Mails: We won’t feel guilty for enjoying England this week…

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This is no guilty pleasure
There have been several attempts at self flagellation in recent mailboxes, to go along with the general international angst, concerning England’s unexpected progress at the World Cup – apparently we are a nation of wife beaters and moronic imperialists with a sense of entitlement and arrogance that belies our pathetic standing in the world – My own left leaning credentials bear up to the closest of scrutinies but they don’t clash with a deep love of the game and my country (the UK and England) I find no conflict in loving every second of a great World Cup, in glorious sunshine, that will probably live long in the memory, with the idea that we should be respectful of others and not attack people with different accents. I will not be beating my wife up this Wednesday should England lose – I will not be looking to attack any eastern European or Slavic sounding person should Croatia prevail and I will not be advocating an invasion of Ireland or Scotland should we win the World Cup.

There are a million reasons to be miserable at the state of the world and the way people treat one another – but loving the World Cup and football and enjoying the bonus of progressing shouldn’t even be close to motivating anyone to attack their keyboard in anger and frustration. England will probably not win the World Cup (but we might). At that point some of you can rejoice and let out a deep sigh of relief. Make sure you are looking in the mirror when you do so. Because that’s who you are and it has nothing to do with the way English fans behave.

I doubt there is any other nation in the world less permitted to enjoy some relatively modest sporting success without being lambasted from within and without. So can you all just f… off for a few days and let us enjoy some football
Steve – MCFC (Sterling will get the winner off his hip I promise)

…It seems Adam has clearly missed the point about the World Cup bringing the world together.

Many were worried about this world cup due to the host nation and the political decisions their government take (according to the media), a lot of us were wrong to be worried, it has been a fantastic tournament played on and off the pitch the way it should be.

I’m glad F365 have been patriotic, this tournament has brought patriotism back for myself personally.

I feel it’s sad that people like Adam have some very genuine concerns of the world but feel the need to bolt them onto football at a time when we should be celebrating the squads achievements. it seems all too fashionable to think “left” these days, to the point where some feel embarrassed to support their country for fear of being incorrectly labelled.

Now, can we just enjoy the rest of what has been an utterly brilliant world cup?

…In response to Adam, I’ve been reading Football365 since World Cup 2002, and I don’t think it’s at risk of turning into the Sun. Part of the solution to the problem of toxic patriotism (as with masculinity) is to support the positive alternative. The (potential!) triumph of a relaxed and emotionally literate modern team that takes psychology seriously over the narrow tyrannies of Proper Football Men is much to be prized. Only last week Mediawatch was remarking that the Sun’s World Cup coverage nearly had them rooting for Columbia! PS I’m Scottish
Ryan D, Glasgow

…Good Lord there are some miserable people mailing in aren’t there!? Adam in the mornings mailbox would have everyone in England join together and support every country equally. I’m sure the population of Italy and Holland are enjoying this world cup just as much as they would be had they qualified. I’m sure the city centres of Germany are heaving with fans watching Croatia vs Russia because it’s all football after all…

Of course people are going to support their own country over others! Does Adam support all the Football League teams equally as well? Some people just can’t wait to jump on the Xenophobia band wagon but Adams trying to hop on when there isn’t even a stop… It’s especially aggravating when there are so many ACTUAL examples of Xenophobia / Racism / sexism in the press that we could concentrate on eradicating.

Is the behaviour of some supporters abhorrent? Yes. Does the fact that Germany and Argentina seem to be England’s greatest rivals (at least according to our fans, it comes as a surprise to them!) make me feel uncomfortable because it has no basis in Sport? Absolutely. Will I be supporting England over Croatia on Wednesday? Of course I will! Just like my Russian colleague was supporting Russia over Croatia at the weekend! Good lord man, take the effort you are putting into berating people for supporting their national team and put it towards something worthwhile, like supporting Syrian Refugees or highlighting human rights violations in Qatar just so we can enjoy the next world cup.
Nathan PFC (English with Flemish blood, so excuse me but I’ll be supporting England and Belgium during the week thank you…)

…I’ll freely admit I was not a fan of this site during the last league season due to it’s season long myopic, un-objective and annoying Guardiola puff piece but I disagree with Adam over his criticism of the 365’s England World Cup coverage. This site has covered the England team and the WC in general excellently. Storey has shown us why he is an award winning journalist with a number of high quality articles (which was of great surprise to me honestly) and his peers at 365 towers have also been great.

I don’t understand why Adam has such an issue with this site supporting and writing positive things about an England side with a likable manager and no real hate-able players who are exceeding expectations. Claiming supporting England causes xenophobia and racism is sensationalist nonsense as people with those ignorant beliefs don’t need WC football to fuel them being bigots. The increase in domestic abuse during a WC is of course terrible but this website or anybody else can’t just hate on the England team because it has some scumbag fans.

I think its sad we now live in a country where the (quoted from Adam’s mail) “left-leaning, anti-xenophobic, anti-sexist, love the world” types like Adam think that supporting England means you are opposing their sacred views and are bad people. Anyway 365 carry on with what you are doing, ignore the Adam’s and I’m looking forward to this weeks WC coverage from you.
William, Leicester

…I’m sure you will get lots of replies to Adam’s letter in this morning’s mailbox…and I’m no different so I’d like to dissect his nonsense mutterings this morning –

Adam – This is the WORLD CUP, the pinnacle of football, most probably the pinnacle of team sport in the world, it brings with it pride, joy and the greatest feelings in the world (yes, even ‘those’ feelings with your partner), I’ve felt things about England in the last couple of weeks I haven’t felt since 1990 & 1996.

I’m sorry if the World Cup doesn’t mean anything to you, but it means the world to me and millions in the country like me and I won’t apologise for being ‘immensely proud’ of our boys.

I’m an Arsenal fan and I’ve applauded Harry Kane, Dele Ali & Kieron Tripper all tournament, they are playing for my country and my team, I couldn’t care less if they played for Spurs, Liverpool or Chelsea, they are all heroes to me playing for our side and every player, the Manager and his staff should be applauded and congratulated for taking us this far already.

You mention racism, can you please show me an article or video from social media where an England fan has been racist towards anyone? I’m not saying the scourge of racism doesn’t exist and there are not the occasional idiots, but I’ve not seen any England fans in Russia partake in any racial abuse. Here’s some useful information Adam, not every white man in an England shirt is a xenophobe or racist.

You also mention nationalism, there is a VERY distinct difference between nationalism and patriotism. What we are seeing around the country are people with love, devotion & support to their country, not a fevered support of nationalism which you see from your average Trump supporter, it’s very different. The worst I have seen is a few young un’s beered up jumping around an Ikea, it’s not big or clever, but they are hardly going around smashing towns up.

Adam, it’s a World Cup, drink it in and enjoy it, moments like these don’t come around often. We can hold hands and sing kumbaya after the semi-final.

Mark Holmes

…With Adam’s email, we see the opposite end of the left-right divide. His attitudes is just as disheartening as that expressed by the likes of that fella who didn’t want to see women on the telly because “it doesn’t feel right”. This sort of wholesale patronising of an entire fanbase and it’s motivations based on his own biases is probably the source of many right wing tropes (police will tell you to take down England flags, anyone?).

Supporting England and wanting them to do well is not nationalistic. Football is not a sterile sport in which we all nod sagely and clap when it’s pretty, and get overawed by statistics that demonstrate x player or team is really good. It’s about emotion, and the improbable, and enjoying that the type of lads you grew up with are now – forgetting the multimillions and branding – playing on the biggest stage and representing a nation.

If this was a club side, and the fans were cheering for their city, would you be saying the same thing? I didn’t see any criticism like this of our (Liverpool) cup run.

You can be proud, and patriotic, without being nationalistic, and to equate F365s accurate representation of the electric feeling of a competition run and all the passion that goes along with it as representative of right wing nationalism is gross. As is the idea that articles published on this website are somehow condoning domestic violence.

This is coming from someone that doesn’t support England, by the way, and hasn’t been swept up in the mania. I feel really good for my colleagues and friends, though, who are enjoying their nation doing well and a truly exciting cup run. All without beating their partners or joining the Football Lads or whatever they’re called – because the vocal minority is not representative of the whole.

Cheer up, Adam.
Theo, LFC, Liverpool

…A few points:

Firstly, Adam, bore off. For many people – me included – this is the first WC semi in their lifetime. It is a big deal. Normally, I don’t buy into supporting your country blindly because quite frankly the players don’t do anything to justify the support. I’ll stick to my sweepstake team thank you. However, this team is different, not just because they are winning, before the tournament you could feel it. There is just a good vibe, a vibe the country needs. You can harp on about domestic abuse, binge drinking and hyper-nationalism – which are all serious issues – but to most this is a rare ray of light that distracts from the day to day drudgery of Brexit, wage stag stagnation, unaffordability of housing, increasing poverty and political/social division. If anything the football has united people behind something rather than divide them over their view on the EU/Theresa May/immigration. In fact, if the country was run half as well as the England team we wouldn’t be in this mess. Would Southgate have pandered to Johnson and Gove (the Rooney and Hart of politics) no, no cabinet position for you. Would he have let Davis fuck about for 12 months? No, get a specialist in to come up with a proper plan. Obviously UK government is more complex than football but I know who I’d rather work for and they don’t enjoy running through fields of wheat!

Secondly, brilliant article by Jonny Nic today, spot on about how people as a whole are becoming more stupid and seem unable to analyse anything (political, social, football or even televisual programming) critically. This is exemplified by Sterling who had an excellent game and was one of the top three performers (After Pickford and Maguire). Throughout the tournament Sterling has easily been in the top 8/9 performer of the squad and thus deserves to start. The telling one for me is how little space we created up front when he didn’t play against Belgium. Like Henderson (until a few weeks/months ago) a lot of Sterling’s work cannot be measured by tangible metrics such as goals/assists/dribbles completed/key passes and is thus undervalued and written off by most. If there was a stat for defenders drawn out of position, Sterling would top it in this squad. If there was a stat for corners forced, Sterling would probably be top. If there was a stat for space created behind for Alli and Lingard, Sterling would be top. Like Henderson, until Dier comes on, you don’t notice or really appreciate him until he isn’t on the field. When Sterling goes off things become a lot more congested and everyone seems to have a lot less time on the ball. Great (not world class) player, stupid critics.

One point about people slating Sterling for not scoring is how there is already a will he let us down in the final etc. etc. mob. How about we don’t think hypothetically as conjunctive history is bullshit. Had Southgate scored that penalty we might have won the euros, there is also every chance that our next kicker could have missed. Had Pearce and Waddle scored in Italia 90, there is every chance we would have lost the final and people would say, ‘but what if Gazza hadn’t got that booking?’ Here’s some conjunctive history for you: What if Fat Sam hadn’t had that pint of wine with an undercover journo? Well, here is a completely conjunctive answer: England stumble through qualifiers and require a play-off win to get to the WC. Throughout, Sam uttering hubris about how he is the only man for the job, name checking Howe and Dyche as not good enough due to lack of experience. His WC squad includes Hart, Rooney and Wilshere (who then gets injured in the first game) but also Barkley, Smalling, an unfit Lallana and out of form Drinkwater because they play for big clubs. After a Hart and Smalling error results in an uninspiring draw with Tunisia, England huff and puff to a 1-0 over Panama, Rooney – a la Messi – tries to be the conduit of play but his toil is ineffective and he gets a petulant booking. Needing a point to go through we play out a dour draw with Belgium B who top the group. Sam chest pumps about doing better than Hodgson and hubris is in full force. England lose their head to Columbian shithousery and bottle the penalties and go home with Sam and red top lackies of Wilshere, Rooney and Hart being the only ones to hail it as a good performance. Wimbledon gets more views than the WC due to the shit served up.

So, people, whatever the result on Wednesday can we just enjoy the fact we got this far? This is the best England team in 28 years it might even be the best in 52 years. If a player makes a mistake, or misses, or shows that he is not a robot and, in fact, is a human being, it is hypercritical and churlish to label them useless or crap. This is far better than the shit we are usually served by England so lets enjoy it while it lasts.
Joe, Midlands

Why ANY negativity?
I dont understand.. Really I dont

Who are these people that you read / hear in the pub / radio etc..

Drop Raheem, drop Alli, drop Young,.. whiney, moany bitchy arses!

I just fail to believe that ANYONE that loves England or Football can be anything other than bouncing off the walls and wanting all these players knighted along with Sir Gareth of Lord Southgate.. (who by the way has some brass balls to have that stitched in the waistcoat get in lad)

We are in the semi final .. of the World Cup.. the actual grown up, proper World Cup!! HOW CAN YOU MOAN!

These players have got us.. US, we say US!!! like we have had anything to do with it… to the semi final, THE SEMI FINAL!!!

What is the matter with some English people? Drives me mental.
Al – Happily flying the flags like a lunatic (If you cant be patriotic this summer than I give in) Just ride the wave people! Stop ya bloody moaning! This is the best summer ever (I am 46 so maybe ‘ever’ is strong.. but in my lifetime for sure..)

Sterling work
Can’t help but feel that you guys over there at Sterling365 are helping to blow this Sterling thing up into a far bigger deal than it needed to be, and I’m not sure that it is helpful to anyone. You have been absolutely right to call out the despicable right-wing press for its treatment of him, but since then watching/listening to you guys tying yourselves into knots in a bid to avoid criticism of him has been excruciating.

As far as I can see (by, you know, using my own eyes, ears, brain and stuff) the biggest single factor behind Sterling being singled out for criticism since this tournament has begun is that a) he is [arguably] the only England player that hasn’t played to the best of his ability, and b) he is [arguably] the England player whose position has the strongest 2nd choice player waiting in the wings. Apart from the Dele Alli/Loftus-Cheek question – which has largely been fuelled by Alli’s injury, and partially put to bed by his goal on Saturday – there isn’t really another area of the pitch where anyone has got a decent argument for change.

Throw in the fact that Rashford played so excellently in the pre tournament friendlies, the fact that as we don’t create that many clear cut chances we could really do with some clinical finishers on the pitch, and a slight feeling that Rashford has deserved more minutes – and there are plenty of bona fide reasons for having a grumble (which may morph into a boo when under the influence of 9 pints of lager), none of them to do with being a ‘footie idiot’, or fricking mind control.

I’m sure there is a mindless minority who have been influenced by what they have read but the vast majority just see an area of the pitch that could (arguably) be improved upon – and let’s face it there has been precious little else to moan about over the last few weeks. Trying to paint this situation as a good versus evil thing is ridiculous – and risks turning people away from the original message.
Big Norm, Exeter

Apologies for a long mail but… In response to John Nicholson’s article this morning:

As with a few of his articles, I generally agree with the premise, but I feel like he has taken some very valid arguments and pushed them so far as to invalidate them, or at least lessen the impact that the article would have had if he had not gone over board on some of his points.

Here is the tenth paragraph of the article:”Now, if you’re a proper stupid who has been programmed correctly, your instinct now should be to call me or anyone saying this to you, a snob or an elitist and complain that you’re not stupid, actually you just read The Sun out of some sort of sense of postmodern irony or because you like puns. But such protest is merely the status quo’s anti-virus mechanism kicking in. You’re doing the work for the ‘keep-everything-like-it-is-don’t-question-anything’ cultural software that has been implanted in you.”

The above quote basically accuses anyone who both disagree’s with him and reads the Sun (being from Liverpool I do not and will not ever read the Sun) as both the stupid people that were talked about in the first paragraph, and also the people ushering in this profoundly disturbing endemic as it is described toward the end of the article. He even takes a stab at love island! Now he is either trying to provoke a reaction for clicks, or he actually, genuinely believes that people can be rounded up in groups based on such arbitrary factors and he is then able to use this as some kind of measure of their intelligence – and that is only IF we accept the original assumption that the behaviours he has described are in-fact due to a lack of intelligence. Either of these options seems incredibly hypocritical based on the premise of the article.

That point aside, my whole gut feeling is that nothing that is presented in the article is new information, a new problem, nor the fault of technology in any way whatsoever. We may becoming too reliant on our phones but I actually think that technology has opened up new information streams and made it far easier than ever before for people to find alternatives to the mainstream media to challenge views and fight for the truth. But there is absolutely nothing new about people being influenced (or twisted and manipulated to take the sensationalist tone of the article) by the media. Think 1930’s Germany for one obvious example. Also the fact that John is surprised that sex sells is incredible to me. It has been one of the most important techniques in advertising since… Forever. It is something that is deeply rooted within either our society or our psychology (or a mixture of the two). We may be more enlightened these days and we may be trying to wipe out exploitative practices such as having skimpily dressed women at car shows, but at the end of the day (and Love Island is a prime example) people just enjoy looking at other attractive people.

My own thoughts on the tabloid press is that they are in a transition process and are struggling to see how the future will pan out. Much like the music industry over the last 15 years, there is a massive re-adjustment to the new way we can all access and share information. The increasingly desperate measures taken to get clicks is just a kick back to the fall in newspaper sales. I think that the golden age for these companies with the power and profits that they once made is on its way out, and we are seeing the last gasp attempts to maintain historic revenues. The music industry, the news / media industry have both been massively hit and the next one will be an upheaval of the TV industry with streaming services becoming more and more competitive to traditional TV. Although I think it will be a lot slower and more gradual, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing a lot more shocking and base level reality TV programming as companies struggle to cope with the competition from Netflix and Amazon. And when that happens I will look forward to the Jonny Nic article about how its the end of civilisation as we know it.

Also wanted to quickly defend F365’s world cup coverage from Adam. I mean I’m hoping you had to trawl through 1000’s of mails… Each more joyous than the last, to find the one from the grumpiest guy in Britain. I personally think the mixture of excitement and tempered optimism has been spot on. I have especially loved reading 16 conclusions like minutes after each game. It’s like having a conversation with a keenly observant and more intelligent friend about tactics and performances, rather than just describing what I just watched myself as per a normal match report. Keep up the great work guys!
James EFC (Can’t bloody wait for Wednesday)

…Really interesting article from John Nicholson on Sterling this morning. There does appear to be a ground swell of opinion that urges that because Sterling made a hash out of the presentable chances he had at the weekend, he should be jettisoned from the team.

Why so reactive? Is this because we are only able to appreciate easily quantifiable actions from players in a game – like scoring a goal? It is the same thinking that says that Kevin De Bruyne can’t win player of the year (or any equivalent trophy) because Mo Salah scored more goals than he did, so he has to win. (Not that I’m equating Sterling with De Bruyne – they’re clearly different types of players – but they both do things on the pitch that contribute to an effective offense which don’t necessarily directly result in a goal being scored.)

It feels to me like many people who watch football are unable to really appreciate or ‘rate’ a player unless they can see obvious (read:attacking) effects from their play. Ok, so De Bruyne’s outstanding attribute is his passing, some of which may lead to a goal, so people can get behind that. But Sterling’s movement is not something they can appreciate – it’s just ‘running around a bit’ . The effects of his runs on opposition defenders and making space for others seems to be something people aren’t able to appreciate. Yes, his finishing has been awful and he clearly panics when given time to think about how to finish a chance and usually makes the wrong decision, but that doesn’t mean he’s not effective in what he is in the team to provide. Goals from him are a bonus, rather than a necessity for the way this England team play. Goals are not the reason he is in the team. I think we’ve already seen that our central defenders are as key to our offensive threat as the forwards.

The main thrust of John’s piece is in bemoaning the brainless behaviour exhibited by swathes of the population, using the example of the BBC player ratings poll as evidence of how popular opinion has been influenced to unnecessarily target an individual and make them into a figure of hate and ridicule. This is reflected in the immediate posting of snarky, ill-founded comments below the line on John’s piece. Of course you can feel Sterling might not be the best option. It is ‘allowed’. That’s not what the article is about.

There is just a crushing lack of self-awareness – with posters seemingly more fixated on their right to an opinion and the accusation that John may be denying them the right to their own. Apparently, everyone has to have an opinion, and it should be heard. That is obviously way more important than stopping to think about where behaving in this way is leading us and <thought interrupted by following link to another football’s coming home meme>

 As somebody who has little interest in social media, this serves as a reminder of why I don’t like it. This highlights the differences between a written article and a comment or tweet. An article can be more considered, than reactionary. There is room for nuance, room for self-deprecation, room for the author to be self-aware enough not to elevate themselves above their own accusations. I agree, the “I’m writing a novel about this” bit was quite Guardian-like in it’s jarring insertion, but hey we’ve all got to make a living. Remember, the adverts – awful, undermining and annoying as they are – on this site are what keep it free.

Most of all though, England, despite not being particularly great, are in the semi-final! Why drop anyone and change a winning team?

 Nick the Citeh fan in Chessington (The world is sadly full of berks / We still won’t win the thing anyway.)

…Those with reasonable memories will know that I have long since understood Heemio’s reasons for leaving us for Citeh and have even borderline championed him, if you’ll pardon the pun, in these ever hallowed mailbox pages. We trousered the best part of 50M (when 50M was still a shockingly large amount of money) for a player we had got for a relative pittance from QPR. Many rival fans were quick to point out we hadn’t lost much sleep over QPR’s loss when we bought him so Citeh were simply doing to us what we had done to QPR when the player was ready to move on to bigger and better things. Heemio has been proven correct in every part of his decision – even if I disagreed with his methods at the time. Indeed I never felt he got the credit for his part alongside Suarez and Sturridge during the almost season. It should have been SASAS rather than that Sutton&Shearer reincarnate.

It is with this that I recoil at the coverage he has ‘enjoyed’ this past year or so. There is every bit the dark undertone that many believe is the driving force behind the sustained character assassination and he is absolutely singled out unfairly for perceived sub-par performances. And I hope with every fibre of my being that he scores the winner in either the next match or better yet a hat-trick in the final, should England get there. Imagine it!? Would there be a media blackout from The S*n and The Times’ if he did win the WC for England in the same way News International refused to cover the Hillsborough verdicts. I wouldn’t put it past them, it would be almost as if it never happened. I would actually buy The S*n for the first time in my adult life just to see their reaction.

I think he is an excellent player. He runs at the speed of a thousand gazelles and I remember once someone telling me he was pound-for-pound the strongest player in the PL. Quite how they work that one out I will never know but I do know he never seems to be injured despite getting kicked for 90 minutes whenever he takes to the field.

I’ll be shouting “Come On Raheem!” everytime he receives the ball, even though I am not an England fan. In fact, as the F365 MC may attest, I am ordinarily quite the opposite!

Come on Heemio!!!
Gregory Whitehead, LFC

I have to take umbrage with the usually excellent John Nicholson and his latest column claiming that the public has in some way been hoodwinked by the press into an anti-Sterling fervour. Undoubtedly, there are countless occasions where a ‘truth’ is created by websites and is sold to, and bought by, unwitting football fans, but this is not one of those instances.

Mr Nicholson quotes Matt Dickinson from the Times who bemoans the fact that Sterling propped up the player ratings from Saturday’s excellent team performance, implying this was the result of some bias, a totally unfounded position. Firstly, a quick check on (usually so beloved by this website), shows that Sterling was statistically the weakest performer in the England starting XI. Secondly, Sterling wasted at least two excellent goalscoring opportunities, something which tends to imprint itself on the collective consciousness at this stage in an international tournament. I’d be genuinely interested to hear who else could possibly be considered the worst performer on the England side.

It’s becoming very fashionable to defend Sterling in the slightly more thoughtful parts of football discourse, but I fear these are based on a desire to show an ability to perceive phenomena which aren’t there and gain separation from the idiots obsessed with doing the man down. Unfortunately this can lead to some rather unseemly mental gymnastics (e.g. one mailboxer comparing Sterling’s lack of goals to Henderson and Walker’s, a self-evidently wretched argument), and can take its author from seeming a rational, informed football observer to appearing as a simple contrarian.

My plea is to avoid this. The reality is the reality. Sterling has not delivered for England at this tournament. It is ok to accept this, even if it means you can’t stick two fingers up at the red tops.
Ian, Northampton

Jordan’s beef
Pickford plays football like I play golf – When his short game is good, his long game goes to pot.

He really needs to have a round where he puts it all together. (Hopefully 2 Rounds)
Andrew CPFC

Most anticipated release of the summer
“It’s impossible not to see Southgate as a continuation of a Roy Hodgson era that was so vehemently attacked after two successive tournament disappointments. England have their middle-of-the-road manager for their middle-of-the-road team in an increasingly middle-of-the-road version of the sport.”

Perhaps when Daniel is writing his Portrait of an Icon piece for Southgate when the inevitable happens he should start with this.
Peter, Glasgow.

The FA: a great bunch of lads
It was revealed towards the end of last week – and reported in yesterday’s Non-League Paper, that the FA has decided to double the amount of prize money for each round of the FA Cup, while the money for losing in any given round is 150% of last year’s amounts. This means the winners receive £3.6m – not to be sniffed at, but with a Premier League side likely to lift the trophy it won’t make a huge difference to their fortunes.

However, increasing the prize money for every round of the competition will make a difference to clubs in the lower reaches of the pyramid. Once the four qualifying rounds have been played, 32 non-league teams will be in the hat for the first round proper and all will be £25,000 better off as a result. For the very lowest-ranked teams, who will contest the extra preliminary round on August 11, there is £2,250 at stake for the winners, with a £750 consolation prize for the losers – this should at least cover the cost of travelling to and from the game, if nothing else.

Just thought I’d throw in a moment of “the FA aren’t always c##ts” to brighten people’s Monday.
Ed Quoththeraven

England’s finest false 10
Probably need to give the award for the most effective English tactics this weekend to……Theresa May.

She managed to sneak through a soft Brexit, while the tabloids and British public were all distracted with the football. Maybe she’s not playing in a false No. 10 role after all.
Nik, London

Move over, Italy and Holland
Croatia the new Italy, Belgium the new Holland?

I have read and heard a lot about this world cup being the world cup of shocks which is borne out by a number of factors. Yes Germany going out in the group stage was a shock and no one picked this list of semi-finalists. However for me the biggest surprise happened before any ball was kicked in terms of Holland and Italy not qualifying.

Hence I ponder the question have Croatia taken Italy’s place and Belgium the place of Holland. Apart from being neighbours and rivals there are a lot of similarities.

Italy always seem to do best when there is a scandal at home that threatens to de-stable their tournament. This year in Croatia they have a huge scandal and court case against all sorts of people with star player Modric slap bang in the centre. In fact before the tournament I was hearing that the general public are so against Modric there is nothing he can do to change his reputation in his homeland. I wonder if opinions have changed? Italy won 2006 after coming into the tournament off the back of the match fixing scandal. On the playing side I would say Croatia and Italy are similar. Both have great goalkeepers and is Modric not just this year’s Pirlo? Obviously there are differences namely the fact that Lovren or any of the Croatia defence would never get into an Italy team.

Then we have Belgium instead of Holland. The Dutch always seemed to be a team that was full of world class players who all played in the best foreign leagues around Europe. The issue was that they could never get on, it was like they spoke different languages with distinct camps and cliques. There was always question marks over if the manager had the power to control them. Now this Belgium side actually contains players that don’t share a mother tongue and coming into the tournament there was question marks over the 3 different groups, the ‘Belgium’ French players, the Flemish speaking players and the ‘foreign’ Belgium players. Full of attacking talent but could they pull it together?

Hence if you swapped these two and had a set of semi-finalists that were Holland, Italy, England and France then I would argue this is no shock at all.

As I said it is a surprise that German went out in the group but then so did previous reigning champions France, Italy and Spain in 2002, 2010 and 2014. The world was shocked when Russia got to the quarterfinals but this was nowhere near as surprising as when Korea got to the semis in 2002 and actually 6 out of the last 8 host countries got to at least this stage. This is without bringing up the fact that Russia got to the semi-finals of the Euros in 2008, is the most populace country in Europe and has a thriving league that although not one of the mystic ‘big 5’ leagues is arguably number 6. As for the Latino teams, Mexico played their normal 4 games, Uruguay overachieved and completed the set in terms of getting to the last 16, 8 and 4 in the last 3 world cups, Argentina surprised many by getting out of the group and Brazil got found out in the knock out stages when they came up against a decent European team as they did last time out. Finally a lesser known fact but Spain have actually only made it past the last 16 twice since 1994. Arguably the biggest surprise is England performing to the level that they should, again if you look at the ‘big 5’ leagues England woefully underperform when compared to France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

I also think this will help manage our own expectations, if instead of thinking of this semi-finals as against some minor Eastern European country (with a population of around only 4millon!) we think of them as the Italians with a great keeper, big match midfielders and a winning mentality. And if we should face the Belgium’s either next Saturday or Sunday we should give them the respect we would have given the Dutch, as player for player this Belgium team is as good as any Dutch team I have seen in my lifetime.

Paul K, London

“I hope United fans, and football fans in general will start to give him the respect he deserves.”

We do. The problem is basing an appraisal of his qualities as a footballer on a few World Cup games with Belgium isn’t a substitute for watching him for five years (Christ alive) at United.

Fellaini has always had the ability to do a defined tactical job well in big games, and he has a deeply awkward combination of skills and abilities, particularly against less physically robust teams like Brazil. He occasionally scores a decent goal and has a game where he monsters an opposing centre-back.

But there’s simply no place for him in an elite team, and never has been. He doesn’t have the passing range, technical ability and game management to play in central midfield, and his record as a defensive midfielder is appalling. He’s best used as a target man playing at 10, and there’s absolutely no way he should ever play as a 10 ahead of de Bruyne, Hazard, Pogba, Mata.
Chris MUFC

…As an aside I also have to say I disagree entirely with Craig (Boston) is his ravings about Fellaini. Everyone knows a Coconut based conditioner would give his hair a sleek and smooth appearance!
Nathan PFC (Papaya extract FTW)

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