Where Is Football? In Poznan for the Homeless World Cup

The Homeless World Cup, an annual competition which draws involvement from up to 70 countries, began on Sunday morning in Poznan, Poland. Every year the Homeless World Cup Foundation hosts this event for teams made up of homeless, ex-homeless and marginalized people who may not have had access to competitive football otherwise. 

It’s a life-changing experience for everyone involved, and many participants have gone on to change their circumstances dramatically for the better.

This year, the Polish city welcomed players and staff from 46 nations, as well as a selection of international volunteers from places as diverse as Mexico and Scotland. After a parade around the site - the beautiful Lake Malta - the draw for the groups was made. 

Following the first round of matches, the teams and volunteers were invited to the city’s stadium, the Stadion Miejski, where the official opening ceremony was held before a Polish Ekstraklasa match between local team Lech Poznan and Korona Kielce. Lech Poznan emerged as 2-0 winners.

Updates from the event are available through the foundation’s official Facebook page, their Twitter account and their Instagram feed, while their website is updated throughout the day with stories from the tournament and beyond. A live stream for the event is also available on the website. Our own Amy Eustace is helping run the event this year. You should follow her updates on Twitter and Instagram, too.

After a decade, involvement reignites Ireland’s identity

By Amy Eustace, writing from Dublin and ready to fly to Poland.

I have spent the past ten years in international football’s no-man’s land.

It’s been both lonely and frustrating. Ireland’s precarious position at Europe’s western edge, and even more precarious proximity to ol’ Blighty, has meant that we couldn’t possibly ignore the European championships, even when we, ourselves, had not been deigned fit to attend. As our unfortunate neighbours Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and indeed perhaps the rest of the world would regretfully agree, the English make a right old stink around international tournaments. For the Irish, watching the English self-combust in a frenzy of obsessive compulsive self-sabotaging media coverage is like watching an annoying older brother get a shiny toy car for Christmas and then ramming it repeatedly into the floor until it’s a crumpled heap. Yes, England, you’re THAT guy. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.

I’ve learned that I don’t much like neutrality. I am no Switzerland. I have an all-consuming need to get involved. For ten years I’ve wanted to hang the tricolour from my bedroom window. I’ve wanted to sing ‘We All Dream of a Team of Gary Breens’ in a pub packed with my countrymen in some far flung host city. I have watched the rugby-heads of my country see the glory of European dominance, when all I wanted was a decent run at the group stages. Was that really so much to ask?

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Bringing North East Italy to North East England?

By Amy Eustace

Eight months ago, the top six was nailed on. You could bet your house on the fact that the usual suspects – the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs – would all be up there, fighting it out in their customary gloves-off style. But you wouldn’t have wagered a penny on the prospect of Newcastle, of all clubs, throwing their hat into that ring. It would’ve been like betting on a 12-year-old to knock out Ali, or a three-legged horse to win at Cheltenham. They had lost a raft of regular players; including the brash but effective Barton, the reliable Nolan, the indispensible Enrique and…well, Andy Carroll. Their fabled return to the Premier League hadn’t exactly coincided with a return to the glory days.

Geordies were faced with a lean transfer window. A few presumed nobodies from France here, some lad that played for West Ham there; it didn’t make for pleasant viewing. Expectations had been lowered since their year in the throes of the Championship, sure, but in a desolate summer thoughts strayed to the likelihood of being back there again sooner rather than later. No one expected to see them chasing European qualification at this point in the season. If you HAD bet on it, you would probably be looking forward to a handy payoff in two months’ time.

The question is…how did they do it?

How, at a time when all and sundry are abandoning the purse strings, did Newcastle manage to do the opposite, and compete at a higher level? To put it rather plainly, their methodology closely resembles another black-and-white-striped team: Udinese. From the North East of England, to the North East of Italy, a radical – yet perfectly sensible – strategy has been translated.

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Back to Anfield South

By Amy Eustace

There came a point at the beginning of last year when you simply knew it was coming.  Perhaps it was the infamous Roy Hodgson face rub – a sure sign that man had reached his last bastion of pure desperation – the previous December, or the penalty that Steven Gerrard sent soaring uncharacteristically over the bar against Blackburn the same month. We all sensed Roy Hodgson was a dead man walking, and the Kop didn’t need to chant “Hodgson out!” to stress the point.

More cruelly, they sang the name of another; a player whose sublime touch and silky footwork had led the Kop in song throughout the 1980s and a manager whose reign at the club had been the very antithesis of Liverpool’s past decade or two. Bountiful where the nineties and noughties had been barren, magical where the club had since been miserable - fans who had long forgotten how dominance felt craved a return to his tenure. Kenny Dalglish’s was a name synonymous with success in Liverpool. Roy Hodgson’s had become a buzz word for failure.

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The Metamorphosis of Lucas

By Amy Eustace

"People just don’t know how good Lucas is," prophesised Rafael Benitez, three years ago to the month. It was December 2008, and Liverpool had found themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position by recent standards. Top of the table, ahead of the pack and with just one defeat for the first half of the season away to Spurs, the only problem was a smattering of frustrating draws. That, and for a rather large section of fans, the performances of a young, blond-haired Brazilian who had apparently worked his way into Benitez’s heart - and subsequently, a talented Liverpool midfield.

Those mind-boggling stalemates set angry Kop tongues wagging, and the then-21 year old would be on the receiving end of plenty of Scouse ire. Lucas Leiva certainly wasn’t the only villain that term - summer signing Robbie Keane’s stock was so low on the Anfield terraces that he was sent packing back down to London at the first available opportunity. Benitez wasn’t shy of admitting he had gotten the Keane question wrong, but he was so quick to defend the Gremio starlet who had appeared wildly out of his depth on Merseyside. Why? Liverpool supporters and the baying critics, by and large, didn’t see whatever it was that Benitez saw. They saw a shaggy-haired boy, supposedly highly-rated in his native, football-crazed country, who simply didn’t make the exceedingly high grade in the Premier League.

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The Black Cats mean business

By Amy Eustace, writing from Dublin.

The summer of 2011, now nearing its close, will be remembered for many things; Joey Barton losing (or perhaps finding) his marbles on Twitter, Everton failing to make a single signing, André Villas-Boas perplexing English journalists and commentators (it’s Veelash-Bowash, apparently), and last but certainly not least, the sudden spurt in clubs that, though exactly traditional super-powers of the sport, are flexing some serious muscle in the transfer market. With the likes of Malaga and Paris Saint-Germain making the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City look like peasants, it’s a time for the little guy to dream a bit bigger. When Javier Pastore snubs the likes  of Chelsea for a somewhat surprising, £36.5 million move to Leonardo-led PSG, who last year finished fourth in Ligue 1, you have to admit: this summer, it’s not always been the usual suspects.

The north of England has not really seen football fairytales on the scale Paris and Andalusia have this summer, but there is one club making ripples - if not waves. Instead of London, Manchester or indeed Merseyside, Premier League transfer business has had an unusual focus; Wearside, where Steve Bruce’s Sunderland have sunk their teeth into the market with impressive, but erudite, eagerness.  No, they haven’t reached Sheikh standards, nor have they signed any Argentinean prodigies. In fact, they haven’t made a signing worth more than £8 million pounds. So why the fuss, eh?

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The advent of The Squad Player

By Amy Eustace, writing from Dublin

In the great, successful teams of the last few decades, it always seems to me that much care is taken, after due praise is given to the eleven on the pitch, to point out the names that sit on the bench. The now slightly worn out clichés of ‘strength in depth’ are bandied about. Abundance of quality is the mark of a truly good team. It’s become a given in football, a necessity, part of the landscape. In recent times, the real indicator of a team’s ability to succeed hasn’t been the starting XI, but the back up plan.

Whenever the issue of the ‘strength and depth’ is raised I always find myself thinking of Aston Villa, and their oft-forgotten 14-player championship. In the 1980/81 season, Villa secured the English first division title, fending off stiff competition, having used only 14 players throughout the course of the year. Unfortunately, I suppose, it’s not the 1980s. Villa’s league triumph was the exception, rather than the rule. These days, clubs draw from a pool restricted to 25 (boosted, when needed, by a limitless number of youth players). Purely for illustration purposes, I counted 23 players having made appearances in 2010/11 for Aston Villa. Times really have changed.

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I’ve got you under my skin

By Amy Eustace, writing from Dublin.

There’s a common misconception around the football world that ‘mind games’ and attempts to get under the skin of an opposing team before a big game is somehow a new tactic - one made de rigueur by Sir Alex Ferguson, one that you would never have found in the good old days of the sport in the absence of Sky Sports News and similar demons. Untrue, of course. Think Clough, Revie, Stein and Shankly. There’s nothing new in the practice of the pre-match psych-out. The only thing that’s changed is that the attacks have become decidedly more bitter, more malicious, and a great deal more personal.

Suddenly, out of the blue, it all becomes topical again, ahead of El Clasico #5283643964 of the season (or at least that’s what it feels like). Real Madrid host their Catalonian enemies at the Bernabeu in a mouth-watering Champions League tie this evening, and with Manchester United’s easy 2-0 away win at Schalke last night already seeming a distant memory, attention has shifted to the sparring practice between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in the build-up.

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Much ado about nothing: James McCarthy and the story surrounding ‘fake Irishmen’

By Amy Quinn, writing from Dublin

James McCarthy. Hmm, that name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Wigan midfielder? Glaswegian? The guy on the receiving end of THAT infamous Wayne Rooney elbow? Yes! That James McCarthy. He may be better known for getting a face full of prime Scouse flesh but McCarthy has been hitting the headlines in Ireland for very different reasons as of late.

The Republic of Ireland - a nation full of people just about fed up with people telling them that they’re a quarter-Irish twice-removed on their Dad’s side or something or other along those lines - is often subjected to much debate when it comes to the tricky issue of the national side, and its profitable utilisation of the famed “Granny rule”. Compiling a starting eleven of players who were actually born and raised on the Emerald Isle is more difficult than you might expect. The spine of the team are thorough-breds - veterans such as captain Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, John O’Shea and Shay Given, as well as younger players like Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and the Hunt brothers. But in the national side’s history, there have been plenty of players from the neighbouring lands of Northern Ireland, Scotland and England declaring for Ireland. For many different reasons.

Some, arguably, choose to accept the Ireland call-up because they do not think they will recieve one for England. As Tony Cascarino - who qualified for Ireland through his mother’s adoption - admitted in his autobiography: “I didn’t qualify for Ireland. I was a fraud. A fake Irishman.”

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