Here are entries shortlisted for the Vikki Orvice award, named after our late colleague and vice-chair of the FWA, pictured with Gianfranco Zola. The winners will be announced in May.
Amy Canavan, Edinburgh Napier University:
Twitter can be a cesspit – a toxic, vile and poisonous platform. But over the past few days, it has been a haven of humorous, happy, and humbling memories of the late, great Bertie Auld.
And once the scrolling starts, I’m locked in. You can’t not smile from hearing Bertie belt out ‘For it’s a grand old team to play for’ in videos. Or chitter with tears brimming in the eyes when the pride in his voice is evident upon talking of being a Lisbon Lion.
So many memories. I count myself lucky and blessed, that I had a personal encounter with Bertie Auld. So, if you let me, here’s my memory of Mr. Celtic.
It’s summer 2014. The Ronny Deila era is in its infancy and 13-year-old Amy is off to Tenerife for the first time with her family.
Like many footballing dads, one of their maiden missions on vacation is to find a sufficient pub to consume the games in – my dad, successful again.
‘The Hoops Bar’, one could not find a safer bet. A chalkboard outside confirmed that the Champions League qualifiers against KR Reykjavik were on show in their premises. Yaldy.
We head to the pub on matchday, in what we believed, would be plenty time, but even hours before kick-off, no room at the inn. Squashed in on make-shift tables, we watched on as Callum McGregor’s sole, debut goal, gave Celtic the advantage heading into the second-leg at home.
Folks gradually dispersed after the match and all those outdoors, migrated in. Inside, my mum kept banging on that she recognised one of the apparent locals, my dad, of course, told her to take a run and jump. Per norm, he done what he was told and asked the man if there was any links to our hometown that would make my mum notice him. Per norm, she was right. Same street as her growing up… small world.
Plastered all around the pub – more a shrine to the Tic – were posters for the upcoming Charlie and the Bhoys gig. I can vividly remember Stevie, the famous owner of the bar, urging my mum and dad to go, but they had us, the bairns.
But parents always have something up their sleeve and mines certainly did. On one of the many occasions my brother and I were burning a hole in our dad’s pocket by firing Euro after Euro into the onsite pool table, he, along with Stevie and my mum’s long-lost pal, got the ‘okay’ for us to get into the gig.
This was a big-people’s event, but we were specially going? We spent the day before in the pool, throwing a ball whilst drawing up what the night could look like. Whatever we imagined wasn’t even close to reality.
Occurring on the Friday night, we were jetting off back to Glasgow on the Saturday afternoon – this was the last supper.
The venue was dark, but the tri-colour tinges beaming from the stage offered enough light to be able to decipher who the small figure on the far away balcony was. Wee Bertie.
Never mind us, our mum and dad were too young to ever see Bertie Auld play, but he was not lost on us.
Charlie and the Bhoys were exceptional. But the highlight, as always, was the special guest. His stories engaging, his mannerisms infectious but his words, unforgettable.
Photo time came with the Lisbon Lion and the big cup. Not many were smaller than Bertie that night, but I fell into that category and so he carried most of the trophy’s weight, obligingly.
I had time with Bertie Auld, my family had time with Bertie Auld. We discussed my favourite player, I was still reeling from Joe Ledley’s switch to Crystal Palace in the January, so was unable to give a definite answer, I just rattled off some names.
Then it was the turn of my mum. She takes great pride in telling the story, so I won’t do it justice, but in their chat, Bertie leaned in and said to my mum, “You have a lovely wee girl and a cracking wee boy. They’re so polite and mannerly, they’re a real credit to you.”
That may sound like nothing, but for Bertie Auld to utter those words about me, utter those words to my mum about her children, that’s everything. I’ve never had a Grandad, but that is one of those moments that you feel the impact of a wise, older man’s words.
Bertie Auld will never have thought about me, or my family again. But I can’t begin to count how many times one of us has told that story. When a legend speaks, you remember.
If I do nothing else, Bertie Auld once called me lovely, and I’ll never forget that.
Beth Lindop, Liverpool John Moores University:
Growing up, the end of the football season signalled the beginning of summer. For my mum, it was a cause for celebration; a reprieve from the logistical nightmare of scheduling every family occasion around Liverpool’s congested fixture list. My dad on the other hand was left almost bereft, staring into the abyss with the prospect of pre-match pints, packed terraces and stoppage-time winners three agonising months away.
Through my pre-adolescent eyes, I couldn’t understand his agitation as the days ticked by. Nor could I fathom his excitement as, like a child on Christmas morning, he rushed to make the pilgrimage to Anfield when August rolled back around.
But now I do understand. Because forty days after Sadio Mane’s brace put Crystal Palace to the sword and secured Liverpool a third-place finish, I miss football.
It seems almost absurd to utter those words at a time when the country is awash with football fever. England’s triumphant dispatch of their most renowned rival earlier this week seemed to ignite something in the nation which has lay dormant for the past eighteen months: pure, unbridled joy.
Although cheering on the national team will always be a polarising subject amongst Liverpool fans, I can’t deny that I was delighted when the final whistle rang out at Wembley on Tuesday, heralding England’s historic victory.
Amidst the clamours of “It’s coming home!” and the frenzied waving of flags, there was a palpable sense of elation; a release of emotion after a gaping chasm of doom and despair.
But while the Euros go some way to filling the void left by the end of the Premier League season, international football just isn’t quite the same. At least, not for me.
My dad took me to my first Liverpool match when I was 18 months old and, although I slept soundly through the entirety of the Reds’ Charity Shield triumph over Manchester United, that afternoon at the Millennium Stadium was the beginning of an enduring love affair.
As my childhood gave way to my teenage years, I was able to witness firsthand the magic that only football can bring.
In the last few years alone, I’ve had experiences that most supporters aren’t fortunate enough to encounter in an entire lifetime; the most magical of all transpiring as I stood with my dad in the Wanda Metropolitano watching Jordan Henderson lift Number Six.
A few months ago though, for perhaps the first time in my life, I couldn’t wait for the season to end. The soullessness of empty stadiums, the absurdity of VAR and a squad ravaged by injuries seemed to evoke a sense of weariness and disillusionment amongst the fanbase for the first time in Jurgen Klopp’s exultant reign.
As Liverpool’s campaign seemed to stutter and stagnate, I yearned for summer, when I wouldn’t have to worry about whether my team could combat their dire home form or whether the manager would actually have enough fit senior players at his disposal to assemble a starting eleven.
But when Mo Salah collapsed, completely spent, to the Old Trafford turf after his goal cemented a monumental win against our greatest foe, I felt that euphoria that we have become so accustomed to in recent years return.
That exhilaration was only bettered a few days later when a miraculous stoppage-time header from a goalkeeper, who has this year had to endure the most awful personal agony, set Liverpool on course to a top four finish.
It seemed that just as Klopp’s famed ‘Mentality Monsters’ began to rear their (quite literally, in Nat Phillips’ case) wounded heads, the season drew to a close.
And for all my yearning for summer, I can’t help but count down the days until that first whistle at Carrow Road on August 14.
Now, as my Twitter feed is engulfed by transfer rumours and as international tournaments near their climax, I can feel the anticipation rising.
Anticipation for action on the pitch, of course; I’m excited to see Thiago’s scintillating passing in the flesh and I may even shed a tear when Virgil Van Dijk returns to commence his comeback season.
But most of all, anticipation for those little moments that make the beautiful game so special.
I’m excited for that first pre-match drink in The Grove and the smell of pies and chips lingering in the air as I make my way along a bustling Anfield Road.
I’m excited for the banter with the familiar-faced steward as he checks my bag and the packet of wine gums that the fella three seats along shares around as the players make their procession onto the pitch.
But most of all, I’m excited to be able to watch a game of football with my dad at the place that makes us the happiest. Back at Anfield. Back home
Louisa Keller, University of Stirling:
Imagine going confidently into the first match of the season after playing well in the friendly the week before and then losing 30-0. That’s quite a jolt, even for a university league where differences between teams are usually bigger than in normal leagues. Where do you go from there?
I got into football when I was six years old and played for a boys’ team for three years before I was kicked out for being a girl. With no girls’ team around, my interest in football faded until the 2019 World Cup. This tournament finally brought football back into my life and reignited a spark that had long been lost. After weeks of training with my dog in our backyard, I was able to join a women’s team through some fortunate circumstances. For three weeks, I could finally live out my passion – and then, Covid hit. The first lockdown came and went, a new season began and was disrupted, and I never got to play a full season for my team.
But in the time I was able to play for them, I developed as a player. I will never have the same technique as those who started playing as children, but I am decent on the ball and athletic. I never had to worry when playing with my team. We boasted several players who could easily play in the third league instead of on the bottom of the pyramid, where we were at. We lost twice while I played for them, and although it stung, it came down to not having enough players, not us not being good enough.
During that time, I realised that I was unhappy with what I was studying and soon set my sight on Stirling: both for the program it was offering and the sports reputation it had. I got accepted, and after trialling for several days, I was put in the third football team. We lost our first game, a friendly, but once again, it came down to not having any substitutes. We had played decently for being a completely new team. That is why, despite having no trained goalkeeper, but with players of decent ability and a – for me – huge roaster, I had no qualms about our first game against Glasgow.
From the beginning, we were overwhelmed. We barely spent any time in their half, but we held out for – in hindsight incredible – 15 minutes, before an unfortunate penalty caused by a handball led to the inevitable 1:0. There was no stopping them anymore: 10:0 at halftime, 30:0 after 90 minutes. The club’s president messaged us after 60 minutes had been played. Our coach sat down and gave up after less than 30 minutes. Several of our players cried after the game. Where do you go from there?
The answer to this question was given during the game: Glasgow’s coach offered to let the game count as a walkover during the second half, which our coach accepted. But the players on the field kept on playing. And two days later, during the next training session, every player turned up. After our next game – a 0:16 loss – our coach quit, citing career reasons. He went on to coach U-16 boys.
We could not find a coach, so our president took over, and slowly, we grew as a team. Somehow, after winter break, we finally played like one. It was a cup game against a team a league above us and as expected, we lost. But we fought for every second of the match and we scored our first competitive goal! Even the other team’s coach admitted that he was surprised because he expected the game to be a walkover.
After this high, February was marked by cancelled training sessions and games due to Covid, weather warnings, and personal reasons. The season came to an end and, as expected, we came in last with a ridiculously high negative goal difference. To celebrate the end of the season, all three squads travelled to St. Andrews, each to play a game. When we played them in the league, we lost 8:0. This time, we drew and we were, without any bias, the better team on the pitch. What for some might be a disappointing draw after the high level of performance we showed, was for us the best result we had in the whole year, and we damn well celebrated it like it deserved to be.
So where do you go from the worst possible start? You keep going.
Emillia Hawkins, University of Brighton:
Littlehampton Town will grace the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium for the first time in their history next month as they take on Newport Pagnell Town in the FA Vase final.
While it may be a daunting occasion for some, one Littlehampton player has become used to working at the home of English football, but not in the way you might expect.
Marigolds midfielder Tom Biggs has a day job that all football fans would envy. As Senior Digital Content Manager at the FA he regularly rubs shoulders with the likes of Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane, and he was even lucky enough to experience last summer’s unforgettable Euro2020 from inside the England camp.
Despite his football-centred job, Tom still has time to play for Southern Combination Premier side Littlehampton. But his non-league journey started just 18 months ago: “When I was working in club football most of my Saturday’s were taken up. I played for Staffordshire University and then I stopped for six years until I went to work in Dubai,” He explained. “The football scene was big there and it was more practical for me to get back into playing. When I came back I started with [Brighton-based] Mile Oak FC, who are the most local team to me. We actually played Littlehampton in a game and I did okay and they said ‘do you want to come and play for us?’ so I said ‘yeah, why not’ and that’s how it all came about.”
Of course, when you’re working with a national football team you’re not going to be available every single weekend, but Littlehampton have no issue with working around that. “They know my work so the other players usually ask ‘What’s he like? What’s he like?’ but when I do go into camps and I miss weekends they’re very understanding and flexible,” he added. “But thankfully I don’t have to do the social media for Littlehampton!”
Tom’s life has revolved around social media and football since he left university at the age of 21. He went from club to club after his graduation, starting at Crawley Town, then onto Southend United before making the jump to the Premier League with Southampton. After a few years it was time for a change so he made the decision to move across the world to Dubai to work for English newspaper Sport360 – here he decided to return to England and went on to become social media manager for the Three Lions.
Last year he earned the role of the FA’s Senior Digital Content Manager and is currently preparing for this summer’s Women’s Euro2022 along with the World Cup, which will be held in November. While it’s a busy time for the FA behind the scenes, Tom will also get his time to shine on the pitch when he takes to the famous Wembley surface. He said: “I still pinch myself at the thought [of playing at Wembley] and it’s still exciting for me, but for them [Littlehampton teammates] it feels one step further than that. I’d love to win it, I think we all would, but ultimately it’s a once in a lifetime day for all of us.”
But, of course, all good things must come to an end, and at the age of 30 Tom could hang up his boots fairly soon: “It isn’t always easy, but I’ve loved it and certainly the group that I’ve played with have made it really enjoyable.”
Whilst his playing days might be numbered, it’s safe to say that Tom’s career in football is far from over.
Juliet Nottingham, University of Derby:
On the top floor of the Liverpool Tate, on the top line in black gloss is the statement “Liverpool is a city of movement.”
Even if such is true, I went to sit still. It was the 24th of March, and 158 miles from me Wales were playing in a World Cup play-off semi-final. I sat opposite my closest friend from home and next to my sister in a bar along Hardman Street, just out the centre of Liverpool, 15 miles from the closest point of the Welsh-English border, and realised for the first time in a long time football had not made me feel so much.
I was meant to be passing through; a few nights there then one in North Wales, and back into Cardiff for the playoff final.
Instead, those 15 miles were the closest I could get to any kind of physical home that night; our tickets to the final had been rolled over for a war and so I sat at a reclaimed wood bar table which dulled the red glow of neon wall signs. It was quiet, aside from a couple playing pool and a small group we learnt to be quietly supporting Wales.
The three of us sit, thumbs diffidently dancing around cold glasses with the bar’s music a decibel too high so that slightly unnecessary shreds of concentration are spent on hearing each other properly.
There were points in the night I wanted to go to the nearest person going about their mundanities and shake them: “Do you not know what this means? Do you realise how close we are? How are you so calm?”
The Neapolitan film director Pablo Sorrentino once described the place you grow up as seemingly unalterable, before you grow up more and move away and discover a radically different world, and in this, you constantly try to chase the other world, and the vain attempts leave you feeling inadequate.
We all spent large parts of our upbringing in a small seaside town just outside Cardiff; I went to games with a City season ticket for over ten years before moving to the Midlands to study journalism. My friend moved to Liverpool to study; my sister moved to Merseyside not long after for work.
They know little about football, but lots about Wales, and that night the boundary was blurred into one and the same.
They know, for example, what it meant the moment Gareth Bale took a hop and a handful of steps and finally an inexorable strike, the stadium’s incandescence holding every flight and fall and fate of Welsh football.
They know it was enough to reduce grown men in Canton to tears and St Mary’s Street to a tremble; they know because they have seen it before. They know because what else is that feeling in your chest?
Throughout each rare night I spend with people from home, it becomes increasingly impossible to not think of where we were and where we are. Increasingly possible not to think of some form of guilt on days we’ve forgotten to phone home, a Cardiff season ticket back home barely used, about how we should’ve found a way to be home that night.
There is something quite defenceless about identity. Often, we talk about home when we really mean the past, identity as a form of loss, like a ribbon arranged by the body’s inertia, dragged in disparate directions.
We are sat still until Bale does what we will tell those after us he did. We could have run all the way home with such a feeling.
Robert Page described him as someone who would walk on broken glass down the m4 to play for Wales. I think there would be an orderly queue behind him to watch.
Yara El-Shaboury, St Mary’s University, Twickenham:
“I knew it was bullshit right away,” Adam [not his real name] recalls. “My brother had barely even touched the ball before this random Saudi guy in a suit was offering him a whole other life in England.”
The scout had only watched Adam’s brother play football for about 10 minutes before saying how he’d be a great fit for the Premier League.
“He even tried to spin it by saying that my brother would be able to give back to his family by leaving. It was crazy,” he adds.
Adam retired from playing professional football himself after the Yemeni League was cancelled seven years ago due to the civil war and has witnessed a shift when it comes to football culture in the region.
The mysterious scout’s overtures are a symptom of that, an indication of what has changed.
“When I first started playing football, players were proud to play in this league,” Adam says. “Now, all everyone wants to do is get out at any cost.
“Life in this country is so bleak. I feel empty all the time, like I’m simply going through the motions of living,” he says, his voice choking up over the phone.
“I have happy moments, of course, with my family, my friends and the boys that I coach. But I cannot imagine myself being happy again in this country. The damage is not fixable. Which is sad because this is my home. The only one I’ve ever known.”
The damage is the ongoing multi-sided Yemeni Civil War.
Widely considered to be an extension of the struggle for influence in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the conflict has been ongoing for over 40 years.
Yemen has been caught in the crossfires of two nations. And the result has been mass displacement, famine, and an increase in human trafficking.
To that backdrop, football has become incredibly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But despite this, the sport is so ingrained in the country’s culture.
So naturally, it made headlines when a business company owned by the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund bought Newcastle United.
Throughout the civil war, Saudi Arabia-led military, with the backing of several other nations, has intervened in Yemen to fight against Iran-backed rebels.
In May 2020, UNICEF estimated that 80% of the Yemeni population (over 24 million people) are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the actions of Saudi Arabia’s government.
And what might be considered the worst crime of all is the fact the Saudi Arabian government has slowly attempted to trick the world into turning their head away from its war crimes. Scouting these Yemeni youngsters is just one of many examples.
“For the past decade, I’ve coached football and gone to my brother’s football matches as a spectator,” Adam says.
“Almost no one shows up to support these kids. I don’t blame them, obviously, but when all of a sudden, these men in suits more expensive than what I earn in a month are showing up and asking questions about these boys, it’s going to attract attention.”
The men in question are Saudi scouts. Adam is adamant he knows this for a fact due to their dialect. And after some further questioning, Adam found out they were there to find footballers to develop in the UK.
These scouts tell the kids they can fulfil their dreams of becoming the next Premier League star, an opportunity that any aspiring Yemeni footballer would dream of, given the league’s popularity.
“The funny thing is, they don’t even properly watch them play football,” Adam adds. “They’ve offered this so-called opportunity to all the players I’ve coached and all the players on my brothers’ team. Surely that isn’t proper scouting.
“I worry for these kids,” he admits. “I’ve told my brother to say no regardless of what is promised. But some of these kids don’t have anyone looking out for them. All they have is family who are waiting for any opportunity to get out.
“Little do they know that these men work for those who have killed their brothers and sisters.”
It’s unclear whether these scouts could actually be successful and somehow produce the first ever Yemeni star within the world of football. Adam is unconvinced.
Regardless, the people of Yemen will find it extremely difficult to put aside their trauma and fully allow themselves to root for a player who has been given opportunities by the Saudi government.
“I’d rather be piss poor than ever sell myself out to the unholy institution that is Saudi Arabia,” says Adam, his voice angry now, to the point where he’s almost spitting out the words.
“They’ve ruined the life of every single person living in this country. I would never trust them with what remains of my life.”
Sofia Lammali, London School of Economics:
In the early hours of 30th January, Harriet Robson, the girlfriend of Manchester United star Mason Greenwood, posted a disturbing audio on her Instagram story alongside images of cuts and bruises with a label that read “To everyone who wants to know what Mason Greenwood actually does to me”. Though the stories were quickly deleted, the damage had been done. The audio and images had been shared across social media and received widespread condemnation from figures from both in and outside sport. He was arrested by Manchester metropolitan police on charges of rape, assault, and threats to kill, and subsequently released on bail pending further investigation. Manchester United released a statement condemning violence of any kind and suspended him from playing or training with the team until further notice. Nike also terminated its endorsement agreement with him.
In the football world, the reaction was one of shock, after all he had been a rising star for both club and country. But as many pointed out, this was not the first time that something like this had happened. In August last year, Manchester City player Benjamin Mendy was also arrested and charged on suspicion of eight sexual offences against five women.
As many on social media, wondered what Greenwood’s fate would be, a small second division team in Scotland appeared to hint at the answer. Raith Rovers announced on 31st January that they had signed footballer David Goodwillie, who had in a civil case been judged to have raped a woman in 2011 and been ordered to pay damages. Perhaps the club expected this to slip by unnoticed, but it did not.
Crime writer Val McDermid, a club sponsor, and their most famous fan announced that she would be ending her lifelong support and sponsorship of the club. The captain of Raith Rover’s women’s team, Tyler Rattray resigned, and the women’s team has disassociated itself from the club, rebranding themselves as McDermid Ladies after the writer. After initially doubling down on the decision, maintaining that they had signed Goodwillie for “football reasons” and with an aim towards “rehabilitation”, the club eventually apologised and announced that he would not play for the club and that they would look to cancel his contract.
So nearly 5 years after the social movement began, is football finally having its #MeToo moment?
Football has long been characterised by its “macho” culture which combined with the large amount of money involved has led to culture of secrecy surrounding serious allegations of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The past couple of years, however, things have begun to change. Women have come forward with serious allegations against some high-profile footballers thanks to the changes in social attitudes and the rise of social media as a powerful tool for spreading news and stories that would otherwise not be covered.
Though, of course, this is not solely a football issue, how clubs respond to these situations will be key if football is to truly have its #MeToo moment. Footballers often inhabit a role as role models for young men and football clubs must suspend and punish players for inappropriate behaviour not just as a response to fan pressure, but also a matter of principle; to discourage this behaviour and to demonstrate to female fans that their safety is taken seriously.
Though attitudes are changing, clubs have not always caught up to this. When a German court in Munich found Jerome Boateng guilty of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, he was ordered to pay the highest possible financial damages for domestic violence, but this did not prevent him from signing for Lyon in September last year.
Ex-Manchester United player Ryan Giggs was charged with actual bodily harm and common assault against two women, and coercive and controlling behaviour. Though this did affect his role as Wales manager at the Euros in 2021, where his assistant Rob Page took charge, he has not formerly left the role and was invited to the director’s box at the first game of the Premier league season with little backlash.
If football and society is to change, clubs must make clear that these actions have consequences and show that they stand for victims. The culture of secrecy and cover ups must end, and clubs must be transparent with how they are dealing with players and allegations. We will have to see if these recent events mark a shift in how football deals with these issues, but for now it’s a hopeful start.
Luca Wodtke, Bournemouth University:
During the almost five-hour drive from his hometown of Backnang back to Leipzig, Ralf Rangnick had to ask the other passengers in the car to be quiet several times. Obviously, he cared a lot about the topic of talent and wanted to understand every question I asked him. It took a good few minutes for us to reach an acceptable volume for me to ask my questions, and the phone line crackled as he made his way to the north-east of Germany.
The “professor”, as many call him, took over as director of football for Red Bull in 2012. During his time in this position, the market value increased from €120 million to €1.2 billion. Rangnick stepped down from his duties in 2020, and reappeared as Manchester United interim coach in 2021.
Rangnick always looked for inspiration outside of Germany. He says that he realised very early that German football of the 80s was not what he “wanted to stand for as a coach”. Arrigo Sacchi of AC Milan and Dynamo Kiev coach Valeri Lobanowski belonged to his biggest inspirations.
“In addition to these two coaches, who definitely influenced me, there is Helmut Groß, with whom I have a close friendship until this day. We worked together in Stuttgart, Hoffenheim, and at RB Leipzig,” Rangnick says.
The United coach says that correct talent acquisition “includes a certain amount of experience and a trained eye”. He mentions Thomas Müller as an example. “When Müller was 16 or 17, only a few believed in his career path. But with someone like Helmut Groß or myself, who have followed the careers of young players for decades, you have a certain amount of experience to recognise whether a 16 or 17-year-old has what it takes to launch a great career later on. But you definitely need a trained eye for that. With Thomas Müller, who is not a really exceptional technically and doesn’t have fine motor skills, only certain coaches can see what strengths he brings to the table.”
A staple of his prestige talent acquisition comes with current FC Bayern Munich player Joshua Kimmich.
“Those responsible at VfB Stuttgart didn’t even want to give him a place in the squad in the
second team when he was 18. That was the reason why there was even a chance for Leipzig to get Kimmich on loan for two years.”
While considered a talent a few decades ago, nowadays, 20-year-olds are merely young professionals.
Rangnick says: “nowadays, it’s no longer unusual for a 17-year-old to play at the top level. Today, a player is mature at 21. Timo Werner had already played more than 120 Bundesliga games by the time he was 21”.
In his opinion, “a player is still a talent at 17, maybe until 19, but after that, you can no
longer use the word talent because young players today are so well-trained by the academies. 20 years ago, a 19 or 20-year-old playing in the Bundesliga was a total exception”.
Football has changed, and Rangnick is aware of this:
“Before 2000, football was “learned” on the street. But today, street football hardly exists anymore, and it will not come back, due to social and sporting developments. The professional club that trains and develops its players has now taken its place”.
All this stress on young talents does not only come from the clubs, but also often their own families.
Rangnick was outspoken on his opinions on parents who use their children’s talent for their own good:
“when parents go against the will of their own child and send them to another part of Germany, you have to ask yourself whether they are fulfilling their function as ‘good parents’. I always advise the parents and advisors that a child should be allowed to play in the vicinity of home as long as possible. That way, the child at least has a chance to balance school, education, social contacts, and domestic life, which is already difficult enough for talented youngsters. Of course, the financial interest of the parents might influence them to ‘sell’ their own child. Unfortunately, this goes along with the
increasing salaries in sport. For many, the big money in football is very tempting.”
The big topic of ‘what happens after sport’ is very close to Ralf Rangnick’s heart. He believes that school should not be subordinate to sport, and that football clubs should support their talents in getting a good school-leaving qualification. “It’s important that the talents at the academies leave school with qualifications in case they do have to fall back on a normal profession. If it’s between semi-pro football in the 4th league or a real job, they’re better off concentrating on the latter.”
Um-E-Aymen Babar, News Associates, Twickenham:
Being a Manchester United fan recently has been chaotic but during the Champions League game against Young Boys, we were reacquainted with an emotion that we had been missing. Hope.
With rumours of Zidane Iqbal being on the bench, this was a match that could make history – and it did. Called on at the 89th minute, gracefully donning the classic United jersey, midfielder Iqbal made his debut at Old Trafford becoming the first ever British South Asian player to play for Manchester United.
Recent figures have shown that Asian men and boys had higher rates of participation in amateur football than their white counterparts – so why haven’t any of these players made it to the top?
Race has been commonly used to explain this exclusion, with South Asian communities being stereotyped as weaker, frail and less able to flourish in contact sports. Dave Bassett, former Leicester City manager, once said: “The Asian build is not that of a footballer…it may well be Asian ingredients in food, or the nutrition they intake, [but it is] not ideal for building up a physical frame.”
When football’s decision makers and scouts have these preconceived stereotypes, they don’t look at Asian players in the same way, contributing to a vicious cycle where a lack of representation also leads to a lack of participation.
This is precisely why Zidane Iqbal’s debut means so much for South Asians. We’ve experienced the racially hostile norms that plague British society first-hand, so to see a young 18-year-old boy succeed in the face of adversity raises aspiration for the youngest in our community who now see and believe that someday they too can play for a major English club.
Last year, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS), an initiative to increase the number of Asian players within football by creating a network between grassroot and professional players. Iqbal himself has been part of AIMS. When we see people who look like us in spaces that have previously excluded us, it creates the belief that ‘if they can do it then so can I.’
As a young child you can relate to the footballers based on talent, but seeing someone who looks like you creates a different kind of affiliation. You can relate to them on cultural and racial experiences, which makes following in their footsteps seem easier. This representation also challenges the attitudes of the coaches and scouts who gatekeep these institutions – and while they may believe they are making decisions based on merits, the statistics clearly do not match up to this, which calls for a re-examination of their attitudes. As the momentum towards a more diverse and inclusive society builds up, the message is quite clear: you either get in line or get left behind.
The impact of visible diversity should not be underestimated, these moments influence a whole generation, but we cannot sit and wait for decades for there to be another South Asian player to make their debut. It’s not enough to only have Asian scouts and coaches, change is something that needs to happen from the bottom up. Without the diversity of boardrooms, the change that needs to take place will become stagnant. If we are genuine about making this change, then we need to do it right and make sure it happens on all levels.
As children, we are taught that hope and hard work is the secret to success. However, as an adult I have learnt that there is a huge part of this equation that we are not told about. There are systematic racist and classist barriers that the marginalised communities face which makes Zidane Iqbal’s debut all the more special.
We do not all start from an equal playing field and we do not receive the same opportunities that are offered to our white male peers. We have all known for a long time that we have to work twice as hard to reach the same level, all whilst facing socio economic depravity. The mere fact that it has been a decade since Hamza Choudhury for another British South Asian player to make his debut is a reminder to everyone that football is not meritocratic. It operates in a similar way to all other British institutions that continue from colonial legacies. Thus, it must be treated in the same way.
This is a pivotal moment in history for all South Asians to celebrate, one for the history books. And we should come away from it feeling empowered as it shows us that when we come together, we can change these structures.
This should serve as a reminder to young boys and girls that there is a place for them and more importantly, to us, that we should continue to lift as we climb.
Katya Witney, University of Sheffield:
Less than 24 hours after Storm Eunice had swirled out into the North Sea, more than 14,000 fans braved the continuing wind and rain for the promise of international football at Carrow Road.
The Arnold Clark Cup was set up by England to rival the successful SheBelieves Cup held in the US and, despite the sideways rain, it was hard not to notice the large number of children in wellington boots and brightly coloured coats splashing around their parents outside Carrow Road.
A group of women queuing for chips with six small girls said they came from a local village football team, and they had brought the children to experience international football for the first time.
One eight-year-old member of the group said: “I don’t care that it’s wet and windy, I just want to see Ellen White’s celebrations when she scores!”
White would have her work cut out to please the expectations of her young fans.
While England had shown promise in their opening game against Canada a few days previously, they lacked the ruthlessness that they needed to claim the victory.
Jorge Vilda’s Spain had been the better side against a depleted German team suffering a Covid outbreak in their previous fixture, despite it ending in a last-minute draw.
However, this was an opportunity for one of the best teams in the world in warm conditions, who have only Manchester United’s Ona Batlle playing for a club from outside of Spain, to test themselves in some of the worst conditions England has to offer ahead of the Euros later in the summer.
The tournament marked an interesting point in the development of Sarina Wiegman’s England side.
The manager had hinted at changes to the side after the draw against Canada, and made nine of them for this fixture, as she still searched for her strongest XI.
After a cagey first half, the home side sprung into life after the break with substitute Lauren Hemp flying up the pitch and firing a deflected shot narrowly wide, to a cry of “action at last” from the press box.
While England had shown the same promise they had against Canada in the first half, they looked more impressive in the second as Jordan Nobbs created another chance but shot wide.
The crowd were now roaring the England players up the pitch and it looked likely that the hosts would break the deadlock, but a stubborn Spain held firm, as White’s last-minute header sailed off target – and with it the little girl’s dream of seeing her heroine’s celebrations were put to bed for the day.
If only she had been in Wolverhampton the following Wednesday to see White open the scoring as the hosts earned a scintillating, historic victory against Germany to claim top spot on goal difference.
With England hosting a major tournament in a few months’ time, the Arnold Clark Cup was not only an opportunity for the teams to prepare on the pitch, it was also a chance to build public excitement and get fans hooked on international football.
As England did their lap of honour at Carrow Road and gave shirts to the excitable children hanging over the barriers, it looked as if the tournament had at least achieved that objective – on a rainy day in Norwich, many young fans had enjoyed their first taste of international football.
Whether the families who attended these matches will come back in the summer is yet to be seen.
There are no European Championship matches scheduled at Carrow Road, after all, but it’s likely England matches will be well attended.
That, though, is not all that is needed to ensure a good tournament and the Arnold Clark Cup highlighted a major challenge for the FA and UEFA, with the three non-England matches failing to draw crowds of over 1,000 (Canada v Germany at Norwich pulled in a measly 119 paying fans).
Despite the obvious work left to do, however, as the fans poured out of Carrow Road to battle their way home in the wind and rain there were smiles and excited chatter about the match.
You could almost be forgiven for forgetting it was a goalless draw.
In this way, the match and hopefully the wider tournament will be seen as a success.
After all, what is football supposed to do if not put a smile on people’s faces.
We will be publishing entries for the other two categories in our awards over the coming days. The winners will be announced in May.