Ched Evans – The Layman’s opinion (pardon the pun)

So there’s been a lot of discussion and debate about the latest incident of a sportsman behaving badly, Ched Evans. I have read and heard a lot of things recently, so much so that I have been compelled to resume my blogging to add my own two cents. I bumped into a parent of one of the players of my soccer school, https://www.facebook.com/ProActiveSoccerSchool (shameless plug) and after the obligatory ‘Happy Holidays’ talk, we somehow got talking about this case. This prompted me to revisit my ‘Drinkers Degree’ law studies and take a closer look at the case.

I embarked on some extensive research (typed ‘Ched Evans case’ on Google’) and found the case notes. Feel free to peruse yourself -https://www.crimeline.info/case/r-v-ched-evans-chedwyn-evans. I read the shortened version of it and to sum up for the layman, (someone not a member of the legal profession, much like myself), with excerpts from the case, it goes like this:

Drunk Boy bumps into drunk girl at ‘chuck out’ time on a night out

Said drunk couple engage in some mild and obligatory flirting before accepting the inevitable and go home together. McDonald, who was also on trial, gave evidence that the complainant approached him in Queen Street. He asked her where she was going. She replied by asking where he was going. He said that he was going to his hotel and she said that she would go with him. Hardly Mills and Boon material.

So far nothing unusual.

Drunk Couple then enter a taxi to go to a hotel paid for by drunk boy’s friend, who so happens to be Ched Evans, an average footballer unbeknownst to most football fans until two months ago but now a name at the lips of even the most casual football fan. Drunk Boy texts his footballer friend something akin to ‘I’m in, come fill your boots’ if you pardon yet another pun. Footballer friend naturally says yes. Knowing Ched Evans’ goal scoring record, he probably jumped at the chance of an open goal.

Drunk Girl and drunk boy have sex amongst other things, and then Ched turns up, ‘blags’ a second set of keys to the room and has his way with her too.

A key point here is that two men have now had sex with this lady and in both cases, there has been no struggle and she has willingly participated. When she was asked if the applicant could join in, the complainant clearly replied “Yes”, although I must say here that this was Ched’s testimony so could be untrue. The hotel doorman testified to hearing two people enjoying sex (Dunk Girl and Ched) and didn’t make any comment about hearing unusual noises. I wonder how long he stayed listening for, but that’s another topic of discussion altogether.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Drunk Boy and Ched Evans were both charged with rape, but Drunk Boy was found not guilty whilst Ched wasn’t so lucky. This was strange to me when I found out, but after reading the case notes, it seems to make sense (sort of). You see, the issue of rape nowadays centers on actual or implied consent given and because Drunk Girl willingly went into a taxi and then a hotel room with Drunk Boy, a stranger she’d bumped into on the streets after a heavy night out, it is fair to say she displayed various levels of consent. She was obviously drunk and a casual drug user, (The CCTV footage showed that while she was inside the kebab shop she was unsteady on her feet, at one point she fell over and landed on the floor and She was naked and had urinated in the bed and The tests also revealed traces of cocaine and cannabis) and a little needy (While en route to the room the porter heard her say to McDonald “You’re not going to leave me, are you?”) but that should not affect her right to say yes or no.

Although there were no signs of struggle or injuries (The doctor found no injuries to the complainant), the jury decided that Drunk Girl was not in a state to consent to sexual intercourse. This was also despite the fact that Ched Evans testified to having performed oral sex on a stranger straight after his friend had just finished having sex with her. When she was asked if the applicant (Evans) could join in, the complainant (Drunk Girl) clearly replied “Yes”. McDonald stopped. The complainant asked the applicant to perform oral sex on her. He did so and then they had sexual intercourse. Now in my opinion, anyone who could admit to performing such an act in such a situation should be found not guilty straightaway…

Regardless, no consent equals rape so according to the law, Ched Evans was found guilty of rape and served his prescribed time in prison.

I’m not here to debate whether it was the correct decision or not. I am mainly expressing my dismay at the vitriol from various people and groups over the fact that after serving his time, the guy wants to get back to work. Various clubs, including his former club Sheffield United have tried to offer him a way back, and each time, they have been forced to backtrack because of the negative reaction from the press, normal fans and even celebrities. I love Jess Ennis but her and her fellow celebrities who have got involved in this and condemned the clubs have gone down in my estimation Kevin Keegan style (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZFcaIx6oEY).

A person commits a crime. He is punished for it and serves his time. Upon release, he tried to get a job so he can carry on with his life. This happens everyday and I don’t see 60,000 people signing petitions or companies threatening to stop their association with the shops they visit. The only difference is the person in question here is a footballer. Why can’t he go back to work? Is it because he is a ‘spoilt footballer who needs to be taught a lesson’? Is he being punished for society’s perception of footballers? Or is he being made a scapegoat because so many of his peers have ‘got away’ with similar incidents?

An argument which has some merit is that as a person in the public eye and therefore a role model to some, he shouldn’t be seen to be allowed to go back to work. However, I am pretty certain more people saw Luis Suarez and his actions against Italy at the World Cup than know about Ched Evans and Suarez is was rewarded with a multi-million pound contract at one of the best teams in the world.

If he had intentionally gone in and succeeded in breaking the leg of a fellow player during a game or training, then there would also be merit in the argument against him returning to work because he would be a danger to others. However, his actions are not those which directly affect his job as a footballer. Yes he will encounter fans of the opposite sex, but so will almost everyone else in their daily job apart from the possibility of coal miners.

Even the subjects of one of the most deplorable acts of evil in my lifetime, Jamie Bulger’s killers were given new identities, homes and whatever else, all paid for by the taxpayer. And they actually killed. A small child too. Yet they are able to carry on with their lives in anonymity and peace. Another ‘wrongly convicted’ high profile ‘rapist’, Mike Tyson went on to earn millions after his incarceration.

Ched Evans just wants to get back to work. I assume like most footballers, football is all he can do. I doubt he has a doctorate up on his wall he can fall back on. It’s not like he works in a women’s institute, or a female modelling agency where he could be ‘tempted’. He is a footballer who will spend 90% of his time at work with other men. He is hardly a high risk case.

In my personal view, this campaign against him is extremely unfair. Women’s groups and the like claim that he hasn’t taken responsibility of his actions and is therefore not sorry. That is a fair point. However, if you are accused of something you believe you haven’t done, how can you claim responsibility? The best thing you can do is accept the judicial punishment and try to clear your name in the correct course, which I understand he is doing.

There are many people who have committed a crime of varying degrees and still been allowed to carry on with their lives after completing their sentences. At 28 years old, is a man not allowed to provide for his family and future? What if he decided he didn’t want to play football and went to study? I assume he would attend a university with a fair amount of women, some of whom are of the loose kind (if my university is anything to go by). Would the same people campaigning against him playing football still be as vocal if he embarked on this career path, a path which in my opinion, may be more dangerous to a ‘rapist’?

It seems to me that the main issue is that Ched Evans is a footballer. Because he is a footballer, he should not be allowed to work. Because he is a footballer, he should go and hide in a dark corner of his multi-million pound mansion and waste away. Who cares? He has earned enough money so he can drive his sports car and stay in one of his many homes and out of our sight. Not all footballers are of Beckham status. Some of them need to play to live. I am sure there aren’t many of us at 28 who have enough savings to live on forever, especially if we have not been able to earn any money for three years.

Sushi and football, the new perfect partnership?

IMG-20140712-WA009  So the last thing I expected to be talking about today, especially in this football mad blog, was the dinner I had last night while watching Holland tear David Liuz’s Brazil apart. But that is exactly what I will be waxing lyrical about.IMG-20140712-WA010

My friend Omar Al Raisi of @Dantani fame had pointed me in the direction of Sushi Central, an Emirati-owned company in the heart of Abu Dhabi because I was looking for something different to cater for the arrival of my family from England, America and Ghana to celebrate the arrival of my new daughter a few days prior. Living in Al Reef, it was a massive plus point that they delivered straight to my house, and on time too.

We ordered the food to be delivered just before kick off and as great as the game was last night, by the time Silva had deliberately brought my player of the tournament, Arjen ‘Roadrunner’ Robben down (outside the box I might add), the Crispy Rocks Shrimps had started to take my attention away from the match. By the time we had moved on to the Steam Beef Gyoza and Yakitori Chicken with Onion and Pepper, it wasn’t only the Dutch that were having their fill; we were almost as gluttonous as the Germans were with goals in the previous game.

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By the way, how terrible were Brazil? In my opinion, only Neymar and Oscar can come out with a semblance of credit for this tournament. They were abysmal, but then what do you expect when your goalkeeper is a Championship reject and your stand-in captain is suffering from an identity crisis. I have made it pretty clear on Twitter but how anyone can think that David Luiz is worth 45million ponds is beyond me. In fact, it’s ridiculously unbelievable. The Chelsea directors, Mourinho or whoever does their transfers is an absolute genius to get this money for him. The Qatari owners at PSG must poo money to not care about 45million. This tournament has looked bad for Scolari, especially with persisting with players like Fred when Robinho and Lucas Moura were sitting on the beach. I bet they will be thanking their starts to have not been selected.

I am extremely happy for van Gaal though, especially with what I hope he will bring to Man United. The only reservation I have of him is how the Dutch played in the semi finals. In their biggest game, I felt that he got his tactics wrong and his team froze a little. Instead of their usual expansive style, they seemed to clam up, which I think worked against them because had they attacked Argentina, I think they would have won. The display against Brazil yesterday was what I expected, but then again, anyone can beat Brazil these days.

So now we move on to the final. I tipped Argentina to win this tournament, even going as far as buying their kit for my son and I. I don’t particularly like them as a team, but I just felt that with players like Aguero, Di Maria and Messi, they would take some beating. Even though Aguero has been injured for most of the finals, they have done well. For the reason that I would like to be proved right, I hope Argentina win, but I really couldn’t care who wins. I just hope it’s a great game and one to end this finals in the perfect way.

As for me, I now know that the perfect way to watch a football game in this modern day is with a slice of Japanese delight. Thank you Sushi Central for livening my taste buds.

Why Manchester United should sell Wayne Rooney

It’s another game day (v Swansea, FA Cup), which means another day of pessimism and fear of enduring another 90minutes of frustration and anger. I used to be excited about watching United, and the thought of getting home, sitting in my favourite seat with the tv angled towards me was all I needed to get through the working day.

That’s all changed this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I still and will always vehemently support the team; I’m not going to be like the fickle Arsenal fan and start blasting the manager only to suddenly call him a genius when things start going right. It’s just that there is just nothing exciting about us anymore. I definitely don’t blame Moyes because he inherited a poor team. How we won the league by such a big margin last year is the best evidence to regard Ferguson as an unbelievable manager. When I look at our team now, I can’t see any creativity, potency or real and consistent quality. Yes Janujaz is one with potential but he’s only 18 with a lot of development ahead of him, Valencia has improved from last year but it’s criminal what he actually does with the amount of touches and opportunities he gets, RVP (our only ‘World Class’ player in my opinion) hasn’t really played this year and doesn’t seem to have the fire of last season, Welbeck is hit and miss (literally), Hernandez has developed his first touch to levels of the Yorkshire Ripper and Kagawa does an even better impression of Cleverley with the amount of side and back passes he makes.

Which brings me to Rooney, our ‘star player’, our ‘saviour’, England’s superstar. It really frustrates me to have to listen to commentators and read journalists gushing about him and highlighting everything he does a thousand-fold. Yes, he is undoubtedly a good player and has done well for us this year. But for such a good player in such a poor team, you literally have to turn up with one of Cuba’s finest smoke-sticks to excel.

And that’s exactly what I believe Rooney is doing.

I have been watching and studying his movement and attitude for a couple of seasons now and I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t really performed on a consistent basis since his 30-plus season a couple of years ago. Last year this was masked by RVP’s heroics but in a season where we need our other top player to really stand up and push us on, I believe he has gone missing. Yes he has scored goals and is the league’s top goal maker, but what we really need in this team is a fighter, an influence, a leader. We need someone with an attitude that says, ‘I will drag these boys through these tough times because I am a top player and they look up to me.’ We need someone with Beckham’s attitude v Greece, Keane v Juve, Gerrard v West Ham in the FA Cup final or Brazilian Ronaldo in the 2002 World Cup. Instead, what we get is someone that jogs all game and doesn’t do more than spray 50yard passes wide to raptuous applause. I have been of this thought about Rooney for a while and I closely watched our recent games aganst Hull and Spurs. While he did score a great goal and crossed for Smalling to score against Hull, I can’t seem to remember him breaking sweat, making a tackle or even making any lung-busting runs to help the team. He was even worse against Spurs. Granted, he’d just come back from injury but he literally sauntered around the pitch, spraying balls out wide. And these sickly sycophantic commentators wouldn’t stop going on about how great he was whenever he made a pass.

Yes, he has ability and we need players with the intelligence and technique to spread the game when needed, but my argument is that for the last few seasons, Rooney has been playing within himself and doing just the bare necessary. I believe he can do more. British players seem to be judged only on how hard they work, which I disagree with because I don’t think that’s enough to be a world class player, but there is no doubt that it is essential. I think Rooney has stopped trying. By that, I mean really trying; demanding the ball, encouraging the younger and less able players, ‘taking the game by the scruff of the neck’ like all world class players should do when the going gets tough. This is the type of player we need at the moment, the type of player Moyes needs at the moment, and unfortunately he is not getting that from Rooney.

I think most United fans expect him to leave this or next season. Hopefully it will be this season to avoid him doing a ‘Lewandowski’, and I for one will be glad when he does. Once again, it’s not that I don’t rate him as a player or appreciate what he’s done for the club, but at the moment, we need players who are determined to help the club through this bad spell; we need players with Cleverley’s attitude and Rooney’s ability. Unfortunately we get players with Rooney’s ability and Winston Bogarde’s attitude. By him leaving, Moyes will be able to get players who want to fight for the team and who can also (hopefully) play. I also wonder if his exit will spur on those players with something to prove, like Kagawa, to step up a level.

Right now, Rooney is our only hope but in my opinion, he hasn’t taken this responsibility with the correct attitude, so why not cut our losses and find players who can play, influence and inspire the team? It surely can’t be that difficult because as good as he is, there are better players out there. I know it’s not possible but someone like Mata for example would be a fresh and inspiring addition. I would love to once again have the anticipation of watching a team that will excite and inspire when I turn on my TV and for that to happen, our seemingly influential players need to start being so, or we need to get rid and start looking forward. I know he won’t play today v Swansea and I know I will hear ‘United are missing Rooney’ at least once, especially if things aren’t going well. But my argument is United still miss Rooney even when he plays. On the flip side, I think we have to be fair to Rooney too and allow him the chance to rediscover his fire somewhere else. I can almost guarantee that we will see a different Rooney at a new club. For what he’s done for the club and for the sake of the future of United, I think it’s fair to shake hands and have a mutually consent exit. He needs a change and we need a change. The current situation is like being in a relationship that seems to be dying on its feet yet neither party is brave enough to end it, mainly because of fear of not finding the right replacement.

We need Moyes to be the braver of the two and make the right decision for the good of both their futures.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Days 21 and 22 – The final

Thursday 7th November 2013

As you would imagine with it being the eve of possibly the biggest game ever for most of the players and staff, it was a bit of a dead day. Training, pre match meeting and press conference all went ahead as scheduled and apart from having to answer a million requests for tickets, it was pretty uneventful.

Friday 8th November 2013 – The Final

Wow! What a day! One of the happiest and most satisfying day in my life, and not for personal reasons but because today proved there was justice in the world and sometimes football does give you what you deserve. The Nigeria Under 17 team won the FIFA Under 17 World Cup! In a dominating performance, they beat the Mexicans 3-0. Also, our best friends, the Swedes thrashed Argentina 4-0 to win the 3rd place play-off in their first ever World Cup Competition.

I was so happy this team won for many reasons. Obviously, it gave me the only opportunity of being on a winning lap of honour on one of the biggest stages, I got to learn an unbelievable amount about event planning and dealing with a variety of people as you would expect from a FIFA event and I got to develop my football coaching by watching some great masters at work. However, the reason for 90% of my happiness was because the coaches and players were rewarded for their sacrifice. Let me explain further. The team arrived in the UAE two weeks before the tournament for practice and for the whole five weeks here, the boys were only allowed out of their rooms on one day; when they were allowed an hour by the pool and later on for an event by the Al Ain royalty. The rest of the time, their day consisted of long passages of resting in their hotel rooms interrupted by breakfast, lunch, dinner, training and team meetings. There was literally no leisure time. I have touched on this in previous blogs but while some of us may see that as harsh or even ‘child cruelty’, it was remarkable that not one player moaned or showed any dissent towards this rule. They just accepted that to win such an event, they had to sacrifice, and that’s exactly what they did. Even when, after the second week, I was told to get all tvs in their room disconnected, there were still no negative comments. I spoke to some of the boys at length about this situation, mainly to compare with the expected reaction were this to be a team of young European or shall I say, English team, and I was just astounded and so impressed by their single mindedness and acceptance and trust that their coaches knew what they were doing. This belief was not unfounded though, as the head coach, Manu Garba had won this trophy as a manager in 2007, and assistant coach Nduka Ugbade was the first captain to lift this trophy in 1985. When I met English Premiership referee Mark Clattenburg, who was one of the FIFA referees for this tournament, by a pool in our Dubai hotel, I used this example to show him how focussed the boys were. It was interesting to hear him suggest that it was a little cruel to the players and that it would mean that they would then ‘go crazy’ once they got a little older and joined professional clubs where the temptations were bigger and shinier. One other alternative is that this professionalism would stand them in good stead and ensure they had the discipline and therefore career of someone like a Steven Gerrard instead of a Gazza.

Only time will tell.

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From the five top teams I had the pleasure of seeing on a daily basis in our hotels for a few days at least; Nigeria, Mexico, Sweden, Uruguay and Argentina, it was interesting to note that the most ‘disciplined’ teams contested in the final. I wasn’t at privy to the intimate workings of the Mexican team, but a fellow TLO, who was a friend, would also tell me about how disciplined their coach was. Then you had the Swedes who were definitely more relaxed than the top two teams with their McDonalds and frequent beach and pool visits, but they seemed to know when to do this, plus they needed the sun more than any other team. I have to say I was glad the Argentinians got a thrashing in the last game. I never really took to the team and I still remember them munching on pizzas and chips and glugging bottles of Coke late on the night before a game (which they won to be fair). However, if this was an indication of how they usually were, maybe it’s no surprise they fell so close to the end. However, it’s obvious there are other elements that make a winning side, notably luck. Uruguay were by far the strongest team Nigeria played and they seemed to be very professional in their dealings off the pitch too, but they were beaten 2-0 in the quarter finals. Incidentally, this was the only game all tournament in which Nigeria scored less than three goals! Ask any Nigeria player who or what their toughest match was and they would all say Uruguay. The scene in the dressing room after the game was of a team knowing that they had faced a battle and triumphed and I am certain this win gave them the last shred of confidence they needed to believe they could all the way.

There are just so many examples of this team and their ‘simplicity’, caring about nothing else other than doing their business on the football pitch. Take match days for example. Each team had a team coach, a small van for transporting few passengers and a luggage van. During each pre match meeting, we would be asked if we needed the luggage van to transport any equipment to matches. The answer was always no. All the team had was a bag of balls, some cones and bibs for training. This, along with the Coca Cola sanctioned waters all fit in perfectly in the space under the team van, and during match days, the kit man added a bag of folded shirts and shorts in there, which he enlisted the help of the players to search and put on hangers before scrunching into the bag. The players then brought their Adidas boot bags filled with all their match day preparations onto the bus with them. No big massive ‘Beats’ headphones covering their ears like the Swedes or trolleys of luggage enough to open a sports shop like the Argentinians. Just simple and easy. They didn’t seem to care about anything else apart from being on the pitch and playing football good enough to win this tournament.

Out of interest, this was the fourth time Nigeria had won this tournament, and they had all been on Asian ground. It was also their seventh time of participating and they had reached the final each time, so maybe it wasn’t so much of a surprise that they won. The best thing is no one can say they didn’t deserve it because they thoroughly did. Some of the football they played literally made me want to cry it was so good! They scored the most goals, the highest ever, even without their top striker Isaac Success for most of the tournament, they conceded the least, awarding the ‘Golden Glove’ award to their goalkeeper Dele Alampasu who prior to this tournament had never played for the team and    they also won the fair play award. This was really pleasing for me personally as I’m one of the loudest critics of African players’ tackling so it was good to see some defensive intelligence being shown.

Golden Glove winner Dele Alampasu

Golden Glove winner Dele Alampasu

For the match itself, I actually found myself not as nervous as the semi or quarter finals, mainly because I was rushed off my feet with picking up accreditation cards for officials, answering calls for VIP tickets and trying to find a few minutes to see my son and wife who, like all glory hunting fans, had decided to make an appearance for the final only! I was even late for the start of the match and got to my seating area to find a real lack of empty spaces. I had met Arsenal and Nigeria legend Kanu in the VIP area a while back, so whistle looking for a space, he must have felt pity on me and whistled me to him. I actually think he wanted to ask me a question only, but I took this as an invitation and after answering his question, decided to sit in the one remaining space next to him and his friends! Anyway, it all went smoothly, even his friend and I had a disagreement about the number 18, Taiwo Awoniyi. He thought that Taiwo was a little lazy in his running, but I disagreed, telling them all that although he does look awkward running, he was a very fit and hardworking player, a little like a certain Number 4 for Arsenal… Anyway, I was glad that they eventually agreed with me by the end, although this could be due to the fact that I told him Taiwo’s agent was the mighty Ade Akinbyi. Maybe he didn’t want to incur the wrath of the beast that is Ade. He even offered me some tactical tips to give to one of our defenders in the changing room at half time, but of course the coaches had already seen and taken care of that.

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Kanu with Golden Shoe winner and Arsenal target Kelechi Iheanacho

Once the match was over, it was time for the trophies and celebration. The guys at FIFA were kind enough to let myself and the other three members of the team with passes to the dressing room but not pitchside (only 8 officials are allowed pitchside) onto the pitch to join the players on the lap of honour, which was an amazing experience. I was lucky enough to get a couple of footballs signed by the players and then I received an awesome gift from my boss at the (Local Organising Committee) LOC who gave me a limited edition replica of the actual trophy. Apparently it is one of only 50 ever made so it’s something to be treasured for sure. This is nothing compared to rumours of the riches awaiting the boys and coaches including gifts of houses and stackloads of cash no doubt.

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There was more drama off the pitch than on after the game with missing staff and me ending up in the back of a police car.

We were surprised with a dinner cruise on the Abu Dhabi Corniche  by one of the ambassadors of the team so instead of heading to the hotel, we were to go straight to the boat. The problem was that the police, who I assume are expected to know their way around the city, didn’t know where the port, the only port in Abu Dhabi was. As I have stated, the job of the TLO is non-descript, so that obviously included giving the police directions. Because of the language barriers and the strange occurence of Arab speaking people not knowing their right from left, I ended up in the back of a patrol car giving them directions to the port. We got there and then had the sudden realisation that we had left a player behind at the stadium. It turned out one of the players in the doping room was still in there by the time we left, and in the mayhem and pandemonium of having more than the usual crew in our bus, we all forgot him and the doctor! By the time we realised, the boat had already left on the cruise, so they missed those celebrations, although if it were any consolation, most of us would have gladly switched with them after the first 30minutes,  especially when we realisied the trip was three hours long and we had to be up early morning to get to the airport.

So that was that. At 9am, we had packed up, loaded the luggage and were on the way to the airport to bid  a tearful goodbye to an amazing bunch of people. Funny that when I started this job about three weeks ago, I had apprehensions of a Ghanaian working with Nigerians, but three weeks of living day in, day out with these guys and I can safely say that I love these people like a brother or son. I am so happy for them all. I have never seen anyone more deserving of success and I am even more happy to have proof to show my son that hard work, dedication and sacrifice can and does reap success.

Now that’s all done, it’s back to the daily grind. I’m thankful for a wonderful family, who I’ve missed, to go back home to otherwise I’m sure I would slide into a pit of despair at the realisation that one of the most amazing and enjoyable experiences of my life has now ended. Until the next one, God willing.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Day 20 – What does a Team Liaison Officer do?

Wednesday 6th November 2013

It has got to the point, in fact it has gone beyond the point when I don’t know what day it is anymore. Whenever it comes to writing this diary entry, I have been asking myself the same question recently; “What day is it today?” Thankfully my ‘Crackberry’ is always at hand to help out. Three weeks of hotel living and bus travelling has meant that I’ve lost a lot of perspective on ‘real life’ and what is going on around the world. Of course there are newspapers in the hotels but I have found my time being limited to just the sports supplement before I have another duty or the paper is ‘borrowed’ from me, usually by our sneaky media officer! There are also TVs but any viewing time has been restricted to more football watching or catching up on ‘Breaking Bad’. I admit I was a late starter with this show so I’ve been trying very hard to catch up. I am hoping to complete season 5 before I have to go back to reality this weekend. Of course the best time to watch this has been the evenings when everyone is asleep, which means a lot of late nights. With my wife’s threats of getting me back on my ‘morning shift’ in terms of looking after our son, I have a very tough decision to make these next few days; catch up on sleep or catch up on the series.

With today being a travel day, nothing much has happened apart from everyone resting their weary legs and bodies in preparation for one more battle on Friday. Someone asked me today what a Team Liaison Officer (TLO) actually does so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to explain my role as best as I could.

The best answer to this question is ‘everything’ and ‘anything’. In terms of the team structure and organisation, I am a non entity if truth be told, but that’s obvious and expected. What I do do is provide a direct link between FIFA and the team. But first, I’ll provide a brief account of how things are operated.

There is a multitude of people and organisations taking charge of many aspects needed to run a successful and huge tournament such as this. First of all, you have the General Coordinator of every venue who is basically the top person, then you have his assistant, then there are the media, accommodation, marketing managers. All these people take care of the logistical side of things from FIFA’s side. You then have the Local Organising Committe (LOC) manager who is in the Abu Dhabi Office and is in charge of the logistics from UAE’s side. The Team Services Manager from the LOC oversees the Transport Coordinators, whose job is to make sure buses and the police are ready and on time to transport the team to training and matches. On the matches side, FIFA have the referee assessors, doctors and security to ensure a smooth and safe match, and from the LOC, there is the Venue Manager and his assistants to take care of travel to matches, tickets and other match orientated aspects.

In between all these people and the teams themselves is the TLO; people like myself. Each of the 24 teams were assigned a TLO. Some came from abroad, some came with the teams themselves and some, like myself, were local hires. There is no set duty really. On a given day, my main job would be to organise and accompany a team management member to the mall to get some items for the team ranging from energy drinks to medical equipment. On some days, I would be meeting with the General Coordinator to arrange tickets for VIP guests. Some of my responsibilities include relaying training times to the LOC head in the office and Team Services Manager, who will then inform the necessary bodies to organise transport. I am also responsible for relaying pre match meeting times and various training venues to the team management. Prior to arriving at a new hotel, I have to liaise with the accommodation manager to ensure we arrive at our next destination when the rooms are ready to avoid waiting around in the lobby. One of the first things I do after a match, instead of celebrating with the team is to answer calls from the Team Services Manager of the next training and/or travel time. My work phone is rarely from my side. I even sleep with it next to my pillow because I can receive a call at any time. Thankfully we were given enough credit to cater for all the calls we have to make.

In all fairness, it is a pretty organised and fun job if you are organised and lucky enough to get an ‘easy’ team, like I have been blessed with. I know of other TLOs who have had some pretty tough times with their demanding teams, and some who have really had to utilise their knowledge of the country with requests to visit the local tailors to amend some trousers bought earlier. Basically, there is nothing that a TLO can’t do or won’t be asked to do. Take yesterday’s match for example. At half time, I was asked to source some more water for the team dressing room, and at full time I was interviewing the manager on the pitch for millions of viewers around the world! Once again, I feel blessed to have had such a relaxed, friendly and welcoming team to work with because it has been nothing but fun. I have met some awesome people, stayed in fantastic hotels, been fed great meals three times daily, had my laundry washed and pressed on demand, had a driver at my beck and call for 12 hours a day, visited the inner sanctuary of team dressing rooms and stadium VIP tribunes, learnt more about event organising and media productions and above all, greatly increased my football knowledge and coaching skills by watching the most inspirational coaches I have ever seen on a daily basis. Up until this tournament, the coach I admired the most was my old mate and FA Regional Coach Development Manager, Ben Bartlett. I’m sorry Ben, I still love you but you have been overtaken by these geniuses from Nigeria.

Of course there have been some stressful moments, but that’s not to be expected in a role that is so wide ranging, and because of this bunch of players and staff, who I absolutely love, nothing has ever been too much of an ask. It really is an amazing position and has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If I didn’t have such a great family to go home to, I think I would spiral into a depressing state when this tournament ends in three days! The next step, and the pinnacle I guess, is to be involved in the senior World Cup. If anyone at FIFA or the Brazil 2014, Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022 LOCs is reading this, you know where to find me…

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 19 – semi finals v Sweden

Tuesday 5th November 2013

YES!! YES!! YES!! The boys have (nearly) done it! WE convincingly beat Sweden 3-0 tonight, moving just one step away from the holy grail of the World Cup final. Interestingly, we play Mexico, the first team we played, again. I have a feeling the result won’t be as convincing as the 6-1 in the first game, although with these boys and their relentless attacking instincts, I wouldn’t put it past them.

I woke up this morning with nothing on my mind apart from the evening’s match. I have found myself getting more and more nervous before matches so I have tended to stay away from the team recently so as not to do or say anything that may upset their plans, including showing my nervousness. You may have guessed I’m a little passionate about football so I worry I’ll end up sitting a player down for an in depth analysis, which is probably not the best idea before a game that has been prepared and planned meticulously by their fantastic coaches. Therefore, I figured staying away until the final whistle is the best method.

By 6pm, the time to depart the hotel, my nerves were so heightened to the point where my breathing was altered and shorter. Waiting outside the team bus for the players to check their accreditation (they must have it or they won’t be allowed into the stadium, which is not something I’d want to deal with on a night like tonight), I noticed how relaxed and confident each player and coach was as they boarded the bus. All this time, my body was having minor spasms. By now, it was clear that Mexico would be in the final as their match started earlier and they were 2-0 up against the coke drinking, pizza and chip munching 10-men of Argentina. I remember the Argentine boys loudly cheering the Mexicans during their quarter final penalty shootout win against Brazil. I doubt they were so forthcoming with their cheers this time. It’s incredible how far they’ve come and the improvement they’ve made after losing their first game 6-1. I remember hearing about how angry their coach was after that result and he has done well to turn them around after such a demoralising result. Ghana losing 6-1 to this Nigeria team in the African qualifiers and they never managed to recover, subsequently missing out on a World Cup place. Obviously, the Mexicans are made of sterner stuff, unfortunately.

Anyway, so back to my nervousness. It was crazy how apprehensive and jittery I was prior to the game. I kept asking myself why I was so nervous and the simplest answer I could come up with was that I just love these boys and this whole team, including the staff and I would just love for them to win this trophy they so desire. In addition, they have played the best football of this tournament by far, scoring 23 goals in six games and literally captured the hearts of the whole UAE football loving community. If there is any justice, they should win this trophy, but we all know football isn’t like that. God willing they will realise their potential and have the luck needed to bring the trophy home.

Traffic!

Traffic!

My rule of not sitting in the team bus on matchdays nearly came back to haunt me today.  I was in a van behind the team coach which was following the usual police escort. My van driver was busy arguing with someone that tried to cut in our convoy and got stuck behind a red light as the police convoy and team bus went through. This was the start of a nightmare journey where a trip that usually takes 10minutes took an hour and 5 minutes due to crazy bumper to bumper Dubai traffic. I’m not sure if it was because of the game (which was a sellout) or just usual traffic but it got a little close to call. We even had to call the police car to come back and help us through the traffic but of course he never made it. I eventually got to the stadium about 40 minutes to kick off when I should have been there 90minutes prior at least. The positive thing is this took my mind away from thinking of the match.

By the way, my earlier post about my fears of how the expected capacity would be handled nearly came through tonight. I heard after the game that some fans were turned away due to the stadium being full to capacity and instead of them calmly leaving, there was a scuffle where the police dogs had to be called in. That was only when they started to quickly disperse, falling over themselves as they ran away apparently. Thankfully, the stadium for the final is a bigger one so there should be no such problems, although with the Nigeria fans here and those expected to fly in, who knows?

This guy turned up with 20 people and sat on a tiger skin

This guy turned up with 20 people and sat on a tiger skin

After the game, the team was given a pep talk by the Federation president who congratulated the team and provided some motivation for them to win. Even the lowly TLO got a special mention, which was nice of the manager and the president. Due to the private nature of the meeting, I won’t divulge what was said, but you can bet I will be shouting it from the rooftops if they are fulfilled. The speech was recorded on various phones so I’m sure I can use it as evidence of a binding contract if my law degree studies serve me right.

A 'flash interview'

A ‘flash interview’

I was touched today when the media officer, Mr Moraks surprised me by asking me to conduct the flash interview of the Nigerian manager, Manu Garba after the game. This is basically the same thing Geoff Shreeves does after Premiership matches, except it’s done on the pitch directly after the game. I was given a 15 minute warning that I would be the person doing the interview and about five minutes to the end of the match, I went to the media section on the pitch to wait for the full time whistle. At the end of the game, I put on my special press bib and walked on to the pitch to witness the celebrations and commiserations at closer quarters. The Swedish manager was interviewed then it was my turn to interview the victorious manager. I purposely didn’t prepare any questions and just relied on my natural questions based on what I saw and since it was only a ‘flash’ interview of a few minutes long, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I wish it was longer. I could have talked all day. I remember asking Mr Garba:

“Congratulations. How does it feel to be one step closer to  achieving your dream?”

“How proud are you of the boys?”

“Did you ever get worried when the team started to sit back and invited pressure?”

“What is the one motivation tool you will use to get the boys through the final hurdle?”

Like I said, it was a short interview.

It was a really nice gesture from Mr Moraks and one I will always remember. What a fantastic experience. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a picture of me conducting this interview and I have yet to actually see the interview but if there’s anyone out there that saw it on Eurosport or Al Jazeera or any of those channels, please let me know!

So, after three weeks, stays in Al Ain, Dubai, Al Ain again, Sharjah and Dubai again, we finally travel to our final destination tomorrow; Abu Dhabi, where Nigeria will play Mexico, the current world champions for the under 17 World Cup title. Like I said, football is a funny game and you don’t always get what you deserve but I hope for the sake of this wonderful team that I have grown to love, things go the way they should.

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My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 18

Monday 4th November 2013

There is definitely some excitement in the air, and not surprising as we are now at the stage where the Nigeria under 17 World Cup squad just need two more wins, against Sweden and either Mexico or Argentina, to be crowned world champions. I’m not sure about anyone else but I definitely feel nervous and more apprehensive with each hour that approaches kick off. Looking at the boys and their coaches, you wouldn’t have thought it though. I know I keep mentioning it but the focus, determination and confidence in the team is amazing to witness. They all seem to be aware of their objective and how they will go about it. They are just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle at 8pm tomorrow night.

This is even more remarkable when it’s obvious (and natural I guess) that there is a lot more interest in the teams left. We had an almost full press conference today, with the bigger newspapers suddenly showing their presence and the normally quick event lasting a whole lot longer. As usual, Mr Garba, the head coach was full of his Gordon Strachan-esque replies that produced more than a laugh or two. There are also more fans around our hotel, more people that recognise anyone in the green of Nigeria – every walking journey takes an eternity with the amount of well wishers wanting to pass on their handshakes and good thoughts, and certainly more demand for tickets. I think half of Nigeria is in Dubai this week! There are so many people who are already here or will be coming to this game, it’s astounding. The result is a massive clamour for tickets and the need for a full phone battery. I counted at one point that I had either made or received 21 calls within a 30 minute period. It’s great to see so many people behind a team, at a great expense too, especially to those who had flown in especially. Not only that, but I never realised how many Nigerians actually resided in the UAE. I have been here for five years and I don’t think I hadn’t met many Africans in general, but introduce a football and suddenly they all come out of the woodwork. I even found out there was an African restaurant in Dubai! That’s the power of football I guess!

Full press conference

Full press conference

Of course having so much demand and interest in this game is fantastic for everyone involved, especially FIFA and the Local Organising Committee as they get to maintain interest in the tournament even after the host nation went out. The unfortunate thing is the semi final stadium, the Sheikh Rashid Stadium where Al Ahli play, is a very small stadium with capacity that Nigeria’s fans alone would fill. I dread to think what would happen if there are more fans than seats. Stadiums and stewards in the UAE are not used to being full capacity so I just hope and pray that they have the resources and plans to deal with such a situation. Thankfully the experienced FIFA security teams are in charge, although it still doesn’t eradicate the fear that the people on the ground may make some monumental error due to inexperience. Having witnessed the power and control, or lack of, that stewards have over a mass of fans in previous matches that have taken place in UAE stadiums, I am not filled with a lot of confidence.

I guess tomorrow will tell how successful the stadium, it’s representatives, and most importantly, the Nigerian under 17 squad were in achieving their objectives.

Just. Two. More. Games