World Cup to 48 – No thanks

 So the reality of an expanded World Cup moves ever closer. FIFA voted on Tuesday 10th January for a 48 nations in 2026. If you thought Russia and Qatar being handed the World Cup Finals was a crazy idea, then expanding to 48 seems one step too far. Of course it will all be about making it more profitable and making more money. It is all very well making things profitable if the actual product improves. Sadly it is very unlikely that the football will improve. The  reality is that the teams from Europe and South America will continue to dominate whilst African nations keep their toes dipped in the pool as it were. It is very unlikely that other than Japan, South Korea or Australia,the Asian teams or even those from Oceania (should they qualify) will be nothing more than adding numbers to the loss column. There were five options available for the member nations to vote for but it seems

  • Keep The Existing Structure
  • Expand to 40 ( 8 Groups of 5)
  • Expand to 40 (10 Groups of 4)
  • Expand to 48 (16 Groups of 3)
  • Expand to 48 (Opening 32 play off round)

As you can see there are five options. The first one is the if it aint broke dont fix it option, you then have the increase to 40, this was an idea that the former UEFA man Michel Platini had suggested, which could have been bearable and then finally the 48 option.

It is one thing to make the World Cup bigger but to choose the most ridiculous option of 16 groups of three is just bordering on pointless and with two going through. The last time the World Cup finals saw groups of three was when Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982. Back then it saw just the group winners make it into the next round. That idea seemed to have been quickly thrown away as the following World Cup finals format returned to group then knockout rounds. If the idea of three team groups was a bad idea then, why in gods name does anyone think it’s going to be better in 2026. I guess in the post Qatar fall out anything might seem bearable.

The Scottish FA seem to support it, I guess anything that enhances their chances of qualifying can only seem good. That said they dont seem to be able to make headway in a group that contains Slovenia, Slovakia and Lithuania. I guess though anything that keeps the Scot’s somewhat happy. The not so happy people included the European Club Association, who opposed it and called it regrettable and merely for political reasons. The Spanish La Liga are also against it.

There may not be any reversal in the decision, but one can only hope that before the competition has reached it’s centenary year, the tournament may have seen its enjoyment tarnished.

Champions League – Last 16

The Champions League draw took place this morning and England’s three remaining representatives were hoping for a easier start to a possible run to the final. For Arsenal and Man City it was familiar ground but for Premier League champions Leicester, this was still new ground. In fact for the Foxes, they were the only debutants in the knock out stages in this rounds competition.

Having snatched the group on the final round of group games, Arsenal found them meeting their Champions League nemesis, Bayern Munich. Having lost to them at the same stage in 2013 and 2014, Arsene Wenger will hope it’s third time lucky for the Gunners. Bayern, who finished second in their group will look to progress to the final having lost to runners up Atletico Madrid.

Leicester City find themselves in at the deep end as they face Spanish club Sevilla, who won last seasons Europa League final against Liverpool. The Spaniards came second to Juventus in their group and in their domestic league are flying in third place. The fortunate thing for Leicester is that they will be at home in the second leg and if they are yet again flying in Champions League form and still within a shout, it could make all the difference.

Man City will hope to make it to the Semi finals again and will see their chance of progression the easiest out of the three home clubs Whilst they face French club Monaco beat Tottenham twice, they wont be easy. City will hope that their form has turned round by the time the two clubs meet.

In the other last sixteen fixtures Real Madrid look favourites against Napoli, despite the defending champions finishing second in their group albeit behind Borussia Dortmund. Benfica face a tricky tie when they face Borussia Dortmund. The Portuguese club will need to be tight at the back against the strong German club. PSG’s failure to top the group with a final round draw sees them face Barcelona. The French club will host Barcelona in the first leg and travel to Spain for the second. It should prove to be a mouthwatering tie with both teams looking to reach the final.

Behind The Scenes – Q&A with Portsmouth FC CEO Mark Catlin

Following my Q&A session with friend and Portsmouth FC Security team member Liam Earley, I was fortunate to be able to have a Q&A session with CEO of the Year and Portsmouth CEO Mark Catlin. This is how it went.

1) You grew up supporting West Ham, who were your idols at West Ham and did you ever dream of playing for the Hammers yourself?

Trevor Brooking was and still is my greatest football idol. Alan Devonshire followed and he was also a great player. I think every lad dreams of playing for their home town’ club, but I realised pretty early on in life that whilst I had a lot of enthusiasm, I wasn’t good enough to make it as a professional footballer!

2) Before becoming CEO of Portsmouth, you were Commercial Director at Bury FC, how did that come about and what was your best moment?

I was contacted by Bury FC following a successful spell running a Spanish football club. At the time they were struggling financially in L2 and I came in following a Sky Sports documentary showing how well the club I was running in Spain was doing. We (the Board) subsequently managed to clear all debt and turn Bury FC into profit. My best moment was then achieving promotion, that was a great day!

3) You had to resign from Bury FC, how hard was that to do and did you wish things could have been different?

I didn’t ‘have’ to resign from Bury FC and everyone at the club tried to get me to change my mind, I just felt the journey had gone as far as it could and at the time my own businesses were missing my involvement. Over the following months that changed and I decided to look for another football challenge which came in the guise of working with supporters in trying to save PFC from liquidation.

4)When Portsmouth had its financial troubles, from a football fans point of view, I was disappointed at the possibility of a club going under, how did you feel?

As an outsider at the time exactly the same, hence why I offered my services voluntarily to try and save the club from extinction!

5)A club will never die all the whilst it has its fans and with the Portsmouth Supporters Trust, how proud are you at the clubs situation

Extremely proud as its the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of passionate, honest and extremely loyal supporters.

6) Portsmouth currently lay in fourth, do you feel the club are in a better place to finish in a promotion challenging position.

I think we are in a great position and despite some inconsistent results will once again be challenging for promotion this season.

7) Taking it back to your boyhood club briefly, West Ham took up residence at the Olympic Stadium, did you ever think that it was the right decision given the problems  with segregation?

Tough one to answer, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I always thought that moving to a stadium that was not a dedicated football one, was always going to cause issues.

8) The EFL trophy, now from the very start when they expanded it, very few fans thought it was a good idea, shown by the low attendances, do you think the Football League will come to their senses and revert back to how it should be.

I hope so, this was always ‘sold’ to clubs as being a trial and its clearly not worked. The big debate will be do we carry on with the competition full stop!

9) Portsmouth and eleven other clubs were fined for not fielding full strength teams in the competition. Do you think that these will be overturned and would any of the clubs threaten to boycott the competition next season.

You cannot boycott any competitions as an EFL club member, but you can field a team you wish and that was the decision taken by us as a club, even though we were fully aware of the penalties we would face. I do not believe that our fines will be overturned.

10) You recently won CEO at the Football Business Awards, you dedicated it to everyone at the club, it must have been a proud moment having seen the club rise from where it was. What plans do you have for the club in the coming future?

It was a hugely proud moment for me to collect the award on behalf of the club, and it says a lot about how far we have come, however we have to now look to the future and that will involve taking some tough decisions on future investment and the direction we wish to go. What league we see ourselves in will set the bar as to the investment we will need and what that may or may not do to our ownership structure. The higher we set the bar the more money it will take!
An interesting insight into the CEO of Portsmouth covering his boyhood times all the way to winning the CEO award and thoughts on the EFL trophy debacle.

Behind The Scenes – Liam Earley Portsmouth FC Security

A while a go I had intended on doing some Q&A type posts as something different for the blog. So I thought about enquiring with various people. The obvious choice was a friend of mine and to many who lives and breathes football or should that be Portsmouth Football Club. That guy is one Liam Earley. So  asked him and a big thank you to his boss by the way for allowing Liam to go ahead with it. So without further ado, here is that Q&A session that resulted. I hope you enjoy.

So Liam, many a football fan always dreams of playing for their club in the home or away kit, but in working behind the scenes you have the next best thing of being part of the club. How does it feel to be working at the club that you grew up supporting and given the history did you ever think you would ever see the chance of it happening?

It’s probably a bit of a cliché but it’s like a dream come true for me. I’ve been here for three and a half years now, having grown up supporting Pompey, travelling around the country watching the lads play in all four divisions. Obviously, as you say, the dream as a kid was to play for the club… I used to see myself in goal, in front of the Fratton End, saving shots from all over the park and starting counter attacks with a quick throw or kick….but sadly, I was never much of a footballer so it was merely a pipe dream and nothing more.

Truth be told, I never imagined i’d have a chance to work here, especially after our relegation from the Premier League in 2010. The club was perilously close to going under for a couple of seasons and if it hadn’t been for the amazing support of our fans, the club wouldn’t be here today and I’d probably still be a removal man rather than a part if a club which has given me so many amazing memories over the years. I feel extremely blessed…not many people get to spend their days working somewhere that makes them so happy!

Very true Liam, whilst playing the game was never a starter for me as a professional, I always dreamed of working at a football club (preferably Liverpool) in some capacity. Sadly it was never to be and that dream would just be a dream.

You currently work as part of the security team and we will look at that later, but you started off working as the Cleaning Manager. How was it being responsible for a stadium and how much pride did you take in ensuring the stadium was clean and ready not just everyday but for game day?

It was an interesting introduction to life at the club! I’d had no previous experience of working as a professional cleaner before, so to come in to a 21000 seater stadium, with 10 different  bars and lounges and to be responsible for getting the whole place stick and span ready for a match day or an event was quite daunting at first. I didn’t actually realise how often the bars and lounges were used for outside events that had nothing to do with football. I thought if be really busy once every two weeks cleaning up after games but that was wrong. The stadium (or the lounges around it) is used on almost a daily basis and making sure that every area was ready for the public the next day was very time consuming but also very rewarding. Somedays myself and my cleaning team would feel ready to drop come home time, but there was a real sense of pride in knowing that we’d got things ready for the next day….

Yes you see it quite a lot now, clubs hiring out bars and lounges not only as a way of income but as a community driven host.

3) Match day can see a lot of people and a lot of half time snacks and stuff and wrappers. What was the post match clean up like did you find it frustrating and did take long for the cleaning team to clear up afterwards?

As you say matchdays see a lot of fans, especially here at Portsmouth. We have the largest capacity stadium in the league down here and regularly still bring in 16000 crowds – for division four, that’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately as you say, 16000 people get through quite a bit of food and drink during their visit!  Myself and my team would spend the best part of 8 hours on a Monday walking through the stands, the concourses underneath the stands and of course the toilets, filling a couple of hundred black sacks with empty pie trays, half drunk cups of bovril, sweet wrappers, tickets, betting slips, tickertape…..and then we’d move on to the bats and lounges in the corporate areas on a Tuesday.

I never found it too frustrating most of the time….although there were occasions when we’d play at home on a Saturday, get the place clean and shiny Monday and Tuesday ready for a Tuedady evening kick off when 16000 fans would come and undo two days of work in a matter of minutes! Those days could be frustrating, but, generally, I just took a sense of pride in knowing that we’d got it done so quickly and that we would have it done ready again for the next match….

4) You spent just over 2 and a half years in your role did you ever have to bring any of the players in line over keeping it tidy or was that left to others?

Ha, most of the time I never had any issues with our lads, although there was one occasion when a couple of the youth team players had flung peas and beans around a dining area in a bit of a food fight. They got a bit of a rollicking for that…but from Richie Barker the first team manager at the time, not from me! But, generally, as I say, the boys were respectful and wouldn’t go flinging their rubbish about the place.

5)You changed roles within the club to become part of the Security team, how much does it differ in regards to shifts and working around the stadium?

in regard to which areas of the stadium I work in, things haven’t really changed. I was ‘access all areas’ as the cleaning manager because, obviously, all areas needed to be cleaned. Now I’m access all areas because it’s up to me and my colleagues on the security team here to open and lock down all areas of the ground for our staff and supporters. There is a marked difference in my working hours though. As cleaning manager my day began at 7 and finished at 330 Monday to Friday, with a 9-530 shift on a matchday.  Nowadays, depending on which shift pattern I’m on my day runs from 0700-1500 or 1500-2300 or, if I’m on the graveyard shift it’s 2300-0700.

The type of work I do has changed massively as well. It’s no longer sweeping and mopping or cleaning hundreds of toilets (something I definitely DON’T miss!!); these days it’s about ensuring the safety of the clubs staff, the visitors to our lounges and bars and of course the supporters; and to provide 24/7 security for the premises. I’m responsible for monitoring the clubs 80-something cctv cameras; helping maintain health and safety standards; fire alarm testing and occasional giving a tour of the ground to supporters who have come for a visit to the city from other cities or countries!

6) Working on nights have you ever had any strange unexplainable events that have ever given you the shivers.

Thankfully I don’t tend to get the shivers very often, I’m quite difficult to scare. I can see how people would get creeped out working in a dark, creaky 118 year old empty stadium but personally I love it! I can walk around the pitch at 2 am, surrounded by darkness and silence and I can picture different games that I’ve watched over the years in my mind; I can almost still hear the ghosts of cheers from supporters rattling about the place! I find it gives me a sense of calm and tranquility rather than a fright…..although there was one Sunday night when, for no reason that I can explain, all the televisions came on in the upstairs lounges at just gone midnight and the lights in our players lounge kept tripping on and off, even though there was nobody about to trigger the motion sensor that controlled the lights. That was a bit weird but again it didn’t really scare me, it just intrigued me!

7)Finally, your love for the club is immense, is there any other job within the club that you would love to do in the future.

You’re right; I do love the club. It’s still a dream come true for me every day that I walk into the ground, even after three and a half years here. I can see myself being a part of the clubs security team for a long time to come, there really is nowhere else I’d rather work. I don’t really envisage that I’d change departments again…but then I never imagined i’d get the chance to work here at all once upon a time, nor to change from cleaning manager to security guard once I was here, so who knows where I could end up in the future!

I could definitely see myself working for Pompey In The Community one day. Pompey in the Community (registered charity no. 1126118) is an independent charitable trust affiliated to Portsmouth Football Club, they work with the cities youngsters as well as with disabled supporters and are involved in things like ‘the Rucksack Challenge’ which aims to deliver essentials like fresh clothing/bedding/food parcels to the local homeless community.  The only other dream now is to manage the club, but as I lack the necessary coaching badges I think that’s something I’ll have to save for Championship Manager games!!

Excellent stuff, Portsmouth FC and yourself sharing  the community mind and spirit. Thank you Liam for taking part, hope people get a deeper insight into what else goes into the everyday workings of Portsmouth Football Club and the important job you and the rest of the team do.

Magpies fly,Canaries perched – Championship review

Rafa Benitez is a man who is always up for a challenge and when appointed as Newcastle manager, he was certainly going to be taking one on. Having taking on the Toon in March 2015, the Spaniard had come close to keeping the North East club up. Unforunately they were a just a win away from survival, one that could have been against Man City had Aguero’s goal not stood. Even worse for United would be seeing their northeast rivals Sunderland retaining their place in the Premier League.

Fastforward to October 2016 and all seems different. The opening two defeats seem a long way away. Having nailed Preston 6-1 in the midweek League Cup tie, I imagine Preston fans were fearing more of the same. For Preston it was alas another defeat to the Magpies but a far less defeat. In fact the goals from Newcastle came in the second half.

Hot on the tails of Newcastle are Brighton & Hove Albion. The South coast club are looking to make promotion to the Premier League having been the nearly men for the last few seasons. The Seagulls were flying high as they hosted Norwich City. The Canaries found themselves on the receiving end of  5-0 tanking, that included a Glen Murray hattrick. It was a blow for Norwich as a victory for them would have seen them go second. They have also taken a single point from nine as they look to return to the Premier League.

It was a blow for Huddersfield Town as they were beaten 5-0 at struggling Fulham. The visitors could have gone level on points with Brighton had they won, but strangely it wasnt to happen. With teams above dropping points enabled Reading to close the gap. They beat Nottingham Forest 2-0. Forest despite hitting just over 20 shots, could only get five on target but none in the back of the net.

At the other end of the table, Rotherham fans saw a second win of the season robbed from them as Ipswich scored a ninety fifth minute equaliser. A draw for Blackburn denied them a chance to pull out of the bottom three. The only teams to be happy near the bottom were Wigan who beat Cardiff to close the gap to a point and Derby County who beat Sheffield Wednesday.

The Championship may only be fifteen games in but the battles for promotion are very much taking shape.

Premier League -Week Nine

Another week in the Premier League is done and things are looking very close indeed so far. A single point separates teams from 1st to fifth and five more between leaders Man City and Everton. Not for a while have we seen teams so close after nine games.

Spurs went to Bournemouth looking to win and put themselves top after the lunch time kickoff, but they were held to a goalless draw by a home side looking difficult to beat at the Vitality stadium. Both sides had chances as well as testing the opposing goalkeepers. Lloris had to lively as he did well to keep out Charlie Daniels opportunity. Spurs themselve were unlucky not to break the deadlock as they tried and tried. Spurs  were also considered fortunate to not end up finishing with ten men after Sissoko’s elbow to Harry Arter’s face was missed by the referee.

As the game ended, Spurs would now hope that teams around them would drop points so they wouldnt drop away.

Arsenal found themselves cursing the inability to break through a difficult Middlesbrough who claimed a rare clean sheet in London. I guess Arsenal fans may have gone into the game with a healthy confidence following their European escapades, but it seemed a typical opposite.  They seem to barely test Victor Valdes in the Boro goal, but the home fans could be grateful for an alert Petr Cech. His saves kept the game level and a slightly better birthday for Arsene Wenger had they lost. Thanks to Cech, the only thing lost was a six game winning streak.

Everton found to their cost that having all the possession doesn’t bring the points if you dont convert the chances. They looked like securing a point at Turf Moor but with only eight shots out of twenty on target, it wasnt too be as Bolasie’s equaliser was too be for nothing as Scott Arfield bagged a 90th minute winner. It was the home sides third win of the season and second over Merseyside opposition.

When Liverpool kicked off on the Saturday tea time, they looked to get three points and secure top spot by scoring two goals or more goals against West Brom. The Baggies were never going to a rollover having previously come close to ending Tottenham’s unbeaten run. For the home side, the reds were graced with Coutinho,Firminho and Mane in the mix. It was a Firminho with a sweet cross that saw Mane on the end of it to give the Reds a deserved lead. The home side then went 2-0 up ten minutes before half time when Brazilian wonderkid Coutinho netted home. This scoreline would have sent Liverpool top, but a poorly defended corner allowed McAuley to pull one back. Visions of last seasons 2-2 draw may have caught the minds of Liverpool fans, but they were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the Reds held out to win 2-1 and take their unbeaten run to nine games.

Having taken a point at Anfield, Mourinho was now taking his first visit to Stamford Bridge since his time with Inter Milan. A victory for either side would keep them within touch of the top four. A big enough win for Chelsea could see them overtake Spurs, whilst a victory for Mourinho’s men would see them leapfrog Chelsea and move to within three points of City, Arsenal and Liverpool. A good start was needed by either side and it was the hosts who struck first. Defensive errors allowed Pedro to get through the back line and send the ball home. The game would get no better for United as a poorly cleared set piece saw Gary Cahill strike home.

Chelsea did ride some luck when a high tackle by David Luiz was only met with a yellow card. With them being 2-0 up it may have not affected the overall result, but it may have kept a lower scoreline. Arsenal fans watching the game may have felt a tad peeved at the card considering Granit Xhaka was given his marching orders against Swansea City for a lesser offence. Alas for United there were still goals to come. Eden Hazard struck from fifteen yards and Kante finished the rout eight minutes later. Having started so brightly, it is puzzling to see how United have had a little wobble.

At the other end of the table it’s looking bleak for Sunderland. A measly two points from twenty seven is not what any Mackem wants to see and especially not David Moyes.  I wonder if he regrets ever leaving Everton for Manchester United. The North West club who find themselves one point worse off than this time last season, travelled to West Ham who themselves also had a poor start to the season. It looked like it would finish with teams taking a point each, but a winner deep into second half stoppage time condemned the visitors to another defeat. They escaped last season but sadly for them it appears that time has run out.

It doesnt fair any better for Swansea who are one place above. The opening day win seems a distant memory and relegation looks certain to rear its ugly head for the Welsh club. Five points behind on what they were last season where they recovered to finish 12th doesnt look like happening any time soon. Close results against Liverpool and Arsenal could show promise but they may have a chance to take a step forward on Monday night when they play Stoke City. If they dont take a chance then it will definitely be good night Swansea.

FA Cup rolls on – Fourth Qualifying round

As the season speeds towards the middle of October, that can mean only one thing in domestic cup competitions, the last of the qualifying rounds are here and the draw for the First Round proper takes place on Monday evening.

This Saturday saw sixty four teams battle it out for a place in the first round where they can have a chance of joining other small teams in football giantkilling folklore, noticeably in this round we see former Football League clubs hoping to earn more cash too. Teams like Wrexham, Tranmere, Stockport County, Torquay all looking to get a chance to knock out former league rivals. Tranmere went down 2-1 to Barrow, Wrexham drew whilst Stockport and Torquay both made it into the bag.

Seven games found themselves finishing level. Teams such as Margate, Hemel Hempstead Town and Curzon Ashton look for replay victories and money spinning ties.Some teams stamped their authority in reaching the first round. Dover Athletic, Brackley Town scored 5-0 wins away whilst Eastleigh & Kidderminster thumped their opposition 6-0.

Mixed fortunes for Lincoln as United went out to Spennymoor Town, but City travel to Guiseley. Stamford looked to cause an upset as they hosted Wrexham, they came from behind to earn a replay at the Racecourse Ground and an even bigger upset.

A reasonably good day for Kent clubs in the FA Cup, Dover, Maidstone Utd (3-1 Billericay) and Dartford (3-0 Tonbridge), not so good for Ebsfleet who went down 2-1 to Merstham.