All posts by euanburns18

Meet the men behind Fans Supporting Foodbanks

By Euan Burns

Every football fan knows what to expect when you’re lingering outside the ground waiting for kick off. Burger van’s, pop-up bar’s, maybe a bit of music and an abundance of people selling you every type of merchandise you can possibly imagine.

Outside both Anfield and Goodison Park however, you’ll find two truly inspirational men doing everything they can to help their local community. These men are 61-year-old Everton fan Dave Kelly, and 46-year-old Liverpool fan Ian Byrne.

Dave, Ian and their team spend a few hours before every Everton and Liverpool game collecting food from match-going fans, and taking it to local foodbanks. The two men’s footballing allegiances formed the basis for their project, and spawned the fast-growing hashtag #HungerDoesntWearClubColours.

What is immediately striking about Dave and Ian is how genuine and honest they are. They don’t speak and act like people who know they are doing a wonderful thing. As far as they are concerned, what they are doing is a necessary thing. They dress in the way you’d expect any casual football fan to do so, jeans and dark jackets. Dave was wearing a beanie hat with his Fans Supporting Foodbanks badge attached to the front. Nothing about them suggested they were the leaders of the steady crowed surrounding the van situated on Anfield Road. Their strong scouse accents add a level of credibility to their comments on the state of their community.

The project has gained huge recognition over recent months, meaning I had to wait for Ian to finish his chat with another journalist before he joined Dave and I. I met up with them both during a food collection outside Anfield, prior to the Liverpool vs Huddersfield match. After chatting for a bit and telling me whom various people dotted about the area were, Dave introduced me to Ian in a manner that suggests he doesn’t see himself as news-worthy, by saying: “This lad’s a journalist, bizarrely wanting to find out who we are and how we do it.”

This led Dave onto the first interesting point about how the organisation is run in regards to leadership: “No one’s really in charge it’s a bit of a free for all. In my day job I work for a trade union, so the thought of being in charge of something or a manager is a bit of an alien concept.”  The project is run with a strong socialist ethos, which has clearly been engrained in Dave for his whole life. Dave told me one of his anecdote that became very regular during the chat: “My son said to me the other day, I used to love coming out of school on a Friday afternoon and going out with you because we’d put a loud haler on the van and we’d go and collect food for the miners during the miners’ strike in 1985. 35 years later, you’re still out collecting food. You never feel like you’ve wasted your life.”

Interviewing Dave whilst in his natural requires a level of patience, because every passer-by knows who he is and wants a chat. One volunteer at the van said to me: “People usually have neck ache after talking to Dave because you’re turning here there and everywhere”. It epitomises the community spirit both he and Ian are so desperate to highlight.

Collections have been carried out under the Fans Supporting Foodbanks title for three years now, with the idea coming to the two men whilst on the train back from London after a meeting with the Premier League. Dave said: “Our first collection was after we’d seen a huge queue outside a community centre and we found out it was a foodbank queue, and it was basically a food bank without food. We thought we better hit the ground running. Our first collection was out of a wheelie bin, we got more chip papers than food.”

There is clearly a very down-to-earth and pragmatic way about how Dave thinks, as shown by his attitude towards political labels: “People accuse people who put their head above the parapet and get involved with community initiatives of being a Communist, a Marxist, you name it I’ve been called it. I always say to people, I am not that political, but I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong. I would actually suggest that I’m a community activist, I’m immersed in what goes on in and around my community, and I’m not happy or comfortable with what I see going on in my community, or any other community.”

The idea of mobilising football fans all over the country to help those in poverty is something that Ian and Dave are very enthusiastic about. Ian seemed to fill with pride when he said:  “That’s probably one of our proudest achievements. Making fans focus on the bigger enemy and not each other. We always say our enemy is not someone in Salford, Newcastle, and Huddersfield whatever. They are helping us collect food because our communities are starving. That is one of the most enjoyable parts of it. We’ve got the Huddersfield supporters trust coming down tonight and they’re bringing a donation of food, we’ll go to Newcastle, Dave’s going to Manchester. There’s a cross-pollination now where we’re all helping each other out. It’s quite ground breaking to be honest when you’re bringing food to Old Trafford as a Liverpool fan.”

It isn’t just food collections that Ian and Dave use the vehicle of football for. They want to integrate everyone in their society, and make sure no one is left behind. They have gone to great lengths to make the Muslim community in Liverpool feel as welcome as possible, especially given the current political climate. Dave told me a story which highlighted a key problem in society: “You’ll be aware of Mo Salah receiving racist abuse at West Ham’s ground the other week. That’s obviously of great concern to all of us. What you probably won’t realise is that a few weeks ago, Fans Supporting Foodbanks and West Ham Independent Supporters Association went to Mo Salah’s mosque, and they offered a hand of friendship. The Imran at the mosque at Friday prayer time conducted the whole service with a West Ham scarf on because he accepted the hand of friendship.”

I was aware of the racist abuse, but not the heart-warming events that followed. I pointed out that that may well be part of the problem. This prompted Ian to say: “Well yeah let’s be blunt about it, that was a massive failing of the footballing authorities that what happened there wasn’t highlighted. It was one of the proudest moments we’ve probably ever had because it was really touching when he put the scarf on. We always get a lot of warmth from that congregation. There was a 75-year-old guy there praying and waving his Liverpool scarf at Dave. It’s using football again to lighten the tone, unite people, break down divides. It’s a hugely powerful tool.”

I pressed Ian on the idea of football being a powerful tool, pointing out how it can be so effective in both good and bad ways. He said in response: “Absolutely, we’re domestically opposed to what Tommy Robinson and Football Lads Alliance and all that garbage do. They see the value of football the same way that we do, so they see football as an opportunity to create a division. We see football as an opportunity to unite communities. Its dead interesting when you sit down and you look at their modus operandum and you look at our modus operandum because footballs the national game, and it’s amazing that me and Dave can use football as a vehicle to walk into a mosque and integrate with their communities.”

Their work with Mohammed Salah’s mosque stretches back further than that. During the 2018 World Cup, they screened the Egypt vs Russia game at the mosque, and about 250 people attended from the whole community. Dave described it as: ”One of our proudest moments”. Ian elaborated by saying: “A lot of people haven’t been to a mosque before, and it’s an opportunity to break down that barrier and put some of those mistruths that you might read in The Daily Mail and the right-wing propaganda to bed really.” With a smirk on his face, Dave added: “It’s funny how no one’s ever tried to radicalise me isn’t it? There’s an ignorance isn’t there, what happens behind that door there.”

I asked Dave how rewarding it is to know he’s helping so many people, but his answer suggested he feels their work in mobilising football fans is more impressive. Food bank collections is something that should be happening regardless. He said: “Well I think it’s more rewarding knowing how we’re helping to change the narrative about football fans. That lad over there has just bought a lodge for disabled and sick children in the Lake District. Football fans believe it or not are just like anyone else.”

It was at this point a very wealthy looking man arrived, shook hands with us all and started having a casual chat. This was the Chief Executive Officer of Liverpool Football Club, Peter Moore. Politely, Dave immediately explained whom I was and what I was doing, to which Mr Moore said: “It’s a great story here isn’t it. Careful though you know what side of the park he’s from.” He went on to ridicule me about Manchester United’s recent form, and then rushed off to get something to eat. In fairness, he had just flown in from China and hadn’t eaten. Incidentally, it was Mr Moore who bought the van that Fans Supporting Foodbanks use for their collections out of his own pocket. It was testament to the relaxed, social vibe around the collection that such a prominent figure can turn up, have a chat and continue with his day.

Ian and Dave have a really impressive mind-set, and are doing deeply impressive work. They are changing the stereotype of what a football fan is, and helping those in need along the way.

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A Bundesliga Experience

By Euan Burns//@burns_euan

Hertha Berlin and Borussia Dortmund played out a thrilling match in the Bundesliga’s Saturday evening fixture.

Dortmund won the game after Marco Reus’s 93rd minute strike, but they twice fell behind to a resilient Hertha team.

The scoring got under way thanks to former Chelsea man Salomon Kalou pouncing on a Roman Bürki mistake after just four minutes. It only took 10 minutes for Dortmund to hit back after Thomas Delaney’s strike took a wicked deflection and bounced agonisingly into the net.

This sparked a period of pressure for Dortmund, but it was Kalou who scored next from the penalty spot to put his team 2-1 up before half time.

Dortmund flew out the traps in the second half, with Zagadou heading in an equaliser after 47 minutes. Almost the entire half consisted of sustained Dortmund pressure, and it felt only a matter of time before they scored the winner.

A flurry of chances were missed by the yellows, but it was Hertha who thumped the post after a quick counter-attack. Hertha’s task became even harder after defender Jordan Torunarigha was sent off for two yellow cards on 85 minutes.

Dortmund finally got the winner their play had merited when Reus swept in a cross from the left into the bottom corner, breaking Hertha hearts. In a foul tempered final few minutes, substitute Vedad Ibisevic was sent off for Hertha for angrily throwing the ball at Bürki’s head.

Whilst the action on the pitch was thoroughly entertaining, it was the action in the stands that I was most looking forward to seeing. Both sets of fans did not disappoint.

The Olympiastadion was a cacophony of noise. The main difference between a game in England and this game in Germany is that the chants and noise levels weren’t heavily affected by what was happening on the pitch. It was constant singing and jumping, regardless of where on the pitch the all was.

The Hertha fans were being led by a man down at the front with a microphone who seemed to spend the entire game facing his fellow supporters starting chants for everyone to join in with. The abundance of flags never stopped waving, and even when the winning goal went in, there wasn’t the same feeling of stress and aggression that you feel in English stands.

In the very rare moments that the lead fan kept quiet, you could hear the Dortmund fans at the other end of the pitch. This is deeply impressive considering the size of the running track surrounding the pitch and the very open stadium which allows noise to escape.

It’s common for the hardcore support for each team to be at opposite ends of the ground, and then the middle becomes quite mixed. This seems almost unimaginable in England as we create such a hostile atmosphere. When Dortmund scored, to me the two sides of the ground seemed to cheer louder than when Hertha scored.

Something that every fan would like to see at the moment is Jadon Sancho playing live. He didn’t perform to expectation in the first half, with Dortmund struggling to put together any real flowing moves. However, he was blistering in the second half. His movement was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, as he switched wings regularly, and also popped up down the middle on occasion. He was very unlucky not to score, and eventually got his rewards by setting up Marco Reus’s winner with a lovely outside of the boot cross.

A novelty I was very much looking forward to was being able to have a beer in the stand. There’s something much more friendly about the whole experience when you don’t feel like you’re constantly suspected of hooliganism. Something I didn’t realise was that people are also allowed to smoke in the stands. Either that or the stewards aren’t very vigilant.

It was quite incredible to watch a game of football in the historic Olympiastadion, looking across at a spot Adolf Hitler has made speeches from in the not-so-distant past. There is something quite eerie about the watching football in the stadium where black athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, much to Hitler’s annoyance. The stadium is quite something to look at and is easily accessible on the U-Bahn from the city centre.

There was an interesting moment of solidarity between both sets of fans, when Dortmund unveiled a banner saying “4 leagues, 4 champions, 4 newcomers. Regional league reform now”. This is a reference to the recent dispute’s fans have been having with the German Football Association. There was then a mutual chant by both sets of fans. I could only work out the words “scheisse” and “DFA”, but I could get the idea.

I can highly recommend going to see Hertha Berlin play live, especially given Hertha plan to move stadium by 2025.

Tammy Abraham: Another Brit in Germany?

Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham is reportedly being lined up by German team RB Leipzig for a £20m move.

The 21-year-old has been on loan at Championship outfit Aston Villa this season, where he’s notched up a very impressive 21 goals in 29 games.

This news hardly comes as a surprise for multiple reasons. It is another example of a Chelsea loanee performing very well elsewhere, but seemingly having no chance of breaking into the first team. Abraham has also had a successful loan spell at Bristol City in recent years, scoring 23 times in 41 games. As well as this, he has made 41 appearances for England youth teams, scoring 15 times.

The other reason this transfer news it not particularly surprising is the upturn in English youngsters heading to Germany for competitive first team football at a high standard.

It is quite a compliment to Abraham that RBL are looking to sign him, as their highly sought after striker Timo Werner looks increasingly as if he will be on his way out in the summer.

Of course, the most notable is Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, who decided at the age of 17 that he was ready for first team football. He knew he wouldn’t find it at Manchester City, so he took the incredibly brave decision to leave his family and friends behind and move to Germany.

Sancho signed for Dortmund on 31st August 2017 for a reported fee of £8m. He was instantly placed in the first team squad. He made his debut from the bench less than two months later against Eintracht Frankfurt, becoming the first Englishman to play in theBundesliga for Dortmund.

It took until January for Sancho to be given his first league start, at the end of the 2017/2018 season, he signed a deal keeping at the club until 2022. This investment has paid dividends for Dortmund, as Sancho has now rocked up nine goals and 11 assists. He was also named Bundesliga player of the month for October and has become a key player for the team top of the Bundesliga.

Jadon Sancho is now being seriously linked with a £100m move to Manchester United, with other top teams also sniffing around. If this transfer were to materialise, it would be a stroke of financial genius from Borussia Dortmund.

Another slightly less publicised example of a young English player in the Bundesliga is Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson. The 19-year-old is currently on loan at Hoffenheim, and although not as successful as Sancho, is playing more football than he would have done in England. He’s made 15 appearances for Die Kraichgauer, scoring six times. Nelson scored fourteen minutes after coming off the bench for his debut against Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Everton’s Ademola Lookman had a short stint at Tammy Abraham’s potential new club Red Bull Leipzig. He joined on loan in the January of the 2017/18 season, scoring five times in 11 appearances.

Many of these English youngsters are friends, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they all feel there is more competitive football to be played in Germany, at clubs where they can be a key player. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson Odoi very nearly moved to Bayern Munich in January, because it is obvious to everyone except Maurizio Sari that he is ready to be a first team player for a quality team.

It’s not just Germany that is becoming popular with English youngsters. Last night, Watford’s Ben Wilmot made his debut for Serie A side Udinese in a 4-1 defeat to reigning champions Juventus.

It could be a very positive trend for the England National team, with youngsters gaining first team experience and maturity earlier in their careers.

Euan Burns//@burns_euan

Manchester United progress after dramatic night in Paris

Manchester United have reached the Champions League Quarter Finals after overturning a two-goal deficit away from home to Paris Saint Germain.

No team has ever progressed after losing 2-0 at home in the first leg, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men won 3-1, with the aid of an opinion-splitting 93rd minute VAR penalty that was coolly dispatched by Marcus Rashford.

United got off to the perfect start when Timo Kehrer’s sloppy back-pass allowed Lukaku to ghost in on goal, go around the on-rushing Gianluigi Buffon and slot home on two minutes.

PSG responded excellently, and after 12 minutes they were level and had one foot firmly in the quarter-finals. Kylian Mbappe’s clever run allowed him to square the ball across the six-yard-box for Juan Bernat to tap in unchallenged.

The Parisians then laid siege to the Manchester United goal, with Bernat missing a very presentable chance to kill the tie. United couldn’t fashion anything resembling an attacking move, until Marcus Rashford took a pot shot from 30 yards which bounced on the rain-soaked turf just in front of Buffon.

The keeper spilled it and Lukaku pounced to prod the ball into the empty net on the half hour mark. From nowhere the momentum was back with United. At half-time United needed one more goal to progress.

The second half was almost all PSG pressure. Di Maria executed a delightful chip but was correctly ruled offside. 

In the third of three added minutes, Diogo Dalot shot from 20 yards out and the ball struck the elbow of Presnel Kimpembe. A corner was given, but a VAR check was already underway. It took over two minutes, but eventually a penalty was given.

A 21-year-old Marcus Rashford boldly stepped up and dispatched the penalty past Buffon, who at 41-years-old is almost double the strikers age.

The United team rushed over to the travelling fans in euphoria, having manged to do what no other team has done before. The reds finished the game with four academy graduates on the pitch, including debutant Mason Greenwood, who is aged 17 years and 156 years. This makes him the youngest player to ever appear in the Champions League for Manchester United, breaking Gerard Pique’s record.

This is a result which has in the eyes of many made Solskjaer the permanent manger. He has now delivered 14 victories in 17 games, with only one defeat. It seems a question of when he will be appointed, not if. He said of the victory: “It’s this club. It’s what we do, that’s Man United.”

Solskjaer also has confidence going forward, saying: “We can go all the way. Of course we fancy ourselves, but we just have to wait for the draw and take each game as it comes.”

The party will have to be brief for the United players and staff, as they go to Arsenal on Sunday in what could be a decisive game in the race for a top four place.

Euan Burns//@burns_euan

Wolves announce £1m loss per week during Championship winning campaign

Wolverhampton Wanderers revealed on Tuesday morning a pre-tax loss of £57.1m for the year running to May 2018. This figure is double the amount Chinese owners Fosun International lost the previous season.

The news adds an element of worry to what was an incredibly successful season for the Midlands club, who topped the Championship with 99 points. The team have also adapted to the Premier League this season fantastically, garnering a reputation for taking points off the top six, as well as knocking Liverpool out the FA Cup.

Wolves did manage a turnover of £26.4m last year, and also received an increase of £1.3m in ticketing income. A statement has been released on the club’s website, which attributes the increased expenditure on players, wages and promotion bonuses.

This is hardly surprising with high-profile European players such as Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota deciding to join Portuguese counterpart Nuno Espirito Santo, and be part of Wolves’ project.

The club’s statement also said: “Wolves’ owners are committed to continuously improving the club, from both a footballing and wider operational and strategic perspective”.

The club certainly don’t seem panicked by their finances, having spent £109m on players since reaching the Premier League. This business plan is certainly working at the moment, with the club sitting pretty in 7th place.

They also find themselves with a quarter-final FA Cup tie at home to Manchester United to look forward to. While the 13-point gap to the top six is unassailable this season, for a newly promoted club it is very encouraging.

This financial news could be further evidence that some clubs feel the way to reach the top bracket of football is to spend big, take a short-term loss, and rely on results on the pitch to put you in a position where the money keeps coming in.

This season, Liverpool clearly felt the only way to close the points gap to Manchester City is to spend big, with Alisson, Fabinho,  Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri all coming in.

It is likely that Wolves will not feel any repercussions of this loss, providing the results on the pitch continue in the same vein.

Euan Burns//@burns_euan