As some of you may be aware, a movement called The Football Lads Alliance has sprung up from within the supporting world.
Formed in the wake of the London Bridge atrocity on June 7th to protest at the lack of direct action being taken to counter extremism in the UK, it grew rapidly to the point where, on June 24th, almost 10,000 people took part in a march in the centre of London.
So successful was this march, and so rapidly has the group grown, that as a result of pressure from the members a second march will take place in London on October 7th. Current estimates are that well over 40, 000 people will attend, not just football fans from every club in England and beyond, but men and women from all faiths and political backgrounds who have one common desire: to see an end to all forms of extremism.
Full details of FLA including its mission statement and details of the march (which is taking place with the full consent of the Metropolitan Police) can be found below but if you require any further information, please drop me a line and I’ll point you in the right direction.
I first posted the following blog in the spring of 2012, the year that footballer Andre Gray posted a series of homophobic tweets which saw him spread across the sports pages of the British press.
You would hope that things would have changed in recent years but last night, as I watched the Gareth Thomas documentary on homophobia it became horrifically clear that nothing much has changed at all. And to me, the reason is because the finger of blame is far too easily being pointed in entirely the wrong direction.
To be fair to Gareth Thomas, at least he had a go at taking the game to task and the appalling car crash interviews given by Gordon Taylor and Simone Pound of the PFA coupled with the refusal of the FA to respond to him underlined everything I say below. But where were the interviews with current Premier League players or coaching staff? Why no contribution from the likes of Lineker or Shearer?
Instead, he fell into the now traditional trap of attacking the supporters using social media to try and underline his case. Consequently, by suggesting that the reason why no players have come out as gay was due to potential abuse from the terraces, all he really did was further demonise the very people who will ultimately win the war against homophobia in football. The supporters.
As I said, the blog below was written five years ago and it angers me that I’m being forced to repost it. Because the fact that we’re still without an openly gay footballer in England isn’t simply tragic, it’s shameful.
As you may or may not know, Downing Street will today play host to a summit which will discuss, amongst other things, the issues of racism and homophobia.
Leaving aside the simple truth that I actually think our PM has more important things to be doing at the moment, the reason this summit is taking place is apparently to take a fresh look at both ‘problems’ in the face of recent events and, in the case of homophobia, in the wake of the BBC documentary which looked at the lack of any openly gay players in the professional game.
Now my views on racism at football are in black and white for all to see, be that on this very blog or in my book Kicking Off. Homophobia however, is something I have never really discussed before and there is a reason for that.
You see speaking as a football fan, it is my assertion that there isn’t actually a problem to address at the moment and nor will there be until such time as we have a player with the bottle to actually come out and admit to his sexuality. At that point things will change immediately because then the anti-homophobia campaign will have an actual focal point or to be blunt, a potential victim. As a result, then, and only then, will we know if we actually have a major problem at all. Because at the moment, it is all supposition.
That is I know, a very simplistic way of looking at things but let’s face it, once inside the confines of a ground, football fans become fairly simplistic beings. All too often the concept of right and wrong is neutralised by raw emotion and whilst any form of abusive chanting is unacceptable, the real key to stopping it isn’t legislation, it’s by changing the mindset of the minority who do it.
The precedent of course, is racist chanting. For as black players made more inroads into the game, supporters eventually began to realise how futile and pathetic abusing them was and that soon became so ingrained in their psyche that to even utter a racist term stopped occurring to all but the most rabid of morons. Indeed, far from knocking football for being racist we should be applauding it for driving the anti-racism message deep into the heart of British society.
I believe that exactly the same thing will happen with homophobia and I would argue that it would happen in a fairly short space of time if not immediately. After all, one only has to look at the TV to see how much has changed with regard to British societies acceptance of homosexuality in recent years.
Yet as the noises being made ahead of this summit clearly seem to prove, both the game and the authorities would like the great British public to believe that the second an openly gay player steps onto a field, the terraces will resound with cries of ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’ or ‘I’m free’ and the sight of fans mincing up and down behind the goals. Indeed the reason I sat down and wrote this very blog is because I have been so offended by some of the things I have been hearing this morning. Football fans may not be perfect, but the suggestion that more than a tiny minority are genuinely homophobic is beyond offensive,
The question of course, is why such things are being inferred and the answer, like most things to do with the great game, is fairly obvious. It’s a basic diversion tactic. Because if you point the finger of blame toward the fans, you don’t actually have to apportion any blame to yourselves.
Like it or not, if you are a pro-footballer be it at Old Trafford or Roots Hall, the nature of the beast is such that getting abuse from the terrace is going to be part and parcel of your career. Brutal though this might be, it is a nailed on fact and if you don’t like it or don’t think you will be able to take it, then don’t do it. It really is as simple as that.
The key to dealing with that abuse is to understand why it happens and what it actually means. Because for the most part, vitriol will only be coming at you from opposing fans if you’re pissing them off by doing a good job. And as long as you’re doing a good job, as recent history has proven only too well, your own supporters will not only forgive you anything but they will continue to heap adulation on you. Since they are the ones who ultimately pay your wages, they’re the only ones you really have to worry about.
However, if that grief comes not from the terraces but from your peers, especially your own team mates, it is something else entirely because it goes beyond banter from the crowd, it becomes personal.
Anyone who has ever been in a changing room knows that many of them are like a scene from Animal Farm (the George Orwell book, not the porn movie!) and any individual who shows even the remotest sign of being in any way different becomes fair game. Remember the stick Graham Le Saux used to get simply because he has a brain in his head? Much of that focussed on his supposed sexuality and let’s face it, if you were gay and saw that as a potential warning of things to come, why on earth would you want to put yourself in the firing line?
Of course not all players are like that and I’m sure that there are certain changing rooms which are delightful places to be post-training. But there are plenty which aren’t, especially if you’re not one of the towel-snapping, prank playing, tart shagging brigade and it is that ‘closed shop’ lad mentality which David Cameron and the various cronies and cling-ons should be discussing not the old chestnut of fears of abuse from the terraces.
But that will only happen when the game actually admits it has a problem in-house and we all know how reluctant it is to do that. Especially when you have a mute and already demonised scapegoat ready to hand.
Thanks to all those people who continue to keep both The Crew and Top Dog at the top of the various download charts. It really is humbling. Could I please ask that if you have read either book you leave a review of some kind as they are a great help both to me and to potential readers. And don’t forget, my latest comedy ebook Wings of a Sparrow is also available both in print and to download.
As someone who is lucky enough to converse with people from pretty much every point of the spectrum on which human life sits, I frequently find myself responding to questions of some kind or another.
Inevitably, the bulk of these will revolve around subjects linked to writing and be of the ‘how can I?’ variety which is fine as my work or writing will be the thing which brought us together and if someone takes the time to contact me, it’s only right that I afford them the courtesy of a reply.
Occasionally however, I’ll get a curveball question and the range of issues these can cover is, to say the least, broad. Only recently for example, I found myself explaining to someone from the other side of the world why we British drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
To be honest, I like this kind of random stuff. Not only does it tax the brain (or test my proficiency on google) but I find it quite rewarding to think that people actually feel comfortable enough to ask me these things. Especially when in some cases, I’ll have been the first Englishman they’ll have ever emailed.
My favourite question however, is one which lands in my inbox on a regular basis. It is quite simply, why football?
Usually of course, this will be used in the context of violence or hatred of some kind but increasingly, it’s being asked by people who don’t follow the game and want to know why those of us who do are so fanatical about it.
My response to this is that there is no such thing as a standard answer because there is no such thing as a standard football fan. To the uninitiated we might well come across as sheep (or even mugs) but when you look a little deeper, you’ll quickly discover that there are all kinds of reasons to explain why we are all unique in our love of the great game and our respective teams. There are even different degrees of obsession but if you want to know more about that, then you best read this.
Amongst those of us who actually get off our backsides to attend games in the flesh however, there is one common thread and that is that being a fan of the game is not just about the 90 minutes of actual football. And I mean football, not even great football. For it’s fair to say that some of the best days I’ve had as a supporter have been on days when Watford have lost and I’d bet that most fans reading this will be nodding in agreement.
For the simple reality is that watching football is about one thing, hope. Hope that things will get better, or at least not get worse. Hope that you will win promotion, not get relegated, beat your local rivals or even just carry on for one more season. And with that hope comes every kind of emotional experience possible all wrapped up in one simple word, passion.
To be a part of that passion and share those experiences with other like minded souls is why we do it and why we love it because it’s where we feel that we belong.
Don’t ask me why we do it, just try and explain to me why you don’t.
Speaking of football and fans, my old book Rebellion is now available as an ebook.
First published in 2006, it tells the background to some of the more infamous fan protests including those at Charlton, Wimbledon, Manchester United, Manchester City, Norwich and Bournemouth amongst many others.
You might not have heard about it because for some reason, the mainstream media didn’t think it was important enough to warrant even a mention. Neither did a single politician including the wonderful Mayor of London who will usually be found at the opening of an envelope.
But it was important, incredibly so.
Because what we saw, possibly for the first time, was a sizeable gathering of people from amongst what many would normally refer to as the silent majority. And unlike the kind of march we are used to seeing involving Corbyn and Co, this one passed without a hint of trouble. Indeed, both the organisers and participants have received glowing praise from the Metropolitan Police for the way it was organised and conducted.
This, in itself, is significant enough but what makes it amazing, incredible even, is that the majority of the people involved were football fans. Or rather, football lads. Working class males from clubs up and down the land who put their rivalries aside for the day and marched side by side to show their support for a common cause.
Yes, that’s right. West Ham walked with Millwall, Spurs walked with Arsenal, and a hundred more besides walked together under the banner of The Football Lads Alliance to protest against extremism on our shores. As a show of public solidarity from the working class, it doesn’t get any bigger.
Inevitably, The Football Lads Alliance has been tagged as extreme right-wing and social media is currently awash with left-wing trolls trying to goad those who support it with accusations of racism and Islamophobia and even that this is the EDL reborn. That’s what they do to suppress anything that doesn’t fit in with their crazed idealism.
But this time, they are wrong. Instead, all they’re actually doing is showing that they’re scared. Scared that their worst nightmares are beginning to come true and that something they can’t bully or shout down has begun.
I have spoken a lot about the silent majority of middle England over the last few months and how it has remained relatively silent in the face of the relentless attacks on it in the wake of both Brexit and the general election. Now, finally, it seems that it’s beginning to wake up from its slumber and find its voice.
When that happens, as history has proven many times, you ignore it at your peril.
I am a Watford fan. This is not a confession, it’s a statement of fact.
As a consequence, I’ve seen every home game this season as well as a good few away. For example, I was at West Ham when we came back from 2-0 down to win 2-4 with one of the gutsiest displays I’ve ever seen by a Watford team and at Hull, when we rolled over in one of the most inept performances I’ve ever seen by the side I follow.
What this means is that I am more than qualified to comment on the issue of Walter Mazzari and that comment is this: terminating his contract was exactly the right thing to do purely because it turned out that he wasn’t a good fit for us after all.
That’s it. No further discussion or explanation required.
So, if you’re a journalist or even a supporter of any of the other 91 professional football clubs, your comments, opinions or insults are meaningless to me because they’re primarily based on hearsay, not experience.
Oh, and just so you know, sacking Flores last season was also bang on the money.
Now, please move along. There’s nothing else to see here.
As you may have noticed, I am a huge fan of social media.
I use for everything from promotion and research though to networking and talking bollocks with people I barely know.
Surprisingly, one thing I rarely use social networking for is talking about football. The main reasons being that I don’t really care too much what is happening at any other club than Watford and certainly have little or no interest in the day to day trivia of players lives or for that matter, their opinions. More importantly, I find if far too easy to get sucked into arguments and being the type of person who loves the last word, can find myself involved in pointless debates for days!
In truth, I actually find the whole idea of social networking quite ridiculous and like many things to do with the internet, I consider its prime function is to waste time and avoid facing up to the realities of life. However, it is an undeniable fact that social media does have real power and central to that is the ability to spread or even occasionally, create news. In that sense, Twitter is pretty much unrivalled.
I mention this here because this morning I have been reading the responses to last nights Match of the Day and in particular, the issue of diving which was a key factor in two of the games shown.
To a man, and woman, the response has been one of anger. Not merely at the guilty parties, but at the fact that the pundits on Match of the Day were so loathe to call it what it actually is, cheating. More importantly, there was an inference that the fault lie not with the player, but the referee for missing making the wrong decision.
Now let’s face it, we’ve all seen things happen in games which players have got away with simply because the referee missed them. And even though they will have been picked up by the TV cameras and shown later on, we also know that thanks to the stupid rules relating to retrospective action in regard of cheating, it is extremely unlikely that anything will ever be done by way of punishment.
But like most supporters I am sick to death of the diving and the cheating that is ruining the game I love and if the authorities, the clubs or the players union won’t do anything to stop it even though they know it is wrong, then maybe pressure from the fans will finally force them into action.
Just as importantly, if through the use of social networking fans are finally able to interact more directly with players, maybe they won’t be so quick to feign injury if they know that they are going to have to justify their behaviour to the people who pay their wages. After all, embarrassment is the biggest deterrent known to man!
There will of course be those who think this is the very worst of developments but in all honesty, I don’t care. For too long now we fans have been forced to sit back and put up with the demise of fair play and the shame that this disgraceful cheating brings onto the sport and by association, us.
If through social networking we finally have the chance to force football into bringing about a return to sportsmanship, that can only be a good thing for the game.
So let’s do it.
Finally, a lot of people have been asking about my next movie project and whilst Three Greens continues to head toward production, I can tell you that if all goes to plan, details of another movie I’ve been working on will be released at the Cannes Film Festival next month.
As most people will by now will be aware, Sutton Utd’s reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw was forced to resign today after admitting that some of his mates placed bets on him eating a pie during last nights FA Cup tie against Arsenal.
This decision has met with pretty much universal sadness by the footballing public who have come to regard Wayne as being something of a hero, albeit a naive one. After all, as a footballer he would have known full well that a player being involved in anything related to betting on a game they are actually involved with is totally illegal so to go on TV the following morning boasting about it to the loathsome Piers Morgan wasn’t exactly the best idea.
However, his naivety isn’t an issue to me nor indeed, is his appetite. Personally, having spent the previous week having the piss taken out of him by the tabloids I think he had every right to try and make the most of his time in the spotlight. But what does sit very uncomfortably with me is the fact that to my mind, he was effectively set up. Not just by the tabloids or the betting company concerned, but by the FA.
I am not a betting person but rather than investigate Wayne Shaw with all the vigour they can apparently muster (and one has to wonder where this sudden rush for the truth was when the rumours of child abuse were circling over 30 years ago) maybe the FA should be looking at the bigger picture and clarifying what actually constitutes a legitimate football bet. Because if we have got to the stage where the pie-eating antics of a substitute goalkeeper are legitimate reasons to offer odds, then the relationship between football and the betting companies needs serious examination. Or has the game actually sold its soul that far into the depths that the betting companies can do what they like and pretty soon we’re going to be offered odds on the number of players who take a dump at half time?
OK, I’m being flippant but something is seriously out of kilter here and as footballs governing body, it’s up the FA to get our already tainted game back on track.
Such sad news and there’s nothing I can write here that will make it any easier to bear.
Graham Taylor wasn’t just a former Watford manager, he was the man who took our little club and built it into the entity it is today. Not once, but twice.
Indeed, amongst the thousands of memories he gave me over the decades following Watford, one of the best was the play-off victory over Bolton which took us into the Premiership for the first time. Not just for my sake, but for his. As a slap in the face for all those who had criticised him for his time with England, it couldn’t have been any better than that. Not that you would have heard him say that because he was far too much of a gentleman.
RIP Mr Watford. You’ll be sadly missed for sure, but you’ll never be forgotten.
I’m not generally a fan of mascots, at least not British ones. Not because I find them pointless, but because unlike those in the US where it is pretty much an art form, our versions tend to be either scruffy or embarrassing (often both).
But more importantly, it’s usually obvious that the people who inhabit these costumes are not actually performers. Indeed, having seen mascots at all kinds of events over the years, I often get the impression that the only reason they have donned the outfit at all is because they drew the short straw that day.
There is however, one exception and he happens to be the mascot at my club. His name is Harry the Hornet, and entertainer doesn’t do him justice. I would even go so far as to say that there have been plenty of times over the last few season when he’s been the most entertaining thing on show at Vicarage Road.
Central to this is the fact that the guy who inhabits that strange yellow outfit has a fantastic sense of humour and is not afraid to use it. Be it with home fans, visiting fans, officials or even players. Which brings us nicely to the events of last Saturday and the mocking of Wilfred Zaha for diving. An offence for which he was rightly booked.
To his credit, Wilf eventually saw the funny side and the two exchanged a series of tweets (yes, Harry has his own Twitter account) but sadly, the same cannot be said of the former England and now Crystal Palace manager, Sam Allardyce who seemingly took grave exception to one of his players being ‘abused’ in this manner. He even suggested that the FA intervene which, given the subsequent social media piss take, has to go down as one of the great managerial PR own goals of our time. Given what happened with England, you’d have thought that he’d have been wary of anything even closely resembling a sting.
But whilst there is a huge amount of humour to be found in all this, there is also a very serious point. For the truth is that Harry was only mirroring the feeling of the home support and that was a frustration at the antics of certain players in the Palace team. Diving is cheating and a number of Palace players were guilty of that and more on Saturday.
As a former England manager who is now back at the helm of a Premier League side, maybe Mr. Allardyce should be focussed not on the antics of a man wearing a large yellow head, but on those of his team.
This will be my last blog of 2016 so I would like to say a huge thank you to all of those who have continued to support me in any way shape or form.
Whilst I haven’t been exactly prolific on the book front these last 12 months, a lot has been happening behind the scenes, primarily on the movie front and that will hopefully start to deliver in 2017. Indeed, as some of you may have seen, my next movie, Three Greens, has recently been announced.
So can I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and productive New Year.
As you must be aware by now, FIFA, in their infinite wisdom (sic) have decided to punish the FA’s of the four home nations for offences relating to the display of the Poppy on Armistice Day.
Now you don’t need me to go into the grubby details because they are no longer of any importance. What is important however, is what happens next. For it surely goes without saying that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must refuse to accept this punishment on the basis that the poppy is not, nor ever has been, a political symbol.
The various FA’s of course, have a record of ballsing things up and we are already hearing noises about fines being paid, albeit reluctantly, in an effort to avoid any potential sanctions. But in this instance, all those sitting behind their polished desks at Wembley, Hamden Park, Vanguard Way and Donegal Avenue have to understand the depth of feeling involved and accept that this is an issue which is bigger than football. Much bigger in fact.
It is about the integrity of the poppy, the memory of all those who made the ultimate sacrifice and the fact that our tradition of remembrance on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is enshrined in the British DNA. Not because it’s political as FIFA allege, but because it is honourable and respectful.
As a consequence, those who administer our national game have to do the right thing and make a stand against this ludicrous decision. Anything else would be a dereliction of the duty they owe not just to those who follow the game, but to the history of their respective nations.