On my drive from Bromley to Eltham this morning, I was struck by how few England flags there were on display in houses and on cars.


There has been so much negativity around the choice of Qatar to host the World Cup that I think that many fans have had their enthusiasm dulled for a competition that is always looked forward to with great excitement and anticipation around the world.


The BBC chose not to show the opening ceremony on Sunday and began their coverage with an in-depth review of the reasons it felt the tiny Gulf State should not have been awarded the tournament.


I have always been an advocate of sport being above politics. We live in a world of conflicting morals and values and the truth is that there will always be justifiable reasons why certain countries should be prevented from competing. Russia for its aggression in Ukraine, Qatar for its record on human rights and the treatment of migrant workers, Saudi Arabi for its record on human rights and the list can go on and on. Many organisations in the UK called on England to boycott the tournament.


Now that the World Cup has started there should be no pressure on the players involved nor on the team management of the 32 countries because it was not their decision to select Qatar. They are football players, not politicians.


The decision to award it was taken by FIFA and the behaviour of their senior officials throughout the process shows them to be unfit to administer the greatest sport of them all.


The Netflix documentary was compelling in terms of the alleged corruption within FIFA surrounding the selection of a country that had no football pedigree. The disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter was a big advocate of Qatar and now he says it was a mistake. Three months out from the start of the tournament, FIFA moved the tournament start date back a day which caused issues for some fans of Ecuador who had booked their travel.


The rambling speech by the incumbent FIFA President Gianni Infantino a few days ago criticising ‘the West’ over its excesses for some 3,000 years was a rambling and ill-judged monologue. The assurance from FIFA that fans could buy alcohol inside the stadia was in tatters just a few days ago and has upset fans and FIFA’s leading sponsor Budweiser in equal measure and then on the day of the England game today they announce that any captain wearing a rainbow armband would be given a yellow card by the match referee, despite the fact FIFA were advised some months ago that the captains of various countries would wear that armband. FIFA never acknowledged or responded to that notification until today.


Now that the tournament has started let’s hope as football fans, we can enjoy the matches. England made a brilliant start with a 6-2 win over Iran and there is no doubt we have the talent in the squad to go a long way in the competition. Let's hope they can win it and let’s hope also that VAR can be used with a greater level of consistency as a couple of the decisions today were risible.

 

 


England did us proud in the cricket
England did us proud in the cricket

It says something about the mentality of news editors that Matt Hancock’s exploits in the Australian jungle are deemed more newsworthy than England winning the T20 Cricket World Cup, to add to the 50 over World Cup they already hold. In the modern era, news is generally all about bad news and God forbid we get some good news to cheer us all up!!


One of my favourite sporting occasions over the years has been watching the England cricket team play in the West Indies. I have generally found the five-day game is too much to keep my concentration and I rely on the TV highlight’s programmes but the excitement of the 50-over game and particularly the 20-over game is far more watchable and that has ignited my interest in the sport, as has The Hundred.


On Sunday, England deservedly won the T20 World Cup with our talisman Ben Stokes once again getting us over the finishing line as he has done on so many occasions before in all forms of cricket. He is a genuine sporting hero, and he has already written himself into the annals of English cricket history.


Whatever the sport, you need to have real mental strength to win when playing in front of partisan home crowds. On Sunday at the MCG, England achieved victory despite 90% of the 80,000-crowd cheering on Pakistan and England’s performance ultimately kept the crowd very quiet. particularly in the latter stages of the game when victory was effectively assured.


Chasing 138 in front of that noisy and enthusiastic Pakistan-supporting crowd, England fell to 45-3 and 84-4 amid some of the most effective fast bowling you will see anywhere in the world. Just when the game looked in the balance, enter Ben Stokes who was calmness personified as he hit a polished 52 not out and victory was secured with one over remaining. Just as in 2019 50-over World Cup final, there he was once again at the end ensuring his country secured the win. In years to come our children and grandchildren will ask just how good he was, and he will rightly be remembered as a legend of the game.


The win wasn’t all just down to Stokes, and you have to acknowledge superb bowling performances from both Player of the Tournament Sam Curran and Adil Rashid.


The success is all the more praiseworthy when you consider England suffered a shock rain-affected defeat by Ireland and a weather-related postponement against Australia in the group stage, so England needed to win all their remaining games to lift the trophy, just as they did in the 2019 50-over World Cup.


The BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year will be interesting this year with the Women’s Team winning the Euros in the summer and now the England Cricket Team’s success. And who knows, we might just have the men winning the World Cup in Qatar in December.


This could be one of the greatest ever years for sporting achievement in this country but for now let the news media go back to focusing on the Australian jungle!!




Liverpool Football Club is up for sale
Liverpool Football Club is up for sale

When Roman Abramovich sold Chelsea to Todd Boehly and his USA consortium for £4.25 billion earlier this year, it was inevitable that the owners of other Premier League clubs would start to consider what value they might be able to achieve for their shareholders.


Some would argue that the global popularity of the Premier League and the record broadcasting revenues it generates represent the peak of the market and now is the time to take the huge profits they can make, whilst the interest from the USA and the Middle East in particular is at its height.


Fenway Sports Group and John Henry and his partners purchased Liverpool from George Gillet Jr and Tom Hicks for £300m in October 2010. They bought at a time when Liverpool was underperforming on the pitch, and they looked a million miles away from repeating the successes of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. They appointed Jurgen Klopp in October 2015. That proved to be a masterstroke and the glory days of yesteryear returned as they won the Champions League, Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Club World Cup, the European Super Cup and the Community Shield. They are also developing the Anfield stadium and they have a new state of the art training ground. And at the same time, they have played an attractive brand of football that has increased their popularity around the globe with all the attendant additional revenue that brings.


In 2020, Fenway sold an 11 per cent stake in the club to Red Bird Capital Partners for £655 million and perhaps Liverpool’s stuttering start to this season has made them think this is a good time to cash in their chips. I suspect that also in the mix is the fact that the so called top-six clubs in the Premier League were wounded by the reaction of ordinary football fans in this country to their attempts to join a breakaway European Super League. Additionally, the extreme wealth behind Newcastle United will see them join the competition at the top of the Premier League in the coming years and Liverpool will come under pressure to match the Saudi spending as well as the considerable might of Manchester City.


It is being reported widely that Fenway has asked Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to test the market based on achieving a sale price that matches or betters the price Chelsea secured. Liverpool is attracting all the publicity around a sale this week but make no mistake there will be similar discussions in the boardrooms at Arsenal and Tottenham as well, as their owners will need to spend big in the coming years to compete at the very top.


There will be challenges facing the Premier League as the USA and the Middle East tightens its grip on the top clubs in this country and they will need to act in a consistent manner to avoid legal cases as the Saudi takeover at Newcastle has established a precedent.