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 Football; Andersred (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.
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