is easily conflated with ‘loyalism’ – the more militant, fundamentalist clique of Unionists. Again, at best, this is careless, but I fear in this case especially that there is a degree of consciousness of what they are doing, playing up to this divisive part of the fanbase. What is worse is the picture below of t-shirts was one I got from the Rangers Youth Development Co., instilling that message in to young fans from the start.


Credit: Rangers FC


A lot of ‘loyalty’, again published by Rangers social media. Credit: Rangers FC

Rangers (alongside Celtic) do work in the community to publicly combat sectarianism, but with all of this use of iconography, I think the club are, at best, unconsciously undermining their efforts, or at worst, deliberately cultivating that part of the some of the fanbase’s identity. Right now, it feels like this sort of imagery will remain part of the Rangers furniture.

The final straw before writing this article was an altogether sadder experience. I work in the east end of Glasgow, and on the bus home with colleagues, we traveled past the Dennistoun location of the Louden Tavern. Said colleagues aren’t big football fans and asked why there were so many people there; and when I mentioned that Celtic were playing Linfield, I of course had to explain why Rangers fans were turning out in such numbers for a different team. For the uninitiated, Linfield are a team from Belfast (the spiritual home of sectarianism) with a traditionally Unionist/Protestant following, and therefore have something of a spiritual bond with Rangers. So when Linfield lined up against Celtic, Rangers fans publicly supported them. On the surface this is fine, but to outsiders, this ridiculous layered proxy war between Rangers and Celtic is just a bizarre turn off. As I was explaining it, it just struck me how pathetic it all was. Jumping at any chance to oppose Celtic, especially when it’s a vessel for a political identity which I think is fairly hollow anyway just made me feel pathetic as a Rangers fan.

In some ways, all of these things seem small, but together, it has created and continues to allow a culture among some of the fanbase that undermines the best of the club overall. I remain convinced that the worst of the fans, when it comes to xenophobia, sectarianism, etc, are a minority, but as in most arenas, the minority have a voice louder than their size, and it has started to dampen my love for the team. No one likes us, and i’ve started to care. Last year, Rangers scored a historic victory over Celtic in the league cup. Their first Old Firm victory in years, and a sign, it seemed, that Rangers were back to relevance. That hasn’t really materialised yet, but at that moment, jumping up and down hugging strangers after a dramatic meaningful victory was (and will always be) a powerful memory for me. That elation though has been ripped away by the consistent visions of the dark side of the Rangers culture, and now, finally, the shite surrounding the club has started to overcome that pure love.

When Rangers were demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football in 2012, it was certainly a justifiable punishment for the club at the administrative level, though it was a tragedy for fans, and I think self-evidently, for Scottish football. The only winners, in the short-term, are Celtic, but while they have dominated Scottish football in the mean time, what real historical significance is there in beating a group of nobodies? Rangers, Celtic, and Scottish football are stronger in an even rivalry, and while they are enjoying the trophies, I think the fans of Celtic have felt a similar way, begrudgingly missing their nemesis. Through this destabilising period though, which was so difficult for Rangers fans, there was, for me, something romantic therein. Many players understandably left, but the likes of Lee McCulloch stayed, Rangers started to base itself on young players, and hungry players drawn to the opportunity to play for the Famous Glasgow Rangers. The quest back to the top was on, and Rangers were suddenly on a journey it was easy to get behind while bringing the aura of such a big club to tiny grounds around Scotland. Though the notion that the Rangers of 2012-onwards is a new club in any real way is a nonsense narrative peddled by gloating rival fans, the journey did feel like something of a rebirth. This was full of potential, but increasingly, Rangers have fallen back in to their old ways.


The world famous Glasgow Rangers playing in the Third Division in front of small crowds on their way back to the top. Credit: Zimbio

So what do I want? I want to reclaim this feeling of a rebirth, keep the history of the club, but show less tolerance for the bullshit sectarian iconography, active or passive. While i’m happy that the likes of Bruno Alves and Niko Kranjčar want to come to the club, and there is limited room for such talented veterans, I would love to see the club return to that 2012-2016 spirit where young Scottish players were the backbone of the squad, led by a club legend like Ally McCoist (as Rangers were for a number of years). Rangers have the facilities and money to pursue this, and even if it extends the length of time for Rangers to truly challenge Celtic, I think that would make for a more admirable club and playing mentality. Thinking of the rise of Swansea which was based on hungry, talented, home-grown players based around an exciting style, this is something I would like to see approximated by Rangers.

But more than that, I think this rebirth could be used as a whole opportunity to build a wider club mentality that really allows fans and even outsiders to “Follow With Pride.” Don’t get me wrong at all, Rangers and the Rangers Charity Foundation do a lot of good charitable work, they could certainly push the boat out more and make that something of their identity. In terms of the Glasgow fishbowl, Rangers don’t do any less than Celtic in terms of charitable work, but Celtic – for whatever reason – are better known for it, perhaps even just publicising it more, and this is something I would like to see Rangers focus on: more charitable work and more promotion of it. When I talk of promotion, I don’t mean just for good PR, but working for a charity in the east end, I see how much Celtic publicise what they do, and how it encourages others to get involved. That is key. The club should be a bastion for the community, and I want to see Rangers doing as much as possible, and lead by example. The fans and community stuck with the team through their plight for the most part, now it’s time for the team to do all it can for the community.

That is fairly vague, but I have a specific desire for Rangers that would address some of it’s aesthetic concerns as well as a specific need on it’s doorstep. Ibrox stadium is in Govan, and Govan is where the majority of asylum seekers who find themselves in Glasgow are based initially. As a result, a collection of new communities and fantastic projects such as the Govan Community Project and Unity have sprung up in the area to address this reality. Football is a powerful medium to swing public opinion more positively, and indeed a number of football teams and projects have done a great job of popularising a welcoming atmosphere for refugees which other professional teams (especially in Germany) have also adopted. Rangers and Ibrox will be an ornamental fixture of life for asylum seekers in Glasgow, at least until they are dispersed throughout the city, and I would love my club, in that context, to make an extra effort to welcome them. There are countless ways you can do this, and it’s not just financial. Fundraising events at Ibrox with club legends, donations of boots to football programmes, celebrating different cultures on match days, and so on and so on.

Rangers have long been associated with the Union flag, and that’s fair enough – I wouldn’t insist on that being wiped away or anything, but as well as the Union flag and the Saltire flying above Ibrox, I would like to see the flags of troubled countries to, in solidarity. Rangers will always be red, white and blue, but rather than that being divisive and unwelcoming, I want the club to be a pillar of the whole community.

While having this crisis of love for my team, I have been wondering how to progress. Should I try to build up shares and try to influence the team in whatever small way I can in that way? Or do I even have the energy?

Though I have plenty of progressive pals who are Rangers fans, I want to tap in to this even more, so in the event that you happen to read this and agree, I would like to hear from you. If there’s a taste for it, I think there’s a gaping need for a progressive Rangers fan group who could try and influence the club a bit. If that’s you, comment below or feel free to tweet me @RTVWOW.

Also, I have now started what I would initially call, a ‘Fan Group’ on Facebook. More information can be found there, but in a nutshell, riffing off the idea of ‘Follow With Pride’, I had the idea of a fan group called ‘Together With Pride’ which would essentially pressure the club to follow the ideas in this article and more. Let’s see how it goes. The link is here.

Leicester City, the Greatest Sporting Achievement of All Time & Snap-Judging the Favourites for Next Year’s Crown


Manager Claudio Ranieri, ‘Captain Morgan’, and their band of unlikely heroes lift the most unlikely of Premier League titles. Credit:

Football has always been my favourite sport – all you need is a ball, and that doesn’t even have to be a ball; and from it all has come memories – both good and bad – which are as vivid as the clearest memories I have. That is why sport is important, and why football is most beloved around the world.

In recent years though, it’s been hard to love it quite as much. While the magic of playing football can never be taken away, the culture of football seemed to be in a constant nosedive. Cynical owners had essentially bought titles for teams of their choice, transfer fees and wage bills continue to rise so high that ticket prices rise to meet them and keep the common fan away from regular matches, the sport’s governing bodies showed themselves rotten to the core – in short, a sport that draws the most love and loyalty across the world, and it’s fans, have been relentlessly abused by those who oversee it. The natural result of this was an apparent exclusive club of competitive teams in the Premier League who, given the conditions, would be the only possible league champions. That is until this year when, without hyperbole, Leicester City have undone them all and struck a blow for true football and justice, while rejecting what just seemed to be expected norms of champions.

I won’t analyse Leiciester and the specific reasons of their victory too much because – as is borne out in the inability of teams to stop them – they almost defy such analysis, but there are some characteristics of their play which spells success, even if opponents are completely aware of what they are up against – something of a perfect storm, though certainly no accident of circumstance.

It reads like a fairytale: Leicester City, having scraped themselves to safety in the Premier League last year, coached by a manager coming off a run of dismissals whose appointment was questioned by many, and players who had either languished in lower leagues or been cast aside by other teams, were up against a league which offers the most TV rights money of any other to top teams and dominated by a small group of teams so rich that challenging them should be insurmountable. But Leicester City did, did so after spending a fraction of the money of their competitors, and did so in style.

In this day and age Leicester City shouldn’t be able to win the Premier League. For teams who survive relegation, their championship becomes staying in the league, maybe finishing surprisingly high, staying out of the relegation fight, and feeling more secure in the division. Everyone at Leicester City was written off, and frankly, in an objective way, rightly so, but cliched as it is, there is no greater motivator than being told ‘you can’t do this’. ‘Motivated’ is just one word to describe Leicester City this year. Ranieri, with nothing expected of him, created an atmosphere where players could believe in themselves, where everyone was equal and no one’s past mattered; the only thing that mattered was playing to your potential, doing your job, and having fun while doing it. With some notable exceptions, even now I don’t think many of the Leicester team are particularly remarkable players or among the best at their position, but they did their job as asked and rarely faltered. Ranieri, formerly a ‘tinkerman’, had evaluated his squad and set them up in a system which played to their strengths and created remarkable football; not parking the bus and fighting for scraps, but playing firm and pressing at the back, siphoning the ball forward in midfield with short passing, and attacking and counter-attacking with pace and precision.

So often in the Premier League, top teams will simply sell and replace unsuccessful players, but at Leicester City, league champion players were created with training, and savvy scouting which found the right players for their role who could be trained to be rock solid in their role. The team as a whole has raised the level of every individual there, the work-rate and passion of the players has made them very hard to break down and out-play, and the chemistry of the players, borne of a unique level of bonding and brotherhood, has given them a consistency to their play which eventually saw off all competitors.Of course, players like Mahrez, Kante, and Vardy are more than just role-players – their creativity and skill helped give them an extra edge against both the most talented and most stubborn players and teams in the league.When a team has everything from motivation, determination, creativity, a free-flowing mentality, and the players and coaches to follow it through, it suddenly feels less shocking that they would win the league.

The real reason I am writing this article though is that, despite the subjectivity and inability to compare successes in different contexts, I believe that Leicester’s achievement is so unlikely and so remarkable that it is quite clearly the greatest sporting achievement of all time.


Advertised as canon-fodder, Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson credit:

League’s are designed as such that victory excludes those that rely on flukes or luck and insists that the winner be the best consistently over the course of an entire season. So as great and memorable as one-time successes like Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, non-league Luton knocking Norwich City out of the FA Cup, or Japan beating South Africa at the rugby world cup are, these are freaks of nature, magical moments that happen once. As special as that is, it doesn’t compare to a team defying the odds time and time again and actually proving a dominance over their competition. So, to my mind, the only achievement that could compete with Leicester’s win would be a similar sort of league-structured victory.

As big an NFL and New York Giants fan as I am, it would be easy to look at their Superbowl XVII victory over the to-date undefeated Patriots, but the truth is, the Giants are a team who had already won two Lombardi trophies before that victory, and as great an achievement as any Superbowl victory, it only comes together after a maximum of twenty games in which you don’t play every other team competing. So as far as i’m concerned, a Superbowl victory is ruled out from this discussion, and that is before even considering the several – laudable – policies in place throughout North American sports which encourage a rough parity of competition and also rule them out of consideration for this honour. It has indeed been fascinating trying to see American sports fans marvel at Leicester City without culturally being unequipped to fully understand the magnitude of the achievement.


John Daly, a rookie unknown, poses with his PGA Championship, credit:

I have also seen some comparisons made to John Daly’s 1991 PGA Championship win. It was certainly a hell of a shocking and remarkable victory. Daly, a rookie, who until then was often not even an also ran, being an alternate for championships before, who only secured a place in the tournament days before when Nick Price dropped out, who had to use Price’s caddy for the championship, and who hadn’t had a chance to practice at the course beforehand, went on to win the championship in most certainly the most incredible golfing victory ever. In terms of odds being against him and the surprise of the victory, he is close to rivaling Leicester, however, when you consider the nature of golf and their tournaments, it falls short. Though it takes consistency to win a golf tournament in a way that largely eliminates any ‘luck’, it still only takes good form over a weekend to succeed, again, as opposed to a whole season. More importantly, in golf, though you play alongside rivals, you control your own ball and aren’t competing directly with anyone – other golfers don’t game plan for you and you don’t have to our smart opponents, you just have to play the best on your own. A team, liable to each other and facing a team that is game-planning for your style and actively trying to stop you succeed, requires much more of an effort in overcoming than simply the playing field alone, and so as impressive as Daly’s achievement was, it simply can’t compare.

So back in the world of football, there are a few achievements that are reminiscent of Leicester City’s Premier League win. Perhaps the most reminiscent is what Brian Clough achieved with Nottingham Forrest between 1976 and 1980. Forrest, as a second tier team, were certainly of similar standing to the Leicester City of last year when Clough took charge, and by getting swiftly promoted and then winning the top tier championship in their first year of promotion, Nottingham Forrest completed a magical, unlikely achievement. This was only surpassed when Forrest went on to win two successive European Championships – the pinnacle of European club football. This, on paper, even surpasses the Leicester victory, but it is important to remember the footballing climate of the time. While this in no way undermines the Nottingham Forrest achievement, the fact is that the financial gulf between not only teams in the top division, but between teams across divisions was nowhere near as large. With the right manager, like a Brian Clough, though it was still a huge challenge, it was much more feasible for a new team to rise up and compete for the first division championship. In fact, when Forrest signed Trevor Francis for £1.15 million, the fee smashed the existing transfer fee record, showing that Forrest, despite coming from the lower league, were more than able to play on level playing field to their competitors. Compare that with Leicester, who were on the fringe of the second tier football last year; their largest transfer fee was just £7 million for Shinji Okazaki, a very small fee for any starting calibre Premier League player, never mind one of it’s strongerst performers. Though Nottingham Forrest’s rise and success is the most reminiscent of Leicester’s then, it still can’t compare because they simply didn’t face the inherent barriers that Leicester faced as a team who had previously barely survived the Premiership.

So what about a more modern footballing achievement? In terms of sheer near-unparalleled achievement, Arsenal’s 2003/04 run in which they dominated the Premier League and went undefeated in doing so will quite possibly never be replicated again. Since the old first division became the Premiership, and the sponsorship money and larger gaps in financial power came in to play, such dominance should have been impossible. Arsenal were no doubt one of those financially blessed teams themselves, but the fact that they never slipped up and lost even once was truly remarkable. That Arsenal performance was truly special, but the only reason it drops in relevance when compared to Leicester City  is that Arsenal were already a strong and very competitive team going in to the season having won twice since 1997 and competed well in years well they fell short. Not only that, but Arsenal built a team around historically great players like Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. When compared with Arsenal, players like Vardy and Mahrez are great, but simply not in the same conversation as Henry and Bergkamp; and Leicester City’s win came out of almost literally nowhere. As amazing as Arsenal’s modern invincibles season was, it was the result of historical momentum and historical talent that Leicester simply didn’t have.

POR: Euro2004 Final: Portugal v Greece

Angelos Charisteas celebrates his unlikely winning goal for Greece in the Euro 2004 final credit:

The final phenomenon that could, to some, challenge Leicester City’s win for greatest sporting achievement is the still surreal happening of Greece winning Euro 2004. Greece, who had only been to two major tournaments in their history and never won a game, showed up in Portugal and went on to grind out results against the likes of Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and finally, the hosts in the final to win the most unlikely international title of all time. Greece were a team of practical nobodies who, like Leicester, played smart, hard-working football (though without the flash of Leicester City), and beat out the giants of Europe. The result was practically an aberration as Greece would never replicate anything like this success again, a success which legitimately shocked the football world. Even compared to Leicester, this team had no expectations of victory. However, despite how anonymous they were, their prospects of victory were still more feasible simple because of the amount of competition they faced. Greece were one of just 16 teams competing for the European crown and only had to play six matches in the tournament. While Greece won the tournament, they did so after a series of shocks coming from eked out victories while Leicester really shone and looked unstoppable over a 38 game season. Greece’s Euro 2004 victory will live on in memory forever, as will Leicester’s, but Leicester’s victory coming over a longer season with more competition means it again edges the Greece victory in terms of level of achievement.

While it’s hard to make such a sweeping statement, the more I think about it, the more I want to double down: Leicester City, coming out of a relegation battle, with cheaper players who had been rejected or ignored previously, and going on to beat out a sizable handful or financially and historically elite teams with flair and apparent ease and from out of nowhere is the greatest sporting achievement of all time. We’re just lucky we all got to witness it.

Snap Preview of the 2016-17 Premiership Season
The 2015-16 Premier League season has indeed been like a fairytale, driven by new contenders playing with youth, passion, and dedication, usurping the historic and financial powerhouses of the league. Now that the winner is determined, the big questions that are rising are can Leicester City and – to a lesser extent – Tottenham, keep a hold of the new young standouts that propelled them to the top of the table, and can they possibly recreate their success next year and in seasons to come?

With that in mind, i’m going to do something I’ve never done before – mainly because my interest in the league had been slowly waning – and preview who I believe to be the likely contenders for the 2016-17 Premier League title and explain why I think they will, or won’t, win the league. Perhaps I’ll overlook an underdog like Leicester City were this year, but hopefully not.

Leicester City
The story of Leicester City’s season was one of consistency, being doubted because of their pedigree, and a slow tide of belief that they might actually go and win. One of the major narratives of the season was that despite their consistency and the length of time they spent as league leaders, there was still skepticism about their ability to follow through; and that seems to be the prevailing thought even know – that yes they won the league, but surely it was a one off.

I’ve written at length about why they won the league this year, so I won’t rehash that, but theoretically at least, there is no reason to imagine they can’t recreate that. Teams had plenty of time this season to ‘work them out’ and didn’t because their system was about consistency, not surprise, so if they can continue to play to their tactics and maintain their work-rate, they should be contenders. The dangers for Leicester will be if other teams are smart enough to adopt aspects of their philosophy, and whether they will have the right players at their disposal to execute their game plan. Indeed, the prevailing question about Leicester City is whether they will be able to keep their key players like Schmeichel, Morgan, Kante, Okazaki, Vardy, and especially Mahrez. If they lose any of these players, they will need to replace them with new players who can play to those standards and with the intangibles of passion, work-rate, and creativity that have made them the difference-makers for the champions.

To my mind though, I think there is an obvious love and passion for the club that, when reciprocated by the fans, played a large role in their success. The team  showed faith in the players and achieved something special, and when you mix faith and success, you will usually create loyalty in your players. Leicester will surely have to offer these key players lucrative and competitive new contracts, but that shouldn’t be a problem given their success, With money presumably not an issue, I don’t see why players would want to leave the reigning champions who will be playing in the Champions League for another team in England, especially given the many flaws and inconsistencies shown by the established ‘Top 4’ teams. Therefore, I think it will take an elite European team such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich to tempt players away, and as good as these players are, perhaps with the exception of Schmeichel, I don’t see those teams being quite interested in them.

I singled out Schmeichel there because having an elite Goalkeeper is near priceless and given his performances, and certainly not hindered by name recognition, there could be interest in him. I don’t see him leaving though. Schmeichel, despite his lineage has had a rough ride of a career until now, playing for teams like Leeds and Notts County before making it back to the top. He has been playing with Leicester for 5 years now and their faith in him, mixed with the success they have brought him, I think will create a strong sense of loyalty in him. That goes even more for Vardy and Morgan. Both have been with Leicester for multiple years in lower leagues, and neither would have imagined the possibility of winning the league. They did that because of their place at the club, and I find it very hard to believe that players who have been on such an incredible, long journey with the club and the fans will have much desire to leave at the height of success.

That leaves Kante, Okazaki, and Mahrez under the microscope. These are Leicester’s most flashy, skillful players who will have caught many a manager’s eye, and they are also the ones who have been with the club for the shortest amount of time, not toiling through the lower leagues with them like the others. Nonetheless, I think the obvious team spirit and bond created at Leicester surely wasn’t lost on them, not to mention, as before, the opportunities that playing for Leicester as champions itself now presents. Even for these players, it is hard to to think of a club with a significantly superior draw than Leicester that would also be particularly interested in the players. Perhaps some of them could leave, but I will be surprised.

I think, personally, that the real danger faced by Leicester is trying to make the sort of preseason moves that may be associated with top clubs: most obviously, high-profile signings. While their big-money rivals will hope to learn from Leicester, there is potentially a danger that Leicester try to behave more like a top club and make impressive signings of players who don’t fit their system. In many ways, it would be ideal is Leicester could just play next season with the exact same squad, but if they are tempted by the transfer market, they have to be careful to respect what this history-making team have achieved, and only buy players who can play the high octane, high effort style that Leicester play while remembering to fulfil their position and role diligently. If they are able to do that, they will be competing again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur themselves would be the fairytale team of the league this year if it wasn’t for the ridiculously unlikely achievement of Leicester City. Tottenham have a rich history and have been fleetingly involved in European football in recent years with the emergence of Gareth Bale, but despite these relatively humble successes, they haven’t been close to a title run in decades. They are also surrounded by similar questions to Leicester City going in to the next year – namely, can they repeat their feat next year and challenge for the title. Interestingly though, the prevailing belief seems to be that they will be in a better position than Leicester, despite losing out in the title race to them this year.

While Leicester showed the consistency of champions, it is hard to argue that there was a team who played to the level of quality as Tottenham at their best. In recent years, Tottenham have always had a fairly neutral disappointing goal difference, but this year they have had, statistically, the most fearsome attack and most sure-handed defence leading to a monster goal difference. Players like Kane, Lloris, Vertonghen, and Erikson have managed to maintain a high-to-incredible level of play while players like Alderweireld, Walker, Rose, Lamela, and Alli have emerged from either lower leagues, other teams, or relative mediocrity to play to the same level. No team has had such rich quality throughout their ranks as Spurs have, and Mauricio Pochettino is seemingly the architect of the flourish. Unfortunately for them, too many draws early in the season before they really found their feet and not quite being able to match the consistency of Leicester when it counted costed them a championship they perhaps objectively deserved.

It will be interesting to see how much difficulty Tottenham face in keeping their squad together because unlike Leicester, there doesn’t seem to be much speculation that they will struggle to. They will surely get tempting offers for Lloris especially and other members of the squad, but something special seems to be going on at the club, and as a Champions League team with a huge new stadium in the works, and increasing financial power, I think Tottenham should be able to hold on to their players, especially now that Pochettino has signed a big new contract extension. He was perhaps the most likely to be pursued by rivals, but it is clear he is building something at Tottenham. That’s something you don’t leave behind, and it’s something that the players will want to stay around for. If they do, Tottenham will keep a very powerful, young and exciting squad.

This season did have a feel though that if they couldn’t win this year, they might not get another chance, and as teams have a preseason to adjust themselves to the approaches of Tottenham and Leicester and perhaps take inspiration from them to close the gap, there are valid reasons to worry that Tottenham might not be able to quite recreate the magic of this year.

But again like Leicester, philosophically at least, if they keep the same quality in their squad, and the same passion and work-rate in their play, there is no reason at all that Tottenham can’t make another strong push for the title. For Tottenham, there aren’t many areas of their squad that can be significantly improved, but what they do need is strength in depth, and if they can add that to their squad without upsetting it, if anything, they’ll be in an even stronger position than this year.

Manchester City
Manchester City are an intriguing prospect, having seemingly forgone any interest in Premier League as they limp to the end of the season while going on an unlikely run in the Champions League. Despite that success though, that seems like a bit of a misnomer if i’m completely honest, Manchester City feel like a team in flux, en route to a new era and major rebuild under incoming headline manager Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is generally seen as the best manager in the world following his long list of achievements at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and he will certainly, again, have a huge transfer budget to play with this preseason. So despite the huge disappointment of this year, City will certainly be considered among the favourites next year.

That said, Guardiola and City have a lot of work to do with a squad which seems old, tired, and listless when compared to how powerful it should be. As good as many of the players there are on paper, there has been a high turnover of starting City players since City became a financial powerhouse, meaning that players have seemed more disposable and their time at City more transitory. In this time, there have been some players such a Hart, Kompany, Silva, Toure, and Aguero who have become stalwarts, and the closest thing to ‘hearts and souls’ of the team possible for such a cynical venture as they have become. But as time goes on, the number of players on that list good enough to anchor a championship winning team has dwindled. Vincent Kompany, once the fiery figurehead of the team, had become injury prone and less effective when able to play, while Silva and Toure have appeared less motivated and consistent; and as good as they are, a team can’t be highly successful in a league with a team anchored by three consistently good to great players in recent stalwarts Hart and Aguero, and newer sensation Kevin De Bruyne.

What it means is that this team, in line with it’s ethos, has to be largely torn apart and rebuilt. Keep Hart, De Bruyne and Aguero, sell the coasting dead weight like Navas, Silva, and Demichelis, and buy at least 4 or 5 hungry, quality players. Guardiola’s name and City’s money will be enough to draw most of any players they have their eye on, and while the potential of a ‘Galacticos’ approach is shaky at best, City themselves have had success with it before.

Nonetheless, even if City make these moves, which isn’t guaranteed, it would be a major rebuild which could quite possibly take more than a season to ‘take’. I don’t think City can win the league with their current squad, and I think a manager like Pep will want to stamp his authority on the side, so I can see this sort of rebuild taking place, so City’s prospects will rest solely on how quickly Pep’s new team can gel, and while I think City will be force eventually under Guardiola, I think there will be enough competition to beat out City as they rebuild next year.

Manchester Utd
Manchester Utd are currently a fascinating team. It is natural that after a legendary manager like Alex Ferguson moved on, that they would go through a period of struggle and rebuilding, but given the recent history of Utd, it has been a period of huge disappointment for the fans, and of schadenfreude for fans of their rivals. In the second half of this season though, something has started happening there that gives them reason to be very hopeful for the future. This season, part of their struggles have come due to a raft of injuries to top players. The rather sizable silver lining of this though has been that Louis Van Gaal has been forced in to select numerous players to his starting eleven from deep in to the Utd youth system. The arrivals of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard, and most explosively, Marcus Rashford, has given Utd a tempo and attacking flair that the side have been sorely missing for the past few years. Giving young prospects starts is something Van Gaal is well-known for regardless, but it’s a pretty safe bet that these players wouldn’t have all gotten their shots so quickly were it not for the injury bug; in fact, the injury bug may have forced Utd to play less like a ‘top’ team, and more like Leicester City did, with youth, passion, and desire.

These three young players have been nothing short of a revelation. They have played to incredible standards at their respective positions and have lit a fire under other established players like Anthony Martial, Antonio Valencia, and even Wayne Rooney who seems to have been playing more freely now that the attacking verve of the team doesn’t run near exclusively through him. The team is still inconsistent and definitely needs more development, but the foundation of these players as well as having a world-class goalkeeper and improving centre-back in Chris Smalling is giving them something to really build on.

With this in mind, this is no time for a change at manager, and Van Gaal deserves one more season to see if this foundation can be built on. Keeping De Gea will be crucial, but if they can do that, add one or two more dominant defenders, and add a bit more youthful, hungry depth to the squad, I think Manchester Utd could be on for a major revival, and quite possibly, a run at the Premier League title.

Arsenal are under consideration here due to their consistent place in the Top 4 in the past decade and the fact that they were, for some time, a legitimate contender for the title before fizzling out shortly after Christmas. Arsenal are a strange team who consistently play quality, flowing football, but who, in recent years have also been – if you will  – consistent in their inconsistency, perhaps keeping faith in players unduly long after they should have been replaced. For years, they have flashed with quality but haven’t been able to maintain it enough to make a serious run, and I don’t see why that would change next year.

Giroud is a good striker, but certainly not good enough consistently, and though Welbeck, Walcott and even Campbell are good, it just feels like they are lacking the sort of transcendent striker that Leicester, Tottenham, City, and maybe Utd have to make them true contenders. That, mixed with a couple of upgrades at the squad’s weakest points – maybe a savvy signing each in defence and midfield replacing the aging Monreal and bringing in competition for Ramsey – could possibly make them more realistic contenders, but their problem is also of attitude.

Fair or not, Arsenal seem to play without urgency for lengthy periods, and don’t seem to have the fire of more successful teams. It is this, more than a few squad changes, that would be key to their next title challenge. Wenger is a great manager, but if he is the problem, it is in this respect.

Chelsea are seemingly a team in no man’s land, at least relative to the recent expectations. Guus Hiddink managed to steady the ship for the most part after the freefall they experienced at the start of the season, but Chelsea have been non-starters this year and a near irrelevance in the league. Like their super-wealthy contemporaries in City, their team just feels tired, and are about to hire a new manager who should rip up the team and start again, and should have the budget to do it. The problem is, Chelsea seem to have even less current talent than City do, haven’t had any sort of European run, and are hiring a manager with much less of a draw than Guardiola. Besides Courtois, Hazard, and maybe Diego Costa, no one really seems irreplaceable, but so invisible has their season been that it’s hard to imagine many top quality players having a huge interest in a move to Stamford Bridge. That all said, Chelsea’s season has been so strange and anonymous that they are a real wildcard for next season.Speaking from a pure hunch though, I just can’t see them building any sort of significant challenge.

Liverpool haven’t really earned consideration as title challengers next year based on their performances this year, but the cult of Klopp mixed with flashes of quality play over this season and Liverpool being in the mix in recent years means they can’t quite be ruled out as contenders.

Though Liverpool have some excellent players such as Coutinho and Firmino, they are lacking the requisite quality to really challenge significantly since Gerrard and especially Suarez left. For teams like Manchester City and Chelsea, I have suggested complete rebuilds in line with their resources and ethos, but for Klopp, I think he will have to rely on his open, fluid managerial style as much as he will on new players. Some new signings will be necessary, but his real job will be to get the most out of some players who still have some potential to live up to; players such as Lallana, Can, Ibe, Benteke and Sturridge all seem to have more to give, and if Klopp can get them playing more naturally and consistently in his system over the course of a proper pre-season regimen, they could improve a great deal.

So without further ado, and purely on instinct, here are where I predict these teams will finish next season:

Predicted Top 6
1) Tottenham Hotspur
2) Manchester Utd
3) Manchester City
4) Leicester City
5) Arsenal
6) Liverpool/Chelsea

Coming Home: A Quick Reflection On Andy Murray’s Wimbledon Victory

Andy Murray, this first British male to lift the Wimbledon singles trophy since 1937. credit,

Andy Murray, this first British male to lift the Wimbledon singles trophy since 1937. credit,

I don’t know what I can say that is more or even equally powerful to the emotional effect, the instinctive reaction of Murray’s win over many people. I myself was in a pub in Kilwinning surrounded by Scots who were starting to believe, ready to pounce on the clement moment of victory before finally being able to, and being clutched by my father in an ecstasy born of 77 years of waiting. It was sport in its purest form, and as pithy as my response is, the weight of that history demands as much documented reaction as possible.

My love of sport, and my belief in it as a medium has given me a few dogmatic and certainly clichéd refrains, one of which is that ‘narrative is the key’ in sport. We clutch stories to our hearts, and, in my experience, its these stories that we remember, interspersed with soundbites and maybe still images – accurate or not – when we think of defining moments in history and even our own lives generally. That is just some of the value of sport, and sport seems to have an uncanny knack for providing the narrative. Today, one of the longest-standing narratives in British sport finally came to a satisfying conclusion. I think it is very safe to call Murray’s win at Wimbledon the most significant moment in British sport since 1966. I don’t know when it started to become an issue, but for my entire lifespan certainly, the wait for the next British winner of the male singles Wimbledon championship has been an ever-present source of intrigue and discomfort for even the usually disinterested Brit. If narrative is indeed the key for great sporting moments, then 77 years of suspense makes for a degree of instant sporting significance.

I think the over-riding feeling was of relief. For year we have been anointing single players as our saviour, with Tim Henman becoming something of a plucky, caricatured British sporting martyr, unable to deliver the championship back to its native land amidst dying cheers of “Come On Tim!” Despite Murray being clearly several levels above Henman in terms of skill, the 77 years of hurt (as t’were) meant that no one ever really considered Murray’s success a fore-gone conclusion. That didn’t dampen the desire for the once polarising player to claim the trophy.

The advert captured not only national feelings surrounding the albatross around Britain’s neck, but also predicted very well the atmosphere when releasing it actually came to pass. One of the most powerful narratives, caught in the advert, and self-evident in sports across the world, is that of the triumphant homecoming. There is something beautiful and instantly relatable about watching someone fight, and win, before their home crowd. I am reminded of the Jim Ross call during the first ever TLC match at Summerslam 2000 accompanying Jeff Hardy (wrestling before his hometown crowd) dragging himself up a ladder, crying “you’re at home son!” That was part of the joy at Murray’s win; not just that we naturally support a British sporting figure, but that no British person has held that particular title, that British title, in so long. That moment of tense, heart-racing, breathless silence was something seemingly uniform across an entire country with the weight on Murray measured in the anticipation of a nation. With this background, the source of joy becomes obvious as, at least figuratively, Murray brought the title home.

Brazil lift the Confederations Cup at home at the Maracana, credit

Brazil lift the Confederations Cup at home at the Maracana, credit

In order to try and stem what may be becoming a drippy love-fest, i’ll move on to frame Murray’s win with another beautiful, recent, sporting moment that I neglected due to my time being at a premium. That caveat in place, i’m talking about Brazil’s recent victory at the Confederation Cup, hosted in Brazil. The ‘homecoming’ theme was strong here – most immediately because the tournament took place in Brazil, but even more because the final itself was at the refurbished and reopened Maracana – a pure and historical sporting cathedral. In the first sporting final in the reopened arena, for Brazil to be involved and succeed there so convincingly was incredibly poetic. And finally, there was a real feeling that the Brazil team who, for a while had floundered in the international rankings and were taking on the undisputed best team in the world and current #1, were returning on the world’s stage before hosting the World Cup next year. Before the tournament, the team had been chastised for not living up to former generations of Brazilian teams; teams that themselves were naturally considered what Spain are now considered – the best team with the most beautiful playing style in the world. Brazil went in as underdogs, but after the glorious, acapella rendition of the Brazilian national anthem at the revitalised Maracana, a feeling came across me that no-one could possibly defeat Brazil in this setting. That feeling was supported with Fred’s goal after 2 minutes and categorically concluded with an emphatic 3-0 victory. Brazil are back, and it was one of the most beautiful events of recent memory for me.

Today was beautiful and will go down in history; and all we need now is another sporting goal for the nation to get behind and feed us a narrative to buy in to wholeheartedly.

Goal-Line Technology: The Right in Being Wronged

The original goal-line scandal in the final of the 1966 World Cup Final, credit to

The original goal-line scandal – Hans Tilkowski watches Geoff Hurst’s shot after it clatters off the crossbar to the ground in the final of the 1966 World Cup Final, credit to

In any sport, the idea is for the superior individual or team to use their superior talent and tactics to overcome challengers to win games, and ultimately, championships. That competition, and the conclusion where ‘the best team wins’ is surely the essence of sport in its purest sense, and so, equally surely, if anything gets in the way of that zenith, it should be unwelcome, right?

This is where, most recently, Bradford City fans would start to cough awkwardly, as their team were the protagonists in arguably the most feel-good story of British football this year, defying critics, better teams, and the odds to make the fabled trip to Wembley for the League Cup final. Not at all to diminish the Bantams’ achievement (indeed, to laud it more), with the best will in the world, Bradford City were certainly not the superior talent over most of the teams they defeated to get there which included no fewer than three Premier League teams. If sport was as narrowly deterministic as that first, ‘pure’ definition, then Bradford City would have no place in that game and the final would be just another Manchester derby for just another trophy. Bradford City, and fans of the countless teams with historic upsets under their belt, are surely very happy that their is more to sport than the best team winning. Immediately, this seems to have very little relation to the goal-line issue, but the relation starts to become clear when you realise why we treasure these moments so much, the reason why sport is a treasured arena rather than a bland annual talent contest – the story.

While a sportsman or team performing to their fullest and ‘reaching the mountaintop’ is a great, inspiring story, it is just one of almost countless stories; and though Bradford City’s success owes nothing to the lack of goal line technology, their story shows that there are interesting alternatives to stories of ‘pure’ sporting greatness. Bradford City’s was one of giant killing; underdogs bloodying their betters and giving unfulfilled fans something to finally cheer for but the stories seem countless – local rivals facing off for bragging rights in a match which would otherwise create few waves on the footballing world, former players returning to the grounds of their abandoned former team, a country in need of a confidence boost being provided with it by a big win. None of these stories require the best team to win, or amazing skill, and neither do they represent the full spectrum of stories. This is where Andy Kaufman, and his personal approach to entertainment comes in.

For every triumph like the one described, there is a victim or an antagonist – it must be so. What it is important to remember though, is that the horrible, sinking feeling, or anger in some cases, felt after being on the wrong end of a great sporting story, is no less valuable an experience. Andy Kaufman is a hero of mine in his originality, bravery, and commitment to his art, whatever you would describe his art to be. Notorious for never ever … ever breaking character (to the point where very few people actually have an idea of the real Andy Kaufman was like, and where many believe him to have faked his own death), you wont find an interview where Andy himself theorised on what he did. Thankfully, for those not well-enough versed in Kaufman to see it as self-evident, his best friend and sometimes writing partner, Bob Zmuda explains Andy’s approach to entertainment succinctly in in his book Andy Kaufman Revealed:

“It’s not that Andy disliked his audiences; on the contrary, he loved them, but he sought to redefine the relationship between a performer and the crowd before whom he or she stood. Andy’s goal was to foster an environment where neither the audience nor the performer had any expectations from one another. That sounds impractical, if not ridiculous – entertainers entertain – but on many occasions I saw Andy take the stage to face a happily expectant group only to leave then irritated, confused, angry, even infuriated. But never, ever bored. Even after he broomed the Improv with the full Gatsby routine, people returned to see what Kaufman was going to do next.”

Once again, you may ask what on Earth tis has to do with goal-line technology, but once again, the answer is closer than you think. While Andy Kaufman had his fair share of crowd-pleasing, funny routines which made his audience smile and laugh hysterically, he also believed that ‘entertainers’ only catered to a small part of the audiences needs by desperately trying to please them and be liked; he understood that confusion, despair and anger were incredibly valuable emotions to be encouraged as the very experience of emoting on such a high plain was something life-affirming and something much more memorable than sitting there half-chuckling at uninspired ‘routines’. It is said that Kaufman even enjoyed being angry – and it is certainly true that moments of fury can be a tonic for the senses, and even the catalyst for greatness (see CM Punk’s infamous ‘Pipebomb’ promo or Howard Beale’s ‘Mad as Hell’ monologue in the masterful movie ‘Network’). This is what we feel when we are on the wrong end of an officiating decision in football, or sport generally – fury, indignation, and an even more insatiable need for justice, be it later in that game, or in future games.

But one thing is for sure, those moments, captured in some of the most memorable snapshots in sporting history, are never forgotten. They are the source of righteous “what if” rants that give extra purpose to wronged supporters for years to come, as well as coy or even smug delight at ‘getting one over’ your rivals. Now imagine a world where these controversies are eliminated, where the fifth goal in the 66 final is just another goal, rather than still an unresolved topic of debate; or where England fans couldn’t still cling on to the notion that if Lampard’s goal against Germany in 2010 would have counted, it could have completely changed the game and it was just an impressive goal, forgotten about after the tournament. I think it would be pig-headed not to admit that something would be lost from the game in such circumstances.

Indignation over Lampard's non-goal, credit

Indignation over Lampard’s non-goal, credit

One of Kaufman’s most iconic characters was Tony Clifton, apparently based on a real person though this has never been verified, a broken down, has-been club singer with a penchant for offending the entire audience, there for a pleasant evening’s entertainment. In a particularly trollish part of his routine, the MC for the evening would ask that all patrons extinguish their cigarettes and cigars or else Tony would not perform due to his “delicate vocal chords”. After everyone had grudgingly done this (sometimes with expensive cigars), Clifton would burst out on stage with a cigarette in his mouth to begin a set of terrible singing and non-stop insults. While this is intentional bating, and the officials in these games make honest mistake, they are the objects for the same ire – the linesman at Wembley is Tony Clifton, the Uruguayan referee in 2010 is Tony Clifton just as Luis Suarez is Tony Clifton. They are infuriating, but they make the game far more interesting than it would be without them.

(The essence of Tony Clifton, sullying sleepy daytime television with his disgraceful behaviour)

And as ever, the story is king. For every wrong done to a team or sportsman comes an impetus for sweet justice, and it was perhaps the sweetest karma that 44 years after Geoff Hurst was awarded a goal that probably shouldn’t have been awarded against Germany, Frank Lampard’s goal against the Germans was not awarded. And surely the next times England face Germany, they would relish a similar decision in their favour as payback.

This, however, will not be possible, thanks to the onset of goal-line technology.

The science will outweigh the story, and the spectators. The lifeblood of football is the people. One of the reasons it is so beloved and followed is it’s simplicity, and how it can be played and enjoyed by basically anyone with a ball and some friends. You don’t need a special ball or goalposts to get the ‘full experience’ and it is indeed an earthy, human experience, prone to flashes of human brilliance, exemplified in the Messianic figure of Maradonna, flashes of human controversy, exemplified in the Messianic figure of Eric Cantona, and flashes of human fallibility in the not-so-Messianic figures of match officials. And though I’m not pretending that goal-line controversies are the be-all-and-end-all of this element of football, it is a much unwanted blot on its copybook. The idea of a piece of technology playing arbitrator in this human experience, and robbing us fans of such succulent stories so Sky Sports and ESPN can simultaneously add to the glitz of their presentation (they will no doubt have on-screen alerts whenever a goal is scored) while detracting from the talking points and punditry makes me feel very uneasy.

And while I realise the irony of championing controversy for the emotional effect it can have by trashing a controversy due to my emotional response, this isn’t the same – its the relentless marching of progress for progress’s sake. Once it is implemented, it will no longer be a source of debate, it will just be a source of resigned sadness for a sport which is being cleansed of its grubby parts which make it so interesting, and slowly becoming less and less a spectacle of and for people.