Speaking your mind

Away from the rants of the message board maniacs, there are plenty of people trying to use the internet to stage more reasoned debates about the game. Ian Plenderleith picks a few arguments

It’s six years since this column took a critical look at a site called Voice of ­Football , a pomposity-packed home page for all kinds of blustering, big-name opinion-­mongers such as Alan Green, Uri Geller and the late Tony Banks. Thereafter the site was cursed and soon disappeared into oblivion, celebrity sheen proving no compensation for words of genuine substance.

The name, if not the spirit, has now been revived for an entirely different kind of forum. The Voices now belong to aspirant young writers looking to find a foothold in the football press, owned and run as an independent project under the moniker “Write On”. The aim is to nurture amateur, unpaid hopefuls through the process of writing regular opinion pieces by offering four-week trials and then, if they shape up, a regular place on the site. You could call it a rhetorical farm club for the professional press.

“One of the most appealing aspects… [of] Voice of Football is found in the variety of viewpoints, styles and messages that each of our columnists are developing,” claims founder and owner Beth Britton. “They all come to the site unknown and many have made massive improvements.”

Well, there are certainly some unorthodox viewpoints, such as Jack Brazier’s generous assessment of Harry Redknapp, with regard to the recent rumours that he’s allegedly fond of used paper in brown bags, as “the kind of man who would have admitted to such strong allegations as soon as they started being whispered around the footballing world”. I don’t know why the FA bother having all these inquiries, given how trust-­worthy everyone in the game is.

“Football is a great game controlled, in part, by not particularly great people,” concludes another post-Panorama editorial. One columnist thinks there’s little that can be done about corruption because there’s so much of it and the football authorities are so weak, while another states with touching innocence: “The [Panorama] programme on Tuesday also made me question the football family and just how honest they really are.”

The site is a much more creditable venture than its predecessor and should serve as a useful proving ground. Its overly earnest proto-scribes could, however, use a little more humour and focus less on the Premiership and England – for this season the only clubs outside the top flight featured seemed to be Accrington and Sunderland and there’s little from beyond Blighty since the World Cup.

An altogether more diverse band of writers can be found at the visually unadventurous Soccerphile site, which boasts correspondents in less obvious footballing nations such as Australia, Croatia, South Korea and… Scotland. Although a writer calling himself The Purist hasn’t posted a new column for a year or so (presumably the game is now just too muddied for him to touch it), the other contributors, including the obligatory betting pundit, report regularly and extensively on happenings in leagues that normally merit no more than half a column in World Soccer.

“I have never even had a cup of coffee with the lady, let alone anything more than that,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic is quoted as saying following a press report on an alleged scandal. The writer quickly goes on to point out that Bilic is “one of the very few soccer players to boast a university diploma (in law, to be precise)”. Who knew that academic achievement could act as a dampener on a ­manager’s sexual drive?

South Korea’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek, meanwhile, reveals in an interview that he no longer has the luxury of heading out to a café to enjoy the kind of coffee Bilic didn’t take with “a stunning TV hostess”. In order to avoid autograph hunters and people taking pictures, Verbeek has to “wear a hat and sunglasses” outdoors, but he’s not deluding himself. “It’s not because I am a nice guy or because of my blue eyes,” he states plaintively, “but because I am the national team coach.” It’s a shame the ad-plagued site and its chaotic layout make its almost hidden but mainly decent content so hard to find.

One new angle for a columnist is Referee 365 , a watchdog commentator who assesses the game’s laws and top whistlers, and in great detail, too. “I had always rated Poll as a ref, as a decision maker,” he says, “until he started allowing himself to become the focus of proceedings too much, thinking he is pally with the players, and maybe that clouds his judgment a little.”

It’s generally entertaining, if slightly long-winded and occasionally lazy in its wording (Michael Ballack is described as having “goose-stepped into” Momo Sissoko), but a refreshing change from the thousands of analyses of “last weekend’s EPL action”. On the web, opinion comes cheap, but this just adds value to the limited number of columnists actually worth taking the time to read.

From WSC 237 November 2006. What was happening this month