Where is Eastern Europe? 

There is no doubt that so far Euro 2017 has been a great success and a credit to women’s football. TV audiences are going up – the audience for Holland’s first game was 172 per cent up on their opener four years ago even though the event is in Holland so people who might have been watching on TV had the event been played elsewhere were watching in the stadium. Also the games are getting more competitive despite the event being expanded to sixteen teams. There has only been one mismatch (England v Scotland) as the players benefiting from an increase in professionalism are fitter and stronger than ever before. What used to be a predictable event has produced shock results.  For example 2013 runners up Norway have crashed out of the tournament without winning a point or scoring a goal and already eliminated Italy defeated Olympic silver medalists Sweden 3-2 last night. It is clear that women’s football is both improving in standard and increasing in popularity. 

But there is one big anomaly. Last night Russia were eliminated. The country did not disgrace themselves – in fact by beating Italy 2-1 they won their first match at a Euro at their thirteenth attempt and in their fourth Finals tournament – but Russia were the only Eastern European country (meaning the countries of the old Warsaw Pact plus the old Yugoslavia) to play at the event. This is a big contrast to men’s football (the 16 teams in Euro 2008* included five teams from Eastern Europe). Nor is this situation unique to this tournament. In all the women’s European Championships eighteen countries have taken part only two of them from Eastern Europe (apart from Russia Ukraine qualified in 2009). Ukraine won one meaningless game at that tournament meaning that counting this year Eastern European teams have won two out of eighteen games at women’s Euros. 

I find that a baffling statistic. Now it could be said that Eastern Europe is a sexist part of the world but it has a good record in women’s sport that is not football. An example of this is in “Playing With the Boys” by Eileen McDonough and Laura Pappano (page 204) “America was losing the athletic cold war and one big reason, political leaders concluded, was because US females were being soundly beaten by their Soviet rivals. At the 1960 Olympic Games, for example, Soviet women earned twice as many medals as American women, 28 to 12”. So it was clear that at least before the passing of Title IX and the collapse of Communism Eastern European female athletes were superior to their American and Western European counterparts.

Another example is the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. Remember only one of the top sixteen women’s football teams in Europe is Eastern European (Russia). In contrast eleven of the top sixteen European WTA players represent Eastern European countries. Women from the Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Latvia and Slovakia are among the list including new World number 1 Karolina Pliskova, number 2 Simona Halep and the sport’s newest Grand Slam Champion Alona Ostapenko. To add to this four of the top sixteen European WTA players who do not represent an Eastern European country had at least one parent from Eastern Europe (Angelique Kerber, Johanna Konta, Caroline Wozniacki and Kristina Mladenovic). So fifteen of the top sixteen European women tennis players are either born in Eastern Europe or have Eastern European parents. Interestingly of the women mentioned above three – Wozniacki, Halep and Mladenovic – have fathers or brothers that are/were professional footballers. 

Yet in contrast 20 out of the 46 countries that entered the Euro 2017 qualifing tournament were Eastern European. Of those 20 two were knocked out in the Preliminary Round, and of the other 18 all but Russia and Romania finished third or lower in their groups. Six Eastern European countries finished the qualifing groups without a point. It is quite amazing that 14 out of 26 Western European countries qualified for Euro 2017 and only one out of 20 Eastern European countries did. It shows that at the moment in women’s football Eastern Europe is a second division. 

The only explanation – since it is clear from their success in women’s sport (tennis, track and field, gymnastics and weightlifting for example) that Eastern Europe has female athletic talent and encourages it – is that there is something about football that the establishment in the Eastern European countries does not like. Their past and current success in women’s sport shows that – unlike the UK and US in the past – Eastern Europe is not hostile to women’s sport but they are to women’s football.  I have no idea why. 

But there is encouragement for women’s football in Eastern Europe. The impressive performances of Portugal and especially Belgium and Austria in their first major Finals shows that if you invest in women’s football you will reap the divided. And we know from what I mentioned above that Eastern Europe has the female athletic talent. 

If Eastern Europe ever gets its act together and takes women’s football seriously it could revolutionise two sports. Imagine if the next generation of Pliskovas, Haleps and Ostapenkos chose to be professional footballers not tennis players. That could be catastrophic for the WTA. As an article in the New York Times (March 6 2016) puts it “But it is just as crystal clear that the WTA is on borrowed time when it comes to global leadership. Women’s soccer, a still-drowsy giant, continues to stir”.  If that giant ever wakes up in Eastern Europe which supplies most of the tennis talent in Europe tennis might lose its status as the dominant professional sport for women. 

Right now the place to see Eastern European female athletic talent is on the tennis court. On the football field Eastern Europe is almost irrelevant. But that could change. If a future generation of Pliskovas, Haleps and Ostapenkos ever chose football and not tennis the WTA could be in deep trouble. 

*I did not use Euro 2012 as a comparator since Poland and Ukraine qualified as co hosts thus inflating the number of Eastern European teams, or Euro 2016 as it had 24 teams.

Recalling an unsung hero

Today is an historic night for women’s football in Scotland as the national team finally makes its debut in a major tournament – against England of all teams. There is no doubt that the team thoroughly deserved this debut as they were unlucky to qualify for both Euro 2009 (lost to Russia in a play off on away goals) and Euro 2013 (lost to Spain in a play off to a goal in the 122nd minute). So after the misery the team has gone through in the past they deserve their place in the sun (and the fact that they are playing England is a boost as this gives women’s football in Scotland far more publicity than they would have gotten had they been drawn in any other group). 

But this is also a time to reflect on the players who helped make Scottish women’s football – the early pioneers like Nettie Honeyball, Nancy “Cannonball” Thompson and Julie Fleeting – and an unsung hero who has a claim to be the greatest female footballer this island has ever produced but yet got totally disowned by her own country and had to play for another country in international football.

The player I am talking about is Rose Reilly. Rose was born in Stewarton East Ayrshire. Now you have to remember in these days (the late 1960s) women’s football was still banned in the UK. Rose wanted to play football but the only way she could play was to cut her hair short and call herself Ross Reilly so she could play for Stewarton Boys’ Club. She was so good that a scout from Celtic who was watching Stewarton wanted “him” to sign for Celtic – but as she was a girl not only could she not sign for Celtic she could not play for the Boys’ Club anymore.

Luckily there was a women’s team she could join – Stewarton Thistle. In 1971 she played aged 16 in the first English women’s FA Cup losing to Southampton. She was a losing finalist in the English FA Cup Final three years in a row and played in the first Scotland international of the new era (1972). 

But she wanted to be a professional footballer – but in the Scotland of the 1970s there was no career opportunities for women in football. Luckily she was able to make a career for herself abroad. In 1974 she moved to French professional team Reims but after just six months moved to Italy with Milan. 

To show how ridiculous football in Scotland was for the heinous crime of having a professional career abroad Reilly was banned in 1975 (along with team mate Edna Nellis) for life from playing for Scotland. This was not unique to Scotland at the time. England’s Sue Lopez had to choose between playing for England and being a professional abroad but in her case she gave up a professional career for an international one. Even in men’s football there were people who wanted Kevin Keegan banned from playing for England when he joined Hamburg in 1977! 

Reilly thought at the time that her career was over. Luckily it wasn’t as she went on to play for a variety of Italian teams including Catania and Leece as well as Milan. Amazingly in 1978-79 she won League titles in two different countries! She win the Italian League with Leece (playing on Saturday nights) and the French League with Remis (playing on Sunday afternoons). We can guarantee that will never happen again! 

She was even able to play international football despite being banned from playing for Scotland. She got Italian citizenship and was able to play in a Women’s World Cup in China in 1983 because the event was not officially recognised by FIFA (FIFA did not hold an Official Women’s World Cup until 1991). Not only did she play for Italy she captained them to the title and scored from 40 yards in the final and was voted the “Best Female Player in the World”. 

By 1984 Reilly was earning £12000 a year with Trani (for comparison current England captain Steph Houghton reportedly earns £60000 a year). She played in Italy until retiring at the age of 40. She won 22 caps for Italy and ten for Scotland during a career where Celtic tried to sign her, she would get banned from playing for her own country, won League titles in two countries in one season and won a World Cup with her adopted country. 

Her story has a happy ending in that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) inducted her into their Hall of Fame finally making up for the injustice of banning her for life back in 1975. Rose Reilly has a significant claim to be the best female footballer off all time in the UK – never mind Scotland. Today she lives in her home town of Stewarton and I’m sure she will be watching her successors play England tonight with pride and might be wondering what might have been had the SFA had let her play for her own country….

Who will be the Queens of Europe? 

A year after Euro 2016 the men’s European Football Championship the women’s equivalent Euro 2017 starts in Holland this Sunday. Reflecting the growth in women’s football this is the biggest women’s Euros in history with sixteen countries participating. To think only twelve years ago in 2005 only eight teams participated in the Euros. In 2009 the tournament expanded to twelve teams and now in 2017 there are now sixteen teams. 

This will improve the tournament as sixteen teams means that the group stage has been made simpler. No more third place finishers qualifying without winning a game (like Portugal did in the men’s Euros last year) and no more needing slide rules and calculators to work out which third placed teams go through or which first placed teams the third place teams play. Just nice and simple. 

So with that said what might happen in the tournament? One fascinating thing about the draw is it has thrown up five matches between near neighbours which if nothing else might give the tournament extra publicity. So let’s take a look at the groups.

Group A – Holland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium – In men’s football it is often said that the host nation has an easy draw. This does not apply to the women. Hosts Holland are in a group that involves three of the top eight European teams in the FIFA world rankings. The Dutch team like their men boast a squad that is mainly scattered across Europe including four Arsenal players -Sari van Veenenvdaal, Danielle van den donk, Dominique Jansen and new signing – and the teams star player – Vivienne Miedena. Their problems include the loss of Manon Melissa to retirement since the last World Cup and can they cope with the pressure of being hosts? Women’s football as we all know does not get the same publicity as the men’s game which can make it harder when players who are not used to hype and publicity suddenly have to cope with it. 

And it is by no means certain that Holland will even get out of the group. This is not because they are a bad team – quite the opposite – it is the quality of the opposition. First of all there is 2013 Finalists Norway who include arguably the best striker in the world Ada Hegerberg. her sister Andrine, the excellent Caroline Graham Hansen – who they badly missed at the last World Cup – plus captain Maren Mjelde. One worry for Norway is that Ada Hegerberg laboured through the Champions League Final in June and did not look fit. They will hope she is back to her best but they are always competitive in the Euros and will be so again. 

So will their neighbours Denmark. They won’t be able to get to the Semi Finals without winning a game again – the benefit of not having third placed teams qualifying – but with star strikers Pernile Harder and Nadia Nadim and a history of punching above their weight in the Euros means they cannot be underestimated. Neither can first time finalists Belgium. During qualifying they became the first team in eight years to avoid defeat away to England in a competitive game and also drew with neighbours Holland in qualification for the last World Cup. Realistically I cannot see the “Red Flames” qualifying from the group. I can see them taking a point from at least one game – and whatever team that is could miss out on the next stage as a result….

Predicted Qualifiers – Norway, Holland.

Group B – Germany, Sweden, Italy, Russia – In contrast to Group A this group on paper looks clear cut for Germany and Sweden. Germany are the powerhouse of European women’s football and have won the title six times in a row. In 2013 people predicted France, England. Sweden or Norway might end their dominance but none of them did. Thy might have needed two penalty saves from the excellent Nadine Angerer to win the title but they still did. They were not expected to win the Olympics last year either – but they did. For the first time in a decade the Frau Bundesliga did not provide a Champions League semi finalist but omminously for the rest of Europe the last time that happened Germany won the World Cup without conceding a goal. Again (like 2013) key players – in this case Simone Ladehr and Melanie Leopulz – are injured and they have a new coach in Steffi Jones who has been in the job for less than a year. And yet…they have excellent players like Dzenifer Marozsan, Anja Mittag and Tabea Kemme. More important they are used to winning. Anything less than the Final is unthinkable and the title is highly likely.

What Sweden will turn up in Holland? Will it be the team that flopped horribly in the World Cup two years ago or the superbly organised team that won the silver medal in the Olympics last year? My money is on the latter. Under veteran coach Pia Sundhage they will be well organised and have one of the best keepers in the tournament Hedvig Landhal, an experienced defender in Nilla Fischer and experienced players Caroline Seager, Kosovare Asllani and Lotta Schelin. I hope Sweden make use of young striker Stima Blackstenius who will be a star. Could be between them and their Norwegian neighbours for a Semi Final spot. 

The other two teams in this group are examples of former powers in the women’s game trying to get back into prominence. Italy were in the first World Cup in 1991 which had only twelve teams but have not qualified for a World Cup since 1999. They were runners up in the Euros in 1997 but have platued at the Quarter Final stage ever since. Russia – the only Eastern European team in the finals in contrast to both the men’s game and the high number of elite women tennis players from Eastern Europe – reached the Quarter Finals of the 2003 World Cup but have failed to qualify for a World Cup since. Both – but especially Italy – might be on the way back up but I doubt either knock out Germany or Sweden. 

Predicted Qualifiers – Germany, Sweden.

Group C – France, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland – In my post on the 2015 World Cup I compared France to the South Africa men’s cricket team calling them talented chokers who never win anything. This year South Africa have failed to win a major tournament yet again. Will France finally win? A lot of people think so but not me. Yes they have magnificent players – captain Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Camille Abily and Eugenie Le Sommer for example – but they have had these players before. They still have an appalling chance conversation rate and unless or until they get a better striker than Marie-Laure Delie they won’t be winning anything. Some people think the fact they won the She Believes Cup in the US changes things but they were only impressive against the rebuilding host nation which in the context of this tournament is irrelevant. Against European teams they needed two late goals to beat England and would have lost to Germany but for a missed penalty. That is not a sign of dominance. They will hope to play England though – England have not beaten France since 1974 (!!) 

France should win the group so the interest will be who qualifies with them. One of the candidates is that remarkable little country Iceland who caused mayhem at the men’s Euro 2016 knocking out England on the way to the last eight. But the men were only following the trail blazed by the women in 2013 where they shocked Holland en route to the last eight. They will be contenders again but three players have gone down with the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury which is for some reason a blight on the women’s game and their top scorer in qualifying gave birth to a child in March. 

All that could leave a small country vulnerable to either of the debutants in the group the near neighbours Switzerland and Austria. Switzerland have the advantage of being the only one of the debutants to have played in a major tournament before – the last World Cup – and although they slightly underachieved in Canada they will be better off for that experience. Also they have star players Lara Dickenmann, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic. But their neighbours Austria can not be underestimated either. Although they are debutants fourteen of their twenty three strong squad play in the Frau Bundesliga the best league in Europe. Frankly you can make a case for any of these three teams to ride shotgun behind France but my marginal favourites to do so are Switzerland.

Predicted Qualifiers – France, Switzerland. 

Group D – England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal – This is the British group. England after their magnificent World Cup are for the first time considered among the favourites to win the whole thing. Can they cope with the hype? Coach Mark Sampson named his squad on April 3 – far earlier than he had to. For comparison most of the other teams announced their squads either in late June or early July. It is either very brilliant or very stupid and I suspect that it will come back to haunt him if the team does not do well. My worry is against the very best teams and sometimes even against poor teams (like the two laboured 1-0 wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina in qualifying) the team struggle to score. There are a lot of good in fact very good players available but not the one great player like Kelly Smith used to be. I’d personally have picked Eni Aluko for her pace. I reckon semi finals, maybe the Final – but not the title. 

And England need to hit the ground running. For their first game they have the absolute classic banana skin in Scotland. England should win especially as tragically the brilliant Kim Little – a player so good that four different Americans tweeted to me that not only would she get into their mighty World Cup winning team but she would be their best player – is injured (that damn ACL again). Wether she could have done for Scotland what Gareth Bale did for Wales’ men last year sadly will be a question without an answer. But Scotland are not a one woman team and have players like Manchester City’s top scorer Jane Ross, Lisa Evans who plays for Bayern Munich and Liverpool star Caroline Weir. And they will be up for the first game against England – which makes that match dangerous for England. Scotland’s men are notorious for qualifying for big tournaments but not getting out of the group stage. Can the women change that? Difficult but not impossible.

But this group also contains the dark horses for this tournament (every tournament has one). In the past I have called Spain the sleeping giants of women’s football based on the success of the country in youth tournaments and the talented women that feminist sports writer Jennifer Doyle saw in Barcelona in 2011 – when Spain did not qualify for the World Cup. Doyle said these women play football in the tiki taka style of Barcelona’s men – and we all know how successful they have been. Well there are signs that if the giant is not awake yet it is stirring. The stirring began when a player revolt after the last World Cup finally got rid of coach Ignacio Quereda – who had coached them for 27 years but apparently had treated players awfully. This was a sign that the FA there were finally taking the women’s game seriously as are Barcelona who reached the Champions League Final for the first time. This team could be dangerous. It is not impossible that they either repeat their win over England from 2013 which could force England into a quarter final against France (see above for why that is NOT good news for England) or that they upset France in the last eight. Watch out for Spain.

To balance the presence of dark horses Spain the group also has the weakest team on paper Portugal who are ranked only 38 by FIFA and 23 by UEFA. They certainly were not expected to finish second in their group above Finland who were in the last three Euros but they did. They still had to go through a play off against Romania to qualify which they did on the away goals rule after extra time. They will be regarded as underdogs but they have a couple of players well known to followers of the WSL here in the UK – ex Chelsea player Ana Borges and ex Liverpool player Amanda da Costa. Could be out of their depth but they have nothing to lose. They had never finished higher than fourth in a Euros qualifying group and they are obviously an improving team. Do not underestimate….

Predicted Qualifiers – England, Spain.

So if I have got that right – very unlikely – that means a last eight line up of Germany v Holland, Norway v Sweden, France v Spain and England v Switzerland. I would predict wins for Germany, Norway (just.That game is a coin toss), England and Spain. Looking at the draw that leads to Germany v Spain and England v Norway. I would further predict a win for Germany and – Norway(another coin toss). I would say Germany are favourites to win but a case can be made for either England, Norway or Sweden to be Finalists. Spain are the dark horses while France (again) could underachieve. 

My wish for this tournament is like in 2015 is that the UK press behaves itself. The sexism was less in 2015 probably because England did well but it was still there. I will also be interested to see how the press in Scotland cover the event as it is the first time the Scotland team has played in a major tournament. Women’s football has little or no coverage in Scotland and shamefully the men’s BetFred (League) Cup starts tonight. A bit of arrogant selfishness from the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) who should be ashamed of themselves for threatening the best chance the women’s game has ever had to gain publicity here. 

I have also seen rumours that the event might be threatened by terrorists. Please God no. Let’s just hope the event passes off peacefully and it is another step on the road to the acceptance of women’s football in Europe. 

Wimbledon must scrap Manic Monday 

It would be nice to go through a whole Wimbledon without complaints about sexism. And maybe we will one year. But unfortunately it won’t be this year. As usual at Wimbledon sexism has reared its ugly head. 

The first complaint was from former World number one Victoria Azarenka who has recently returned to the professional tour after giving birth to her first child Leo last December. Azarenka’s gripe was that on the first Monday her match was one of four that was not given a court or a time meaning she had to stay at Wimbledon all day and away from her child. I’ll give Wimbledon the benefit of the doubt here and suggest it was incompetence rather than sexism – but really since Azarenka is a former World number one and a two time Grand Slam champion her match should have gone on first on one of the show courts then she would have known when she had to start and could plan her day accordingly. With pro players Serena Williams and Mandy Minella currently pregnant accommodating mothers and children is going to become a more pressing issue for all tournaments in the future. 

The latest controversy came during yesterday when some big women’s matches were put on the outside courts. World number one Angelique Kerber was not happy that her last 16 clash with Garbine Muguruza was on Court number 2 – quite rightly as the two women had between them won three out of the four Grand Slam titles last year. Also unhappy was the sports newest Grand Slam champion Alona* Ostapenko. Her match with fellow rising star Elena Svitolina was on Court 12. Former World number one Caroline Wozniacki was also unhappy that her match was on an outside court saying “That’s something we’ve talked about at Wimbledon for the last ten years. It’s been the same for ten years straight. The other grand slams are more equal (in their) positioning of men’s and women’s matches.” Former three time champion Chris Evert weighed in “There needs to be a discussion because we have equal prize money, sonwhy do we not have equal representation on Centre Court and Court One?” she told the BBC. 

The reasons that there are less women’s matches than men’s matches on Wimbledon’s show courts are unique to Wimbledon. First of all play on Centre and number one courts starts at 1pm while on the other courts play starts at 11.30 am. That means that there are usually only three matches a day on the two main show courts compared to four on the outside courts. You cannot get an equal number of men’s and women’s matches on a court with only three matches but too often (as happened yesterday) there are two men’s matches and one women’s match on both show courts meaning men’s matches outnumber women’s 4-2. It really should be a combined 3-3 between centre and number one courts.

But what made it worse was that yesterday was “Manic Monday” where in lieu of play on the Middle Sunday all the men’s and women’s last sixteen matches are played. The sexist scheduling and the fact that all the last sixteen matches are played on one day means that 4 out of 8 (50%) of the last sixteen men’s matches are played on the two show courts but only 2 out of 8 (25%) of the last sixteen women’s matches were played on the two show courts. It is clear to any one with a brain that this is sexist scheduling. 

There are two easy solutions. First start play on all courts at 11.30 am. If the corporate hospitality brigade can’t be bothered to turn up at that time give their seats to the queueing fans and ban them from coming when they do bother to turn up.  That way you can have two men’s and women’s matches on Centre and Number One courts each day. 

The second solution is have play on the Middle Sunday and split the last 16 into two getting rid of “Manic Monday”. Not only is the scheduling on Manic Monday blatantly sexist the day has other problems. First it is too long. In most years all the matches aren’t finished on the day even if it doesn’t rain. For example men’s number two seed Novak Djokovic’s match did not even get started yesterday because the preceding matches took two long which puts Djokovic at an unfair disadvantage compared to his rivals for the men’s title. 

Now if play on the show courts started at 11.30 am and “Manic Monday” was abolished that would mean all eight women’s and men’s last sixteen matches could be played on the two show courts which would mean true gender equality. Which is surely what we want…

But not everybody wants this. Jim White of the Daily Telegraph wrote today “But the fact is, box office talks. And with the big four of Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, plus Venus Williams and Johanna Konta taking the six available matches on the two big show courts, the rest of the field was spread among the club. Which might be bruising to the Ostapenko ego…”

Oh dear where do you start with that nonsense? People pay for show court tickets well in advance so the box office appeal of players should be irrelevant. Ostapenko wants equality with men it is not a matter of ego. Besides why they shouldn’t play on the show courts start at 11.30 on the show courts meaning there would be eight available matches instead of four? And why shouldn’t there be play on Middle Sunday so that all of the last sixteen matches for both genders can be played on the show courts. Defending sexist inequality is a tough task but trust our press to do it. Frankly foreign tournaments should ban our press until they learn to cut out sexist nonsense. 

The case for starting play on all courts at 11.30 and having play on Middle Sunday is unarguable. The corporate hospitality brigade and traditionalists will howl in protest but they can be safely ignored. The world is changing and Wimbledon needs to change with it. We have got equal prize money. It is time for equal scheduling. Those who defend the sexist status quo like Jim White are on a loser here….

*The name on Ostapenko’s passport is “Jelena” but she wants to be known as “Alona” so I have respected her wishes. 

How I would book SummerSlam (part 2) 

In my last post I listed the matches I would book for SummerSlam on August 20th. Here I will explain why I have booked these matches and who should win. 

But first I must say that events have taken over since I wrote my last post. Kevin Owens dropped the United States Championship to AJ Styles at a Madison Square Garden live event on Friday and his planned match with Styles at the Battleground pay per view has been pulled from the card. This suggests that Owens is injured and he probably won’t be the United States Champion at SummerSlam. I had booked Owens to lose the title to Shinskae Nakamura at SummerSlam and had put AJ Styles in a match against Rusev. 

Now if Owens is fit for SummerSlam I would book his rematch against AJ Styles with Owens regaining while putting Nakamura in a match with Rusev. If Owens is not fit the Styles v Rusev match stays but becomes a title match with Styles retaining while Nakamura would get a match with Baron Corbin (which I suspect would be a rematch from Battleground). 

Back to my original booking plans. Roman Reigns booked himself into the Universal Title match at SummerSlam on RAW back in June and I can’t unbook that. But instead of Lesnar v Reigns at SummerSlam which we have seen before I would have Braun Strowman beat Reigns in an Ambulance match at tonight’s Great Balls of Fire (yes really!) pay per view and then go on the rampage with another wrestler (I’ll explain who later) at RAW tomorrow demanding a title shot. RAW General Manager Kurt Angle capitulates and it is Lesnar v Reigns v Strowman at SummerSlam. I would put the Universal Title on Strowman as I think RAW needs a full time wrestler as Champion and Reigns can get the title before Wrestlemania if the company wants Reigns to be defending the title there. Plus Strowman has improved massively in the last year and improvement should be rewarded. 

Over on Smackdown the Jinder Mahal v Randy Orton feud will hopefully be put out of its misery at Battleground. WWE will probably go with the safety first option of having John Cena challenge Mahal at SummerSlam in yet another American v foreign heel yawn fest. But neither man should win. I would have men’s Money in the Bank winner Baron Corbin cash in during the match (a la Seth Rollins at Wrestlamania 31).  I would not have Corbin cash in on Cena as when Cena breaks Ric Flair’s record and wins his 17th title he deserves a good reign rather than be used to transition the belt to another heel as his 16th reign  was. My plan is a way to get the belt from Mahal to Corbin without the need for a transitional face champion in between. 

The Intercontinental Title feud between the Miz and Dean Ambrose needs to end. Right now. The problem here is that RAW has no mid card apart from these two so the next challenger has to be either be a low card guy elevated or a top of the card guy being demoted. Since RAW is top heavy at the moment I would combine the Intercontinental Title with an existing feud making it a triple threat match. The feud would be Seth Rollins v Bray Wyatt which has been appallingly built and is the least exciting on the Great Balls of Fire card. It will probably go on beyond tonight so why not combine it with the Intercontinental Title and see if we can get fans interested in this feud. I would still have the Miz retain with interference from the Miztourage (Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas) but NOT Maryse who should be fired. In fact I would keep the title on the Miz for the foreseeable future. 

That is not the only gold the Miz’s stable should have. I would take the tag team titles off Sheamus and Cesaro tonight (if only because Sheamus is taking a break from the WWE so him and Cesaro need to drop the titles). But the Hardys would only be transitional Champions. I would have the Miztourage (Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas) take the titles off the Hardys. That would (a) make the Miz even more unbearably smug than he usually is with his faction holding two titles and (b) it could lead to Matt Hardy becoming “Broken” if WWE can ever get permission to use the “Broken Matt Hardy” gimmick.

As for the other tag team titles I would have the New Day take the titles off the Usos at Battleground and that allows the feud to blow off at SummerSlam. New Day would retain the titles. 

Now the women’s titles. I would have Nia Jax wreck tonight’s RAW women’s title match between champion Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks by attacking both women. Then tomorrow in RAW I would have Jax along with Braun Strowman (see above) go on the rampage demanding a title shot.  Kurt Angle would capitulate and the match would be Bliss v Banks v Jax. I would not have Bliss v Jax as it is two heels and the size difference makes it an unrealistic match. Nor would I put the title on Banks tonight and have her v Bayley for the title at SummerSlam. That match should be kept for Wrestlemania. Plus Bayley needs to be built up after her terrible feud with Bliss. Banks should win the title but not until SummerSlam as she deserves a title win on a big stage (all her titles have been won on random RAW episodes). 

As for the other women’s title it is in a weird place. The Smackdown womens champion Naomi is a baby face but is the third most popular baby face on the roster behind Becky Lynch and Charlotte. One of Lynch or Charlotte has to turn heel and challenge Naomi for the title. I would turn Becky Lynch heel NOT Charlotte. Now I would not have turned Charlotte face to begin with but they can’t undo that so soon or else she would become a female Big Show who is a joke among fans for all the face/heel turns he has had in his career. Besides it kind of makes sense. Lynch has been betrayed by Charlotte and Natalya in the past and was furious about the ending of the Money in the Bank match. It is surely a matter of time before she gets fed up of being secrewed by friends and turns into a “Don’t Trust Anyone” kind of heel. 

I should say I don’t think WWE will turn Lynch – they are more likely to turn Charlotte if anyone – but this is how I would book it. Lynch would win the title and get the long title reign she deserves as I think the WWE have booked her awfully. 

I mentioned in my last post I would say what would happen to the women’s Money in the Bank winner Carmella. Well to make the women’s division different from the men’s I would have Carmella fail in her cash in. It is well known that in the men’s division a Money in the Bank win is virtually a guarantee of winning the title. With the women there is no history so there is a chance of doing something different. I would have Carmella cash in after Naomi defends the title at Battleground (presumably against Tamina). But a couple of minutes into the match I would have Lynch, Charlotte and Natalya attack Carmella throwing out the match. This provides revenge for the women screwed by James Ellsworth in the first Money in the Bank match while protecting Carmella from being pinned. Carmella could if you want turn face by dumping Ellsworth when he comes back from suspension and then have a feud with Lynch for the title later in the year. 

Now the non title matches on the card. Dean Ambrose and Samoa Joe will probably lose their title matches at Great Balls of Fire tonight (both in my booking and WWE’s). I would put them against each other and have Joe win keeping him dominant after he (please) pushes Brock Lesnar to the limit tonight. Ambrose can survive a loss and it has the advantage of being a fresh match up.

The booking of Finn Balor – who became the first ever Universal Champion at last year’s SummerSlam lest we forget – has been baffling. He is not even on the Great Balls of Fire card as of this writing which is quite astonishing. On RAW they have been teaseing a feud with the Drifter Elias Samson but it has not made the Great Balls of Fire card. I would have Balor face Cesaro – who might be without his tag partner Sheamus –  at SummerSlam. You could either have Balor win or have Cesaro win with interference from Samson if you want to continue the Balor/Samson feud.

Finally Mike and Maria Kanellis have joined WWE for some reason going straight to Smackdown and by passing NXT (which only AJ Styles. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows have done lately). Suspect Mike will start either against Tye Dillinger or (more likely) Sami Zayn. I would book Zayn to win although WWE have booked themselves into a corner if they go down this route as Mike Kanellis is new and Zayn has lost too many feuds so neither can lose. But someone has to win and Zayn has more growth potential (to be honest Mike and Maria leave me cold and the fact that Maria is on Smackdown while Auska and Nikki Cross are still in NXT proves that (a) WWE is not a meritocracy and (b) valets and intergender angles must be scrapped). 

So that is how I would book SummerSlam. WWE do it better….

How I would book SummerSlam (part 1) 

You may (or may not) remember that earlier this year I did a couple of posts where I wrote how I would have booked Wrestlemania 33. Now I’ve decided to fantasy book WWE’s second biggest event of the year – SummerSlam – which will be held in Brooklyn New York on August 20th. 

First of all this is how I would book SummerSlam. It will probably have little or no resemblance whatsoever to what WWE actually produces on August 20th. I should say that I’ve seen so many rumors about this event that I think either WWE is deliberately leaking rumours to throw fans off the scent or chairman Vince McMahon does not have a clue what he is doing (both are perfectly believable). For example I have seen rumours that men’s Money In the Bank winner Baron Corbin will cash in on Universal Champion Brock Lesnar although Corbin is on Smackdown and Lesnar on RAW. But I’ve also seen rumours that Corbin will lose the Money in the Bank briefcase. I don’t believe either will happen.

Like with Wrestlemania I’ll list the card I would book in this post and in my next post I will explain why I booked the matches and who I would have winning. 

One note. Sheamus and Randy Orton are not on my card as I have read they are taking a break from the WWE and for the purpose of this post I have assumed they will not be available for SummerSlam. Also as WWE had twelve matches (including the pre show) at last year’s SummerSlam that is the number I have decided to book.

Here is the card I would book : 

WWE Universal Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) v Roman Reigns v Braun Strowman.

WWE Championship – Jinder Mahal (c) v John Cena

Intercontinental Championship – The Miz (c) v Seth Rollins v Bray Wyatt

United States Championship – Kevin Owens (c) v Shinsuke Nakamura

RAW Tag Team Championship – The Hardys (c) v The Miztourage (Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas)

Smackdown Tag Team Championship – The New Day (c) v The Usos

RAW Women’s Championship – Alexa Bliss (c) v Nia Jax v Sasha Banks 

Smackdown Women’s Championship – Naomi (c) v Becky Lynch 

Dean Ambrose v Samoa Joe

Finn Balor v Cesaro

AJ Styles v Rusev

Sami Zayn v Mike Kanellis 

(c) = the Champion(s) I would have going into SummerSlam. 

One point : Eagle eyed readers will notice that both of the Money in the Bank winners Baron Corbin and Carmella are not on the card. I will explain what happens to them in my next post as well as why I booked this card and who should win.

WWE do it better…..

Are women ‘real’ sports fans? The importance of sport for female fans

ESRC blog

Stacey Pope 150.jpgStacey Pope is an Associate Professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University.

Her research focuses upon issues of gender inequality and sport and her research expertise is in the area of female sports fans. Her book The Feminization of Sports Fandom: A Sociological Study was recently published by Routledge.

If you’re a female fan of football or rugby, don’t expect a level playing field when it comes to being a supporter. Female football and rugby union fans in my research discuss how they have to routinely ‘prove’ their status as ‘real’ fans – usually to male supporters. Common stereotypes of female sports fans have included that they lack sporting knowledge, are only interested in the sexual attractiveness of (male) star players and are not as passionate or committed as male fans. Media coverage also typically represents women in subordinate ways; for example, a cursory internet search for…

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