Ian Plenderleith dishes out WSC'S virtual gongs for the last 12 months

It's time for WSC's annual web awards, when we say nice things about the internet's best football sites and bestow virtual shiny gifts on them by way of recognition. As ever, the focus is on the quality of writing, the breadth of coverage, the implied values of the site, and a healthy degree of independence from commercial pressure or vested interest. This year we discounted individual club sites. With the internet having existed for the best part of two decades, any team site worth reading will be known to the fans of that team and of probable interest to those fans alone.

It is true that some sites, such as twohundredpercent or Run of Play, make repeat appearances in these awards. This is not some perpetual face-off such as the one that blighted John Peel's Festive 50 in the early 1980s, when Anarchy In The UK swapped places annually with Atmosphere for the number one spot. Rather it is testimony to the skill, endurance, industry and ingenuity that is invested in their production. Like any successful team, they refuse to become complacent and live off past glories, and so deserve both our accolades and your ongoing attention.

Gold - In Bed With Maradona

In Bed With Maradona's title page alone tells you that this is a site with a brief to write well beyond the Big Six. "A Gluttonous Infatuation: Malaysia and the Premier League". "The Decline of Grasshopper Zürich". Sudan, Paraguay, Azerbaijan and Armenia – think of a country, and the chances are that IBWM covers it, and covers it well. The piece charting the progress of the 100 young players named a year ago by Spanish publication Don Balon as the game's brightest prospects deserves a pot of gold awards for diligence alone. A wide array of writers and subject matter make this easily the outstanding, golden WSC Site of the Year.

Silver -
Run of play and TwoHundredPercent

Run of play is gift box of considered, well-crafted think-pieces that approach subjects you wouldn't expect from angles that help you question previously held assumptions. Even if he's proven guilty, is it right to condemn Luis Suarez outright as a racist without taking into context his linguistic background? Is Arsene Wenger's coaching philosophy "calcified"? Was Fernando Redondo Argentina's most under-rated player of the 1990s?  One great facet of Run of play is a resistance to stuffing its site with too much content, leaving space for glistering diamonds of finely honed prose.

Twohundredpercent is another site adept at raising questions, and (with some frustration, you sense) attempting to kickstart the discussions it believes should be at the centre of any or all debate about the game. Still home to Shit-Shot Mungo - the web's best football cartoon, and one that celebrated its 100th strip this year - twohundredpercent engages you with sentences like the following, from a piece on depression among footballers following the suicide of Gary Speed: "Modern football culture, whether at the match or in the virtual world, is a perpetual hum of bragadoccio and oneupmanship which doesn't have the time to consider the feelings of those at which it is aimed, an endless, wretched cycle of banter which places the responsibility for not getting offended on the target rather than the perpetrator." All that and video highlights from Slough, Enfield and Hebburn Town versus West Allotment too.

Bronze The Swiss Ramble, Surreal Football and Pitch Invasion

The Swiss Ramble
helps those fans unable or unwilling to trawl through their club's accounts with a fine pencil and make an accurate judgment on what the figures mean, or what the Chief Financial Officer is probably trying to conceal. This concise blog does all the hard, dry work for you, and for that it deserves a gong of gratitude for laying bare to the layman all the intricacies of a club's annual balance sheet. Also recommended in this field: The Political Economy of FootballAndersred (Manchester United's finances only)

Surreal Football: "Barcelona built their success on their unassailable moral ethos. They are eagerly, by themselves even, held up in comparison against the venal foundations of top-flight football, and its often ugly expression on the pitch." So begins a piece purporting to expose the hypocrisy of Barcelona's previous association with Unicef, which the site says the club used as a "Trojan horse for sponsorship". Want to read more? You'll have to show your cash, as the site has introduced a pay wall for some articles, partly so it can pay its writers, partly as a protest against the Guardian network's "promotion" of independent sites as a conglomerate of journalists and writers it won't actually remunerate. Root around in SF, though, and you'll find some semi-decent content for free, such as its series on the more obscure rivalries. Did you know, for example, that fans of Luton and Watford taunt each other about the quality of each other's shopping centres?

Pitch Invasion
is a fine and enduring site – possibly the first webzine to be old enough to publish a print retrospective of past content - looked to be disappearing from view last year, but has re-emerged with a focus on history, especially stadiums. Its photo-feature on Warsaw's overgrown Stadion Dziesięciolecia (now the rebuilt national stadium) is worth visiting the site on it own, and PI also links to a glossy sister-blog appropriately entitled Stadium Porn, and which features stadium news, developments and, most importantly of all for a porn site, pictures of stands both naked and fully seated.  

Honorable mentions

From A Left Wing Soccer and sports polemics.

A Football Report Football Culture. Thought. Simple.

Zonal Marking Football tactics, formations, diagrams, chalkboards and graphs

Centre Circle Publishing Endless but wonderful photo sets of non-league games

Comments (6)
Comment by Sport Economist 2011-12-22 15:30:30

Some great sites here and for all their familiarity, probably just about the best there are. A really good selection for those coming to blogs for the first time.

I know regularity isn't everything but utterly outstanding as Pitch Invasion is, its author Tom Dunmore was very quiet for large portions of the year (no doubt working on the mouthwatering sounding book that he has just released and which you should all buy). Of course he could write just one piece and it would be better than what most of us come up with but it would have been nice to see some newer names on the list such as the superb Twisted Blood or the under rated The Oval Log.

But I guess your comment on Run of Play, that it shows 'a resistance to stuffing its site with too much content, leaving space for glistering diamonds of finely honed prose' is the right answer to my query.

Comment by danielmak 2011-12-23 02:30:21

Thanks for this breakdown. If I could add a word about a different type of football media that is intertwined with the Web: podcasts.

1. BBC's World Football Phone-in continues to shine in terms of high quality analysis and a focus on relationships among national identity, local cultural life, and transnational shifts in global football.

2. Beyond the Pitch is hosted by two guys in the US, Anthony and Phil. It's an interview-based podcaast that mostly features conversations with journalists but also mixes in shows with other folks. Anthony has been doing a bulk of the hosting of late and he clearly watches football from many different leagues, which leads to a more informed conversation. And both hosts are great at asking questions and then getting out of the way.

3. The newest podcast seems to be a revised version of an old podcast: The European Football Show Podcast. Apparently this was associated with Betfair at one point. They have 3 epsisodes out and seem to be working on an episdode every 2 months. TV commentator Dave Farrar and writer Ben Lyttleton are the two hosts but have been joined by Michael Cox from Zonal Marking on 2 of the shows. Each show picks a theme and then explores that theme with a range of expert guests. As with the other two, the conversation and analysis is of a high level. It's a shame they don't produce the podcast more frequently.

Sticking with Ian's honorable mentions: BBC's World Football news/documentary weekly 30-minute show is very good (even with Alan Green hosting), The Bundesliga podcast was excellent but seems to be done now that Dan Levy isn't doing Bundesliga commentary for Eurosport, and Cafe Calcio's radio fanzine frame provided a nice alternative to the bulk of football podcasts in terms of topic and tone. I haven't listened to Cafe Calcio since the end of the last football season because my commuting time on the el (Chicago's metro) has been reduced and because they seemed to lose their way during the second half of the football season last year. They switched from starting with a David Stubbs position piece that anchored each show to a seemingly off the cuff Stubbs talk that usually lacked direction and was often interrupted by the other hosts. This combined with a 1-2 minute opening song and 3-5 minute intro. by Chris basically meant 12-15 minutes of time that could be spent listening to one of the aforementioned podcasts. But the topics were top notch and the audio fanzine frame, as previously noted, make this podcast unique; I need to revisit it.

Comment by Sport Economist 2011-12-23 07:15:03

Daniel is right to mention podcasts as they are very much the cousins of the blogs. Three others I would mention as a terrific listen would be Two Footed Tackle and The Sound of Football plus The Bundesliga Show which is run by Terry Duffelen of The Sound of Football along with Jon Hartley who is Cologne based.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-12-23 19:03:38

I don't know what you think Imp, but this does not strike me as what one might call a "vintage crop". Was 2011 just a bad year, do you think - or is the world wide football interweb in terminal decline?

Comment by Stumpy Pepys 2011-12-24 14:11:51

I was another listener to the Bundesliga Podcast, but it's on a permanent hiatus at the moment; however, The Bundesliga Show is a good replacement.

Sadly I could only find one German-language Bundesliga podcast (that covers the whole 1. Bundesliga) and it's nowhere near as good.

Comment by Sport Economist 2011-12-25 08:33:40

I think those who are new to these blogs should bear in mind one crucial factor - those who operate them largely do so on top of working 9 to 5 - so the extraordinary content conjured up by the people above is something put together of an evening after a punishing day at work. Nor do many of the writers fall into the category of freelance journalists - I remember the properietor of Two Hundred Percent works in tax law in a different town from where he lives so to produce such an amazing constellation of great articles is a phenomenal achievement.

I think ultimately that that is one major thing that separates blogs from mainstream media - more so than the issue of whether people are being paid or not.

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