The Scotland women’s football team plays the first of the two biggest matches in its history today, namely the first leg of its World Cup play-off against Holland. But I’ll not be watching. Not for sexist reasons – anyone who has read what I’ve written in the past will know this – but because there is another match on TV at the same time. And not just any old match but “El Clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona – a tasty enough menu at the best of times without the return of Luis Suarez from his biting ban. I would watch this match regardless of what other match was on TV at the time. For the football establishment to put a women’s match on at the same time is sexist unfair and does nothing to help women’s football.
Philippa Booth in her blog article “Macho Macho Men” says about women’s football that “Maybe the viewing figures are low because it is VERY RARELY ON TV” (her capitals). I don’t think that is the case (she is right by the way when she says “if you’re going to use averages be aware of their limitations”. What on earth she would think if she knew the law of the UK does just that I don’t know. She might think a government that came up with that law might be incompetent. As someone who studied the UK in the 1970s she would be right).
Now as Philippa Booth lives in France it might be the case that it is rarely on TV in that country. But in the UK it is on TV more than you might think. Since August WSL matches, World Cup Qualifiers, Champions League games (but why Lyon and PSG and not the UK teams?) the World Under-20 championships and even the German Bundesliga have all been on UK TV. But the problem – in contrast to the male game – is that it is scattered all over the place and is a nightmare to find. The difference between TV coverage of the male and female games resembles the difference between the coverage of the two 1974 UK General Elections. As “the British General Election of October 1974” (page 141) puts it “in February viewers had the election more or less thrust on them ; in October those who wanted anything beyond basic coverage had to look for it”. Substitute “male football” for “February” and “female football” for October and you get the idea.
This is important because predictability of scheduling is a key to success on TV. For example: the English Premier League games on TV in the UK this weekend are on at 12.45 pm and 5.30pm today; 1.30pm and 4.00pm tomorrow; and 8.00pm on Monday. As they are every weekend. While not all weekends have five live Premier League games the times of these games rarely deviates except in midweek or on bank holidays. The same way if you want to watch baseball on ESPN it is on Sunday Monday and Wednesday nights you tune in. And this does not just apply to sport. For millions of people in the UK Saturday nights are about popular TV shows “The X Factor” and “Strictly Come Dancing”. People know that is when they are on so they get into the habit of tuning in. Women’s football needs a night of its own on TV free from men’s football to allow people to get into the habit of watching it.
And there is a blatantly obvious solution. Get rid of the Europa League which is the “Dusty Bin*” of football. This event, played on Thursday nights has been called “much maligned” by the Daily Telegraph and “unwanted by fans” by the Daily Record. I don’t think there is a Premier League team that wants to play in it. Definitely not the “Big Five” of the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. When Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2010 their fans were taunted with chants of “Thursday night. Channel 5**” by other team’s fans. As were the two Manchester clubs when they finished third in their CL groups in 2011-12 and “earned” entry into the Europa League. As for the rest Everton and Tottenham can’t wait to get out of it, Aston Villa sent a weakened team to Moscow in 2009 to try and get knocked out of the tournament – they were – and all it achieved for the likes of Newcastle and Swansea was to screw up their League form. In my opinion the best thing Hull have done this season was to be knocked out of the Europa League before the group stages – thus boosting their chances of staying in the Premier League. And it is not popular with fans. Celtic can’t fill Celtic Park for their Europa League games, and Swansea’s attendances for their Europa League games were less than their average Premier League gate.
But the most amazing Europa League attendance stat comes form France. In their first home Europa League game of the current season Guingamp got a crowd of 8,783. Two years earlier the French women’s team played a Euro 2013 qualifier in Guingamp and got 10,284!. That sums it up. And as Guingamp are a small club from Brittany who’ll never get into the Champions League that stat is even more amazing because the Europa league should be a big deal for them. It plainly isn’t.
To my mind the Europa League is a relic that should be abolished and would not be missed. That would mean no male football on TV on Thursday nights and therefore we could use that night to give women’s football its own night on TV. People would know when to watch it and it might have a chance to get viewers. I could watch both Scotland’s women and “El Clasico” and not have to make a totally unfair choice. The football establishment will never do this of course. in my opinion their attitude to women is like David Cameron’s to UKIP. They think women in football are a threat to their power and while they are quite happy to have women playing the game they don’t want it to become popular and risk the “cash cow” of male football. It is not a coincidence that when women’s football was drawing crowds of 50,000 in the UK the FA banned it (1921). But my idea is only fair. Even if it happened male football would still be on TV six nights a week. What is wrong with giving women’s football a night of its own on TV?
*Dusty Bin was the booby prize on the 1970s/80s UK TV game show “3-2-1”. If a couple “won” Dusty all they got was a brand new dustbin!
**Channel 5 is a little watched UK TV channel that used to cover Europa League games.
So after 2,430 regular season games and 25 post season ones, we have finally reached the main event of the baseball season, the 2014 World Series. And a perfect match up it has thrown up between the underdogs Kansas City Royals – making their third World Series appearance in franchise history – and the favourites the San Fransisco Giants making their third World Series appearance in the last five years. For the Royals all this is new. The Giants have an experienced core – Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner – who already have World Series rings. It is a fascinating contrast.
And yet the two teams are quite similar – and both have shown that there are two key points to success in the post season. First and most important is a good bullpen. For if this post season has proved anything it has shown that unless your relief pitchers are up to the task, you are going nowhere. Just ask the Detroit Tigers and LA Dodgers who despite all the money they spent had hopeless bullpens and paid the price. In contrast the Royals’ 7th-8th-9th inning guys – Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – have been lights out. While the Giants’ bullpen can be summed up by the nine scoreless extra innings it threw in that 18 inning Division Series game at Washington – including six by Yusmeiro Petit in the outstanding performance of the 2014 post season. Bullpen pitchers are the honest foot soldiers of baseball. They don’t command big salaries – in fact Baseball Prospectus 2014 (page 235) says “nobody is supposed to pay money for relief pitching”. Nor unless they are outstanding closers like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hofffman do they become stars . But they are vital to a team’s post season chances.
The second lesson is that offences that rely on hitting home runs are exposed in the post season against better pitching. The O’s are this year’s example. They feasted on Detroit’s awful bullpen but when they met the Royals’ pitching the home run hitting failed them and they had no other option. The same fate befell the 2013 Braves and the 2012 Yankees. Yes timely home runs are important but you also need to get on base and play “small ball” – the sacrifice bunt the stolen base – the Royals stole seven in one game – are also important and both teams know this. As Brad Pitt – playing A’s general manage Billy Beane – says to Eric Chavez in a scene from “Moneyball” “You get on base we win. You don’t we lose”. If you never get on base you can only score by solo home runs – which don’t win games very often.
So what will happen in the World Series? If I was to name one key player it is the Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner. Since the bullpens are better than the starting pitchers both teams- but especially the Royals – will try to get ahead by the sixth inning then turn it over to the bullpen. Bumgarner – as the one outstanding starter on show – is a big obstacle to that plan (that is unless Royals’ starter James Shields earns his “big game James” nickname. As Victoria Chiesa wrote on Twitter – @vrcsports – one wonders if the nickname is ironic. He has done nothing this postseason to earn it and the Royals could be said to have won his starts despite him rather than because of him.)
If the Giants win the first game it will be a big test of character for the Royals who have won all their postseason games in 2014 and – unlike the Giants – have no experience of being behind in a post season series. There is a scenario where – like the 2007 Rockies who also won every post season game got hammered in game 1 of the World Series and never recovered – the Royals collapse and the Giants get their second World Series sweep in three years. I don’t see this happening. The series will be tight low scoring and exciting (with my record of making predictions that means tonight’s game will be a 10-8 slugfest!) As for who’ll win? My heart says the Royals. My head says the Giants. So who to go with? One thing this post season has lacked is a game five or a game seven – a final decisive game. I wouldn’t be surprised if this time the series goes all the way to Kansas City for the decisive game seven. And who’ll win? I’ll just go with my head and the Giants. One thing is certain. What will decide it? To misquote Bill Clinton it’s the bullpen stupid..
Two stories have appeared in the last week, neither of which have been linked. But they should be. The first one was in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, in which Henry Winter claimed that grass-roots football in England was in crisis – a view backed up by English FA chairman Greg Dyke. Winter said football needed to invest more in grass-roots – no arguments there – but he also claimed “Whitehall should do more “(by “Whitehall” he means the UK Government) and by “do more” he means football should get more Government money. But should an industry that has a Premier League that makes £3 BILLION out of TV money – and will soon probably earn even more – and an FA that can blow £757 MILLION on that white elephant called Wembley – get any Government funding at all at a time of austerity when the UK is swimming in a sea of debt? In my opinion no.
Especially if Ched Evans plays again. Ched Evans is a Sheffield United footballer who has been convicted of rape and sentenced to five years in prison. Having served over two years he will soon be released and – showing no remorse – wants to play professional football again. That is unacceptable. Football has a bad enough image with its treatment of women as it is. If it lets Evans back into the game it will deserve to be called the “nasty sport” (I’ve named that after a remark from UK Home Secretary Theresa May who once called her own party the “nasty party”). What it would not deserve if Evans played professionally again is Government money and the Government should impose that as a condition for any funding football might get. If Evans plays …no money for football.
But the Government should go further. Football is racist, sexist and homophobic and in its present culture does not deserve state support. If it wants funding from society it should be made to embrace society’s values. Here are four things that I would insist football MUST do if it wants Government money.
First of all it must bring in the “Rooney Rule”*. There are 92 professional football clubs in England. Only two have black managers and black coaches like Eddie Newton claim they are victims of racism. The implementation of the Rooney Rule would give black coaches a chance to get on the managerial ladder
Second homophobic chanting at football matches should be made a criminal offence (I was amazed it wasn’t already). This was proposed at the Liberal Democrats conference last week and there is absolutely no reason why football shouldn’t crack down on it. One club – Brighton – a place with a large gay population – has its fans regularly suffer homophobic chants. One suspects if it were Liverpool or Manchester United fans suffering something should be done. And it should be.
My next two ideas are more controversial. First men should be banned from coaching women’s teams. First of all it would Give women a route into the profession. Of the eight clubs in the Women’s Super League (WSL) one(Chelsea) has a female coach. At the start of the season it was two so the situation is getting worse. Secondly a ban on male coaches would mean there is no risk in the UK of the horrific molestation of female players in Africa exposed by the excellent Jennifer Doyle. This rule is necessary as UK politics shows. Only the Labour Party insists some seats should have women candidates. In the 2010 UK General Election Labour had 258 seats to the Conservatives’ 307. However they had 81 women MPs to the Conservatives’ 48. That proves “positive discrimination” works.
My most controversial idea is the ban on mixed competitive football – men and women playing together – should be lifted. it should be up to individuals who they want to play football with. The ban can be ludicrous sometimes. Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford Tracey Crouch was banned from the House of Commons football team for being female. As a football player and a coach she would play for that team on merit. I know FIFA say the male and female game should be kept separate but there are amateur mixed leagues in the US and no one complains so why can’t we have that here? FIFA, I suspect are only concerned with the professional game. I hardly think Sepp Blater knows – or cares – about the House of Commons’ football team. Besides any rule that makes me feel sorry for a Conservative MP has to be wrong!
In my opinion football should not get Government funding unless what I wrote above happens. If an industry wants Government money it should live by the rules of society. if the football establishment does not want to change fine. But it should be told in that case it should fund the grass-roots itself with NO Government money.
*The “Rooney Rule” – nothing to do with Wayne – is a rule in American Football that states that NFL teams must interview at least one non-white candidate for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is named after Dan Rooney the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee.
So Douglas Carswell has done it. The Tory defector to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP*) held his seat at Clacton in last night’s by-election, becoming that party’s first MP. His majority and share of the vote were both up on what he got as a Tory back at the 2010 General Election. UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage has called it (along with the night’s other by-election in Heywood and Middleton where UKIP cut Labour’s majority in a safe seat to 617) as a “wake up” call for both the Tories and Labour. Some have said Clacton will change British politics. But we had a similar by-election 41 years ago that people thought would change British politics. But as I will explain it did nothing of the sort…
In 1972 Lincoln’s Labour MP Dick Taverne was de-selected by his local party for his views on Europe. He responded by resigning his seat in order to fight a by-election(which was held on March 1st 1973). He stood under a new party label (like Carswell) – in his case “Democratic Labour”. He held his seat increasing his majority and his share of the vote (like Carswell). And the result was going to change British politics (like Carswell).
But it did not. Taverne held his seat in the February 1974 General Election but only by 1300 votes (his by-election majority was over 13,000). He tried to form a new party but his candidates only polled an average of 1.5% At the next General Election in October 1974** he lost his seat back to Labour by 984 votes to “a young party apparatchik called Margaret Jackson” (who became Margaret Beckett and is still an MP today). Taverne became a footnote in history. Could this happen to Carswell?
One key question will be: How many seats will UKIP win in the next UK General election (to be held on May 7th next year). History suggests not many. Polls suggest UKIP will poll 14% next year (up from 3% in 2010). There have been three cases in UK electoral history where a non Labour and Tory party saw it’s vote go up by 10% or more. The Liberals and SNP both did this in February 1974 and the SDP Liberal Alliance did this in 1983. But they only gained 8, 6 and 12 extra seats respectively at those elections. Not a good omen for UKIP.
Even more worrying for UKIP is how they got these gains. In February 1974 the Liberal’s eight gains comprised of three seats they won at by-elections between 1972 and 1973, four that they had held (and lost) in either 1966 and 1970 and only one (Isle of Wight) where they came from nowhere to win and in that seat they exploited a scandal involving the local Tory MP. At the same election the SNP’s six gains were four seats they had gained second place in 1970, one where they had cut the Labour majority to 1,141 votes at a by-election the year before and only one (Stirlingshire East and Clackmannan) where they came from nowhere and in that seat their candidate George Reid was a political correspondent for Scottish Television (STV) and was thus well-known in Scotland and had a personal vote.
In 1983 the SDP Liberal Alliance’s 12 gains consisted of two seats they had won at by-elections in 1982 and 1983, four where their candidate had defected from Labour to the SDP and like Carswell held the seat under their new party label and four that had been Liberal seats before. The only two seats they won from nowhere were Yeovil and Leeds West where they had popular candidates who had fought the seta before and built up the vote.
This suggest that to gain seats a small party has to either (a) be in second place (b) win a by-election or cut the big party’s majority at a by-election or (c) a seat the party has held in the recent past. The only exceptions seem to be when the small party has a well-known candidate or exploits a local scandal.
UKIP did not have a single second place at the 2010 General Election. It has won one seat (Clacton) at a by-election and might win another (Rochester and Strood) where another Tory defector to UKIP, Mark Reckless is trying to emulate Carwsell. To this might be added Eastleigh and Heywood and Middleton which UKIP has turned into marginal seats at by-elections and party leader Farage who could win Thanet South on his personal vote. That is five seats at the most. However the SNP in Dundee East is the only example where a small party that made a seat marginal in a by-election won it at the next General Election so it is highly unlikely Heywood and Middleton or Eastleigh will go UKIP next year. So that would mean UKIP will win three seats at the most in 2015 – and might not win any at all
Now there are two caveats. Other Tory MPs could defect to UKIP and emulate Carswell. And UKIP could exploit local scandals we don’t know about and win that way. One could be Rotherham where there has been a child abuse scandal recently. But it is more likely that UKIP – like the other three examples mentioned above – will pile up second places in safe Tory or Labour seats.
Some people talk about a Tory-UKIP alliance after 2015. But it is highly unlikely UKIP will get enough seats to play a part in any Government even if there is a hung parliament. UKIP’s main influence next year will be how big Their vote is. And also who they get it from. Will it be mainly taken from the Tories or Labour? That will be UKIP’s main influence on who goes to 10 Downing Street next year.
*For anybody reading this who is not from the UK UKIP could be best described as a UK nationalist party who want the UK to leave the European Union (EU) and gain control over its own borders. The party – like the Tea Party in the USA – has taken advantage of public discontent with the established parties and topped the poll at the European Parliament elections last May.
**Yes the UK was in such a mess in 1974 we had two General Elections in that year. The first produced a hung parliament and the second a Labour majority of just 3 seats. One suspects the narrow majority in the second election deterred David Cameron from forming a Tory minority government in 2010 and holding a second election later that year instead opting for the current coalition with the Lib Dems.
England’s male football team are back in action on Thursday night but whatever you do, don’t bet on them winning. The odds at the bookmakers on an England win are 100-1 ON. That means to win £1 you have to risk £100. Even for something which is the nearest thing to a dead cert in sport it is not worth the effort.
The reason for it being a dead cert that England will win on Thursday is they are playing San Marino the worst team in the world. San Marino have never won in 113 competitive matches in the World Cup and European Championship qualifiers losing 111 and drawing 2. They have lost 64 competitive matches in a row and haven’t avoided defeat since 2001. The only question is how many England will win by. And that is not what sport should be about.
And San Marino are not an isolated case. There are a lot of “toy town republics” polluting football – very small nations who have little or no chance of winning. Another example is Andorra who have lost 45 qualifiers in a row and last avoided defeat in 2005. And UEFA – whose approach to new members reminds you of what the late Edna Krabappel said in the Simpsons when Bart’s class got a new pupil (in Episode 8F22 “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love”) “Great. Just keep packing them in Seymour” – have added another useless new member. Namely Gibraltar – who lost their first competitive game 7-0 at “home” in Portugal – yes they don’t have a ground of their own – and are likely to be no more than another source of futile victories.
The funny thing is it is only in Europe this farce happens. In Africa, Asia, North America and even 11 member Oceania there is a preliminary round to root out the weakest members. So why does UEFA not have one? Answer: the tail wags the dog. Every nation has a vote -and there are 54 of them – which means the long tail of small nations wags the dog of the big nations and no call for a preliminary round would get a majority as it would be a case of “turkeys voting for an early Christmas” as was memorably said in another context by former UK PM James Callaghan. So what is to be done? The big countries must flex their muscles and say we will boycott Euro 2016 and al other international events until there is a preliminary round to weed out all the rubbish. And ITV who have to televise England v San Marino (good luck with that ratings turkey) and all other TV companies should say UEFA should not get a euro until the likes of San Marino are rooted out. If UEFA are threatened with the loss of TV money it would change their position. Besides the Euro 2016 qualifiers have eight groups of six teams and one of five. Get rid of eight teams and you have nine groups of five – fewer, more competitive games. And sport is meant to be exciting, competitive and unpredictable. The only thing unpredictable about Thursday will be how many goals England will score.
In contrast the baseball postseason has been magnificent providing great entertainment drama and unpredictability – everything sport should be. Eight of the first thirteen games have been decided by one run* and the unexpected has been common. Who’d have thought the As would blow a four run lead in the eighth with Jon Lester on the mound? Or the Dodgers would lead 6-1 with Clayton Kershaw pitching – and lose? Or that the first game of the 2014 World Series will be in either Baltimore or Kansas City? Who knows what twists and turns this amazing postseason will throw up next? The Nationals were 2-0 down to the Giants after two games(One of which was an amazing eighteen inning six hours plus marathon). They’ve pulled one back. It is quite possible that they will win the series 3-2 – as the Giants themselves did to the Reds in 2012.
In the baseball postseason anything can happen. In the England v San Marino game we know what will happen. That is why this game is a travesty of sport. It should not be taking place. And I won’t be watching it.
*Not counting game three between the Dodgers and Cardinals which I have Sky plused but not watched yet.