The price of football

Today saw the now annual BBC Price of Football report released. It's always an interesting snapshot of where the game is and taps into a wider feeling of the growing expense of football.

Football being football, everyone will find an opportunity to pick holes (mine is that by just focusing on the cheapest and most expensive it's still not entirely representative of ticket prices as a whole), but it's a mammoth job to compile that data and despite the criticisms you can level at it, it feeds into an important debate.

However, where there are substantial holes, in my view, is in some of the analysis, both by the BBC and by commentators elsewhere - and this largely comes down to the simplistic comparisons made.

Take, for example, the headline that tickets to Bristol Rovers are more expensive than Barcelona or you pay less for a Manchester City season ticke than you do at Cheltenham. It's a bit like walking into your local corner shop or cafe and asking why they're not as cheap as Tescos or Wetherspoons.

At one end of the game, the sheer size of TV money alone means, oddly, fans in the stadium aren't quite as important, revenue wise. Yes, it's good to have them, the contribute to the bottom line and the atmosphere but financially some of the richest clubs would still make eye-watering revenue if the stadium was empty.

At the other, you have a Conference or League Two team scrapping for their lives with no TV money or rich benefactor and are seriously dependent on numbers through the gates. Cut the admission too fine and you could be storing up cashflow issues later in the season. Put it too high and you'll alienate the casual fan. It's a hugely difficult decision.

Bristol Rovers and Barcelona operate in such different worlds it's pointless to compare them. Arsenal and Spurs can charge such high amounts because their stadiums and season tickets usually sell out. Man City, through a combination of an oil-rich billionaire and a knowledge that they won't always fill their stadium can be a bit more creative with pricing.

Similarly, the "but foreign leagues are cheaper" argument can be a bit misleading. It largely stands up for Germany and the biigger clubs in Spain, say, but once you move beyond the bigger clubs, many of the smaller sides, even in top divisions, rarely sell out meaning their pricing is forced to be a little lower (for an excellent of example of this, and with apologies to Andrew, this conversation between Andrew Gibney and Ryan Keaney highlights the point perfectly).

Finally, one of the biggest issues is the clubs - and the BBC - are asking the wrong question. Yes, Exeter may be more expensive than Dagenham, but a Grecians fan is less likely to decide to switch allegiance to the Daggers based on price. However, fans of either of these two clubs may well lose fans to Sky Sports subscriptions (monthly, the price of two championship games, not including extra purchases like food, drink and travel). Netflix, the cinema, other sports, the internet - there's never been more distractions competing for the leisure pound. Against these expenses , football holds up especially poorly. That's the question cubs have to answer, not how they can be cheaper than the richestt club in England.

New season, new twofootedtackle podcast

Amazingly, we've managed to get a new twofootedtackle podcast out at the start of the season. And even have a schedule to attempt to produce another one in September. Amazing. For this pod, Aberdeen and Dulwich Hamlet fan Mark Penman steps in for the soon-to-be-married Ryan Keaney, so naturally making sense of Scottish football is high on the agenda, while we talk to Jim Keoghan, author of Punk Football, on the future of fan ownership.

On a side note, it's really nice to be back podcasting and after a slightly inconsistent return - largely due to the fact we never seemed to know when we'd record - I think we're hitting an area that we're comfortable in: an extended interview, plus one or two topics in depth and reports from others, if space.

Somebody said our World Cup preview sounded a bit like something from Radio 4, which I was delighted by, as that's the sort of area we're hoping for. Something intelligent, irreverent and that makes you think rather than confirm what you already know (I'm probably a Reithian at heart with my broadcasting values).

We could have easily gone back to three blokes sitting behind a microphone shooting the breeze about the popular topics of the day, but in all honesty there are a lot of pods that do this far better than we could, plus the format feels a little stale.

There's very little point in aping the excellent and most-definitely-not-stale Football Weekly unless you bring something different to the table, and we certainly don't do that. Hell, I'd hardly even classify myself as a regular Premier League viewer these days.

Not that I'm claiming we're doing anything different or radical - we're really not - but allowing the topics to breathe and getting some different voices is much more relaxing. Trying to know everything about every single topic is exhausting and can be a bit patchy at times. I'd rather research one or two topics in depth than try to cover everything.

Recent football work

Sydney FC fans in the Hyundai A LeagueA couple of recent pieces of football-related output from me. First up, as one of When Saturday Comes's semi-regular writers I've contributed to their best and worst moments of 2013, as well as their hopes for football in 2014. Essentially, I'd like to continue to enjoy football as much as I have done in the past few months. Yes, even with Exeter City's dreadful recent form. Secondly, I joined in the Football Central weekly podcast, my first proper appearance on the show, talking all things Hyundai A League and Australian football. If you've never watched the A League, I'd seriously encourage you to give it a try, especially if you have BT Sport, who broadcast most games live. Granted, there's the occasional dud, but when you look at recent games like Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Brisbane's 5-2 demolition of Sydney (ouch), and the crazy closing moments of Central Coast Marines v Perth Glory, then it's hard not to get pulled in.

Arsenal and Manchester United top the follow tables for football clubs using social media. This means nothing

League table of most fans and followers of English football clubs on Twitter and Facebook I'd like to start by apologising to FC Business magazine, who are normally a fairly interesting bunch. They just happened to post one of my pet peeves - the social media ranking table by followers.

So here we have a league table of the Premier League's most liked clubs on Facebook and most followed teams on Twitter. And for good measure, we have the three clubs with the highest Klout rating.

Ah, you may sagely nod, Manchester United are the most liked team on Facebook while Arsenal lead the way on Twitter. But what does this actually mean? Football clubs are using social media? Great. One of the world's biggest clubs has by far the biggest number of fans on Facebook? That doesn't exactly come as a surprise to me.

In fact there's very few surprises here. Perhaps you could say Hull are doing better than expected in the Facebook stakes. Or that Manchester United look off the pace on Twitter. But again, that doesn't really tell you anything.

Hull may have had to work incredibly hard at engagement, or just chucked a lot of advertising budget at social media. And Manchester United have just joined Twitter, hence their poor showing. Not that you'd glean anything from the tables. Nope, it's just a fairly predictable popularity contest.

As for Klout, Chelsea's profile, for example, lists them as being influential about Chelsea, football and soccer. It's a level of insight that even the most banal of pundits may hesitate to offer up on the grounds that it's probably a little too obvious.

In fairness, these complaints could easily be transferred from ranking football clubs to, say, drinks brands, West End theatres, or any grouping you like. The gripe would be the same. We have all this data and that's it?

The small 'Most talked about' section is the closest we get to any nugget of insight - Liverpool generate more conversation than Arsenal on Facebook. Nothing more, but it's a start.

What's really needed to make any kind of ranking system in any way useful is the data and story behind these accounts - we're talking both qualitative and quantitative here.

Do the accounts actually engage with the fans? How open are their walls? What's their retweet percentage like? Is anybody actually listening? What particular benchmarks are you measuring them against?

It's perfectly conceivable that a club like, say Rochdale, could lag behind Premier League teams but still have a more engaged fanbase on social media than, say, West Brom. They probably don't, but it's certainly worth seeing if any lower league clubs are particularly effective at using social media.

And what about other networks? A while back, I circled most of the Premier League clubs on Google+ for research purposes. QPR might not have one of the biggest followings but their G+ content is seriously impressive. Manchester United, on the other hand, don't even have a page. And so on.

(In fairness, FC Business do mention G+ as a trend for the new season, although plenty of clubs are pretty well established on there).

It's a lazy trap that social media far too often falls into. Yes, follower numbers are important, but that almost goes without saying. What really counts is the action behind these often large numbers. A social media account with a large follower count that gets no engagement is ultimately an account that gets no engagement. And no league table can gloss over that, no matter how big the initial number is.

Australian A League: Harry Kewell at the Melbourne Heart

A small piece from me on Harry Kewell's arrival at Melbourne Heart for When Saturday Comes. The Australian A League - and soccer in general in the country - is in an absolutely fascinating place right now. To me, it feel a little like MLS did about 4-5 years ago - a market still finding its way, still establishing its identity but with no doubt that there are enough fanatics of the game to make it viable.

What's slightly different is the status of the national team. Australia's previous golden generation of Kewell, Cahill, Neill, et al are coming towards the end of the career - or have already retired - while the a crop of promising youngsters such as Tom Rogic, Tomi Juric and Mitchell Duke still have some way to go, despite the obvious talent. And all this means there are a lot of places up for grabs for the Brazil 2014 World Cup squad.

I've been following the A League since its inception and got properly hooked after a trip down under earlier this year. It's a decent league with a lot of great stories and one I've been following even closer in the past 12 months (awkward kick-off times notwithstanding).

Melbourne Heart are a club that have fascinated me for a long time. There's undoubtedly room for a second soccer club in Melbourne, but whether Heart are it is another question entirely.

Melbourne Victory's five year exclusivity deal for A League soccer in the city has part of the market sewn up, but the right club could really create a rivalry and movement if done correctly (case in point: Western Sydney Wanderers).

But it's hard to know what Heart really stand for, or who their core supporter base is, beyond disgruntled ex-Victory fans. Which is why the Harry Kewell signing is a gamble for both club and player - who is clearly still eyeing a World Cup squad spot.

Anyway, that's really a bit of pre-amble as to how and why this current piece came about. Have a read. There'll definitely be more to follow in a variety of places.

Ticket prices in lower league football

A quick note about this month's When Saturday Comes, which features a piece on ticket prices in lower league football and the economic consequences for both fans and clubs.

When Saturday Comes December 2012

I've also written a different piece on this issue in the past for The Two Unfortunates.

Will be interested to see what response this provokes, given the further belt-squeezing we're seeing across the country. Football normally lives in its own little financial bubble. Not sure that will be so viable over this decade.

Thoughts on Hillsborough

Watching the truth about Hillsborough finally come out today was at times gut wrenching. The story may be known well by now, but that didn't stop the revelations shocking, nor the sense of shame that it has taken 23 years to get to a point where the incompetence that led to 96 deaths was finally laid bare and that those 96 finally had their names cleared. I was a bit too young to understand what Hillsborough was at the time although I remember well the coverage of the death of (check) several years later and finally realising the extent of the horrors of that day. And it made a lot of sense that my mother, in 1990, was horrified at the idea of me attending a football match.

I can't really write much more about the disaster itself - others with a far closer connection than I have done so powerfully and eloquently.

But reading both reports today and writing from nearer the time it's clear that while a lot has changed, so plenty stays the same. When Saturday Comes' post-Hillsborough editorial from 1989 is still as relevant today as it was 23 years ago.

Yet football has changed, almost unrecognisably in some respects. The unsafed, caged stadia where an unloved national game was played has given way to the modern, family-friendly all-seater atmosphere we take for granted today, created in part out of the Taylor report. The modern behemoth we know as football today has been shaped by the events of Leppings Lane.

But it shouldn't have taken the loss of 96 lives to do this. And while football has moved on, the families of the victims have been unable to, as the release of today's documents show. And it's a testament to their resolve that they haven't given up and kept fighting for this moment.

You don't have to be a Liverpool supporter or even a football fan to be horrified at the contents of the Hillsborough archives, or that there were many warning signs and previous crushes in the years preceding the disaster that were never heeded. In some respects, it could have been any football club's supporters.

The release and the apologies are something many thought would never happen. David Cameron said that after truth comes justice. Now we know beyond doubt what really happened on that fateful day, and the extent the authorities went to cover it up, hopefully those responsible can be held to account properly.

Catching the Olympic fever

I'm writing this as I make my way back from the women's football Olympic gold medal match between Japan and USA. Over the past couple of weeks, I've taken in cycling, Volleyball, Table Tennis and men's football. This has probably topped them all. Even a month ago, I was cynical and indifferent to the Olympics. Having landed no tickets in the ballot and relying on hand-me-downs I'd not quite got into the Olympic spirit. That has now completely changed. Every day and night has been a festival of sport.

From the cycling road race - an unexpected mass outbreak of patriotic fever at the bottom of my road - to the ridiculously entertaining women's football final, I've totally been consumed by the event. Evenings have been spent watching Handball, lunchtimes watching Diving. It has been wonderful.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't ask questions of the Olympics. There's plenty you can at least query when you look below the surface, especially on the dreaded Twenty Twelve buzzwords of legacy and sustainability. But the games themselves. Just brilliant.

I think what I've most enjoyed about the Olympics has been the near-total lack of sarcastic cynicism surrounding the events. Each one of these athletes has trained so incredibly hard and reached heights the rest of us can only dream of. Even at the peak of my sprinting I doubt I could have touched any of the competitors in the 100m.

The games themselves have, from the events I've attended and watched, been a celebration of the brilliance of human endurance, an appreciation of what can be achieved with a lot of hard work, dedication and natural excellence. Only the male football coverage has gone against the grain and struck something of a bum note.

And as for tonight... I seriously hope it's not the last women's football game I watch live. Both sides were worthy finalists. Japan were technically excellent but vulnerable to a sucker punch and just fell short when looking for that clinical final ball. USA were disciplined and organised and you had to admire the way they restricted and frustrated Japan in the manner of a top Italian club side, even if they were a little more vulnerable than the game would immediately suggest,

The joy all three sets of medalists had on the podium will stay with me for a long time. I wasn't expecting to enjoy these Games. Instead, they're in danger of turning me into a dewy-eyed sporting romantic.

A few quick thoughts about BT's Premier League rights success

That BT won some of the rights for the Premier League might have been a bit of a surprise (albeit not a total one), but that it wasn't a traditional broadcaster should have been expected. At the start of the year, I wrote for both When Saturday Comes and Pitch Invasion that it made a lot of sense to hear both Apple and Google's names linked with the Premier League rights, and how we should expect the nature of sports broadcasting to change significantly with technological developments over the coming years.

Companies such as BT, Apple, Google and others of a similar ilk realise that, as ever, content is king and if they provide the distribution platform or devices to watch it on, then they may as well consider the distribution method for these platforms.

Apple's iTunes store did this for music. There's still no TV (yet) but it's not hard to envisage similar for broadcasting. And then Google TV already has the app store, which, in my mind, will play a large part in how we'll consume television.

So, yes, back to the football. Just as Sky's main business is to sell boxes, so BT's will be to sell its superfast broadband and football will be a key way of doing this.

BT's commitment to make the games available on as many platforms as possible is an interesting one. The assumption would be this means Sky (as rather uneasy bedfellows), Virgin, BT Vision and Freeview, but it will be fascinating to see what online opportunities this brings, along with online and tablet developments.

Put simply, the technology and delivery methods around watching the Premier League will be changing and BT represents an interesting halfway house between a traditional media company and a tech company. If other players like Google and Apple like what they see, the next round of negotiations could be very interesting indeed.

Will BT even be holding the rights come the next end of bidding? We've already seen Disney-owned ESPN - a more traditional broadcaster that did (in my view) an excellent job - outbid. What BT does wil the rights and any developments they make will be fascinating to watch. Assuming any are made, of course.

Oh, and the money bid and the effect this will have on football? £3bn is a lot of cash - some may include the verb ridiculous before lot - especially in the current economic climate. Just as the technology is moving towards a virtual world, so the £3bn may make football even more detached from reality.

A quick bit of podcasting

Predictably, as we're now at the end of the football season, I decided it would be an excellent time to get back into recording the odd football podcast or two. For twofootedtackle, we headed down the pub for a special two-parter with the Sound Of Football team as we reviewed the season just gone, tackling all the five top leagues in England, Germany, Italy and France and what's currently happening in MLS and the Russian Premier League. It was originally going to be an hour but we were having so much fun, we extended it to about 90 minutes. It's best listened to in chunks. Click here to listen to it.

We're hoping to return next season in slightly less rowdy surroundings, but hey, it's been a long season and we all needed a drink.

After that, Sound Of Football presenter Chris Oakley whipped out his digital recorder and the six of us spent 40 minutes putting the mess at FIFA to rights on the final Sound Of Football podcast of the season.

Finally, I guested on the 90th Minute podcast, where I waffled on a lot about lower league football (and surprised myself in how much I knew in the process).

A special project: A podcast on football and homophobia

It's not often that I use this place to hawk out my football-related work (you'd all get bored quickly, I'm sure), but the latest podcast I've recorded is about more than just sport. For the last two months, I've been working on a special one-off twofootedtackle podcast on attitudes to homosexuality within football and what the authorities are doing to tackle homophobia in the game.

As somebody who started researching this from a position of knowing very little about the subject, it's been fascinating to look closer at the topic. I've spoken to a range of people, from a member of a gay football team, to a transgender fan, to one of the few sports journalists to write about homophobia in the game. Every single interview has made me think and often reassess my own views. Hopefully it'll do the same when you listen to it.

The documentary is just under 45 minutes long, so please do stop by twofootedtackle to have a listen. I'll be really interested to hear what you think.

Podding along

A couple of weeks ago Chris Lee from Run Marketing kindly invited me to speak at an event he was running at Speed Communications on podcasting. It was a fascinating evening and I learned a fair bit from Chris, Kelvin Newman and Andy White, the other speakers. I focused more on the editorial side of what makes a good podcast. You can see my slides below.

On the night Chris suggested podcasting is something of a forgotten or neglected medium and I'd go along with this. Video is easier to produce than it's ever been but it still demands your eyeballs, which is a crucial difference.

Audio - and this may be my radio bias coming out here is still a wonderfully creative medium to play with, and convenient as well. You can listen to it on your daily commute, at work or while doing the washing up. It's also a great companion.

It may not be as sexy or as arresting as video either, but there is a huge capacity for growth, especially with the rise of smartphones. The potential users with the right delivery platform is growing and the software is easier to use than ever before.

Podcasting has also given radio a new lease of life. Many traditional media outlets offer their shows as a podcast, or as an extra to their more linear offering. In some respects, as with Radio Four's excellent History Of The World In 100 Objects, it becomes almost the primary method of consumption.

And the chances are that the majority of the listeners to these podcasts aren't really aware that they're engaging with social media - to them, it's just another way of listening that just happens to be more convenient for them. As one of my non-media friends told me, he now listens to his favourite shows on his phone rather than tuning in his radio.

We've seen how on demand services have transformed - and will continue to transform - television. With audio, the potential is even greater, in my view, due to the flexibility of the medium. As my fellow speakers all said, podcasting is currently an underpopulated medium. I don't see it staying this way for long.

Handcarts for hell Number 92: Football

I'm not generally a huge fan of cross-promoting football writing on here, as I know what all five readers really want is another fish pie recipe. I'll make an exception for the last piece written for twofootedtackle though. The title's Why the Premier League has failed every one of the League's 92 clubs. The content is exactly that. To me, it's increasingly clear that the road the Premier League is currently going down is storing up a lot of problems, financially, not just for the 20 clubs in the top flight, but all the way down the league (and even into the non-league game as well).

The Premier League in itself isn't intrinsically bad in my book, but the circumstances it has ended up creating will (and I use will instead of could here) lead a large number of club down the road to financial ruin, while simultaneously killing off any hope England will ever have of winning a major tournament.

I'm a naturally pessimistic person, but I don't think the above is hyperbole.

And all the while, I - and many others I know - are getting increasingly disillusioned with the Premier League. A few people have asked me what my opinion has been on the Rooney saga over the last week and all I can muster is a 'meh'. Frankly, I couldn't really care less about where he goes or what he does. The finances behind Manchester United are much more interesting to me than a highly paid megastar throwing a strop for more money.

And all the time, the level of fandom seems to be getting more extreme (although I suppose that's what the ultimate definition of a fanatic is). Any level of debate that contains just the slightest smidgen of nuance is drowned out by the clamour to blame it on the ref, the manager or one player, and often looking at it through some of the most one-eyed tinted glasses.

Any level of perceived criticism, no matter how balanced the piece, is leaped upon as an example of bias against the club or evidence that said writer is a closet fan of a rival team.

In truth, I'm finding myself skimming over a lot of Premier League writing and highlights without always taking in a huge level of detail. Many Premier League focused blogs, which are the worst examples of the above, have been culled from my RSS reader. I'm not even that bothered about missing Match Of The Day these days.

Even though my team has never had, and probably never will, have a hope in hell of reaching the Premier League, I've always followed it with a fair level of devotion, taking in twists and turns and tuning into most games that I could. This season is the first season I've not quite had the will to take much other than a passing notice.

I'm not quite sure if there's any quick fix to pull in those like me (and I've spoken to a surprisingly large number) who are turning their back on England's top flight, and even if there was, I wouldn't trust the governing bodies to implement it properly.

I still love football. I still watch much more of the game than is probably healthy. But every time I watch the Premier League, my soul dies a little more.

Non-League Day

September 4th. Mark that date in your calendar. There's no Premier League or Championship football that day due to the international break, while England play the night before. A football free weekend, right? Wrong. There's still hundreds of non-league matches being played up and down the country that day, and James Doe has come up with a fantastic idea to support them.

James has declared September 4th Non-League Day and is urging football fans who'd normally watch a higher league game that day to head to a non-league match and show their support for grassroots football.

It's a fantastic campaign and one that's so simple you wonder why it's never been done before.

As somebody who got rather fond of non-league during Exeter's time in the Conference and still watches the occasional non-league game, I think it's a cracking idea.

It's also a great way to reacquaint yourself with the real heart and soul of football, especially if you're in any way disillusioned with Premier League football. Who knows, you may even get the non-league bug.

Ironically, I can't make it to any game that weekend due to a longstanding prior commitment, but if you're in footballing limbo that day, pop down and support your local club.

You can follow James on Twitter (@non_league_day) or sign up to the campaign on Facebook. And if you fancy going to a game but aren't sure where to head to, feel free to leave a comment here, along with your location (roughly), and I'd be happy to suggest a game for you.

Suarez's hand of sod and the rules

For the first time, and quite possibly the last, I've written that an action in a football match erred on the side of a utilitarian rather than a deontological (in the strictest Kantian sense) decision. Well, that and other stuff. Luis Suarez's handball on the line in the dying moments of Uruguay's quarter final against Ghana struck me as fascinating in so many ways that I sat down and wrote a rather large essay on it.

That essay can be found at Pitch Invasion. It contains ruminations on moral philosophy and football, economics and football, and what the sport can learn from rules from other sports.

Unsurprisingly, it says a bit more than just Ghana woz robbed.

Final regular season podcast and more sub-Ebbsfleet gubbins

A couple of small things to keep this blog ticking over. First off, our final regular twofootedtackle pod of the season was recorded last week, but still sounds fresh as a daisy now. We always go all out at the end of the season, and this was no exception as we got the Sound of Football team in to join us. Plus, we also taste-tested those special World Cup-themed crisps (except you're not really allowed to call them that because of merchandising rights, and the like). Spanish Chicken Paella may, quite possible, be the most revolting thing I've ever put in my mouth.

Second off, as Ebbsfleet United and MyFootballClub.co.uk are one of of the few football issues I mention on here regularly, I thought I'd draw you attention to my post at twofootedtackle on The Five Pound Football Club.

I shouldn't be surprised that these schemes keep popping up. Somebody, somewhere either thinks they can succeed or make money from it but until the solve the annual renewal issue, it's just not feasible in my book.

My book also reckons they should start a club from scratch, but that's a completely different post for a different time.

Finally, a few people have asked what I'll be doing for the World Cup and the answer is sitting around, drinking beer and watching football. That and a few arbitrarily timed podcasts.

I'm probably not going to write much, if anything at all, about the World Cup, partly because there'll be so many others fighting for your attention, and partly because I don't feel international football is enough of a speciality of mine for me to bring anything different to the table. That may change if I get inspired, but I'd rather enjoy the tournament rather than worry about spouting the same lines as everybody else.

Besides, things like the unexplained disappearance of Grays Athletic from the footballing map are far more interesting.

On which Gary mostly writes a lot of words about fan ownership

Hi, it's me. Yes, you may remember me. I used to write things on here. Not, perhaps, overly insightful things, but things - generally known as words - nonetheless. And then it went a bit quiet. So, er, yes. Sorry about that. Things got a bit busy, then I decided to take a short break, then I changed jobs. And, in between that, I spent the best part of a week writing a lot of articles for Pitch Invasion on fan ownership and Supporters' Trusts in football.

All the articles are collected here - and if you're interested in this aspect, please do stop by there, have a read and leave a comment. It's less about on-the-pitch, than off-the-pitch business and cultural aspects, although the game itself obviously informs things. I did several interviews for this and the answers were completely fascinating.

The articles, individually are:

An overview of the current state of Supporters' Trusts

The successes, so far, in the Trust / fan ownership movement.

And the failures.

A break from me writing as Terry Duffelen explores the Bundesliga fan-ownership model.

An interview with Brian Burgess, ex vice-chairman of Brentford, long-standing member of Bees United and Supporters' Direct board member.

How the concept of fan ownership is currently taking hold in England.

Where fan ownership goes in the future.

And that's that. I think that's more words than I wrote for my dissertation. Maybe I should do another degree on this topic.

Anyway, I'm now back, I'm slowly setting into the hugely enjoyable new job, my Macbook - which died last Sunday - has come back to life and I have a host of posts in my head.

So expect the next post on here sometime in May.

Togo

Sometimes you get a shocking event that reminds you there's more to life than football. When news first started filtering through of the attack, I felt sick. 2010 should be a celebration of African football. Instead, it turned the focus back onto the continent. And through all this, there's been some absolutely shocking reporting and opinion pieces from people who should know better online, on Twitter, on air and in print.

Chief among this is the idea that what happens in a war-torn enclave belonging to Angola is somehow directly linked to the World Cup in South Africa. It's like saying the Balkans War raised questions about World Cup '98. At best it's ridiculous, at worst it's lazy, irresponsible and patronising.

South Africa has its crime and security problems. But one thing it isn't doing is hosting a game in an area which has known armed separatist rebels active. It's a difference many writers might care to check.

So, anyway, I did an article for Soccerlens on this, attempting to piece it all together and provide a bit of context. I don't pretend to be an expert on African history and politics, but it quite quickly becomes apparent there have been some monumentally stupid decisions taken, and questions need to be asked of the organisers. That should be the main story. Not the World Cup security.

And if you want some excellent, in-depth writing on the topic, I'd advise you to have a read of Just Football, who were straight onto this from the start, and Pitch Invasion.

In the meantime, thoughts and prayers are with those injured or killed and their friends and family.

Sport and homophobia

Over at Pitch Invasion, I discuss Gareth Thomas's coming out and ask if we can expect something similar in football. The answer, I suspect, is probably not. Out of all the things I've written on sport, this has definitely been one of the most thought-provoking pieces for me. One thought that occurred to me post-article was the treatment of players post-outing.

I'd imagine that there's a few sportsman where their sexuality is reasonably well-known, but it's not in the media's interest to out them, giving they stopped doing that for the sake of it several years back.

But once they're out, there's nothing stopping the media going to town, if they want to. And that, in itself, may be worse.

Throw in, for football at least (which tends to be a lot less tolerant than rugby) the dressing room politics and the terrace chants and its easy to understand why Justin Fashanu remains the only footballer to have come out.

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Max Clifford, but he's probably not alone in being surprised that we haven't had another footballer come out in the last decade.

There's a lot of other considerations in this that people with far better knowledge of the topic than I could discuss, but it's interesting none the less.

And, at the end of the day, to me Gareth Thomas is a legend for his leadership and play during that Six Nations championship. He's always been one of my favourite Welsh players (the fact he now plays for the Blues reinforces his). That is he gay is utterly irrelevant. I somehow doubt there'll be any equivalent in football any time soon.

Socrates 2: Coming Soon

Ok, this one's for the football bloggers amongst you. A couple of months ago a group of us held the first ever (probably) football bloggers meetup: Socrates.

Basically, it was a chance for football writers to get together, watch a match, have some nibbles and generally mingle. And what a brilliant night it was.

Now the second Socrates is arriving faster than Dennis Rommedahl down a blind alley.

This Socrates will be on Wednesday 9th December at Mint's 'Open Sauce' in-house bar in Vauxhall. Beer, food, footy and great company. What more could you want?