Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Does promotion represent Blue Sky thinking or a Sky Blue problem for Coventry?

It's a bit confusing being a Coventry City fan at the moment. On the one hand, the team and manager are putting together some truly amazing results and playing the sort of football that we've rarely been accustomed to since I can remember.

On the other, the team are still playing 35 miles outside of Coventry with little support, some fans are choosing to fight each other in vicious bouts of catcalling and abuse in forums (and on TV), and there is still no way of knowing whether we will be building a new stadium or returning to the old one.

It may be tempting to try and detach these two schools of thought from one another. If the team is playing well and winning games, it becomes natural to use that as a mental escape from the financial and political quagmire the club has found itself flailing around in. If Steven Pressley has achieved these results whilst playing quality football and having to play at Sixfields then that must be some consolation for our predicament, and maybe it shouldn't be sullied by linking the good with the bad, and even the downright ugly.

Given our good start to the season, I was of this opinion. Keep the footballing side of the Sky Blue roller-coaster on one side, while the Sisu/ACL/council debacle can sit firmly on the other side. Any other way of looking at it would be to complete the self-fulfilling prophecy of being a pessimistic Coventry City fan, and our new footballing-dawn should deserve better than that.

However, given our good start to the season this view becomes a little complicated.

We need to talk about promotion. What a glorious feeling it is, especially given the 10-point deduction, to be sitting in 11th place, three points from the play-offs and with the best form in the league. While it is a somewhat rub-your-eyes-and-blink-a-few-times feeling, it also begs the question: what happens if we do earn promotion?

Let's start with the facts. As things stand, regardless of any talks between Joy Seppala and Ann Lucas, we are at Sixfields until a new stadium is built in the Coventry area for the club to return to, or we return to the Ricoh. The two have been reported to have been engaged in talks over a freehold sale of the stadium by the ever-reliable Coventry Telegraph, but these are early days and nothing remains bought or sold yet.

So unless the talks are successful and the team return to the Ricoh, that means a stay of up to five years in Northampton until a new stadium is built by which time, if current form is anything to go by, we may well have been promoted.

And if we are still playing at Sixfields, I can foresee a few problems with the idea of promotion.

For a recent Championship club, the smallest stadium has been that of Scunthorpe United (Glanford Park) which has a capacity of 9,088. Their average attendance for that final year in the Championship was 5,547. Coventry's average for this year so far at Sixfields is 2,239. Even with a return to the Championship, it is hard to see crowds increasing at Sixfields due to either an unaffordable match-day experience, or continued staunch stances on watching the team at a stadium they shouldn't be playing in.

Watched on by their average of 5,547 fans, Scunthorpe were relegated after two seasons in the second tier of English football in 2011. With such low incoming revenues, challenging the elite of the Championship, especially those who were living in another realm of financial capability due to ongoing parachute-payments from the Premier League must have been nigh-on impossible for two seasons, let alone if they were trying to establish themselves as a steady, second-tier club for a number of campaigns.

As well as poorer crowds than Scunthorpe were accustomed to, the Sky Blues have to deal with losing money due to renting Sixfields from Northampton Town. With no income visible to the naked eye, the thought of improving the squad or offering better contracts seems implausible.

The point remains that if Coventry are to stay at Sixfields for the remainder of the three-five years, would promotion be a hindrance rather than a advantage? With limited revenue from many fans whom I am sure would stay away due to their strong beliefs on the matter, and the players (and manager) on show in a bigger shop window, there is every chance that promotion may just mean another relegation, but this time with more key players being lost and a talented manager being tempted away.

That is not to say this would not happen if we were back at the Ricoh. It would however mean we would be better equipped to deal with the new realities of an increasingly stronger second-tier, financially and support-wise. Regardless of your thoughts on Sisu and their attempted occupation of the Ricoh, the fact is that the club, team, and supporters would be better off if the company owned the stadium. If that means they choose to sell on the club with the stadium to interested bidders, or continue running the club with the valuable match-day revenues minus the extortionate rent payments that were expected  by ACL and the council, so be it. It may not be an ideal situation given their history, but it is the most attractive looking option for the club at the present time.

I am no Sisu apologist. Nor am I an ACL/council one. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if (and it is an 'if', with more than half the season to go) Coventry get promoted, we would need to be back in the Ricoh.

So fingers crossed that talks between Lucas and Seppala go well. Because the result might just mean that we Coventry fans can start to reconcile the business and the footballing side of supporting our club.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Football Manager 2014: The (Coventry) Review

So it happened.

After saying to myself I wouldn't buy the new Football Manager and would instead ask for it as a Christmas present to save money...

I went and bought the t'ing. A quick peruse of the Steam store to see when it was actually out revealed the Beta version was available and ready to purchase. Two minutes later it was in my library waiting to download. Ye tempting mistress, ye.

Seeing as I have been playing the game for about a week now and my gameplay stands at 11 hours, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts so far.

Of course, I started my season as the mighty Coventry City. With Sunday League experience set (I like to make-believe in the game-world that I won a fan competition to manage the club, a Doncaster-esque stunt that couldn't possibly go wrong), for extra realism, I set about trying to reverse the fortunes of the once-glorious Sky Blues.

The first thing I was struck by was the fact that instead of a club chairman speaking down to me from his perch, I was being contacted by... an administrator! Not having purchased FM 2013, I was unsure of whether this was a new feature. Nonetheless, it was a welcome bit of realism that helps to immerse yourself even deeper in the fabric of your faux-footballing dreamland.

The less-fantastic-bit-of-realism I had to contend with was the fact that the club and I were starting on -10 points. I don't know why I was so surprised to see art imitating life but again, I have never been put in this situation by FM before, so the experience was novel (if a pain in the arse).

With the administrator dictating my transfer market dealings, it's fair to say the 'ins' list was pretty slim. In fact, until the last week of the transfer window, I had made zero signings. There was no excess wage budget, and in fact, I was told to decrease the wage budget by £10,000. Which, er, might not have happened yet. I'm working on it Mr. Administrator, I promise.

Three young Premier League apprentices came in on loan during the last week of the window for cover, with their wages being paid for by their parent club (obviously).

And then the unthinkable happened. The club's best player and most handsome prospect, Cyrus Christie, was sold without my permission.

I say this like I had a choice; every bit of transfer news comes to me with the line 'Due to the club's financial situation, all offers are being considered by administrators.' So off Cyrus went, for a paltry £400,000. To Bournemouth.

Fucking... Bournemouth? Livid. He didn't so much as give me a backward glance, citing the breakdown of our relationship because I refused to let him speak to Leicester. I do have some principles.

More disaster arrived in the form of the first choice 'keeper, Joe Murphy. He tried to hand in a transfer request but I rejected it. He then refused to speak to me anymore. So in goal went young Lee Burge, and to be honest I feared for the young lad. Was it too soon? How would he cope with the pressure of League One? In a tightly fought 1-0 loss, he got man of the match. I had found a new number one! Murphy could leave for all I cared, off the wage bill and we'd recoup some money.

But nothing in FM is ever that easy. No-one wanted him. Bournemouth (bloody... Bournemouth?!) had an offer accepted, but Murphy refused to play ball. He wanted a better basic salary. So now I have a depressed substitute goalkeeper on the bench.

So the man-management could use a little work, but I have been improving. When Conor Thomas came to me with concerns about the club's financial situation, I told him it's all okay; as long as we get behind the club we can help to make a difference. He seemed happy to hear that, and was remarkably unconcerned by my sweating, crossed-fingers and desk strewn with receipts.

But enough of my problems. How does the game actually play?

It has been a steep learning curve so far. Getting to grips with the new positions available to set the players as has been a trial and error affair as well. Do I play Franck Moussa as an enganche (fancy, right?) or a bog-standard attacking midfielder? Early signs are he can do an impressive job as the hook (the bog-standard word for enganche) and is equally adept at playing on the left as an inside-forward, where I think I prefer his contribution. Which is arguably how he has played for Coventry this season, moving inside from the left and lighting up the middle with rocket shots and an eye for the killer ball.

And this is another interesting point to note with regards to the new game. Sometimes in past editions of the franchise it has felt as if the lower-leagues are ignored a bit and the players are simply slapped with a random playing style/position from out of a hat. Early signs playing with Coventry are encouraging: Conor Thomas is a revelation in the ball-winning-midfielder role and John Fleck is the Beauty to Thomas' Beast as the deep-lying-midfielder. Another case of art imitating life for those who have seen City play this season.

What does this mean for the game? Well, for one, it feels more realistic. The team I've moulded is very similar to Steven Pressley's impressive side this season, and have been getting decent results. Compared to previous editions when I've tried to imitate real-life Coventry tactics (it could be argued we didn't have a clear identity then as we do now, though), the results have been disastrous; I just started from scratch again and picked my own formation.

I have to applaud the developers and the scouts and everyone involved with FM 2014 on the game. I may have only played 11 hours so far, but it is very impressive. When I'm playing, it doesn't feel like I'm pitting my wits against the algorithms of the game engine, it feels like I'm engaged in tactical warfare with the man in the adjacent virtual dugout: mano-y-mano, in a game of who-changes-to-4-4-2 first.

The only issue I have so far is a minor, minor one. But still, it has to be raised.

Mathieu Manset's preferred role is as a 'false nine'? Maybe they thought he was called Matheo Manjarin instead.

You'll stay as my back up target-man Mathieu, thank you very much. While I'm still on -3 points we can't be having any of that silly Spanish nonsense now, can we?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Summer spending signals inflation, not intention

The recent summer spending by Swansea, Southampton, and Sunderland has seen a glut of commentators queuing up to marvel at how the middle-men of English football now seem to have made moves of real intent by flashing the cash in their preparations for next season.

All three have recently made 'big-money' signings, with Swansea sealing a move for Wilfried Bony, Southampton signing Victor Wanyama, and Sunderland managing to snag Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore.

Many have made their opinion known that all these signings represent brilliant transfer coups for the clubs involved, and that we may finally see a more equally-matched Premier League, wherein smaller clubs can flex significant financial muscle and even outfox the big guns to secure signings. After all, Wanyama was apparently targeted by Manchester United and Arsenal at one point, while Brendan Rodgers seemed to show interest in Bony to remedy his Luis Suarez crisis.

As romantic and welcome as this notion is, it seems somewhat forced.

Yes, there is no doubt that the three clubs have spent a significant amount of money to get their men (Swansea's club-record £12m fee for Bony nearly matches Arsenal's second highest transfer fee, £13m for Sylvain Wiltord. Sacré bleu!) but when viewed within the wider context that is the Premier League summer transfer window, their spending is minimal.

Chelsea and Manchester City have already spent £30m and £50m respectively on only two players each, while rumours abound that Manchester United and Arsenal are about to smash their club-record transfer fees to sign their targets. Compared with these amounts, £12m begins to look like a pittance.

The relative quality of the players seems to dispel this idea as well. Of the four signings (Bony, Wanyama, Giaccherini and Altidore) only Giaccherini seems to have the international and title winning experience that would represent a 'major' coup for any of the three clubs. He is a back-to-back Scudetto winner, and was recently one of Italy's stand-out players at the 2013 Confederations Cup. Bizarrely, he was also the least expensive player of the quartet.

Bony and Altidore meanwhile, both had incredibly impressive goalscoring seasons, but both were playing in the Eredivisie, a league that has declined noticeably in quality over the last 15-20 years. Neither was part of a title winning team, although Altidore did manage to win the Dutch Cup with AZ Alkmaar.

Finally, Wanyama has spent his career in Belgium and Scotland, and although he performed extremely well in Celtic's Champions League campaign last term, he is still comparatively untested as a footballer compared to the Top Four's transfer targets.

This is not to say that these signings do not represent very good pieces of business for their managers. All four are young, obviously talented footballers, who should improve as they get older and will possibly attract the attention of 'bigger clubs'.

What is not true however, is that the acquisition of the players signals 'intent'.

Their transfer fees (£12m for Bony, £12.5m for Wanyama, £8.8m for Altidore and £6.6m for Giaccherini) are, with the possible exception of Giaccherini, an indication of the inflation that the transfer market has suffered in recent years.

£12m used to get you a European Championship winner, World Cup finalist, and French Footballer of the Year.

Not any more.

Living the dream

I recently got to undertake a work experience placement at Metro in London, where I was plonked on the sports desk with a group of sports fanatics who welcomed me into their fold for a brief five day period.

It was awesome.

But now, if I never make it into the world of sports journalism, I am going to be one sad blogger.

Anyway, the point of this post was to give a link to all the articles I managed to get up on the Metro website during my time there. There's a mixture of transfer-rumours and funny stuff in there, with a couple of blogs thrown in for good measure (including one on Coventry City. Hooray!)



Thursday, 23 May 2013

Football: Kicking the habit of prejudice

I suppose what shocked me most about yesterday's horrific events in Woolwich was not the dire press coverage that near enough incited Twitter and Facebook riots (for cockney accented non Middle-Eastern man spouting Islamic hatred, read: 'Muslim looking'); but the backlash against Muslims living in the United Kingdom that this sad case seemed to invoke. My social network feeds were clogged with people having their say on the matter: from individuals appealing for calm, to others claiming we should take back the country we live in and deport all Islamic persons, or in more extreme cases, kill them.

It is very true that the thoughts should be with the soldier who was brutally murdered yesterday, and his family for having to deal with such a tragedy. So it is a shame that this event has been misconstrued as a chance to deal out ultimatums to the government about how we should cloister ourselves in our own little island bubble and not let any foreigners in.

I created this blog to talk about football, and in particular I feel the incident yesterday and the feelings that have stemmed from it can be linked with a film I watched the other day.

This film was a documentary that aired at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, and its rights were subsequently bought by ESPN for distribution. The film, Kicking It, is a feature that follows the events of the 2006 Homeless World Cup. The Homeless World Cup was the brainchild of Mel Young, a social entrepreneur who takes a special interest in helping the homeless people of the world.  The Homeless World Cup is open to all countries in the world, and the criteria for playing in the tournament are players must:

  • Be male or female and at least 16 years old at the time of the tournament
  • Have not taken part in previous Homeless World Cup tournaments
  • Have been homeless at some point after the previous year's tournament in accordance with the national definition of homelessness
  • Make their main living income as a streetpaper vendor
  • Be asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status a year before the event
  • Currently be in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and also have been homeless at some point in the past two years

Many of you will be asking what this has to do with yesterday's events. Kicking It  follows seven different players who are to take part in the tournament and charts their progress throughout the film. Of most note to myself was the story of Najib, from Afghanistan. Throughout the film, Najib tells us how he fears the Taliban will come back and assert their rule over Afghanistan once more. On the streets of South Africa, he wishes that he lived in a country that had more freedom: not just for him, but women as well.

One of the film's more moving subplots involves him striking up a romance with a Paraguayan girl, something he remarks would never be possible in Afghanistan. They do not speak each other's language, and communicate through interpreters. You can sense that this is one of the happiest moments of Najib's life.

Najib is Muslim. Yet he has the same hopes and dreams of many young men in this world: to live in a land free from oppression and fear, to meet a girl and fall in love, and to play football. How does that differ from any number of teenage boys in the UK? But looking at comments across Facebook and Twitter yesterday, it was clear that this was not a view shared by some. On one particularly heated debate, someone remarked:

'lets have it straight there a bunch of corrupt, greedy, dirty fuckin scum bags, look Iraw and Afghanistan, Muslim countries, your tellin me the country's is in that much of fuckin state be because of a minority!! It's in there nature, fuckin cunts!!! [sic]'

I have come to believe that sport, in particular football, can be a powerful agent in social change and social thinking. After watching Kicking It, I think it is inconceivable that anyone could watch this film and not see themselves in Najib. He wishes for a normal life. He just happens to be Muslim and Middle-Eastern, and not Christian and White like many people in Britain.

Anyone who seems to harbour such views, that Islam and Muslims are alien and violence is 'in their nature', I implore you to watch Kicking It. I only hope that more films like this can be released, on a wider scale, to show up the idiots and teach them that 'different' does not mean 'danger'.

Hopefully, the penny will begin to drop. People like Najib show us that in most cases, race and religion should not mark you out for hatred and prejudice. In fact, aside from those two differences, we're not that different at all.

Monday, 22 April 2013

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Luis Suárez?

He may have already won the PFA Player's Player of the Year award (the votes were sent in before Liverpool's clash with Chelsea on Sunday afternoon), and if it is revealed he has earned the respect of his fellow footballers at at the end of the season, the FA will undoubtedly be left red-faced as the controversial Uruguayan has caused outrage in the Premier League yet again with his apparent attempt to bite Branislav Ivanović.

Obviously, within the last 24 hours there have been innumerable calls to ban and fine the 26 year old attacker, and people are well within their rights to wish this. The video footage is damning, and Suárez of course has previous history in using his teeth to harm an opponent; many of you will remember that he sank his teeth into Ottman Bakkal during his days in the Eredivisie with Ajax. It goes without saying that this kind of behaviour is inexcusable on the football pitch, and many would not bat an eyelid were Liverpool to say 'enough is enough' and move the South American on for a giant fee in the summer.

To do so would be a huge mistake. My problem with this idea of Suárez is that many feel that he is a Machiavellian malefactor, always looking to cause trouble, incite mayhem, and endanger the game of football. This is definitely not the case. I doubt there is a professional player on earth who contains a pathological desire to play in such a way, and it certainly isn't Suárez.

His is an enviable talent; his close control is an absolute joy to behold, his movement is as swift and deadly as a rattlesnake, and his penchant for the outrageous and unthinkable are the reason Liverpool have looked more threatening this term. His problem however, seems to lie with a case of a quick temper, and seeming ignorance of the world around him whenever he steps on the football pitch.

Growing up playing as such a nimble trickster would no doubt have bought fouls in from every angle, and the retaliation that Suárez is accustomed to dishing out is a manifestation of this. We in England saw the same problem with one of our own young, sparkling talents, Wayne Rooney. Cast your minds back to the World Cup in Germany, 2006, and the quarter-final against Portugal. Rooney tries to fight his way past a persistent Ricardo Carvalho who tugs and tugs at the white England shirt until Rooney can take no more. In retaliation and frustration, he plants his foot between the legs of the Portuguese defender, in an act that made men around the world wince, regardless of nationality.

He was a young man who saw the red mist far too frequently, and it is a credit to Sir Alex Ferguson and the Manchester United management that he has managed in recent years to reign in the raging temper within. Without them, it could be argued Rooney would have descended down a long path to self-destruction on the football field, an erratic talent that some would deem to volatile to deal with.

Which brings me back to Suárez. What is clear from his violent and dangerous outbursts is that he has a clear problem with controlling his anger on the football pitch. When things are going right for him, there is no smile bigger than his on the pitch. But when he is having a frustrating afternoon, it feels as if the papers are on their haunches in anticipation, ready to pounce and prepare their headlines for the following morning's sport sections.

I honestly believe it is a matter of education for Luis Suárez. I don't see evidence that any manager in his past has actively tried to deal with his anger problem, which is a sad indictment on modern football. Either they were too scared to try, for fear of offending him and losing him to another club, or for fear of nullifying the unpredictable spark that sets him off like a whirling, shrieking Catherine wheel on the football pitch. This is set to be a testing time for Brendan Rodgers, his current manager, who wishes to start a new dynasty of success at Anfield. Aiming to sort Suárez out should be his number one priority.

For the Premier League's sake, I hope Rodgers has the ability and bravery to stick with Suárez and try to educate him in a better way. Anger management courses, one-to-one talks to remind him of the fact he is a role model, family interventions - whatever it takes. It would be too sad to see such a great talent go to waste when we should instead be aiming to help him better himself; not just as a footballer, but as a man.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Michael Owen: Thanks for the Memories

When I was nine years old, my family and I went to Fuerteventura on holiday. I hadn't really gotten into football at this point; while I played for a local football team, I wasn't a fervent follower of the game as most of my friends were, and didn't really care to watch any games on the telly when they were on.

One of the key moments that set me off on a love of football was a game which will remain etched in the memories of many an Englishman as one of the finest nights that we have ever witnessed as Three Lion's devotees. And it was in a bar in Fuertaventura at nine years old that I witnessed a rampant England side destroy Germany by four goals. Michael Owen, who announced his retirement today, scored a hat-trick. And in that bar, whilst Owen experienced the euphoria of netting three goals for his country, I fell in love with football.

I expect many people of my generation will feel a tie to Owen; while we were growing up and learning the ways of the game, he was making a name for himself at Liverpool and on the international scene. Everyone loved Owen at school; he scored goals (lots of them), and he was a exemplary role model for anyone who loved playing football. Polite and down-to-earth, you would have never guessed he played for a top Premier League club.

And just as we were on the cusp of realising that we will never get to play for our country, or even for a team better than our own village outfit, Owen started to succumb to the injuries that sadly blighted his career in what should have been his peak years. After scoring 118 goals in 216 appearances for Liverpool, he moved to Real Madrid, where it must still be said he scored a respectable amount of goals for the amount of appearances he made from the bench (13 in 36 games), but after that is where the hamstring problems which he suffered from since his years at Liverpool began to rob him of playing time both domestically and internationally. His move to Newcastle United was interrupted by a cruciate injury which kept him out for nearly a year, and many on Tyneside were happy to see the back of him after he left. I was on hand to see him score one of his goals for Newcastle at the RICOH arena when he popped up to score an injury-time winner to send Coventry out of the League Cup. Heart-breaking though it might have been, I'm eternally glad I got to see him score a goal in the flesh.

After the departure from Newcastle, there was no real hope of Owen ever establishing himself on the international scene again. His record of 40 goals in 89 England appearances was remarkable, nearly a one in two ratio, and had he been able to shake off the injuries he incurred, there is no doubt he would have been the country's top marksmen ever. For all the scepticism over his Premier League career as well, he is the league's seventh highest scorer, and doesn't look like being overtaken any time soon.

The out-of-the-blue contract offer from Manchester United in 2009 caught many by surprise, but again, Owen was able to score goals for the Red Devils, including a crucial goal in the Manchester derby that I doubt many people (except City fans) would not have been delighted to see him score.

What next for Owen then? As is common knowledge, his connections within the horse racing scene should keep him busy, but I suspect he will want to come back to football at some point. I can't see him coaching or managing, but a job within the media looks increasingly likely. Unfortunately, on the few times I have seen him as a pundit, he doesn't seem to come across as an engaging individual. However, on his Twitter account and blog, he remains a reliable source of clever and insightful views on the game, and a humble one to boot. It should not be viewed as a great failure if he doesn't step into television punditry; some people use their voice and mind far greater through writing than their mouths (advice I wish some pundits would take nowadays, and accept that just because they appeared on TV as a player does not mean they can appear as a personality to the same effect), and I believe Owen might be one of these people.

Whatever he decides to do, I know that countless tributes to him will be pouring in across the country, and abroad too. Owen was once the best in the world at what he did; he lit up games with his lightning pace and predatory finishing, and I really do hope he manages to score just a few more for Stoke this season if he is given a chance.

It may be tempting to ask what might have been if he could have kept fit, but to do so would be doing a disservice to him and his career; his footballing candle may have burnt quickly, but it burnt brightly, and while he is still on Stoke's books, I wouldn't bet against there being a few sparkling embers before he hangs up his boots at the end of the season.

Good luck, Michael!

Friday, 1 March 2013

Terrace Tongue-Twisting

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be invited to Craven Cottage to watch the Premier League clash between Fulham and Stoke. Many (probably all) of you will read that and think 'lucky?!', but it did contain one of the goals of the season - a sumptuous Berbatov volley - and it was great to go to a  gorgeous ground I hadn't been to before and spend a fantastic day in the company of some die-hard Fulham fans.

One thing that did strike me during one of the chants that was ringing out around the Cottage was how unintentionally funny one of football's staple songs can be. Listen in around football grounds around the country and you will hear it sung loud and proud by partisan fans who love their team and their manager.

'Martin Jol's Black and White Army!' You all know the one. All your team needs is 1. a manager, and 2. team colours. I have heard the chant in a variety of guises over the years at Coventry City (currently trying to find our tenth manager in 10 years) with a particular favourite being 'Micky Adams' Sky Blue Army!' No silly extra syllables, no frills; just our manager and our colours. Easy

Not so funny so far. Where this chant gets ridiculous is when the syllable count starts to weigh a bit heavy. I was at the Stadium of Light with some Villa supporting friends in 2009 when they started singing 'Martin O'Neill's Claret and Blue Army!' I wanted to join in, but my tongue didn't feel up to the challenge. I said earlier that if you listen hard enough, you'll be able to hear this chant at most grounds around the country; all I could hear on that night in the North-East was 'MarneeClabooo Army', with a slight Brummie twinge to it.

I feel sorry for the fans who have had to abandon this chant because they bring in a manager whose name is just too long and impractical; I haven't heard West Ham sing 'Sam Allardyce's Claret and Blue Army' since they appointed him, and it is easy to see why. There might be fears the Upton Park faithful had all developed a speech-impediment over the course of an incredibly long (read: long-ball) season.

Sometimes it's not even a question of how long the manager's name is. Tony Pulis must be a nightmare for Stoke fans, with 'Tony Pulis's Red and White Army!' That combination of 'l's and 's's is enough to rival 'She Sells Sea Shells' for a spot on the world's most spit-flecked tongue-twister.

So for now, I'm happy that Coventry have been kind in appointing managers whose names are simple and easy to fit in to this chant. God forbid they should be too forward thinking and appoint a foreign manager with radical new tactical ideas, who can take us back to the glory days of the Premiership and deliver us from this windswept, barren wasteland that is League One. His name might just be too long. And the thought of matches without a '[Insert manager's name here] Sky Blue Army' is just too much to bear.

Having said this, I'm expecting Paul Peschisolido to be named as our new boss shortly.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Robbie Rogers and Football's Fight Against Homophobia

Yesterday the world of football would like to believe it witnessed a first. Indeed it is a first in the eyes of many, many who will not have been old enough to remember, or have chosen to forget what came before.

Yesterday, Robbie Rogers, a 25 year old footballer from America, who made four appearances for Leeds United and six for Stevenage, announced he was gay on his personal blog. And while many will believe he is in fact the first professional footballer to do so, this is not the case.  Justin Fashanu, an English footballer who played for many clubs including Manchester City and West Ham United, was in fact the first prominent footballer to announce he was gay to the press and the public.

His peers were disgusted. His own brother disowned him.

He committed suicide by hanging himself in a lock-up in Shoreditch in May 1998.

That was nearly 15 years ago. Thankfully, society and football seem to have moved on from these shameful times, when it was considered that only men can play football and 'poofs' were not welcome on the pitch. But it is still worth noting that until Rogers decided to make public his sexuality yesterday morning, since Fashanu, no figure in male football had ever come out as gay. Other sports have had their watershed moment in the fight against homophobia; ex-Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009 and in 2011, England cricketer Steven Davies announced he was gay. But football has had to wait until now to claim that its participants can come out without fear.

Yet as tempting as it may be to jump on the bandwagon and announce that football can finally  claim to be on the right path to inclusivity (one can almost hear Sepp Blatter salivating over the prospect of a press conference stating football has vanquished its last great social taboo), it must be noted that Rogers has retired from football, at least for the present time. Whilst he posted on his blog that it was 'time to discover myself away from football', nobody would begrudge his decision if he were to stay away from the game permanently. Yes, it is a fantastic and important moment in the history of football, but can anyone say with any strong conviction that the reason Rogers has quit the game has nothing to do with fearing the abuse and heckling he would endure?

The fact is that until gay footballers feel safe enough to reconcile playing football with their personal life and feelings, then the sport cannot claim to be the 'beautiful game'. Nor can it be said that everybody can speak within its 'universal language'. Football should be a game where everybody should feel comfortable with who they are; whether you are black or white, woman or man, adult or child, gay or straight. And if you cannot speak its language without fear of being made to feel like you are not wanted, then this is not a sport: it is a disgrace.

Robbie Rogers deserves the congratulations he is receiving for being brave enough to come out, especially from within a sport that has a dire history in its treatment of gay participants. But we must not think that the fight against homophobia is over within football. You might argue that until today, it had never really begun.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Coventry City: Destined Never to Escape the Merry-Go-Round

Today, Coventry fans up and down the country (that is, if there are many left) were devastated by the news that manager Mark Robins has all but been confirmed as the new boss of Huddersfield Town. It is a hard pill to swallow; having recently been dealt a cruel blow in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Division Final losing 0-3 to Crewe Alexandra, and slipping up further in the race to the play-offs in losing 0-1 to Yeovil, the news that Robins was to leave for pastures new has been the bitter icing on top of the stale cake that has been this past week.

What actually rankles more than Robins leaving is the fact that it has not been long since he stated his desire to build on the early success that he has tasted at the club. A meeting with SISU officials just last week was said to be about discussing long-term goals for the club that would help aid the rise through the league system that is so badly yearned for at the RICOH arena. The question now is whether Robins left because he was not given assurances about the changes he wanted to implement, or whether his head was turned by a more lucrative offer from Yorkshire. It seems until there is transparency from both parties, supporters will be left none-the-wiser about who to aim their ire at.

The shame for the Sky Blues is that the current situation shows no sign of ending; without a manager with a sense of loyalty and love for the club, chances are that higher-placed clubs will have no problem in plucking their man from the depths of League One. The buy-out clause remains a devastating Catch-22 situation as well: any manager who sees Coventry as a stepping-stone will insist on a smaller buy-out clause. If this condition is not met the manager will not sign; yet if it is, the risk of him being poached by a wealthier club if he performs well increases manifold.

And this is unfortunately the situation that Coventry have found themselves in with Robins. Huddersfield stumped up the offer at the second time of asking, and that has resulted in the Lancastrian clearing his desk at the club's training ground. No doubt when the next manager is chosen (and there may not be many interested in taking the job), if he starts to outperform within his meagre surroundings, the vultures of the Championship, or even higher, will come-a-calling.

While we sing together, we will never lose. It seems that until we get a manager who is prepared to sing with us, and for us, we are destined to remain an ever-present stop on the managerial merry-go-round.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Ending an Era, Beginning Another

Finally! This is something I have been meaning to do for too long, longer than the inevitable Fergie time on a Sunday evening if Manchester United are losing by one goal. I set up a blog before, but never had the chance to do anything with it. Again, it was supposed to be on football (it was called Tony Pulis Sympathiser: everyone's favourite pragmatist has too many critics), but, owing to University work and other writing commitments, it is currently lost in the web somewhere, floating through cyberspace with all the rest of the dead blogs out there.

It is time to start afresh: in less than four months I will be leaving the University of Southampton, leaving myself with far too much free time  to fill. I want to earn some money to go to the World Cup in Brazil, but I also want a platform to muse about football as a whole.

Hence Cracking Jabulanis. Not just a reference to one of the worst footballs of all time, but a nod to when I was playing football once and a friend shouted 'Cracking Jabulanis!' at a particularly good-looking woman passing by. Sexist and puerile it may have been, but it brilliantly illustrated the way in which football permeates into the public consciousness.

So as I come to the inevitable conclusion of my University life, expect to see me ramble on here about anything to do with football; I have no limits to what interests me about the Beautiful Game, from my beloved Coventry City F.C. to the far reaches of South America and Brazilian football.

And if you do end up reading any of my stuff, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Likewise, if you think I'm talking bollocks, don't hesitate to let me know!