Mails on CL minnows, the best stadia and police lies

Date published: Friday 8th December 2017 2:36

Top work all. Keep the mails coming to…

An absolutely cracking email on APOEL and Champions League minnows
With the group stages of the Champions League now finished, it has been interesting to see the media’s and fan’s feelings towards the perceived dilution of the quality of sides participating in the competition with many fans and journalists pointing to the likes of Qarabag, Maribor and APOEL Nicosia as ‘not good enough’ to even be in the competition.

This is an interesting argument, worthy of further investigation. First, let’s take a look at results from this year’s group games for the three aforementioned clubs. All three propped up the bottom of their respective groups with Maribor and APOEL taking just two points from two draws. Maribor did slightly better with three points, though neither of the three clubs managed a win, scoring an average of 2.3 goals between them.

At the face of it, this seems to vindicate the argument that these teams are not good enough to be in the competition. However, context is important and when we look at their opponents, things are perhaps not as clear cut as they seem. Qarabag were in a group with Roma, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, two of which have appeared in Champions League finals in recent years and the other, Roma, a sleeping giant of a team as evidenced by their topping the group despite being the third seed. The fact that Atletico, runners up in 2016, did not even qualify to the knockout stages further shows how competitive the group has been. Still, the minnows managed two draws, both with Atleti.

In APOEL’s group, the so called group of death, were Real Madrid, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund, the winners of last year’s competition, another runner up team from 2013 in Borussia and a young team that finished second in the Premier League the year before, beat Real Madrid away at the Bernabeu and finished top of the group. In fact, APOEL finished with an identical record to Borussia who did not manage to beat them either home or away and only managed not to qualify for the Europa by there (significantly it has to be said) worse goal difference.

Maribor were in a comparatively easier group along with Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Liverpool and finished with three draws, two at home and one away at Moscow. By all accounts, the minnows did not do as badly as expected, with APOEL in particular having two more points, two in all, than most people expected them to have when the groups were drawn.

What is not so easy to see, however, is the impact competing in the Champions League has on these clubs in the long term from the considerable financial benefits to just being in the competition. This is more easy to see in the case of APOEL, who had appeared in this year’s competition for the fourth time since becoming only the second Cypriot team to ever appear in the competition in 2009.

As so happens, and yes this makes this author somewhat biased, they are the author’s home town club who has seen first hand what effect that Champions League money can have. In a newly built-up area of the capital of the small island builders can be seen putting the finishing touches on a brand new, state of the art, training complex that has been in construction for a couple years.

It consists of several buildings and houses multiple gyms, indoor full size and futsal pitches, outdoor training areas, medical facilities and academies for children and young players of all ages among other things. It belongs of course to APOEL, the only team in the country with the financial clout to pull off a project of this magnitude but its effects go far beyond just that one club.

Emphasis on academies, in particular, has had a profound effect on the number of young players coming through the first team, getting opportunities at the absolute highest level in the Champions League and either sticking around or getting transferred to another club in Europe by nature of their performances in the Champions League. Just this summer, a young 23 year old player, Peter Sotiriou, was sold to FC Copenhagen who, ironically, ended up not qualifying for the Champions League while his former club did.

Sotiriou ended last season as APOEL’s top scorer in the domestic league with twenty-three goals and in the Europa league with five, while his record for Copenhagen this season is seven goals in fourteen appearances. His transfer would no doubt had not happened were it not for APOEL’s participation in the Champions League, nor, can it be argued, would he have improved as much as to draw admiring glances from bigger teams in Europe had he not competed at that level in the first place.

While there have been other Cypriot players to be produced in the past that have been good enough to play abroad, the opportunities to be seen and to compete with players at a much higher level have been few and far between. The reality is, the level of domestic competition in the Cypriot first division is quite poor, somewhere between Championship and League One in England with only APOEL perhaps being capable of competing for promotion from the Championship. In order for players to improve, they need to face quality competition. For Cypriot teams, this only really happens when playing in continental competitions.

And APOEL’s record in the Champions League is not bad, by any means. They surprised everyone by getting to the quarter finals, that would be the best sixteen teams in Europe according to the organisers of the competition, the media and fans, back in the 2011-2012 season, beating Olympique Lyon on penalties to reach the quarter finals were they lost to Real Madrid in what was only their second ever appearance in the competition.

Since then, they have qualified another two times and have continued to invest into their academies, infrastructure, playing and coaching staff, helped by a, weirdly for Cypriot teams, competent club president who has been instrumental in putting Champions League’s financial contributions to good use at a time of huge financial strain in the country and during a period were several other previously big clubs are still right now close to bankruptcy and in one case, Omonia Nicosia, even having to be bailed out by their own fans in a weird crowd funded scheme.

Just like in England, where the obscene rolls of cash handed to the Premier League by TV rights every year have contributed to raising the playing level of the entire league to the point where it is the most competitive in Europe, so too have Champions League money helped to raise the level of competition both in the league as a whole and to make teams like APOEL not just a footnote on Wikipedia as ‘having once appeared in the Champions League’.

Surely money flowing to smaller teams, which, if invested wisely, can raise their level is a good thing for football as a whole, just like it has been in the Premier League where even clubs at the bottom of the table can offer big wages and attract better players. How significant has it been for fans of Huddersfield to see their club in the Premier League for the first time, competing against giants like Chelsea and the Manchester clubs, when mere promotion means a financial windfall of enormous proportions. That is the kind of excitement that fans, like this author, have felt by seeing their team play in the Champions League, something no Cypriot fan ever thought they would get to see.

In closing, lament not the so called dilution of the competitive level in the Champions League. These are not teams of ‘farmers’, like this very site was once shameless enough to suggest, though certainly most player’s ancestors were definitely farmers like my own grandparents were, but professionals competing at the highest level their profession can offer in a league that provides avenues for young foreign players to grow and compete in Europe. It is no accident that a large percentage of players in the league are both young and foreign, while most Cypriot players stay in the country despite better wages being found elsewhere – and it’s not just the sandy beaches and great weather either.

If anything, a team that competes in the Champions League consecutively for sixteen years but does not make it into the quarter-finals for over a decade and only once ever is far more undeserving of being in the competition than APOEL, who had done it on their second appearance, or the long list of teams that had got to the quarter final stage since. That team is Arsenal, who no one has ever called ‘farmers’ despite great furrows being plowed in between their supporter’s eyes at the inevitability of their being knocked out of the competition on the first knockout stage game year after year.


And another good one on lying police
“We are aware that a significant number of people attempted to enter the ground with pyrotechnics, knives and knuckledusters, which were found following efforts to gain access through fire exit doors in the south stand.” A statement from Sussex Police following Palace’s visit to Brighton late in November. A statement further endorsed by Chief Inspector Simon Nelson in a public statement and on Twitter. A statement further backed up by Sussex Police reiterating on Tuesday that they had recovered weapons at the scene and that these weapons were now evidence.

Sussex Police yesterday confirmed these statements as false, “no such items were physically recovered at the stadium or in the city.” This only came about when a Palace fanzine, the excellent FYP, submitted a freedom of information request with regards to these claims. This is disgraceful. This isn’t one statement that made a mistake but several, including some news articles in the national media quoting Chief Inspector Nelson, who by the way has now gone “off and abroad for a few days”, articles that he himself retweeted. This is the Police lying about a group of football supporters.

On that night in November, it appears a group of Palace fans did storm through a fire exit, this is unacceptable. How this happens in a modern football ground with a thousand officers on duty is another question. But to readily paint a group of fans as weapon wielding hooligans because it diverts attention away from an extremely incompetent attempt at policing a rivalry is shameful. To do so before checking any facts or seeing any evidence of the claims you make goes against everything we expect of those we look to keep the peace.

We are now facing the prospect of an increased FA Cup allocation of supporters travelling to Brighton in January to be met by a Police force they do not trust and that quite plainly doesn’t trust them. And in their infinite wisdom the FA have decided not to make this game an early kick off on a Saturday or Sunday but an evening kick off on the Monday. I must confess, I don’t know what the answer is here but I didn’t see anything on F365 about any aspect of this and feel it is in the wider supporters interest to be made aware. I doubt the apology will reach as far as the initial reports of crowd issues. For me, it raises a debate as to whether groups of fans that use pyrotechnics, don’t sit in their seats and generally create an atmosphere that is at the raucous/noisy end of the scale have a place in modern football. Sussex Police obviously believe they do not.


Nothing quite like pre-derby anticipation
I’m fortunate enough to be going to the derby ok Sunday, and I have to admit, I am absolutely buzzing with anticipation. This is despite all of the narrative based hype in the mainstream media that usually serves as a downer prior to these fixtures.

The last few seasons have given some great trips and nigts away with mates, particularly on the European trips. This time though, I’m actually looking forward to the game, probably for the fist time since Real Madrid in the Champions League in 2013. Regardless of the result, style of play or anything else, I just can’t wait to get behind my team. Rightly or wrongly, I firmly believe that United can beat this excellent City team and maybe go on to give us a title race.

Sure I’m probably being irrational but that doesn’t really bother me. As a fan, this is an anticipation I haven’t experienced for a long time and I love that Jose and this squad have done this. Roll on Sunday, I can’t bloody wait.
Conor, Drogheda


Love for Football365. We’ll stop the circlejerk after this
I’ve just read John Nicholson’s love letter to F365 (seriously guys, get a room) and though the insane tales of yesteryear and references to 365 times gone by – Future365, damn I wish I was old enough to remember that – are impressive, what’s even more brilliant is the genuine love that you can feel dripping from every sentence he wrote.

It made me realise just how much time I too spend writing to the site, or commenting on its articles, or sneakily checking the webpage on my phone at work just to make sure I haven’t missed a piece. In fact, it made me realise how much I rely on it. And sure as hell, how much we all take it for granted.

Sometimes even though I know I’ve already read through the daily content, I’ll visit back time and time again for the small chance there’s one more piece. It’s stood tall and proud for every lunch hour, for every depressing Monday, for every post-Champions league match feeling of ecstasy or furore, for every Christmas break you want to last forever and – to it’s testament – it’s stood tall and proud in the face of every acerbic missive posted by the nefarious David Robins and other bored and abusive idiots of his ilk.

The site has changed since 2010, which is when I first started reading. A little for the worse. But a hell of a lot for the better. And as much as I occasionally disagree with some of the content, it’s refreshing to frequent a site that wears its heart on its sleeve so bloody valiantly. And it’s uniqueness is its lifeblood. I’m getting maudlin now. See what you make me do?!

It feels weird to consider a website an old friend but, hey, it’s 2017, baby. Thanks guys. And happy Friday!
Jack, 23, London


Today’s Love Letter to F365 wasn’t quite as surreal as John Nicholson’s pre-Christmas self-profile last year, but I think he covered just about everything we all love about the site. I did wonder if the 20th anniversary of the site founding might lead to some old favourites being resurrected, but then I remembered what your archive is like. Suffice to say that you’ve given us plenty to make us laugh, and even more to make us think, over the years.

Just wanted to say thanks. Enjoy your weekends, everyone.
Ed Quoththeraven


Just wanted to say congratulations on the award. I agree with your post that you have gone from strength to strength and, seemingly, done so with fewer writers than ever before!

I can’t even remember how long I’ve been visiting the site (I remember first being published in the mailbox with a letter about how England had to drop Heskey for Rooney – how ridiculous does that sound now – so it must be 15 years, at least) but it has become my go-to place for footy news, ahead of all of the traditional media sites.

So ignore the bellends who lurk in the comments sections sniping on a daily basis and keep up the good work.


It would make sense for Giroud to leave now
I think Dave would’ve been right to call Giroud the best back up striker in the league last season, but his loss of status/the arrival of Lacazette seems to have severely hampered his form this year. This season whether he’s starting or brought on, he doesn’t ever really seem likely to score and him, his teammates and his opposition seem to be aware of this. He has maintained a solid 1-in-2 ratio in the Europa League, where he has started every game, but 2 of his three goals have been penalties.

He’s been nothing short of dreadful in the Premier League, with his goals against Huddersfield last week being his first since the winner at Leicester on the opening day of the season. He’s been brought on in pretty much every game in between those two and had little to no impact, which is understandable as it can be hard to influence a game when you’re only given 15 minutes here or there.

However it’s not even just the lack of goals, but he doesn’t make himself a nuisance, create space or do his trademark flicks round the corner to team mates anymore. Part of me speculates whether his psychological state has been impacted by Lacazette’s arrival; last year, he could be reasonably optimistic that scoring goals would get him back into the starting 11 but now, he’s unlikely to get a consistent run of starts regardless of how well he performs. It must be very difficult to motivate yourself in those circumstances.

I think at this point, a move would be best for all parties. He’s reached a point where bringing him on doesn’t really increase the likelihood of Arsenal scoring, and in the very common instances where it’s Lacazette coming off for him, it’s pretty much been the death knell for our attacking play.

F365’s article was right in that he’s too good to be in his current predicament; there are a host of teams where he’d be an automatic starter and a fit and motivated Giroud hungry to maintain his place in France’s World Cup lineup could be a season-changer for a lot of teams. The move to the 3 at the back formation doesn’t seem to have helped him either and he could do serious damage in a team that is prepared to play to his strengths.
BEL (Giroud in the #9 shirt at Newcastle just makes sense)


More lovely stadia
Good email by Brian in Germany

What is it about Hillsborough? I also have a soft spot for it with it’s big imposing stands with huge roofs, and the fact that most FA cup semi finals I remember were played there. Maybe its the nostalgia but there’s just something about a 4 sided football ground with individually imposing stands.

I also love Goodison (apart from the restricted views) and Villa park for the same reason, nice classic 4-sided English football grounds with tons of history. Goodison also has a church between the gwladys and main stands – not sure many can say that.

Special mentions to Filbert Street (go under someone’s bedroom to get to the away “end”), Burnden Park (a supermarket in the terracing) and the old Valley at Charlton for that huge rack of terracing.

New stadiums are soulless corporate suck ups so I’m hoping that when Everton finally get around to building their new stadium, they add some unique elements to make it stand out. 4 steep stands joined together rather than a bowl would also be preferable.
Fat Man Scouse (Anfield is alright, I suppose)


A*seholes will be a*seholes
On the Facebook comments on an article on this very site:

“Andy Gray’s half-arsed rants were more coherent and meritous than literally anything Sarah has ever written herself, and that has nothing to do with her being a woman.”

So many things wrong with football today in one sentence I can’t even begin to dissect it without getting angry…
Rob A (this a man who recently said we shouldn’t analyse tackles and referee decisions and he can’t be arsed to learn formations or what a number 9 is) AFC

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