Two into one – Chase for the Champions League

With both Arsenal and Manchester City both winning their games in hand, the chase for the final two Champions League spots looks like going from three into two to two into one. As it currently stands, Manchester City have all but  sealed their Champions League in third with on 78 points and a goal difference of plus 36, fourth place sees Liverpool on 73 and plus 33 together with Arsenal on 72 points and plus 31 goal difference.

After a roller coaster season for the three sides, City look odds on to finish third. Only Liverpool can overtake the Manchester club should City lose to away to Watford. Say a 1-0 defeat for Man City and a Liverpool win of 3-0 and its City drop down into fourth. It wouldn’t matter on the Arsenal result unless the Gunners give the home fans some joy and spank the toffees 4-0, which would then Arsenal would go into the Champions League and Man City finish fifth. How interesting would that be to see.

Realistically Manchester City should finish the game Sunday knowing that they can put their feet up with regards to Champions League football. The only thing they need to worry about is if they say for example 4-4 and Liverpool win 4-1. In these set of circumstances you would see a playoff match at a neutral ground.  The likelihood of that though is very slim. I imagine though should that happen, come Sunday evening there would be a large number of nervous Liverpool and City fans.

For Liverpool, it is Champions League playoff if they win. Should they draw or lose to Middlesbrough, not only will it be typical of the season, but all eyes will be on the Emirates hoping that their neighbours Everton can do them a favour. Should Liverpool lose and Arsenal draw, then that is when it becomes interesting. Should Liverpool lose 2-1 and Arsenal win 2-1 then both teams would have a record of 76-44 and plus 32. Under the Premier League rules, this would require a play off to distinguish who would finish in 4th and 5th place. Im sure neither team would want to go through a play off given their post season activities. As a Liverpool fan like others, I doubt there will be much hunger for 90 minutes at a neutral ground. I guess the same for Arsenal fans.

Not since 1989 when Arsenal won at Anfield to take the title, have either Liverpool or Arsenal gone to the wire in deciding league placings. Personally I dont want to relive that moment any time soon.

The not so beautiful game – The treatment of Sulley Muntari

Yet again football in Italy has failed to properly deal with the racism issue. This time Pescara midfield Sulley Muntari was the victim in a Serie A game between his club Pescara and Cagliari. Having received abuse, the Ghanian and former Portsmouth player went over to the fans who he had identified as those ones shouting racist chants. Having confronted the racists, I chose not to call them fans as decent football supporters don’t result to such levels, Muntari spoke to the referee. Thinking that the referee would deal with the matter, he was surprised to be on the receiving end of a yellow card. What was he given the yellow card for? dissent. I mean come on, if a player gets punished for reporting racism to a match official, then we are in trouble. Naturally the player walked off the pitch letting the game carry on.

It is appalling but yet not surprising to see the Italian FA failing to deal with the racism problem once more. We have seen time and time again that the racism problem raises its dirty head once more. Another example of failure to deal with racism is the treatment of Mario Ballotelli. The football enigma has been often a victim to the disgusting racism with the n word and monkey taunts. On one occasion was seen to be crying whilst on the bench having been on the receiving end of abuse. The response by his manager, Clarence Seerdorf and his players? Nothing to do with racism, but his passion for the game causing him to get upset.

What it needs is for a ban of some sort by either UEFA or FIFA on the Italian Football Association to make them realise that they need to take things more seriously. Handing out fines will simply not do.

Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.

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.

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.

Premier League review – Moaning and Mane

The Premier League was back this weekend just gone and it seems that some things just never change. Mourinho was moaning about incorrect decisions and missed cards after his first Manchester derby ended in a 2-1 home defeat. A handball decision and a challenge by Bravo on Rooney. Whilst Bravo touched the ball, some will look at his initial feet being both off the ground when he went charging. On the other hand some could say if United had started better and not allowed City the space, the result again could have been different. It was probably not something United fans might have expected under Mourinho that being tactically out done by the opposition at Old Trafford, but there we were.

Tottenham maintained their unbeaten start to the Premier League with a 4-0 pasting against Stoke City. The North London club seem to enjoy their trips to Stoke and made easy work of Mark Hughes team. They have only conceded two goals which is one of the tightest defences in the Premier League.

Arsenal left it late to grab a win against Southampton. WInless Saints had gone ahead after an unfortunate own goal from Cech, but with Koscielny equalising the Saints looked to take a third point of the season. Southampton hearts were broken deep into injury time with a Santi Corzola penalty winner.

Watford came back from 2-0 to win 4-2 and open their win account. Having gone 2-0 down after 33 minutes, it seemed that Watford might be in for a beating but two goals in four minutes brought the visitors level. Second half seemed no better for the home side as a Watford side now with a buzz, grabbed two in ten to secure the three points and hand another defeat for the struggling Hammers.

Another team knocking four in the back of the net were Liverpool. The Reds were finally getting to play at Anfield for the first time since last season. With the main stand now expanded, Anfield was now at a capacity of 54,000. Anfield was a sellout as Liverpool hosted the defending Champions Leicester. It was a strong attacking performance from the home side although the defence still had a few iffy moments, such as Lucas giving the ball away for Leicester to pull on back. That as as good as it got for the visitors as Mane and Firmino did the damage.

Bournemouth and Palace secured wins in their matches to win their first league games of the season.