Football’s Away Days

Every fan remembers their first away day. I was part of the first generation to grow up away from the terraces, and instead experience the comforts of the all-seater stadium with its ample legroom and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. You can imagine then how much of a culture shock it was when I went to my first ever away game in the late 90’s – an F.A. Cup game at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground.

The first thing I remember thinking was – let’s be honest – this place is a dump. Following the considerable commute to North Wales I decided to visit the toilets. However rather than being confronted by a row of glistening urinals and cubicles, I was met by a brick wall and the stench of urine and beer. As I sat down at my seat feeling a bit dazed and confused I realized that something else was wrong.  Where was the legroom?! The seat in front was mere inches away from my legs and the man next to me was virtually sat on my knee. However once you get over this, you begin to realize that away days are a bit different. There is a special atmosphere amongst the fans. The acoustics of a tightly packed away support in a rickety old stand behind the goal generate an atmosphere rarely paralleled at home games. For instance, old-fashioned grounds like Hillsborough, Oakwell and the City Ground are not necessarily the most pleasing on the eye but the atmosphere they create is often electric. There’s a certain something, a je ne sais quoi, in the air at away games, which is hard to describe. Whether it’s a Tuesday night away at Chesterfield in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with just a handful of fans or an F.A. Cup tie away at the Emirates with a travelling army, the experience is incredible.

Indeed, in my opinion some of the best away days have come at the older, more decrepit grounds, and with not necessarily the largest away followings. Travelling to a midweek game miles away from home with a group of fans who have often dedicated their entire weekly wages to follow their team, the hardcore and the lifeblood of any team, you realise those who surround you are the real diehards. If you go to enough away games you will start to recognize the same faces and distinctive shouts of ‘Get into ‘em!’. These people represent the soul of British football. These supporters would never even contemplate missing a game because it’s on television or because their team is languishing in mid-table. Obviously all clubs need casual supporters in order to flourish. This is the type of fan who goes to one or two away games for the local derbies and attends home games when the club is playing well. They provide a vital revenue stream for the club, by purchasing tickets, programmes, merchandise and so on. It is however those fans who rigidly attend away games, no matter what, who give the club its identity.

Away days are therefore something that every true football fan relishes. Sure, the food and the drink can be outrageously priced (£4 for a roast vegetable and cauliflower pie at the Emirates anyone?), and you have to pay £3 for a programme which features a usually error filled two pages on your team. Despite this, the away day is engrained in the football fans psyche and is indeed a rite of passage for all fans. The away day transcends social barriers and for 90 minutes you are among people who live and breathe football. The passion on display is startlingly refreshing in this age of Sky Sports and inflated prices. This is not to say that home games are undervalued by fans, nevertheless there is no better feeling than coming away from a rival’s ground surrounded by likeminded fans with 3 points in the bag – it even makes the arduous trek home seem bearable.

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Ambition? Why Howson leaving has caused so much ire…

When people in the future look back at the departure of Jonny Howson from Elland Road, hindsight may get the better of them. Should Jonny not succeed in the Premier League, hampered by his injury, little will be said. Should Leeds United manage to get promoted from The Championship, Howson’s departure may become little more than a footnote in the annals of Leeds United, overwhelmed by the end result. However, as I feel, this day will be looked upon in the future as a genuine low point at Leeds United, on par with Woodgate’s departure that symbolised the end of the ‘living the dream’.

For a man who inspired such extreme opinions, Howson’s transfer to Norwich has inspired an incredible outpouring of grief. Social networks were ablaze with anti-Bates sentiment when initial news of the transfer came out of the club, and on Saturday, a size-able protest aimed at Bates gathered before the Ipswich match and continued to voice itself throughout the match. One of the moments which symbolised the extent of the fan’s ire was the seconds that followed McCormack’s equalizer. As is natural, following a turnaround to lead 2-1, those in the Kop celebrated, but immediately followed this by chanting “Bates out” once again.

Protests existed at the beginning of the season, but tailed off. Why did Howson’s sale symbolise such a momentous shift in the mindset of Leeds fans? In the view of this writer, Jonny Howson, Leeds United club captain, is simply the symbol of much of the success that has occurred at that club in the last five years. Not only this, but Howson had great potential to be the player that Leeds built the next few years of the club around.

Carlisle, Jonny Howson scored the two goals that sent Leeds to Wembley under Gary McAllister. Manchester United, the day that is still sung about around the goal, Howson played the impeccable, incredibly under-rated long pass that led to Beckford’s match winning goal. Bristol Rovers, Howson scores the equalizing goal that led to the win Leeds required to gain promotion from League One. Last season, Howson scored ten goals from midfield to supplement the strikers in what was ultimately a failed joust at the play-offs.

This aspect of last season truly revealed how great a player Howson could ultimately become. Simon Grayson, making him vice-captain and ultimately captain of the club, clearly saw Howson as the first name in any match day squad. In naming sides, he sacrificed prolific strikers in order to play one up front, with Howson slipping in behind Becchio. It is here that Howson revealed the force Leeds fans hoped he would become, showing himself to be a potentially great trequartista, playing as an advanced playmaker. As part of a front four of himself, Becchio, Max Gradel and Robert Snodgrass, Howson brought the other three men into play, caused havoc on the opposition back-line and looked simply unstoppable when running at a center back. Played in what had become his ‘natural’ position, given his forced adaptation into a central midfielder after a youth career playing as a striker, Howson looked a player worthy of building a team around.

Whilst he played incredibly infrequently in this role this season, on the few occasions he did he looked just as devastating. Against Nottingham Forest, for example, only the second time he appeared there, with Becchio ahead of him for the first time, Howson ran the game, even scoring a spectacular volley from the edge of the area against one of the league’s top goalkeepers. Injured in the next match, Leeds fans hoped for the best when he returned. A bright future seemed ahead, with a team built around this trequartista.

Yet Howson will now ply his trade at Norwich City. His potential is such, and especially considering that he came through the academy, that I feel this is a momentous event. Howson, upon recovery from his injury, could prove to be the most astute signing of Lambert’s yet. Genuinely a player to build a team around, Howson could easily prove to be a Premier League standard modern attacking midfielder. His potential, given the improvement over the last year alone, is almost limitless, and you can easily understand why Leeds fans are so unhappy at his departure.

Harry Redknapp arriving in court

Lead the nation? They should not even represent it

4/5 on. Evens. 15/8 by far the highest. Harry Redknapp, given the success he has had at Tottenham, is most certainly the current favourite to become the next permanent manager of England after the departure of Fabio Capello in the summer. However, on this day of trial and tribulation, we at Spoughts felt it apt to consider this seemingly inevitable appointment. The conclusion? Precedent suggests that it is not entirely acceptable to see Redknapp as the next manager.

As Harry Redknapp stands in the dock, accused of receiving bungs that he avoided mentioning for tax reasons, alongside his former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, thoughts will not be cast back to an event over eleven years ago. We’re nothing but picky here, however, and whenever rumours abound over Redknapp’s imminent appointment, minds cast back to the trial of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer.

Whether Harry Redknapp is guilty of the crime he stands accused of or not is not the issue at hand. On the 2nd of November, in the year 2000, Peter Taylor, England caretaker manager, was told by the Football Association that he would not be allowed to include the two Leeds players in his squad for the friendly match against Italy. They stood accused of a racially motivated assault on the streets of Leeds, and the FA therefore told Taylor that whilst the trial was ongoing, the two could not be involved in the England set up. Yet there has not been any consideration of the implications of this precedent on the employment of Harry Redknapp.

Understandably, given the nature of what Redknapp stands accused of, compared to the supposed crime of Bowyer and Woodgate, leeway could be given. The trial may be over well before Capello leaves. Yet the manner in which the next appointment will be made gives cause to our caution. Capello has already announced his departure, and even if one were to suggest the FA is a mildly incompetent, it is unrealistic to suggest that discussions have not even reached preliminary stages as to who the future appointment may be. Redknapp, standing trial in an English court of law, much like Bowyer and Woodgate all those years ago, remains the favourite, despite the fact that England previously wouldn’t have two potentially guilty men represent their team, never mind lead it into the next World Cup.

What Redknapp stands accused of does, however, pale in comparison to what Bowyer and Woodgate stood trial for, and this may be where the discrepancy occurs. The Football Association, so keen to stamp out racist action ten years ago, has however, allowed a situation to arise by which the man leading England into the most imminent tournament could find himself in court for a similar crime. John Terry has had his file passed over to the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the Anton Ferdinand incident, by which he stands potentially accused of using racially aggravated language against Ferdinand. This has led to a series of racially motivation incidents involving Chelsea fans over the previous few months, and therefore, Terry could be seen, in an extreme light, as responsible for inciting these.

Terry remains captain, and no discussions have truly taken place in the media as to the potential for him to lose ‘the armband’. When compared to Woodgate and Bowyer, the positive aspect to Terry’s issues is that he has not, as of the time of writing, been brought to trial. There is no guarantee that he will be. Chances are, however, that if he is, it will be between now and the European Championships. In our view, should Terry’s case come to trial, he should not be allowed to represent the nation, never mind captain the side.

Given the potential for the timing of Terry’s potential problems, he should not be involved in the preparations for the European Championships – until the matter is solved, a defence should not be reliant on a player who by FA precedent should not be allowed to play for the side. Furthermore, discussions should not take place with Redknapp until his trial ends, as to do so would be a violation of the same precedent. This is why I feel it is unacceptable for either man to have a role to play in the present or near future of the England set-up.