Congratulations are in order

28 10 2011

I must offer congratulations to my friend Phil Stead. If you see him you must do this as well because Phil is the author of the excellent blog, Ffwtbol.

I should re-phrase the last part that sentence, Phil is the author of the excellent, award-winning blog, Ffwtbol.

On top of  being named in the Guardian’s “Top 100 football blogs to follow” last summer, and being voted one of “WSC’s blogs of the month” in 2008, Ffwtbol is now officially the best blog in Wales thanks to the Welsh Blog awards. (Ffwtbol also won two other awards – Peoples’ Choice and Best Sports Blog, awards that I incidentally voted for.)

The awards, and title, are very well earned because Phil constantly writes excellent and thought-provoking articles. The articles are written with an obvious passion, an excellent turn of phrase and a great imagination. Phil also illustrates his articles with his own excellent photos.

There are two qualities that really make Ffwtbol stand out. Firstly, it’s the focus upon the esoteric, although obvious, charm of Welsh football. This is something that most media outlets steadfastly refuse to cover. Secondly the posts cover a huge range of issues; everything from the lost promise of erstwhile teenage stars through match reports with a little twist to charming social history is covered. 

Here’s a typical well-reasoned post from Ffwtbol;

“Time to turn your back on the greed game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So congratulations Phil and keep going. I can’t recommend this blog highly enough.

Did I tell you I sold Phil a hat on Saturday?




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