Category Archives: Issues in the game

Liverpool owners listen to protesting fans…and back down

When Liverpool supporters left Anfield last weekend in protest to the new ticket pricing scheme, which would have seen the most expensive tickets cost a whopping £77 (just under €100), the club’s owners FSG clearly took note.

Principal Owner John W Henry, Chairman Tom Werner and President Mike Gordon said that they were “particularly troubled by the perception that we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense,” in a statement on Liverpool’s website on Wednesday evening. “Quite the opposite is true.”

The initial plan for a £77 matchday ticket in the redeveloped main stand and season tickets of £1,029 have been scrapped. They will now remain at £59 and £869 respectively.


It’s a very decent move from FSG. They could have ignored the planned walkout, which was organised by the supporters groups Spion Kop 1906 and Spirit of Shankly, and simply kept the ticket prices high. They know they can get buyers for the €77 tickets, as Liverpool are one of the most supported teams on the planet, which fans jetting in to Merseyside from all over the globe most weekends.

From experience, the FAI have been criticized for many things, but ticket pricing has, since the Aviva stadium era began, always been one of them. In fact, a seat in premium level for the forthcoming friendly against Switzerland will set you back €120. That’s roughly the same price for a decent seat in the grandstand of the Camp Nou for most La Liga and Champions League games – though often go much higher than that. Hence why that stadium is rarely sold out and lacks atmosphere compared to say the Allianz Arena or La Bombonera – Barcelona’s prices are realistically for tourists.

But FSG have backed down in pricing the local fans out. And, I for one, am deeply impressed with how they handled the issue.


“We believe we have demonstrated a willingness to listen carefully, reconsider our position, and act decisively,” FSG’s statement read. “The unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters has always been foremost in our minds.”

Football, at the highest level anyway, is nothing without it’s fans. It’s refreshing to see a club’s owners recognize that.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

McClean rumours cause another social media explosion

James McClean played no part in Wigan’s 1-0 win over Yeovil Town on Sunday. No explanation had been given prior to kick off and rumours exploded that the Irish winger had been dropped and sent home due to his refusal to wear a poppy on his club jersey for the game.

Following the game, Wigan boss Owen Coyle denied the reports that absence was to avoid the issue over refusing to wear the Remembrance Sunday poppy on his shirt ­just as he did last season. “He took a knock and has a dead leg,” Coyle said. “He wasn’t fit enough to play, it’s as simple as that.”

Twelve months ago, irate fans of his then-club Sunderland as well as most other clubs were furious with the Derry-born McClean for refusing to wear a poppy on his jersey. “They have their beliefs and I have mine,” he said. “I don’t regret it and come next year I’m going to do the same thing”. Needless to say there was more angry fans taking to Twitter yesterday afternoon.

My own view is that those who wear the poppy, regardless of nationality, should be respected. So should those that don’t. McClean – or indeed anybody – should be allowed to excercise their right to wear a poppy or not without fear of being punished.

It’s a debate that appears to really divide football fans. But it’s not a football debate.

McClean travels to Dublin today in preparation for Ireland’s two friendlies against Latvia and Poland.


What’s your take on “poppygate”? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The Serie A hierarchy still not taking the issue of racism seriously it seems

For the second time this season, Inter Milan have been fined as a result of racial abuse by a small portion of their fans aimed at rival striker Mario Balotelli.

The first incident occurred just a little over a fortnight ago as Inter took on Chievo at the San Siro. Twice in that game certain supporters sang songs that contain racist lyrics against Balotelli. Inter were fined just €15,000.
“I was told about it because I couldn’t make out clearly what they were saying. I’m very sorry about that,” club president Massimo Moratti told “I’m very sorry and I really hope it doesn’t happen during the derby.”

Guess what happened during the Milanese derby last weekend?

As a result of more racial abuse against Balotelli, Inter were this time fined €50,000. And the former Man City striker himself was fined €10,000 for making, in the words of Serie A’s disciplinary commissioner, an “insulting gesture” towards the Inter fans at the end of the 1-1 draw. While the Italian striker was victim of racial taunts, monkey sounds and inflatable bananas waved at him, his “insulting gesture” was raising his finger to his lips – sushing the racist section of Inter’s fans.

So Inter get fined a total of €65,000 for twice racially abusing a player of a rival club. Twice. Balotelli gets fined €10,000 for reacting by telling the crowd to basically “be quiet”. I can’t help but feel the powers that be behind Serie A are not dealing with the issue of racism well enough. In fact, Italian authorities have long been criticised by anti-racism campaigners for not cracking down hard enough on discrimination in sport.

Serie A president Maurizio Beretta would, in my view, want to take a look at this issue – and possibly himself – a bit closer and try put an end to the mindless actions of a few who are ruining the beautiful game. It’s not just Inter fans who are causing racial abuse to black players. It’s been an ongoing issue for a while now, yet  the Serie A hierarchy are still not taking the issue of racism seriously it seems.


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R.I.P. Gary Speed

Like many, I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Gary Speed. He was a player that nobody ever said a bad word about. But more importantly, he was a husband and a father and he leaves behind two young sons. Football journalist Andy Mitten tweeted today about how he interviewed Speed at his home in the summer and more than anything he spoke about his love for his family. He said he left the room admiring the man.

Football has lost one of it’s good ones, many have lost a great friend and sadly a family lost their husband and father.

Gary Speed 1969-2011

Blatter's babbling lands him in hot water….again!

Every now and then I like to put up a video of the odd blooper – a player missing an open goal, a player making a ridiculous dive or even a spectacular own-goal. But one of the biggest idiots in football in recent times must be FIFA President Sepp Blatter. If I was ever in any doubt of his idiocy, he has certainly earned this title with his comments this week.

Asked whether he thought racism on the pitch was a problem, Blatter told CNN World Sport: “I would deny it. There is no racism” before suggesting a simple handshake would resolve any “word or a gesture which is not the correct one”. Oh dear. That’s not entirely true.

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If he took a look at, for example, the Russian Premier League where racism is unfortunately as clear as day, he may not back up these comments. Players and fans alike have been known to racially abuse players in Russia. Even Zenit St Petersburg’s notorious racist ultra supporters allegedly told club’s management they wouldn’t accept a black player at their club. Something former-coach Vlastimil Petrela confirmed to the BBC. Russia is just one of many countries where racism is a clear problem.

It is, however, hardly surprising that Blatter is, if we’re all honest, a bit of an idiot. He once did publicly suggest that women wear ‘tighter shorts’ to increase popularity of the women’s game. He also said that any gay fans going to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, should “refrain from sexual activity”. And he publicly laughed at the FAI’s request for being being included as a “33rd team” in last year’s World Cup (as a result of the Henry controversy). Though he could have been laughing at John Delaney’s stylish haircut. Hard to tell.

He can’t remain in power for much longer? Surely not?

Blatter, Barça and Ireland lift a cup.

It was an extraordinary weekend of football. We may aswell start with the Champions League final and what a glorious display Barcelona put on. The powerful midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta combined with the attack-minded David Villa and Pedro not to mention the genius that is Messi proved to be far too much for Sir Alex’s men.
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Watching the game, there could have been more goals. The first 20 minutes of the second half was really telling the story of how Barça play. In control and completely taking posession – the extra goals that followed were inevitable. Barcelona won 3-1. And deservingly. The party in Catalunya went on for the many hours that followed around the city’s main square before a presentation in the Camp Nou to a full house. The party then continued over at the city’s Olympic Stadium where some of the players joined Shakira onstage for some celebrations. Gerard Pique, naturally, leading the way.

Another cup was lifted this weekend. A far less important one. The Carling Nations Cup. OK, the cup itself means nothing to the players and, if we’re honest, the fans. But it was Ireland’s results in the tournament that mattered. Maximum points and maximum clean sheets is the best possible situation ‘il Trap’ could have asked for. With the competitve qualifier against Macedonia next weekend, confidence should be high in the camp. Still, it was weird watching Ireland lift a trophy. How I pray for a repeat next summer in the Euros. One step at a time, I guess.
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Controversy, controversy and more controversy has been on the menu for FIFA quite a bit as of late. An email leaked by the suspended Fifa vice-president, Jack Warner stated that Fifa’s secretary general, Jérôme Valcke had said that Qatar had basically “bought the World Cup“. And of course, it was the ever popular Sepp Blatter who faced the media at FIFA’s HQ in his native Switzerland on Monday. “Crisis?” asked the 75 year-old, “what’s a crisis?” at the press conference. Knowing full well of the media’s awareness of alleged corruption within the organisation, Blatter did say that there are some “problems” and they would be solved internally (or “inside our family” as Blatter put it). It’s not all happy families for the FIFA boss. Oh, it will be an interesting summer.

When supposed fans take the beauty out of the beautiful game in Scotland

When Neil Lennon received death threats before a Northern Ireland match against Cyprus in August 2002, it was enough to make the Lurgan man call time on his international career. And rightly so. What’s the point? However, what he has endured as Celtic manager in recent times beggars belief.

In January of this year, a package containing bullets addressed to Lennon was intercepted at a sorting office in Antrim. Then, just last March, a parcel-bomb was intercepted at a post office in Kirkintilloch, around eight miles outside Glasgow. It was addressed to Lennon at Celtic’s training ground. It was initially thought thought by police to be a hoax but after forensic specialists examined the parcel, the police said that it was actually a “viable device”. If that wasn’t scary enough, last night when Celtic faced Hearts at Tynecastle, a fan (or nutjob) stormed over the fence where the Hearts fans were sitting and made a run at Lennon and attacked him. Three major incidents since January. And three too many.

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The death threats, the abuse and now physical attacks that Neil Lennon has had to endure over the past year as Celtic boss are not only unnecessary and ridiculous, but also would be quite frightening for any person. “We obviously have to see how he is going to react to this”  Celtic assistant Johan Mjallby said last night. If I was in Lennon’s boots, having been repeatedly threatened in the past year, I would be reconsidering my position as manager in Scotland. Some things are simply more important than football. I love the beautiful game. This ugliness has no place in it.

Tackling football's biggest taboo

Sports stars such as Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas, English cricketer Steven Davies and Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack have all come out as gay. The one thing in football that is certainly taboo. But why?

Flying to the Barcelona – Madrid tie recently, I read an interesting article about Swedish footballer Anton Hysén, son of former Liverpool player Glenn Hysén, had come out as an openly gay professional footballer. “A club might be interested in me and then the coach might change his mind if he finds out I’m gay, but that is his problem not mine.” said the 20-year old defender. This is almost unheard of in football.

Fashanu was the first openly homosexual footballer

Many will remember Justin Fashanu. Britain’s first black, million-pound player with a talented eye for goal. This week is the thirteenth anniversary of the death of the former Norwich City, Notts Forest and Torquay United striker. He publicly came out as a homosexual in 1990. A tabloid newspaper ran the front page headline £1m Football Star: I AM GAY . His brother, the fomer Wimbledon star John Fashanu, allegedly disowned him publicly calling him an “outcast”. No doubt Justin’s latter years were somewhat troubled but personal problems with former team-mates and family certainly could have contributed to his suicide in 1998. He was the only openly homosexual professional in the sport until recently.

But being gay and being a professional is still very taboo in the game we love. It shouldn’t be. “If I perform as a footballer, then I do not think it matters if I like men or women.” says Hysén. The Swede himself talked about the lack of openly gay players, saying “where the hell is everyone else?”. Clubs and organizations have long been involved in tackling the issues such as racism and hooliganism in football. Organizations such as Kick It Out also focus on homophobia in the stands and the dug-outs. Which hopefully one day itself will become taboo in our beautiful game.