Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Four Year Plan - A Documentary About Queens Park Rangers

The Four Year Plan

Tagline: "A bankrupt Football Club. Billionaires with a blueprint. What could go wrong?" 

Surely when you throw enough money at a problem, the situation will alleviate itself and the status quo is maintained? Not necessarily and there is an underlying factor which is often forgotten. Yes, human beings and their complicated relationships by which seemingly simple situations are further escalated until nothing but chaos and infighting are left to emerge from the rubble. But tellingly, out of chaos and frenetic energy can come success.......

This is the premise of the documentary "The Four Year Plan" directed by Mat Hodgson. Shot over a four year period at Queens Park Rangers, the documentary showed the boardroom infighting with all main involved parties (Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone, Lakshmi Mitta, Amit Bhati) and the endless stream of managers / care taker managers (John Gregory, Luigi Di Canio, Paulo Sousa, Iain Dowie, Gareth Ainsworth, Jim Magilton, Paul Hart / Mick Harford and finally Neil Warnock) in their attempt to return the glory days to Loftus Road at any cost, both human and financial.

When some of the world's wealthiest men decided to buy Queens Park Rangers, a then down and out West London football team, the future looks bright and promising with one sole target; to make QPR financially viable again and return the club to the heights of the English Premier League whereby simply competing guarantees a substantial revenue stream via TV rights, sponsorship and match day cash streams of ticketing and corporate boxes.

The men in question included formula one tycoons Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone who, in 2007, brought a 69 percent stake with an initial 14 million pound investment. Later on, the stakes were raised even higher when Lakshmi Mitta, the Indian billionaire also invested and receives 20 percent of Briatore's slice of the pie. Everything looked set in place for endless success...but then of course, often the best plans do not go to plan. The then team's turmoil on the pitch is matched by the dramas of the boardrooms.

Every sports fan knows what happened next. Under the guidance of Neil Warnock, QPR reached the promised land of the premiership despite a potential 10 point deduction due to financial irregularities. Back in the top flight, ownership again changed hands to Malaysian businessman, Tony Fernandes, who became a majority stakeholder.

When you give access to a camera crew to document every move of a financially struggling football team and their attempts to regain their long lost status of top level football, you can only expect fireworks to fly......

A fascinating documentary!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Green Shoots on Hold

Europe's leagues plan to return but governments hold the keys

The European COVID-19 standstill will not last forever and countries are eager everywhere to begin loosening the restrictions on everyday life. Football leagues, which were interrupted three-quarters of the way through, are all deep into discussing when and if they can resume play.

After UEFA's videoconference last week, a deadline to this season's domestic leagues has been pencilled-in for the 31st of July with the Champions League and Europa League to be completed in August, perhaps by single-leg ties.

However, all returns to action are subject to approval by particular national governments and the many details are yet to be worked out. Playing to empty stadia or at training grounds with free-to-air TV coverage has been suggested.

*England's Premier League is tentatively beginning to start up again.

Arsenal, Brighton and West Ham are starting to reopen their training grounds, it was reported today, but will not conduct any group practice sessions.

Arsenal's London Colney training ground in Hertfordshire is maintaining the UK government's social distancing guidelines: Five players can exercise individually at a time if they occupy separate areas. They will have to arrive and leave fully kitted as the changing rooms will remain closed and no socialising will be permitted before or after training.

Green Shoots on Hold

The UK government has not announced any relaxation of the national restrictions introduced on the 23rd of March but football's governing bodies are eyeing the 8th of June as a possible date of restarting English leagues.

*Germany's Bundesliga is hoping to restart on the 9th of May without fans, but their plan is subject to a stamp of approval from the government this week.

*La Liga in Spain is also itching to get back in action, having put forward three possible dates for resumption: The 29th of May, 7th and 28th of June, but again any reopening

depends on government say-so.

*In France, Ligue 1 clubs will resume training on the 11th of May, the day national restrictions are set to end. Players must keep a distance of four metres from their colleagues until further notice. The French league is due to return on the 17th of June and conclude by the 2nd of August.

*In Italy, Serie A clubs will begin individual training on the 4th of May, the day Italy's parks will reopen, with group sessions resuming on the 18th.

The Italian football association, the FIGC, has already put back the end of the season until the 2nd of August, with a tentative plan for games to resume in June, depending on government permission. There are 12 remaining league dates in the top flight as well as the Coppa Italia semi-finals to conclude.

*In what may be a case of things to come, Holland has jumped first. The Dutch football association has given up the ghost and abandoned the league season for the top two divisions. Clubs will start again in the autumn in the same division they were this year.

The KNVB felt compelled to take the nuclear option following the Hague government's decision to ban all public events in the Netherlands until the 1st of September.

"Unfortunately with the cabinet's most recent Coronavirus measures, it has become impossible to play out the 2019/2020 season," their press release said.

"It was a very bitter day," said Just Spee, KNVB President. "We feel sad....we sympathise a lot...At the same time there was no way around it."

Ajax led AZ Alkmaar on goal difference with nine games to play. AZ were hoping for their first title since their 2009 win under Louis Van Gaal. At the other end, relegation certs Waalwijk and Den Haag have won a reprieve.

Cambuur, 11 points clear of the race for promotion from the second tier, will have to try again next season.

Next season's UEFA competitions will take Ajax and AZ into the Champions League and  Feyenoord, PSV and Willem II, 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively, into the Europa League.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, April 26, 2020

HKFA organizes an E-sports campaign “HKPL-STAY AT HOME”

HKFA organizes an E-sports campaign

Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has announced to parter with ER eSports and ten premier leagues clubs to organize a Esports campaign “HKPL-STAY AT HOME” in mid April. Supporters can experience a special and innovative football competition at the comfort of their home. Competition will be in knock out format after random draw for 10 participated teams.

The most highlighted feature is that each team representative will be represented their own team in the game to fight for the championship.

Prizes will be given to the competition winners and the fans who expressed their most interesting reasons to support the team to final . Prize will include the PES2020 football game and prepaid card of up to $1000 value.

“HKPL-STAY AT HOME” will be showed on“Hong Kong Premier League” Facebook page. Professional commentators from Esports and football will provide analysis for matches, so that supporters can enjoy this special featured competition with live atmosphere.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Reds Send Special Message to NHS staff and Health Professionals

Reds Send Special Message to NHS staff and Health Professionals

Liverpool FC has shared a special message of appreciation and support in recognition of NHS workers and health professionals on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.

Anfield’s hallowed turf has been carefully marked by LFC’s grounds team using a GPS line marker to create a special tribute to NHS staff ahead of Thursday’s opportunity to ‘Clap for our Carers’, which thanks them for their bravery and selflessness.

Liverpool Football Club is proud to join the nation in paying tribute and saying a heartfelt ‘thanks’ as people up and down the country come together to show appreciation and gratitude for the heroism of health professionals and other key workers during these challenging times. In addition, LFC players also paid tribute to the NHS staff with actions: Liverpool FC first team players wanted to say a big thank you to local NHS staff, with a small gesture during Easter.

To show their appreciation for all the hard work they’ve been doing during this difficult time, the players organised and paid for 200 chocolate hampers. The hampers were delivered to the 14 hospitals (200 wards) across Liverpool yesterday.

The players arranged for the team bus driver and his team of drivers to deliver all the hampers to the hospitals. Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded their own videos to say a personal thank you.

Some NHS staff also shared their own videos of appreciation to say thank you for the kind gesture:

Hong Kong League Suspended Until August 2020

Hong Kong League Suspended Until August 2020

Further to the feedback of premier league clubs and considering the latest situation, 2019-20 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League will be resumed not earlier than mid-August, with an aim to finish by early November this year and no relegation system will be applied.

Details of the fixture arrangement will be further announced in due course.

Meanwhile, the remaining matches including Reserve League, 1st Division, 2nd Division, 3rd Division, Jockey Club Women’s League, Jockey Club Youth League, Jockey Club Futsal League, and Jockey Club Girls' League will be cancelled.

In addition, the 2020-21 BOC Life Hong Kong Premier League will begin from late November and to be completed by end of June 2021.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

LFC players say thank you to NHS staff

LFC players say thank you to NHS staff

Liverpool FC first team players wanted to say a big thank you to local NHS staff, with a small gesture during Easter. To show their appreciation for all the hard work they’ve been doing during this difficult time, the players organised and paid for 200 chocolate hampers.

The hampers were delivered to the 14 hospitals (200 wards) across Liverpool yesterday. The players arranged for the team bus driver and his team of drivers to deliver all the hampers to the hospitals. Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold recorded their own videos to say a personal thank you.

Some NHS staff also shared their own videos of appreciation to say thank you for the kind gesture:

Saturday, April 11, 2020

How to stop yourself going mental during the Coronavirus by Vegatta-Kun

How to stop yourself going mental during the Coronavirus, by Vegatta-Kun

Photo: Vegatta Blog 

The Vegalta Sendai's mascot, Vegatta-kun, has been keeping himself busy, during the crappy days of the Coronavirus. How do we know this, because he has answered the questions on an unconventional quiz about his daily tasks? Essentially telling us all how he has been coping in the days of the Coronavirus.

Vegalta Sendai's mascot, Vegatta-kun, answers some questions Vegatta-kun wasted no time in getting down to business on the club's blog on what he has been doing during the Coronavirus.

These days, a lot of people around the world cannot leave their home, as countries put lockdowns in place to prevent the infection from spreading further in communities.

Vegatta-kun has given everyone a guide on how he is keeping himself sane. So here it goes, the eight things that got Mr Vegatta through the day yesterday.

1. Sleeping throughout the day, in order to stay at home. He hates the Coronavirus.

2. He took his dog for a walk, but this was no ordinary walk, it was a silent walk. Spoke to no one, saw no one. An in, out, and shake it all about kind of dog walk that is needed these days.

3. He did his home fieldwork (whatever that is).

4. He cleaned his room, which he hates doing, but as luck had it, he found some coins! Ker bloody ching. Any money comes in handy these days right when work is hard to find. Good stuff.

5. Baked sweet potato. It turned out into some kind of controlled fire but was enjoyable. Hates the Coronavirus.

6. Played Super Mario Brothers, good choice Vegatta-kun. Got to stage four. Stopped, still hate the Coronavirus.

7. Watching a small house in Okusa, still hate the Coronavirus.

8. Watched YouTube all day, went down many a wormhole. Still hate the Coronavirus. So as you can see from Vegatta-kun, it is possible to entertain yourself, even if you're in the middle of a lockdown.

Thanks to Mark Henderson -

Guam FA help in the fight against COVID-19

Guam FA help in the fight against COVID-19

Photo: Guam FA

The Guam Football Association has helped in the fight against COVID-19, by donating much-needed equipment to Guam Memorial Hospital. Guam FA donates all its supplies to Guam Memorial Hospital With the recent rise in patients testing positive in Guam for Coronavirus, and limited hospital supplies, the Guam FA decided to donate all their supplies to Guam Memorial Hospital (GMH) as part of the community-wide effort in the battle to defeat the Coronavirus. Tino San Gil, GFA President said, As our doctors fight this virus, we want to help as much as we can where we can.

When the shortage of equipment was discussed, this was where we could directly help; we can always replenish our supplies later, but not lost lives. Guam FA have given the GMH all their supplies of N95 face masks, and hand sanitizers.

The face masks and hand sanitizers were bought to be used for Guam's World Cup qualifying matches, but with the games being postponed, this meant the Guam FA had supplies that they have rightly deemed to be of more use elsewhere, than sitting in a box.

 Well done to the Guam FA for donating them, where they're most needed.

Thank to Mark Henderson -

Sunday, April 5, 2020

LaLigaSantander Fest brought together 50 million viewers, raised €1,003,532 and 1 million masks for the fight against COVID-19

LaLigaSantander Fest brought together 50 million viewers

'LaLigaSantander Fest', the macro-concert organised by LaLiga, Santander Bank, Universal Music and GTS in collaboration with other LaLiga sponsors, took place on Saturday 28 March and featured a group of musicians and footballers who had never lined up together before. From their homes, they have raised €1,003,532 after receiving transfers from other banks and payments made with international cards.

'LaLigaSantander Fest' also managed to connect more than 50 million people in what was an unprecedented and historic virtual event. Thanks to donations made from all over the world, the money of this charity festival will go, through the Santander Bank Foundation, to the purchase of materials to help alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, with this figure, the material that can be acquired thanks to ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ is *: 115 non-invasive respirators 1,435,000 high-risk masks (including the million donated by Santander Bank) 12,595 disposable sterile protective suits 500,000 vinyl protective gloves All of these supplies will be put to use in line with the government's medical priorities in a coordinated effort with the High Council for Sport (CSD). Unprecedented concert achieves global reach ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ was broadcast live in 182 countries and registered a potential audience of more than 50 million viewers.

Almost 50 international broadcasters offered coverage of the macro-concert, which was aired by Movistar and GOL Television in Spain and was also available via LaLiga and Santander Bank's social media channels, as well as on the league’s OTT platform LaLigaSportsTV.

Meanwhile, more than 70 social media accounts and as many media outlets from across the world shared the live broadcast. Eva Gonzalez and Toni Aguilar acted as the hosts of a concert that brought together more than 30 top artists: Aitana, Alejandro Sanz, Antonio Carmona, Antonio José, Antonio Orozco, Ainhoa Arteta, Beret, Cami, Danna Paola, David Bisbal, Diogo Piçarra, El Arrebato, J Balvin, José Mercé, Juanes, Juan Magan, Lang Lang, Lola Índigo, Lucas Vidal, Luciano Pereyra, Luis Fonsi, Manuel Carrasco, Miriam Rodríguez, Mon Laferte, Morat, Pablo Alborán, Pablo López, Raphael, Rosario, Sebastián Yatra, Taburete, Tini and Vanesa Martín. All of them were team up with LaLiga Santander players, including Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Koke and Joaquín, as they took centre stage for the four-hour-long festival. Throughout the course of the concert, the players and musicians, who joined forces for the first time as they performed from their respective homes, encouraged all of the viewers to make donations and stay at home for the duration of the current quarantine measures.

Taking his place alongside the music and football talents were Santander Bank ambassadors, Rafa Nadal, Mireia Belmonte and Carolina Marín, who signed up for the initiative. A digital event that makes history ‘LaLigaSantander Fest’ in addition to raising funds to beat COVID-19, it has become an unprecedented and historic virtual event. This is demonstrated by the digital milestones of this macro-concert:

The live post on Facebook has achieved further reach than both ElClásico matches combined this season on Facebook India The live post on Twitter received more than twice the amount of views than the live ElClásico warm-up on March 1st The live YouTube generated the same number of views as the highlights of the most recent Madrid Derby or the last Real Madrid - Sevilla FC match €1.1 million is the economic value of the #LaLigaSantanderFest hashtag, according to Blinkfire The hashtag was the 4th global trending topic and top trending topic in Spain and Argentina.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Message from LFC to Health Workers Around the World

A Message from LFC to Health Workers Around the World

Health workers are currently on the frontline fighting with the Covid-19 global pandemic. Liverpool's first team, women's squad - Managers and staff, including Jürgen Klopp, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson, Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker, joined in a special tribute to health workers around the world.

English video below

Chinese Video linked -

Thursday, April 2, 2020

A Russian Rhapsody


'Dreams' - the 2018 FIFA World Cup official film became recently available to watch free online and it is a nice way to recall how good that tournament in Russia was.

"A tournament that many argue was the greatest ever" says narrator Damian Lewis. I would not go that far but it is one of my favourite five.

With the exception of Liev Schreiber in 1994 and Ian Darke in 2010, British thespians have been employed since 1962 to do the voiceovers - Lewis follows Sean Bean, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and others.

Following the mark established by 'Goal!' - the first official World Cup film made in colour in 1966, this one employs  a measured voiceover and camerawork so close-up you can almost smell the sweat of the players' shirts.

It begins with a short montage of fans arriving from around the world - echoing the jet airliners in 'Goal!'

Then we see the first match - Russia's 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia which at the time seemed to be the host nation's concession before they pulled a surprise and eliminated Spain.

Spain had another bad World Cup following the disastrous defence of their 2010 crown in Brazil.

I was reminded how their federation sensationally and absurdly sacked their manager Julen Lopetegui after he had arrived in Russia but before their first match, handicapping them from the off, all for the crime of him landing his dream job at Real Madrid.

The fact Spain won the Fair Play Award was quickly forgotten. A team of that calibre should not have lost to Russia, even if they were at home.

Soon we see Leo Messi and Ronaldo, who bagged a hat-trick against the Spanish. We get a snatch of the Portuguese star talking to club teammate Sergio Ramos during the Iberian derby, hand shielding the mouth La Liga-style to avoid the lipreaders.

Destined for national team mediocrity, once more the world's top two stars perform impressions of themselves, though Ronaldo's is the stronger.

It took barely nine minutes before Diego Maradona pops up, angry and gesticulating in his executive box,  de rigeur for World Cup coverage these days.

There was a lot for the usual legions of Argentine fans to fret about, as their side was particularly disjointed and incomplete in 2018. This angst was encapsulated in the figure of their manager, about whom Lewis slowly intones thus -

"Brooding, increasingly isolated, Argentine manager Jorge Sampaoli is a man under pressure."

Croatia's team and supporters by contrast look cocksure and loving every minute of it as they beat La Albiceleste - "Imperiously despatched" as the narrator lapses into balladry. He muses on. Messi has "unfathomable talent" but risks "ignominious defeat" and "eternal disappointment."

Soon arrive the "fancied French" whose failure to break down the "obdurate Aussies" in 45 minutes leaves "Les Bleus sombre", which sounds too ambitious an assonance.

"Like oil and water, England and World Cup penalty shootouts don't mix" was another gem.

We never visit the training camps but do get a rare treat of a few seconds inside France's dressing room, although Didier Deschamps' team talk is largely him pacing up and down in silence.

Silence is when the film works best, as without the match commentator but with a less than perfect sightline we actually get a little sense of being in the stadia.

VAR then makes its bow as the Uruguayan referee consults the screen and wrongly awards a penalty for an Antoine Griezmann dive, a taste of things to come...At least unlike in 2010, the goal-line cameras were there to confirm Paul Pogba's hair's breadth strike.

It is easy to forget brief moments which were significant - the VAR call which gave Korea a 1-0 lead over Germany and caused Manuel Neuer to charge upfield suicidally or the fact Japan led Belgium 2-0 after an hour in their second round clash.

We did not see however the Koreans' reaction amid their joy at sending the DFB zu hause that Sweden had beaten Mexico so they were out too. Nor is it mentioned that England, home of fair play, fielded a B team against Sweden to get an easier second round draw.

We get many clips of fans cheering inside the stadia but sadly none of the wonderful Peruvians on a rare World Cup visit.

Yet there is something samey about those clips. I wanted more of those outside the FIFA-controlled arenas - the Mexicans who ask the Russian cops to fix their van's engine for instance.

Some nations are missed out altogether e.g. Costa Rica and Poland. Others get airtime.

Mercifully there are few stats. The fact both Messi & Ronaldo have failed to score in 1,279 minutes of knockout World Cup matches is only mildly interesting.

Looking back at France's flowing goals to eliminate Argentina it seems natural they went on to lift the trophy but we probably were not certain at the time.

Rewatching the Ivan Perisic did-he didn't-he handball in the final sadly confirms VAR's ability to ruin matches as well as improve them. The Croatian team and manager are still berating the match officials as they reenter the pitch for the second half.

The privileged access works wonders - we didn't otherwise get to hear Harry Kane's studs tack-tacking along a Russian corridor, the Germans slumped in their pitch-side seats after shock elimination by Korea, or the excitement in the little ball boys and girls when Ronaldo appeared.

It was fascinating watching the off-field World Cup the TV stations largely spurn - the aftermath of Croatia v Russia in Sochi was especially engaging.

We also see the fleeting international friendships only the World Cup can create - Colombia fans consoling a crying Senegalese for instance.

The host nation, shown in snatches through the windows of racing vehicles, looks beautiful too and full of warm and generous people, a welcome antidote to its usual negative portrayal in the world's media.

This was not a great or particularly memorable movie but it does remind us the World Cup is an extraordinary and unique global gathering where the human race really does feel like one diverse but life-loving family, if only for a month.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile