The week before last I posted a poll: “If #Nigeria held a referendum on national unity today, how would you vote?” The results were not great for those who believe in Nigerian unity. A whopping 80% of responses voted for a fundamental change to Nigeria. 35% want the country to break-up, and 44.6% of people voted for Nigeria to be turned into a confederation.
The vote result was a massive rejection of Nigeria’s current structure. Only 20% of people want Nigeria to continue as currently structured The fact that more than a third of people want Nigeria to end is deeply worrying.
Podcast interview with Dan Snow of on-demand History Channel History Hit regarding a part of the British Empire that rarely gets attention (West Africa/Nigeria). This podcast is a precis of how and why despite originally being called “The White Man’s Grave”, Britain conquered territories in that part of the world.
The FA’s recent announcement that the 2019-2020 FA Sunday Cup tournament is likely to be completed is welcome news. The competition was at its semi-final stage when Covid struck and prematurely ended the season. For the first time in four years a team from London (Portland FC) is in the semi-final. London has strangely under-achieved in the FA Sunday Cup. Only two teams from London have won the FA Sunday Cup in the last 26 years. Despite being Britain’s capital and having a massive footballing population – boasting more teams and players than any other city or county, London lags far behind the teams from northern England (especially Liverpool) who have almost turned the cup into their personal possession. 11 of the last 15 FA Sunday Cup winners were from either Liverpool or Durham County areas.
In this year’s tournament, the London champions Lambeth All Stars were knocked out after losing 0-3 to St Joseph’s from Luton, and highly heralded “YouTube Team” Baiteze Squad lost in round 2 after losing 1-2 to Shire United from the Thames Valley Sunday League.
So why do London teams under-perform in this competition?
1) Lack of Motivation. Northern teams (especially those from Liverpool) treat the FA Sunday Cup as their top priority every season. For Sunday footballers from that region, this cup is their Champions League and is the most glamorous competition they can play in. It is common to see virtually every team from the top two divisions of the Liverpool Business Houses League enter this cup.
Yet, London teams do not seem to bother with this competition! For example, only 4 of the 127 entrants in the 2019-2020 competition were from London. Yet about 25-30 teams from the Liverpool area enter this cup every year. However, London, with its nine million citizens, entered only 4 teams. Even Portland who are “flying the flag for London” are technically from Surrey since the club has its roots in Croydon (on the south London-Surrey border). New Salamis (who won this cup in 2016) were the last London team to make this cup a priority and entered it every season until they left Sunday football to become a Saturday team in 2018. Since then, London has relapsed to the usual under-achievement in this cup. Despite having hundreds of teams and thousands of eligible players, over 98% of London teams never enter the cup. Why are London teams so apathetic about this cup?
2) Ground Grading Requirements. The competition’s rules require games to be played on a separate roped off pitch, and for the home team to provide hospitality facilities for both sets of players and spectators. Those are pipe dreams for most London Sunday teams. In busy and congested London, many teams play on council parks with several pitches/games going on side by side.
Facilities and stadia improve as one moves further away from London (because in a built up city like London there are few spaces to have even a basic football pitch). Most matches in the London Sunday Challenge Cup (London’s premier Sunday cup competition) are played on pitches that would not be accepted even at a step 7 Saturday league! (the lowest level in Saturday football) Some Sunday teams play on pitches that are not fit to walk a dog on, let alone play football. For example, games on Sunday mornings at Hackney Marshes in east London resemble gigantic scrums with hundreds of players playing on pitches only a few feet away from adjacent games and pitches. This geographic imbalance in facilities gives northern teams an advantage as they can more easily hire grounds that meet the FA’s ground grading rules.
For a London team, good quality facilities mean that they have to travel far to play even their home games. Hence a “home” game for a London team in the FA Sunday Cup may involve travelling to another county like Essex or Middlesex. For example, when New Salamis FC (from north London) were a Sunday team they usually played their home games at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire or Enfield in Middlesex. The fact they had to travel to other counties to play “home” games demonstrates the challenge of good football facilities in London.
The Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League (OBDSFL) is a notable exception. Many OBDSFL teams are based in south London or Kent. Unusually for a Sunday league, the OBDSFL has ground grading requirements for teams in its top 2 divisions (which are probably stricter than step 7 pitch requirements). As a result, several OBDSFL clubs play at some of the best grounds one can find in amateur football. For example SE Dons play at Cray Wanderers’ Flamingo Park in Kent, and Kenningwell United play their home games at King’s College’s plush facilities. Yet neither team entered the FA Sunday Cup despite having the facilities to do so.
The reluctance of London teams to enter has led to some mockery and “banter” from northern teams who ridicule London teams for always boasting about how good they are, but never actually bother to prove it by competing in the premier Sunday football competition in the country. The advertising and sponsorship income that YouTube teams such as Baiteze Squad, SE Dons, and Rising Ballers generate mean that they can afford to enter this competition and the associated costs of travel and playing around the country.
Moreover, the competition would be enriched by having more London teams in it. In boxing it is often said that “styles make fights”. That is also true of football with its geography based variations in playing style. Northern teams tend to be very organised, physical, and defensively solid. Conversely, London teams have more flair, take greater risks, and play a more rapid passing game.
YouTube teams from London have done very well to raise the profile of Sunday football. Yet they will never earn the respect of northern teams (as New Salamis did) until they win this cup.
If you want to “try out” the new book What Britain Did to Nigeria, you can do so via the video kindly produced by reader Adekunle Shotubo. He produced this excellent video that previews the book’s cover, print quality, jacket, imagery, and text. Feel free to take a look at this preview of #WBDTN.
There are three footballing matters to discuss this week: first is the suspension of non-elite football in England, second is the 2019-20 FA Sunday Cup, and the third is the challenge of how to finish the uncompleted Sunday league games.
On Monday, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the “roadmap” timetable for the UK’s route out of the Covid related lockdown restrictions. While football leagues from the National League North and South (two divisions below the professional football league) have been declared void for a second successive season, grassroots football fans will have reason to celebrate. Sunday football leagues (which had been on hiatus for the last 4 months) will be happy to hear that they may resume playing from March 29, 2021.
My opinion is that it was a mistake to void the last football season (2019-2020) when the majority of games had already been played. The FA should either have completed the season using points per game average, or allowed the outstanding season fixtures to be played between August-November 2020. That would have avoided the scenario of two consecutive null and void seasons. Two consecutive void seasons will also cause all sorts of injustice. For example, some clubs had almost unassailable leads at the top of their divisions in the 2019-20 season and were certain to be promoted. Good examples are St Panteleimon and New Salamis who were first and second of the Spartan South Midlands League and were set for promotion until the season was cancelled. They basically won all those games/did all that hard work for nothing. Two seasons later, some teams who were in promotion positions have lost players while rival teams have strengthened. This will mean that without the attraction of promotion, they may be “stuck” in their current division (which they should have been promoted out of – 2 seasons ago!).
Although England is unusual for separately grading its football based on the day of the week it is played, the suspension of the semi-professional leagues from the National League North and South downwards (who play primarily on Saturdays) and the continuation of Sunday leagues, are related. Although many Saturday semi-professional footballers look down their nose at Sunday football for being “inferior”, they may soon have to embrace the game they so disdain. Since they will not have any competitive football to play for another 6 months, joining and playing Sunday football is the most viable option for them to maintain their fitness and play football. Given that Sunday football generally has less travel than Saturday football, that could be a very attractive option for them. They can work on Saturdays and earn money to replace their lost income from not playing for their regular Saturday teams, and play on Sundays without the hassle of having to travel long distances for away games. However, joining Sunday league clubs will come with its own complications.
Firstly, if more semi-pro players start joining Sunday clubs, it could distort the balance of power and competition in Sunday leagues. Money and funding impacts football even at this amateur level. Very good Saturday players will want to play for bigger Sunday clubs who are well funded enough not to charge their players “subs” (subscription fees which Sunday clubs charge their players to cover the club’s expenses). Or the “trophy hunters” among them will want to play for the most successful Sunday clubs where they have the best chance of winning trophies. In other words, the already strong teams are likely to get even stronger.
Conversely, teams who have already been knocked out of their cup competitions or who have little chance of promotion or winning their leagues, may not be the most attractive option. In fact such clubs may lose players who do not want to play meaningless matches. In other words, the already weak teams are likely to get even weaker. Either way this could have a disruptive effect on team harmony as regular players may feel resentful if they are dropped or replaced by a semi-professional player who is joining the club temporarily.
There is also the operational challenge of how to complete the outstanding Sunday fixtures in only three months. Some clubs such as the current London Sunday champions Lambeth All Stars played only 5 league games before the Sunday league season was suspended. To complete their outstanding league and cup fixtures will require such clubs to play the dreaded “double headers” (two successive matches on the same day), and/or play midweek games. Getting players for midweek games is always a challenge as some players have work commitments during the week.
On the upside this does mean that we are likely to see a large volume of games condensed into a very short time frame.
FA SUNDAY CUP
The FA Sunday Cup is Sunday football’s answer to the FA Cup. It is a nationwide cup competition for English Sunday football clubs. Due to Covid the FA cancelled 2020-2021 edition of this competition. This was not surprising since the 2019-2020 competition has not been completed. It was suspended last year at the semi-final stage.
Of the four semi-finalists, Portland FC from south London will be flying the flag for London against St Joseph’s from Luton, Peterlee Catholic Club from Durham, and Campfield from Liverpool. Portland have been in existence for over 40 years but face a massive challenge in the semi-final. To reach the final they must beat St Joseph’s who have reached the final of this competition 5 times before. St Joseph’s can also claim to be “London slayers” as they have already eliminated two excellent clubs from London in earlier rounds. They beat London champions Lambeth All Stars (who are widely hailed as one of the best Sunday teams in the south-east of the UK) in round 3, and in round 4 they also beat the highly rated Sporting Club de Mundial from the Hackney & Leyton League.
The second semi-final will feature Campfield; who were the 2015 FA Sunday Cup winners, and two time former champions of the Liverpool Business Houses League (which is probably the strongest Sunday league in the entire UK, and in which several other FA Sunday Cup winners have played in). Campfield’s semi-final opponents Peterlee Catholic Club represent a social club in County Durham and are the reigning champions of the Peterlee & District Sunday League (which they won in the 2019-20 season after winning every single game). In fact they have won their league two times in the last three seasons. They are also currently top of their league this season, and are again undefeated with a 100% record.
The FA intends to complete the competition by June. It is great to have Sunday football back, and I am very much looking forward to see various competitions restart, and who will be crowned Sunday champions of England.
The phenomenal success of popular Sunday league “YouTube teams” who build popularity and a fan-base by filming and posting highlights of their games on YouTube and social media has been well documented. So now that the YouTube teams have everyone’s attention and lots of followers, what next? Have the YouTube teams reached the peak of their popularity or do they need to do something new or different to grow even further?
These clubs have not only shown that they can generate hundreds of thousands of views online, but they can draw live crowds too. SE Dons drew a record crowd of over 2000 people when they reached Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup final in 2019. That was a higher attendance than most Conference National Clubs drew prior to Covid. The fact that they have hours long video and content libraries means they can keep their fanbase engaged despite the Covid related lockdowns and suspension of amateur football.
However the fact that Sunday football does not have an official “pyramid” via which its teams can progress up the leagues places a ceiling on their progress. Additionally, the model of clubs such as Rising Ballers (which was created to find a pathway for talented young players to enter the professional game) potentially inverts the success of its players and the team’s success. While several Rising Ballers players have moved on and been signed by professional clubs such as Sheffield United and other clubs abroad, these individual success stories create a lack of personnel continuity that may hinder the club’s long term future. In contrast, the success of their rivals such as Baiteze Squad and SE Dons is built upon their fans seeing and engaging with the same livewire players on camera consistently week after week, season after season.
The other challenge is that the YouTube team format has become saturated. These days too many teams want to be a YouTube team. Beneath the SE Dons, Baiteze Squad, Rising Ballers etc elite of teams with hundreds of thousands of followers, are several other copycat teams – ranging from those with followers in the low teens to a few hundreds. Success in this area has become ultra-competitive.
Despite the challenges that YouTube teams face, there is still room for growth. They could go the same route as Hashtag United and enter the FA pyramid by becoming Saturday clubs. However the ground requirements required in the pyramid and the increased travel would need a lot of money to finance.
Right now the YouTube teams are scattered across different leagues such as the Barnet Sunday League, Essex Sunday Corinthian League, Hackney & Leyton League, and Orpington and Bromley District League. While each team raises the profile of its league, it also means that the YouTube teams do not play each other very often apart from the odd pre-season (less than!) friendly match. That might be a silver lining.
One option is to form their own break-away “YouTube League”. Doing this could kill many birds with one stone. Firstly, viewer interest in such a league would be huge and would also generate additional advertising revenue for the teams involved. They could even exploit explosive sub-plots to promote the games – such as the controversial split of Baiteze Squad FC to play in different teams competing in different leagues.
Since some of the teams already have sponsorship deals with large brands like Puma (SE Dons), New Balance (Baiteze), and Sport Bible (Rising Ballers), a breakaway league consisting exclusively of YouTube teams would be very interesting to their sponsors who would love the increased exposure to their brands. This has serious commercial appeal given football fans unhappiness about being charged on a pay-per-view basis to watch Premier League games, and the frustration after extended lockdowns.
They would have to be careful though. Increased brand exposure comes with increased pressure to be perceived as “family friendly”. If professional athletes can lose sponsorship deals for bad behaviour, so can amateur footballers. They would have to be far more careful about their on and off-pitch conduct, and present themselves in a more PG way to stay on the good side of their sponsors.
The other thing they need to do is make sure that on-pitch success goes hand in hand with commercial success. Recently, northern teams have been “calling out” the YouTube teams and daring them to enter the FA Sunday Cup (the FA’s nationwide Sunday football competition) and test themselves against the northern teams from areas like Liverpool and Durham who have dominated the competition. The only London team to reach the semi-final in recent seasons (Portland from south London) are not a YouTube team. The YouTube teams to enter it (Baiteze Squad and Lambeth All Stars) were eliminated in the early rounds.
The cup of success for the YouTube teams is filling nicely. Yet they still have a very high ceiling.
A great BBC podcast interview with Viv Anderson who in 1978 became the first black footballer to ever play for the England national team.