Stoke City: The Potters trying to finish as high as possible to get due recognition for Mark Hughes

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Stoke City manager Mark Hughes had to be insistent, after seeing his side lose 1-2 at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, that his team’s season would not peter out”. It is indeed in danger of that happening, with defeats in their last 2 games before they head to Chelsea in a fortnight’s time. Their position in the top 10 is insulated by 6 points over Palace but Hughes said it was “important that we finish strongly”, refusing to let any complacency give a bittersweet ending to what has been another impressive season for Hughes and the Potters.

With 8 games left Hughes is 9 points away from bettering last season’s tally of 50 which was their highest in the Premier League since returning in 2008. So far Hughes has eclipsed former manager Tony Pulis’s league performance and is again on course to surpass his predecessor’s best points total of 47, achieved in 2009-10.

It has been a season which has seen the often overlooked Stoke record wins at Tottenham and Manchester City, do the double over Everton and, as seems to be the usual in this modern day Premier League, beat Arsenal at home. It is easy to see why Hughes is desperate to see his team end the campaign on a high note as they involve themselves in a three-way tussle with Swansea City and West Ham United for 8th place which would be the highest the club has ever finished.

Their previous best was the ninth place that Hughes led them to last year in his debut season as a manager who among certain sections of the Stoke support wasn’t the most popular choice to follow Pulis. The Welshman, appointed on a C.V that included impressive spells with Blackburn and Fulham but tarnished with failures with blank chequebooks at Manchester City and QPR, had the jury very much out and the pressure on as he inherited a side that had probably ran its course under the regimental guise of Pulis.

“I got the job because there was a feeling that the team was starting to fail”, was Hughes’s recent verdict, “the way we have progressed since has been quite exceptional.” On the second point it is hard to argue. In Pulis’s 5 years in the top tier at the Britannia his team only once managed above 38 goals (the 46 they managed in 2010-11), but this season they already have 34 goals and gone is the perception that they are over-reliant on an overly physical threat from corners and free-kicks. This term, only Liverpool and Swansea have scored less from set-pieces than Stoke’s five.

Although they remain typically stout defensively, their total of 37 goals shipped is bettered only by the current top 6, Hughes has encouraged more fluid and aesthetic football with a greater emphasis on short, crisp passing. That has stemmed originally from the back with the arrival of Marc Muniesa, forged in Barcelona’s technical breeding ground of La Masia, and Erik Pieters, good enough to earn 18 caps for the Netherlands during his time with PSV Eindhoven.

Ryan Shawcross meanwhile has continued his excellent form as club captain but Robert Huth, a symbol of the imposing physicality synonymous with Pulis, found himself immediately out of favour with Hughes and has since been shipped out on loan to Leicester City. Phil Bardsley has been brought in to provide energetic forward runs from right-back and together with left-back Pieters, they have combined to create a total of 31 chances.

A back four that utilises attacking full-backs and passing out from the centre-halves was perceived as anathema to Pulis but under Hughes, it has become natural.

The signings of Muniesa and Bardsley, both for free, and the £3 million acquisition of Pieters gives further detail to the quality of Hughes’s job at the Britannia, now having to make do with a restricted budget in contrast to the heady days of Pulis who, backed by chairman Peter Coates, oversaw a transfer policy that recorded a net spend of nearly £80 million in five years.

Last summer however Stoke spent the least amount on transfers out of the 20 Premier League clubs and with austerity ushered in at the Britannia, Hughes has had to revert to a management style geared more to getting the best out of cut-price dealings rather than paying big fees and having to manage the big egos that invariably come with the high wages. To make notable progression despite spending just £6.2 million across four transfer windows, especially in English football’s current climate of gargantuan spending, has deserved the highest of praise.

As well as Muniesa and Bardsley, Mame Biram Diouf, whose 8 goals puts him as Stoke’s top scorer, was also a free transfer while Steve Sidwell also came for nothing from Fulham to add his experience and steel to the midfield. The loan market has been used effectively for Victor Moses, who has brought his vibrant wing-play from Chelsea to be rated as Stoke’s best player from 18 league appearances, in the same way as Hughes did last year for Liverpool’s Oussama Assaidi.

Phillip Wollscheid has also been taken on loan from Bayer Leverkusen and the 26 year old centre-half, who has the option to make the move permanent in the summer, has made a quick impact as he looks to rebuild his career in England.

Perhaps most impressively though, the cut-price signings of Marko Arnautovic, for £2.4 million, and Bojan Krkic, for £1.5 million, have been huge successes for Hughes despite initially appearing as gambles. Once likened to a child by Jose Mourinho and happily wished goodbye by Werder Bremen after a string of controversies, the Austrian has been tamed by Hughes and turned into an effective squad option while Bojan, with his confidence shattered after failures with AC Milan, Roma and Ajax, produced some remarkable form for Stoke before knee injury cruelly curtailed his season in January. Hughes’s man-management expertise has shone through in both of them.

The Pulis era still remains prevalent throughout the team with Steven N’Zonzi and Glenn Whelan forming a midfield partnership that combines craft, energy and combativeness while John Walters provides his tireless work-rate on the right of the attack. He has 7 goals together with Peter Crouch who continues to lead the attacking line with a scoring touch and an underrated intelligence on the ball.

The 34 year old still tends to deceive with his gangly 6ft 7 inch frame, possessing quick, clever feet and good vision which makes him effective at holding the ball up and linking-play, something that Hughes’s philosophy of neat, attractive build-up play, has used more of.

Therefore the manager is probably right when he claims that he put the groundwork in place for Hughes to build on but there is undoubted progress, both in playing style and results, under the new regime. The focus will now go on trying to gain another record finish but even if they fall short, there can be no taking away from the superb job Hughes is doing with Stoke.


Written by Adam Gray

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Top 10 British Sporting Cities

Britain truly is the home of organised sport, and her sporting influence is felt across the globe. Whether you’re a South American footballer, a North American golfer, an Indian cricketer, an Australasian Rugby star, or a Chinese snooker player, you owe it all to the sporting heritage of the UK.

This article aims to tap into the lucrative market of British sporting tourism. The ten featured cities range from the metropolis of London, to smaller destinations such as Preston and St. Andrews.



London is easily the UK’s largest city, so it not surprising that some of the nation’s most famous sporting venues are found here. The north London skyline is dominated by the newly refurbished Wembley Stadium, which plays host to international matches, and domestic cup finals, such as the F.A. Cup. In addition to the national arena, there are also a dozen league clubs to be found in and around London.

The English Rugby Union side also play their home games in North London, at the majestic Twickenham Stadium, with its 80,000 capacity. Tennis enthusiasts flock to the lawns of Wimbledon for a fortnight each summer, to view the oldest Grand Slam tournament.

Whilst the spiritual home of World Cricket is also to found in London, at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Finally, from 2012 onwards the sporting tourist will have the chance to visit the Olympic Stadium in the East End of the capital.



Whereas Aintree in Lancashire claims the Grand National, the town of Cheltenham holds the three-day racing festival that offers the tourist the best atmosphere of any Horse Racing event in the world.

This is due in part to the pleasant Cotswold Hills that overlook the Race Course, and the high standard of equestrianism, but above all the wave of Irish punters who flock annually to this elegant corner of England.

Every March the usually sleepy town is transformed into a home from home for thousands of Irish racing enthusiasts, even when there isn’t an Irish trained winner, the Guinness is sure to flow long into the night.



Rugby Union was invented in an English Public School almost two hundred years ago, but the spiritual home of British rugby is undoubtedly in South Wales. There are many proud ‘Rugger’ towns in the vicinity, but Cardiff is the site of the Millennium Stadium, with its retractable roof.

Built as a replacement for Cardiff Arms Park, the most hallowed of twentieth century rugby grounds, the Millennium Stadium represents not only the pastime of Wales, but also the regeneration of the Welsh capital.

The Millennium Stadium also hosted the English F.A. Cup between 2001 and 2007, during the renovation of Wembley Stadium.



The East Midlands city of Nottingham is the smallest English city with two football teams, Notts. County and Nottingham Forest, the latter having twice won the European Cup. The riverside stadium of Trent Bridge is a scenic venue for Test Match cricket.

In addition, the National Water Sports Centre is one of the most impressive leisure facilities in Britain. The fast-flowing artificially created rapids challenge Britain’s elite canoeists, kayakers, and white water rafters.

Whilst the two kilometre long Regatta Lake caters for the needs of Britain’s hugely successful Olympic rowing team.



Both Sheffield football teams, Wednesday and United have been crowned English champions, but perhaps the hilly Yorkshire city’s most famous sporting association is with snooker.

The Snooker World Championship is held every spring in Sheffield, in what is literally the most dramatic setting for any high profile sporting event, the Crucible Theatre.



Yorkshire is perhaps the proudest of all English cricketing counties, and there are few venues in the world that can match Headingly for nostalgia, and passionate support. Cricket is a way of life in Yorkshire, and until very recently only those born within the Four Ridings of Yorkshire could qualify for the county team.

The cricketing ground is next door to the home of Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club, who have enjoyed recent successes that Leeds Football Club can only dream of.

However, despite its tenants falling on hard times, the footballing stadium of Elland Road still makes an impact on the visitor.



There’s more to Manchester than Old Trafford, though the home of Man. United does attract fans from around the World. Local rivals Manchester City also boast an impressive stadium, which was originally constructed for the Commonwealth Games of 2002.

In addition to the two large stadia that between them can hold 125,000 spectators, the city also hosts the Manchester Velodrome, one of the World’s premier cycling venues.

For fans of the oval ball, the rugby league towns of Salford, Wigan, and St. Helens are a just a short hop away.



The small Lancashire city of Preston has one major claim to fame, namely being the Mecca of world club football. Preston’s unparalleled footballing heritage, centres around the recently refurbished Deepdale stadium, home of the famous Preston North End Football Club.

Deepdale is the oldest professional football ground anywhere on Earth (football was first played here in 1880), and consequently the English F.A. chose as the site for the National History Museum, a must-see for football fanatics of any allegiance.

The Museum has an extensive collection of artefacts from the nineteenth century to the present day. There are also many interactive amusements for children, and the opportunity to view the hallowed turf of Deepdale itself.

Preston has excellent transport links due to it’s proximity to the M6, and the West Coast railway that connects the Midlands to Scotland.



Glasgow, not Edinburgh, is the footballing capital of Scotland, as testified by the majestic sight of Hampden Park. Hampden is the headquarters of the SFA, the second oldest football association in the World, and it also holds the Scottish Football Museum.

The rivalry between the two main Glaswegian teams, Celtic and Rangers is perhaps the fiercest in Europe. Rangers have won the Scottish League more times, but Celtic was the first British team to lift the European Cup back in 1967.

Both grounds are worth a visit; Celtic Park (Parkhead to traditionalists) is the bigger of the two, and holds over 60,000 supporters, however it lacks the red-bricked elegance of Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium.

In fact, Glasgow is the only European city that can claim three football venues with a capacity of over 50,000. However in the summer of 2014, football will for once take a back seat, as Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games.


St. Andrews

Scotland’s association with golf goes back many centuries, in fact it is said that Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed the game. Though the Fife town has a population of little more than 15,000, it is home to the world’s most famous golf club, the Royal and Ancient (founded in 1754), plus a dozen pristine golf courses in the vicinity of this historical university town.

The advantage of a trip to this seaside location, is that any party members who are not interested in golf, can enjoy the beach, or the rustic charm of St. Andrew’s many old buildings.


Written by Brian Heller

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Arthur Wharton: Britain’s first black professional footballer

In the late nineteenth century, Arthur Wharton (1865-1930) was an athlete of legendary proportions, competing at the top level in many sports including cycling, rugby, cricket athletics and football.  It was previously believed that Wharton was the first ever black football player; however new evidence has recently come to light that shows this distinction goes to Andrew Watson, who played in Scotland in the 1870s.

Despite this, Wharton was a pioneer in the sporting world, competing in arenas almost universally occupied by white people. He was a well-liked, well respected competitor but unfortunately, his life story did not have a happy ending.

In 1875 Wharton and his father, the Rev Henry Wharton, moved from the West Indies to England.  He attended Dr Cheyne’s school in London from 1875 and in 1882, he began training as a missionary teacher at Shoal Hill College and two years later at Cleveland College in London.

In 1886, at the age of 20 Wharton entered the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) Championships at Stamford Bridge.  As well as becoming the first black athlete to win an AAA championship, he also set a new world record at the event becoming the first man ever to run 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.

Later that year, Wharton signed a professional contract with Preston North End football club, one the top teams in the world at that time.  Ironically, despite being the fastest man on earth, he was to become a highly respected goalkeeper.

Wharton had a reputation as a hard man on the field and when he unleashed his trademark ‘prodigious punch’, it was said that he always connected with ether the ball, or an opponents head!  In those days a goalie could handle the ball anywhere in his own half and players could barge him whether he was on or off the ball, which explains the logic of having a fast, powerful goalkeeper.

Wharton seems to have relished the more physical side of the game and like many goalkeepers, he seems to have had an eccentric streak.  In a letter to the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent (January 12, 2022), T. H. Smith wrote;

“In a match between Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday at Olive Grove I saw Wharton jump, take hold of the cross bar, catch the ball between his legs, and cause three onrushing forwards - Billy Ingham, Clinks Mumford and Mickey Bennett - to fall into the net.  I have never seen a similar save since and I have been watching football for over fifty years”.

Wharton stayed at Preston North End for three years before signing for Rotherham United in 1889.  Five years later he moved to Sheffield United were he spent a miserable year, finding it difficult to hold a regular first team place.  In 1895 he went back to Rotherham United, where he played in only fifteen league games in six years.

During his time at Rotherham, Wharton was also a pub landlord, running the Albert Tavern and later the Plough Inn in Rotherham then the Sportsman Cottage pub in Sheffield.  During this period, he developed a drinking problem, causing his career to nose dive and eventually forcing him to retire from football in 1902.

He spent the rest of his life as a colliery haulage worker and by the time he died, on the 12th of December 1930, of epithelioma and syphilis, he had fallen into obscurity and was a penniless alcoholic.

In recent years, Wharton’s name has been brought out of obscurity and, while he is by no means a household name, a number of articles and a few books have been written about him.

A colourful and well respected all round sportsman, Wharton was a trailblazer for black sportsmen throughout the Western world and deserves his place in history as one of the greatest athletes of his day.

In 1886, Arthur Wharton became the fastest man on earth when he ran 100 yards in 10 seconds flat.  Soon after, he became only the second black man to play top level football.

Despite his blistering pace, Wharton had a successful career as a goalkeeper and left a mark on the beautiful game.


Written by Auron Renius

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Danny Ings: England cap not just yet in the offing, but the Burnley striker shows the talent to go far

Burnley’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City on Saturday evening gave the Lancashire outfit a real chance of staying in the Premier League against the odds in what would be an extraordinary achievement for Sean Dyche and his shoe-string assembled squad. A season that has seen them take points off Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton and now the current title-holders has already made it a sensational campaign for the Clarets who may be about to see one of their players earn a cap for England for the first time since Martin Dobson in 1974.

Danny Ings faces solid competition from the likes of Harry Kane, Saido Berahino and Charlie Austin to be the new star in Roy Hodgson’s attack for the matches with Lithuania and Italy at the end of March but, despite having scored less than his rivals, his 9 Premier League goals are extremely hard to ignore. That is certainly the case with Real Sociedad, Newcastle, Everton, Arsenal, Liverpool and most recently Manchester United, all whom have expressed an interest in signing Ings once his contract expires in June.

Amid the rumours that have circulated since October which have told of Ings rejecting a new contract offer at Burnley, seeing a £4 million bid from Liverpool turned down in January and having signed a pre-contract deal with Real Sociedad, it has indeed been testament to the man-management skills of Dyche and the application of Ings that his performances have not suffered in the face of such rife speculation.

The 23 year old has missed just 3 league matches and although he’s rated as Burnley’s 6th best player by, his 9 goals, 4 assists and a rate of 1 chance created per game make Ings by far their biggest threat.

Both goals in the victory over Stoke, vital goals in draws with Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion and the winner over relegation rivals QPR have been indications to his cool-touch in-front of goal but many will point there is much more to his game than goal-scoring.

A player who is as comfortable turning with his back to goal and creating space between the lines as he is heading in a cross past David De Gea at Old Trafford, he is an intelligent reader of the game, one who operates with astute movement and a desire to run in behind defenders and in to space. Running is certainly something he does a lot of, both off the ball and on it, it was not a surprise to recently hear his manager saying that the striker can be “criticised for trying too hard.

His work in providing Ashley Barnes for his recent goal against West Brom is an insight into the striker’s ability; the look over his shoulder whilst anticipating the long ball, the clever feint of the shoulder and the movement to retrieve the follow-up. Then he displays the strength to hold off two defenders before finding Barnes in the centre with an improvised cross.

The link-up with Barnes, Scott Arfield and George Boyd, with whom he played off in the victory over City, has been superb at times this season, often more deserving than the 25 points from 18 games Burnley have accrued. His understanding with Sam Vokes in the build up to Ings’s goal against QPR is almost telepathic, a sign of a player perfectly in synch with his team-mates and thriving off their service.

After scoring 26 goals to fire Burnley into the Premier League last year Ings was named the club’s player of the year and he looks set to retain that accolade by scoring the goals that could well keep them there against all expectation. If he manages to achieve that, few will begrudge him his decision to end his four years at Turf Moor and pursue his ambitions elsewhere.

When it is announced on Thursday, Hodgson’s next England team could be too soon for Ings who is likely to stay in the under-21s, for whom he has 4 goals in 7 appearances, but if he continues on his current path many senior caps are sure to come.


Written by Adam Gray

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Chelsea: The Blues capitulated when it mattered the most against the determined Parisians


Jose Mourinho is a man after my heart. In my opinion, the greatest manager of my lifetime, the Portuguese’s managerial ingenuity took a hit in front of his own fans (who he has for most part of the season ripped apart for their lack of support) when PSG came from behind twice to end Chelsea’s chances of qualifying for the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition. The way they did it? The Mourinho style. I don’t think I have ever seen a team with so much heart in my football life. Maybe I have and probably forgotten.

In a game expected to be a cake walk for Chelsea, PSG fought like wounded lions that they were. With 10 men, they dominated all aspects of play, thanks to Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. But for Edinson Cavani’s wastefulness, they could have been home and dry before the end of normal time. Bjorn Kuipers, one of the best referees in the world, was given the whistle for this great game but he let himself and his status down by sending off Zlatan Ibrahimovic early on for a tackle that was worth a yellow at worst.

His decision was most likely influenced largely by the barrage of blue shirts. Chelsea players, including Diego Costa who ran 50 yards, were all up in the face of the Dutch official who had to brandish the red card at the Swede. Without their talisman and top scorer, le Parisien wore their hearts on their sleeves and put on a show that will be talked about for years and years to come. It was Blanc who took centre stage rather than his more illustrious managerial colleague. A turnaround in fortunes that meant justice was served in the end.

The rather shambolic and classless display by the hosts when Ibra and Oscar went in on a 50-50 was the talking point of the match even above the excellent game played by the French champions. All 9 outfield players (Oscar was rolling on the floor like he was hit by a truck) surrounded Mr Kuipers, who is no stranger to the big occasions having been placed in charge of the 2013 Europa League final, the 2014 Champions league final among others. He caved in under pressure and off Ibra went.

Daniel Taylor’s piece on the utterly scandalous display by Chelsea players is the best I have read in my life. I almost stopped writing mine in order not to look like a befuddled clown in the eyes of those who have digested the aforementioned piece.

As Daniel Taylor said, Chelsea are not the only guilty ones. Mourinho may have Rui Faria but Diego Simeone also has German Burgos, Gustavo Poyet has Mauricio Tarrico…all of whom are ‘the smaller the pip, the louder the squeak’ kind of people, except Burgos whose frame alone can scare the hell out of whoever is unlucky to be his victim. All attack dogs mentioned take it upon themselves to literally pounce upon match officials when they feel decisions have gone against them.

Last Wednesday, justice was served when PSG, despite all the unfair treatment meted out on them, qualified for the quarter-final of the Champions League at the expense of the more fancied Chelsea. The match represents Mourinho’s worst ever. Not the scoreline but the way it played out. He may have been a brute and an ogre in the Spanish League, but his rants and constant complaints this season have far outdone all his previous atrocities and misdemeanors.

The man who is driven by the fear of failure every single week will taint his legend if he continues this way. Even Cesc Fabregas has become an Oscar nominee in football’s version of playacting.

Our beautiful game is becoming a terrible nightmare with all these situations repeating themselves every time.


Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Louis van Gaal: The legendary Dutch manager’s woes with Manchester United

Louis van Gaal has credentials that make for fantastic reading anywhere in the world. The Dutch physical education teacher and managerial myth has carved a niche for himself in the world of football management and it is the major reason he could still attract a job as lucrative and challenging as the one he is presently doing, despite his age.

Sought by Tottenham Hotpurs last summer, it was no surprise he chose Manchester United ahead of the North London outfit when the opportunity presented itself. No 63 year old man will pass on the chance to captain the Red Army ship. No one. Preseason was nothing short of blissful, but he was given a reality check by Swansea in the first home game of the season and since then, it has been up and down for the ex-Bsyern manager.

The travails and tribulations came to a head supposedly last Monday when the last attempt to end the mini trophy drought was ended by former Red, Danny Welbeck and Arsenal. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the club and supporters and many have called for an end to van Gaal’s reign.

However, I am not one of those who are calling for the manager’s head because in my opinion, he has worked wonders despite inhibitions which have come in form of injuries and lack of cohesion. It is a well known fact that United have suffered at least 50 injuries since August and to still be sitting comfortably in 4th position and having the 3rd best defensive record in the league after more than 12 central defensive partnerships is a miraculous return and should be praised rather than criticised.

The job became very demanding and difficult after the wretched and sorrowful season the club had last time with now Real Sociedad manager, David Moyes at the helm. But now, things have shaped up with the club in prime position to qualify for next season’s European cup tournament. Louis van Gaal and his team have had to deal with prolonged absences and suspensions which many will say are indeed part of the game but when you are a newbie learning the ropes, you are given a breather, irrespective of the resume you boast of.

Yesterday’s annihilation of Spurs, the bashing of Liverpool, the win at Arsenal, the inspired performance at the Etihad, the last gasp draw vs Chelsea are enough to sway our minds and give us hope that the United grinding machine will get switched on pretty soon.

Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria and big money signings that haven’t sparkled since their arrival. The Colombian marksman, one of the most feared attackers of the past 5 years hasn’t lit it and this has been because he is still coming to terms with his return from a career threatening ACL which only a ‘few’ footballers have recovered successfully from. That hunger is still very much evident but the finishing ability has waned and that is the major problem.

For Di Maria, the winger-cum-playmaker has found life and the football in Britain difficult to adapt to but if we remember a certain David Silva at City, the realisation will dawn on us that hope springs eternal. Despite his poor form, he is second only to Cesc Fabregas in the assists ranking. A good achievement if you ask me.

Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, also a part of van Gaal’s recruitment drive, have been wonderful. Bar the insipid performance in the FA Cup quarter-final, the duo from Argentina and Holland have rarely put a foot wrong. Blind has come to his employers’ rescue twice already this term and Rojo’s defensive abilities, largely underestimated, have been very impressive so far.

There are obvious signs of improvement and as the season wears on, we will see if van Gaal is the same man we all saw at Ajax, Barcelona, AZ, Bayern Munich and the Netherlands or not. For now, his report card reads ‘FURTHERANCE’. It is at the end of the season at his performance will be appraised and assessed based on objectives met or otherwise.

I want to see the Dutchman at the club next season and beyond.


Written by Ohireime Eboreime

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Ashbourne, Derbyshire: The Home of Extreme Football

Football is played in many places around the world, with many different sets of rules, but there is only one place in the world where a type of football has been played continuously for a thousand years: Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, England.

The earliest written records of the game go back to the twelfth century, when the English king first tried to ban it! So the game is certainly older than that. Throughout history Kings, Queens, local councils and police forces have all tried to ban the game, but nobody has yet succeeded. Not even Kaiser Wilhelm III, nor Adolf Hitler, could stop it.

So committed are the people of Ashbourne to their game, that when the men were away fighting in the two World Wars, the women of the town took over, and made sure that the game continued!

In the end, the authorities gave up trying to ban it, and in 1928, a truce was called, and the then Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VIII) started the annual game, which was renamed “Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide Football.”

So what is it about this game that arouses so much animosity from the authorities, and such partisanship from its players?

First of all, this is football as it was originally played in medieval times, from the part of the world that gave football its two main codes, soccer and rugby. The Pilgrim Fathers also originated from this area, so it certainly influenced football in the United States, and the rest of the British Empire.

Think – football as an extreme sport!

The goals are three miles apart, and both are at the site of medieval mill wheels. The mills are long gone, but the posts remain, and to score a goal, the player must be in the river Henmore. The game is played on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and Ash Wednesday each year, so it is quite common for players to have to break the ice in order to play in the river.

The town of Ashbourne takes up the area between the two goalposts, and so forms the field of play. As there are no limits to the number of people who can play, it is not uncommon to be standing in an ordinary street, and then find literally hundreds of men in ragged clothes and heavy working boots suddenly rushing towards you!

This is exhilarating, and frightening to the uninitiated, but there are always refuges for spectators, and the very friendly locals will always help a stranger to stay safe.

With so many people involved, some damage to property commonly occurs, hence the past antipathy of the authorities. However, nowadays, the games’ governing committee have a fund, and all damage caused by Shrovetiders is paid for.

Although minor injuries to players are common, the game is played in good friendly spirit, and so serious injuries are mercifully rare, and there have only been a handful of deaths throughout all of the game’s long history. Injuries to spectators are almost unheard of.

The game is played by two teams, the Uppards, who are either born upstream of the town, or have Uppards family connections, and the Downards, who are affiliated to the downstream area of the town.

Unlike most modern football games, the aim is to score an own goal, the Uppards take the ball to the upstream goal, at Sturston, the Downards take the ball to the downstream goal, at Clifton.

The ball is made of cork, wood shavings and leather. It has been made in the same way for centuries, and the secrets of ball making is passed down through families from generation.

As the ball usually spends a fair amount of time in the river, and manhandled by groups of men each determined that the ball will travel in opposite directions, it needs to be very robust. (This crowd of indeterminate numbers is known as the “Hug”, which is a very apt name for a crush of 20 to  60 or more players, each man seeking advantage for his team, and to touch the elusive ball, somewhere in the middle.) It is larger than a soccer ball, and over time tends to get very heavy as it absorbs water.

There are very few rules, although over the last few years a new rule has been introduced, for the first time, that the ball must not be carried in a car or other motor vehicle. (A problem the medieval players weren’t faced with.) Rough and tumble are traditional aspects to the game, and the game is played as it was in medieval times. This is not the sport for the faint hearted.

The game starts with a ceremonial meal, usually roast beef, where speeches are made, songs are sung, and the person who is to “turn up” the ball, or start the game, is introduced to the participants.

Traditionally this is held at the Green Man Hotel, an ancient coaching inn in the center of Ashbourne, also traditionally the site of public executions. (These are one Ashbourne tradition which has thankfully died out.)

After the meal, he is then carried, shoulder high, by a contingent of players, to the Plinth on Shaw Croft car park, where the game traditionally commences. Once on the plinth, with some of the Committee, players are exhorted to keep to the spirit of the game, reminded of its great history, and then the Shrovetide Song and the National Anthem are sung by the entire crowd.

Then the chosen person throws the brightly painted ball into the waiting crowd, to a huge cheer. (Usually the person turning up the ball on a Tuesday is a celebrity, while the person on a Wednesday is a local person of good standing.)

The players now attempt to take the ball to their team’s goal. If the ball is goaled before 5 pm., another ball is turned up. If the ball is goaled between 5 and 10 pm., the game ends with the goal. If the ball is not goaled before 10 pm., then the game is declared over for that day.

The locals are fiercely proud of their game, and are only too happy to explain the finer points of play to strangers.


Written by Kate

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Andrew Watson: The World’s First Black International Football Player

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Until recently, it was believed that the world’s first black footballer was Arthur Wharton, who played for Preston North End in the late nineteenth century.  However, evidence has recently come to light showing that a man by the name of Andrew Watson was playing in Scotland around ten years earlier than Wharton.

Watson was born in British Guyana in 1857 and later came to Britain, attending public school in Halifax.  In 1875 he enrolled in Glasgow University, where he studied Maths, Natural Philosophy, Civil Engineering and Mechanics.

Watson, who played on either side of defence or in midfield, began his playing career with Maxwell in Glasgow, followed by a stint at Parkgrove in 1874.  Later, he played for Queens Park, the top team in Scotland at the time, spending seven years there from 1880-1887.

According to the ‘Scottish Football Association Annual’ of 1880-81, he was:

“One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen’s Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; a powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team.”

He is also known to have represented the London Swifts in the English Cup Championships (FA Cup) in 1882, becoming the first player of African descent to play in an English cup competition.  Watson won four Charity Cup medals and two Scottish Cup medals, the earliest of which was another milestone in football as he became the first non-white player to be in the winning side of any major football competition.

Watson also holds the distinction of being the first black international player.  Acknowledged in the ‘Who’s Who’ for his international performances, he represented Scotland three times from 1881 – 1882, in the International Challenge Match.  In his first international on the 12th of March 1881, Watson was captain and led Scotland to a 6-1 mauling of England at Kennington Oval in London, with a crowd of 8,500.

In his second, two days later, 1,500 people saw his side beat Wales 5-1 at Acton Park, Wrexham.  His team again hammered England a year later on 11 March 2022 in the same competition, beating them 5-1 at First Hampden Park in Glasgow, in front of 10,000 fans.

Watson was not only a pioneer on the field; as club secretary at Queens Park, he was probably the first black member of a football club’s boardroom. Watson spent most of his career as an amateur and was a seasoned and valued player at Queens Park when football officially went professional in 1885, although it is unclear whether he himself turned pro.

When his playing days were over, he and his family emigrated to Australia, where he remained the rest of his life.

After his death, Andrew Watson fell into obscurity but has now reemerged to claim his place in both football and black history.  As a successful black sportsman living at the end of the nineteenth century, it is easy to speculate on the difficulties and prejudices he would have undoubtedly faced.

However, despite the obstacles put before him, he had a successful career in a previously all white sport, and deserves to be remembered as one of histories true trail-blazers.

Recent evidence has come to light that reveals a man by the name of Andrew Watson was the world’s first black football player. Starting his career in 1874, he was successful at all levels of the game and set the path for those that would follow him.


Written by Auron Renius

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Chelsea: Have the Blues sealed this season’s league title?

Chelsea haven’t been at their best for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped them opening a five point lead over closest rivals Manchester City, who have been found out far too many times this season. Their good performances have proven to be little more than one-offs, and they have faltered in a variety of games: at tough away games like West Ham, Everton and Liverpool to supposedly comfortable opposition at home like Burnley, Hull and Stoke.

Chelsea meanwhile, despite losses to Newcastle and Tottenham, have generally been strong in all types of matches, sometimes playing better than others. Indeed, Chelsea have consistently shown the clichèd “character of champions”. So, as dull as it sounds, the title race may already be over in early March.

Upcoming fixtures: Man City, Burnley (away), West Brom (home), Crystal Palace (away), Man Utd (away), West Ham (home), Aston Villa (home), Tottenham (away), QPR (home), Swansea (away), Southampton (home)

So not too bad for the defending champions then. With the exception of Manchester United at home, one would expect Manchester City to win those games. Yet where Manchester City have fallen down is in these so-called easier games previously mentioned. It can therefore be said that although these games appear easy, Manchester City haven’t got the players willing to dig their team out of the proverbial mud.

In my view, Kompany has been in a slump for a while now, Demichelis isn’t as pacy as he once was, while Mangala has struggled for consistency, perfectly understandable for a player in his first season in England. Without leaders with confidence leading from the back like Kompany and Zabaleta did last year, it is hard to see this team producing the sort of form out of the blue (pardon the pun) to lead them to another title.

Chelsea however, have been solid if rarely spectacular this season. Their advantage over Manchester City has come in the form of an ability to win games without always playing well, and as much of a cliché as that is, it has been true of the blues this season. Their wins at places like Anfield, Upton Park and Goodison Park have been in stark contrast to Manchester City’s timid play at those grounds. A few years ago, many of the title challengers would have been a part of such performances, but only Chelsea have given them consistently this season.

Fundamental to this has been their defence, a back line largely consisting of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta have proved formidable at times, protected by the dynamism and balance offered by Nemanja Matić. Such a balance alongside Fàbregas has proven far better and more consistent than that used by Manuel Pellegrini, Fernando taking a while to settle, Fernandinho not always being a regular starter, while Yaya Toure has proven far more effective up the pitch. For this again, lack of consistency and assurance in City’s team, this title race may be over by late April.

Manchester City, and in particular, Manuel Pellegrini, may end up ruing some of their early season displays. Slack, perhaps arrogant and or naive, it was not a City who looked like they had just won the league. Away to Chelsea they were up against a top XI nonetheless as one would expect, but the Blues had just beaten Liverpool 2-1 after a gruelling 30 minutes of extra time so to see City produce so little that game in what ended as a 1-1 draw perhaps sums their season up: a lack of drive and inspiration at times.

Is there a huge difference in quality between the two sides which puts the title race on the brink of being over in mid-March? I don’t think so, with Agüero, Yaya Toure and David Silva this is a City side with experience and quality alike, but they have lacked the consistency and perhaps even desire at times this season. Perhaps “over” is too strong as we said that in 2012 at this stage and were left eating our words in shock come May, but this City team looks too shaky and Chelsea look too long in the tooth for any late twist this season.


Written by Joshua Sodergren

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Sardar Azmoun: The Iranian Messi?


Iran haven’t always been rated as one of football’s superpowers, but the nation has been on a bit of a rise recently. A very promising 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign in Brazil was followed up by an impressive Asian Cup performance this year, as they made the quarterfinal stage after topping their group with nine points. Indeed that Asian Cup performance raised many eyebrows, as a certain 20 year old stood out from the crowd.

That 20 year old is Sardar Azmoun, a talented and rather slightly built forward who has been ruffling a few feathers in the Russian Premier League. After moving into football at the age of nine he was offered his first professional contract with local side Sepahan, and although he didn’t made an appearance for the first team he did win the national title in 2012.

Despite never actually taking to the field two time Russian champions Rubin Kazan saw enough to take a punt on the 17 year old, and that’s where his rise really did begin. In his first season in Kazan head coach Kurban Berdyev opted to train him up with the youth team, and he eventually made his first team debut in July 2013 in a UEFA Europa League qualifier.

His first goal didn’t take long to come either, as in just his second game against Molde he found the net. That persuaded Rubin to give him more playing time, and he slowly became a first team mainstay scoring in the Russian league for the first time in October of the same year.

His gradual progress was already attracting attention from all around Europe, as Rubin came out and publically stated that he wasn’t for sale despite offers from the likes of Arsenal and Internazionale. Newspaper reports in Britain have been touting him as the ‘Iranian Messi’, and while that may be a bit steep, you can see the comparisons.

Just like his Argentinian counterpart Azmoun has a low sense of gravity, and is exceptional with the ball at his feet. A perfect example is his wonder goal against Qatar in the Asian Cup group stages, where he quite beautifully twisted away from his marker. His raw technical talent has pushed him to the fore of Asian talent, and just in January this year Liverpool and Tottenham were rumoured to having offered Rubin £5 million for his services.

And then something rather strange happened. In late February Rubin decided that for whatever reason he would be sent out on loan to struggling Rostov, a team that are languishing in 16th and last place of the Russian league. Why? Even I am struggling to work this one out. In Russia it made very few headlines, as few seemed bothered by the move.

The only problem in his game though, and a potential reason for the loan deal, is his lack of goals. Yes, he’s full of talent and ability, but this campaign he has hit the target only once (and that was back in August 2014). Rubin are a team that traditionally struggle for goals, and they will be hoping that Sardar can start scoring with more regularity with Rostov.

Even the fact that Rubin were prepared to loan him out shouldn’t put off potential buyers. He is still only 20 years old, and those flashes of potential which we have seen have been enough to show what he is capable of. The main question for him is when to make the move abroad.

In Russia you can progress to a certain extent, but to realise his potential to the full a move to Western Europe will be needed. Some players though go either too early and get lost somewhere along the line, or opt to go too late when nobody wants them. His technical ability would suit a team like Arsenal perfectly, however his small frame would make it difficult to compete in such a physically demanding league.

This summer will surely see more offers coming up, and if the price is right, Rubin will have no other option than to give up their hottest talent. The only issues that remain are when the right time to go is, and where is the best place to let his talent flourish. Two issues that are going to decide how big he is going to become.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93

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