Here are the 10 entries shortlisted for the Unheard Voices award, in partnership with Kick It Out https://www.kickitout.org/. The winners will be announced shortly.
Lloyd Griffin, University Academy 92, Manchester:
Manchester United’s disabled fan base gave resounding approval to the accessibility of ‘The Theatre of Dreams’, even if they weren’t quite able to do the same for their team as United crashed out of the Champions League against Atletico Madrid.
With news emerging of possible plans to overhaul Old Trafford, these supporters made it clear they don’t need massive change to keep their satisfaction high – at least off the pitch.
MUDSA (Manchester United Disabled Supporters Association) is the oldest football association in the world. It is dedicated to supporting United’s often unheard, yet passionate disabled fans.
Chas Banks, secretary of the association, disclosed how MUDSA has positively impacted United’s disabled supporters. He said: “The club has spent £11 million on new and improved facilities within the ground, especially the Stretford End and MUDSA are first in line to be on the panel when it comes to talks about stadium redevelopment.”
Phil Downs MBE, the founder member of MUDSA and predecessor of Chas, identified the need for an innovative suite with improved access for disabled fans. This idea came to fruition in 2004 when the Accessibility Suite was opened and patronised by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The suite provides beverages and food along with a communal area and a safe environment for those who need extra support.
Zane Pilkington, a father of a disabled season ticket holder, said: “Old Trafford is very good because we have this room (accessibility suite)”, while wheelchair user Martin Pearson added his approval, saying: “Fantastic setup, it’s brilliant, food and drink, relaxing, just what you need before a game. The same as everyone else.”
When comparing the accessibility of the ground with other clubs, Pilkington added: “We went to an away game at Norwich, where we were pitch-side and because the pitch is higher up, we could not see when Ronaldo scored.” Chas highlighted another example of poor planning for disabled fans at Leicester’s ground, The King Power stadium. He said: “They have a little platform and once everyone else has come in, for you to go to the toilet, everyone else has to get off.”
This contrasts with Old Trafford which has seven designated areas, each providing disabled match goers with an accessible view overlooking the pitch. From my wheelchair platform, I had the perfect view of Renan Lodi’s headed winner which helped Atletico cruise to victory over the uninspiring Red Devils. United lacked any real conviction or penetration as they struggled to break down the Colchoneros’ low defensive block. The match ended 1-0 to the visitors as United tumbled out of the round of 16.
Despite United’s poor run of form this season and in recent years, it still does not deter disabled fans from cheering on their team week in and week out from their appointed seating areas.
The club is now compliant with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, which provides guidance on good practices for accessibility for new and current stadiums across the UK. For many Old Trafford is the pinnacle of accessibility, although there are still issues that could be improved. Chas has some reservations about the current accessibility at the famous ground. He said: “We don’t like being in front of the away fans in the Southeast corner.”
Graham Tomlinson, a mobility scooter user, added: “The away fans are sat right behind us at every game and we very often get objects thrown, including coins.”
Not only are dangerous objects thrown, but food is also launched down from the away section onto the wheelchair platforms. Tomlinson continued: “I’ve even seen a full meat and potato pie land just by me and I nearly picked it up and ate it.” Despite the shocking antics shown by away supporters, disabled fans such as Graham often find a way to see the humour in these situations.
In the face of adversity, disabled fans of United are stoic in their support and in turn are supported by their peers and MUDSA in their pursuit of an accessible and inclusive matchday experience.
Hana Basir, Liverpool John Moores University:
Back in the warmth of October, my teammates and I walked onto the 7-a-side pitch sheepishly. We were about to play our first game in this season’s She Inspires League, an open age league for beginners and amateurs. We rocked up without our coach that day, ready to play for fun and we thought most of the teams would be that way too. It felt like a sit-com, the way we looked across to the other pitches and saw that they were running up and down the length of the cage as their coaches set them up.
Meanwhile, a senior member of our team took charge. “Do you two want to play up front and the three of you at the back?” she asked. “I’m good wherever,” one replied while another said, “yeah, sound.” Unexpectedly, we won both games that day and are currently top of the league. We don’t mind the nonchalance though, as all that really matters to us is having fun together.
Many who play the sport would be able to vouch for the fact that at a certain point, teammates often begin to feel like family. If there was a solid reason behind it, perhaps it’d be because football is a game that requires trust and chemistry. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing a teammate is there to cover you when you run into trouble with the ball at your feet, or when you’re low on confidence and you hear a familiar voice encouraging you to take a chance. Whatever the reason may be, the love and protection teammates can provide for one another is incomparable. I’m a university student from Singapore, miles away from home, friends and family but somehow, I found all three of those in my team here in Liverpool.
Our training quickly became the only thing I wanted to do. For just 60 minutes every week, the pitch was a bubble of nothing but pure bliss. Some went from never kicking a ball to intercepting passes and driving towards goal. Some are former players who can and will backheel a ball from the flank into the net. The pitch became our dance floor.
Out of the whole team, only two are still in university and the next youngest player is in their mid 30s. I’m the older of the two but the problem is, I look 12. Being the youngest in my family, I was always considered the baby even though I turn 23 in November and live on my own in a whole other country.
At home in Singapore, being seen this way all the time felt suffocating. However, after leaving home and having to look after myself, I suddenly felt exposed, like I no longer had a safety net. I’d always wanted to be independent, but I began to feel isolated instead.
This all changed the more I played football with these incredible group of women. In the absence of my family, they stepped in. I joined the team on 27th July 2021, and from then on, I gained multiple adoptive mothers and sisters. I could cry just thinking about it. After weeks of forcing myself to hide any form of weakness in the name of ‘independence’, the team became that safety net I so desperately needed. The love they radiated each week made me embrace something I never thought I would: being the baby of a group.
I felt it most in mid-March, when I was referred to the A&E with persistent high fevers. The hospital was absolute chaos, and I spent a total of 28 hours after having to unexpectedly spend the night. My mum wrecked her brain, thinking of all the ways she could possibly teleport herself to the middle of the nurses’ station, which at that point was a war zone.
However, as soon as I told her that I’d told my coach everything, I instantly sensed relief wash over her. I’d known for a while that she had become like an older sister to me, but it was that weekend in A&E, crying silently in the waiting area with doctors unable to diagnose me, that I realised I’d found that family in football I had always heard about.
These are the kinds of things that prove football isn’t just a game. It’s unexplainable how you can go from strangers to family just by kicking a ball into each other’s feet, but maybe it’s because of the freezing cold trainings, the laughter and the genuine care we have for each other. It creates homes in places you’d never think possible. Football has been with me my entire life, and the sisters it’s given me is enough love to last a lifetime.
Mary Akinsola, St Mary’s University, Twickenham:
When footage of West Ham defender Kurt Zouma emerged showing him kicking his cat, the British society went into a frenzy as it rightly should. Nothing justifies such behaviour. Nothing at all.
Although as a Black woman who grew up in an African society where cats are majorly frowned upon, I struggled to understand the outrage that followed considering terrible acts I have witnessed or been subjected to in the time I have spent here.
Zouma cannot unring this bell. West Ham fined him 250,000£. The RSPCA took both cats away from him. Of course, these are appropriate sanctions for the act. He also apologized repeatedly.
Soon, an online petition began making rounds on social media asking people to sign a petition to send Zouma to jail for kicking a cat. Another was raised to sack him from West Ham and the French National team. Adidas also terminated Zouma’s sponsorship contract.
At this point I began to wonder if I missed something. Zouma kicked a cat which was despicable, and he was sanctioned, so why the chants of jail? Sack? Are these sanctions not becoming too much for the improper act committed?
Reacting to the incident, former goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland said “Everywhere they go now and everywhere he [Zouma] goes, he’s going to be targeted and rightfully so as well because he deserves everything he’s going to get. If it was a racism case, the FA have acted, stepped in and banned players for six to 10 games— this is worse if anything, what is the difference?”
Let me reiterate that as an African who in the last seven months has seen and experienced racism from obvious to subtle, I found his comments racist, sickening and disgusting.
Some might say well, the topic here is not racism and that may be right to an extent. To the point where Kirkland’s comments made it a part of the conversation.
France striker Karim Benzema blackmailed a teammate over a sex tape but kept his Adidas sponsorship. Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez bit three different people leaving a visible scar on one but was never sent to jail or sacked. Adidas did not even withdraw its sponsorship.
Jamie O’Hara who hypocritically has conveniently found his voice to speak about Zouma, was fined £500 for punching a school child back in 2014
Scenarios abound of instances where football players have committed actual crimes against humans and never either lost sponsorship or even got jail time, why then is the Zouma case different?
Zouma has now paid the highest fine ever for a football player. He kicked a cat. He paid worse than the man who racially abused Patrice Evra and the man who was convicted of manslaughter while drunk driving.
Black people are expected to take things on the chin when at the receiving end of a transgression but cannot be forgiven when they transgress.
One of the most irritating sights I have had to endure in a while is seeing people come out to applaud Lewis Hamilton for being gentleman enough to climb the podium after Abu Dhabi but silent when Max Verstappen wasn’t gracious enough to do the same in Saudi Arabia. Are those foolish standards only set for Black people?
Brands do not want to be caught in the crossfire; they do not believe a black man has enough commercial value. Adidas will gladly support Suarez after he bites humans three times but will cancel Zouma after he kicks a cat.
West Ham’s Michail Antonio’s response after being asked for comments is also interesting. “I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?”
Although it is quite surprising to see that more black players have not come out to point out this uncomfortable trend, in this age of cancel culture, therein lies a reason for abstaining from topics like this one. This piece is an invitation to cancel from some white corners but honestly, I could not care even if I attempted to. It is the truth of black people who deep down are not cowering to the mob or giving power to cancel culture.
Black athletes need an increase in commercial value if this fight against racism and cancel culture will be successful because taking a knee is not going to cut it. I really have never rated that ritual anyway.
It is honestly mind boggling to me that entities who kill chickens for burgers, employ child labour to make its luxurious products, kill animals to make leather for boots are sacrificing a black man for kicking a cat.
Kicking cats will never be okay but how does it carry more repercussions than manslaughter, revenge porn, physical human harm, and racism?
Nelson Mtumba, UCFB Etihad, Manchester:
My favourite international tournament is the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). Unfortunately, my country DR Congo did not qualify for the tournament and with the recent defeat at the hands of Morocco in World Cup qualifying in a two-legged format, I’ve had enough. The last time my country played at a World Cup was in 1974, which still happens to be the nation’s only appearance ever at a World Cup finals. My mother was only 2 then and 48 years later, she has never seen any major sporting success in the country, so I understand why it is difficult for her to keep hopeful.
So why do players from ethnic minority backgrounds choose to represent top national teams and not home nations?
Lukaku, Tielemans, Kompany, Kimpembe, Ndombélé and Nkunku are just some of the names that my country has missed out on supporting in red, yellow and blue. You could make the argument that had every one of France’s 2018 World Cup-winning squad played for their home nations, they don’t win it. Nevertheless, it comes down to quality and security.
Quality is one of the major factors when making these decisions. These world-class players play for the best clubs, and they believe that selecting to represent a top-20 ranked nation for instance is catering to them because they’ll be playing for the best, with the best. There is more exposure for them as they’ll be representing countries consistently on the biggest stages whilst performing their best to help achieve international glory, increase market value and seek a move to a better team. Continents such as Africa and Asia are not particularly known for their quality of attracting world-class players because their leagues aren’t desirable destinations and are lacking financially to compete with other major leagues.
Players are more secure when choosing to represent countries from Europe and South America with rich histories because of the structure within their respective football associations. When there is a plan, it helps reassure players that they will be supported. This comes mainly in the form of financially, as they are paid during the international period for their appearances. Furthermore, their safety is assured ensuring that they can train and travel to matches with their best interests at heart and lastly because there is evidence of younger players coming through the ranks due to better initiatives that aim to develop homegrown players the right way. Therefore, it’s why England has a great chance to wub Qatar 2022.
Russia 2018 saw over 500m viewers watch France vs Croatia. Football is the greatest sport in the world. However, it would be greater if players chose to put on the colours of their home nations. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the best example. The right-back for Manchester United has enjoyed a good career especially when he burst onto the scene as a unique full-back with great defensive qualities at Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made an international appearance for England and with the surplus of right-backs that are available for Gareth Southgate to choose from, he is now facing a tough decision to represent DR Congo especially if he’s not chosen to be part of England’s squad for Qatar.
In conclusion, all I have to say to Aaron and other players with dual nationalities is don’t get locked in the cage. Waiting for that call up from a top nation may block you from the bigger picture in serving your home nation, where your parents came from. As much as the quality won’t serve you in the beginning, a domino effect will happen because once the first player comes in and sets the standard, the rest will follow. Soon enough, you are restoring hope to the citizens of lower-ranked nations like myself who’ll believe again and world football benefits as competitions become more equal in terms of quality and the reach becomes even bigger. The truth is I was scared to write this piece for Football Writers but I needed to try and challenge myself to see if I could do it because of my bigger picture that doesn’t involve any comfortability because just like football has always been doing, I can only grow.
Sajidur Rahman, Solent University:
Life works in strange ways.
An overweight 12-year-old could have been mistaken for the football itself, when outside playing the one thing that his life revolved around… after food.
Extraordinarily and contradictory to all scientific research, eating doughnuts and playing PlayStation were the catalyst for success in professional football for Daniel Neild.
Instead of enjoying the sunshine, Neild preferred being indoors playing his favourite sport via pixels on a screen.
However, his thumbs were less talented than his feet and a humbling defeat to his best friend led to an incredible cycle of events, where a petty online argument kick-started an epic story of rags to riches.
From being fat-shamed and ridiculed for losing at a video game, to taking to the pitch against the highest rated stars in the game itself, just seven years later.
Ironically, Neild had to put down the gaming pad when reminiscing on the story that was the turning point in his career.
Neild said: “Like every Chelsea fan, my best friend is a proper wind-up merchant, so he loved to rub it in whenever he beat me.
“One time in the summer he must’ve beaten me quite comfortably and next thing I knew I was being spammed with messages, telling me I’m trash.
“I reacted angrily and for the rest of the night we were back and forth at each other with insults as kids do,” cringed Neild.
“He kept saying ‘Go eat your doughnuts’ and repeatedly called me fat.
“It got to me I won’t lie, he probably doesn’t know it but I have a lot of thanks to give to him because all of this probably wouldn’t have happened if our silly argument didn’t,” smiled Neild.
Little were either of them to know that fast forward seven years and Neild would be dressed in Weymouth colours, lining up to battle against so many of his best friend’s idols at Chelsea.
“We didn’t know what team they were going to put out, but when we turned up and saw Petr Cech at the door welcoming us, that’s when it hit that it’s serious,” explained Neild.
Many of the Blues’ squad were returning late after reaching the Euro and Copa America finals and were trying to rebuild fitness.
The 19-year-old’s face lit up as he recalled the moment he saw the superstars.
He said: “We were just warming up at Cobham and we saw all these big names like Silva, Chilwell, James, all the players that I played with on Fifa, players that I looked up to when I was younger.”
“They’re some of the greatest players in the world and I was just in awe of them.
“It definitely gave me motivation to work harder and attempt to get to near their level.”
Despite the 13-0 thrashing, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was impressed by the Terras’ performance.
Neild revealed the words of advice the German gave after the match, in the picture that went viral:
“He sat us down and said, ‘just keep doing what you’re doing, keep trying to play football, because we saw that is what you are good at.’
“When a person of that calibre says something, you really take it in and try put their words into practice.
“It was a great opportunity and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” smiled Neild.
However it was not all plain-sailing for the 19-year-old who almost gave up football after being released by Yeovil Town when the Covid pandemic hit, but the flame was soon reignited when Weymouth came calling.
“I knew someone didn’t believe in me at Yeovil and what better way to show them what they’re missing out on than joining their rivals in the same league,” said Neild with a steely look of determination on his face.
Yet, someone who had always believed in the midfielder was there to watch as Neild first received a bench bonus.
The same friend that ridiculed Neild for being overweight was in attendance, as the online feud lasted for a matter of weeks.
“We didn’t speak for the rest of the summer but as soon as we saw each other in the playground it was just normal again. We are like this,” Neild said as he interlocked his two index fingers to demonstrate.
“He had always said that he would be there for my debut no matter the costs but this came out of coincidence,” said Neild as he looked up to the sky.
“He had always wanted to be a sports journalist and the very first match he was given to write about live happened to also be when I first made the bench for Weymouth against Dover.”
“It was meant to be.”
Life works in strange ways as the best friend that Neild mentioned… happens to be me.
Elizabeth Toye, Chancellors School, Hatfield:
Like many days I spend the sunrise nestled in a large black bag amongst many familiar balls. Today is a Saturday and I set about contemplation over the coming hours about what the day holds. Soon enough me and the balls I am sat with are hauled over the shoulder of the coach and carted off into the boot of the car, I feel the usual accompanying sense of dread. The road to the football ground is bumpy and me and the other balls clash time and time again, each pothole a fresh impact. This drive is a part of my weekly routine and yet being battered and bashed about never gets any easier.
We’re at the football ground now and I find myself practically dragged over to a group of players waiting to warm up. Today I am near the bottom of the bag and thank my lucky stars that this is the case as I am spared from the pain and humiliation of being used in the warmup. I hear snickers as the balls near the mesh laugh at the newest addition fresh at the top of the bag. They have a vantage point from which they can see the newbie being kicked around and manhandled by the players. The coach calls the team in for runs and stretches which can only mean one thing, a shooting drill is on its way.
I soon find myself at the feet of a player who feels the need to be constantly kicking me while waiting in the queue. The player who has me makes their way to the front of the queue and we’re off. The kicks start small, just getting me in position and then an attacker boots me with some force. The defender runs to try and catch up but it’s no use the attacking player soon kicking me with what feels like all their force into the goal. Two hands collide with my leather surface as the keeper catches me. I brace for impact and bam! The goalie drop kicks me with force that is far too great and I go careering off into the air. This happens a few more times with a few changes, sometimes instead of hands I’m met with the harsh cord of the back of the net or with the shoe of a parent who is returning balls that missed the goal completely. Regardless of the outcome pain is a certainty.
The match is about to start and as per usual we have been left strewn about the touch line, never returning to the safety of the ball bag until the end of the game. I haven’t been chosen as a match ball in a few months and so I feel more foreboding than usual today. My instinct was right as I’m unceremoniously lifted and lobbed to the referee. A few moments pass as the players get into position and then a shrill noise sounds from the whistle. Immediately I am kicked to the waiting feet of another player with barely enough time to ready myself for the oncoming torturous 90 minutes. Without me there would be no game and yet I am treated atrociously. Players kicking me with all their might and using whatever part of their body they can to viciously come into contact with me. Tackle after tackle occurs and the feet being slammed into my smooth leather surface feel constant. All this pain being caused to me is for no real gain and I wonder what in the universe hates me enough to have put me into this hurtful existence. About 30 minutes into the game a well-placed shoe hits me in just the right spot and I arc into the goal. Parents, coaches, and players alike all begin to cheer and yet I feel as empty as the air that fills me.
Half time happens quickly after that and I am given a short break before being berated with studded boots once again. To my joy and surprise one of the players on the opposite team kicks me with far too much force and I hurtle over the bar. If I could I would cry out in pain until I realise where I am heading to. I sail over the fence into some woods at the edge of the ground. The goalkeeper comes and looks for me but sees me nestled in a bush far from the fence, they look back at their coach and communicate without words that I am beyond reach. A new match ball is found and although I am discarded and forgotten I am finally at peace, amongst the other old balls and foliage.
Aadam Haladh, UCFB Etihad, Manchester:
Zidane Iqbal: The local lad paving way for kids across the nation.
With Manchester United’s upcoming fixture against Brighton postponed due to a Covid outbreak at the club, the last game United played at Old Trafford was their final Champions League group game against Swiss champions, BSC Young Boys.
The game marked a momentous occasion for the Manchester United academy, with six academy graduates making their Champions League debut.
Among that number was 17-year-old Shola Shoretire, 18-year-old son of Robbie, Charlie Savage, 19-year-old’s Teden Mengi and Anthony Elanga as well as 35-year-old Tom Heaton, making his debut in his second spell at the club
However, one youngster that made history was 18-year-old Zidane Iqbal, becoming the first ever British South Asian to represent Manchester United. Iqbal was an 89th minute substitute and replaced another academy graduate, Jesse Lingard.
Back in April, when Zidane signed his professional contract for the Reds, he was the first ever British South Asian player to get thus far.
The 18-year-old’s journey started at a very young age.
“I used to go and watch my dad play football, just at a local five-a-side pitch, and I just used to take shots at him,” Zidane recalls, as per Manchester Evening News.
Soon after, the attacking midfielder joined his local side, Sale United, where he was spotted by Manchester United scouts, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Born and raised in Whalley Range, Manchester, United’s number 73 is born to parents of Pakistani and Iraqi heritage.
Despite making up 7% of the total population in Britain, only 0.25% of professional footballers are British Asian, according to Kick It Out. Going by this figure, Zidane is sure to be a role model for young Asian’s growing up dreaming to become a professional footballer, however far he goes.
Previously, England boss Gareth Southgate has said (via Goal): “Historically, there has been a sort of unconscious bias, maybe the perception that some Asian players were not as athletic, they weren’t as strong [as other players].”
Zidane Iqbal is on the way to changing this perception, as he netted five times in the 14 appearances he made for the Manchester United Under-18s last season.
When speaking to BBC Sport earlier this year, Zidane said: “It’s good knowing I might be a role model, however, I want to be a good one.”
If the youngster continues to go the way he is, he most definitely will be a good role model, with Iqbal having already represented the Iraq Under-23s national side, although he is currently eligible to play for England or Pakistan.
At club level, he has played for United at most age groups, making a real name for himself in the Under-18s and Under-23s.
Speaking after his debut, the academy graduate said: “It feels amazing. I’ve been working my whole life for this opportunity, it’s a dream come true, it’s just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on.”
With the backing of the Old Trafford faithful as well as the South Asian community, there are high hopes for the record-breaker, without even mentioning the fact that he is named after a one-time World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d’Or winner.
Sanjay Suri, Durham University:
In 2020, Liverpool marched towards the title with a midfield trio that was often described as ‘workmanlike’, whilst their teammates grabbed the headlines. Two years later they find themselves in hot pursuit of Manchester City, having reduced the gap from 14 points to just one, setting up a potentially pivotal showdown at the Etihad on the 10th of April. Once again, the main focus has been on the goal machines leading the line and the constant lethal supply provided by the attacking full backs. However, the silent work of the midfield has been paramount all season and will be decisive in the run-in.
Jurgen Klopp typically elects to play a three-man midfield. Fitness permitting, Fabinho is an ever-present at the base, a crucial transition point between defence and midfield. When Liverpool start an attack, they use Fabinho to move the ball up the pitch before finding width through their full backs.
Once the attack is underway, Fabinho has three roles. He sits back to offer extra protection alongside the centre backs, allowing the full backs to play high up the pitch. Moreover, he is a useful pivot if Liverpool want to quickly switch the ball from flank to flank. Finally, he is alert to prevent any counterattacks should his team lose the ball. He is aptly nicknamed ‘the Dyson’ due to his ability to clean up loose balls in midfield. His defensive power also holds up opposition attacks, giving the rest of his team time to track back and help him out.
increased squad depth has resulted in the other two midfield slots experiencing more rotation. Thiago has replaced Gini Wijnaldum, who left for PSG 2020, Naby Keita has been less injury prone and both Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott have broken into the first team squad. Captain Jordan Henderson is the most popular choice and tends to play on the right, linking up with Trent Alexander-Arnold. Thiago’s natural quality typically wins the final slot but nowadays, Liverpool’s midfield depth allows them to rotate more easily in accordance with fitness levels or whether they want to tailor their midfield to their opposition.
Whilst Fabinho’s roles have remained stable since his arrival, the other two midfielders have evolved. On the right-hand side, Salah, Alexander-Arnold, and Henderson combine to great success. This season, Henderson has pushed higher up the pitch, often occupying the half-space between the opposition left-back and centre-back, whilst Alexander-Arnold stays wide. This gives Salah the licence to drift inside, allowing him to play more like a striker than a winger. Henderson and Alexander-Arnold both possess excellent vision, good crossing ability and are competent with both feet, allowing them to regularly switch positions, reducing the chance of one being man-marked out of the game. They can outnumber the left-back, forcing the opposition to drop back and consequently diminishing the power of their counter, thus providing two very different but highly effective crossing angles that keeps the centre-backs guessing.
On the left-hand side, however, is a different picture. Andy Robertson is supported by the left-winger, allowing the third midfielder to have a more floating role. Klopp tends to pick Thiago or Keita in this midfield position, both of whom have more guile than their predecessor Wijnaldum, who’s covering, and transition role was more similar to Fabinho. This gives Liverpool an alternative angle to unlock stubborn defences by using one piercing pass or playing a forward through by a ball over the top, similar to Kevin de Bruyne: a world class midfielder who seems to see passing opportunities that no one else can. For example, Thiago’s through ball to Jota in the 2-0 win against Arsenal in March sliced through both Arsenal’s midfield and defence to give the reds the lead. This increased variety in their midfield has helped them more consistently take three points against teams in the lower half of the table. Combined with their ability to rotate their options from the bench, it has helped contribute to their outstanding run of form in 2022.
Liverpool and City meet in April in a game that could decide the title race, with Liverpool knowing they must win to keep their fate in their own hands. This match will be decided in the midfield, and Klopp should feel confident that the three he chooses to start this match will be able to win this battle. Liverpool have been ruthless recently, and unlike in previous years, Klopp will have the ability to rotate if necessary and has several midfielders who are all worthy of a place in the starting XI. They may not make the headlines with goals or assists but, if Liverpool end up lifting the Premier League trophy this May, it will be the midfield that has earned it.
Katie Siddall, University of Newcastle:
When I started thinking about this article, I thought ‘There is literally nothing on the subject of the LGBTQ+ community within football’, so I started asking around my friends.
One friend, who adores football to her very core, came back with two simple words “literally non-existent”. Even before I received this text, I knew that within football we had to talk about this particular community – especially since the subject of race is now highly talked about – but I feel like the LGBTQ+ community need our encouragement and support.
I have found multiple PRIDE campaigns to help those facing homophobia within football. The most well-known campaign is The Rainbow Laces campaign, which has the hashtag #RainbowLaces. It is ran by Stonewall, a foundation famously known for being founded by Sir Ian McKellen, amongst others. The aim of this campaign is to gain acceptance of anyone’s sexuality and/or gender within football.
So, this article is supposed to be about stigmas we believe that are in football. One stigma, which I believe is also the most important, is the fact that we label the game with gendered markers “men’s football” and “women’s football”. Men’s football has been played for centuries, dating back to Tudor Britain; therefore, the sport has developed in old fashioned times with old fashioned views.
It is seen as a “man’s game” because it was brought through a “man’s environment”. Due to these views and attributes, it is difficult for men to identify themselves within the LGBTQ+ community. It has previously been not widely accepted in society for the majority of the time the sport has existed.
We are now in the 21st century so these views need to change, so the game can catch up with our modern views.
Whilst women are presumed to be immediately part of the LGBTQ+ community just because there are LGBTQ+ players who feel comfortable to open up about their sexuality. Women have gained confidence faster than their male counterparts to be themselves, as their sport has grown in popularity over the years and society has become more accepting of people’s sexualities during the same time period. This seems to have led to a belief in some that all women footballers are lesbians – which is not the case. They just enjoy playing the sport we all love to watch so much.
There needs to be a middle ground for both sports, both genders – where not everyone is heterosexual and not everyone is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. People are just people.
Recently, there has been a matter in a newspaper article about a male footballer who is scared to define their sexuality in the public eye because he thought it would ruin his career. This player is still unknown. He should not be afraid of his identity, yet society has frankly not allowed him to be who he wants to be, who he really is. This HAS to change.
Why is it we allow anyone to be who they want to be, be that gender, sexuality, religion – yet we don’t let football players be who they want to be? Are we being old fashioned? Are we set in our mindsets? Do we still see the sport as “a man’s game”? Will it change the game of football if there are members of the LGBTQ+ community involved? No. It won’t change how the players play, it won’t change how people perceive football (except to say that men do not have to be straight to play this sport, for one).
Colin D’Cunha, University of Brighton:
There’s always a distance between international fans and the club they support that even the most stirring rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (YNWA) sung by 53,000 people cannot bridge.
The 4,587-mile distance between Mumbai (where I grew up) and Liverpool was cut down to 270 miles when I moved to Brighton. Still 270 miles too far, I reckoned… until I learned of the Brighton Kop.
An official Liverpool supporters’ club, the Brighton Kop hosts screenings at The Font, a quaint little 17th-century chapel-turned-pub nestled in the labyrinthine South Lanes, tucked away like a chamber of secrets.
I decided to score some tickets for the Carabao Cup final screening, a showdown between Klopp’s Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel’s relentless Chelsea.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t paint a vivid picture of what turned out to be a spiritual experience.
As the clock wound down to the 4:30 pm kick-off, throngs of Liverpool supporters clad in red filled into The Font, embracing each other with a smile and a prayer on their lips.
Paeans were sung of Mo Salah, Andy Robertson, Virgil van Dijk, and the eternal flame of the hope of the Kop. The fans sang from the same hymn sheet, stomping their feet on the wooden floors like they were marching at Troy’s gates, led by the bearded German Achilles, Jurgen Norbert Klopp.
I watched on from the wooden pulpit as a stirring rendition of YNWA promptly followed, injecting the well-travelled anthem into the veins of everyone present.
Ninety minutes passed by in the blink of an eye between the groans and moans against refereeing decisions and a goal that sparked bedlam for a good five minutes before it was chalked off after a VAR check.
Extra-time brought little solace. Klopp’s fist pumps would have to wait.
As 90 minutes turned into 120, the Russian roulette of the penalty shootout beckoned.
That’s when The Font’s decibel levels simmered down to a whisper like the people had gathered for midnight mass.
On the big screen, 22 players stepped up to the spot. Twenty-one of them scored.
The Font held its collective breath as Kepa Arrizabalaga walked up to the spot. What happened next can only be described as a touch of destiny.
Kepa, brought on to replace the flawless Edouard Mendy, skied his penalty.
Troy had fallen.
The Brighton Kop erupted, a raging red mass euphoric, drunk on victory and destiny (and Guinness, to be fair).
As I celebrated on the pulpit, the spectacle of it all washed over me. Another rendition of YNWA rang out, louder this time, like an Easter choir. Tears were shed. Memories were made. Prayers were answered.
Klopp and his players etched their names into immortality under the arches at Wembley. And in that moment, I felt something distinctly new, something that was just out of my reach for so long.
That something was a sense of belonging.
I guess it’s true what they say. No matter where you are, whether it’s in Mumbai, Cairo, Cork, Liverpool or Brighton, if you walk on with hope in your heart, you’ll never walk alone.