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.
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.
Interesting articles on how Emmanuel Ifeajuna (the first black African to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal in high jumping) has been erased from Nigeria’s history due to his involvement in the January 15, 1966 coup and civil war in Nigeria.
A trailer for an upcming DVD about Manchester United’s famous 1992 FA youth cup winning team, which later went on to dominate English football. Including Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville.
Nigeria’s Chioma Ajunwa-Opara, the only woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal for Nigeria. She won gold in the long jump at the 1996 Olympic games.
She was the first African woman to win an individual gold medal at the Olympic games.
After her athletic career, she is now a police officer. She also spoke about allegations of taking performance enhancing drugs.
Nigeria is developing a number of new golf courses. The Cross River State government is investing over $200 million in constructing a new golf course, with the aim of growing its popularity and giving tourists something to do!
Golf is a sport/hobby that requires expensive equipment to play. In a country with many high net worth individuals, golf could potentially boom…
Now that the World Cup has ended, I expected lots of patronising and negative comments highlighting every single problem or thing that did not go according to plan. However, I want to say a great big CONGRATULATIONS to South Africa for hosting this marvellous World Cup. Here’s a good piece in the Guardian about the success of this tournament:
Football wise, it was not the greatest tournament. The teams who reached the latter stages were those who played conservatively with restraint, and with one striker. The final was a dreadful game with some shocking tackles. Finals are always tense affairs but watching Holland –v- Spain was like watching a horror film at times. Spain’s semi-final against Germany was so boring that I fell asleep during it.
European commentators keep salivating over Spain’s slick passing. They are a great passing team, no doubt, but at times I think they over-elaborate and do not get the ball in the box quickly enough. How good are Spain? They are the world champs and deserve all the credit. However I get the feeling we still do not know how good this Spain team really is because they were rarely tested in this World Cup. Would have loved to see them face Brazil or Argentina.
Player of the tournament: toss up between Diego Forlan and Xavi. Does any footballer in modern football hit the ball as hard and as cleanly as Forlan? Then again, did you see Xavi give the ball away during this World Cup?
Luckiest player of the tournament: Mark van Bommel. A one man foul machine who somehow manages to avoid red cards despite shockingly persistent fouling and brutal tackles. How he managed to avoid getting booked till the semi-final is a mystery.
Goal of the tournament: Giovanni van Brockhorst’s 30 yard howitzer against Uruguay.
Villain of the tournament: David Suarez. Blocking the ball with his hands on the goal line to deny a certain Ghana goal. Apparently did not realize that FIFA rules stipulate only ONE GK per team. Loved the way he acted surprised when he got a red card. He reacted almost as if unaware that deliberately handball with BOTH hands on the line is not allowed in football.
Game of the tournament: Ghana -v- Uruguay semi-final. The final 60 seconds of that game gave me several mini heart attacks. Ghana had an effort cleared off the line (legally), then another certain goal bound header cleared off the line (illegally), then got a penalty, then hit the crossbar, then went into a penalty shoot out.
Man of the tournament: Asamoah Gyan. This guy has serious cojones. Just a few moments after missing a penalty in the last minute of extra time, he came back to take another penalty in the penalty shoot out and hit it into the top left hand corner. Takes a brave man to recover from a penalty miss so quickly.
Spare a thought for: New Zealand. The only undefeated team in the whole competition. They drew with Paraguay, Italy and Slovakia, did not lose (even the finalists Spain and Holland lost) yet still got eliminated.
Biggest underachievers: Argentina. A team with Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Mascherano, and Milito should have gone further. Where were Cambiasso, Gabriel Milito and Riquelme?
Biggest disappointment: the African teams (apart from Ghana). African football has regressed in the past 15 years. The quality of individual players has increased, but the quality of TEAMS has gone backwards. Spare a thought for Ivory Coast. Their golden generation of Drogba, the Toures, Keita, and Kone are likely to retire without an international trophy.
Minor gripe: Imagine my horror in Durban on my way back when I drove to the Durban international airport only to be told by the security officer at the gate that “there are no planes here”. I asked him “what kind of airport has no planes?” It was then he told me that the Durban airport had closed and moved 40km away to the King Shaka international airport just one month earlier. I had to drive away quickly to get to King Shaka. Because the airport is new, my GPS did not recognize it and had no directions for it. So I had to navigate blind with no road directions. Just made it for my flight with no time to spare. A lesson in why you should ALWAYS leave early for the airport. The South Africans really could have done a better job of publicizing this airport move that occurred just one month before the World Cup.
Big Thank You to: The wonderful people of South Africa for their warmth, hospitality and kindness….and for confounding the Western prophets of doom who said an African country could not host a successful World Cup. Nobody was killed, kidnapped by mad rabid black Africans or sacrificed in voodoo rituals. Shame on you Western press for never believing that Africans can do anything positive. Thank you South Africa for making us proud.