Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Capturing Cardiff - Cardiff City Ladies FC

Last year, after much deliberation and planning, the Football Association formally announced their plans to restructure the top level of women’s football.

From 2010 onwards the existing top flight, the FA Women’s Premier League National Division – itself only established in the 1992/93 season – will be replaced by a summer ‘Super League’.

The new league will be an eight team top division, with clubs currently being invited to apply for membership.

Those clubs granted a license will then play in the league over a three-year cycle, with there being no promotion or relegation.

Amongst the motives that led the FA to give the women’s game this radical shake-up is the desire to strengthen the England national team, and also to prevent top domestic players from moving to America to play in professionally in the fledgling WPS.

But what does it all mean for the majority of clubs currently playing at Premier League level?

Leading women’s teams such as Arsenal and Leeds Carnegie are expected to bid for a place in the new league, and even the likes of Manchester United, who disbanded there women’s team in 2005, are being touted as potential wildcards for a place in it.

On the other hand, a number of clubs are not even considering applying to become part to the new league.

One such club is Cardiff City Ladies, the only Welsh team currently playing in the Women’s Premier League structure.

The decision not to apply was taken due to reasons outlined to me at a first team training session on the tennis courts outside the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens.

The main issue is money.

Attracting the money and sponsorship required to stake a claim for membership of the new league would not be easy for the club.

Like many of the top women’s football teams, Cardiff City Ladies once had ties with the local men’s team – albeit only for a relatively short period, between 2001 and 2003 – however after an acrimonious disagreement over the way the club should be ran, these links were cut.

With legal proceedings hanging in the air over the women’s club right to use the word 'City' in their name, the club returned to independent status with very little money to spend on the team.

Although more than five years have passed, things haven’t changed to the extent that the club would be able to spend the kind of money the FA are asking for.

Karen Jones, Cardiff City Ladies club secretary, told me that in order to apply for a license: “You have to present a considerable amount of capital.

“We understand this would be in the region of £160,000. You would also need a sponsor or partner.

“So we are just not in the position to bid.”

Another issue would be that on joining the Super League, players would have to become semi-professional, in theory to devote part of their time into working on football schemes within Cardiff.

This would mean they would be required to set up a business model in order to centrally employ up to forty of the players, coaches and other staff.

Michele Adams, Cardiff City Ladies team manager, said: “The twenty players who would be involved (with a Super League club) will be employed within the community.

“We haven’t got the business acumen to employ forty people, and so we would need professional help on that.

“Without support, we wouldn’t have the time to start what in all effects would be a new business.”

Michele Adams, Cardiff City Ladies coach, explains why the club are currently not in a position to apply for membership of the FA Women’s Super League, and how this situation could change in the future.

Potentially, another problem the club could face surrounds there place in European competition.

Unlike the men’s team, Cardiff City Ladies have the ability to qualify for Europe through the Welsh Cup, and thus are able to reach the preliminary stages of the UEFA Women’s Cup (women’s football’s equivalent to the Champions League).

They were involved in the competition earlier this season, and have been in each of the five years before that.

Should they gain membership to an 'English' league of the kind the FA are planning, there is the worry that this could put their future European aspirations in jeopardy.

At time of writing, Cardiff City Ladies sit second in the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division.

They were relegated from the National Division last season, having spent two years in the top flight.

Any hopes of ‘bouncing back’ at the first attempt have already been dashed, as the restructuring plans means there will be no promotion this season.

So Cardiff City Ladies are left challenging for the league, before waiting to see which division they will be competing in come 2009/10.

“We just want to see how high we can finish at the end of the season,” said Karen Jones, “So, when the restructuring is done, hopefully we will be in the highest flight underneath the top eight.”

Click the play button above to hear Cardiff City Ladies club secretary Karen Jones speaking about the FA Women’s Super League, why the club has decided not to apply for a place in it, and what the future holds for them.

To view a photo gallery of pictures from my visit to the team’s first team training session at the Welsh Institute of Sport, Sophia Gardens, click here.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The Journalistic January Transfer Window.

In the month of January, if you pick up any national newspaper and turn to the back page, chances are you’ll be confronted by a story documenting football transfer dealings.

FIFA’s January transfer window, introduced during the 2002/03 season, has seen the turn of the year become one of the busiest, newsiest and exciting times for sports journalists.

But it’s not just footballers who are moving around in January.

Journalists themselves often tend to move from paper to paper as we approach a new calendar year. 2009 is no different.

The topic of journalists switching to different newspapers has been hammered home to me this Friday afternoon.

Earlier I was listening to Alan Oliver, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle’s long-serving Chief Sports Writer, chatting on talkSPORT radio’s Goldstein & Cundy show (themselves no strangers to gracing newspaper pages) about Shay Given’s increasing unhappiness at Newcastle United.

Alan started by saying that today, after 29 years of covering the Magpies for them, he was working his last day at the Chronicle, and would be retiring from the rigours of daily journalism not long after putting down the phone.

However, this does not signal the end of his distinguished career, as Oliver announced how he will be continuing his journalistic work as the North-East football correspondent with the Sunday People.

For those of you who aren’t quite the sports journalism anorak that I am, you might remember Alan Oliver from an excellent video report he produced with Kevin Day for BBC TV’s Match of the Day 2 a few years back, charting his match report for the final edition of the Chronicle’s Saturday evening Pink paper.

Man on the move – Alan Oliver is leaving the Newcastle Evening Chronicle after 29 years.

He is often heard giving his take on the “Geordie Nation” on rolling sports news channels and it will be interesting to see how his reporting adapts to a new, national platform.

Touching on a topic discussed in previous blogs, Oliver for three decades will have been viewed by many Magpies fans as “their football writer” and has had a long and storied career in the North-East.

Indeed his former colleague Neil Farrington, sports columnist for the Chronicle’s sister paper, the Sunday Sun, has dubbed him “Mr Newcastle” in a tribute piece.

Through the window – Paul Hayward, Martin Samuel and Patrick Barclay are all switching newspapers, much like how the footballers they report on are currently changing clubs.

Alan is not the only sports journalist on the move.

Indeed a number of the biggest names on (what used to be) Fleet Street are moving to different papers.

Sports journalism’s answer to the fabled “managerial merry-go-round” actually began in August, when it was announced that the Daily Mail’s Paul Hayward would be returning to The Guardian on their move to Kings Cross at the beginning of 2009.

Hayward, having been Chief Sports Writer at the Independent, Telegraph and the Mail, will now become Senior Sports Writer across the Guardian, Observer and their online presence.

Succeeding him at the Mail is Martin Samuel, a heavyweight columnist who was named Sports Journalist of the Year at the 2008 British Press Awards.

The former Daily Express, News of the World and Times Chief Football Correspondent is another writer who has detailed his departure, mentioning it in his final column in The Times’ Monday football supplement ‘The Game’.

A number of journalists will be filling his shoes at the Times, the biggest hitter being the highly-respected Patrick Barclay, the cerebral Sunday Telegraph football columnist of 12 years until last month.

Barclay takes up the newly-created role of Chief Football Commentator, whilst the Times have promoted from within to give Oliver Kay a new reporting brief as Football Correspondent, inheriting Samuel’s Monday Game discussions amongst other duties.

So it’s all change as many of the marquee sports columnists have traded places with their contemporaries.

It’s a transfer window all of its own.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Lampeter University to link up with Carmarthen

It's now been over a week since it was announced that a place very close to my heart, the University of Wales, Lampeter, is set to merge with another West Walian education institution, Trinity College Carmarthen.

Having had time to digest the news and consider my feelings towards the move, as a proud Lampeter Theology graduate I thought I would blog my thoughts.

Although I have been away from Lampeter now for quite some while - indeed I had been out of Wales for two years until I moved to Cardiff this autumn - I must say this move didn't come totally out of left field to me.

Talk of a merger between Lampeter and Carmarthen has been doing the rounds for some time now.

With Lampeter’s financial problems and potential job cuts being spoken about since the summer, discussions about the two institutions joining forces have been taking place for months - and there was even talk of the possibility what the Western Mail described as a ‘Super-University’ between Lampeter, Carmarthen and the two Swansea universities.

After a meeting of minds between the governing bodies of both UWL and TCC last Thursday, it was agreed that the two institutions would look to form a new university.

The veritable paradise that is the courtyard of the Old Building, within the University of Wales, Lampeter. But what does the proposed merger mean for the UK's third oldest university?

As of the 2009/10 academic year, it looks likely that both Lampeter and Carmarthen will be under the same umbrella.

But what does this mean for the two colleges, and how will the link-up benefit each of them?

For a start, with Trinity College recently being awarded university status - having applied for it in June 2007 - a connection with the UK's third oldest university should give them an extra bit of prestige.

As far as Lampeter is concerned, having averted industrial action and job cuts in the summer, their governors hope a link-up with a bigger college in a larger town will help them not only make extra savings but offer their existing and prospective students added value.

However, not everyone is happy.

Their have been complaints to Ceredigion's local newspaper, citing about how a merger might detract from Lampeter's unique charm (although others feel this might be a blessing in disguise), whilst the Lampeter Society - the group representing the college's alumni - has announced it is against an amalgamation of any sort and wants to see UWL continue as an independent institution. They have the support of Lampeter Town Council as well.

So what does it mean to me? Other than it having pretty much knackered the review of the Uni I was writing for Starting University, on the face of it a closer relationship between the two colleges - if not a total merger - does seem to make sense.

When it's all said and done, if it’s done correctly it should ensure that departments and jobs are safe - and in the run up to Christmas, that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Following up on brands and bans by contrasting Howell and Hallam.

Having not identified a stand-out issue raised in last week’s fascinating guest lecture from BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on a theme I have already discussed here.

Firstly, I have to mention last week’s blog about “Journalists being brands”, which referred to how the Birmingham Mail rallied behind their football writer Bill Howell after he was banned from Aston Villa by then-manager David O’Leary.

The blog post has been commented on by both Bill and his Birmingham Mail colleague Colin Tattum, and it is interesting to read their recollection of the O’Leary affair and their thoughts on how Bill was treated.

Writing an article about football reporters getting banned from the clubs they cover has turned out to be quite a topical subject.

In the time since I last blogged, it transpires that the Derby Evening Telegraph’s Neil Hallam, who is amongst their team of Derby County reporters, has found himself on the wrong side of a similar banning order from the club (on clicking the link you’ll need to scroll down a bit).

Derby Evening Telegraph football reporter Neil Hallam has been banned from covering Derby County games after writing numerous critical columns about the club's owners.

Apparently the reason for Hallam’s ban from reporting at Pride Park is a result of him writing a number of critical opinion pieces highlighting the mystery surrounding investment made in the club by County’s new owners, General Sports and Entertainment (GSE).

However, in stark contrast to how the Birmingham Mail gave Bill Howell their full backing during his short-lived ban from Villa Park in 2006, the Derby Evening Telegraph has not been so supportive of Hallam.

His weekly Derby County column (which was published every Thursday) has been axed by the Evening Telegraph, and reports say that this comes after Rams officials had complained to the paper that Hallam had been trying to “destabilise the club” due to his regular questioning and criticism of GSE (again, you need to scroll down to the first bold bit when clicking the above link).

I’m sure that losing his column isn’t the end of the world for Hallam – who also works for the nationals, covering football in the Daily Mail and cricket in the Daily Telegraph – but it will be interesting to see how this story develops.

As with what happened to Bill Howell, the Neil Hallam affair raises some pointed questions about the freedom of the press, especially when it comes to reporting on sport.

I find it troubling that a journalist can be silenced so easily after posing what would seem to be a number of, if perhaps uncomfortable, perfectly legitimate and legal questions.

Challenging the views of a football manager, who in all likelihood won’t be around at that club forever, is one thing.

It would appear that taking a group of multimillionaire investors to task is quite another.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Do the Birmingham Mail view Bill and others as brands?

Rick Waghorn, founder of the exciting project, on visiting Cardiff last week made a point of telling us “journalists are brands”.

It is perhaps a forthright view but one I agree with.

During his 13-year tenure as Norwich City correspondent for the Norwich Evening News, he told us that for many Canaries-daft readers, he was their football writer. In fact, for many of these, he was the only writer whose work they read full stop.

He went onto ask those of us who are fans of sports teams who “our football writers” are. In responding to a Birmingham-based student, he referred to the Birmingham Mail’s Birmingham City reporter Colin Tattum.

It was interesting to hear “Tatts” get a namecheck, as it is actually a chain of events surrounding a Birmingham Mail colleague of his that led me sharing this view of journalists being brands.

For the Claret and Blue half of the UK’s second city, Bill Howell is “their football writer”.

Having worked for Trinity Mirror’s West Midlands newspapers for ten years, Bill has been covering Aston Villa for the Mail since the 2000/01 football season.

Fast forward five and a half years, and to the culmination of the 2005/06 campaign.

Villa lie 16th in the Premier League table, and perilously close to the relegation zone.

Their boss David O’Leary is under great pressure to keep Villa up and retain his job in the process.

After a number of understandably negative critiques, in late March 2006 the Irishman banned Howell from reporting on the club.

O’Leary claimed that Howell had a “vendetta against me” and that he was “trying to undermine me and the football club”.

Birmingham Mail football correspondent Bill Howell and former Aston Villa manager David O'Leary side-by-side. But when the two clashed, you might be surprised to discover which of them came out on top.

So, going into the final two months of a crucial campaign, the Birmingham Mail are lacking a Villa correspondent able to attend club press conferences or games at Villa Park. What do they do?

You might say it would be easy to dump Howell and bring in someone else to cover the Villa in these final few months.

But what actually occurred was the very opposite.

The Mail stuck by their man, with editor Steve Dyson stoutly defending Howell in editorials.

Howell himself soon became a Midlands media magnet, being invited onto a number of broadcast platforms including ITV Central’s ‘Soccer Night’ to state his case and defend his position.

Many fellow journalists from different organisations (such as BBC Radio WM football commentator Mike Taylor) leapt to his defence too.

Even the fans, already dissatisfied with O’Leary’s management, sided with “their football writer” over “their football manager”.

To this day some still refer to Bill as being the man who “saw through O’Leary for the charlatan that he is.”

After the initial media storm, Bill’s ban was revoked and you could even say that in some small part the affair was one of many contributing factors in bringing down the curtain on O’Leary’s Villa reign in July of that year.

Whether the Birmingham Mail would have been as supportive of one of their writers had he or she clashed with a manager popular with the fans and generally deemed to be successful, as opposed to one as unpopular as O’Leary, remains to be seem.

But I think what this cautionary tale shows is that, even in these times where journalists are sometimes seen as being expendable, a reporter like Bill Howell was seen as being much more than just a faceless nobody who could be replaced without anyone batting an eyelid.

Plenty of people were willing to speak up for “their football writer” when they felt he had been wronged.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Can Blogs and Bisping change age-old reading habits?

Last week’s guest speaker, Shane Richmond, the Daily Telegraph’s Online Communities Editor, spoke of how his newspaper once enjoyed great popularity amongst students due to its sports coverage.

In spite of the newspaper’s traditional conservative leanings and news agenda, which tend to oppose the politics held by the stereotypical view of a student, the Telegraph’s sports section has consistently won awards due to its comprehensive nature and selection of top writers which Richmond credits as helping to win sales amongst students.

I am sure Telegraph Sport’s popularity amongst students is still true today, but although I appreciate the quality of articles from the likes of Henry Winter, personally I find the general content of the section a little “too straight” for my liking.

Whilst what they do cover in depth is written about very well, I have long noticed that they seem to concentrate only on sports with a traditional popularity in Great Britain – football, cricket, rugby union, tennis, golf, boxing and so on.

I can see the reasons for this – the Telegraph has an older, more mature readership that are likely to favour reading about the sports that have always held media sway – but it doesn’t do it for me.

The Telegraph is not where I’d turn to if I wanted to read about the Philadelphia Phillies’ triumph in Baseball’s World Series, nor is it the place to read about James Wade’s nine dart finish at last week’s Grand Slam of Darts.

In contrast to the Times and the Guardian, who cover such events in innovative ways, Telegraph Sport tends simply to marginalise growing, international and/or less glamorous sports into the news in brief sidebars.

In light of this, I was surprised to hear around this time last year that the Telegraph had become the first broadsheet newspaper to appoint a Mixed Martial Arts correspondent.

Gareth A. Davies, who is also the Telegraph’s boxing writer, took on MMA on top of his portfolio both online and in print form thanks largely to the rise of Lancashire fighter Michael Bisping.

Bisping’s ascent from reality TV stardom has lead to a growing interest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in which he competes.

The Telegraph's MMA Correspondent Gareth A. Davies interviews British UFC hopeful Michael Bisping on Telegraph TV.

MMA is a combat sport that permits a variety of fighting techniques. It has its critics and has been looked upon with a degree of snobbery and contempt, particularly amongst the boxing fraternity.

Indeed it was once famously described as being akin to “human cockfighting” by John McCain.

Although tabloids such as the Daily Star have covered the UFC for a number of years now, that an established boxing writer working for a newspaper not known for its coverage of supposed ‘minority sports’ is blogging about MMA with regularity in a generally positive, non-cynical manner is quite something.

This shows not only how far MMA has come, but also how new online technology has transformed how editors (both in print and online) view what is newsworthy.

As Davies wrote last November:

But does it?

Whilst clearly there is enough interest in Bisping and MMA for Telegraph Sport to give it a good level of coverage, how has this translated on their user-generated content blog site

A quick search of the site for the terms ‘MMA’ ‘Bisping’ and ‘UFC’ generated just one blog. Similar searches for other ‘minority sports’ also produced low numbers.

That’s not to say that My Telegraph contributors have no interest in blogging about sport – there are plenty of them, over 1,230 at last check.

Thing is, they’re all about sports like football, cricket, rugby union, tennis, golf, boxing and so on.

Perhaps the Telegraph are right to stick rigidly to the sports that they (and their audience) know, whatever I may think.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Ishy’s gonna get Google for news on him.

Last week’s guest speaker, Anthony Mayfield, spoke about how Google has defined web-searching, due to its quickness and – in his words – ‘honesty’ in generating the most popular and relevant results in next to no time.

Google News was mentioned and it was it said that, due to the “key word” nature of “Googling”, the resource would yield its best results from those news sources with intros containing specific words to relevant to the story as opposed to snappy one liners.

After the lecture I took myself off to the Newspaper Room in Bute, and after nearly spitting my tea out over a PC screen, Google News was one of my first ports of call.

You see, this week I can’t bring myself to write this blog without mentioning the biggest story in West Midlands football – the sacking of controversial now-former Walsall winger Ishmel Demontagnac.

Former Walsall winger Ishmel Demontagnac enjoys happier times, but his sacking last week made national headlines.

This is neither the place nor the platform to talk about the whys and wherefores of the situation itself; however I am blogging about the fascinating way in which the story has been covered online.

Getting the news early on Thursday afternoon, I went to Google News to see who had picked up the news – or at least ‘went live’ with it online – first.

The first “official” source to hit the ground running was the Express & Star, with their initial piece hitting the net at 11.26am – around half an hour after unofficial club fansite UpTheSaddlers had uploaded the story, prompted by news reports on local radio station BBC WM.

In contrast, the BBC uploaded an item onto their website (interestingly as a leading article on the BBC England news pages, rather than one primarily for the sport section) at 12.11 – a piece that has since been updated to include further quotes from the club, and a news report from Thursday evening’s Midlands Today TV news bulletin.

The Birmingham Mail put their first report on this news up early in the afternoon, not long before the Express & Star uploaded a more considered article citing Walsall manager Jimmy Mullen’s thoughts at 2.20pm.

As the day developed, the nationals got into the act. Those that covered the story in detail tended to put their own spin on it, for the benefit of a wider audience.

The Daily Mail, through their ex-Express & Star reporter Neil Moxley, spoke of how “Walsall have taken a stand against football’s bad boys” quoting at length former Saddlers manager Paul Merson.

Over at The Times, after initially publishing curt details, Peter Lansley wrote about the story leading with the perspective of PFA boss Gordon Taylor.

Today, as you can see from the screenshot above, it is the two Times articles that come out as the top two results through Google News’ search engine optimisation.

They are listed ahead of the Express & Star, BBC, Birmingham Mail and all of the other sources who broke the news ahead of them. The Daily Mail is only beaten by the BBC from that list.

This goes to show that it’s not just being first with the news that counts – but by getting the best, most interesting take on the story it can leave a more lasting impression.