The author

Matt Carrell is the highly acclaimed author of three novels and several short stories. His latest book is A Matter of Life and Death, set in a fictional seaside town where the local team is struggling for Premier League survival. Please check out the links to his 5 star rated works on Amazon.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Official - footballer's brains don't matter


My original post on this subject was published back in 2014 having seen a challenge by Lauren Koscielny - as the debate on brain injury in football rages - this is my update.:

Ryan Mason retired from professional football in 2018,  two years after his skull was fractured in a challenge by Chelsea’s Gary Cahill. Headlines shortly after the incident, speculated as to whether Mason would even survive. Nearly three years later, there is endless discussion as to how the game can respond to a brain injury crisis in football. Potential solutions include compulsory substitution in the case of head injury and concussion subs, but I’m staggered that the most obvious response isn’t discussed at all. 


You can watch the Mason/Cahill incident here:

Hull v Chelsea, January 2016 


Mason clears the ball before Cahill arrives and makes contact with the back of his head. I’d simply ask what the reaction would have been had the challenge been with a foot at ground level but the time lapse between Mason’s touch on the ball and Cahill’s contact with Mason had been the same as in this video?


There’d be uproar. It would be described as an appallingly late challenge – a reckless, career threatening assault. Yet because contact was made with the head, the pundits agreed – “Cahill went for the ball. Nothing to see here.” 


The distinction is completely lost on me. Football appears to be losing the plot generally right now – as referees go for arcane interpretations of an increasingly complex rules book over the consistent application of common sense. In this instance it could literally be a matter of life of death. Why not start with a principle – a late challenge is treated in the same way, regardless of where it happens on the pitch and which parts of the body are involved. Had Cahill been vilified for his recklessness and faced a lengthy ban – other defenders  might think twice before launching themselves into a similar assault.  

 Concussion subs may be a partial solution – but the root of the problem is clear – it is not OK to throw your head at the ball regardless of what might be in the way. The principle is well established and beyond question when players’ feet are involved – it makes no sense at all to treat their heads differently. Unless, of course, footballer’s brains don’t matter.

Friday 1 May 2020

Season ends? This is how West Ham get relegated and it's Spurs v Arsenal again

As each day passes, it seems more and more likely that the Premier League season will be unable to complete its fixtures. Some suggest that we should defer the start of next season - but with other European leagues closing off this season and preparing for next, it's not an option if English clubs want to play in the next Champions and Europa Leagues. The null and void option would not reward (or punish) clubs for their performance in the games played to date. Taking the current positions is unfair to those clubs with games in hand. So the preferred solution now appears to be "points per game." This assumes that we can say that teams will continue to accumulate points at the same average rate as they have since the start of the season. Obviously it takes no account of whether the games that teams have already played are against tougher or easier options than those that remain - and it's beyond me to imagine a calculation that could account for that. All football fans will also recognise the fact that a team's performance is often very different at the end of the season -that's the nature of football. It's why the season's close is often thrilling. It is NOT predictable.
So maybe points per game is the fairest - but there is a wrinkle. It is possible to look at one aspect of those games in hand. Evaluating the difficulty of those fixtures by opponent its too subjective - but there is a valid refinement to the average points. What if we were to look at whether the points we are "averaging" are from home or away games and extrapolate them separately?
The tables below show the calculations.
At the top it makes no difference to European qualification - but if the ban on Man City is upheld, Man United will qualify for the Champions League and either Spurs or Arsenal will replace them in the Europa League. It's Arsenal if we adopt simple points averaging. It's Spurs if you take the table as is - or adjust the extrapolation for home or away games.
It is the bottom of the table where it is far more interesting. Assuming teams are relegated - it is Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich, UNLESS you adjust the points average for the "home or away" factor. Then Bournemouth survive and West Ham go down.
This method takes account of the fact that Bournemouth have been stronger at home than West Ham and more of their remaining games were scheduled for the Vitality Stadium. It's not "right", nothing can be if the season is not completed but just as points per game is better than taking the current table, this eliminates part of the bias of a simple average.  


Played Goal diff Point
1 Liverpool 15 45 14 37 29 45 82
2 Man City 13 29 15 28 28 37 57
3 Leicester 15 30 14 23 29 30 53
4 Chelsea 15 24 14 24 29 12 48
5 Man Utd 15 29 14 16 29 14 45
6 Sheff Utd 15 24 13 19 28 5 43
7 Wolves 15 22 14 21 29 7 43
8 Spurs 14 26 15 15 29 7 41
9 Arsenal 15 26 13 14 28 4 40
10 Crystal Palace 15 22 14 17 29 -6 39
11 Burnley 15 23 14 16 29 -6 39
12 Everton 14 25 15 12 29 -9 37
13 Newcastle 14 21 15 14 29 -16 35
14 Southampton 15 14 14 20 29 -17 34
15 Brighton 14 18 15 11 29 -8 29
16 West Ham 14 15 15 12 29 -15 27
17 Watford 14 17 15 10 29 -17 27
18 Bournemouth 14 17 15 10 29 -18 27
19 Aston Villa 13 17 15 8 28 -22 25
20 Norwich 14 15 15 6 29 -27 21

Simple average

Pts  Pos.
Pts Pos.
1 Liverpool
107.45 1
107.21 1
2 Man City
77.36 2
77.85 2
3 Leicester
69.45 3
69.21 3
4 Chelsea
62.90 4
62.97 4
5 Man Utd
58.97 5
58.45 5
6 Sheff Utd
58.36 6
58.17 6
7 Wolves
56.34 7
56.37 7
8 Spurs
53.72 9
54.29 8
9 Arsenal
54.29 8
53.39 9
10 Crystal Palace
51.10 11
50.94 10
11 Burnley
51.10 10
50.85 11
12 Everton
48.48 12
49.13 12
13 Newcastle
45.86 13
46.23 13
14 Southampton
44.55 14
44.88 14
15 Brighton
38.00 15
38.36 15
16 West Ham
35.38 16
35.56 18
17 Watford
35.38 17
35.74 16
18 Bournemouth
35.38 18
35.74 17
19 Aston Villa
33.93 19
34.98 19
20 Norwich
27.52 20
27.96 20

Sunday 5 April 2020

COVID's worst casualties? Footballer's egos.

April Fool?  The award has to go to Sky pundit Gary Neville. Responding to criticism that Premier League footballers are totally disconnected from the real world, have towering egos and are utterly incapable of coping with even a hint of criticism, he showed that actually - Premier League footballers are totally disconnected from the real world, have towering egos and are utterly incapable of coping with even a hint of criticism.
Gary has form as an angry man, so it’s no surprise that when Health Secretary Matt Hancock posed a totally reasonable question; suggesting that Premier League footballers should “do their bit”, Neville “hit back” as most media outlets reported. He could have responded in a reasoned and courteous fashion but, in a sport where every game is described as a clash or a desperate battle, moderate language is not the norm. Mr Neville even tried to draw parallels between the challenges footballers face  in agreeing a short term pay cut, to the logistical issues of organising a rigorous and resilient testing regime for the million or so people who work for the NHS. One of these issues could be resolved with a few phone calls and a bit of goodwill – and only one.
Premier League football exists in its current form only because the fans lash out staggering sums of money for match tickets, merchandise and the vast array of on-line subscriptions required to watch the game on TV. Football receives a large part of its income from commercial sponsorship, the cost of which is then added to the price of the products we buy, so the fan (who may just have been laid off due to COVID), gets to pay that way too. Gary Neville opened his “hit back tweet” with “I wish I was a footballer for ten more minutes.” We all do Gary. His beloved Manchester United reportedly pays Alexei Sanchez £500,000 a week. Assuming a 35-hour week (generous), that is about £15,000 an hour or close to two and a half grand for every ten minutes. Few remember, by the way, the last time Mr Sanchez  pulled on a United shirt.
Since Neville’s outburst, a host of footballers have whined that it is wrong to single them out. “Why us? Why pick on footballers?” Well, they are in a position that few of us will ever know. They are paid eye-watering sums of money to do what most of us would do for nothing. People up and down the country pay subs and buy their own kit to play this game. I’m guessing that if Sainsbury’s asked for a cash contribution from its employees who were told to “bring your own uniform” – it wouldn’t get many takers. Neville is in a particularly fortunate position. A very successful right back, he is now handsomely rewarded (allegedly paid more than £1.5 million a year by Sky) to watch and talk about football. He is arguably one of the better pundits – but is there any other job where someone can retire from “doing” and make a staggeringly good living from talking, whether you have a discernible talent for the new role or not? My generation grew up with Jimmy Hill, Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves. They did their job with style and wit and were chosen because they were intelligent, articulate and insightful and talked about football as a game – rather than as a proxy for armed conflict. I yearn for a return to those days. Any professional footballer is now eligible for a job as a pundit. Most can barely string two sentences together; they appear to find an inability to pronounce the names of foreign players hilarious and often struggle to grasp the rules of the game from which they “earn” a living. Few are able to hide their historic club allegiances, and none seem able to grasp that their opinion (that’s all it is) is worth no more than that being expressed by someone in the stands.
Gary Neville was a good player, he is one of the better pundits, but he appears to believe that we should all sit up and take notice of his views regardless of the subject matter. He is unimpressed that Matt Hancock has been unable to implement a resilient test regime but forgets that the last time he was paid handsomely to “do” rather than “say”, he was an unmitigated disaster. He lasted only three months as manager of Valencia and attributed much of his failure to “bad luck”. He is a consistent pleader for those at the pinnacle of football to be seen as “special”. Bad behaviour by players is excused because of the pressure (elite sportsmen in other fields rarely ever make such a claim), he told us an Arsenal fan was an idiot for criticising  the club he was paying astronomical sums to watch. Fans who questioned Rachel Riley’s qualifications as a football pundit were derided. What right did paying customers have to query the service they were receiving? He also stepped in to defend Jamie Carragher who spat in the face of fans who were almost certainly customers of his employer. Neville can certainly opine on whether Liverpool should play a flat back four – the problem is that he now believes himself to be an authority in general.
He angrily demands that we trust the players – they will come up with something. Several days later we have seen nothing but more special pleading by and on behalf of players. They are different, there’s a whole bunch of people who should be ahead of them in the queue we are told. So why are they “being picked on”?
Primarily, it’s because they are standing by and watching their low paid colleagues being laid off whist they sit back in their luxury homes whinging about how tough it is to stay fit, in case the season ever restarts. They claim that the clubs should do more and their rich owners should be the focus of public ire. It’s true that chairmen like Daniel Levy has acted shamefully by accepting a huge bonus on the same day he laid off hundreds of low paid staff – but the bad behaviour of others is never an excuse for one’s own failings. Since Neville’s demands to back off – Liverpool, currently England’s top club, has also placed the burden of supporting many of their non-playing staff onto the taxpayer.
We have seen plenty of examples of the disdain with which elite footballers treat the fans who pay their salaries. Danny Rose memorably informed the world he would never forgive Spurs fans for questioning his commitment during a lengthy injury spell in which he did little but whinge about how tough it is to be a footballer. Rose had not played for around nine months and in that time had been paid what most of the fans he was criticising would struggle to earn in several lifetimes.
So why are we picking on footballers now? Several players have given examples of those who might be ahead of them in the queue – I list them below with some pretty obvious answers.
Actors?  Actors get paid when they work. Many of the most famous actors in the world are now out of a job because film projects have ceased. They also work in an industry where one bad performance can end their careers.
CEOs?  Sure, the average CEO is paid a handsome salary but most of their remuneration comes in bonuses and income related to the performance of the company’s shares. Both will be hit drastically by the current crisis. 
Other top sportsmen?  Many have already done what is now expected of Premier League footballers. Barcelona players have agreed to a 70% cut so that other staff “can earn their full salaries”. Many sportsmen do not enjoy the cossetted existence of being employed by a club. If golfers and tennis players don’t compete (like now), they don’t get paid. England’s cricketers (paid a fraction of the sums received by footballers) have already agreed to the 30% cut that Premier League clubs are asking of their players.
Investment managers? Another group that rarely garners sympathy, but they too will see a reduction to their incomes as a consequence of this crisis. Most are paid based on stock market values which have dropped, and bonuses are based on profitability which will be ravaged.
Wealthy club owners? Of course they should do more, but most have already seen the value of their club drop dramatically. Some may be unable to sustain the investment they have already made with the commercial future of the game so clearly under threat. Yes – they should do more, that does not excuse players, as a group, offering nothing but excuses.
Other rich people? Wealth is measured by the value of assets one has accumulated to date. It’s possible to be rich without having a commensurate income (if you own a massive estate which generates no revenue). Virtually all rich people will exit this crisis poorer than before. It’s not to say they shouldn’t do something – but footballers have an abundance of what everyone needs right now. Income.  It’s inconceivable that they could not sacrifice a small part of that for a short time to protect the jobs of their lower paid colleagues – and to tide clubs over until the future of the game itself is clearer.
The candidates offered up in the “why not” list will all see their income fall due to COVID, all of them can and should do more, the problem is that players appear to believe they are exempt.
Our Premier League players simply fail to grasp that they have an almost unique privilege. They are paid whether they play or not, most have long term contracts guaranteeing their income years into the future and they appear to believe they should not be asked to behave in a way that the players of Barcelona and the England cricket team have done willingly and without fuss.
Neville said they would respond – subsequent news report are not encouraging. We are told that a one-year sacrifice of 30% would amount to a £500 million loss to the players and a £200 million loss in tax to the Treasury – they claim this will damage the NHS. This is possibly the most egregious distortion of all. Whilst it is true that their pay is subject to tax, it also qualifies for tax relief for their employer. The claim that the net cost is 200 million is quite simply a lie. Suggesting that this would have a direct impact on the NHS is shameful. The government is now in a position where it has no choice but to give the NHS any resources it needs, lower tax revenues from football will not change that. If club owners have asked for 30% of player's annual pay, why have the players not responded with a counter-offer?  Maybe 30% of monthly pay for the duration of the lockdown.  Finally, it is breath-taking that footballers should now show such concern that the government gets its share of their income. I suggest you Google “Premier League tax avoidance” it will take you to a host of links describing the endless measures players have adopted to avoid paying tax in the past. In the words of Gary Neville – “it’s a F&&&king cheek”.
Another contributor to the debate has been Wayne Rooney – who is outraged that footballers are being “scapegoated”. He says that he has a player at Derby who still lives with his mum. How could such an individual be asked to sacrifice part of his pay for a short time? Rooney then goes on to answer his own question. Of course the player is a “young kid” and he doesn’t even play in the Premier League, so nobody has suggested he should take a pay cut. But the clincher is this – Wayne tells us that this vulnerable youngster is only on 2 grand a week. Could the disconnect be more stark?
Footballers play a team game. Many have honours denied to far more talented players simply because they were in a successful squad. They are being asked to make a gesture, not to take the whole burden of this crisis on their own shoulders. They are being asked to be a “team player”. They should offer a pay cut on the condition that clubs protect the jobs of their low paid colleagues. At a time when many people are wondering where the next pay cheque is coming from – it is frankly obscene that some of the luckiest people in the land have offered no coherent response. Gary Neville would be well advised to drop the “but we’re special” attitude. It’s time for a bit of humility and all that is being asked is a gesture that will make little or no difference to the lifestyles of those in the spotlight.
Football is not a business that invests in its future. Neville and his cohorts demand that clubs spend the money they earn on more and more expensive player acquisitions – which may or may not work. The quest for glory is predicated on an ever-increasing flow of cash into the game. That flow has now been interrupted. TV won’t pay for matches it can’t show, sponsors may decide they don’t want to be associated with a sport that is failing to “do its bit” and many fans will either not have the cash for merchandise and season tickets next year or will remember that the players they usually adore, sat out the COVID pandemic and sent them the message – it’s not my problem. Players and pundits should heed the warnings or a few years from now, some of them might have to get a proper job.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Racism in football -another way of dealing with the bully boys.

“Well, something must be done.” It’s the standard reply to every crisis. For most, however, the priority is merely to express the requisite level of outrage to show they care. Some are keen to ensure “something” is done, but they rarely dig deeper to assess whether the response actually deals with the underlying issue. That’s where we are with the current “crisis” of racism in football. Most “initiatives” are little more than gestures. There is another way.

September 1971. My first day at secondary school – I was tall for my age but geeky and painfully shy. A decent target for the school bully. It’s only looking back that I remember he barely looked at me as he grabbed at my sweater, pulled my tie and shoved me around. He was checking for an audience – hoping that someone would spot his macho posturing. Then I spotted the kid standing behind him. He smiled at me, gave a thumbs up and a wink – then went down on all-fours immediately behind my tormentor. The invitation was clear – I shoved the bully in the chest, one step back, he tumbled over my saviour and landed in an ungainly heap on the grass, never to come near me again.
My first instinct was to wonder what I’d done to become the focus of such hatred. Then I realised, it had very little to do with me. The guy was a loser, a sad little loner desperate for someone to take notice and to convince himself he wasn’t at the bottom of the pile. It backfired. The whole thing said little about me – and everything about the person trying to demonstrate a strength they simply did not possess.
The lesson has stood me in good stead. I’ve been on the end of rudeness, aggression and indirect discrimination – and on reflection it’s always pointed up the weakness, insecurity or low self-esteem of the perpetrator. I once intervened on a train when I saw a drunk harassing a female passenger – the man turned his attentions to me and I was treated to a detailed appraisal (not positive) of my looks, my age, my hair, my weight and the clothes I was wearing. I explained to the guy that for insults to have an impact – I’d have to give a toss about the opinion of the person dishing them out and I couldn’t think of anything less important to me than his views on anything. He retreated.
I hope I’ve successfully passed the lesson on to work colleagues and friends, encouraging them to think about the actions of those who treat them badly. Is it from a position of weakness or strength? Is any criticism objective or is it more to do with jealousy, insecurity or just that they’re sick of being on the wrong end of someone else’s ire and are simply lashing out?
So, what’s that got to do with football or racism?
Roll forward forty odd years and my wife and I were returning from Spurs v West Ham. For reasons most have forgotten – the home team has an association with the Jewish religion. The away team’s supporters treated a small group of Spurs fans to some appalling abuse – essentially focusing on the Holocaust (of which my wife’s grandmother was a tragic victim). I’m a confirmed lapsed Catholic so not the best judge but, even my wife agreed – these people were not anti-Semitic per se – they were ignorant, insecure, immature and finding the only way they could to fit in with their mates.
We are told repeatedly that football has a racism problem – and something must be done. Games should be halted – players should walk – Twitter should do more. Sure - but none of those does anything about racism - they are just knee-jerk reactions to make people feel better about doing something… anything. There’s a famous book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. It contains the well-known quote – “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. Stopping a football match isn’t victory over a “racist” – it’s submission – and the mindset of the villain is unchanged.
There is a way of combatting these imbeciles – and it’s already being led in a low-key way by footballers like Raheem Sterling and Paul Pogba. Sterling laughed when interviewed about racist abuse. “What do you expect from people like that?” he asked. Pogba has said abuse makes him more determined.
I have no solution for club chairmen who won’t appoint a manager for reasons of prejudice, or for aspiring referees who don’t make the Premier League list because they are from a minority group – but the problem of systematic abuse at grounds and on social media can be addressed, in part at least, by a change in mindset. It won’t be stopped by more people saying how upsetting it is.
I cannot put myself in the place of someone who is on the wrong end of vile personal comments regarding their race – but I will venture the, possibly unpopular, opinion that the priority here is not multi-millionaire footballers. They live extraordinarily cossetted lives and whilst chanting or tweeting may be upsetting or irritating – it takes relatively little from their lavish lifestyles. They do however, have the chance to lead the charge on behalf of people who are experiencing the same thing at school or their place of work.
When a footballer vents his anger and says how upset he is – he has given a victory to those who abuse him. If players were to walk off or matches were stopped – that victory is magnified. It could even exacerbate the problem – 2-0 down in a crucial game, stop cheering your own team, start abusing the opposition’s centre-forward. Back to the dressing room. Job done. Who will reimburse those decent fans who might have travelled halfway round the world to see the game?
As a teenager I saw Brighton play an uninspiring match in the old Third Division. Nearly all professional footballers were white – one exception (I regret I don’t remember his name) was playing in that game and being subjected to some foul abuse. In response to the monkey chants – the player turned to the crowd and did a passable impersonation of a  chimp. The tables were turned – he’d demonstrated that he really couldn’t care less. The crowd realised they’d lost – and cheered his every touch to the end of the game. More recently Danny Alves of Real Madrid ate a banana that was thrown at him. Should an insanely well-paid footballer really worry about the actions of a moron they have never met? Better surely, to call these people out for what they are and make it clear that they are not winning. If the idea catches on – it could have an impact in the classroom, the workplace and in social situations for people who are far less privileged than a pro-footballer.
Could we not all take inspiration from Sterling and Pogba? At the heart of the dictionary definition of racism is the idea that a racist believes himself to be superior. Those who chant and tweet this appalling garbage are showing weakness, insecurity and low self-esteem, it’s off the scale “small dick syndrome”. Their comments are borne out of fear, jealousy and their own inadequacies. If only football could change the narrative – if the players could rise above it, understand the perpetrator is a loser – they might just turn the tide for less privileged people who suffer the same abuse.
The remarkable Greta Thunberg, teenage climate change warrior, recently said “When the haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go – then you know you’re winning.”
Drink drivers were literally shamed into leaving their car keys at home – those who abuse others for any reason need a dose of the same medicine. Of course people should still be banned from grounds and be subject to the full force of the law  for being racist - but first and foremost for being a pathetic, sad little twat.
I’ve discussed this with a number of football fans and most agree the approach has merit. One, however, suggested that I was telling people they had no right to be upset. Nothing could be further from the truth. My argument is simply that focusing on how distressing it might be, will never get the bullies to stop. Footballers are powerful role models – if fans see their heroes mocking the morons who resort to juvenile name calling and pointing out that a verbal attack on an opposing player, because of the colour of his skin, is explicitly an attack on players from their own club too – shame and peer pressure might just make a difference.
And in case you are wondering – my saviour back in 1971. We are still firm friends. 

Matt Carrell

Author of A Matter of Life and Death - a novel set in the English Premier League and Something Must be Done - a short story about unintended consequences


Sunday 5 March 2017

Wenger and Fans - with apologies to Cat Stevens

I'm a big fan of Cat Stevens and Father & Son is one of his best tracks.

It's a great expression of an underlying hostility where one party just can't understand where the other guy is coming from. I found myself humming it the other day, while I watched Arsene Wenger being interviewed on TV.

I started to wonder what would happen if Arsene got into the same kind of conversation with the team's fans as the protagonists in the song.

I got together with a very talented young singer/musician called Matt George Lovett and this is what we came up with.

If you enjoy the video - please share -

Wenger & Fans

Saturday 20 September 2014

Wrestling in the penalty box and fashion on the touchline

Watching the QPR v Stoke game today (second half only, I have got a life you know), I was staggered by the leeway offered by referee Martin Atkinson to players defending corners. Ryan Shawcross was picked out by the commentary team as the worst offender, but everyone was guilty.
I've seen drunks being bundled into police vans on a Saturday night under less physical restraint than was being applied to the attacking team. Shawcross was certainly guilty of the worst example. Had the player he was marking scored, the Stoke defender was so firmly attached, he'd have got a piggy back round the ground for the goal celebration. Referees need to apply the rules wherever an incident occurs on the pitch. Right now a shirt tug on the halfway line can be a yellow card, in the box it's ignored. Am I missing something?
For those who say, if you gave a penalty for it, there'd be dozens every week, that would only happen in week one, after that, even footballers would cotton on.

Also a word of advice for Sam Allardyce, apart from congratulations on three points of course. It's the suit Sam, why bother? Even if you wear a three thousand pound Armani job, it still looks like you are wearing a tracksuit. Why not save yourself the cash and pop down to JD Sports? 

Monday 4 August 2014

Lineker speaks out about FIFA corruption

Hats off to Gary Lineker for his attack on Sepp Blatter and his FIFA cronies. I've commented here in the past about the fact that many of their decisions appear to be explicable only if a large wad of cash changed hands. This is the BBC coverage of Lineker's comments - BBC