Thursday, 31 January 2013


Twitter - @jamesAgrayson

Those who follow my Twitter page will have noticed that I have been staggered by the spending of QPR in the January transfer window – the £12.5 million signing of Christopher Samba was the tip of the iceberg as far as I was concerned.

As someone who saw a football club – Farsley Celtic in my case – die in front of them because of large debts, I have an issue with clubs that in my eyes are trying to buy unsustainable success. Ever since Terry Fernandes bought QPR in August 2011, the attitude has been spend, spend, spend and in the last few days, the figures have reached obscene levels.

How a club that is bottom of the Premier League with just two league wins can justify the amount they have spent on transfers and wages is beyond me? Loic Remy turned down Newcastle to join QPR, but his reported wage packet may have been the decisive factor rather than the possibility of a season in the Championship.

Remy is just one of many players that is earning vast sums of money at QPR. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Bobby Zamora are just two more. There are plenty of others.
It was reported in November that the club had spent £7 million agent fees. Added to the £50 million transfer fees over 18 months and without even thinking about wages, QPR are seemingly buying a ticket to oblivion. Although they don’t, clubs like Newcastle could spend that money without getting into financial trouble, simply because of their owner and 52,000 loyal supporters.

QPR’s Loftus Road holds only 18,000 which will bring in little revenue compared with the figures they have spent. They are not Manchester United who get 75,000 every week and compete in the Champions League. QPR are a relatively new club to the PL and are in very real danger of losing their PL status which would mean they would miss out on the £60 million TV revenue next season.

I just don’t see how QPR are sustainable. Why sanction a £12.5 million record signing when you could have to severely cost cut in three months’ time. Fernandes has made a massive gamble on surviving relegation, but what are the consequences if Harry Redknapp can’t save them? Their spending figures will not sustainable in the Championship so another Portsmouth perhaps?

QPR have tried to spend their way to the top and they are a prime example of ‘money doesn’t always buy success’ and when will clubs realise this? Or should the FA step in and say enough is enough?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Is Steve Morison the man to fire Leeds United into the Premier League?

Steve Morison making his way to Elland Road for a medical is a step in the right direction. Whether he is the man to fire Leeds back to the Premier League after a nine-year absence remains to be seen. But the Norwich City striker has exactly the right attributes to be a major figure in the last few months of the campaign.

Morison has dragged himself from the very bottom to the top, showing a determination and desire. After dropping out of the league following a spell at Northampton Town, he played for non-league Bishop Stortford before a move to then-Blue Square Premier Stevenage. This is where he made his name. Morison was a colossal figure in the BSP. Hard to handle and deadly in front of goal made him a huge prospect. A rare fact is that five years ago last week, Morison played for Stevenage in a 0-0 BSP draw at Farsley Celtic, a game which was shown live on Setanta Sports.

His performances earned a move to Millwall where impressive displays followed. Norwich then swooped to sign the big striker and he has featured in the Premier League for the last 18 months.

But Morison fits in because he comes from an honest background. He works hard, gives 110% and has no hidden agenda, he plays for his team. He wins headers, holds the ball up, chases any ball, whether a lost cause or not. He will give a completely new dimension to the team and his never-say-die attitude will fit in with the likes of Rudolph Austin.

I saw him speak at the press conference after the 2009 FA Trophy Final at Wembley – his last game for Stevenage and he came across as an honest lad. It was obvious then that he was on his way to the Football League and he deserves enormous credit for where he has got to. He has worked his socks off to reach the Premier League.

If Leeds want to reach the play-offs and then Premier League, Neil Warnock needs players that will run through brick walls. He has got a few of them already, but Morison could be the final piece in the jigsaw.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Leeds United: Time for Investment

The news that Sam Byram has signed a new contract brought much relief at the end of a stressful week for Leeds United supporters. With the transfer window closing Byram was subject to attention from Premier League and with his decision, the vultures have gone away.

However, the same cannot be said for Luciano Becchio. His transfer request is disastrous news ahead of deadline day and with no new players seemingly arriving at Elland Road, Leeds can’t afford to lose their star asset.

But instead of focusing on Becchio, eyes should be trained on the new owners GFH Capital. GFH walked through the door promising to get Leeds to the Premier League and give Neil Warnock the ammunition to get the club there. But all we have seen is Ross Barkley arrive on loan for a month and Alan Tate return to Swansea. Warnock appears to have been badly let down. Because of this, the club are languishing in mid-table.

Defensively and in midfield, I believe Leeds have good strength in depth with a little bit of quality. However, upfront, Leeds are lacking in gravitas if they seriously want promotion. Warnock needs a big man, a talisman of the Rob Hulse variety – someone who can bully defenders and win headers. Stoke’s Kenwyne Jones would have perfect, but he appears to be heading for Swansea.

I personally think if Becchio leaves and he is replaced by someone with PL quality, he will be no great loss. When I have seen him play this season, I have found him ineffective at times. He never seems to be able to the ball up. But at the moment we can’t afford to lose him. The base of the team is there with leaders like Jason Pearce. But, because we are weak up top, defeats like the one at Barnsley are unsurprising.

Instead of criticising an excellent manager in Warnock, fingers should be pointed at the new owners. I read a tweet from one of the new directors after the Barnsley game saying ‘VERY disappointed’. Now how can he react like when arguably Warnock and his team were sent out like lambs to the slaughter because of currently unfulfilled promises?

The situation is still retrievable and the play-offs are still possible. But, only if Warnock is backed in the next few days. GFH either have to hold their nerve and keep Becchio or provide the funds to allow Warnock to lead Leeds back to the top flight. Otherwise a meaningless mid-table finish is looming.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Otello, The Opera - A Sports Journalist's View

‘You’re a sports journalist, why are you going to opera?’ That was probably a question that many of Twitter followers were thinking on Thursday night. Everyone who knows me that I am football-mad from a supporter and journalist point of view. Apparently I have a reputation for knowing in-depth facts from who has a groin strain to who has a dodgy knee.

Not many people are aware that I do enjoy a trip to theatre, although I don’t get chance to go that often. I did go and see Oliver a few months ago with my friend which I thought was a marvellous production. So when my tutor at Leeds Trinity walked in the room and waved tickets to Otello at the Leeds Grand around, I immediately jumped on his back and put my name for one.

Now the main problem was that I had never been to opera before. I had my own preconceptions, people of the older generation dressed in black tie – all the stereotypes. Even my dad said when I told that I was said, ‘well you better get your suit out’. On the morning of the trip, he even told me that I couldn’t go to the opera with shoes looking like they were. This was before he wasted valuable minutes cleaning them. I don’t think during my time at the opera that anyone even looked at my shoes. So I can assure people that you can go to the opera in your normal clothes.

However, I did have concerns of my own. I wasn’t sure whether I would understand it and I must admit I was a little bit nervous. But myself and those given backstage tours were put at ease by the set manager and David Kempster, the villainous Iago in the opera, who explained details about the play.

For a first time opera goer, Otello is a fantastic performance to go see. It is easy to understand (there are even English titles in the corner of the theatre). Love and jealousy are the central themes from the start. Iago is jealous of the young captain Cassio and believes he should hold the position. Otello is jealous of Cassio as he believes that the captain is having an affair with his wife Desdemona.

Although I cannot compare the performance to other operas, I really enjoyed Otello. You have to also appreciate the talent of the performers. In sport, surprisingly I admire Rugby League players more than footballers. Rugby League players put their bodies on the line each week and must walk away from matches so heavily battered and bruised. Operatic singers have to really work their bodies to be able to belt out such wonderful tones. Opera stars even have special individual warm-ups and cannot perform every day because their voices need a rest.

The work and commitment is fantastic and something that should cherished and loved by the younger generation as well as the older one. Most of the audience were 60+ and that is a crying shame. Opera and theatre organisations need to look at attracting younger faces. Myself and one of my Leeds Trinity colleagues were receiving funny looks as we took our seats and that was probably because of our ages. Twenty-two year-olds at the opera is in all likelihood a rare occurrence. So I think age of the audience is a big issue for opera companies.

However, my message to those who have never been to opera is: give it a try.

I’m also sending a brief note to my tutor – when is the next one?

Although this doesn’t mean that I will stop knowing which player needed an injection in his toe 15 minutes before kick-off to be able to play!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bradford City - Their Finest Hour

Every few years English cup competitions have special runs from their lower-ranked clubs. Chesterfield getting to the FA Cup semi-final in 1997 is one. Barnsley winning at Anfield and then beating Avram Grant’s Chelsea in the 2007 FA Cup is another.

But, Bradford City reaching the 2013 League Cup is the greatest of all-time. A League Two club making Wembley for a major cup competition is almost unthinkable.

City, a team that cost just £7,500 and a friendly to assemble, had to pull off a shock result in all but one round and beat three Premier League team along the way to reach Wembley. In this day and age when money dominates the top division, City’s achievement of beating Wigan, Arsenal and finally Aston Villa is simply remarkable.

Phil Parkinson’s men gave themselves a fantastic chance by beating Villa 3-1 in the first leg. However, a 2-0 Villa win in the return game would see the Premier League side win on away games. City rode their luck in the first half and if it wasn’t for goalkeeper Matt Duke, Bradford could have been blown away.

City were always going to get one golden chance to score and when it came they had to take it. It did and they did. Captain marvel Gary Jones’ corner and up leapt towering striker James Hanson who powered his header past Shay Given to score the decisive goal.

While Hanson will never have to buy a drink in Bradford again, his story is quite remarkable. Seven years ago he was playing for Eccleshill United in the Northern Counties East League before a move to then-Northern Premier League outfit Guiseley under former City boss Terry Dolan. He was also working at a branch of the supermarket Co-Op. Bradford eventually came calling and spent £7,500 on the frontman – money now well-spent.

Villa had to score three more times to win and never looked like scoring. City were assured at the back and midfielder Jones was inspirational in the middle of the park. Andreas Weimann pulled one back with minutes remaining, but the night belonged to Bradford and they held on.

For any football fan whether you support Bradford or not, it was a night to remember and cherish. It was a moment that may never happen again in our lifetime.