Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Sam Hutchinson - A Tale of Inspiration

Amidst the diving, players refusing to play and obscene levels of money, rarely does football - especially at the top level - offer heart-warming and uplifting stories. But the tale of one Chelsea youngster is a rare shining light shimmering in a game increasingly shrouded in darkness.

During Jose Mourinho’s reign at Stamford Bridge and several years after Roman Abramovich’s gargantuan investment in the plush new Cobham training facilities and academy set-up, small buds of young, English talent were just starting to blossom in the heart of Surrey.

All the talk now surrounds the potential of the likes of Josh McEachran and Ryan Bertrand, but at four years their senior and with a tale of persistence, determination and courage already under his belt, maybe the player Chelsea fans should really start buzzing about is Sam Hutchinson.

The 22-year-old defender hung up his boots just 16 months ago, believing his short-lived playing career to be over after a succession of knee problems. But Chelsea offered him a route back into the game with a coaching contract and it was through that he realised he may be able to keep the dream alive.

After noticing he could coach without knee pains, Hutchinson began the process of resurrecting his playing career bit by bit. He was training three days on, one day off and he’s now progressed to four days on, one day off and playing regular 90 minutes for Chelsea’s reserves, of whom captained before the injuries took their toll.

These are promising signs for player, club and fans. Hutchinson was starting to edge his way into first-team contention under Mourinho after making his debut in May 2007 and became a regular face on the Chelsea bench, with four very exciting appearances for the Blues. He’s a young, versatile defender, able to switch between full-back and centre-back with ease, with an eye for a foraging run forwards – a more controlled version of David Luiz and with more controlled hair too!

And while player and club are rightly approaching his rehabilitation as a ‘one step at a time’ process, there are certainly bright signs for the future. Although Hutchinson may not be the immediate solution to Chelsea’s defensive woes, in the long-term he certainly has the potential to be John Terry’s successor, not just at centre-back but with the captain’s armband too.

Having made his comeback for the reserves in July in a friendly against Crawley Town, Hutchinson has taken another step towards securing his future on the pitch, as this week he signed a new 18-month deal with the Blues.

But it’s going to be a long road for the youngster, requiring patience from himself and common sense from the Chelsea medical staff. Though having seen the attitude with which he’s already approached his return to football and the maturity with which he’s rebounded from set-back after set-back, Chelsea fans should have no concerns about Sam Hutchinson’s desire and attitude. And should he recover the promise he showed under Jose Mourinho, it could be a very exciting future for the young defender.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Busy 24 Hours for Dorking Ladies on Transfer Deadline Day

Despite several approaches for players, Dorking Ladies had a quiet transfer deadline day yesterday.

The Chicks brought in forwards Sharna Rutley-Stent and Daisy ‘Torres’ on free transfers earlier in the summer, while creative midfielder Andreia Veiga departed Meadowbank in a groundbreaking deal worth 49p and a packet of Quavers – much to the delight of Jess Pickett who is now using the crisps as a new training aid.

Veiga’s new club have yet to unveil their new protégée, but we understand she was snapped up by Andre Villas-Boas when Daniel Levy put the brakes on Luka Modric’s move to Stamford Bridge.

Dorking boss Vicky Hynes has yet to dabble in the transfer market, with Alan ‘Ali G’ Gardener keeping an ever watchful eye on the purse-strings, although it is believed that the club are still interested in signing former player Amy Fazackerley as back-up for ‘keeper Mikki Hough.

Hynes instead has been spending deadline day fending off approaches for members of her current squad. It is understood that midfielder Gemma Wilson has been the subject of an enquiry from Harry Redknapp, who is looking to fill the gap left by the injured and stroppy Rafael Van der Vaart. But ‘Arry was put-off completing a deal when he learned of Wilson’s volatile attitude towards match officials, meaning she would be unavailable for the majority of Spurs’ matches through suspension.

Arsene Wenger is believed to have spent best part of the day sending increasingly desperate emails to Dorking Chairman Mick Muggeridge, asking to sign anyone with a pair of boots. After being rebuffed on several occasions by Muggeridge, the Arsenal boss was spotted camping in his front garden in a desperate bid to boost his depleted squad. If Wenger held out until 9.30pm, sources close to the Surrey club say Muggeridge may have been willing to discuss a deal which would have seen defender Steph Thorbes move to the Emirates on a season-long loan. But Wenger is believed to want a centre-half who heads the ball. He is happy, however, to see Thorbes’ dog Alfie become the Gunners’ new mascot.

It is also rumoured that Manchester United made a shock bid for Dorking striker Shellie Villette, with boss Sir Alex Ferguson telling the press: “We have made an approach for Villette to bring something different to our very young side. ‘Maturity’ and ‘experience’ are the words commonly touted about in these situations.” Villette turned 30 midway through last season.

Newly promoted QPR, meanwhile, dropped their interest in midfielder/centre forward Laura Browning, despite her impressive showing last campaign. It is rumoured that Neil Warnock did not think having Browning and new signing Joey Barton in the same team would be a good idea. Although, Warnock upped his interest in left-back Fliss Burns saying, “We understand Burns has a lot of work commitments in her role as a police officer, but she would be a great addition to the squad. Although we’ve yet to complete the signing, we’ve already reserved her place in the changing room alongside Joey Barton.”

Barton’s former employers, Newcastle United, swooped for Dorking’s Lauren ‘decibel’ Sutton as a direct replacement for the loud and aggressive midfielder. Alan Pardew does not believe any further comments on the situation are required at this stage.

Left-back Kelsey Hutchinson was contacted by rugby League side Leeds Rhinos, believing they could utilise her ‘direct’ style of play.

Meanwhile, the strangest request of the day came from Finland head coach Mixu Paatelainen, who wanted to make enquiries into whether mother-daughter duo Emma and Sharna Rutley-Stent had any Finnish heritage. The nation are looking to put themselves firmly back on the footballing map by outdoing rivals Iceland, who once historically substituted Arnor Gudjohnsen for son Eidur.

Dorking boss Vicky Hynes has confirmed the Chicks will be making an official complaint to the FA regarding the number of her players who were disrupted by transfer rumours on deadline day. The club are thought to be especially unhappy by illegal approaches for centre-half Shaney Bolton and midfielder Lauren Hutchinson, who they say have been illegally 'tapped-up' for several weeks. Hynes did not wish to name the club in question, however Arsene Wenger volunteered to say he "didn't see it."

Stand-in left-back Marie Rogerson is due to be sent on loan until January to gain first-team experience at Oxford. The only member of the Dorking squad who has not yet been the subject of an enquiry is midfielder Hannah Duncan, whose open-goal miss last season has been made public knowledge since appearing on the ‘What Happened Next’ round on A Question of Sport.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

World Championships suffer false-start

Now i’m not a raving athletics fan, but watching some of the World Championships in Daegu this week, I really had to feel for some of the British athletes, and others besides.

Jessica Ennis today failed to emulate her Championships of 2009 and scoop gold in the heptathlon. Actually, ‘failed’ is a bit harsh, seeing as she claimed silver which is no mean feat, especially not spread across so many disciplines. But she was undoubtedly and understandably disappointed that she wasn’t able to become the first British athlete to defend a world title. Instead, that opportunity and associated pressure now lies with triple-jumper Phillips Idowu, whose qualification round begins Fridays morning.

Similarly, Mo Farah took silver on Sunday in the 10,000 metres, after being pipped at the post by an Ecuadorian he’d never even heard of! In his efforts to take the world crown, Farah broke away from the pack just a little too soon and ran out of steam, but the unbelievable amount of determination and exertion displayed across his face as he fought tooth and running-spike to hold onto his lead was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately in those situations, as idealistic as it may be to pressure your opponents by creating a gap and (quite literally) running away with it, the easier job may actually lie in chasing the leader. At least you have something to aim for and drive you on, whereas out in front, you’re looking over your shoulder and with no marker set down, it’s sometimes difficult to know how much you need to push yourself to reach the finishing line.

Nevertheless, despite the duos disappointments, better to suffer them now than next summer at the Olympics. It gives them both some extra drive and determination, if they need it, to succeed on the biggest and best stage sport provides.

But it has not just been the Brits suffering in South Africa. Usain Bolt and – ok, more Brits – Christine Ohurugou and Dwaine Chambers (my sympathy is limited where he’s concerned) have each been disqualified from their respective events for false starts. Under new-ish laws, there are no second chances for false-starters. Previously, the first athlete to jump the gun would be allowed to try again, although any second athlete would be automatically disqualified. This was changed because slow-starting runners could purposefully false-start once and hinder their opponents who were quicker out of the blocks.

In an ideal world, each athlete would be given one chance before disqualification, but in this 21st Century world, television rules and the time this could take means it is not an option. In my humble opinion (and apologies to my employers), TV can take a running jump quite frankly. Whilst Lord Coe believes getting away properly is all part of the race, it only takes one twitch, one bit of over-enthusiasm and two or even four years of training and hard-work (and in some cases drug abuse) is in tatters. And that’s only from an athlete’s perspective. What about the thousands of people who have paid through the nose (especially in the case of London 2012) to watch the world’s best competitors and those who haven’t been lucky enough to get tickets but have forked out for Sky/ESPN/Eurosport for the same privilege?

As it transpires, Usain Bolt can consider himself especially unfortunate, as television pictures actually show the eventual winner of the men’s 100 metres on Sunday (and Bolt’s training partner), Yohan Blake, twitched on the blocks before Bolt, well...bolted. Whether this movement triggered Bolt’s premature departure or not we will never know and the ever-gracious Olympic champion is unlikely to say. But in the black and white laws penned by the IAAF, Blake’s movement should have meant disqualification but the sensors failed to pick it up.

No matter what Lord Coe says, one strike and you’re out just isn’t the way forward for athletics. Except in the case of drug abuse, in which case Dwaine Chambers should consider his false-start disqualification the second chance that he blew.

Overall, the World Championships have so far provided many talking points. With five days left to go, let’s hope they continue to do so, but with more positive news for the Brits and athletics as a whole.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It's Time for the Silly Season to Stop Before the Real Season Begins

It’s just over a week to go until football’s transfer window shuts until January. This summer’s window has been dominated by the ‘will he, won’t he’ saga surrounding Carlos Tevez and the ‘just get on with it’ bore-a-thon involving Cesc Fabregas. That’s not forgetting, of course, the confirmation from Manchester ‘webuyanyplayer.com’ City that they will sign Samir Nasri ‘any day now’ on July 8th...July 16th...July 30th...August 11th...August 20th...you get my point.

In short, it’s so far been a transfer window to forget, especially if you’re an Arsenal fan, and if that’s the case you may want to get on with forgetting the rest of the season too.

But does the transfer window go on too long? Should it shut before the season begins?

Every year we see players refusing to honour their contracts and represent their clubs in a bid to move to pastures new (and often richer). Last term, Asmir Begovic of Stoke was hankering after a move to Chelsea and so made himself unavailable to the Potters through fear of sustaining a move-busting injury. This time around, Arsenal want-away Fabregas and Chelsea target Luka Modric have both been struck down with ‘transferitis’ at various points over the summer, deeming them unable to play for their respective sides.

Modric missed last night’s match at Old Trafford, with his boss Harry Redknapp saying the Croatian had a ‘slight injury’, whilst also admitting his head ‘wasn’t in the right place to play’.

This is another factor affecting players who are being chatted-up by new clubs whilst the season is already underway. Knowing their dream move is on the horizon (or one of a multitude of dream moves if you’re Robbie Keane...) then it can become increasingly difficult for players to focus on their jobs for their current clubs. Is this fair on the clubs who own the players and want the best out of them whilst they remain under contract? Hardly.

It’s equally unfair if a player doesn’t want to play through fear of injury or becoming cup-tied, as Samir Nasri would have done had he played for Arsenal against Udinese in the week. On the same point, it’s not fair either for those players who are model professionals and wish to go about their jobs as normal, if their club wants to shift them for a sizeable fee and so won’t select them whilst negotiations are ongoing.

With a January window in place too, it becomes unavoidable as the New Year hits, but often players are already cup-tied in various competitions and few ‘big moves’ really materialise at this time of year anyway.

But at the start of the season, the transfer window turns football into a farce. It would seem best for both players, clubs and the paying public if the ‘silly season’ were to end before the real season begins. Let's just get on with the football!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Premier League Almost-Preview

So the Premier League season tiptoed it's way into action last weekend. Having had weeks of hype without any 'proper' football to fill the void of the close season (sorry, the new Women's Super League doesn't count) and endless transfer speculation that only the silly season can adequately provide, the Big Kick Off was something of a damp squib really. 5 draws in 9 games didn't really set Match Of The Day alight, but we welcomed it back with a fond cuddle just the same.

Now, having missed the opportunity for a proper Premier League preview last week (obviosuly foreseeing that things wouldn't really get going until the second weekend...), I thought I'd dive in before this week's fixtures commence with the lunchtime Tyne and Wear derby on Saturday.

Here are my thoughts (no benefit of first-week hindsight necessary).

Title race: As a Chelsea fan, it saddens me to say that Andre Villas-Boas' men don't look to have much of a prayer this year. There may be the odd fleeting challenge here and there, the odd tentative knock on the door, but in truth I can't see anyone forcing it down with a battering ram. It's Manchester United's for the taking.

They've lost some key players over the last six months and surely their biggest loss (in more than just surface area) will be Edwin van der Sar and, as yet, replacement David de Gea doesn't look quite up to scratch. But the signings of Phil Jones and Ashley Young are shrewd moves from Ferguson, though it does remain to be seen if Young's quite the standard Old Trafford fans will be looking for.

The only way Chelsea can realistically challenge for honours is if Villas-Boas persuades Roman Abramovich to splash the cash. Not necessarily huge sums, but a winger is vital and a playmaker would be handy as well, to complement Torres' movement and provide him with the service he needs. Having said that, Romelu Lukaku is certainly one to watch. Very much in the mould of Didier Drogba, let's just hope he throws a few less strops.

Manchester City are one club who have certainly not been adverse to a bit of retail therapy this summer, with Sergio Aguero and Gael Clichy both joining the ranks...and they don't look like they're finished yet. Samir Nasri wants out of Arsenal (and who could blame him) and City will be offering lots and lots of crisp notes to tempt him, even though he's far from guaranteed a game (numpty). Yet despite their 4-0 mauling of new boys Swansea on Monday and their perilous strike force, I still can't take them seriously. They are still just a team of mercenaries, unconcerned whether they get a game or not. It's the ultimate case of fantasy football and come Christmas, when it's getting a bit chilly oop norf and Manchester's two decent restaurants have been exhausted, the players will implode.

And I suppose a 'title race' section isn't complete until Arsenal's credentials have been considered. Oh sorry, my mistake...

In all seriousness, the loss of Fabregas and imminent departure of Nasri will hit Wenger's side hard - however much he tries to disguise it. Signings such as Southampton teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Charlton's Carl Jenkinson won't really cut it amongst the likes of Rooney, Terry and Silva. Arsenal already boast a plethora of young talent coming through the ranks, not least Jack Wilshere, so it's experienced heads that are really required. Another year, another wonder-kid, another empty trophy cabinet at the Emirates.

European Challengers: Gone are the days when Aston Villa and Everton would start the season hoping to sneak it to a Champions League place come May, but realistically be expecting UEFA Cup (sorry...Europa League...) football the next season. These two have been left behind by Tottenham and Liverpool, who will be contesting those very positions this campaign and may even jump ahead of Arsenal for Champions League football. It's unlikely anyone else will be involved in the hunt, although if you want a tip for dark horses this year, Owen Coyle's Bolton are your men. Very quiet, very unassuming, but potentially deadly. Keep an eye out!

Avoiding the drop: Blackburn, despite their laugha...i mean...commendable attempts to sign Spanish legend Raul, are my hot favourites for the drop. Steve Kean hasn't been allowed to spend a flapping thing by the club's Poultry firm owners. They were a poor outfit last time out and don't look to be ready to fare any better this time around.

Struggling with Blackburn will be new boys Swansea, who could be masters of their own downfall, due to Brendan Rogers' insistence on playing pretty football. It's good for the spectators and you have to admire the principle, but trying to play the big boys at their own game is unlikely to get them far. We all know what happened to Blackpool last season. In fact, I'm still not truly over it...

My third tip for the drop may surprise one or two of you, and may earn me the wrath of Joey Barton, but I'm going to put Newcastle out there. They've lost key players Andy Carroll, Jose Enrique and Kevin Nolan since January and the actions (or Tweets) of Enrique and Barton have advertised the turmoil within St James' Park...as if we needed telling. The money gained from the sales of Carroll and Enrique have helped bring in the formidable forces of Demba Ba and Gabriel Obertan, but despite these ground-breaking acquisitions, the Toon look an unhappy and unstable camp right now. Can Alan Pardew, the man sacked from both West Ham and Charlton for running both clubs into the ground, keep Newcastle's head above water this year? Don't count on it.

Other clubs in and around the drop zone are likely to be newly promoted Norwich and QPR, for lacking the strength in depth much like Blackpool did last season and Wolves and Wigan may spend most of the campaign looking over their shoulders too.

So there you have it, my Premier League Almost-Preview 2011/12. Feel free to come back in May and lambast me for my appalling predictions, but until then, Happy Football Season everyone (Tottenham fans excluded)!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Disgraceful Rooney Deserves Heavy Punishment

It was another weekend of twists and turns for the PRemier League title that no-one seems to want to win.

Arsenal and Chelsea dropped two points apiece - at home to Blackburn and away to Stoke respectively. But the biggest shock of the weekend looked to be on the cards at Upton Park. With West Ham leading Manchester United 2-0 at the break and with Nemanja Vidic fortunate to be amongst the action, the visitors had a cliched mountain to climb. But climb it they did - with whacking great ice-picks! Oh, and a Wayne Rooney hat-trick.

But unfortunately it wasn't the strikers devastating 14 minute goal rush or the fourth from Hernandez (I refuse to call him 'Chicarito' - it's not your bloody name!)to seal the come-back which Match of the Day pundits or the Sunday rags were talking about, as Rooney once again hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Scoring his third goal of the game from the penalty spot (and it was a somewhat dubious penalty anyway), Rooney celebrated by running towards the television cameras and shouting obscentities. Big man.

It's bad enough that he did it at all, but for a live lunch-time kick-off with millions tuning in, including a large number of youngsters, Rooney surely has to be heavily reprimanded. But then this is the FA we're dealing with...

In 2009, following Chelsea's dramatic Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Barcelona, Didier Drogba launched a tirade of abuse towards the controversial officials. It was an inexcusable act, although understandable in the heated circumstances, and the Chelsea man was hit hard by UEFA, who banned the Ivorian for four matches.

The incident this weekend is surely no different, if anything it's worse. Drogba had the camera shoved in his face when feelings were already running high. On Saturday, Rooney approached the camera after scoring a goal to give his side the lead. He made a conscious decision to carry out his act.

Listening to Radio 5 Live since the incident, presenters and callers alike have repeated the fact that Rooney's had a 'tough year'. What part of his year has been tough enough to warrant such a toughtless and careless display is questionable. Earning £100,000+ a week must be really hard for him and playing for one of the best teams in Europe, as well as representing his country, must just push him over the edge!

Whatever excuses Rooney-sympathisers come out with and whether or not the Manchester United front-man apologised afterwards (ignoring the fact that he was almost certainly advised to), the fact remains that it was a disgraceful act, once again undermining his role-model status.

The FA and Premier League, not to mention Sir Alex Ferguson and his club, have a duty to the sport to come down heavily on Rooney. A fine and slapped wrist just won't cut it. If Drogba was banned for four matches, Rooney needs at least the same treatment.

Players like Rooney cannot keep damaging the reputation of the sport, their clubs and their fellow professionals. The game has given them a hell of a lot in life, it's time they started giving something back...and it's not abuse.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Over Land and Sea

Here's the full version of my feature article 'Over Land and Sea', completed as part of my major multi-media project. The rest of my project can be found here.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Over Land and Sea (Online version)

Many kids around the world dream of becoming the next Didier Drogba or Cesc Fabregas – but for the lucky few who get their dream move to England, it can come at a higher price than just spending hours on a muddy training pitch and scrubbing changing room urinals.

We all know moving house is one of life’s most stressful events, so how does a teenager cope not just moving from Reading to Rochdale but travelling the thousands of miles from Lagos to London, or Buenos Aires to Birmingham – leaving behind their home, family and friends?

“Since I was young I wanted to come to England to play football because my favourite players play in this country,” says Chelsea’s on-loan Fulham winger Gael Kakuta, whose controversial move from Lens came when he was just 15.

“At the beginning it was a little bit hard because of the language [barrier] – I couldn’t speak with the other players. But after that it was easy – everyone was nice and helped me to find my way in the club.”

The teenager impressed coaches at the Blues’ academy, was fast-tracked into the first team reckoning and is now gaining valuable Premier League experience under Mark Hughes. Kakuta attributes his success to the support offered by his family and friends.

“My mum said ‘you make your decision and I’ll always be there for you’,” smiles the 19-year-old. “I have a sister who’s been living in England for 10 years. My mum comes over sometimes and I stay in touch with my friends in France.”

Wolves defender George Elokobi was also 15 when he moved to England, but for the Cameroonian, football was far from his thoughts at the time.

“I wanted to be reunited with my mother because she was over here studying. I came to England to do a degree. Opportunities back home are a little bit limited, so for me to come to England with all the opportunities here was massive.”

Unlike Kakuta, the Wolves man owes his Premier League career to the traditional British route of working his way to the top, via Dulwich Hamlet and Colchester.

Despite leaving behind family, Elokobi has yet to return home in the 10 years he’s been in England – a sign of how easily he settled in. Of course, it helps that he was able to have his mother here to help him with the transition.

“I got massive help from my mum who supported me financially and to have motherly support was important for me,” says the 25-year-old.

But listening to your mum isn’t the only piece of advice Elokobi has for aspiring youngsters looking to make the move to the Premier League.

“They need to keep their head down and don’t get distracted. It’s important to work hard, learn quickly and be patient. It is not easy playing in England, it’s the best league in the world.”

Elokobi and Kakuta are two of the lucky ones – the bigger the club the better the support network – a factor which Amanda Owens, former head psychologist at Southampton, feels is paramount to players’ success.

“Social support plays a huge role,” she says. “It can affect the players in a negative way if they don’t have the correct social and educational support in place.”

“Cricket’s got a very good structure and football’s still lagging behind a little bit, but the FA are moving things forward and investing a lot of money in welfare, lifestyle support and psychology.

“At Southampton, Gordon [Strachan] brought in a specialist language interpreter for two players which helped enormously, because the language barrier can have a huge effect on the player integrating into the team and their performance on the pitch.”

Agent Tony White is like a footballing equivalent of a modern day Abraham, leading starry-eyed kids from France to the promised land of the Premier League. “England is looked on as the end of the rainbow – everyone wants to come here.

“The French media publicise the enormous salaries that can be earned in the Premier League and the players are attracted by that. They’re looking for England to solve the financial future of the whole family – they look for football as a way out.”

It’s an escape route which can prove lucrative for the select few but for White, the secret to success is maintaining a stable life off the pitch, as well as on it.

“Most players will make it through if they’ve got outstanding ability but when you’re that young you need family and friends around you. It’s difficult to go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, or don’t like the food. If you’re happy in your mind, you’re going to perform better.”

White believes so strongly in the welfare of his young charges, he will go the extra mile to support their needs.

“For me that’s part of the role of an agent, being a counsellor and a mentor. I like to work with a club and give them as much information about the player’s likes and dislikes. Sometimes a player will hide things from the club because he hasn’t got enough confidence in the people who work there.”

But even for those who don’t make the grade at the top level, moving to England can leave a real impression. Former Chelsea youngster Nick Hamann, now back in his native Germany, admitted he ‘fell in love’ with England. He said: “I really like the way of life over there.

“I’m playing at home again and I actually feel homesick as I call England home now. Every time I get a couple of days I’m on the next plane to London to see my mates and my 3 godchildren who are the grandchildren of my foster parents I stayed with. It was harder leaving England than moving away from home when I was 15.”

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A Day in the Life - Nick Hamann

Former Chelsea youngster Nick Hamann spoke exclusively to Hannah Duncan about what a typical day entails for a foreign player at an English club.

0830: Leave my digs near Harlington to go to training in Cobham. Before I was 17, I had a driver who would pick me up every morning. When we used to train in Harlington, I had a bike I would ride to training and when we moved to Cobham, Chelsea offered to move me over there, but I turned it down because I loved the digs in Harlington.

0900: Breakfast at the training ground. I never really had to eat English food as the chef at Chelsea was Italian!

1030: Training started. We would sometimes have gym sessions, swimming or massages before and after training – going on until about 3:30, but generally training on the pitch would last 90minutes. We would often hang around after because there was everything there, from Playstations to snooker and darts.

1600: For the first two years, I had to study three times a week – including English and nutrition. I’d also do a lot with the lads after training as well, we were a great bunch and I’m still in contact with a lot of them.

1800: Back to digs for dinner there or sometimes I went for dinner with some of the players. Every Sunday my digs had a family roast where I was always there no matter what, with Julia and Franco (my digs parents), their two daughters, two son in-laws, three grandkids and Robert Huth.

2000: There weren’t any rules set by the club about when we had to be in or anything like that, they left that to the digs parents. I think we all knew that as a Chelsea player you had to behave a certain way and represent the club in a good way. So there was never really a need for them to make up any rules.

Sebastian Kneissl & Nick Hamann - Exclusive Q&A

Former Chelsea duo Seb Kneissl and Nick Hamann spoke exclusively to Hannah Duncan about moving from their German homeland as teenagers to join the Blues.

How did your move to Chelsea come about?

SK: One of the Chelsea scouts watched me play for the Under 16 German national team. After the game they invited me to come over for a week to have a look at the club and train with them.

NH: It was the same for me, being approached by Chelsea after a German Under 16 tournament. I had lots of offers from Bundesliga clubs like Cologne, Stuttgart, Bochum and Dortmund, so I was going to move away from home anyway. After the trial, Chelsea offered me a contract and I signed a couple of weeks after that.

How easily did you settle in at Chelsea?

SK: Of course, it is hard to move to another country at that young age but the I adapted really well. I didn´t know anybody at the club although Robert Huth moved to London just 6 weeks later. It was good to have someone you can speak to in your own language.

NH: I settled really easily in England as all the people at Chelsea looked after me really well and they put me in a great digs. I already knew Robert Huth before I joined Chelsea so that made it even easier to settle in.

How did Chelsea as a club help with the transition?

SK: I used to live in digs.The family was great although a bit mental at times! As you are around the training ground most of the time you only have contact to the "Chelsea lot" and noone else. Frank Steer (Frank the tank) was always there for me when I had a couple of questions - so was Gary Staker.

NH: Chelsea sorted everything before I came over so I had only the football to worry about. I cannot name one player or staff member who didn’t make me feel welcome. Especially John Terry looked after us young guys really well. And obviously Robert Huth and Sebastian Kneissl were the 2 players I socialised with the most as they are German.

Did you have an opportunity to continue your education?

SK: I finished my education in Germany so I just wanted to concentrate on football.

NH: As I was pretty young when I moved away from home I wasn’t finished with school so Chelsea put me into the German school in Richmond for one year.

How often did you see your family and friends and what did they think of the move?

SK: My parents came to London quite often. When we had a weekend off training, I was on my way to see my friends and relatives in Germany of course. But it wasnt that often. I visited Germany maybe 3 times a year.

NH: My family came to see me once every 6 weeks. Chelsea paid for everything like flight and hotel. It was obviously very hard for my family because I’m an only child but at the same time they were really happy for me as I made my dream come true.

What was the hardest part of coming to England?

SK: THE FOOD! Having to stand on your own feet was hard for me at the beginning. Not having your family around you when you needed someone was quite hard too.

NH: Being away from my mates was the hardest part. But as a whole I fell in love with England.

Looking back on your experiences, what advice would you give to any young players coming over now?

SK: If it feels right, go for it. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks about it. If you have any doubts, dont do it - you will not get to your target.

NH: I would say to players who come over now that it’s just such a big opportunity for them, especially at big clubs like Chelsea where they get everything done for them. They’ve got to realise that this isn’t the real world of football. The problem is that most players realise it too late when they leave that big club and have got play for lower league teams. You can’t expect to get straight into a Premier League or Championship team even if you come from one of the biggest clubs. I think that this is the biggest challenge to overcome.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Sporting Behaviour exclusive! Dorking Ladies sign Portuguese starlet Veiga

Portuguese Under 19s international Andreia Veiga has made the move from her home country to join Dorking Ladies.

Hannah Duncan speaks exclusively to Veiga and some of her Dorking teammates and coaches about how she's finding life in England.

For more about young foreign players coming to England, including exclusive interviews with Chelsea's Gael Kakuta and Wolves defender Geroge Elokobi, keep checking the blog or visit buzz.bournemouth.ac.uk.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Young footballers abandoned on the streets of France

Prospective young footballers are being abandoned on the streets of France and Belgium, a football agent believes.

Tony White, a former West Ham player now representing footballers in France, says young players are being brought to the country from overseas by agents looking to make a ‘quick buck’ – only to be abandoned on the streets by the agents when they are unsuccessful.

“It’s mainly players of African origin,” says Mr White. “If the don’t make it, the agents just leave them and literally dump them on the streets.”

These allegations follow a story which broke in France last year, about a young man who was taken to the country by an agent, with the promise of trials at clubs and the wealth and success that went with it. Following two unsuccessful trials, the player sustained an injury and never heard from the agent again. He was later found living rough outside the Eurostar station in Paris.

“I believe that wasn’t an isolated incident,” said Mr White. “Thankfully in England, we have restrictions to stop that, but there are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who put the wellbeing of young children at risk to fulfil the dream.”

“The agents take the attitude that if the players make it then great, they would make some money out of it. If they didn’t make it – next.”

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Sports Psychologists' View

This week on the Sporting Behaviour podcast, Hannah Duncan speaks to sports psychologists James Beale and Amanda Owens about young foreign footballers coming to England, and how the move away from their home and family can affect them as both players and people.

This podcast forms part of my major multi-media project for my (BA) hons Multi-Media Journalism degree. For more of my work on this subject, and many others in the sporting world, keep checking the blog.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sports Psychologist Interviews

Here are the clips of interviews with sports psychologists Amanda Owens and James Beale, which will form the majority of the podcast about young foreign footballers coming to England, for my University major project.

The length of the clips currently stand at 3 minutes 28 seconds...I have to cut it down to around 1 minute 30 seconds...so if you guys could have a listen and give me any feedback on bits you think are unnecessary or just plain boring, that'd be cool!

Sports Psychologist Interviews

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Young foreign footballers in England - Interactive Map

This interactive map documents the locations of young foreign footballers playing in England. Click on the markers for details or select 'categorised markers' on the right-hand panel for a comprehensive list of featured clubs.

For more on the subject, including exclusive interviews with Chelsea's Gael Kakuta and Wolves defender George Elokobi, click here.

CommunityWalk Map - Young foreign players in England

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Young foreign players in England - slideshow

This photo gallery shows the wealth of young foreign talent currently playing in the English Premier League and Football League.

click here">Young foreign footballers in England - make slideshow

For more on the subject, including exclusive interviews with Chelsea's Gael Kakuta and Wolves defender George Elokobi, click here.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Centenary Celebrations

It’s taken 17 years, a sum of money which means my bank statements are in the shredder the second they drop through the letterbox and a 500-mile round trip to Accrington on a freezing Tuesday night in January - but I’ve finally reached the 100 football grounds milestone.

From Kingsmeadow at the tender age of four to Dorchester Town’s Avenue stadium on Saturday, various fixtures and random impulses have taken me to such fantastic grounds as Stamford Bridge (more times than I care to remember), Old Trafford (more times than most Manchester United ‘fans’) and Camp Nou (more times than my dad’s credit card would appreciate!).

But it’s not all been glitz and glamour with – no offence to the following – the Dorking’s decrepit Meadowbank, Ringwood Town’s Canotec Stadium and Wembley (Vale Farm, before you ask) also making the list.

As well as holding my helmet and bat aloft in celebration, I’ve also decided to mark the occasion with a mini awards ceremony.

Best Pre-Match Drinking Facilities

Nominations: Oakwell (Barnsley), The War Memorial Sports Ground (Carshalton Athletic), Stonebridge Road (Ebbsfleet United)

Winner: Oakwell (Barnsley)

Let's begin with the most important category! Although it has no bearing on later categories (namely 'Best Ground')! Despite being shepherded into a leisure centre sports hall selling cans of beer on arrival, we eventually escaped to a very quaint (not to mention reasonably priced!) pub not far from the ground. With a mixture of home and visiting fans enjoying the hospitality, a great atmosphere began building with banter flying backwards and forwards. It all seemed very typical of south Yorkshire and certainly added to the experience of the trip.

Worst Pre-Match Drinking Facilities

Nominations: Priory Lane (Eastbourne Borough - despite boasting probably the best bar in non-league football), Pride Park (Derby County), Crown Ground (Accrington Stanley)

Winner: Pride Park (Derby County)

A 'new ground' in the middle of nowhere, offering little in terms of pre-match beverage facilities except a Frankie and Benny's opposite - which we all piled into, much to the delight of the unsuspecting diners! Needless to say, it was soon 'ram'-packed, with no-one able to get to the bar and people spilling onto the pavement outside for oxygen. Maybe home fans would have a better idea of where to go, but for the average away fan, a ground with a selection of local amenities, where natives and visitors can enjoy some pre-match banter is far more appealing.

Best Food

Nominations: New Lodge (Billericay Town), Atspeed Stadium (Horsham), Wheatsheaf Park (Staines Town)

Winner: New Lodge (Billericay Town)

Whilst many a non-league fan will fight the corner of Thurrock's 'Fleet Burger', I've yet to have the pleasure, although had I managed to make the trip through the Dartford Tunnel, it would take an amazing piece of culinary skill to beat Billericay's steak baguettes. This mouth-watering prospect - available in a variety of forms, including with onions, mushrooms or even fried eggs, causes fans of clubs throughout the Ryman Premier League to hunt frantically for their side's away trip to New Lodge when the fixtures are released each year. And it's well worth the trip...and starving youself for a week ahead of the game to feast upon one at half time and maybe even a cheeky one through a dull and dreary second-half.

Best Atmosphere

Nominations: War Memorial Sports Ground (Carshalton Athletic), Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace), Old Trafford (Manchester United)

Winner: Old Trafford (Manchester United)

As much as it pains me to say it, on each occasion I've been to Old Trafford the atmosphere has been outstanding, both in terms of volume and humour. With the capacity of the ground, this shouldn't be a surprise, but with the 'big clubs' you never really know what to expect, especially with so many foreign visitors and 'once-a-season' supporters crawling out of the woodwork. But credit to the real Manchester United faithful, they do generate a great atmosphere and their unity is evident with the amount of green and yellow on view at games.

Worst Atmosphere

Nominations: Gander Green Lane (Sutton United), Camp Nou (Barcelona), The Pilot Field (Hastings United)

Winner: Camp Nou (Barcelona)

A crazy suggestion to some, with a collosal capacity of 99, 354 the Barca faithful must be able to generate some noise...and boy do they! But for the away fans, hoisted up in the Gods with the players below resembling little more than Subbuteo figures, it's next to impossible to make yourselves heard. And only one set of visibly (well...to the ears...) vocal fans doesn't equate to much of an 'atmosphere', unlike grounds where supporters engage in a battle of volume and wits to act as that all imporant and clichéd 'twelfth man'.

Best Design

Nominations: Millennium Stadium, Griffin Park (Brentford), The New Defence (Horley Town)

Winner: Griffin Park (Brentford)

A pub on each corner you say? That'll do for me!

Worst Design

Nominations: Princes Park (Dartford), Imperial Fields (Tooting and Mitcham United), Wembley Stadium (New)

Winner: Imperial Fields (Tooting and Mitcham United)

Having sold their old Sandy Lane ground and purchasing land previously used as both Chelsea's and Crystal Palace's training ground, the opportunity to spend their finances wisely and build something impressive from scratch was there for the taking. But sadly it slipped through the architect's grasp. Firstly, the main stand looks like it's been put together with leftover bricks from James May's life-size Lego house. But instead of being bright and welcoming, the whole ground is just a big monotone monstrosity. The opposite side to the main stand is very narrow, despite stretching the length of the touchline and behind the goals are 'coverings' - I use the term loosely - which helpfully have no back, sides or even roof. Go figure.

Best Ground

Nominations: Oakwell (Barnsley), Mestalla (Valencia), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)

Winner: Oakwell (Barnsley)

With Camp Nou, the Mestalla and the Luzhniki Stadium all making my centenary list, Barnsley's modest offering may seem like an odd selection. But on my one visit to Oakwell, despite the result (a 1-0 win against Chelsea in the FA Cup), though probably aided by the cheap northern beer on offer, I completely fell in love with the place. Brimming with character and a real example of an old-school ground of hard knocks, Oakwell is a fine showground for how stadiums should be - not this Ikea flatpack style creeping in now (see Pride Park, St Mary's and even the likes of Wheatsheaf Park in the non-league game). Take a bow Barnsley and don't let the fame change you!

Worst Ground

Nominations: Pride Park (Derby County), Melbourne Stadium (Chelmsford City), the Withdean (Brighton and Hove Albion)

Winner: The Withdean (Brighton and Hove Albion)

A very peculiar ground that offers absolutely nothing, not even a roof (I'll come back to that in a minute). Now admittedly I've been regularly spoiled with trips to top flight grounds around Europe, with superb facilities both inside and outside the ground, especially Stamford Bridge with 'Chelsea Village'. But the Withdean's surroundings are shockingly poor and certainly set the scene for when you go through the turnstiles. The athletics track I was prepared for, but perhaps i should have paid closer attention the the Football League Show on a Saturday night to realise what i was letting myself in for. My experience may have been tainted a bit (ok, a lot) by the fact that it pissed it down for 90 minutes plus and we were in a stand with no roof, surrounded by well-versed folks in waterproof dresses. But the disjointed stands, with the away end seemingly stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and the distance from the pitch thanks to the athletics track certainly didn't help matters. At least I can say I've been...and survived...

And special mentions for...

The Avenue (Dorchester Town), Lodge Road (Yate Town), Fratton Park (Portsmouth), The Dripping Pan (Lewes) and Dean Court (AFC Bournemouth)

The full 100 is as follows:

1. Accrington Stanley – Crown Ground
2. AFC Bournemouth - Dean Court (Fitness First Stadium)
3. AFC Hornchurch – The Stadium
4. Aldershot Town – The Rec
5. Andover – The Portway Stadium
6. Arsenal – Highbury
7. Ashford Town (Kent) - Homelands
8. Ashford Town (Mx) – Short Lane Stadium
9. Aston Villa – Villa Park
10. Aveley – Mill Field
11. Barcelona – Nou Camp
12. Barnsley – Oakwell
13. Bexhill United – The Polegrove
14. Billericay Town – New Lodge
15. Bishop’s Stortford – Woodside Park
16. Bognor Regis Town – Nyewood Lane
17. Boreham Wood – Meadow Park
18. Brentford – Griffin Park
19. Brighton and Hove Albion – The Withdean
20. Bromley – Hayes Lane
21. Canvey Island – Park Lane
22. Cambridge City – The City Ground
23. Cambridge United – The Abbey Stadium
24. Carshalton Athletic – War Memorial Sports Ground
25. Charlton Athletic – The Valley
26. Chelmsford City – Melbourne Stadium
27. Chelsea – Stamford Bridge
28. Chipstead – High Road
29. Crawley Town – Broadfield Stadium
30. Crystal Palace – Selhurst Park
31. Dartford – Princes Park
32. Derby County – Pride Park
33. Dorchester Town – The Avenue
34. Dorking - Meadowbank
35. Dover Athletic – The Crabble
36. Eastbourne Borough – Priory Lane
37. Eastbourne Town – The Saffrons
38. Eastbourne United – The Oval
39. East Thurrock United – Rookery Hill
40. Ebbsfleet United – Stonebridge Road
41. Fareham Town – Cams Alders
42. Folkestone Invicta – The Buzzlines Stadium
43. Fulham – Craven Cottage
44. Harlow Town – Barrows Farm
45. Harrow Borough – Earlsmead Stadium
46. Hassocks – The Beacon
47. Hastings United – The Pilot Field
48. Havant and Waterlooville – Westleigh Park
49. Haywards Heath Town – Hanbury Park
50. Heybridge Swifts – Scraley Road
51. Hitchin Town – Top Field
52. Horley Town – The New Defence
53. Horsham – Atspeed Stadium
54. Horsham YMCA – Gorings Mead
55. Kingstonian – Kingsmeadow
56. Knaphill – Redding Way
57. Leatherhead – Fetcham Grove
58. Lewes – The Dripping Pan
59. Leyton – Leabridge Road
60. Littlehampton Town – The Sportsfield
61. London Colney – Cotlandswick Playing Fields
62. Luzhniki Stadium - (Torpedo Moscow)
63. Maidenhead United – York Road
64. Manchester United – Old Trafford
65. Margate – Hartsdown Park
66. Merstham – Weldon Way
67. Metropolitan Police – Imber Court
68. Millennium Stadium
69. Northwood – Northwood Park
70. Ramsgate – Southwood
71. Raynes Park Vale – Grand Drive
72. Reading Town – Scours Lane
73. Redhill – Kiln Brow
74. Ringwood Town - Canotec Stadium
75. Poole Town - Tatnam
76. Portsmouth – Fratton Park
77. Preston North End - Deepdale
78. Seaford Town – The Crouch
79. Sittingbourne – Bourne Park
80. Southampton - St Mary’s
81. Staines Town – Wheatsheaf Park
82. Sutton United – Borough Sports Ground
83. Three Bridges – Jubilee Field
84. Tonbridge Angels – Longmead Stadium
85. Tooting and Mitcham United – Imperial Fields
86. Valencia – Mestalla
87. Walton and Hersham – Stompond Lane
88. Walton Casuals – Franklyn Road Sports Ground
89. Watford – Vicarage Road
90. Wealdstone - Grosvenor Vale
91. Welling United – Park View Road
92. Wembley (Old)
93. Wembley (New)
94. Wembley – Vale Farm
95. Weymouth - ‘The’ Wessex Stadium
96. Whyteleafe – Church Road
97. Woking – Kingfield
98. Worthing – Woodside Road
99. Yate Town – Lodge Road
100.Yeading – The Warren