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Category: Football

The curious case of Mark Bolton

Up until a few weeks ago Mark Bolton had been the front man for Spanish Football on Sky Sports. He had been in the position for six years and he had something that wasn’t exactly the norm within the company – an opinion and a personality. That has seemingly ended his stint with Sky.

On twitter he posted on June 3 ‘After 6 years the season just past will be my final one presenting Spanish Football for Sky Sports. I will not be renewing my contract.’ and would go on to use twitlonger to further he message:

Mark Bolton will not be renewing his contract at Sky Sports.

After 6 successful and enjoyable years presenting Spanish football for Sky Sports, this past season will be my last.
My current Sky contract expires in August and I will not be renewing it.

Spanish football enjoys greater popularity now than ever and whilst sad to leave a product for which I have great affection, I am proud to have played a significant role in its development over the past few years. I am grateful to Sky Sports for their support in allowing me to do so.

Having expressed a long felt desire to take on new challenges, I have concluded these will be more successfully pursued outside of Sky Sports.

I wish the team every success.

Mark Bolton.

All seems fair until he posted this on June 22, ‘Sky Sports told me Im (sic) “Very talented & excellent on screen” but that Im (sic) “Anti-authoritarian” & that they’d decided to not renew my contract.’ So basically they didn’t like his attitude and wanted rid of a potential troublemaker within the company. Well that is their right of course but it seems clear enough that they would prefer a bland ident-i-kit presenter to someone with a bit of spark and that is a shame. As someone who has been labelled as similar in the past I can see his frustraition. Sometimes you can’t fight the regime even when you are right. People do not like to be told when they are wrong – certainly by people who they are paying – and the ability to know when to shut up is one I might not possess either.

There is a fine piece over at WSC entitled A rare good broadcaster leaves Sky Sports which is right on the money. Whilst I don’t put Mark Bolton up in James Richardson’s class – Bolton had something. Now we are left on Sky with Stelling (who is fine but not anywhere near as good when taken out of the Soccer Saturday studios), Jones (who is fine but nothing special) and Chamberlain (who seemingly in my eyes is the best of the three). I haven’t included Shepherd as he’s just not up to it, seemed a strange hire from the start and he just doesn’t fit.

So what will Sky do? They have yet to announce if they intend to hire from within in the football presenting team to replace Richard Keys full-time and now they have the Spanish football job available too. Will they continue with the status quo on EPL games with the current mis-mash of Jones/Chamberlain or will they give one of them the main EPL job and the other Spanish football? My fear is that Ed Chamberlain will be the new face of Spanish football on Sky with Dave Jones being the main EPL anchor with Ben Shepherd doing the odd game when needs be.

All in all the whole Sky Sports Football output has gone downhill in the past year. Losing Ian Darke to ESPN in the United States was the first blow then Keys and Gray whilst not being everyone’s cup of tea were well known and consistent. The parade of co-commentators since Gray has left has been bewildering and the yo-yo of Jones and Chamberlain as the face of the channel’s most important and iconic sport event has not sat well.

To be honest I’m disappointed in Sky with how they have dealt with the whole football department in the past six months or so. You have to hope Mark Bolton turns up somewhere soon and that Sky Sports can get their house in order sooner rather than later.

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Millwall v Portsmouth on Boxing Day. Oh the irony…

So the fixture list has come out this morning and there are certain dates and games that you look for as a football fan. Opening day, when you play your rivals, who you play on the last day and the Christmas period games.

Pompey open up with a trip to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough. We traditionally do well up there. We play the Scum as the last game before Christmas at home – I’m very confident PC Plod will be distinctly unhappy with that. Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday this year so no games are being played on that day so Saturday 17th December will be a very big shopping day. Not exactly the day when you want Pompey and the Scum to face up with 3,000 odd Scummers flooding into Pompey. The last time the sides played each other in the home of the Royal Navy there were riots. Fratton Park is not an easy ground to police certainly considering Fratton Station is a good 10-15 walk away down Goldsmith Avenue.

Still that might just be the warm-up act for the police as the Met will have to deal with Millwall v Portsmouth on Boxing Day. Millwall and Pompey have been rivals since the hooliganism heydays of the 70s and 80s. They were known as two of the worst crews about and boy they liked that reputation. Getting them to play on Boxing Day when a lot of the old guard may well be able to go is not smart. Also the fact there are no trains on Boxing Day mean there is no easy way to get the visiting fans out of the capital as most will now be arriving by car. It just seems a bit dumb. Pompey v Scum just before Christmas and then Millwall v Pompey on Boxing Day. The fixture computer was clearly trying to get the local bobbies some overtime.

Pompey open and finish away from home as we’ll be celebrating our promotion and Championship in front of Steve McClaren and Nottingham Forest on the final day of the season (which is in April) at the City Ground.

This is the day when football fans start to really get up for next season but as a Pompey fan it is kinda hard. We still know nothing about our new owners and have something like nine or ten players under contract. Being a Portsmouth fan is like being addicted to caffeine. You try and ween yourself off and all you get is a horrible headache. I weened myself off caffeine last year and I also became detached from Portsmouth Football Club. Both moves have been extremely beneficial for my health. I’ve always said once the crooks leave then I’ll be back so it looks like the crooks have gone but we’ll see what CSI are like before I start taking the PFC drug full-time again…

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This Alex McLeish to Aston Villa saga…

Why o why o why would Randy Lerner want to hire a manager who oversaw a team that on paper were good enough to stay in the Premier League relegated? It is the obvious question that still doesn’t seem to have been answered. If Lerner does indeed want McLeish then the more pertinent question would be, ‘Does Randy Lerner give a damn about his club?’

I know managers of the ilk of Martin O’Neill are few and far between. He knew the game and was ambitious. He wanted to compete with the very top clubs both in the UK and Europe and he knew to do this you needed investment. Randy Lerner thought it could be done on the cheap. One is a successful businessman and the other a very successful manager. One was right and one was oh so very wrong. Cue O’Neill leaving and Aston Villa flirting with relegation with a very similar squad to that which has finished sixth in back to back years.

Aston Villa should on paper be a terrific job. Plenty of quality players not withstanding the fact that both Ashley Young and Stewart Downing will leave this summer. However no-one seems to be queuing up for the position. McLeish quit Birmingham at the weekend amid strong speculation that he had agreed to take the Aston Villa job and wanted to ensure he could take the job – with the likelihood that Birmingham City would not have given permission for him to speak to Villa let alone take the job.

If I was Birmingham City Chairman Carson Yeung I would be looking very closely at his contract and put the manager if possible on Gardening Leave for as long as possible. If the contract is as watertight as it should be they could stop McLeish taking any other job until his contract was finished. This would mean paying him a lot of money that they could not pay out but sometimes you have to do what is right. The chairman has the money so I’d dig my heels in just to prove a point.

The best scenario is obviously Villa spea to McLeish but decide he’s not the right man for the job. This would leave McLeish out of work and Birmingham fans laughing. McLeish is not a great manager and is not the right man for Aston Villa. The right man might be hard to get but they need to go and find him. If Randy Lerner wants to make Villa a big club again that is. If he is happy to just stay in the Premier League then the likes of McLeish would be fine – although the fact he’s been relegated twice out of said league should be noted.

The whole situation is just strange and I have no idea why Villa would want McLeish but maybe that’s because I still see Villa as a big club. I’m guessing Randy Lerner doesn’t any more.

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Howard Webb set for Manchester United v Chelsea call

As the Daily Mail put it, ‘Howard Webb is set to be revealed as the controversial choice to take charge of Sunday’s potential title decider between Manchester United and Chelsea.’ However as we all know the Daily Mail are idiots so lets look at the claim that it is a controversial choice.

Last year Howard Webb refereed both the Champions League Final and the World Cup Final. Therefore he is widely considered clearly to be one of the very best officials in the game. He was England’s representative at the tournament and clearly has done a good job on both his big occasions. Yes some might say he let a bit too much go in the World Cup Final but still it wasn’t an awful performance. His display in the Champions League Final was spot on.

So having the perceived best or at least one of the best refs handle the biggest domestic game of the season is controversial? Are you kidding me Daily Mail? Do they know what controversial actually means? Who else was going to get the game? Can the FA find a ref who hasn’t pissed off Fergie at some point?

It was as clear as day that Howard Webb would get this appointment. It’s not controversial, it’s just the right thing to do. Webb has not been given nearly as many big games this season as they have spread it around but this is the biggest domestic game of the season and therefore it is a bit of a no brainer to put the #1 guy in there.

Sometimes I despair. I really do.

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Racist French Football? The latest shame for an increasingly racist country.

As first reported by the French website Mediapart (in French) and reported this morning in depth by The Guardian. It seems as though senior officials in the French FA were trying to limit the amount of non white footballers playing the game at a youth level.

According to the sources cited on the French website, the manager of the national side and former captain of the side Laurent Blanc is quoted as saying, “our culture, our history.”

When speaking about the World Champion Spanish, they say: ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no blacks.'”

If these quotes are true then his position is untenable. The French Media Officer has categorically denied that Blanc has said these things but the eyes of the footballing world is now glaring at him and waiting for his next move.

The lead of the story says, “For the top brass in French football, the issue is settled: there are too many blacks, too many Arabs, and not enough white players in French football.” Wow. Just wow.

It has been a terrible year for the French footballing wise with one of the most pathetic World Cup showings of all time. The French quite possibly should not have even been there as Ireland were beaten in the play-off by that handball ‘goal’ from Thierry Henry. So to go to the World Cup in South Africa and clearly a) not respect the manager and b) not respect the shirt disgusts me – and I’m not even French.

However the great French team that won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships in 2000 were led by non-natives. Zidane, Vieira, Henry, Wiltord, Djorkaeff etc… but now they want to make the team more white? This is not good. Not good at all.

This comes off of the back of the ban of the burka not too long ago. Is France becoming the most racist country in Europe? Over 50% of respondents do a survey earlier this month said that there are too many migrants in the country and many migrants are being rejected from jobs just because of their surnames. This is not fair nor is it right. The riots in 2005 showed something but the undertones are becoming stronger and I must say I find the whole French situation very worrying.

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Gary Neville hired by SkySports to fill the Andy Gray void

So SkySports have decided that don’t want to bring us good coverage of football any more. Ok I’m down with that. There can be no other explanation for this appointment. Gary Neville is woefully inept and is only a few months removed from playing football at the top flight level. I know he only played twice this season and should have seen red on both occasions only for the referee to bottle it but still, technically he played at the top-level this season.

SkySports have been doing a bit of a merry-go-round trying to fill the hole left when they hired Andy Gray with the likes of Ray Wilkins, Kevin Phillips, Big Sam and Cookie Coleman all sitting in the co-commentators chair. They seem to have not promoted Smudger Alan Smith who is a first-rate co-commentator and instead gone for a plethora of names hoping one of them would stick. This culminated with one of the worst co-commentary calls I’ve ever heard on Tuesday night with Ray Wilkins pathetically biased and woefully inept calling the Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur game. I think Ray is a first-rate pundit but clearly not good to be on the gantry.

The Gary Neville appointment had been rumoured for months and now it is official. I know there have been excellent people who have come straight off the sporting arena to become enjoyable and informative commentators. Martin Brundle is the clearest example of this but even Steve Cram, Jonathan Edwards, Andy Gray back in the day, Michael Atherton and the legend that in Richie Benaud all stopped playing and went straight into calling action live on air (although Richie did have a BBC course behind him) but still – they’ve all done a great job so why can’t Gary Neville?

The problem is his impartiality will always be in doubt. None of those guys listed above would ever have had their impartiality questioned to any significant degree even though some of them had horses in the events they were calling (Martin Brundle managed David Coulthard for example) but listening to them you wouldn’t have got that sense. Gary Neville will no doubt call a Manchester United game early in his career and the first controversial decision that goes against the team it will be interesting to see how he reacts. Also the first time he calls any player by their nickname it will grate and the rest of the watching world will call him unprofessional.

This screams of an ill thought-out decision by the new powers that be at SkySports. They want to rid themselves of the Keys & Gray era but by doing so they’ll have already pissed off 90% of their viewers and in turn everyone will be baying for Neville’s blood the moment he makes a mistake. They can laud him all they like but until he shows us he’s great – everyone will think he’s crap and not only that – biased crap at that.

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Ashley Cole – Is it possible to dislike him even more than we all did previously?

I’m pretty sure that he is the most disliked football around and tat is quite an accomplishment. Many footballers are disliked by fans of rival teams but the general public couldn’t care less. Ashley Cole has managed to transcend sport and is just disliked by everyone. I’m not even sure that Chelsea fans like him that much. Terrific footballer, yes. Best left-back in the world, quite possibly. Bit of a prat, without a doubt. Hated by most, yeah I’d say so.

We all know about his extra marital affairs that caused his divorce. We all know about him skipping out on Arsenal for mega-money. Then a few weeks ago he shot a work experience and seems to have pretty much got away with it. I’m pretty sure if I shot anyone then the police may want to get involved. Had the work experience kid shot Ashley Cole then all hell would’ve broken loose. So he gets away with that which is to be honest more than annoying and now this.

Whilst I do not generally buy newspapers I do read most of them online and therefore I do read The Sun and today a headline with, ‘Ashley Cole’s plan to woo Cheryl back’ is easily enough for me to click on. The fact is that he thinks that buying property in Dubai will woo her back, the divorce was all a stunt as she had to show that she was doing something and is extremely confident that they’ll re-marry when retires. What world does this guy live in?

So he thinks that when he retires and isn’t playing football any more she’ll run back to him and they’ll live happily ever after in Dubai? Well in a way you have to admire his optimism or maybe it’s just self-delusional. Either way the smugness and arrogance really pisses me off and he always pisses me off. He has it all, he can be a hero to many but instead chooses to act like a total jerk.

And to top it all off – the photo used in the article. Well lets just say they make him look like a right arrogant twit. Nice editing by whoever edited that.

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Mark Halsey is the best referee in the game but even he can have a bad day

It is not exactly a secret that Mark Halsey is in my opinion the best referee in the British game. I have thought this for the best part of the last decade. He lets the game flow and seems to realise that it is a man’s game and allows games to get physical. He isn’t overly officious and seems to understand the game better than most. Having said all that though his performance in the Wolves v Tottenham Hotspur game this afternoon was disappointing and when the best is making big mistakes then we have a problem.

How Alan Hutton wasn’t sent off for pulling a Wolves player down when shooting on goal in the six yard box is beyond me. Halsey saw it and gave the spot kick therefore he had to send Hutton off. It was without a shadow of a doubt a clear goalscoring opportunity, which is what it says in the laws of the game but only a yellow was shown. Halsey told Sky at Half-Time that he didn’t think it was a clear goalscoring opportunity. Well when a player is shooting from six yards with only the keeper to beat isn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity then I’m puzzled to put it mildly.

Later in the game Wolves seem to have equalised but a foul on the keeper was given and the goal chalked off. A poor decision again. Following his off the field physical problems though I was disgusted by the Wolves fans chanting, ‘You’re not fit to referee.’ I thought that was in very poor taste.

The thing is though that referees are deciding games and livelihoods. In the past week several high-profile referees have made pretty awful mistakes that have potentially impacted who wins the league and who stays up. It isn’t good enough. I watch a lot of north American sport and the level of officiating is far higher over there all in all. Having said that I was watching Daryl Harper the other day and the Australian umpire had an absolute shocker. His knowledge of the LBW law seems to be shall we say lacking.

As an aside I just typed in ‘Daryl Harper’ on google and the first option was ‘Daryl Harper worst umpire’ – hilarious.

Going back to EPL refs. Mark Clattenberg is seen by many to be our #2 behind Howard Webb but his decision to not send Wayne Rooney off last week when he saw the incident was mind-boggling. Martin Atkinson’s decision not to send off David Luiz on Tuesday was nearly as bad and the assistant referee in the Arsenal game yesterday flagging Arshavin offside when he wasn’t coupled with not seeing Titus Bramble’s two-handed shove in the back of the same player when clean through and in the box was woeful.

Referees will not be right 100% of the time. We know that and we always go through phases of high-profile mistakes but these are not hard ones. These are incidents the referees are seeing but not making the right decision and that it where the worry comes in. Let’s be blunt here. In the early game Phil Dowd should’ve flashed his red card on more than one occasion in the first half of Liverpool v Manchester United but seemed scared to do so. He saw all the incidents and gave three yellows when two were dead cert reds and one was a nip/tuck red/yellow.

The refs are seeing the big game-changing incidents but are not acting on them accordingly. That isn’t good enough for full-time officials and something needs to be done about it – and soon.

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Half Time Burger? I don’t think so. How about tofu on a stick instead?

I suspect many of you will have read the widely reported article this morning that Forest Green Rovers have banned red meat from the ground in an attempt to promote healthy living amongst their fans. The ban on players eating red meat has been running for a few weeks but now it is being spread to the fans. the BBC News version of the story is here.

It is certainly an interesting decision by the owner, who coincidentally is a vegan who has made his millions running green electricity company Ecotricity. He says that is will promote healthy living and will move the club further along in their ambitions to become a green company. What is doesn’t do though is promote choice. Surely he could bring in this food and give those interested the option to eat greener and give up their Half Time burger or hot dog with onions. He says that he believes it is a step-forward for the club whereas we all know it is in fact a step backwards. More choice is the future. Less choice is the past. (Vote Yes to AV).

What I’m interested to see is how this affects attendances at Forest Green matches and also what away fans will think if they didn’t know the news before making the trip to the aptly green named ‘The New Lawn’ where they play their home games. Will fans take this lying down or will there be an uprising against the owner? Will home attendances suffer as casual fans stay away? Is the Half Time meat pie vital to the football afternoon or evening to some fans?

Many questions but it’s a bold step by this man. One that is admirable but also lamentable. I suspect many fans will now stream out of the ground at Half Time and go to the nearest burger van. If you are a burger van owner that has a pitch near to this ground then your Matchday profits are going to go through the roof. This will undoubtably lose money for the club, the question though is will it lose enough money to concern the millionaire owner? Somehow I doubt it.

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Sky Sports News Transfer Deadline Day – It’s Porn for Men at Work

Twice every year football fans get themselves worked up into a lather about football transfers. As the Transfer Window slowly comes to a close hope and panic are abundant amongst football fans and Sky Sports News sees their viewership go through the roof. Every football fan with Sky and a PC will have it on in the background via SkyPlayer and most will go home tonight and watch it until the deadline passes. Something always happens from the famous Robinho transfer to Man City to Lassana Diarra signing for Arsenal 90 mins after deadline. We’ve even seen players sign days later because players have fallen asleep and missed flights. It all goes off.

Today we have two massive transfers on the cusp of happening. Fernando Torres is expected to move to Chelsea in a £48million transfer package that will include Nicolas Anelka going the other way. Also Liverpool are tying up a £26.5million move for Luis Suarez and have apparently bid a quite mind-boggling £35million for Andy Carroll from Newcastle.

These are the headlines but players are moving all over the country today and Sky Sports News will be bringing us the news first. Everyone who is a Sky Sports News Deadline Day veteran will know that as the window reaches its final hours Jim White will be the man to take us through to the end. He has become the face of Deadline Day and really makes the whole show just a bit more exciting. Fans of all clubs will either be hoping for some incomings and hoping that no-one leaves. Big names are still in the mix for moves today even though no fees have been agreed and there is only seven hours or so until it is all over.

As a Pompey fan I expect nothing today. Well nothing good anyway. However the Torres and Carroll moves will keep my interest peaked and you just never know what’ll happen as the day unfolds. You can watch porn whenever you like but Transfer Deadline Day comes about but twice a year. I just wonder who Spurs are trying to sign on the sly after the Rafael Van Der Vaart move on the last deadline day and we all know Harry Redknapp has form…

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