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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

JT should never have been stripped of England captaincy

The importance of the England armband is a bizarre obsession with the English media and the national teams' fans. But is Capello right to reinstate John Terry as his permanent 'skipper'?

Written by Matt Scrafton

A year after being theatrically stripped of his England armband amidst a stormy cloud of vicious tabloid allegations, Chelsea defender John Terry will once again lead out Fabio Capello's men as captain when England face Wales in their first Euro 2012 Qualifier. As a result of Rio Ferdinand's prolonged spell of absence on the sidelines with injury, it appears Capello's decision to reinstate Terry is not just a stop gap until he returns, but seems more than likely that this will be a permanent appointment. A decision that has predictably been met with criticism from all corners.

Firstly, I think it's important to study the way Terry was first stripped of his captaincy and just why it came about so publicly. Prior to England's disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, manager Fabio Capello felt it necessary to 'award' Steven Gerrard the captaincy, following Terry's alleged misdemeanors. Terry had supposedly been involved with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend, although these are allegations that are currently being denied by the woman in question, and are subject of litigation. In order to maintain the team spirit within the camp, Terry was demoted to a mere peasant amongst the flock of England's average XI, with Gerrard taking the reigns and 'leading' England to a disappointing Second Round exit at the hands of a stunningly superior young German side.

With that in mind, just what is so special about this supposedly sacred piece of cloth? It's not like in cricket, where the captain has several roles to play and is clearly the most influentially important individual within the starting line up. In football, the captain's only official responsibilities are; to take part in the coin toss, a demanding task if I've ever seen one (well, this is England players we're talking about, after all); and picking up the trophy when a team wins a trophy. Which let's be honest, isn't a required talent of an England 'skipper...

In addition, contrary to common misconception, captains have no special authority over their team mates when it comes to challenging a decision made by a referee. Referees will sometimes call over and converse with each sides captain, but only in specific circumstances when questioning their side's general behaviour. So, all in all a captain doesn't have to do that much at all. To make it clear, I'm not completely demeaning the role of a football captain; they still have an effect on their team mates and can prove to be of great assistance in terms of leadership and proving a good example to your team-mates. But as important a role as the media will have you believe? No, I don't think so.

Ferdinand succeeded Terry as England captain

This issue has been brought to a head by Rio Ferdinand's ongoing back problems, that don't look likely to defuse any time soon. So who else could Capello have given the armband to? Gerrard? Lampard? Maybe even Rooney? In all honesty, none of them are especially 'good' captains - they don't bring anything special to the plate that Terry already doesn't, especially Lampard who's been in the same Chelsea side that has been led by Terry for the last 6 or 7 seasons. As badly as Capello has mismanaged this situation, something that can't be denied, John Terry is the stand-out leader in the England camp. It's evidently visible to notice Terry's influence within the Chelsea dressing room, especially under Jose Mourinho's helm at Stamford Bridge where the London born defender excelled and led his club to a number of trophies. And then under Avram Grant's stint with Chelsea, there were several rumours that emerged suggesting that, as the now West Ham boss began to lose control over the dressing room, Terry would often take matters into his own hands and lead the team talks in the dressing room before and at half time of their games. Terry is a figure that demands respect, and in the main, he receives it. Whatever personal issues certain England team-mates might have with him, and I'm sure there's plenty of them, I doubt there's many of them daft enough to question Terry's significant superiority in terms of leadership abilities and the manner in which he organises the team. To regrettably quote the former England manager Steve McClaren, Terry is "a natural leader".

And to those who question John Terry's apparently 'loose' morals, I can diffuse that argument pretty swiftly and effectively. If we were awarding the captain's armband to the individual within the England camp that had the least allegations and scandals to their name, well we wouldn't be left with many candidates would we? Let's be honest, JT is an appropriate leader for the England national team, they're a perfect match for one another.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Disgraceful 'Old Firm' scenes should come as no surprise

Recent Old Firm trouble sets an ugly and unruly example of the Scottish game. Whilst roots of the violence can be traced back to a century of sectarianism and religious division between the two Glasgow clubs.

Written by Matt Scrafton

Both Celtic and Rangers have recently agreed to a range of supposedly innovative measures in an attempt to tackle and combat the trouble that was witnessed in the recent Scottish Cup match between the two SPL heavyweights.

The violence was apparently so serious it was met with a ferocious backlash of political scorn; as several Scottish ministers felt it necessary to weigh in with their ill-informed views, when usually they wouldn't cast an eye over the Old Firm fixture. As a result, the proposals were agreed at an "emergency summit" involving key ministers, representatives of the two clubs, the police and of course the Scottish football authorities; the body who are usually armed with dealing with such trivialities. All this after last Wednesday nights confrontation saw a violent altercation between senior officials, three Rangers players were sent off, 13 yellow cards, arrests of 34 supporters inside the stadium and even allegations of the use of racist remarks by Celtic manager Neil Lennon; just to top it all off. Sounds lovely doesn't it?

If the authorities really deem it necessary to get to the bottom of the vast array of problems that are unleashed when this fixture is played, they could at least do a proper job of it. They can play the match behind closed doors if they really want, or close public houses prior to kick-off, or even arrange for a more heavier police presence. The truth is, none of it will work. It's obvious to what the real reasons are behind the problems that arise whenever this fixture is played. According to official national statistics, "the violence, sectarianism, alcohol misuse and domestic abuse dramatically increases when the two "Old Firm" teams play each other". Well it's not really a statistic of sort, but it's certainly something we already know.

The key word from that quote, is of course - "sectarianism".

I don't intend to insult your intelligence, but if you're not aware; the rivalry between the two clubs has roots a lot deeper than just your ordinary local sporting derby. It is infused with a series of complex disputes, mostly based on the religious division between the Catholic core that makes up the majority of Celtic's support and the Protestants at Rangers, as well as Northern-Irish based politics (Loyalist and Republican).

An Anti-Poppy banner at Celtic Park which bares the slogan "Your deeds would shame all the devils in hell, Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan. No bloodstained poppy on our hoops".
This is the key aspect of this infamous football rivalry; the level of madness surrounding Old Firm matches means what would normally be regarded as basic football 'dust-ups' elsewhere, have far more wider and dangerous ramifications. As you'd expect with such deep cultural and religious tensions between the two sides, the match has been at the centre of a plethora of chaos and controversy throughout its entangled past. In 1980, opposing fans thought it appropriate to brawl on the Hamden pitch in the aftermath of a victory for Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final. In more recent times, several missiles were thrown onto the pitch by Celtic fans in a 1999 league fixture, one of which struck referee Hugh Dallas, forcing the game to be stopped whilst four Celtic fans had earlier invaded the field of play to confront the unfortunate referee who had found himself at the centre of this hotbed of hatred. The Old Firm rivalry fuels far more assaults on Old Firm derby days than any other normal British league or cup fixture, and some deaths in the past have come about as a direct result of this fixture. An activist groups that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow, has reported that on Old Firm weekends violent attacks increase "ninefold over normal levels".

The two sets of supporters engage in archaic chanting, in Celtic's case they encourage and readily support the continuation of the IRA on Old Firm match day. There is no room for religion within 'sport' (something that is supposedly set up as entertainment for the masses). In Glasgow, more than any other British city, football fans seem to spend more time obsessing about their neighbouring club than they do about their own. Now, both teams are in the spotlight and predictably not on the account of the more endearing and entertaining side of the game.

So what is the answer? The Scottish Football Association are seemingly more concerned with the current declining status of their Premier League; with consistent talks taking place to discuss what can be done to revamp their aging and failing system. Some have claimed that the only way to 'save' Scottish football would be to expel Rangers and Celtic altogether. Whilst this notion seems far too extreme and arguably a brainless idea; there is certainly a bigger problem that exists that has failed to be tackled for far too long now. The two conclusions that we come to and seem most appropriate are that 1) Celtic and Rangers need each other to exist and 2) Scottish football does not need Celtic and Rangers to exist. Glasgow's not-so-dirty-secret (sectarianism) is open for all to see, and for too long now the footballing and governing authorities have turned a blind eye to what is, in essence a severe case of entrenched racism fueled by alcohol. Discussing the expulsion of the Old Firm clubs from the Scottish league system would be utterly pointless and as a topic of debate is a non-starter - as who exactly would have them? I know the English certainly wouldn't...

I'm not pointing the finger at either club, I think we can all agree that both teams have been equally responsible. Then again, when I begin to think about it - I'm not quite sure which club I loathe more, they're equally as detestable as each other.

Then again, Rangers do have El-Hadji Diouf...