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May issue available now online and in store

The new WSC is out now available from all good newsagents or to order now from the WSC shop with free UK delivery.

Inside
Club ownership: The damage done by billionaires | How Abramovich changed Chelsea
Wimbledon: Relegation fears at Plough Lane

Plus
When Pelé came to Plymouth | Ukrainian players and the war | Italy's World Cup flop | Managers v the modern world | Crowd riot in Mexico | In praise of free-kick spray | Reporters get the runaround | Diversity at Ewood Park | Scottish leagues shake-up | East Germany in 1989 | Calls for WSL away ends | League of Ireland vision | Matchday at South Shields | Sheffield Football Library | A tight title race in Bulgaria | Focus on Martin O'Neill

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Cheques and balances The trickle-down influence of Premier League owners
If you want to buy a leading English football club who have suddenly and unexpectedly become available there is a certain way of going about it. The current fashion is to announce a supergroup consortium that ticks some very specific boxes. These include a vaguely controversial frontman, some wealthy backers who may or may not be “mysterious” and a random ex-player or celebrity to add a little PR interest. Thus the various favourites for the Chelsea bid currently include ex-British American Tobacco boss (and former chairman of Liverpool) Martin Broughton teaming up with Sebastian Coe, while billionaire property developer and Downing Street lockdown party attendee Nick Candy counts Gianluca Vialli as “lead advisor”. The dangers of ignoring this model became all too apparent with the withdrawal of Turkish businessman Muhsin Bayrak who, having initially sounded bullish about his chances, had to bow out after apparently sending his billion-pound proposal to the wrong email address. Would Bayrak have enjoyed more success if he’d been quicker to announce Kriss Akabusi or Suggs from Madness as part of his bid? Almost certainly. Meanwhile, at time of writing, the progress of John Terry’s attempt to purchase a ten per cent stake in Chelsea through the sale of cartoon monkeys remains frustratingly unclear. Being able to ignore this nonsense should be one of the few perks of supporting a team outside the Premier League. Unfortunately football hasn’t worked like this for some time.

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AFC Wimbledon 0-1 Cambridge United Winless run continues at Plough Lane
Disembarking at Earlsfield station, there’s no need to check the map to show me the way to Plough Lane. Following fans in blue and yellow replica shirts past pubs outside which drinkers make the most of the spring sunshine, one shop window after another displays a glossy poster inviting residents to “Be part of it” at their new local team: “We are back. We are home. We are Wimbledon.” For some, it will be their old local team. The new Plough Lane lies not quite on the footprint of the previous ground but just across the River Wandle, replacing the former Wimbledon Stadium; before greyhound racing, stock cars and speedway riders even existed this was Coppermill Lane, home to one of four clubs that merged under the name Wimbledon FC in 1912. One hundred and ten years and a long story later, the site’s latest iteration as a sporting venue is flanked by the residential developments that inevitably underpinned the deal. A shortfall in construction costs was recovered thanks to a bond scheme raising over £5.5 million; a second scheme, this time aiming to refinance a bridging loan and finalise the fit-out, was launched in December and has been rapidly racking up investors. After a year playing behind closed doors, this season represents the fan-owned club’s real homecoming.

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Fall from grace No Italy at the World Cup
Out of the World, To Hell, Nooooo. These were the headlines of the three Italian sport newspapers the day after the national team lost at home to North Macedonia and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the second time running. In 2017, Gian Piero Ventura’s Italy missed out by finishing second to a strong Spain team in the group stage, and then lost to a solid Sweden in the play-offs. Five years on, they were beaten at home by a team who are 67th in the FIFA rankings. While the causes for the previous failure had been apparent for some time, this one was much more unexpected.

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Spray check A refereeing innovation that works
In 2019-20, VAR cost the Premier League £12.26 million to implement. Whatever your views on VAR, there’s no way anyone can claim it’s eradicated refereeing controversies. By contrast, vanishing spray is freely available online for £6.99 per can, and you no longer get any disputes over retreating at free-kicks anywhere in the professional game. There’s something mystical about the power of the vanishing spray. I can’t recall seeing any team try to disobey the spray. Once it’s marked out, it seems to placate even the most unruly centre-half into retreating behind the spray’s forcefield. You rarely witness any attempts to argue where the line is, as routinely happens with corner takers trying to place the ball on the furthest speck of the white line.

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Ownership illustration by Matt Littler, AFC Wimbledon v Cambridge United photo by Paul Paxford, Italy v North Macedonia photo via Getty Images, vanishing spray photo via Getty Images

Availability

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