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The Red Dragons – The Story of Welsh Football

I’m delighted to announce that contracts have been signed, and my first book, The Red Dragons, will be published by Y Lolfa Press in October 2012.

I started the project in February 2011 because I thought this was a book that needed to be written. There has never been a comprehensive history of the game in Wales, and the last attempt of a history of any sort was Peter Corrigan’s 1976 booklet published for the FAW Centenary. I had no idea of the scope of the book when I started, but it has finished up as an incredible 135,000-word tome. It is massive, much much bigger than I’d anticipated, and some distance away from the book I’d envisaged. I’ve tried to tell the story of the game, rather than the history if that makes sense. The story of Welsh football is a story of struggle and survival, peppered with occasional glory.

This isn’t a book for the statistician. I’ve avoided match reports, and concentrated on the stories that interested me. I discovered international players with one arm, I found out that one player turned out against England in his Sunday best suit, and that 150 Aberystwyth fans travelled to Aberdare for a Welsh Cup match in 1898 and used their bus as a Grandstand at the side of the pitch. There are riots, scandals, characters and tears. Lots and lots of tears. I think I cried seventeen times just reading the various cruel ways that Wales were denied qualification so many times. I could cope with the disappointment – I knew about that. But I’d forgotten how optimistic we all were in the weeks leading up to those terrible nights in 1977,1985,1993 and 2003.

I’m sure there are people more qualified than I am to write a full history of the game. This isn’t that  - this is a book as much about the culture of football more than  it is about the action on the pitch. You won’t find a description of the equaliser against England in one wartime match, but you may be glad to know that the English captain Stan Cullis, complained that Welsh fans were throwing leeks at the goalie (The ref told him to make a stew). We start before the foundation of the FAW in 1876, and discover how the chapel tried to ban the sport, introducing plain clothes police officers to arrest children who played football on a Sunday. We cover the foundation of the clubs in Wales and see how they developed. There are the squabbles between rugby and football, between north and south, between the FAW and English clubs. Every period is covered, and for once we look at players’ careers in the red shirt of Wales, and not their clubs.

The book will soon be available to pre-order as a limited edition hardback edition. As an advanced subscriber, your name will be included in the book, along with a short message. This limited-edition, signed, hardback will be priced at £25 (tbc), and details on how to pre-order will be announced on this site. A softback edition will be in the shops in October priced at £15 (tbc).

I’ve finished the first draft and I’m now looking for images for the book. I’m particularly interested in any photos from the 1970s or 1980s following Wales. If you have any images that you think may be of interest, please get in touch.

Many thanks for your support, Phil Stead

Banter is a refuge for bigots

A few minutes before hearing of the death of Gary Speed, I had been browsing Twitter and following the timeline of a young man who had been revelling in the minor celebrity created by his personal abuse of the footballer, Michael Owen. I’m going to publish his message to Owen here, in the hope that it offends you in the same way it offended me.

“you crying little welsh munich cunt. It happens week in week out you big headed fucking midget!!!”

There have been much worse examples than this of course. The bloke’s timeline contains a string of friends all congratulating him on being noticed. One lad laughs about the time he insulted Gary Neville’s children to their face. John Hartson finally snapped and began to make public the many abusive tweets that he receives, some of them aimed a cancer-stricken kids that he supported. Last year, Robbie Savage was forced to confront somebody who had ridiculed the suffering of his father from Parkinson-disease.

The apparent suicide of Gary Speed was incomprehensible to us. Here was a man who had it all. Wealth, success, peer-respect, the looks of a film star, and the love and admiration of his nation and his family. It is always dangerous to assume of course, but it appears that Speed had been battling a dark illness behind those smiles and that wink. One can only imagine the torture that he must have been going through as he faced the cameras. My point is that if Gary Speed, with a promising future, and a glowing past can feel that despondent, then who knows which other sportsmen, which other people that we meet in our lives are also suffering personal hell?

We have come to treat professional football as a moral vacuum. A modern stadium is an anything-goes arena where thousands of people sing about Sol Campbell dying of AIDS, and individuals tell David Beckham that they hope his young son dies of cancer. The impunity from judgement as we stray from from decency goes way back. I remember songs being sung about a team of young footballers dying at Munich as far back as 1974 . I remember Manchester United, Bristol City and Chelsea fans laughing at the death of children in Aberfan, and Chelsea also celebrated the impending death of the comatosed boxer Johnny Owen. Cardiff are no angels either. A group of fans dressed as firemen went in fancy dress to Bradford some time after the tragedy at Valley Parade, and just last season there were chants of ‘Istanbul’ at Elland Road. Back in the 1990s, Cardiff fans used to make a hissing sound and sing “Gas a Jack” as they mocked the lonely suicide of Welsh international Alan Davies via a tube through his car window.

I’m just tired of it all. I’m utterly weary of the whole sordid fucking charade. These are not murderers and villains, they are just athletes. (Although ironically, if your new signing happens to be a rapist or a wife-beater, that’s OK, because ‘it’s what he does on the pitch that counts’). Abuse isn’t funny or victimless. That referee you scream at, the injury-prone attacker you ridicule, the passionate badge-kissing captain of your ‘rivals’ – they’re all real people, and you just don’t know what is happening in their fragile lives.

Whenever tragedy occurs in football, we all take a little reflection, we shake hands, we talk about a football family, and within a few months it starts all over again. I remember escaping a beating at the hands of a mob of BNP supporters in Darlington in 1991 because Hillsborough was still fresh in the minds of everybody. My would-be attackers were full of self-pity that Hillsborough had changed everything they enjoyed; the conflict, the abuse, the violence. It didn’t take long for the antagonism to start again.

Recent years have seen the excuse of ‘banter’ rolled out as a justification for personal abuse. I used to have a lot of ‘banter’ with the lads. I remember one hysterical occasion on a trip to Barnet in 1991 when a good mate of mind mocked the fact that I would be spending Christmas alone that year. I retorted with some well-aimed insults about nepotism easing his path through life and we didn’t speak for the next ten years. Still, it was only banter, eh? Nobody gets hurt.

Banter often leads to more serious abuse. Danish referee Martin Hansson was the man in charge when Thierry Henry handballed Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup. He went on to make this stark, illuminating film which detailed the threats of violence he received after that evening when he failed to spot Henry’s deceit. I find it deeply sad that we demonise well-meaning individuals. Who knows the real mental state of that person walking out to start the match? In 2009, German goalkeeper Robert Enke ended his own life, and recently German referee Babak Rafati attempted suicide before a German Bundesliga game.

Of course statistically, there are bound to be people in football affected by mental disease. But in other walks of life those sufferers would hopefully be cared for, understood and respected. In football the media and the public are merciless in their hounding and de-humanising of people involved in the game. I watched guiltily silent last week as an opposition goalkeeper whose Father had died at a young age was tormented loudly about his mental health by guffawing home supporters. The stress levels must be extraordinary on a diseased mind. We need to stop abusing people who play and officiate at football, because even if we’re prepared to abandon common decency when we walk through gates of our local colosseum,  we don’t know what damage we are doing to those who entertain us.

gaytimes Banter is a refuge for bigotsAs audible racism has been forced off the modern menu of the bigot, so homophobia has taken its place. I rarely go to a match where the away goalkeeper is not derided as a ‘rent boy’ or a ‘faggot’. On Wednesday evening, Cardiff City visit Brighton, the gay-friendly town whose football supporters have become the butt (LOL LMFAO) of a thousand unfunny homosexuality-related chants. I’m pretty sure those chants will be heard on Wednesday too.

I remember going to Torquay with Cardiff in the early 1990′s and the subject of the ‘banter’ that day was a homosexual striker called Justin Fashanu. The abuse was remorseless and unremitting, as it was wherever he played. Fashanu would kill himself a few years later, an indirect victim of ignorance and intolerance. Thankfully things are beginning to change – a group of Millwall fans were arrested for homophobic chanting at Brighton recently. And as they left the court, they seemed bewildered. ‘Banter!, they protested. “It was only ‘banter’. A harmless piece of fun.”

The Justin Campaign

The Era of Football 2.0

football 2 300x200 The Era of Football 2.0I received one book for Christmas – a philosophical work-related treatise on the recent development of the web called “We-think” by Charles Leadbetter. The book discusses the way in which we have moved from ‘mass-production for the masses’ to ‘mass-production by the masses’. The most obvious examples are user-generated websites like Wikipedia, Youtube and Facebook.

Being unable to read anything without applying its concepts and ideas to football, the book started to suggest answers to a few of the conundrums that have been vexing me recently. I wondered if the recent belligerence of Blackburn Town supporters really could be an unknowing representation of Guy Debord’s anarchist manifesto which attacks the culture of spectacle : “The spectacle is the opposite of dialogue” says Debord. “It is the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity”.

What Debord is saying is that we, the folk of the state have been happy to sit by smiling and be spoon fed while a spectacle (or any event) plays out before us. And for many years this was the case with football. I always found When Saturday Comes’ strapline “Reclaim the Game” to be a little bit ironic, and largely misleading. It never was our game. The modern game was invented by and for public schoolboys, and only when the proletariat became too good to ignore were they allowed to play.

Aberystwyth Town’s early development offers a helpful insight into the social tensions that were created during the game’s transition from the gentry to the working class. During the 1880’s, social reformists had been campaigning for a reduced working week to improve workers morale, and the “half-holiday movement” then won concessions which freed up Saturday leisure time for the working man. The Aberystwyth team which had been formed by the local gentry was now under pressure to include the best players of the proletariat. This was beyond the pale for some, and the early “gentleman’s team” was soon usurped by a more democratic eleven called “The Mechanics”, a team filled with employees from local factories, steelworks, tanneries and railways, and just four of the original Aberystwyth toffs – the rest had left the club in protest at the dissolution of class apartheid.

But even then, with working class players elevated to the role of performers, the masses were obliged to pay their money, stand on ash banks and applaud the spectacle that unfolded in front of them. The players themselves were treated like slave labour – a low maximum wage imposed to insure the profits of the fat bankers who earned huge sums from the clubs. This one-way system continued until the birth of the fanzine movement in the late 1980s. Armed with a new confidence from sharing non-violent socialist ideals with other supporters, the fanzine writers began to wonder about the money. Where did it go, and who was paying for it? I struggle to remember a fans’ protest before the emergence of the fanzines, and in many cases it was a protest which proved the catalyst to the formation of a fanzine, such as Cardiff City’s Intifada, its title a Palestinian word for Uprising.

So getting back to “We-think”, I began to wonder if the nature of Web 2.0, that is the ability of the masses to create, collaborate, comment and respond has affected our expectations for our role in the spectacle of football. Those fans that are complaining at Blackburn have grown up with Web 2.0. The younger generation now expect to play a part in the development of entertainment, and they don’t see why this has to stop at their football club. They see something they don’t like, and they’re bloody well going to tell you about it. They want change, they are contributing to the match day experience, and morphing Ewood Park into a real life manifestation of a spiteful online football forum. They are demanding meetings with the management. That’s Web 2.0 in the flesh.

If the 1960s showed us that we had a right to protest and object, I think web 2.0 might have an influence on the recent culture of entitlement that pervades football grounds up and down the country. We recently saw Chelsea booed off by their fans after losing a match to two breakaway goals when they were 4th in the top division. We often see fans boo at half-time if their team isn’t winning these days. Cardiff fans saw a top six play-off in The Championship as failure, and Arsenal fans wanted to sack their legendary manager because he refused to spend millions of pounds on new players. I blame Football Manager for this. I think our ability to affect content online, and shape it to something which pleases us might be colouring our approach to the game. Some of you will want to tell me that I’m talking shit, and thanks to Web 2.0 you’ll be able to. You couldn’t have told Joe Lovejoy the same thing 20 years ago unless you wrote a letter and bought a stamp. Now you can tell me that I’m a twat free of charge and almost immediately. And you want that sort of access to your football club too.

We are seeing the emergence of supporters trusts. No longer is it enough to enjoy the spectacle of football, we now want to run our club. We feel entitled to make financial assessments of possible transfers with very little, if any knowledge of the club’s accounts. It’s no longer enough to judge a player by ability, we need to know his worth. Yes, he may be brilliant, but was he worth £30 million? Did anyone know what Kevin Keegan was paid by Newcastle in 1984? Did you care?

And of course, the establishment, the clubs are battling this dialogue. They are desperate to treat us as consumers. We are meant to attend matches like servile cash machines. They insist that we must sit down to watch the spectacle on offer, and they eject us if we don’t. They blast out muzak before matches instead of allowing us to sing, and they play loud goal music when they score. Stadium announcers now fill the fifteen minutes of half-time spoon feeding us ‘entertainment’. And if we win a trophy, God-forbid, the moment we always dreamed of will be deafened by a 1977 recording of Queen singing “We are the Champions”. The Football Industry is desperately clinging on to the philosophy of ‘spectacle’  and aiming to destroy any notion of ‘dialogue’.

As much as I object to Blackburn fans targetting Steve Kean as a symbol of their disenchantment, I applaud their energy to protest against the abuse of their support by manipulative owners. As critical as I have been about the smugness of FC United, I applaud their intent to take control of their football. And I really really hope that Wrexham Supporters Trust can earn enough donations from the community subscription scheme to survive and flourish after their club was asset-stripped by greedy speculators. We’re in the era of ‘Football 2.0’  and we all have a role to play.

Wales Blog Awards 2011

You may have heard by now that I won three prizes at the Wales Blog Awards in Cardiff last night. Ffwtbol was named as ‘Best Sports Blog’, and thanks to your votes , it also picked up the ‘People’s Choice’ Award. Finally, it somehow also beat 200 entrants to win the ‘Best Overall Blog’.

It can be a bit dispiriting writing this blog. Sometimes I can spend more than 2 hours putting a factual piece together, and it isn’t unknown for that post to meet less than a hundred pairs of eyes. Conversely, when I experimented with a load of purposely controversial, poorly-researched nonsense about a famous English club, it generated over 6,000 hits. It makes you wonder whether it’s worth it. So the occasional piece of recognition that I receive , which has included recommendations from the 1989 nostalgia magazine, When Saturday Comes, and the admittedly poncy, London-centric  Guardian, helps to provide the encitement to perservere.

I didn’t enter the Wales Blog Awards. The first I knew about the event was when I received an email telling me that Ffwtbol had been nominated and short-listed. I’ve never really thought of this as a blog, it’s just a convenient outlet for my spleen and occasional enthusiasm. I travelled to Cardiff in blissful ignorance of the ‘blogosphere’ and the apparent community of bloggers that exists. I don’t know what a blog is supposed to be and I don’t care. My success was a little embarrassing. I went up three times and felt like a bloke who was hogging the karaoke. To their credit, everybody I met at the event was generous in their praise, and a huge bouquet of flowers helped hide my blushing cheeks.

I took particular pleasure in the ‘Best Blog’ award as the lady judge admitted that she had absolutely no interest in football. It was great to hear that my blog is readable by somebody who doesn’t much like the game. Because for me, ffwtbol isn’t about football. It’s about everything else. It’s about glory, humour, sacrifice, loyalty, determination, friendship, pride, and most of all, community.

And it’s the Welsh football community that brought home the ‘People’s Choice’ award. I suspect that many of your votes were for the concept of ‘ffwtbol’ – a Utopian vision where the playing field is fair, and people don’t sell their support to the most successful club with no consideration for local affiliation. A nirvana where small countries are allowed the same respect as the giant countries whose populations attract the biggest viewing figures and advertising revenue. Whatever your reasons, I’m very grateful, and it was this award which gave the most pride to my Mother, which  is the important thing.

Time to turn your back on the greed game

FCDnipro LechPoznan Time to turn your back on the greed game

There is a storm brewing on football’s horizon. A movement is taking shape and preparing for a long term campaign which will require sacrifice, perseverance and no little moral strength to succeed in its aims of redressing at least some of the balance which has seen the game taking too far from its roots. The continuing greed and arrogance of the game’s richest clubs is being publicised and thrown into stark relief against an economic climate of struggle, of business failure, and of redundancies.

Some the English Premier League’s recent publicity has been stunning, even amongst its own history of self-interest since football began in 1992. There were reports that ‘foreign owners’ were aiming to stop the process of relegation from the top division. Let’s ignore the jingoistic implications of that remark, and admit that the idea would appeal to many of the clubs, who we know feel no responsibility towards the game as a whole.

Let’s stare open-mouthed at the audacity of  Liverpool Football Club’s move to arrange its own television rights. Even if we forget that the modern club was founded on the socialist ideals of Bill Shankly, it is not difficult to remember that the reds were a pretty mediocre side until the 1960’s. If Wolves and Burnley had been so selfish and arranged their own TV rights in 1960, and if there had been no relegation, then Liverpool would still be playing in Division 2. Yet they now seek to deny other clubs the same opportunity of progression that they were granted.

In an even more worrying movement, the Premier League clubs recently introduced the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which, among other changes, will revise the system of compensation when a youth-team player leaves one academy to sign for another club. In other words, smaller clubs will receive less compensation for players who are poached by the top clubs. To force this through, they threatened to reduce the £5m of funding they currently give to the Football League for player development.

Premier League ticket prices have also hit the news recently. Firstly we had Arsenal’s £1000 season tickets, then QPR’s £75 match-day ticket. And it’s not just the EPL either. Tickets for Cardiff supporters travelling to Leeds have been priced at £37 each. For a second tier game. Like many others, I refuse to travel. Football’s not worth that much.

But this is where the problem starts. What price loyalty? Because the concept of loyalty has been nurtured by marketing departments who are only too aware of the power of peer pressure and the desirability of association with your team these days. When I worked at Cardiff City in the 1990s, we would regularly be visited by salesmen selling all sorts of tat embossed with the club stamp. Credit cards with a club badge were one option. “The mugs will buy anything with your logo on it”, said the salesmen, and he was right. We paid higher interest rates because our plastic card was printed with a club crest. We used it to buy £50 club shirts and promote the sponsor, we paid for a £12 printed name on the back, and donated £6 to add a Coca-cola advert on the sleeve. It’s laughable when you think about it.

Fans don’t help themselves in this respect. We’re always mocking stadia for the number of empty seats that we can see. “Is that all you take away?” we chant, when we know that times are tough. We pressurise our fellow supporters to fork out on expensive tickets which help subsidise the Bentleys being driven in the car parks. We are idiots. We’re being taken for fools by the privileged elite.

But things are starting to change. Huddersfield boycotted their match at Sheffield United over the £28 charge to watch a Division Two game. When Chelsea fans start to object to ticket prices, you know that football has jumped the shark. This is a fan-base that would wave wads of cash at clubs supported by striking miners in the 1980s. The Stamford Bridge executives cleverly handed out free tickets to minimise the effect, and any football boycott is doomed to failure while we place so much weight on our loyalty. If only we could do boycotts like the Bulgarians, who apart from 200 weak-willed souls, completely ignored the recently international with Wales in protest at recent performances.

The super rich clubs think they can do without us. Financially they’re right. But how would their games appear with no supporters? They also think they could get by without serious opposition. They want to replicate the Scottish and Spanish leagues where two clubs dominate in front of huge crowds. Is that what you want? It’s a nonsense.

So how much is football worth? The FAW recently announced prices of £10 and £1 concessions to watch the Wales friendly against Norway which seems about right. The last time I looked it was £17 to watch Wrexham, which seems extortionate for a non-league game. I think that Championship football is worth about £15 a ticket, and yet I wouldn’t pay more than £10 to watch Blackburn v Wigan in the EPL. I’d personally like to see a sliding scale where tickets are priced according to capacity like you get on airlines.

This afternoon, I will pay £8 to watch Bangor City play at home. I will have pretty much the same experience as those of you who pay ten times that amount. I’ll have a pint and a pie, I’ll chat to some mates, I’ll cheer when we score and get mildly annoyed by a ref’s decision. What will be missing is the sense of occasion, the feeling that I’m somewhere that you would like to be. Modern live football is built on the desire to be present at ‘an event’ which receives world-wide publicity. It’s like getting a box at the opera where the hoi-polloi can see you. So you’ve got a ticket to see United? Well done, you’re a mug, and you know you are.

It’s time to say ‘bollocks’ to the EPL, and to the Champions league for that matter. Your hard-earned money is going into the pockets of multi-millionaires who really couldn’t give a damn whether you turn up or not. Your managers are playing their reserve teams in fixtures that you’ve saved up for weeks to see, and they are charging huge amounts to anybody who can’t afford the several hundred pounds it costs to hold a season ticket. Quite simply they are taking the piss.  You see those empty seats? That’s not because your opponents are unpopular, its because their tickets are overpriced and their fans are hard up, and there’s no shame in that.

My Top Ten Football Photos

I bought my first serious camera in May 2008, and began taking photographs at matches in Wales, mainly of the teams I watched regularly, that is my village side of Y Felinheli, Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League, and Wales international fixtures. This is a personal collection of some of my favourite images that I’ve taken in that time. They are presented in no particular order.

I’d be really grateful if you respected the copyright on these photos. I don’t get paid to take them and I’d prefer to act on trust rather than plaster them with ugly copyright watermarks.

No.1 Neville Powell celebrates at Park Avenue

I had gone to Aberystwyth on a mission. I had just started out in photography and I was looking to develop a relationship with the local papers. I knew that I would be the only local photographer that could be bothered to make the 2 1/2 hour trip to Aberystwyth on a Tuesday night in January, but I was looking for a break.

Bangor hadn’t had a good season, and went to Aber with no expectation of a win. It turned out to be a great game, and I was able to capture Bangor manager Neville Powell’s ecstatic reaction at the final whistle. This image was the first that I had published in the Bangor Chronicle, and it also featured on the cover of the club’s match programme for the 2010/11 season.

Aberystwyth 2 4 Bangor City LC Semi 2009 01 14 Powell copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Aberystwyth 2-4 Bangor-City League Cup Semi Final 14/01/2009

No.2  Jay Bothroyd celebrates his goal at Turf Moor
Just a month after I bought my first camera, I naiively telephoned the media centre at Turf Moor, hoping for a photographer’s pass for the forthcoming game with Cardiff City. They couldn’t have been more welcoming and showed unexpected respect for my Welsh language media credentials. This was the first and last time I would be given access to an English League game, as the accreditation system soon tightened. The highlight of the evening was when I shared a urinal with Burnley manager Owen Coyle in the fabulously atmospheric changing area underneath the stand at this fantastic old stadium.

Burnley v Cardiff 2008 09 12 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Burnley v Cardiff City, FL Championship, 09/12/2008

No.3 Ricky Broadley squares up to an opponent
Ricky “Mancs” was a talented young player with Caernarfon Borough when they faced the newly formed Caernarfon Wanderers in a local derby. But Ricky had big disciplinary problems and would become famous as the man who received four red cards in a single game.

I like this picture because it says a lot about parks football. The field in question is a rare green space at the top of Peblig Estate in one of Wales’s most deprived areas. It is under threat from developers, who are rapidly destroying public fields in the area. One of Caernarfon Wanderers’ missions is to preserve Cae Top for the community. The weather on this day was appropriately gloomy.

The attitude of the two players says a lot about the game. On one hand you have Ricky Mancs, full of aggression and threatening intent. But on the other hand you have his opponent who seems well used to such machismo. They probably know each other well, and he simply can’t be arsed with Broadley’s posturing. He just wants a game of football and pays little attention to the chest-out stag. Ricky Broadley was the best player on the pitch, but sadly he is now banned for a long time.

Caernarfon Wanderers v Caernarfon Borough 2009 01 10 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Caernarfon Wanderers v Caernarfon Borough, 10/01/2009

No.4 Robert Enke saves from Earnshaw
Sometimes when you view the photographs that you took at a game the results are desperately frustrating. When I saw this one from the Wales v Germany game in 2009, I was gutted. If only Earnie’s face was visible just to the left of Enke’s body. If only he had scored for God’s sake.

I paid little attention to Enke, until I read the news that he had killed himself less than six months after this game. I went back to my photographs, and suddenly Earnshaw was irrelevent. This is Enke’s moment and it seems inconceivable that he has gone.

Wales v Germany 2009 04 01 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Wales v Germany, Millennium Stadium, 01/04/2009

No.5 Graeme Sharp at Farrar Road
Graeme Sharp scored 159 goals for Everton in 426 games. In the mid eighties, he won an FA Cup, 2 League Championships and the European Cup Winners Cup. In this simple image, we see Sharp as a Father, watching his son Chris play for Bangor City on the crumbling terraces at Farrar Road.

I like the spartan isolation of this photo. It reminds me that football is not always a pleasure. In fact it rarely is. Most of our time is spent like this. Cold, bored , uncomfortable, but living in hope that the next few minutes will be special.
You can read the full blog article here.

Bangor v Newtown 2009 12 07 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Bangor City v Newtown, WPL, 07/12/2009

No.6 European Football at Rhyl
The floodlights at Belle Vue were the first in Wales when they were erected in 1954 and even though the ground is now one of the few in Wales capable of hosting European football, their output is not strong enough to meet UEFA’s requirements for dark evening games. This image was taken during the visit of Partizan Belgrade to Rhyl in 2009, and we can see the deep blue colour of the darkening sky, while on the pitch, the Partizan defence makes it clear that there would be few opportunities that evening for the home team to find space in their opponents’ penalty area.

Rhyl v Partizan 2009 07 14 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Rhyl v Partizan Belgrade, 14/07/2009

No.7 Bangor players celebrate a win in the cup
The penalty shootout offers a multitude of opportunities for the sports photographer. There are static set-pieces, easy to capture – you can focus on the goalkeeper and hope he makes a save – or you can turn round and watch the agony of the fans as the game is decided with a single kick of the ball.

On this occasion, Bangor had battled against the odds to take hot favourites and local rivals Rhyl to penalties in a Welsh Cup tie. When Paul Smith made the winning save, my camera was turned to the oncoming rush of his ecstatic, celebrating team-mates, led by the team’s local hero, Sion Edwards.

Bangor City v Rhyl WC 2009 01 31 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Bangor City v Rhyl, Welsh Cup, 31/01/2009

No.8 Sergei Semak denies Wales
This photograph sums up Wales qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010. When you;re not a great team, you need every break to go your way, and nothing ran for Wales. In this crucial incident during the home game with Russia Sergei Semak performs an unlikely overhead kick to clear his lines when Dave Edwards looks like he has scored for his country. Wales lost and were out of the running.

Wales v Russia 2009 09 09 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Wales v Russia, Millennium Stadium, World Cup Qualifier, 09/09/2009

No.9 The Oldest International Football Stadium in the World
I felt I had to include this image, as Wrexham’s future is currently under threat. A dejected Chris Roberts leaves the field after Bangor’s Europa League defeat against maritimo in 2010. Bangor had been playing at Wrexham as their own ground failed to meet UEFA licensing requirements. One day, I hope I can go back and take another photograph here on a happier occasion, and with Wrexham as the home team.

Bangor v Maritimo 2010 05 08 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

Bangor City v Maritimo, Europa League, Racecourse, 05/08/2010

No.10 Sunset at Caernarfon
Football isn’t always played on cold winter nights, and this game between Felinheli and Caernarfon Borough was played at one of my favourite venues, Ffordd yr Aber near Carrnarfon Castle. The sun was setting low over Anglesey as Marc Jones collected his drink at the end of the game.

Cnfon Borough v Felin 2010 08 25 copy My Top Ten Football Photos

No.11 Bangor City, WPL Champions, 2010/11
I know I said ten, but I couldn’t leave this one out.  I’ve always wanted to experience the champagne-drenched atmosphere of a winning changing room after a big game, and I recently got my chance when I took this picture of the Bangor City team celebrating their League title victory. You can’t beat a bit of Homo-erotica.

Bangor v TNS 2011 06 191 My Top Ten Football Photos


Should Welsh clubs be banned from Europe?

belle vue Should Welsh clubs be banned from Europe?

Bangor played their Champions League fixture at Rhyl FC

I drove for an hour last night to watch Bangor City’s home fixture in the Champions League versus HJK Helsinki. The game was being played at Belle Vue, the ground of Rhyl FC, as Bangor’s own ground, Farrar Road, has long been deemed unsuitable for European football with  Bangor’s home games being held in recent years  at The Racecourse in Wrexham, over 70 miles away. The welcome at Belle Vue was warm, and the atmosphere at the ground was much better than it has been at Wrexham, with 1,200 supporters packed into the smaller ground.

racecourse 300x200 Should Welsh clubs be banned from Europe?

Bangor played at the Racecourse in 2008

But the question that is being raised among some football fans in Wales is whether the club should be admitted to European competition at all if their home ground is not capable of hosting matches. After all, the FAW has its own stringent requirements for clubs who wish to progress into the Welsh Premier League, as Connahs Quay discovered this season, when they were denied promotion after the club failed the FAW’s licensing requirements.

helsinki 300x200 Should Welsh clubs be banned from Europe?Bangor are in a transitionary period. Farrar Road has been allowed to disintegrate as the club has been planning a move to a new stadium for several years. That move will come to fruition in September as work begins at Nantporth. By the 2012/13 season, Bangor will be playing their home games at a shiny new ground near the Menai Strait. But as I write, it is believed that the new ground will also fall short of the requirements needed to host European games.

The situation is not stainable, but there is not much the club can do about it – Farrar Road has been sold by the council and it is the ground’s buyers and developers, Watkin-Jones, who are paying for Nantporth. But should Bangor be allowed to represent Wales if they don’t have a stadium which meets UEFA requirements? And should Llanelli be allowed to host their own European games away from Stebonheath? Tonight they face Dynamo Tbilisi at the town’s rugby stadium. Neath also played their European tie at a rugby ground, though this is currently their usual venue. TNS played at their usual leisure centre/stadium, with temporary seats (bolted down to make them official) and a plastic pitch.

Logically, the clubs should meet the requirements of any competition they enter. If the FAW refuse entry to the WPL for Connahs Quay, then UEFA should refuse entry to the Champions League for Bangor City and Llanelli. But I don’t believe in a “computer-says-no” mentality, and I think that one of three things should happen.

Firstly, and most obviously, UEFA should relax its own stadium requirements. Bangor were forced to kick off at 6.30pm last night because Rhyl’s floodlights didn’t meet the required brightness. Yet it was still sunny when I arrived home at 9.30pm. And while Belle Vue is a lovely ground, it isn’t noticeably better than Farrar Road. Bangor fans stand on crumbling terraces every week – they really wouldn’t mind doing the same for European games. And the truth is that the local people love it – the move to a concrete facility with clean toilets is being dreaded by the fans. So who are the people that decide we need bucket seats and a 500 decibel tannoy system blaring Europop to enjoy ourselves? Meanwhile, TNS’s Park Hall Stadium is deemed fit for European games despite it being the worst place in Wales to watch football. Actually, it isn’t even in Wales, but it has a big room for hospitality and boasts the required three-ply toilet roll for the referee’s hairy arse, so it passes.

I’ve watched European football at grounds all across Wales. I’ve seen games at Merthyr, Barry, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Newtown, Newport and Ebbw Vale. They were great – all of them, and nobody minded that the floodlights didn’t light up like a space ship. Those venues gave the games some character and personality which has been lost as clubs are forced to use big unfamiliar  stadiamiles from home, even though they are totally unsuited to the event.

If UEFA won’t relax their requirements (and of course they won’t), then they should fund ground improvements. If a team is good enough to qualify for the Champions League, then UEFA should help them pay for the improvements required to compete at home. It should be part of the qualification prize. The association has made millions from seeding qualification groups, allowing multiple entries from the biggest countries, and in doing so it has lent a huge bias to the giant clubs of Europe – it should re-invest that money in the small clubs who struggle to compete. The situation where Wales’s European-qualified clubs play both legs away from home should not be allowed to continue. It’s embarrassing for both Wales and UEFA.

A Guide to football betting on Betfair

As part of my twitter account, I often let people know about the bets I have made on a certain game, or how the betting market is moving – how the bookies feel about a team’s prospects, or whether there has been any significant backing from gamblers on a particular outcome.  The jargon used can be confusing so, I thought I’d offer an explanation to one of the most popular modern forms of betting – The Exchanges (whose most popular operator is Betfair).

Let’s look at Llanelli v Dynamo Tbilisi in tomorrow night’s Europa League encounter, which I have bet on with Betfair.

The first thing that needs explaining is the decimal odds system which is used by betfair. Basically, the price given is the amount you would earn if you played £1 on the outcome and won. So a bet of 2/1 is listed as 3.0, because you would bet £1, win £2, and receive your stake back, making a total of £3.00.

An Evens bet is therefore 2.0, because you get your £1 back, plus the £1 you won from the bet.A total payment back of £2.00

An odds-on bet is given less than 2.0. 10/11 for example, is listed as 1.91. Because if you bet £1, you would receive your pound back plus 91p. Therefore, £1.91

odds A Guide to football betting on BetfairSo with that in mind, I went to Betfair looking to back Dynamo Tbilisi to win the game in Wales. With Llanelli missing several key players, Tbilisi were available to back at 1.51 when I made my bet, which meant that I would win 51p plus my £1 stake. (I actually bet £50 on a Tbilisi win). This is the screen which shows me the bets available as I type.

bet A Guide to football betting on Betfair

The red figure shows that I will lose £50 if Llanelli win, or the game is drawn. If Tbilisi win, I will earn £25.60 (and get my £50 stake back of course).

You can see there that Llanelli are available to back at 6, which is the decimal equivalent of 5/1. But there is only £30 available, at that price, and the next best bet is a big drop to 5.5, which is the old 9/2. So if I wanted to bet at £50 the price of 6, only £30 of my bet would be taken.

The remaining £20 would be listed in the pink column undernaeth “lay”. In other words, there would be a £20 bet waiting for somebody to match the odds that I want. Say for example that Joe Bloggs is sure that Llanelli will not win, he can take my £20 at my requested price of 6.  I will get a £20 bet at 6.0 ( 5/1), while Joe Bloggs stands to lose £100 if Llanelli win. If Llanelli don’t win, then Joe Bloggs wins my £20.

If you look at the above graphic, you can see that currently somebody wants to place £17 on Llanelli to win at 6.4, Somebody else wants to put £21 at 6.6, while somebody has very optimistically placed £100 waiting for somebody to offer odds of 7.0.

This is where it gets complicated. You see that person hoping to back Llanelli with his £100, at 7.0?  He may well be the same person that has made £100 available for me to bet on a Llanelli win at 5.5 (just to the left of the blue column). If this person manages to place his £100 bet on Llanelli to win at odds of 7.0, and attract somebody to back them at his offered price of 5.5, then he can guarantee to win money, whatever the outcome of the game.  Or maybe he will take the risk-free bet on a Llanelli win. He has backed them at 7.0 and laid them at 5.5. His £100 will win him the difference between 5.5 and 7.0 – he will win £15 if they win, but cannot lose if they don’t. This is called playing the margins.

But hang on, you say – you told us that you had backed Llanelli at 1.51, and now they are available at 1.59. What has happened?

Well Betfair offer a very handy, transparent view of the betting patterns. It helps enormously to follow the market of a particular game. And the Llanelli v Tbilisi market is pretty interesting.

You can see from the following graphic that Tbilisi’s price hovered between 1.6-1.7 before dropping to 1.5 with people backing a Tbilisi win. Then suddenly, several thousand pounds became available to bet against Tbilisi. Somebody somewhere was keen to make large amounts available to anybody who wanted to back Tbilisi, and the price available went out to 1.64, significantly larger than the 1.51 available when I made my bet. In other words, somebody was betting heavily against a Tbilisi win. Do they have inside knowledge of injuries? Of a weakened team? Maybe they just don’t fancy the Russians to win against the mighty Reds of course.

tblisi A Guide to football betting on Betfair