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.

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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 Diary – Day 10. Matchday 3 v Iraq

Another matchday, another three points for the ‘Golden Eaglets’ of Nigeria. Some of these players can really play, especially the captain Musa Mohammed and the number 14, Chidibere Nwakali. They are also some of the nicest boys too. Unfortunately their main striker, Success Isaac was injured but hopefully he’ll be back in the next round, who we are yet to find out at the time of writing this. Once again, the stadium was filled with Nigerian fans. I really don’t know where they come from but it’s such a good feeling to see so many fans, and loud ones too, performing the now famous index finger bouncing ‘Yes! Yes!’ celebration. At one point, the stewards were trying to keep the fans apart for some unknown reason, and true to form, the fans just ignored them and carried on joining their counterparts. That all added to a great atmosphere tonight. During this game, I had a brilliant business thought which I won’t mention until I am able to implement, but it could be the start of a great movement!

Yes!! Yes!!

Yes!! Yes!!

What we do know is we are going back to Al Ain, which I am quite looking forward to even though I will be sad to leave this hotel. I feel a lot closer and more comfortable with the staff at Al Ain, probably because we have already spent a week together and I for one am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and getting out of the Dubai traffic!

Hanging by the pool in our hotel today, I found myself sitting next to Chelsea FC and Jon Obi Mikel’s friend Mark Clattenburg on the sunbeds. He was to referee the Argentine v Canada game after our game. My first impression of him was how much weight he had lost and how skinny he looked. He was a right fatty when he joined the Premiership but had now trimmed to footballer fitness. Apparently they have been up at 5am to train for two-and-a-half hours every day since being here. I found out another two things about Mr Clattenburg today; that he was a Geordie and a Staunch Newcastle United fan, and secondly, that he had a sense of humour.

I remarked that I had met the beast of a referee, Mr Nelson Pitana in our last game (read day 8’s blog) and I was told a funny story about him that either shows Mr Clattenburg to be a fun guy (in my opinion) or a bit of a stitch up (in Chelsea fans’ opinion). Apparently Mr Pitana had asked Mr Clattenburg for some basic English lessons to help him get through meetings and Mr Clattenburg had helpfully told him to reply ‘F**k off’ when asked any question during their meeting. Thankfully, Mr Pitana had yet to follow this advice. Maybe everyone’s too scared to ask him a question, although I’m sure many people would love to see him lamp one on Mr C were Mr Pitana to find out what he’s been taught.

Time to pack again for another trip tomorrow before our game on Tuesday. The green machine rolls on! Yes!! Yes!!

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Days 9 and 10

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

As usual, post match days are relaxing and chilled as the players spend the time resting and recovering. We had to travel to Dubai for our next match against Iraq and that’s about as far as we stretched ourselves. ‘Stretched’ may be the appropriate word here because after over two hours going at the prescribed snail’s pace in the team bus behind the police escort, that’s all we wanted to do after embarking.

And what a place to do exactly that! Our hotel in Dubai is relatively new and this can immediately be felt, from the comfortable king sized beds in the rooms to the shiny floors in the lobby, so shiny you can use as a mirror. Our hotel in Al Ain was good, only made great by the staff, but this hotel is just…aaaaah. Great views, beautiful looking pool, standalone bath, it has it all. Even better, the boys have to spend a lot of time resting, so I have been able to venture outside and enjoy some of the great amenities! I’m personally not a massive fan of Dubai because of it’s ‘plasticity’ but after a week in the calmer surroundings of Al Ain, it’s good to see some life again.

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You can guess this was a pretty uneventful day, hence the many photographs. In fact, the most eventful thing that happened was me breaking the light switch in my room when I pressed it in haste before rushing out of the room for a meeting. Now you know why Dubai gets its ‘Plastic City’ tag.

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Lights out

Thursday 24th October 2013

Preparations for tomorrow’s match began in earnest at 8am this morning with some tactical set ups and some patterns of play designed to get the better of Iraq tomorrow. Time will tell if they come to fruition.

A quick breakfast of the usual cereal, fruit and omelette, and myself, the team’s administrator, kit man and doctor went off to the usual pre-match meeting with the medical officer, referee assessor, marketing and media managers, match commissioner and general coordinators. This being our third meeting, we were getting used to the process, and the meetings were getting shorter too, which was a good thing. Obviously FIFA have this exact staff in all the other six locations doing the same thing for each match, which amounts to a lot of staff. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have realised that FIFA have a LOT of staff. Everyone has a job for every conceivable role to ensure such tournaments run smoothly. And then you have all the local staff too who assist the ‘professionals’. No wonder half of all the hotels in all Emirates are booked up.

After the pre-match meeting, there was time for a bit of chill before we went to the pre-match press conference at the Rashid stadium, home of current Arabian Gulf leaders and 2006 World Player of the year Paolo Cannavaro, Al Ahli. There were the usual typical questions and subsequent typical  answers. I did get slightly irked when one journalist asked the Nigerian manager, Mr Garba what he was going to do about the fact that his team ‘struggled’ to score against more organised defences like Sweden’s, refereeing to the 3-3 draw a few days earlier. I wanted to jump on the stage, look him in the eye and comment that if scoring three goals in a game is a sign of struggle, then let’s have more of that! Gracefully as ever, Mr Garba managed to give a more diplomatic answer than I would have. Perhaps I am not made for the Q&A part of football.

Check me out, a Ghanaian, defending the Nigerian team.

In fact, just before sitting down to write this, I got in a lift and a guy in there asked me where I was from. Withoutthinking, I replied ‘Nigeria’. Believe me, I was shocked myself.

After the press conference, I was asked to be an assistant to an Iraqi TV station’s cameraman, so there is anyone in Iraq reading this, that crackly hand you saw on the sports news was DSC03805mine.

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Our BFG

On our return to the hotel, I saw another amazing thing, or actually an amazing person. One of the hotel porters was THE tallest person I had ever seen. And I have worked with the Harlem Globetrotters. I am sure he is in the Guinness Book of Records for his sheer height. He reminded me of ‘Jaws’ fro the James Bond franchise. Anyway, he was kind enough to let me take a picture with him so take a look yourself.

Big match tomorrow versus Iraq to see where Nigeria end up. I have had a look at the format and predicted the scores. The answers were bittersweet. If Nigeria go all the way, I get to enjoy this experience further. However, it means even longer away from home. I was hoping that we’d get to play some games in Abu Dhabi, meaning I’d be able to quickly pop in to see the family, but it seems like the earliest we will be there is two days before the final. Even worse, if we make it through to the quarter finals, we have to go to…..SHARJAH. If you are not familiar with this place, count yourself lucky…

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 8. Matchday 2

Tuesday 22nd October 2013

The countdown to match day started around 5.30 and it was a busy one. First of all, a trip to the stadium was needed to drop the kit man, then it was off to the printers to pick up a new banner. The one I had designed came back in the morning and it was perfect apart from one thing. The Nigerian Football Federation had changed its name from ‘Nigerian Football Association’ and in the search for a logo with a high enough resolution for the 3metre x 1metre banner, the printer used ‘Google’ to find it. Unfortunately, the logo he found had the old name, which was an easy mistake to make because it was exactly the same logo and the only change was ‘Association’ to ‘Federation’. This was of course spotted by the eagle-eyed ‘Godlen Eaglets’ media officer so a change was needed. After a phonecall and an email, the task was clear and the printer knew what was needed.

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The boys with the banner designed by yours truly, with the correct logo

Anyway, after dropping off the kit man, we headed to the printer’s to pick up the new banner. At this time, Mexico were on their way to a win against Iraq so security was tight around the stadium and every checkpoint was enforced meticulously. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big enough game to halt traffic too much but it still left things tight because I had to complete these tasks and be back at the hotel by 6.15 to get on the team bus. I managed to make the team bus and get to the stadium on time, then I received another phonecall telling me some Nigerian fans were outside asking for VIP tickets. I went out there and guess who was one of these fans? None other than former Leicester City legend and fans favourite Ade Akinbiyi! I had seen him in my five minutes by the pool earlier in the day and thought I recognised him so when I saw him outside the stadium, I introduced myself and asked him his name. Then I knew it was definitely him. Apparently he is doing some agent work and in fact one of his boys was the Nigerian number 18, Taiwo, who scored the final equaliser. He seemed very friendly and chatty and was happy enough to take my business card, which he will hopefully not use as a coaster, contrary to what my wife believes. I saw him back in our hotel bar after the game watching his rubbish team Arsenal lose, and our conversation ended with ‘I have your card so will text you to give you my number.’ I will be waiting Ade, my new best friend. I will be waiting.

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My mate Ade then

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Ade, first from left, as he is now

Of course, to steal a Dennis Norden phrase, things are always alright on the night and so it proved to be here, apart from the score. A very eventful 3-3 draw between the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria and Sweden means it’s all to play for in the last group games with Nigeria, Sweden and Mexico all in with a good chance of qualifying. In this tournament, the top two plus the top four 3rd place finishes of all the groups go through to the next stage. Nigeria did well to come back from 2-0 and then 3-2 down to grab a draw in the final minutes, especially with my boy Success Isaac coming off midway through the first half with an injury. Nigeria were down 2-1 at half time and I believe the coaches did a great job in picking them up and helping them get this draw. The team talk given by each one of the coaches was extremely positive and constructive, and as a coach myself, it was a boost to hear that the tactical information they gave was the same I would have after seeing the first half. The only difference was they expressed themselves so well and so powerfully. By the end of the speech, I was ready to go out there and bust a gut for the team. And then I remembered that I’m old enough to be some of these kids’ fathers, I have a crocked knee amongst others, and I am extremely unfit. Plus I am not Nigerian.

The referee for this game, a Mr Nestor Pitana from Argentina was a  formidable man. He was massively tall and muscular and looked more of a bodybuilder than a wrestler. In fact, that’s exactly what I asked him when he walked past me before the game. Thankfully he took it in good spirits and was even kind enough to give me his official cards after the game. All the referees here are auditioning to go to Brazil next year so I hope he makes it. He will probably be the one that gives a penalty against England and/or send off Jack Wilshire/Wayne Rooney in the quarter finals.

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The Beast, Mr Pitana

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I couldn’t believe how nervous I found myself in that game. I was kicking every ball and heading every cross away or into the goal, depending on who crossed it. In fact, I was more nervous than I am when watching Man Utd games. Except when we play Liverpool because I hate them so much. Having spent a week with these boys and their friendly and knowledgeable coaches, I am getting really involved in the team. I feel invested in each of them. The fact that they are all so polite and friendly makes the bond even stronger. They are big and athletic boys who look like men, but spend a few minutes talking to them and you realise that they really are just young boys. I almost feel like a father to them, although they probably see me as the guy that takes the pictures and orders KFC for the kit man.

We are off to Dubai in the morning for our next game on Friday against Iraq. A win and Nigeria top the group, meaning we are back to Al Ain on Saturday.

My FIFA Under 17 World Cup Diary – Day 7

Monday 21st October 2013

“Supergetti” and “roasted bread” are two new phrases I’ve learnt from the boys to describe what we know as ‘spaghetti’ and ‘toast’. That reminds me; does anyone know a situation where you get fed spaghetti and mince for breakfast? That’s part of the buffet meals we receive. It’s not even a Nigerian team request; this is part of FIFA’s sample menus for all hotels, which I find strange. The thought of some ‘supergetti’ along with my muesli and ‘roasted bread’ is just plain odd but there you go.

It was a pretty uneventful day today. We had our usual intense training this morning, then our pre-match meeting where we once again decided on the kits the team would wear, listened to the respective national anthems and checked the positions of the flags. Then we went off for the pre-match press conference at the stadium, which took as much time as it took us to get there. The stadium is very close to the hotel.

The team management decided to make a banner to show the Al Ain fans for their support after tomorrow’s game versus Sweden. We are off to Dubai to play the last group game against Iraq on Wednesday morning so they wanted to do something nice for the fans, which I think is a nice touch and will go down well. The thinking behind this movement to Dubai is that FIFA require all teams in the group to play their last games at the same time, and since there is only one approved stadium in Al Ain, two teams have to play in another stadium to satisfy this criteria. Two teams from those in Dubai will also come to Al Ain so they can have the same agreement.

It was a pretty uneventful drive into the ‘Little India’ of Al Ain until we brought to an abrupt halt on the road when someone that clearly received their driving licence from Oxfam reversed into the side of us. I was in a pretty big van; think the ‘A-Team’ style van so how this driver didn’t see us is beyond me.  We were close enough to the printers so I got out and left the drivers to deal with it. UAE traffic rules state that the police has to be called to every accident so they can provide a form. This form is important because no garage is allowed to touch a damaged car without it. Of course some do, but they’re not supposed to. So law abiding citizens need to stop at wherever the accident happened and call the police, who tend to be ‘relaxed’ at best of times. This means that most accidents end up causing a lot of traffic, especially in congested places because they block the road. So in effect, the probable cause of accidents is a previous accident.

I did see the most amazing thing on my travels though. I saw a car that when its doors were opened, projected the Al Ain team badge on the floor! It’s the car of the future! According to the owner, you can get any image you want projected. I’m thinking of getting one on my car and be the envy of all Man Utd fans worldwide.

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I found out something interesting today: Al Ain have three stadiums. That’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is the stadium that we play at (yes, I am a fully immersed Nigerian now. For this tournament only mind you), the ‘Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium’, has never been used by Al Ain. Legend has it that it was supposed to be officially opened by the late Sheikh Zayed (‘the father of the UAE’) but he unfortunately passed away before fulfilling this duty. For that reason, Al Ain have regarded this stadium as bad luck and the first team has never played there. Apparently they have been using their old stadium but have now built a new stadium due to be opened soon. Just a brief description of Al Ain. It is a very tiny town with only 350,000 or so people living there and only one professional football team. With three stadiums. I guess when money is no object…

Anyway, pretty chilled day, even with the car accident. The players are getting their 22hours rest before tomorrow’s match versus Sweden. There are even more bus loads of Nigeria fans coming from Dubai so it should be a cracking atmosphere. And look out for the celebration of the tournament. Whenever Nigeria score, the players go to one corner of the pitch, and pump both index fingers up, shouting ‘yes, yes!’ Apparently it’s the winning celebration of a WWE wrestler and seems to be picking up some momentum here already. I took the liberty of making a reference to that on the banner I got printed, so I hope it does become a movement or I’ll just look plain silly.